I took a break in between tasks and read this really interesting article written by a lovely blonde MIT student with multiple engineering degrees who discussed about the unusual attention that her physical looks often get more than her academic achievements, and how people feel incredulous when she tells them that she is, in fact, an MIT girl.
I was not sure what the intention of the article was. Some comments claimed that it was a “humble brag” piece. Others defended her and expressed their admiration. Still, others chided her for wasting reading space and just not taking the extra attention positively or an edge for employment vis-a-vis other socially awkward male candidates.
I think the main idea is that “Not all blonde women are bimbos.” Sexism is real in most industries, especially in tech-related ones. She lives on the other side of the world, but I can attest that this behavior exists even from where I am. And you do not necessarily have to be platinum blonde or drop-dead gorgeous to experience the stereotype that a woman is made only for things like kitchen activities, keeping house, pursuing artistic pursuits, and being the one to spend the more aggressive and intellectually developed husband’s money.
The winds of nerd inclination will continue blow in any direction that it pleases. I guess if you are a nerdy girl, you find yourself with a bit of an extra hurdle to surmount in proving yourself intellectually. It’s really just a matter of strengths in the end. I find it difficult to boil an egg properly but I find it much easier to crack equations. This makes me very unorthodox by Filipina women standards. I am not even an iota of submissive and it takes Herculean effort for me to succumb to another person’s will. But I do it to avoid friction. I hate staying too long in malls, unlike most women. I’d rather hole up in front of my computer and learn the ins and outs of a programming language than waste time window shopping for the best top. Usually, I just plan my purchase and I buy the first thing that I see in the mall that matches my preference. Nobody forces me to do this; it’s just the way I am wired by the Maker up in the sky.
I like wearing my hair long and I love wearing dresses, and I like nerd things. I do not necessarily have to give up my fashion rituals to the altar of code. And I do not have to explain anything to socially awkward nerds who do not appreciate my presence.
One time, during a one-day Drupal seminar, one of my fellow participants jeered at me with the typical chauvinism that you find in alpha males in the tech industry. We were not even close or in joking terms prior to the incident, and he felt entitled to impose his opinion on my outfit. For years, I let it slide because I did not want to cause a scene but I did know that choosing a male-dominated industry in most of my intellectual pursuits is bound to generate a lash-back. I tried doing field-related work and I found that the male surveyor team members will bend or follow a male engineer more quickly and willingly than a female one. It was not easy building a career with those things but somehow, I managed to surmount those and turn this chauvinism to my advantage.
I stopped apologizing for being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Early on, I have accepted that it’s actually more of the proliferation of small minds who felt the itch to take the judgment seat and call out on a woman: “This is our turf. You don’t belong here.”
Growing up in a street where most of the girls my age married before I hit college, it was quite hard to relate. A well-meaning cousin will often ask me if I have a boyfriend, as if it’s the only important thing in the world. They finally shut up when I got married at age 28. But from ages 22 to 28, I had to explain why my career came first. Until now, it seems like some people expect me to apologize for the time I spend on my computer. I have my reasons why it takes ages for me in this mental cave.
Unfortunately, other women add fuel to the fire and perpetuate this mindset in ways that I cannot even describe in detail. Even among the ranks of women who create movement groups for equality, you find the irony that they perpetuate the very behavior that they try to dispel. I am not generalizing here but I have seen some women and no matter how often they invite me to be part of their group, I just can’t.
On my end, I fortunately found a group of male and female web development friends who do not have gender issues for as long as the system ships and my git commit does not break the code base. To this day, they remain as one of my life’s firmest support groups. They understand the demands of web development on my time and the intellectual fulfillment derived from it.They don’t expect me to listen to senseless drama and will cut a night out short to deliver to clients. They expect me to do my best in web development and we share tools. We divide our resources and we make the most of it.
As a workaround, I do my own private or personal projects and my life hacks quietly. I stopped attending larger web development events too frequently in order to lessen the insults coming from sexist pigs who do not know me too well but judge me just because of my gender. In cases where I have to do a project with a chauvinist pig, I have learned to just focus on the code and detach myself completely from reactions.
I do not particularly like sitting with people who would express exclamatory disbelief that I can run commands from the Linux terminal without panicking like a sissy. I self-studied all that shit since 2012 and I won’t flinch my skills just because some ancient-minded male ninny cannot take or handle it. But I do not brandish the title web developer all too easily; I’d very much rather that other people call me that based on the code that I produce for them. Even if at first, people will decide to look at me as a girl and a web developer next, I am quite optimistic that my outputs will later catch up and emerge first.
There are actually advantages to being constantly mistaken for being a shallow and brainless bimbo. Apart from having the shock factor, these girly things that cause some men to insult geeky girls like me opens up a door of opportunities not necessarily catered to by the dominant population of males. For example, you cannot really send your ultra-smart and socially inept team leader with zero power dressing skills to appease your client. But you can send a fairly well-combed female web developer with a calm demeanor to do the damage control with enough technical experience to explain what went wrong. When you are looking for angel investors to fund the start-up, the evaluating team will also look at the personality and not the number of git commits in the repository. When dealing with lay persons, women with the gift of gab can easily turn a coffee meeting into a partnership. The manner of attacking code is also different for women, who tend to think things through in a different way. And this opens up new ideas that would not otherwise be seen if it were an all-male crew.
There are many good things that come with being a geeky girl in a male-dominated line of work. For being able to get past the stereotype, you have a host of work opportunities that are not available to other women in other industries or other men in the same industry. You just need to be strong and willing to take the good with the bad in order for it to work.