Girls Who Code and the Female Alliance
by Jeanine G It’s the same every time. I walk into an event related to my field - web and app development- and I revert back to that nervous 8 year old girl. “What languages do you know?” is my first introduction from a dauntingly tall swedish guy, “So what is it exactly do you do?” is the next question from an overly assertive doctorate student, “are you a recruiter?” asks an equally nervous twenty something. Why is it never, “Hi, my name is __, where do you work?”- the typical greeting for my male counterparts. I’m immediately thrown into a quiz-one that I always feel unprepared for, the result always ends with me stammering run on sentences, and trying to compensate for my self-perceived awkwardness.
I’ve done the work- I bust. my. ass. I work at least equally hard to prove I fit in here, not just in tech, but in life, where I feel women are seen less authoritative (odd as everyone’s first authority figure tends to be their mother), and always less knowledgeable -unless it involves traditional female roles- than men. I may know how to make a damn good sandwich, but I also know how to make predictive text in multiple programming languages- that sandwich is mine by the way, make your own.
I walk dart magnificently towards the open bar, and get myself a glass of wine- my social lubricant of choice, at which I’m loudly, if not brusquely reminded “You’re one of the minorities here!” by a well meaning older gentleman. It’s true, I look around and see maybe 20 women out of the 250 invited in here tonight. Most closely guarded by coworkers, and occasionally possible boyfriends. Being one of the single women here, I immediately start honing my radar to find the other straggler women, so I don’t feel so targeted. Instead I find a table with two men. I seat myself to try to mingle in- I find another doctoral student who doesn’t immediately understand what I’m doing, and he starts rapidfire quizzing me on how I would go about creating certain applications. as it begins to grow hostile, I excuse myself and seek out less aggressive people. I stand alone for a while desperately trying to mingle without seeking women, I want to feel that I can hold my own, but every conversation I enter ends one of two ways- an advance I have to reproach, or another quiz.
There are friendly, understanding men out there believe me, this field is not overrun by men who don’t get it, i just did not happen to see those men personally at this event.
In yet another awkwardly male dominated circle, I see two women standingly mostly open clearly inviting others to join them, and I flee to them gladly. The conversation is the same with nearly every other woman at similar events:
woman 1: “Wow! [glancing around as if just noticing] There aren’t a lot of women here
woman 2: “I know I was really hoping for a bigger turnout! This is disheartening”
woman 1: [Casually sipping alcoholic beverage to keep from exploding with feminist rage]:
“I just can’t believe how low a turnout it is for this type of event, I’ve been to
[insert tech event] and met so many women there!” [this is typically a lie said to
make everyone feel hopeful]
And so this is how a female alliance is formed. at this point, the circle is still open for others to approach (there are important people to talk to yet), but made in such an arrangement that it is known you are indeed a tribe of like-minded females, and that said tribe won’t break until at least the end of the event.
I enjoy the event, to which a male speaker uses too many matrix references, and alot of internet memes (because we go fucking batshit for the internets….get it?). I briefly discuss the topic with my tribe, and we rise for yet another round- this time more alcohol fueled- of social battleship. I move back to the bar, swallow the lump in my throat, and enter another groupling of men for my last attempt. We all begin talking about apps and the future of certain languages (this is your generic conversation) when suddenly as if a wild realization hit, one of the men turn to me and blurts out “Well, you must enjoy impressing guys when you tell them you’re a coder!” I internally freeze, and keep from hitting myself- or him- in the face. Why yes, strange swedish man, I do in fact use my profession as a dating tactic. You’re so clever that this realization has now shown me for what i am - a total dating maven with sweet, sweet computer skills - and has opened up this conversation for everyone else. I refrain from all physical expression, and laugh lightly, I kindly excuse myself with slumped shoulders, and shuffle off towards the elevator. As I exit and see the warm but blinding sun thinking about my last interaction, I lighten up- as mildly horrifying as that was, I know plenty of other coders - mostly male- who are great and roll their eyes at the same situations unfolding before them as I do.
It’s days like this that make me even more adamant about getting kids - of both genders- on the same level in fields like this. I’m totally forcing my kids to become hackers.