Reading a USA Today College article this morning raised my antenna to the next frontier of female victimhood: sexism in STEM studies.
The headline reads “College women in tech: We’re encountering sexism already,” but anecdotes in the story were thin on real discrimination. There is little more than feelings of young women whose perceptions are colored by the headlines.
The article opens with a list of publicly-documented examples of sexual harassment in the tech world. That sets the scene for what we are led to believe is also happening on college campuses in similar degree programs.
One junior computer science major said she has "experienced sexism and sexual harassment in tech settings that have made her moderate her personality and how she acts in the workplace, including in internships." We're told it has a chilling effect on her ability to feel that she can be herself without being harassed.
Three female students referenced “micro-aggressions” or that they “sensed women were being assigned less desirable projects than the men.” One student said her preferences for more challenging back-end work was ignored.
This quote sums up how these young women are being conditioned to view the STEM workforce from the moment they graduate:
Sim thinks this type of dynamic is bound to get worse after graduation. “It’s micro-aggressions from our classmates that we deal with now,” she says. “We know when we go into the workplace it will transcend to more than just that.”
We have to wonder how much of this pessimism about working in STEM and the victimhood mentality among young female tech students is based on real experience versus what they perceive as a widespread problem in technology? Sexual harassment and sex discrimination are both abhorrent and illegal. Young women should be taught their rights and empowered to speak up to ensure that violations are prosecuted. However, hurt feelings over a project do not necessarily amount to sexual harassment. Neither do so-called microaggressions.
We’re told microaggressions are verbal insults and dismissals in everyday exchanges that send a message to socially-marginalized groups that they are less than others. The term goes back to a Harvard professor in the 1970s in the context of race. It picked up steam over the past few years and has been expanded to include gender and sexuality as well as mental illness, age, and intersectionality. There’s an entire website devoted to venting about microaggressions. For example, saying that sweeping is “woman’s work” is a microaggression just as is asking where a person is "really" from.
Policing speech for these infractions is not empowering but feeds a culture of victimhood. It helps create a system of morality where the more marginalized you are, the better you are and the more valuable your experience/perspective.
Do young women in tech studies find themselves as one of few women? Yes. Does that mean they are or will be discriminated against? No.
Similarly, does sexual harassment occur in the tech sector? Yes. Does that mean that college women in tech studies will experience sexual harassment? No.
The industry of technology has work to do when it comes to rooting out discrimination and sexual misconduct – like other industries. Kuddos to the men and women who bravely shed light on their experience and to the companies that are working to change their cultures to welcome women and men and all people.
However, conditioning young women to believe they are victims does nothing to help them progress, but sets them up for failure. It makes them suspicious of their classmates and holds them back from engaging and learning.