Don’t You Belong in the Kitchen – Make me a Sandwich Already!

This post was sent to me early this morning.
https://www.usenix.org/blog/my-daughters-high-school-programming-teacher

Probably too early, because while I read it, I didn’t quite comprehend what was happening, or rather, supposed to be happening. After re-reading it now, I can say that I truly feel bad for the young girl, and the writer, in question, because I know exactly how she feels.

My first coding class wasn’t until I decided to be an engineer, and it was pretty easy. Honestly, I was good at it, and there was a decent balance between guys and girls. (Understanding that the ratio in engineering school is somewhere around 1:3-4  – at least in my initial classes, now it’s more like 1:10) What the author describes, I only experienced there occasionally.

Later on, I believe that next year in school, classes became more nightmareish.

I’d like to say that I’m good at understanding code, or anything really, when it’s taught theoretically, but I do not have that skill. I have to understand why something is useful, or where it applies outside of the theory. This learning ‘defect’ made me the target of a fair amount of sexism and hateful comments in all of my classes and labs. I dreaded going to some of my classes, because I knew it would be a battle to get through the lab with the snide comments about ‘needing to make someone a sandwich’ or ‘getting in the kitchen’ or, god forbid, the unending talk of who was sleeping with who, and how good (or bad) it was.

One of the worst experiences, came from one of my labs in the ECE department, where the hour+ each week of lab time made me uncomfortable on a whole new scale. This class happened during the tail end of summer, which happened to be unbearably hot. Next thing I know, all the windows are being opened, and most of the guys are ditching their shirts in favor of being a tad bit cooler. Insert uncomfortable feelings here. Now, I wouldn’t have minded if it’d have been just that, but again, the comments start. ‘Hey Caitlyn, why not make something to drink with those sandwiches you own us?’ After being somewhat used to being told to get in the kitchen, this got to me. I toned them out, finished my labwork, mostly, and walked out. If I remember correctly, I told them all to shut up about the kitchen jokes and that they can go make their own sandwiches.

That hasn’t been the last experience I’ve had with guys like this, who think it’s perfectly okay to berate a girl, just because she’s a girl. Sadly, it happened on my last job. I had a big learning curve, but while I had the curve, I didn’t want to be talked to like I was five. I knew the software, and learned the hardware relatively quickly, but almost every time I had a question, I was talked to like a little girl who didn’t know anything. What a way to teach new engineers. Woo.

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I experience things like this, but I’ll still remember the first few times this kind of drama happened. Those kinds of things sting, deeply.

From what I see, it makes most girls walk away from a education and career in these fields.

There are so many things that could be done differently, to encourage better behavior, but it’s ‘too much work’ or ‘it’s not worth my time’ is what seems to keep being said. If even the TA had said something in my lab, it might have made a difference.

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