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Girls and Technology
Libraries are embracing technology programming for kids and teens.
Just in School Library Journal alone, there are articles about programs like ‘Can*TEEN’ Encourages Girls With STEM and Powerful Partnerships, Pi, and Python Behind the Success of Teen Tech Camp and Life With Raspberry Pi.
Technology, coding, all good things. And, with women underrepresented in fields like computer science and technology and math, well, all the better for libraries to be involved.
And then I read about T**stare. I added the stars in case internet filters at schools would screen this out. In a nutshell, a story about sexism in technology. At a recent tech conference, Tech Crunch Disrupt 2013, two young men presented their joke app, T**stare, which, well, is photos of guys starting at t**s. See more at this article at ValleyWag, which also shares how another presentation at this tech conference included someone pretending to masturbate.
In the audience was a nine year old girl, there to present her own project.
Forget being the woman who stands up in front of an audience that just cheered photos of women’s cleavage, imagine being the nine year old girl told you’re only as good as your measurements.
The sad thing is, this isn’t a standalone occurrence. The Atlantic’s Found Poetry: From Years of Tech Conference Sexism has a round up of the rape jokes and jokes about women and their bodies that have happened at these conferences in the past few years: “But the main thing to note is that episodes like this — casual, juvenile objectifications of women in settings where women tend to be outnumbered — are common.”
So I wondered: what if a library or school had said, hey, let’s encourage our kids and bring them to this event?
How do you explain to kids and teens, well, this is what the world is like? Yes, there are articles saying that women in tech deserve better, but there are also ones saying it’s a joke and girls like the nine year old have to learn this is how boys are. (No, really: “one possible lesson would be that some Australian young men are uncultured oafs but then that would be a tautology. Some men of any and every nationality are such. And it’s probably not a bad idea for little Alexandra to know that. Indeed, I’d be rather surprised to find out that any young woman didn’t know this already. And Alexandra is going to find, in a very few and short years, that the males of her peer group are going to be judging her in the typically shallow manner of male teens everywhere. Whether women should be judged by their looks is one question: that they are and will be is another. There’s no more point in complaining about this that there is about Pirsquared. It’s just a fact about this universe that we inhabit.“).
The men making these jokes and acting this way were, of course, once teens and kids themselves.
And I wonder: what are libraries doing about the issue of sexism in technology?
If libraries and schools are encouraging girls to participate in coding and programming, what tools, if any, are they giving them to face up to the “brogramming” attitude they will be encountering?
What is being said to young men so that they stop thinking this is acceptable?
And before you think I’m clever, no, “brogramming” is a thing, where programmers aren’t nerds! But frat boys! Because. See: In Tech, Some Bemoan the Rise of “Brogrammer” Culture.
Edited to add:
As confirmation that sexism, girls and technology is an issue, here is one person’s story: To my daughter’s high school programming teacher. “My daughter emailed to tell me that the boys in her class were harassing her. “They told me to get in the kitchen and make them sandwiches,” she said.”
What does it mean, to be the girl, being told that by boys, in a classroom? In school? While the teacher ignores, or doesn’t notice, or doesn’t think it’s a big deal? “My daughter has no interest in taking another programming class, and really, who can blame her. For her entire life, I’d encouraged my daughter to explore computer programming. I told her about the cool projects, the amazing career potential, the grants and programs to help girls and women get started, the wonderful people she’d get to work with, and the demand for diversity in IT. I took her with me to tech conferences and introduced her to some of the brightest, most inspiring and encouraging women and men I’ve ever met. Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming.”
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About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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