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Encouraging Female Programmers, Even the Redheads

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Encouraging Female Programmers, Even the Redheads

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On my last post, someone named Bob didn’t like that I’d said: “NYU did not have any sort of club for women interested in CS.”

Did they have a general CS club? If so, they had a club for women interested in CS.

Having special clubs just for women (or just for men) hurts women by making them seem different and an “other”. We don’t have special clubs for red-heads in CS for the same reason.

I joined NYU’s general CS club. When I walked into the room, there were 20 guys and me. I almost turned and left, but I thought, “Fuck it, if I’m not supposed to be here I’ll stick like a limpet and do better than all of them put together.” However, I don’t think most people have the “If people want me to do X, I’ll do !X” attitude. I know that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in programming.

Being the only woman in a room full of guys makes me feel “other,” not having a special club. It’s nice to having a club that’s all women so that there’s somewhere to do go when I don’t want to feel other. If being a redhead made me feel other, maybe I’d like to spend time with other redheads in CS, but it doesn’t, so I don’t.

I met a guy a couple of years ago who didn’t think women were “naturally” good at computer science. He thought this because his college’s weed-out class had started with 100 students, three of whom were women, and none of the women made it through the process of whittling the class down to 20 students. Being the only woman in the room feels like I’m representing all women: if I fail, I’m showing that all women everywhere aren’t good at CS. Sometimes it’s nice to not have that burden.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in why women don’t enter computer science and what can be done (I find the subject fascinating), check out these resources:

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Published at DZone with permission of Kristina Chodorow, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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