We Can Be Heroes…

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Last week we hosted the first ever Django Girls in all of Mexico here in Tijuana. As their webpage states: “Django Girls is a non-profit organization that empowers and helps women to organize free, one-day programming workshops by providing tools, resources and support. It was born in Berlin and started by two Polish girls: Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka.” It was a success both in the number of women who responded to it and in the number of women who attended, which surprised everyone who is already an active participant in the programming community in Tijuana.

Events like these aren’t new in Tijuana, various attempts to get girls into programming workshops, conferences and other events seemed to have not been as successful as Django Girls or not successful at all. So a lot of women have been left wondering where on earth their fellow women coders are, and men were wondering why it’s so hard to have a diverse community.

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Being a woman in any profession is tough, you have to work twice as hard to earn the same amount of value, respect, and income that your male co-workers earn with half the effort, and rarely does society as a whole admit that there is something wrong with this norm. For many it is assumed that there must be a logical reason or “you-brought-this-on-yourself” sort of excuse behind this behavior within professional environments, but honestly it all boils down to good old fashioned sexism.

Try as people might to excuse men’s constant practices to avoid seeing women as equals in all manners, most reasoning only highlights their ignorance and overall close-mindedness. I am fully aware that one hundred percent of the male population is not the type that I’m talking about, but it’s meaningless to try to defend them when one hundred percent of the female society has had first, second and third-hand encounters with men who are this type.

Recently I read an article where the author concludes that there aren’t a lot of women in tech and science because they ultimately choose not to be, they’re just not that interested in it and would rather be housewives. But most girls at some point in their lives (even if it was the theme of the week) wanted to be an astronaut, archaeologist, biologist, engineer or what-have-you.

When it comes to science and technology, it is naturally assumed that this is first and foremost a man’s arena. It’s not that education in science and technology is tailored exclusively for men, the problem isn’t a lack of opportunities and programs for women, or even job opportunities for women. The problem is that from the beginning we don’t nourish the idea of a little girl growing up to be a scientist or engineer. “Makes me wonder what would happen to diversity in the tech industry if we told all of our daughters who are good at math that Computer Science would be the perfect career choice”, one woman commented on the article mentioned above, and she’s absolutely right.

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If and when a woman sneaks in through the cracks and pursues science and technology, the first person to act surprised is the man, but the rest of the community always follows. The main way they show their disbelief is by not trusting that she got there with her brain, doubting how much she actually knows and would understand, not take her seriously, and ignoring things that make her uncomfortable. Since this doesn’t (supposedly) make male co-workers uncomfortable there is no solid reason to stop their behaviour.

Ultimately what this does is discourage women from going any further in their careers and ultimately deprives little girls from having someone to look up to and want to be scientists and engineers themselves. It’s an awful cycle, but we can break it.

How? By creating and hosting more events following Django Girls’ mission:  […] making technology more approchable by creating simple tools and resources designed with empathy.

PosterDjango Girls is intended to look like it’s a women’s event, starting with having the word “girls” in the name and also some curvier types used in other material. This creates the idea of it being something female made and female oriented, rather man made and just female inclusive. I’d argue this is a better strategy, because it’s often the case that when events in science and tech are made “neutral” we unconsciously assume that it’s obviously male-oriented, and we women are not the primary audience, but rather an extra or someone else’s plus one.

So if an event is oriented at women primarily (if not exclusively) more women from all ages who have at some point shown interest in science and tech but retracted from investing time and effort in developing these interests will turn up. At least half of our event’s attendees were women who had once had a programming class in high school, attended another workshop once, or know a friend or family member in programming.

Some women have commented that making female exclusive events is harmful rather than helpful for women in the industry, even arguing that they “cultivate the notion that women are these weak beings who find their male colleagues too intimidating. That they need an isolated female-only environment to feel “safe” in and thrive.” This is half true, but only the second half. When you talk to other women in science and tech the majority will have a story were they’ve been told off by male (and sometimes female) teachers, mentors and colleagues because of sexist views and customs. They are told things along the lines of “you wouldn’t understand / we wouldn’t expect any less of you” or “this is a boy’s workshop”.

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A computer Scientist/Electrical Engineer who goes by the pseudonym of Sailor Mercury wrote on her personal experience as someone who likes to dress very femininely, but her appearance prevented her from earning respect and appreciation for her contribution. I will not argue or analyze further on this, I think I’d sound repetitive over the all the points she’s already made, but the point I’d like to make by using her as an example is: “It is very frustrating that I will either look like not a programmer or look like a permanent beginner because I have programmed since age 8.

Sailor Mercury

What we need to understand is that there is a plethora of ways women deal with these situations, some can totally deal with men and some just can’t. We all have limits, we all learn differently, and we all demand respect through different ways. Women who might argue that feminine looking and female oriented events are harmful, I’m absolutely certain that they’ve found a way to navigate through these male dominated waters, and they might’ve even been that small percentage that got little to no beratement for being a woman.

But let’s remember our fellow women who grew up and studied in different atmospheres, or who were never encouraged to think of a career in science and technology. It’s all these women who’ve already gone through a patriarchal upbringing and we need to bring back.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of things that we as a society need to fix for the next generation to not give up on their astronaut and engineer dreams, and plenty of people are already working on that. The coming generation’s road is paved a lot better than this present generation’s. What we in the smaller communities need to work on is helping all those who’ve lost hope to bring that hope back. It’s not about keeping the line between men and women in place, it’s about building the confidence and support to eliminate that line and achieve true “neutrality” and balance.

Read Sailor Mercury’s “Code Like a Girl”

 


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