Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Pinkification" Isn't The Answer to Encourage Women in STEM

Girls and women in STEM careers. It's been a topic of issue over the past few years as these fields attempt to attract more of the XX chromosomes in. Why is this a problem? Even though over 57% of the work-force is female, and in 2012 57% of undergraduate degrees were held by women, less then 18% held any type of computer science, engineering, or math degrees in 2013. It contributes to gender inequality within those fields while limiting the potential for new, innovative ideas by having the jobs so deeply rooted in gender segregation. The next new infamous app, social media program, or video game may come from the mind of a woman. But we're bullied from a young age to not like math, science, or technology. We're discouraged from attempting to bridge that divide.

And a number of people see that this is, indeed, an issue. Shutting out over half of the population that can provide innovation is not smart. Ever. So a number of companies and STEM programs in schools have been looking to attract women by "thinking pink." Using one stereotype to combat another: that girls and women like pink, so if you throw pink colors on everything, women will gravitate towards it.

That's the topic of discussion today. An opinion piece appeared on Mashable, by long-time contributor Katie Dupere tackling this subject. And she does provide the view-points of both sides of the fence, which should be commended. Opinion articles typically ramble on about one perspective and ignore the fact that some people may feel differently.

Programs such as Black Girls Code and 100 Girls of Code use pink to help draw in the attention of the female persuasion to garner interest in computer programming. And for them, it works. They like to use pink to show that the atmosphere can be friendly and inviting. Pink, for them, isn't negative. There are a number of girls and women who are ultra-feminine (and I don't mean that in a bad way) and want to see their computers doused in pink, whites, and reds. They want the curly font.

For others, such as the team behind Girls Who Code, they see pink as an identifier that traps girls in one area. While the intention is good, Emily Reid, the curriculum director, feels that the "pink" aspect turns into the assumption that girls won't like coding at all until we throw pink on it. That STEM jobs need "pink and princesses" to lure them in. And that's not the reality. There are a number of women who like coding, but don't realize that it's called that. Coding is a way to solve a problem - sometimes it's for social good or to resolve an issue that they care about. In that framework, coding can be more appealing to women.

The use of "pink" is putting a band-aid on a deep-rooted problem: girls are dissuaded from anything STEM related early on in life, therefore they don't want to pursue careers in those fields.

From my own personal experience, I was dissuaded from being involved in any Advance Placement (AP) classes for math and science. Not by my family, but by the school itself. I've been berated by principles, teachers, and others my age for wanting to go into "boys" classes. Girls don't study math.  I remember very clearly having a meeting with the vice principle in the 8th grade, along with my mom, and he refused to accept my request for AP math and science. "She's from private school. She's going to fail in all of the math and science classes. Let's just make this easy for her." And he went and signed me up for all of the standard courses, including Home Ec because "those are important life-skills for girls." That meeting stuck with me and altered my entire perception on what I was capable of accomplishing.

My mom was livid. We had to petition the school board to allow admittance. By then they could only accept the Algebra class as the others had filled up by the time I got permission.

The worse of all of this was that no one defended me. My parents couldn't be with me at the school at all times. The vice principle was never reprimanded for his actions. He would berate me in the hallway along with other girls taking AP courses in view of the entire school. And in turn they heard his words. I can't imagine how many girls were scared into thinking that they can't do math and science because damn...who would want to be embarrassed like that in front of everyone? Just for wanting to take a math class!

I look back at this today and realize how jacked up my perceptions of STEM are because of that school. That moment seared into my brain for the rest of my life and I felt so ashamed of taking any type of AP courses that were math, science, or technology related for the rest of my life. I was too afraid to speak up and believed that they were right because that's how I was taught to behave - they were the authority figures therefore I needed to listen to them.

This shiz happened. And it still happens to girls every day. 

Irony: I went into the film/tv field of studies which is also a very male dominated landscape. But by then I had a better understanding of how stupid gender identity is. Whenever someone said "you can't do that, you're a girl" I would prove them wrong. But it pisses me off to think of what I could have been. What I could have learned. What I could have achieved if I was given some ounce of encouragement within the school setting to go after a STEM career. Sure I did tech support and I'm a whiz at building computers, but never enough to want to make a living from it. It's a hobby at best.

And I can say with 100% certainty that making everything pink would not have altered my viewpoint. I never liked the color. Blue is more of my style. Looks better against my skin-tone.

News flash, world: Not Every Female Likes Pink.

Just like not every male likes blue. Shocking. I know.

I'm all for the mission statement behind Girls Who Code. It's not about making gender distinctions, but supporting girls who are interested in STEM. "You want to know how they made Candy Crush? Alright then. Let's get started!" It's as simple as that. There's no reason to put gender stereotypes to try and combat a gender stereotype. It's all about how you approach girls and women into seeing coding as more then numbers.

Hopefully you can see where this spills over into the video game field. A number of areas in game development focus on programming, coding, and crafting digital pieces. Jobs that are categorized as "male" in an industry that is typically viewed as for men only; from the gamers to the game designers.

We should be doing more to encourage girls, women, people of color, everyone, to explore STEM. The future is going to be based on technology and science. Innovation is going to come from STEM in the years to come. It shouldn't be an exclusive club for men only.

I want to add that this article isn't about trying to get more women into STEM for the sake of "we need more women." It's about inclusion and diversity for innovation. More innovation occurs when there are more people involved. Not less.

A big thank you to my friend DesireƩ for sharing this article.


  1. I'm sorry for your experience, and thank you so much for sharing your story. I always appreciate your perspective and that you are willing to clearly state your opinion on these issues.

    1. Thanks Alan. Since I've learned to think for myself and that the authority figures are not the end-all, be-all of life, I've been putting forth the effort to get back into those subjects. I've been looking at taking some independent college courses, reading through books, things like that. Never too late to learn. :)


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