People Aren’t Stereotypes

There’s an office down the hall from mine, at a tech company, that you notice as you walk down the hall. The lights are never on, and there’s no exterior window. Instead there are some colorful dim Christmas lights, a beanbag chair, a whiteboard with drawings of icons, and some sci-fi posters. It gives off a chill, dormroom vibe, like someplace you’d go to read poetry with close friends. It exudes the word artsy. Oh, and the people who work in this office are both women.

My first reaction, when I started working at my company, was to be proud of the diversity, and to consciously avoid making assumptions. I wanted these women to be developers, to shatter stereotypes, to show that anyone can code. (Also, most people on the hallway are devs.) I was disappointed to find out (when they graciously invited me to eat lunch with their group in the common area down the hall) that they are both project managers, a less technical role. But I tried to stay positive; you do you, right?

My guiding principle of feminism, which I picked up from a few people in collage, is: feminism is about giving women a choice. What’s compelling is that, if you examine the case of women as a group and these two individuals, the principle leads me in the right direction both times.

These women, on the surface, appeared to be “artsy chicks” — a sexist and simplistic name for a sexist and simplistic stereotype, but go with it. You probably know or have known a few of these women. It seems unlikely that they’d be good at programming, but who are you to judge? Psychologists have found that people with diverse backgrounds can do better than those with a mental monoculture. And what if they want a career where the money’s better? If there’s a societal force that keeps “artsy chicks” who want to program professionally from doing so, then that robs them of a choice, and therefore is morally wrong.

But, if these two individuals want to be project managers, than you can’t force them away from that to combat a stereotype. They get to choose what to do with their lives.

I know I can’t generalize from these two individuals that no “artsy chick” wants to be a developer. I’m sure there’s at least one, somewhere. But if by and large this group is uninterested in the technology field, that raises a larger question. What if women, as a group, aren’t interested in tech at the same rates as men? And genuinely innately interested, not after what society tells them? Then, if hypothetically that were true, we couldn’t force women to take jobs in the tech field that they didn’t want, and you wouldn’t see equal representation of the sexes.

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