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Girls can’t what?!: sexism in STEM classrooms


By Stephanie Wang

Sure, I see statistics on the clear disparity in the number of women going into STEM fields, hear horror stories of sexism in the workplaces of tech giants, and notice a difference in the amount of girls in math and science classes, but it’s another thing altogether to experience an overt form of gender-based bias at school.

Initially, I didn’t think anything much of the fact that AP Physics C was heavily dominated by boys, fully anticipating that we’d be seen as equals, with our accomplishments seen in equal light. Suffice to say, I was heavily mistaken.

For an end of the year celebration, we were challenged by our teacher to build a catapult and then use it to shoot a marble at a toy monkey more than 15 yards away. My group was the only group that was all-girl. When we asked our physics teacher for a screwdriver, one boy acted as if we couldn’t possibly know what a Phillips screwdriver was. This was despite the fact that unlike his group, we didn’t get a company to build the catapult for us, instead laboriously designing and conducting trials with our catapult. When we turned out to be the only group to hit the monkey, several of the boys – watching from 15 yards away – disputed it, saying it didn’t actually hit the monkey. This is despite the fact that our physics teacher, standing a foot away, vouched and said it did hit. Not to mention, we all heard the sound from the marble hitting the monkey.

Instead of accepting that they’d been bested by a group of girls, they demanded that we go again to “really prove it hit,” and obnoxiously crowded around the monkey and started to film the shot just to ensure that we couldn’t “cheat.” Perhaps the reason they felt like they couldn’t possibly trust the teacher’s judgment was that she was a female, and of course, a group of males with overly fragile egos know better than an incredibly knowledgeable physics teacher who used to be a college professor.

Throughout the entire experience, my group mates and I could only feel shock at the overt sexism we experienced. Here, we saw a clear example of the struggles facing women in STEM. Really, it was an incredibly apt metaphor for how women are expected to do twice as well to gain the same respect and credit. We were all fully aware that had this been an all-boy group that had won the challenge, the class would have congratulated the group, never expecting the group to go again and repeat the accomplishment amidst cameras and jeers. We were all fully aware that had we been boys, we never would have been subjected to comments from teachers and peers throughout high school that they “didn’t see us as engineers.” We were all fully aware that had we been boys, there never would never be comments that we only got an opportunity or got into a school because of our gender. These types of things, in the moment, just seemed to be a fact of life. Even worse, we knew that what we had experienced was practically nothing compared to the bias and prejudice other women in STEM have faced in their careers.

While it’s certainly disheartening, it’s not going to stop us, and to all the girls interested in STEM, it shouldn’t stop you either. If girls don’t continue to study STEM and pursue STEM careers, nothing will change, with the misguided belief that STEM subjects aren’t for women only prevailing and propagating. Pursue your passions, not the career stereotypes society pushes onto you.

My group mates and are using this experience to further fuel us, as a source of motivation to be successful in engineering. And that’s truly the reason why I’m sharing this story: because I hope this will inspire in you the determination that even against odds, that you will hold true to yourself, your passions, and your beliefs. My group mates and I; planning on double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Foreign Affairs, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Computer Science and Economics; know the opposition we’ll face and we’re determined to change both mindsets and the world.

Get involved with The Coding Girls


Guest post by Aishwarya Singh

Growing up, I loved to play in the dirt and in sand boxes, but was told that was super dirty. People still ask me; “Why are you so obsessed with The Flash? That’s so boyish. You’re never gonna get a boyfriend that way.” First of all, screw you for saying that DC is for boys. Second of all, Grant Gustin is super hot. 

I proved all the haters wrong when they made assumptions about me based on my gender. Due to some malfunction with my schedule, I got put into a computer science class in 10th grade (Comp Sci for us cool kids). That screw up was the best screw up of my life. 

And at first, it was totally awesome (not!). There were only two other girls out of my class of 25 (lucky me, right?) and I had no friends. The boys – oh god the boys – it was as if they had never seen girls before, like I was some sort of extraterrestrial species. It was like I was a skipping, prancing Little Red Riding Hood dropped into one of the fights in Arrow (tbh it was probably because they weren’t used to seeing girls in their STEM classes).

