Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hear a speech made by Reshma Saujani, founder of the organization Girls Who Code. The speech was, in effect, an explanation of why the Girls Who Code organization exists, according to its founder. The speech was quite polarizing to the audience - polarizing for both men and women in the audience, I must note - mostly because Saujani's mission is transparently partisan.
Saujani is, after all, a former politician and two-time failed congressional candidate for the Democratic party. She mentioned this throughout her speech. She mentioned the Democratic Party by name multiple times, and repeatedly referred to herself as a feminist. It's no surprise that a person like that would give a polarizing speech. We live in a polarized world, politically speaking, anyway.
During her speech, I learned a few more things about Saujani. One was that Saujani herself doesn't know how to code. I found this remarkably odd, for a couple of reasons. First, we've all heard that old phrase, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Saujani considers it very, very important that girls learn how to code; but apparently not important enough to warrant learning herself to code. I guess she thinks it's very, very important for other females to learn to code. Note: she never mentioned why she didn't learn to code.
The second reason I thought it was odd that Saujani doesn't know how to code relates to her reasons for founding her organization in the first place. The way she tells the story, she gained some familiarity with the tech community and started asking herself, "Where are the girls?" She then looked into the matter and discovered that girls don't often choose to study computer programming or become coders. Shen then reasoned, as feminists are wont to do, that girls choose other career paths for reasons of the Patriarchy; namely, the world of computer programming is supposedly "toxic," and "we" teach girls from a young age that they can't do things like code.
Saujani's point is that, if girls want to code, we should support them in that choice. To the extent that anyone ought to be supported in their choices, I agree. That is, if my daughter decided she wanted to learn to code, I'd help her learn and give her all the encouragement she deserves.
But it's important to note that Saujani chose to do something else with her life, other than code, because that's what she wanted. And, according to Saujani herself, girls are choosing careers other than coding, because that's what they want. It is not, however, what Saujani wants girls to choose. Saujani wants girls to make a different choice: to code. So Saujani started an organization whose mission is to steer girls away from what they would otherwise choose to do, toward coding instead.
That is, Saujani doesn't want girls to do as they choose. She wants them to do as Saujani chooses. That doesn't sound like any version of feminism that's appealing to me.
Of course, a straight-forward, albeit cynical, reading of the situation is this: Saujani wants to influence young women and nudge them toward her political ideology. Currently, coders and data analyst hold a lot of power within American society. We're the "cool" career (for now), we command high salaries, and the executives at our firms hold the ear of the Washington power brokers (again, for now). So what Saujani really wants is a piece of that power.
This makes the situation increasingly more odd, though. Saujani is obviously an intelligent woman; so intelligent that I'd wager she'd make a great coder. She is also a reasonably high-profile woman with a certain amount of fame, and that would be enough to get her a foot in the door at any top tech firm, if she had coding chops, too. It seems to me that she could have earned a seat at the same table with a lot less effort if she had done it "the old-fashioned way," by taking a good coding job and working her way up.
Hearing her speak, however, it's as though the thought never even occurred to her. The politician's mentality is something I will never fully understand.
P.S. - Throughout Saujani's presentation, she slung various insults at the stereotypical male coder, and the audience got a big kick out of it, judging by the laughs. I didn't think it was funny, though, and more importantly, I thought it weakened her case. Here's a woman ostensibly trying to, among other things, eliminate discrimination and harassment of women in the high-tech workplace while she herself is committing the same kind of harassment against the males in that environment. Again, that doesn't sound like any version of feminism that's appealing to me.
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