For the odd moments I can manage to think of something.

Code and destroy

In case you ever wondered about the ranty pants. I buy them in packs of five.
I have them on. Let’s go.

Would you have been a better coder if your first computer was pink?

This evening I went to a gathering of women (and some men) to think about encouraging girls to take an interest and hopefully inspire a career in technology in some way. We all know that this is a problem. There are women who work in IT, I appreciate this, but the numbers do not look good.

According to a statistic on the night, the IT work force is only 17% women. I don’t like stats much when I am not being told how they came about, but for now, I’ll agree that this figure, if it is correct is not great. The people presenting this information went on to cringe and say that this figure may be heading downward. They got, me. My interest piqued, I wondered “What can I do?” and sat forward in my seat.

Now, I’ll leave the broad theme of the evening there for a moment. I am not criticising women who are trying to level the IT work playing field. I think its good. I want to see more women influencing IT and computing, the ones I know inspire me every day, change the way I think, make me proud to be female, so lets have more of that. So big girl crushes all round, but then a cold shower and something that just makes me feel that some efforts are flawed.

A presentation followed and what we were offered as a template kinda turned me off. “We made it pink and trendy” was the phrase. I looked around. The literature, pink, the cupcakes, pink, the powerpoint, pink. Then I looked around the room, women of varied experience and age, fiercely intelligent, creative and interesting. Dressed in grey, brown, dark blue, black. Power suits, everything but the tie.

The technology in their hands, phones, laptops – black, grey, that weird brown/purple colour. Not much in the way of Barbie’s laptop happening here. I thought about my learning with screens and computing, black, white grey, blue. Easy to read.

I think you see where I am headed.

I don’t have a pure disagreement with pink. I don’t think that the colour will forever make girls think that IT will be about spangles and robot unicorns, but I see a disconnect here and I think that portraying the IT work place as a pink palace more suited to the Barbara Cartland is unwise.

I recognise that many little girls go through a “pink phase”, indeed some never leave. But not all little girls do.
The group of women in the room was assorted and little girls are assorted too. Also – technology, thus far has failed to present itself as predominantly pink.

I thought more generally about the women I wanted to be as I was growing up. Mrs Peel, Siouxsie Sioux, Deborah Harry, Angelina Jolie in Hackers, Lisbeth Salander (the hacking, not the tremendous amounts of abuse). I was a little girl with trucks and Lego. If technology had been presented to me as a pink pony, I might not have been interested at all. I probably would have thought it was more for my neighbour, who was a good friend and completely different.

Blanketing young girls with pink marshmallow establishes stereotypes and fails to acknowledge individuals.

I see the need for an early entry point and access to technology as a good influence. Indeed friendly interfaces and colours, good design makes sense. But my Commodore was brown. It didn’t stop me learning BASIC or playing games until bed time.

I’m not saying that I think all girls should be presented with goth and punks as ideal role models either. But a little rock and roll in the mix might be appealing.

When I was young I wanted to be cool. I probably still do when I have a moment to think about it. I thought punk was cool, rebellion was cool. I thought hackers were cool. The power, exploration, curiosity. The role models I read about in my late teens – the phreakers, hackers and crackers were all up to something illegal. Most of them got caught too. But they were frighteningly intelligent, elite, knew things that others could not understand. It was like a secret code and society and I badly wanted in. There were no girls in the stories I read at that time. I sometimes wonder if there were, what I might be doing now.

I see a few role models in comic books and fiction these days. I tend to like them. I want girls to meet some of my friends too – they’re alternative, funny, cool. They still know the history of coding, they can add up in binary and evangelise for HTML 5. But they also don’t quite play by the rules.

I think there is a need for passionate women who code to show off their human side. The long hours, the night time sessions, the learning and discipline. Then to show off their dark cynicism, their loud music. Tech really looks like a fluffy place from a mainstream stand point. Again, horses for courses, but there must be a few out there who code to Rollins, design a little darkness, learn a little digital magic?

If you had a teacher that spoke to you like an adult. Gave you some space to learn and taught you with respect, I bet you still remember them today. Would you like them better if they talked down and asked you if you would like to learn more in a pastel environment?

Maybe there is a space for this kind of influence. I don’t mean teaching 9 year old girls how to hack the bank. But the sterile pink womb of girls in tech is starting to grate and I wonder if there is a different way to spread the message that is respectful and not patronising, interesting and cool. Just not “pink and trendy”.

…and yes, ranty pants do come in pink, but I’m old enough to make that decision for myself.

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