Storify: Tech Girls and Imposter Syndrome

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

I'm having an anxiety attack so who wants a thread about how Positive Tokens can cause harm if they aren't followed up w/ nuance? Let's set the stage:

- I'm a feminine person in STEM.
- I have an Electrical Engineering degree.
- I've done coding for pay.

I've been thinking a lot about how a lot of ensemble casts will (goodly! but stick with me!) put a girl/woman in the Techie/Q role.

Sonic the Hedgehog had Bunnie D'Coolette Rabbot. Smart, sexy, southern, and with prosthetic limbs.

Fullmetal Alchemist has Winry Rockbell. Talk about prosthetic work! She's a mechanic *and* a doctor.

Chip and Dale (RESCUE RANGERS!) had Gadget Hackwrench, who could build anything from anyTHING. She made a space suit from a GLOVE.

Meet Bulma from Dragonball Z. A human woman surrounded by men who can EXPLODE PLANETS and still takes NONE OF THEIR SHIT.

All these Women In Tech rolemodels were super powerful and amazing to me so that's a good thing, right? Yay for representation!! But without any kind of nuanced follow-up that Fictional Tech isn't Real Tech, I built them into my Imposter Syndrome. I had a very clear image of what a "smart" STEM woman looked like! and... I... wasn't that.

No one is! NO ONE can be the Fictional Tech who can build an aeroplane from paperclips and then a space suit from a glove. The people making prosthetic limbs cooler and techier aren't the people attaching them in surgery, as a general rule. Most technology is made by teams and teams of people, not a single rockstar. Fiction uses a "rockstar" to avoid overhead of voices, cast. This isn't something fiction will change. (Nor should it.) That's why this isn't a More Realistic Rep Thread, it's an Educate Kids Thread.

Girls are given these strong amazing GOOD role models, but when you couple that with constant messages that WE aren't good enough, it's easy to internalize that girls CAN go into tech, but *I* am not one of those mythical amazing girls. I still feel this way, despite being a career engineer for... longer than I care to name, wow, I'm old. But I'm not Gadget! I'm not Bunnie!

We need to recognize the factors contributing to Imposter Syndrome and consciously UN-BUILD it for girls, not just heap on good rep. To employ metaphor: When someone slips poison into the main course, the answer isn't simply a bigger dessert cart. So these reps aren't bad rep and I don't want people to stop making them (more on that in a moment), but they won't FIX the problem.

@OtherBecky: Abby in NCIS! She's doing like 12 people's jobs in a tenth of the time it would take them.

@xarexerax: Good thread on representation (which ALSO ties in to my observation a few days ago about Lucca from Chrono Trigger!)

@GraciousKY: Kaylee from Firefly fits this pattern too! Mechanical stuff "just speaks to her" and she never had to struggle to learn a thing...

Kaylee is an excellent addition, and I have HUGE ISSUES with Kaylee's presentation in the show. Like. 100+ tweet rant.

Now having said that, let's talk about BOYS. What do you think boys are taking away from these Tech Women representations? Let's review the slides. Are all these women pretty, sexy, thin, cis-coded? Do they all have maternal instincts for the heroes? (YES.) Now I wish to stress this likely isn't a Tech Girl rep problem so much as a Girl rep problem. Obviously. But! Do we think that maybe some boys grew up to be okay with women in their tech space as long as we were romantic prospects? Yes, we do.

I also think a lot of these maternal/romantic "soft" connotations were possibly added to Tech Girl on purpose to avoid butchness. I think this was one of the reasons women like myself were so taken with Furiosa. Yes, still thin and pretty, but LOOK AT HER.

The point I'm edging towards is that here is a thing we CAN do better on Tech Girl rep: break the pretty thin cis mom/lover mold. I think a lot of authors think they're being subversive when they're like "she's a mechanic but she's also FEMININE!!" but uh. We're actually inundated with "she's a mechanic but also feminine and sexy" portrayals, thank you, yes!

If she's a mechanic-but-sexy, consider making it clear the hero is so much dust under her heel. Break the mom/lover routine. Give her a girlfriend. Have her shut the hero down hard at the first flirt and he never does it again. SOMETHING. Boys are taking away the idea that tech girls are fine as long as we're (a) superhuman, (b) supermodels, and (c) emotionally submissive to men.

Don't make her the only girl in the cast. Make sure her girl interactions aren't "off screen" from the hero. SMASH THE BECHDEL TEST. Don't show men universally in awe of her tech skills (FIREFLYYYYYYY), because you're erasing the aggression we face daily. Do show the hero respectful of her skills and not taking her for granted (FIREFLYYYYYY), but don't pretend all men give us a free pass. (Seriously, Joss Whedon has a lot to answer for to women in tech and I'll just leave that here for now.)

I'll end this here by saying that a girl/woman/femby can be merely DECENT at the tech part of a job and still be AMAZING at it. So much of a tech JOB isn't just tech. Planning, organization, documentation, commenting, review of OTHER people's work: crucial shit. And this isn't a "hooray for soft skills" hymn, because I don't consider those skills soft. They are hard as flint and razor sharp. Being able to pick out problems in someone else's code isn't a "soft" skill, it's fucking critical. If you have that talent, you are GOLD.

This doesn't mean your coworkers and/or manager will realize your worth. This doesn't mean they won't expect you to be Gadget. But maybe YOU can stop expecting you to be Gadget. Maybe you can see that you're actually VERY GOOD at your job. Maybe you can even get angry that you're BETTER than the men around you but THEY weren't saddled with a Gadget Ideal to live up to. Be the glorious messy bitch that you are and fuck the thin pretty perfect version you were told to be. She's nice, but she's not us.

