This past week in my new role, though, something happened I didn't even think about encountering. Moments like these are truly when we learn the most though, aren't they!
So let me set the scene. During a back to school night event, while at a "Tech Info" table for families, I ended up chatting with a family and the most precious young ones you can imagine. While mom was watching a presentations for her older child, I offered to keep an eye on the younger ones. So, because drawing is universal kid language, we colored, talked about school, and played tic-tac-toe. On top of wondering why I didn't ever teach elementary because these children were so darling - a turn of phrase came up during conversation that made me sink back into why initiatives for girls in STEM are so important.
When introducing myself to the family and what my role is at the school, I said something along the lines of, "No, I don't teach students here, but I teach teachers! I'm a technology facilitator, so I help teachers with their technology and share new, awesome tools with them!"
The elementary-school aged girl then asked me, "So you're the computer guy?"
At first, I didn't know what to say, because technically no, there's a desktop support engineer who does more of the hardware repairs, my job is more teaching how to use software. But in that, I suppose, fixing many of the most common issues with tech that can be hardware, and showing software applications, I could presumably be the "computer guy." My brain then jumped into hyperspeed, realizing that this sweet young girl, who could grow up to be anything in the world, was still growing up in a world with the same sexist, gendered language I had growing up 15, 20 years ago. That it would still be a "computer guy" who is male. To some, it may just seem like just a word, but to a woman who has always been slightly techno-phobic because it was a "man's" job (so no wonder a 'girl' didn't know how to fix it), I immediately knew I needed to help correct that stereotype.
"Well actually, I'm one of the computer women here at the school," I said.
The conversation then continued from there. She then told me how they have one of those at her school too, there's a man and a woman but they call them both "computer guys."
We talked about how awesome it is to have both a man and woman working with their computers and doing awesome stuff for their school, and then continued to draw and play. But something about that 30-second interaction keeps replaying in my head, even still, days later. Children grow into the world around them, and the language that we use is a defining feature of the parameters of that world.
Upworthy recently highlighted a video from Inspiring the Future's #RedrawTheBalance campaign that demonstrates this quite well too. In the video, you see children who are asked to draw people of certain careers (firefighter, surgeon, fighter pilot), and then the shock when they bring in the actual careerwomen. The look of surprise is incredible (terribly sad but so important) to watch. As a child cries out "they're dressed up!" you realize just how important it is to talk about gender and careers.
So next time you want to "call the X guy," to see if "he" is busy (which I too, am now realizing I've done far too many times), let's remember that could be a woman too. And let's realize our children are not just watching, but listening.
And my fellow #Eduhero educators, how else do you help break down stereotypes of gendered careers? Especially for girls in STEM? Please share any favorite resources below!