Happy International Women’s Day!
First, I want to say that I feel so fortunate for the life I have been given and the strong women that have supported me since day one. I would not be where I am today without my mother, my sister, my aunts, my grandmothers, my cousins, my female mentors, my female coworkers, or my female friends. Their support allows me to feel confident in jumping head first into a mans world of computer science. Their support helps me to know my worth in my relationships with men. Their support enables me to keep fighting the good fight for the women of the future.
I am only twenty-three years old and I know that times are better for women today than they were for the women of past generations. Still, there is so much to be done. In early January, I attended a conference where a male presenter spoke about heroes throughout history. His ultimate point was that the people we consider to be ‘heroes’ used to be politicians or athletes and now have become people in tech. He put up a photo of George Washington followed by a photo of Mickey Mantle. He then spoke about MLK and another athlete. I leaned over to my friend, we both noticed that he was at 4/4 men. But there was still space on the slide, we still had hope. Next up, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. Eight people, the slide was full. Eight men.
This struck me immediately, it was actually difficult listening to the rest of his talk because I was so focused on his outright exclusion of women. I spoke to a number of men after about this, not a single one had noticed. Once I pointed this out they all recognized the issue, but the thought never occurred to them during the presentation. Herein lies the problem. If we are to push toward equality, we must first recognize what is unequal. And we must all recognize what is unequal. If only women see the discrepancies, change will be difficult to achieve. When 90% of the speakers at a conference are men and 100% of the male speakers only talk about men, how are we supposed to enact change? By encouraging men to be equally outraged at the inequality, we can gain some hope and traction in this movement. Even if next year 90% of the speakers are still men, but 100% of those speakers speak equally about the genders, we will have made progress. Progress is all we can hope for.
Now, of course, in this particular example, there are some underlying societal problems at play. Due to this, I do not hold the speaker fully accountable for choosing eight men. Even as a feminist, if I were told on the spot to name 8 heroes throughout history, a majority would likely be male. Why? Because growing up, we learn in history class about the men. We learn about U.S. presidents, we learn about inventors, we learn about generals and supreme court justices. These groups are almost entirely composed of men. Sure, we spend a few days on women’s suffrage or we hear about Rosa Parks during the civil rights movement, but the majority is centered around the men. So where were the women? They were behind the scenes. They were raising the families, holding the fort down at home. They were writing the speeches, but not the ones giving them. They didn’t just stand on the sidelines and watch the men do all the work. They did the work, they just didn’t get the credit for it. Without strong women behind the scenes supporting the famous men, very few of these men would have made history. But unfortunately, those strong women did not make the history books. This is an inherent problem in our culture today. It is so difficult to rewrite history to include women even though they were there all along.
I don’t know the answer to this problem, I don’t even know where to start. When something is so ingrained in society, how do you flush it out? My only thought is to change the narrative moving forward. To be meticulous about recognizing female achievements. We spend a lot of time in the feminist movement talking about the negative things women face. Unequal pay, sexual assault, etc. I think we should put just as much energy into discussing the positive things women do. We have the #metoo movement and the #timesup movement. I think we need to get a new one started. Open to suggestions, but my opinion is something along the lines of “Girls will be girls” (or #girlswillbegirls for you twitter fans). People have always defended men with the ol’ “boys will be boys” saying. They use this as an excuse for reprehensible actions, suggesting that those actions are inherent to being male. I think we should change that saying for women. Women don’t need to be defended. “Girls will be girls” should be used for when women achieve amazing things, because that is what is inherent to being a woman. Example: “I am a computer scientist #girlswillbegirls.” Just a thought.
As a final thought on this lovely 2018 International Women’s Day, I want to also thank the men in my life. My father, my brother, my grandfathers, my uncles, my cousins, my male mentors, my male coworkers, and my male friends. You never thought less of me because of my gender. You never told me I couldn’t do something because I was less than my male counterpart. You believed in me for being me. I am so very blessed with such incredible men and women in my life. As the saying goes – Here’s to Strong Women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.