A week ago, France won the football world cup. Immediately, streets all over the country became crowded with people screaming, singing and partying. Pictures of fans dressed in extravagant costumes, crying tears of joy, or even completely naked, went viral on social media.
My Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds quickly got filled with blue-white-red images, and it was beautiful. I am not interested in football, but I enjoy looking at happy people. However, these pictures reminded me of others, often seen in media to belittle teenage girls.
“Hysterical” teenage fans
You know what I mean. You have seen these images, too. They often come up because of a Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber concert. We see girls lining up hours in advance to get good seats, singing the lyrics of their favorite songs, crying out of anticipation and excitement. And we mock them. Harshly. It’s no coincidence that the term “hysteria” is often employed to describe these girls, a sexist word historically used to dismiss women. Football fans, predominantly men, are not judged with the same cruelty even though they behave the same way.
In 2015, Laura Moss wrote a fascinating article entitled “Why must we hate the things teen girls love?“. She explains that “mocking teenage girls and portraying their interest as worthless can further reinforce ideas that things created for women and by women are unimportant.” Truly, it seems okay to be excited and obsessive about the world cup, but not about the new One Direction album.
And it’s not only young girls’ gender-typical interests that are ridiculed. If they try to branch out and learn about traditionally masculine activities – such as sports, comics or video games – they will receive the same amount of backlash and anger. During the world cup, more than 30 female journalists have been harassed. It’s no news that the world of video games has a problem with sexism. Whether women’s interests are stereotypically feminine or masculine, society will inevitably mock them. Teenage girls are especially confronted with insults and contempt.
The link between tech and fandom
While researching female entrepreneurship, I found Sacha Judd’s brilliant talk entitled “How the tech sector could move in one direction“, in which she shows that our dismissal of young girls’ interests could be the reason why there are so few women in tech.
It’s simple, really. Go on Tumblr and type “One Direction art” or “Photoshop One Direction“. You will see a considerable amount of gorgeous drawings, manipulated images and beautiful montages of the band. Check YouTube and you will find thousands of highly professional-looking videos of the singers, videos that were entirely made by the fandom.
You might be wondering, what does this have to do with tech? Sacha Judd points out that teenage girls are “essentially video editors, graphic designers, community managers. They are teaching each other CSS to make their Tumblr themes look more gorgeous, and they are using Chrome extensions in anger to make Tumblr do what they want. These are basically front end developers, social media managers, they are absolutely immersed in technology, every day, and we aren’t paying attention, because they are doing it in service of something we don’t care about.”
We spend so much time discussing how to engage young girls with technology. It seems that we are ignoring the fact that they already are.
Impostor syndrome in STEM
As a result, teenage girls don’t consider the IT sector as a possibility for their future – a recent study by YNAP states that half of them don’t perceive tech careers to be exciting. By mocking teenage girls’ interests, we push them to believe that their work, art, and technical knowledge are irrelevant. Teenage girls all over the world don’t believe to be skilled enough, they feel intimidated by technology, they have no idea what type of job they could find. Despite having CSS and HTML experience through blogging, they don’t even consider taking computer science or design courses. Today around the world, only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are female.
It’s no surprise that women who have beaten all odds and joined the tech industry face impostor syndromes at an alarming rate. The retention of women in these fields is also problematic: 53% of them will leave the industry about 10 years into their careers.
How can we change this?
For a start, we must stop alienating teenage girls because of their interests. There is nothing wrong with enjoying Taylor Swift or One Direction. There’s nothing wrong with screaming, singing and crying because you’ve met your idol. As a society, we approve celebrations after football events, so why can’t we accept teenage girls for expressing their passion?
Next, the tech industry must recruit better. Every now and then, we see terrible adverts on Twitter for jobs in tech – most of them specifically targeting male candidates. There are great resources online to tackle the way your company handles recruitment:
– Textio uses machine learning to compare your job post to more than 40 million others to predict how well it will perform before it’s ever published.
– Hire More Women in Tech is a simple webpage that gives quick tips and concrete advice to improve your job listings and attract more diverse talents.
Finally, we must stop calling it a “pipeline issue”. Let’s stop pretending that there are no talented women. Teenage girls are skilled, brilliant and passionate. They hold the necessary knowledge and expertise to have a strong impact on tech companies. If only we’d take them seriously.