Does Being The Only Woman Matter?

I was the only woman in my class.

Did it matter?

I’m sure everyone would like me to say “no”.

After all, nobody threw rocks at me or pulled my pigtails. Nobody treated me any different in any way. In fact, everyone was exceptionally nice. So, why should it matter?

Let me put it this way:

Imagine being a giant, furry grizzly bear, trying to sit through preschool in one of those tiny blue, plastic chairs.

It doesn’t matter if the rest of the class has their heads down, coloring. You know you’re a grizzly bear, and you can’t stop thinking that as soon as you stand up, everyone is going to see that the tiny blue chair is stuck to your giant, furry butt.

Yes, there are days when you slide into that chair perfectly and feel right at home.

There are also days when you spend the entire class squirming into increasingly contorted positions, trying to get comfortable without dragging the chair screeching across the floor. When the bell rings, you should feel relief, but instead you realize that all the other students have finished their finger paintings and you haven’t even heard the assignment. Not to mention, the chair is still stuck to your butt.

That’s not to say that grizzly bears shouldn’t go to preschool. They should. Well…not real grizzly bears. They might eat the children.

I guess what I’m saying is that everyone has their comfort zone, and that comfort zone is largely determined by how well you fit in.

I saw this from a different perspective at the Rails Girls workshop. A thirteen-year-old girl showed up with her parents, eager to learn, but also hoping to find other girls her age. She was the only young person, and when she realized that, she looked like she wanted to squirm out of her skin.

I watched her alternate between discomfort and elation. Elation because she loved what she was doing, and was truly gifted at it. Discomfort because she was different, and just couldn’t shake that from her mind. Nothing was tailored to her needs, since she wasn’t the target audience, and she knew it.

I did my best to make her comfortable….we all did, but all of our efforts combined could not do what one, single teenage girl could have done, just by sitting down beside her.

So, if you happen to own a preschool, how can you help attract more grizzly bears?

Start by buying bigger chairs.

Here are just 2 of the many chairs that don’t fit this Mama Bear:

  • Hackathons: They sound like so much fun, but what mother can devote an entire weekend to something that doesn’t earn money and doesn’t involve the kids? Could we make it a one-day thing instead?
  • Social Structures that Revolve around Call of Duty (or some equally masculine game): If I don’t participate, I miss the opportunity to socialize. If I do, I’m the “charity case”, since I don’t even know how to work the controls. I’m not saying we have to bust out the Barbies, but there has to be something a little more gender-neutral.

And here’s why you should care:

Most of those preschoolers are going to paint the same thing: a stick figure here, a rainbow there…lots of tiny little fingerprints.

But…if you can help that grizzly bear get comfortable, give her some finger paints that fit her paws…who knows what she could paint?

It sure ain’t gonna be a blue chair.

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Being the Only Coder Chick…Can be Awesome

I’ve been there before as the only female on a tech sales team. I’m there now as the only female student in my coding bootcamp. It can be lonely—if you let it be. Or….it can be awesome.

This is my reflection on the article The Loneliness of the Female Coder (a great article, if a bit of a downer)

Here’s how to Rock as the Only Chick in the Tech Department:

When someone makes a crude joke, and then it gets awkward when he realizes there was a woman at the table and apologizes:

=> Make a cruder one, and watch him go pink to the tips of his ears. Call him “Pinky”, then tell him you’ll stop calling him “Pinky” when he stops weirding out about making crude jokes in front of you. Make sure you do this in front of all his “boys”.

When someone feels the need to explain to you in small words what a “bug” is:

=> Thank him profusely, and tell him you always thought of roaches when people said “bug”. Then go up to the podium and give your speech about information security (in front of his boys).

When you feel like a fraud–like you have to prove that you’re as good as them because you’re female:

=> Hold on to that feeling, but DON’T QUIT. You will work harder and be more awesome because of it.

When they always hold the door for you because you’re a lady:

=> LOVE IT! Don’t get weird about this. They’re paying homage to your awesome femininity. (Say thank you.)

When your sense of humor is OUT of ORDER because you’re having a really bad day and your boss takes credit for your work:

=> CRY. Loud, wrenching sobs. Draw it out, and wait until he offers you a raise to shut you up.

When it gets so bad that you’re ready to quit:

=> Call me. 

Geek Culture: A Geek Chick Perspective

Coming from an extremely geeky family, I have one foot firmly planted in Geek Culture. As a woman and mother, I have the other foot firmly planted outside it.

My only real disappointment with The Iron Yard’s Ruby on  Rails Academy has been that I haven’t had another Geek Chick to share the experience with.

What I miss most about having a Geek Chick companion is this:

The other day, the teacher asked what was new with the class. I announced that over the weekend my daughter turned 5 –a huge milestone– and was starting school. The response from the class was:

<chirp> <chirp> <chiiiiiruuuuuup> Awkward congratulations. <chiiiiruuuuup>***

In a class full of women, the response would have been a collective “Aaaaaawwwwwww!” followed by fifteen minutes of digression into stories about their children’s first day of school. Then we would have all held hands and sang “Kum ba ya”. ***

Women have a compulsive need to talk about their children. Men…not so much. (That’s especially true when most of them don’t have children. Only one other student in my class has a kid. Plus, his kid is a newborn and newborns don’t do much other than poop.)****

Here is what I get and don’t get about Geek Culture:

Get It

Kinda Get It Don’t Get It
Jeans: God bless the stubborn geeks that insisted on wearing jeans to work DragonCon: Would love to attend, but mostly to people watch Japanimation: Admittedly, I haven’t given it a fair try.
Web comics: xkcd, baby! Free beer on tap in the Atlanta Tech Village: Would prefer tequila, and don’t understand how anyone can combine drinking & coding successfully Comic books: Something I don’t have in common with most 8-year-old boys from the 90’s.
Think Geek T-shirts: I actually introduced my father and brother to Think Geek. (BAM! Out-geeked the fam!) Wearing a kilt to work every Friday (one of my Dad’s coworkers does this). If the intention is to shock people for giggles, I totally get it. If not, I totally don’t. (On a side note, I might start wearing a sombrero on Wednesdays) Ninja Turtles: again, something I don’t have in common with most 8-year-old boys from the 90’s.
 Video Games: I try to stay away from them, because they have the power to make me forget to bathe. Showing off: I get being competitive, but I prefer to compete silently, so that only I know that I’ve won. Ego trips
    Fear of talking to women—not as common as I was afraid it would be. I talk to myself often, and it’s not scary at all.

I hope that soon I will find my Geek Mama Twin. When I do, we will dress our daughters up as Princess Leah, go to Dragon Con, and tease each other about what our children would look like if we’d married the portly fellow dressed as a Woodland Fairy.

And that would be the start of a beautiful subculture.

***Please forgive my tendency toward theatrical exaggeration.

****Women would talk about the color of his poop, and whether that makes him a genius.