Where Are the Women?

Once a month or so, back in the early days of blogging, this question would be posed by a male blogger. And then, the female bloggers would respond, um we’re here, you just don’t link to us or include us in your lists. Because many female bloggers were writing about so-called women’s issues–family policy, sexism, parenting, etc.–men just didn’t pay attention. And so women were made invisible in the new economy of blog networks.

I think we’re past that now, mostly, thanks in large part to those female bloggers, who were good writers and who insisted that the issues they cared about we’re important to everyone. It took some work.

MAKE Magazine featured a where are the women story about makerspaces, written by Georgia Guthrie who runs my local makerspace, The Hacktory. I have been to many events at The Hacktory and it has always had a good mix of men and women. She’s done a fantastic job of making the space welcoming.

In the article, she talks about ways that women ar made to feel like they aren’t good at maker activities. Often, they’re deterred by teachers. I got lucky in middle and high school. My teachers would say things like, maybe you should consider being a genetic engineer. And even when I struggled, they assumed I would figure it out, and helped me and never indicated that my struggles meant that I couldn’t do math or science. My trouble began in college, when my science professor scoffed at me taking the real intro rather than the one for non-majors, so I dropped and never took science again, except the one required mom-major class.

As a teacher myself, and a teacher of girls, I am careful about what I say to girls, especially those who struggle, or who say, I’m not good at this. I always compare CS to sports or an instrument. It takes practice. If you’re in a coed environment, there are often other things you have to do. Build girls confidence and call on them when they have the answer. Praise their work. Make sure the boys don’t take over, especially in group projects. Make your classroom inviting. Don’t have posters featuring just men or that mainly represent interests for boys, like first person shooters. Consider varying your assignments to appeal to girls. That war assignment you do might leave girls cold. Try having an art or music assignment, too. Also make sure your assignments don’t emphasize sensitive issues for girls: food, body size, looks, etc. Don’t have a data assignment that requires students to weigh themselves, for example. And consider having your students do some research on the gender gap. Of course, you’ll have to be prepared for a challenging conversation about that. Some boys will insist that the gender gap exists because women are not as good at stem or that they’re not as interested. Bring in an expert if you want.

To be sensitive to gender issues in your classroom means thinking about it and examining it in everything you do. But you can improve the landscape for your female students with some small changes and perhaps gain some new students in the process.