Why do female role models need to be perfect?

Have you ever noticed that female computer science role models always have to be perfect? They never seem to have had any problems with school. They were always selected for exclusive internships and jobs. They received lots of scholarships. And tons of the “right” mentors at the right time. Oh, and don’t forget, they must look perfect too.

Should they have gone into industry, then they’re now making tons of money and can afford any type of child care – so of course they can “have it all” (not really, but it seems like it). If they went into academia, then their career history usually goes along the lines of “I went to great undergraduate school a, followed by prestigious graduate school which I graduate in year x and then started my tenure track position at great school c, also in year x.”

Where are the role models that have a story that goes more along the lines of “And I started university and then dropped out to form my own company.” Or “And after switching projects three times, supervisors twice, and my graduate school once (it took 8 years to graduate), I did two post-docs before finally landing a tenure track position.”

This may seem outlandish to say that. But let’s look at two of the biggest male role models in computer science – Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Both of them dropped out during their undergrad, and then went on to form enormously successful companies. And people praise them for leaving school.  Or how about Mark Zuckerberg, who is often described as anti-social. But, that just fits in with his nerd image and is laughed off. But good luck to any female who is described as being anti-social.

I want to be able to look at a role model, and know that they have also struggled throughout their career. That things weren’t easy, but that they were able to persevere and make it through. And not the challenges of the type “while my mentor well-known person y was saying don’t and all my friends were saying go for it.” (Points to anyone who recognizes this reference – it is not a direct quote.)

I want to be able to look at a role model, and know that she isn’t perfect (or at least perceived that way). That she forged her own path. That there were ups and downs. That she worked on finding a solution that worked for her – not caring if it would work for anyone else. That she embraces her own faults and doesn’t hind them away in hopes that no one finds them.

Really, what I want is to be comfortable being me.

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