A while ago, due to an attack of unbridled masochism, I went back to university to pursue a degree in computer science. That field is male-dominated, and the demographics at school were depressing; for every woman, there were eight or ten men. I knew that I was fighting an uphill battle, and was afraid that I would be viewed as a gender first and a talented programmer second. Many of the guys were welcoming and open-minded, but some bought gender stereotypes at wholesale prices.
I briefly dated someone in the program; like me, he was older than most of our classmates. We got along quite well, but it quickly became apparent that I didn’t want to build a relationship with him. There were a host of reasons, but the most disturbing was the fact that on more than one occasion, when I asked (and then told) him to stop doing something I didn’t enjoy while we were fooling around, he continued doing it. I told him that I thought this was offensive, and he showed no remorse; at one point, his response was, “Let me do my thing.” I started to suspect that he didn’t respect my wishes and would not be a good partner, and I broke it off.
Somewhat later, I received an e-mail that was full of invective. That was fine; it’s never fun to be dumped. However, he made sure to tell me that I’d only shown interest in him so that he would help me with my homework. I’d thought that we were sharing ideas and working together, but apparently I was just using my womanly wiles to get through my classes. I never knew that I was an academic whore; he made sure to inform me.
A few months after that, someone I considered a close friend suggested that I was selected to do independent projects and assist with school programs because I was “a girl, and they’re desperate to keep [me] around to fill quotas,” rather than because I took the time to show interest and ask my professors about available opportunities in the department.
Recently, a new acquaintance heard about my experience writing iPhone applications and immediately offered me a job. I was excited until he continued talking: “We’re writing a fashion application and the whole department is male. We really need a woman on the team.”
These experiences have really made me feel comfortable about my career choices. Are my future coworkers going to share these opinions? Am I an intelligent software engineer who just happens to be female, or am I a woman who (somehow, against all odds!) possesses some meagre programming abilities?
Oh well, #MFIF.
S., Toronto, ON