The odd one out

I knew getting into computer science that I would be the odd one out. That I’d be surrounded by males. And, to be honest, I really didn’t think much about it. It had been like that in high school, and it didn’t bother me. I didn’t care that the rest of the class was males, I was too interested in learning what I could.

However, in the years since, there have been multiple instances where being the odd one out has definitely been a challenge. Where it’s been frustrating and aggravating and at one point made me want to consider getting out of CS. But there have also been the times where I’ve made good friends (male and female) and had good times. Where all of this doesn’t matter.

But, at the end of the day, it is, unfortunately  still much harder to be a female in the sciences than it is to be male. We’re still looked upon differently. Expected to do worse, and if we do better, it’s not because we’re smarter, it’s because it was designed for females, or that’s because females study. If the males studied too, they’d do way better than all the females. (I’m not kidding, I’ve heard this argument.)

I’ve never been a big supporter of the women only events and women specific initiatives when it comes to CS. Why? Because I think we need to realize that for a while yet, it’s going to still be mainly males, and if you’re going to survive, you need to be able to succeed in that environment. However, I have come to realize, more and more, that just knowing that there are others out there like you, and going through similar experiences can be a great relief. And to pass this knowledge and feeling along, having occasional women oriented events can be really useful.

For those who don’t believe or understand how much this is still going on, and the pressure that many women feel, I wanted to share three articles on this topic this week. Three articles that have all come up recently, and may give a glimpse into the world.

  1. Academic Men Explain Things To Me is a tumblr where many academic females, from undergrads to professors, have been sharing their experiences of when males have felt the need to mansplain their own work to them. It’s also filled with other unfortunate conversations/experiences involving interactions in academia.
  2. Does This Lab Coat Make Me Look Fat? is from theChronicle discussing the reaction to a Facebook post by a male professor who was disappointed that with thousands of people at the conference he was at, there was “an unusually high concentration of unattractive women.” The article takes a pretty heavy handed response to this guy, but the context and discussion around this posting is interesting between the comments there and the other articles on it.
  3. ‘Ugly Girl’: The Negative Messages We Send To Our Daughters I came across from one of the comments to the above article. It’s about a post from a 15 year old girl about how she feels that “successful women are only considered a success if they are successful AND hot.” This article was quite depressing to read, especially realizing at even though I’m now in my late twenties (eek), I still feel that way. And from some of the comments there, so do many others who are even older.

There are a zillion other articles out there on these issues. And, almost universally, each one has at least one comment by a male who just hammers the point home. It’s unfortunate, and it’s never going to be perfect. But I do think we can do better.

So, if you’re a female scientist, please take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. And please stand up for yourself so that we all work towards equality. If you’re male, please take a moment to think about how you’ve acted in the past around female colleagues or students. No, we don’t need ‘special’ treatment. But, it’s like bullying, having someone stand up (or at least listen) can go a long way.

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One thought on “The odd one out

  1. Thank you for posting this! As a fellow CS female, I’ve seen first hand how awful and rampant the sexism can be. Most recently I had to call a vendor about troubleshooting some equipment and was treated like someone’s secretary. My grad school adviser (also female) recommended using my first initial and not using my first name in my email address. It’s sad we have to do this and I hope someday it won’t matter what physical parts we have.

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