Actually, you know what, we're going to do a FIREFLY addition to this thread. I said up-thread not to have the men universally fawn over your Tech Girl because that erases the aggression we face. That doesn't mean I want everyone to write micro/aggressions into their fiction for the Tech Girl to face! But don't do scenes where all the girls shun the Tech Girl for not being femme/classy enough but the men just ADORE HER and flock around.

Because at that point you're doing a few things. One, you're setting up a "catty girl" situation where you claim femme girls hate tech girls. This has NOT been my experience AT ALL, and reads as a cautionary tale that if we go into tech we must shun our own kind. (Leading to the tech girl thing of "I'm not like THOSE girls" which I have encountered in the wild and it's toxic.)

The other thing you're doing, by making men ADMIRE and ADORE tech women for being techis is suggest we're getting a free ride. The men aren't clustered around other MEN talking about spaceships, they're feeding Kaylee and hanging on her every word. So it's not simply that she's being "appreciated" as "one of the men", she's being given weirdly preferential treatment for being (a) techie and (b) a girl. Which of course so many dudes in STEM believe in their heart of hearts: that we're given preferential treatment because we're pretty.

I have watched that FIREFLY scene with MANY tech men on multiple occasions. EACH TIME, they informed me that it is 100% true. EACH TIME, I explained it is not. That some men would ignore Kaylee and go after the non-tech girls. That other men would be clustered around Kaylee but aggressively correcting her. There would be men there going "oh yeah, you like engines? what's the capacitor flux coil model on the J-17 quad-drives, huh??" And Kaylee would be forced to navigate that socially. Furthermore, Kaylee would be ACCUSTOMED to navigating that socially. That doesn't mean she'd be GOOD at it, but she'd very likely have been SUBJECTED to it before. It would not be a new thing for her.

Literally all of that episode would have been FINE if she just went to the party and enjoyed the food and had a nice time. But Joss wanted to have:

- pretty girls hate tech girls
- men love tech girls
- a man call a pretty girl a slut

Thanks, Joss. "Why, Amelia, you look so lovely in that dress. Your daddy tells me it takes the stableboy 10 seconds to get you naked." UR FEMINIST ICON. My kingdom for a Firefly reboot where she laughs in his face and calls him a disgusting old pervert named "Joss".

In my ACTUAL experience as a Tech Girl, here is how the Kaylee episode would go.

1. Kaylee approaches a pretty man to dance. He's a bit surprised but does so, then makes the all-important cutting remark about her dress.

2. He wouldn't need to be catty about it, but he'd note it looked store-bought and she'd realize it wasn't the magical thing she thought.

3. Kaylee would retreat to the buffet and initially be delighted by older men interested in engines. She knows this! She can do this!

4. But the men would get more and more hostile. Their conversational questions would start to feel like tests. Discomfort sets in.

5. She'd realize with a sinking feeling that they were doing That Thing. She'd been caught off-guard because they were older and classier,

6. But it's definitely the SAME thing guys back home would do to grill her, just with a gloss of money and polish added.

7. That's when the rich femme girls flock in and save her, using their social skills. "Hiiiiiii, are you new, oh we MUST steal you!"

8. Flipping their hair at the older men and laughing behind their gloves and fans. "She knows about the off-world FASHIONS, we NEED her." Dragging Kaylee to safety away from the men.

9. The rest of the dance is spent with the girls breathlessly asking Kaylee about her job and fantasizing about getting off-world themselves.

10. They'd envy her for her freedom. They wouldn't see the hardships she goes through, because the grass is always greener.

11. Kaylee would still leave with a more nuanced attitude about money/class, but she'd also feel a kind of pitying kinship with those girls.

12. She had aspired to be THEM, only to find they aspired to be HER. If we wanted to be REALLY feminist, she might connect those dots.

^^ This isn't my Perfect Feminist reboot of Firefly, that's just MY EXPERIENCES WITH THESE SORTS OF PARTIES. And that's the story of why the Shindig episode of Firefly makes me want to smash my television to dust.

@quicksilvre: @AnaMardoll I'm headcanoning that she smuggles one aboard and they get married

@GraciousKY: This SO MUCH MORE REALISTIC than Joss's "high-class femmes in etiquette-obsessed culture show shameful lack of decorum to new girl" concept!

YES, like that's the THING, it's UTTERLY OUT OF CHARACTER for those femme girls to claw at Kaylee like they do. I mean, YES, she's wearing a store-bought dress but they have NO IDEA YET who she is or what social power she wields! Social Bullies exist, but if they are GOOD at the evil they do, they learn who they're about to make an enemy of before they leap in. She might be the store-bought-wearing bride of the newest off-world governor or something. You LEARN THAT before you get the KNIVES OUT.

@gilbertandgrim: Got to the planet late, an hour before the party and the ship sent her the wrong passenger's luggage but it's okay because she's friends with the owner of the liner company and she's already fired the captain for her.

YES. It's so rushed and hasty it's like the screen-writing equivalent of a dude with his dick already in his hand, I'm sorry but it is. If you want to do social bullying, you have to build it properly. You can't just "WOMEN AMIRIGHT?" and call it a day.

Here's Jillian Holtzmann, because @sophienotemily reminded me she exists. Jillian Holtzmann is an EXCELLENT example of WHY I don't want to do away with the Tech Woman Who Can Do Everything character. I think they are AWESOME, I just want to be sure we're telling kids that Fiction Tech and Real Tech have nothing in common.


Post a Comment