Girls and coding – it is not “cannot” it is “do not”

whycantgirlscodeGirls Who Code have released a series of satirical videos explaining that girls can’t code because they menstruate, have boobs that get in the way, or long eyelashes that mean they can’t see the screen. While I applaud the core idea behind poking fun at the idea that girls can’t code, the result is sadly self-defeating.

Put simply girls can code but they don’t. The “don’t” has nothing to do with hormones, physical attributes or anything else – it has everything to do with society’s views and the deeply misogynistic nature of the technology industry. Playing to the idea, even in jest, that there is an underlying reason that girls can’t code is playing with fire.

I’ve taught groups of kids to code for years. Up until high school girls are as interested and capable as boys. But when peer and parental pressure starts kicking in about what it means to be a girl, the girls start fading away from coding. Exactly the same thing happens to some boys. The only difference is that there is a larger cohort of boys left who continue on and so provide a safe environment to be a geeky boy.

And then those geeky boys form the core of an industry that creates exclusivity by excluding girls. (That is, by the way, an extraordinarily stupid way forward as it excludes them meeting the geeky girls out there; but there you are.)

This is a social problem and a serious one. It is the same problem which our society faces in all STEM subjects. Fixing it means changing the way society as a whole views women in technical roles – and that’s no easy thing.

Of course I should point out the extraordinarily obvious, I’m not a girl of any age. But, that said, I struggle to see who these videos would work with. They don’t seem to be aimed at males who believe that girls can’t code. They seem to be aimed at girls themselves but, presumably, the idea that they don’t code because of some physical characteristic never crossed their minds. So poking fun at that idea completely fails to address the real reasons that girls don’t code. By trying to poke fun at stereotypes it awkwardly plays to them and provides no picture of how a girl can overcome the very real reasons that they would chose not to pursue coding.

Girls Who Code do great work and any effort to change things is to be applauded: But this effort misses the mark.

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