But you know what was even worse, it was like the teacher had this little part of him that expected me to be pretty bad. He didn’t do this knowingly or really outwardly, but it was the little things that got to me. It was that quick 1-second knowing smile he would give me every time I asked a question, his sympathy every time I got one of the questions wrong. It was absolutely terrible. I knew it was not his fault, that it had been geared into his brain. Society has told him that only young white boys or that stereotypical Asian dude with a funny accent that shows up on every tv show can code, but it still didn’t make it right. 

Being the super stand up, sarcastic girl I am, I wanted to tell him “HELLO! GIRLS DON’T HAVE TO BE TERRIBLE AT COMP SCI”. Obviously I didn’t do that, but once I actually tried in his class and ended up being kinda good at it (surprises me too tbh), it had the same effect.

Now I’m in AP (aka College level) Computer Science, and yeah there are still only 2 other girls in my class, but I’m still doing it. Yeah, I am the only girl on the executive board of Geek League (I know, it’s a nerdy name), but I’m still there. And that comp sci teacher, those boys who thought I would be terrible, here I am. 

Anyway, I want to tell you, girls (or anyone), it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to stand out. But it’s not okay when people treat you differently because you are different. Defy expectations and prove that random person who thought you would suck wrong. You are amazing and trust me, if a normal girl (who’s only true accomplishment in life is binge-watching Netflix for 23 hours straight) can do something, so can you.  

By the way, there are really few girls who are coding. According to college board (that huge, ginormous company that created the death test AKA the SATs), only 21% of those who take AP computer science are girls. That is like nothing. And only 15% of all engineers, including computer engineers, are girls. We need more girls in math and science, especially engineering. I know calculus and physics are hard (trust me, I’ve been there… AP Calc is killing me rn), but we need more girls out there. If you are a girl in science, please don’t give up because it is hard or because you are lonely. Try to get the help and support you need (if ya need it cuz you are a girl boss). Most of all, I am proud of you. Surpassing all the expectations society has on you is not easy and you really are making a difference. 

So girls, go out there and code (or engineer, or do math or science)! And most of all, try to get other girls to do that same.

*Note to all: I am not saying that boys shouldn’t do STEM, boys can and should do STEM as well. It is just that there are very few girls who do it and are really good. We need more so I am trying to get more girls into it and that is why I wrote this article. 

Aishwarya Singh is a 16 year old feminist from New Jersey. She is an active coder who is the founder of her non-profit The Coding Girls who run coding events and classes in the central NJ area. She is also the only female executive board member of Geek League, a tech group at her local library. Also a Her Campus High School Ambassador and Clover Letter Intern, she loves to write articles relating to feminism and the effects of autism of families. She also loves to watch Netflix especially Friends and Vampire Diaries. You can get involved with The Coding Girls by emailing Aishwarya at aishwarya0823@gmail.com

Pretty Brilliant



There is nothing gendered about STEM careers. For some reason society and the media seems to think that there is. PBGer Lily Scott has started a project to encourage more young women to choose STEM careers. It’s about time that girls aren’t just called ‘pretty,’ but instead, ‘pretty brilliant.’

Visit Pretty Brilliant’s website here.

Like Pretty Brilliant on Facebook here.

Tampon Run


By Emily Zhang

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Two girls have just made one of the coolest games ever. It’s anti-gun violence, pro-talking about periods, and pro-women in STEM. I never thought these three topics could be cohesively connected, and yet Tampon Run is so stunningly simple.  With nostalgic arcade-game vibes, Tampon Run was created as a final project for Girls Who Code, and allows players to get enemies out of the way with tampons. Here, I ask Sophie and Andy some questions about their game:

EMILY: I love how this game points out that society has accepted violence in entertainment, but a lot of people still don’t like to talk about periods. Did you guys always plan to create a game like Tampon Run, or was the idea more of a whim? What were peoples’ general reactions? How do you think discussing menstruation could be made more accessible?

