By Dori Owen
“Many times, when children enter school they shun mathematics and science during the years when they should be learning the basics.”
―Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
The first time I noticed that there was a significant difference between boys and girls in education was when I was in college. I had managed to overcome the mathematics obstacle and was enrolled in a major heavily weighted in the subject. It happened in a logistics management class and I remember it as if it was yesterday; I began to notice in the textbook studies at the end of chapters that the business president, CEO, warehouse manager–any position of power in the study example–was always referred to with the pronoun HE. After a few chapters, my attention became heightened to this consistent reference to the pronoun HE.
I was a research assistant to the professor teaching the class and mentioned my observation to him in the office. I did not dare bring it up in class. I had once been chastised for correcting him about using the word ladies and instead of women. Well, I was right; he was just overly sensitive. I still stand by the correction but learned not to challenge his professorial ego in front of others. He also thought it strange that I did not use my married name and never missed an opportunity to bring up this curious fact to me. A renaissance man he was not.
When I casually mentioned the HE/SHE anomaly to him he paid me no mind, brushing it off with, “Well, use of the word HE represents both men and women and it is simpler to use one pronoun.”
Wait, huh? I cannot even imagine how confused he must be in today’s conversation to include proper reference to include transgender. Although my money is on he still does not get it.
Not long afterwards, he gave us an independent study project to develop a hypothesis and defend it with related primary or secondary research proving the hypothesis as true or false. Aha! I thought: here is my moment to prove my point in a simple hypothesis that when girls are exposed to years of textbooks referring to people of power as HE they develop a learned assumption that successful people are men. I submitted my hypothesis to the professor for approval.
He returned it to me with a flat out “no” and a note to find a topic of more “significance”. Sigh.
But that was then and this is now. Everywhere in the world you will find Girls Who Write Code in defiance of the stereotype; the fields of science and mathematics are not mutually exclusive to HE.
In Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” she paid poignant homage to the historical fact that these women existed even in the early space race at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Her book is about Katherine Johnson, who calculated the launch windows for the first astronauts, and NASA mathematicians Kathaleen Land, Kathryn Peddrew, Ophelia Taylor, and Sue Wilder. Author Shetterly’s father worked at Langley and first planted the seed with her about these amazing women through stories he told.
She reflects, “As a child, however, I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.” The book has since been made into an award-winning film.
One of the most important outcomes of Girls Who Write Code is that they form mentor groups to encourage young girls to study science and mathematics and show them with their own successes that all technology careers are possible. The term Girls Who Write Code is now considered a badge of honor and a highly sought after accomplishment. Sassy coder and author Cara Alwill Leyba also claims it’s sexy.
Girls Who Code is a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Statistics show that while jobs in technology are among the fastest growing in the country, girls are being left behind. While interest in computer science ebbs over time, the biggest drop off happens between the ages of 13-17.
Through Girls Who Code, what started as an experiment has grown into a national movement. When girls learn to code, they become change agents in their communities. Whether it’s a game, or a website to provide free college prep, girls can create technology that makes the world a better place. (Girls Who Code)
Goodgirls Write Code is another non-profit dedicated to the empowerment of girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Their inspiring motto is, “We are Strong, We are Bright, We are Beautiful.” Offering programs for girls as early as third grade, they are part of a new national movement to encourage girls to not lose interest in science and mathematics at an early age.
Microsoft offers a summer program for girls to learn hands-on projects using coding skills. The demand for technology workers is so great―smart companies are growing their own.
Are you interested in knowing more about or being a Girl Who Writes Code? A great new book with down-to-earth, humorous tips is “Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur” by Cara Alwill Leyba. Her book is a contemporary view on a what it takes to be a “female boss babe in modern society.”
From my seriously misogynistic former professor who did not believe it was necessary to use the pronoun SHE in textbooks to the plethora of mentoring organizations who support young girls entering the fields of mathematics and science–it is an amazing and exciting time today for Girls Who Write Code.
“Fear wears many different outfits — and none of them are cute.”
―Cara Alwill Leyba
Dori Owen blogs on ArizonaGirlDiary.tumblr.com, is a columnist on FeminineCollective.com, created the Facebook Page DiaryOfAnArizonaGirl, is contributor/editor for TheLithiumChronicles.org, and is a zealous tweeter as AZGirlDiary @doriowen. Her essays have been featured in books FeminineCollective’s RAW&UNFILTERED VOL I and StigmaFighters Vol II. Dori is a former LA wild child who settled into grownup life as a government project manager, and collected an MBA and a few husbands along the way. She spent her adult years in Southern California and has recently returned to where she ran away from in Arizona. Dori lives with her beloved rescued terrier Olivia Twist and has an adored grown son in Portland, Oregon.