A reluctant feminist

I believe that all human beings are equal. That makes me a feminist. But I’m a reluctant one. I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the term feminist as people equate it with being a ‘man hater’ which I’m really not. I just think women should be equal to men.

Last week I read an article in the Guardian about 17 year old Jinan Younis and her attempts at setting up a feminist society at her school. You should read the whole thing but a quick synopsis is that after a harrowing incident with a group of men in the street she tries to set up a society at her (all girls) school but the school spend a year getting in the way before finally conceding. Once the society is up and running she and her fellow society members receive horrible abuse online from their male peers, thus proving the need for the society in the first place.

Jinan says “I fear that many boys of my age fundamentally don’t respect women. They want us around for parties, banter and most of all sex. But they don’t think of us as intellectual equals, highlighted by accusations of being hysterical and over sensitive when we attempted to discuss serious issues facing women.”
“It’s been over a century since the birth of the suffragette movement and boys are still not being brought up to believe that women are their equals.”

The boys’ reaction is aggressive and defensive all at once. Why is this? Why would they not want their peers to be equal to them? I don’t think it’s that they don’t want equality, it’s the use of the word feminism that is inflammatory to them. They are defensive because they take the word feminism to mean ‘anti men’. This was illustrated to me when I tweeted about the story and was met with the following responses from David Batty who follows me on Twitter.

Many people who say they are feminists act as though they are anti-men so that is where the hatred of the term comes from.

Equality is one thing, many ‘Feminists’ want to oppress men, instead of equality they want women only preferential treatment

Male experiences of the hostile feminists means men assume any mention of feminism means anti men.

If someone wants equality then use that term, it will cause no offence, men dont equate the term feminism with equality.

David has hit the nail on the head and you can see the damage that’s been done. It’s because of some very negative actions carried out under the banner of feminism that the term now means ‘anti men’ rather than ‘equality for women’.

It’s so sad that this is the general feeling about feminism and what’s worse is that this attitude is being passed on the the next generation. We need to do something to educate children about equality and break the cycle. Part of that solution I think, is to offer equal opportunities and encouragement to both genders in all possible career choices. And this is where I can start to make a difference.

The gender split in tech

The percentage of tech jobs held by women is just 17%. There are many reasons that this situation has occurred but one reason that can’t be ignored is that girls do not take up careers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) as much as boys do mainly because these subjects have been seen as ‘not for girls’. A pretty sad state of affairs I think you’ll agree.

Last year Linda Sandvik and I set up Code Club - a nationwide network of volunteer-led, after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11. We made a decision very early on that we would never mention gender. And that decision was compounded when we read about Emma Mulqueeny’s experiences in trying to drive more girls to join Young Rewired State which she’d kindly blogged about.

The crux of it is that so much of growing up is about developing your own identity and ‘fitting in’ at the same time. Sometimes the most terrifying thing for a teen or pre-teen is to be seen as different, so when you specifically invite girls to a unisex group you’re drawing attention to their gender. You’re saying ‘technology is really a boys thing and any girl who comes is different to other girls’ it marks them out from the crowd and they fear their peers will judge them for it.

Code Club is for everyone just as technology is for everyone. So far it’s worked. 40% of our 12,000 Code Club students are female. By treating all our students equally we can show this generation that no matter what your gender we all have the same opportunity to work in technology. I hope that by the time they reach secondary school they will feel confident enough to continue into a career in tech should they wish too, regardless of their gender.

Just for women?

I’m a woman. I work in the web industry and have done for the last six years. I found it easy to get in and I have a happy existence here. But I think I’m in the very lucky tiny minority.

I used to have a real problem with female-only events and groups such as Women Who Code as I felt they were condesending. I wondered why women would want special groups? Why can’t we just have ‘Nice people who Code’? But on further investigation I’ve found that the women who attend those events and groups actually get a great deal from them. They are much less intimidating to join, the attendees gain confidence in themselves and their abilities and they can network comfortably. I realised that my problem with them wasn’t that they existed, it was that they needed to exist.

The week before International Women’s Day I had an epiphany. Linda and I had been asked to speak at a total of six events between us and in each instance it was because we were women that we’d been asked to speak.

“Why ask us to speak just because we are women? The work we do is more important than the fact we are female!” We ranted at each other over a pint. But it’s not as simple as that is it?

As someone pointed out (after I’d calmed down) -

“Like it or not, your success with Code Club means you are now a role model for other women - albeit an accidental and reluctant one. The fact that you’ve not found it harder being a woman puts you in the minority. You might find it boring when people refer to your gender but if you don’t speak up and support other women, then by not doing so you’re not promoting the equality which you so rightly crave for your students”

And they were right. I felt like a right prat.

So for now I’m going to continue encouraging thousands of young girls into technology in the hope that their sheer numbers will change the landscape and I’ll continue to support my fellow females in their bid for equality, but perhaps a little louder from now on.

If that makes me a feminist, then so be it.