Friday, August 12, 2011

Girls and Computers

I love computers. I always have. When I was pretty little, I even remember drafting editions of a newspaper on Word (the 97 version!). I loved even the most rudimentary paint program, and the Internet was a continual source of amusement and information (when I wanted it). Now, I’m extremely Web-connected. Like most teenagers of this era, I really couldn’t live without a computer or Internet connection anymore.

I was recently reading the National Council for Research on Women’s Balancing the Equation: Where Are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering, and Technology? (2001), a really cool publication that presents data about how women are doing in the sciences, from kindergarten to industry work. The research is a little bit old, but it’s still a great, really enlightening report. As I was reading, I was surprised to see the statistic that only 20% of students taking AP computer science are female, and this huge gender gap is attributed to the fact that girls feel uncomfortable in the “boyish” computer sciences.

This piece of information really shocked me. Computers were always a big presence in my life, and I always felt in my element working on them. I first learned how to use one in preschool. I remember working on the paint program pretty often and getting annoyed when my turn was over. Throughout elementary school, we had computer classes once a week, and my entire class looked forward to our time on the computer, even if we had to work on school stuff. Most of us had computers at home when we were younger, so we all felt extremely comfortable online. Once we got into the middle school years, we did more heavy-duty work on the computers at school. Everyone in my class had a PC or Mac at home, so we all felt relaxed with computers, especially when laptops became a popular school item. Now in high school, a lot of girls come from a no-computer background, but most of my classmates feel comfortable with them.

Balancing the Equation not only contains information and statistics about women and girls in the sciences, but also gives suggestions on how to fix the inequalities that persist. One of the solutions given to stop girls from feeling shy when it comes to computers is to have girls-only computer labs.

I went to a Modern Orthodox elementary and middle school, so we were coed up until fifth grade, and then we were separated by gender in most classes until graduation. As a result, I was only in a computer lab with boys when we were younger, and the work wasn’t terribly difficult or intimidating in any way.

If my classes had been coed in middle school and I had been in a computer lab with boys. Would I feel the same way towards computers as I do now? Would I feel so comfortable with them? Would I have ever taught myself basic HTML and Flash? Would my friends dislike computers?

It’s an interesting question slew of questions. I just hope that upcoming generations of girls won’t have to deal with them.


  1. Same here--I used to use Word as a kid, I thought it was the absolute funnest, most amazing thing ever. Ah, kids. :)

    I've always loved my family's lil old Toshiba laptop, and I too feel at home using it. I never felt a gender gap until this year when someone asked out class if they liked computers. I raised my hand, then realized that none of the other girls were raising theirs, despite the fact that they were all into technology. At the most, some of them were going 'Meh' and half-raising their hands. It frustrated me.

    I disagree with your idea to fix the gap, though--Segration is never the answer to anything, and in fact usually makes things worse. I never felt out-of-place in my coed computer lab, and as far as I can tell, neither did the other girls.

  2. Since I haven't been in a coed computer lab anytime recently, I don't know how I would feel in it, but it was one of NCRW's suggestions to overcome the initial fear and shyness of computers for girls. They had like seven or eight other suggestions, so it's far from the only one, but this one popped out to me since I love computers and I had always been in a single-sex computer lab.