Friday, August 13, 2010

Re: Boobs won't help you with Maths

A few days ago I came upon an interesting discussion on Twitter. It was a reaction to this article in Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny, essentially an attempted insight into the world of female geeks in the male dominated world of IT and Maths (even if the article gives stats about almost fifty- fifty proportions of girls to boys at US schools studying IT).  

Upon reading the article, I couldn’t but notice some poorly hidden sexisms and (not only) gender stereotypes. May it be for ignorance or genuine lack of knowledge about these, to my dismay, the author committing these annoyances is a woman herself and should know better. The tone of the article is so anal about stressing the fact that women who do actually work in IT and study Maths usually don’t have moustaches (a very stereotyped reference to dykes, I believe) and are pretty, sexy etc. that I had to work hard to suppress my disgust to even read further.

The title could be loosely translated as ‘Boobs won’t help you with Maths’. Duh! Like they help you anywhere else? Hold the door for you when you are schlepping boxes? No seriously. In what profession do boobs help you, aside from jobs that require nudity? I have two and would love to know. Maybe I missed a memo or something. Do lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists, journalists (the writing kind, not the presenting type) who have breasts have it easier at their universities? This article hints that they do. Well, maybe that’s just me, but I think those are serious accusations that would at the least merit some further investigation, because of –um, I don’t know- sexual harassment, equal opportunity, gender inequality, discrimination issues. All those fun topics that would make for a really interesting and important read if pursued. 

But alas, nobody cares about that. No. What the author cares about is this good old prejudice, that the (supposedly) male dominated world of natural sciences, IT and Math would treat women and people with boobs as if they were special. Spoiler alert: no, they don’t. But they have a special web for them. (Later about that.)

We find out right in the introduction, that these ‘geekgirls’ and ‘tech-worms’ (an unfortunate word play on ‘bookworms’ which is even worse in Czech and Slovak, since it is literally translated as a ‘book-moth’ and there are no moths in computers. What would they eat anyway? Cables? Not to mention that ‘tech-worm’ sounds more like someone who is into techno music...) know their geeky computer and internet stuff but it does not mean that they are not sexy (or have moustaches). Oh and the next sentence says that "beauty and intelligence are equal weapons for them". So, am I weird or does this really merit a giant face-palm? 

To me this notion of using ‘female weapons’ belongs in the 19th century and should be left there. We have come a long way since then, or so I thought. And when people seriously bring up this old chestnut, I feel like eating the wallpaper. In my naïveté I thought that we don’t need those so called ‘female weapons’ since we have equal rights, are free to work and study, since it is socially accepted and welcome for us to be sexually aggressive and take initiative, since we can move freely and since we can buy a Glock (even a pink one). The times, when all you had as a woman were looks and charm and you had to use them to catch a husband to take care of you and give you a home are over long ago and the use of ‘female weapons’ belongs in Jane Austen books.

So what is it with all these references to looks and appearance? Why do women have to be sexy all the time, I mean who gives a flying fuck about how smart people look? Who cares how men look who are geeks themselves? The whole point of geekness is to be smart to the point of brilliance, and I don’t see many articles defending men in IT against the stereotyped notions of their poor hygiene, anti-social tendencies, almost autistic ways and lack of fashion sense or overuse of pornography. I was really hoping we were over this. At least among ourselves who do have some level of geeky-ness about us. The need to be apologetic- because that’s what this is – to explain and prove to the world of former classmates who looked down on us, because smartness usually does not earn you high points with teenagers, that we are now just as good or even better has become such a cliché that we don’t even have the sense to notice or doubt it anymore. It is partially due to the fact that defining geeks (definition no.1 at urban dictionary:) as the people you bullied at school and now you work for them would be very flattering and a revenge fantasy come true.  So why would anyone bust the myths that flatter them?

Well, because they are stupid and what they actually mean is that even if you are smart, you are still insecure about yourself. I don’t really think many geeks are insecure about themselves (or should be) and particularly not insecure because of former classmates, schoolmates and/ or bullies (not to mention their looks). That would be like giving power to the terrorists, right? Right.