SOPHIE: Andy and I made Tampon Run as our final project for Girls Who Code. Andy wanted to make a video game that created some sort of social change. I liked the idea of using coding to make a social difference, so I joined her. While brainstorming, Ijokingly suggested that we could make a game where a girl threw tampons. As soon as I said it, we realized there was something there. Through our own experience and research, we know there truly is a menstrual taboo, and we were excited by the prospect of confronting it through the game. People, both men and women, all around the world have been so supportive and positive about Tampon Run. It’s incredible that this seemingly simple game has resonated with so many people. The game combines a serious subject with humor, which is why I think it’s so accessible.

ANDY: I didn’t really think of Tampon Run per se, but while I was at Girls Who Code I definitely brought up the idea of creating a video game with a social message and/or feminist twist. I was actually thinking more along the lines of hypersexualization of women in video games (which is a very legitimate issue and should still be addressed). I had made a game as an English project about the Odyssey, which pointed out how all the women in the epic just slept with Odysseus. Or were evil. Or both. I really had a great time doing it, and I wanted to go all out with another video game. Sophie joked about being able to throw tampons in our game, but as soon as she said it we knew that was the game we wanted to develop. People all over the world have been so supportive of the game! There’s been the occasional hate mail or hate post, but it’s completely overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback we’ve gotten. I think our game helps menstruation become more accessible, but we also hope to generate discussion about menstruation, and have people look into organizations which help women all over the world deal with menstruating.

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 15.53.52

EMILY: I noticed that this game was created for a Girls Who Code project. How did you feel about the program in regards to getting more girls involved in STEM? Was it a mix of empowerment and coding lessons?

SOPHIE: Girls Who Code is an incredible program. I learned not only how to code, but I also became more confident, a better team player and a better public speaker. It was through learning to code that I learned those essential soft skills. It was empowering to build something from the ground up, and witness your code work (whether that meant watch the fish you programmed swim across the screen or playing a few rounds of Tampon Run). I also had to get up and present my code to the other girls in the program even when it didn’t work, even when I had “failed”. However, I learned that “failing” was not a bad thing in the least; instead it was an opportunity to learn and try again. I encourage every girl to learn to code, whether that be via a class at school, an online resource or a Girls Who Code club or summer program.

ANDY: Yes, it was a mix of the two! I’ve been coding for a while–I attended SummerTech Computer Camps for two years before applying to Girls Who Code. I was a bit skeptical and nervous about spending 7 weeks with 19 other girls, but it really has paid off. I primarily wanted to go to GWC for the networking opportunities, as there are incredible people who come into our class to speak, but I got so much more out of that. Especially in terms of developing my soft skills–my ability to market myself, my products, and become a lot more articulate and concise. Recently, all over the world, there’s been a big emphasis on the lack of girls in tech. I think this definitely needs to be addressed, in order to add more diversity and better the industry. But I also think we need to advertise how supportive and welcoming the existing community of women in tech is; maybe it will help encourage girls to take that first step.


STEM Jokes



By Erika Davidoff

After studying together for our upcoming physics final, my group of engineering-student friends decided to take a break and peruse a collection of engineering memes. Though some of them were clever, and many of them simply rehashed the standard “lol engineering is hard” trope, I was dismayed that so many of them joked about the fact that engineering is a male-heavy field. There was nothing disparaging to women in particular, thankfully, but there were a lot of “where are all the women?” and “no girls allowed” posts. The four guys in my group found this commentary fairly hilarious. The three girls giggled awkwardly. Ha ha, guys. We’re right here.

Many universities, including mine, are trying to attract more STEM-oriented girls, and seek to have roughly gender-balanced entering classes. This is a problem, then, that many people are paying attention to and many people are trying to fix. So why are we still joking about it? It would be like joking about sexual assault—oh wait, that happened during our study hall, too, when one guy told another about his chances on the final, “You’re not just f*cked. You’re raped.” Cue more nervous laughter.

I wish I would have spoken up then and told him that wasn’t okay, but I didn’t, and I regret that. As long as jokes like these persist, it’ll be hard to convince people that problems like sexual assault and a gender imbalance in STEM fields are worthy of serious attention. These issues are no joke, and I hope I’ll be able to convince my friends of that.

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