Think of a woman in the tech industry you admire. Describe her. If you’re thinking of someone particularly memorable, you might say, “She’s amazing! She’s an awesome software engineer, always has interesting things to say, and is really pretty.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m fascinated with these women because they reject all the stereotypes to which I’ve grown accustomed. They’re perfect.
It’s wonderful and crucial that these bright female role models exist. These women are living proof that women in technology are not just the caricatures that we are so often portrayed as in mainstream media — proof that we can be excellent programmers and normal people (for some definition of normal). We’re so far from achieving this abstract concept of equality in the tech industry, but I appreciate the fact that I can think of several women whom I admire and aspire to be like one day. I’m not against the existence of awesome women in tech. They are not the issue.
The problem starts when we reject women who don’t fit this mold of excelling in every way. You don’t have to look far to find examples of people advocating for women in tech (and other fields) by claiming that the tech industry isn’t just for socially awkward, unhygienic men — it’s also for women who buck the trends by being charismatic, stylish, talented engineers.
As an example, if you watch the she++ Documentary, you’ll find handfuls of inspirational, multifaceted women who reject the notion of being a stereotypical computer science major in favor of sororities, extroversion, manicures, and Gossip Girl. she++ keeps using the slogan “#goodgirlsgonegeek” to promote their cause, but I can’t get behind the idea that we are looking for good, sweet girls to turn into programmers. You shouldn’t have to be pretty or nice or really anything besides interested in tech to go into this industry. As much as I appreciate and support the work these groups are doing — and to be clear, she++ is not the only group I’m thinking of — I’m left with this nagging feeling that the only women we value are the ones who can be everything at once. That we’re only worthy if we can destroy the curve in the algorithms class and write beautiful lines of code while painting our nails. Otherwise, if we’re just okay programmers, or if we’re socially awkward, we don’t matter.
I resent that we keep perpetuating this idea that women in tech are good at everything because we shouldn’t have to be any better than anyone else to belong in this field. We belong in this field because we’re people who deserve a shot, not because we are geniuses. Nicki Minaj puts it best:
When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice, and you have to — it’s like, I can’t be all of those things at once. I’m a human being.
We put so much pressure on women to be brilliant, attractive, personable, successful, and everything in between.
You can be a respected politician and still have journalists ask you where you like to shop, be the highest paid actress in Hollywood and still be known as a bitch just for not smiling all the time, or really be in any field and still considered a social failure if you don’t plan to have kids.
I don’t want to combat misogyny by showing people who hate women that there is absolutely nothing to hate. That’s not how you garner acceptance for women — that’s how you put some women on a pedestal and put down anyone who isn’t perfect, who doesn’t want to be perfect. This trend of glorifying brilliant women is great for the short-term, but it’s not going to create lasting acceptance for all women. We don’t deserve to be in this industry because we’re all so incredibly exceptional and talented. We deserve equal treatment for no other reason than the fact that we are people.
– Amy Nguyen