So where were we? Ah yes. To make a point the author interviews (quotes) a total of 5 women who study maths, or work in IT. Two of them even do call themselves geeks and one is totally accidentally a former model, just to prove the point, that women in IT are really really sexy. I wonder if it ever occurred to her, that people who are smart are sexy for their brains, not for their long blond hair. Also she manages to mention, that one of the women has a boyfriend. As if to say “See? Geeks are not a bunch of ugly social outcasts and virgins. And even if it were the case, at least geek girls are definitely not.”  Or something like that...

On a more serious note the article also mentions a Czech school that recognises the lack of female IT students as a problem and is attempting to change that –drum rolls- by making a pink website. Because let’s face it, us girls, we just love pink and pink stuff in general and we might get fooled by a pastel website to even send school applications to study computer sciences and information technologies.

Even if the article is frankly just hilarious, this is where I stop laughing. Professor Jan M. Honzik is quoted on said website muttering things like “Women have a range of important characteristics and abilities, which men don’t. They (women) are usually careful, responsible, and reliable. They have a better sense for order and for languages and communication. Their great contribution to the study environment is undeniable.”
Please, go to the website, read it and let me know if I misunderstood something. Because I hope I did. I really hope they are not trying to lure girls into studying IT by making a Barbie-coloured website and citing gender stereotypes as if they were A: biological facts, B: really great to impress us.

The precious Professor goes on and on about how men would benefit from more women, because they could use the social skills (hello stereotypes!). He mentions how the school would benefit because they have a high dropout rate of self assured male students and how it would be good to replace them by quote: “average, careful and honest female students”. But does he ever say that the school would treat you with just the same respect and expectations and help you develop your skills and talent, as any other male student? No, because they clearly don’t think so. They seem to think you are a twat, impressed by a special colour website and by information about women in the history of IT that you could google anytime on your own, only if you weren’t so damn dumb.

Do they say how creative it is, how much money you could make, how much fun you can have with it? Yes, to be fair, they do. But you have to read through the whole page to get to that part and since they managed to piss me off in the first paragraph, I almost didn’t get there. Also, they suggest you could easily find a future partner. Well, not really if they reach their goal and get flooded with female students, all looking for a boyfriend and a way to “influence your future and not be forever enslaved by computes designed by men”. OK, now he is trying to flatter the emancipated feminists among us. But he fails again.

I don’t want to do this school injustice. At least they are trying and maybe possibly they are just the victim of bad marketing. To see how bad, you just try to imagine a school for nurses or teachers attempting the same type of stereotyped BS and to impress boys into studying there, by dedicating a special blue coloured website to them. As usual, the problems of gender segregation in the workplace and in study programs are far more complex to be solved so easily. I am glad they try, but I am flabbergasted that they do it by restating the same gender clichés that cause their problem in the first place. Maybe next time they should ask an expert instead of a PR company.
Or they could ask the women who do work in IT, why do they do it. What made them interested in the first place? Why do they think so few women want to join the IT geek ranks? Now that would be another article worth reading...

Speaking of which- the author of the article quotes another teacher from said school as saying contradictory things like: “Maybe it is due to the fact that girls are from an early age given dolls to play with and boys are given Lego and complicated cars. But maths is about talent. There are no gender differences in it.” I wish she would have called him out on that. But alas, she didn’t.

At urban dictionary there are 83 explanations and definitions of the word geek. I myself identify mostly with the use of the word to describe anyone who is really knowledgeable and passionate about a topic- may it be computer related, or completely different such as art, literature, movies, any science, or even fashion (check, check, check, check, check and check!). So I might as well come out and call myself a geek, although I don’t feel the need to, since it is kind of obvious. One thing I know for sure. The author of the article is not one of us.


AIF said...

speaking of stereotypes: they usually became stereotypes for a reason ;-)

S. said...

I got your drift. No matter what the stereotype is, there is always somebody, to whom it will be an accurate description. But that does not make them any more true, nor does it make them suck any less for the rest of us.

lvsticvs said...


"Because let’s face it, us girls, we just love pink and pink stuff in general and we might get fooled by a pastel website to even send school applications to study computer sciences and information technologies." - excellent