I Look Like a Woman
Ever since Isis Wenger (@isisanchalee) wrote on Medium about her experience with responses from males about her unauthentic presence in an ad campaign for her company, women in male-dominated industries have started speaking up about their experiences. #ILookLikeAnEngineer has expanded to #ILookLikeX. Scientists, laborious industries, sports and more.
I’ve read many articles about why women aren’t in these industries, most often citing it is because of a lack of interest at an early age being the issue. Most of the girls I knew as a kid were interested in science and video games, too. We weren’t brain washed into liking barbies, animals and baby dolls. We liked the things we thought were interesting, some of us were tomboys, some of us weren’t. We all looked and dressed pretty differently, but we liked the same things.
Fast-forward to when I became a young woman. I began to look like a woman. At this point, a lot of men started treating me like I was put on this Earth to be gawked at. I have been told many times that I “look like a stripper” or “should be in porn” and “you look like you were made to have sex”. I know I’m not alone in that. Men have been trying to brand me with my sexuality as my defining quality since I was 15 years old. A few months ago a man told me that it was a shame that I wasn’t a slut, since “being hot” was my only redeeming quality. These aren’t compliments. These are demeening and dismissing of my accomplishments, my talents, my skills and personality.
This brings us to the male critics telling us that we don’t look like ____ (insert your profession/hobby here). You don’t look like a mathematician. You don’t look like a gamer. You don’t look like an engineer. You don’t look like a scientist. You don’t look like a mechanic. If we get offended by these statements, we are “too sensitive” and should “take it as a compliment”. It’s not a compliment, just as being categorized by our sexuality isn’t. You’re saying “you don’t look smart” and “you don’t look capable”. You’re saying you’re surprised that an attractive woman can be anything other than your eye candy. Change the way you think.
Women are alienated out of tech. Some people claim it’s the new approach of companies trying to be “cool” with ping pong and kegerators, but I don’t buy it. Not all men are into those things, either. It’s the environment independent of what toys you have in your tech org. It might not even by the environment of your tech org at all. It might just be all the men consistently reminding the woman that she’s just a woman and doing anything outside of the bounds of what the man thinks she’s capable of is an anomaly.
At a previous tech position, I ended up one time in a meeting to discuss some legacy code and how it worked. Myself and a male coworker who was new and unfamiliar with the code were present in the meeting. Each question about the patterns and structure of the code was directed at my male colleague who didn’t know the answers. I fielded the questions toward me to answer them, but it continued on for an hour like that. Them asking the male questions, me having to answer on his behalf.
Women are evaluated differently than men in the workplace.
And that’s not even the crux of the issue, it’s just one contributing factor.
It’s 2015. I should be able to log into World of Warcraft and play an arena match without being told my partners only play with me because of the way I look. I should be able to announce getting a great engineering position at a gaming company without a single response questioning “how” I got the job. I should be able to do anything I want without being questioned how I could have possibly had the ability or opportunity to do it considering that I’m an attractive woman. As all women should be able to.
Think about how you view the women in your organization. Do you respect them independently of their gender? Independently of their appearance? When women are thought of equals in tech and science industries, the retention rate will go up. When you allow women like Isis to be themselves without first questioning their authenticity because of their gender and appearance, interest will go up. Why? Young women will have role models and mentors to relate to. I would love to get up and speak to women interested in tech and science, but I am absolutely terrified of the backlash from male critics questioning my authenticity as a gamer, an engineer and my scientific background.
The source of the lack of female presence in gaming, tech, science and labor industries is a fixable one. Change the way you think about us.