Is OPW sexist?

Today was my last day as an OPW intern and I had hoped that it would end on a positive note. Upon our wrap-up meeting, the discussion of having a women-only program is sexist came up.

Now, this is a topic I feel really strongly about and it’s something that generates strong reactions from either party and I’m not even really sure that I want to get caught up in the mix, but I feel quite unsettled after being part of it.

I’ve been programming since high school. When I started, my classes were 50/50 in gender ratios, partly because my school was 75% female. I had noticed that there were more males in my class than usual, but since the ratio was equal, I never had the notion that women were underrepresented in the field. Then came college. There were significantly less women in my lower division classes, but since some classes were required by other engineering majors, the disparity was not as stark. I made many female friends during this time and was able to work on projects together.

Then came around to upper division classes. Suddenly, I was one of the few girls in my classes. There were times when I’m the only one. When people say that it shouldn’t matter that I’m a girl or not, they’re right. It shouldn’t. But it does. The fact that I was a girl stood out, intentionally or not. If I was absent, it was obvious. If I was in class, it was obvious. My presence stuck out.

For the most part, I tried not to let it bother me. I tried to be like one of the guys. But I’m not a guy. So when people are making guy jokes, it was very uncomfortable for me. Things like how hot a girl was and how they would like to get to know her. Or things like how I was the hottest girl (when in fact, I’m the only girl) in CS. Or how I should cover up my boobs because I was wearing a v-neck tee, which frankly didn’t even show cleavage. I tried to grin and bear it because, hell, I can hang with them; I’m a guy’s girl.

During this time, I treated a lot of women as not cut out for my field. I started woman hating. I thought, hell, I made it in CS, why can’t you? You’re not smart enough. I thought I was goddamn special for being a CS girl.

But on the other side, I was horrible insecure. I felt like I was never good enough. I felt like I had to work twice as hard to be “as good as one of the guys” when in fact, I was better than some of them. Every thing I did was not as good. I felt inferior to even the terrible programmers.

Now you can say that I just have terrible confidence and I brought it all upon myself. But I don’t think that’s true. Whether explicit or not, there’s a message out there for female programmers, “You’re never going to be a man and it’s a man’s world.” And I feel it everyday.

This brings be back to the point on OPW. I don’t think OPW is sexist at all. Yes, it excludes men as participants, but men are welcome to mentor and help interns. There are no restrictions on men voicing their opinions. There are plenty other avenues for men to participate in Hacker School, Google School of Code, to name a few. There are countless ways for men to get in touch with other like minded men. There are plenty of male role models for men to get inspiration from. But women are few and far between. I’m sorry, but being in a room of men vs being in a room of women is extremely different. I find that the all male atmosphere can be cold and uninviting. But in a female atmosphere, I feel more comfortable and willing to ask “stupid questions”.

Another point that people who think OPW is sexist is that it allows less qualified people in just because of their gender. I take huge offense to this. I found that the other participants of OPW to be bright, self-sufficient, and passionate people. They are just as qualified, if not more. The goal of OPW isn’t to bring in women who have no interest in the tech world. It’s to bring in women who otherwise weren’t comfortable applying to other internship or mentorship programs. Women who have been overlooked. And this is not the woman’s fault. You can’t just tell all the women that they should suck it up and just go for it. This is the same hostility that kept them away.

Honestly, I’m appalled at some comments that were surfaced today. It makes me angry that I have to keep fighting for programs like OPW to exist. I’m angry that I have to even address it. I hate being needlessly angry at things.

Things like OPW are necessary until women in the tech force is the norm. Until there’s less hostility for women to participate. Having more women in the tech industry isn’t a bad thing. They’re not taking away your jobs. Men who think women are replacing them don’t think about other men who are also replacing them. Gender somehow becomes the main focus and it’s not fair. What’s wrong with a little female competition?

All in all, my experience with OPW has been mostly positive and I learned a lot. I grew mentally and emotionally as a programmer in these past three months than in the years I was in school. I’ve learned that, while the majority of the FLOSS world is good, there’s still slivers of evil that I should be aware of. I’ll be sure to keep my chain-mail on and fight the good fight.

Thank you OPW for this wonderful opportunity. I am forever grateful.