“Are you sure you want to be an engineer? Isn’t that too hard for you?” “How did you get a higher grade than [insert mediocre male classmate’s name here]? Did you cheat?” These are only a few of the snide questions that have been directed to me whenever I uttered anything regarding to STEM. My question is: Where are these questions rooted from? The simple answer: ignorance. The complicated answer: the internalized sexism that has been embedded in the American education system.
Growing up, I wasn’t aware it was controversial to be a young girl interested in STEM. Frankly, I just knew that I loved science, loved when I learned about the water cycle in fourth grade to learning solubility in AP Chemistry. I was a young Latina growing up in society where teachers assume that the reason a woman doesn’t understand a tough math or science concept, is because of their gender. A society where women, especially of color, are discouraged from focusing on hard science.
As I grew older, I adapted and developed habits as a result of the systematic sexism that had become a normality in my life. The little girl that was once excitedly rose her hand with confidence became a young woman that muttered answers under her breath when the teacher asked for an answer. A woman that constantly sought approval of those around her and was afraid to speak up against her male classmates. I felt excluded from my own passions.
My experience isn’t unique. I am one of the tens of thousands of young girls growing up in a world of internalized sexism. Part of the tens of thousands of young girls that grow up in a world that under-represents women in STEM fields. Growing up without female role models with careers in technology and science, furthers the belief that the world of technology is a boys club.
The solution for the under representation in this field starts out early. Young girls need to be exposed to topics such as computer science from a young age so they can be motivated to study it. I wasn’t exposed to computer science until this summer, when I had the privilege of being accepted into Girls Who Code. In the program, I was surrounded with strong women who understood what it was like to grow up in a society that constantly undermines them. For once in my life, I felt included, praised for my accomplishments. At the end of the program, I had the chance to create something of my own. On one night coming home, I was whistled at by a 40 year old man. I realized that street harassment was a normality in a woman’s life.Thus, Girl’s Knight was born,a game featuring a female protagonist that combats cat-callers using pepper sprays. My team and I overcame many challenges and in the end, we had a well-designed product that we were able to pitch to representatives of companies like Verizon and even New Jersey senator, Cory Booker at graduation. I was even featured in articles for my accomplishments at the program.
My experience at Girls Who Code taught me more than computational skills, it taught me to be an active, confident individual with a voice. An individual that is unafraid to pursue a career in engineering, despite any of the discrimination that she faces. I am able to speak up for those young girls who have been silenced by this world’s sexism. Young girls have the right to become aerospace engineers or computer scientists if they wish; they shouldn’t be held back by the fact that they identify as female. I aim to become an individual that inspires young girls to push through obstacles and create revolutions. To not be afraid to be loud and heard. To be part of the statistic that closes the gender gap in the STEM field.