Friday, October 21, 2011

Women in Computer Science

I'm going to write this post while it's fresh in my head.

Last night I watched a screening of the movie Missrepresentation. The film talks about the popular media's portrayal of women as a backlash to the progress women have been making in society in the last century, then explains how this portrayal is not just negative, but also very dangerous for all the freedoms women have recently gained. The movie discussed the idea that women still take second stage in popular media. Whether it's being the ditsy sidekick to the serious male news anchor, or being the lovesick women looking for a man in the latest romantic comedy, women are presented as existing for men. This hurts women in several ways. At a political level, this limits the way we listen to female politicians. When the media focuses on the appearance of a politician instead of the content of what they are saying, it's hard to respect them. This leads to less women in politics. At a day-to-day level, this kind of media portrayal tells women that, above all, we are valued by what we have to offer men. This is again, quite limiting and leads to young women failing to pursue important careers and ambitions because whatever it is, it isn't as important as important as appealing to men. It then becomes cyclical - with fewer women in important, powerful positions, there are fewer voices to advocate for women in the world at large.

Though the movie focused on politics, since this part of society has a unique ability to shape how empowered certain groups are in the future of our society, I really believe that it can be applied to any male dominated field. Over the summer I played in an Ultimate tournament with a team I didn't know too well and got a ride to the fields with a male student from Carleton College named Alex. We had a long trip to get there and ended up talking a lot about school. Early on in the conversation I mentioned that I had taken several classes in the computer science department and was hoping to minor. He reacted by asking me if it was difficult being in classes with so many men, before remembering that I went to a women's college.

My only experiences with the computer science field have been at Wellesley where, obviously, my peers are mostly female. To me, a computer science student a woman just because that's what I've been exposed to. But Alex' comment reminded me that the rest of the world still imagines a computer science student as male and further more, imagines computer science as a masculine field. I often wonder what it will be like to leave Wellesley with a background in Computer Science and enter a world where people say "Wow! What's it like to be part of such a male dominated field?"

That being said, what I think Missrepresentation inspired me to do, even more than before, is to specifically choose to pursue male dominated fields to work in. Computer science is fascinating and interesting to work on, but I'm in a fairly lucky position where I can take classes without having to question whether I, as a women, should study something more "feminine." I think it's important that every women have the opportunity to study what she finds fascinating and I hope that by studying computer science, I'm helping the world get just a little bit closer to achieving that goal.

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