Go here now, read and weep. To people who think that sexism in STEM is just hype, let me tell you that unfortunately, I have *NEVER* worked in a single lab or workplace of a technical nature where I have not experienced some sort of sexism– ranging from inappropriate comments to outright harassment. That is right– not a SINGLE lab or company. I would say my resume contains places people would consider inspiring, cutting edge, and liberal. Please be respectful and think about that.

Hattip @Mathbabe !

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zero is the new six

28 Oct 2013

American Apparel, that hipster clothing/disco neon hotpants empire, has always been of dubious moral grounds. Despite its loud proclamations of “made in America”, the company is in fact run by a Canadian charged of sexual harassment lawsuits at least five times in the last decade. Not to mention the softcore-porn style ads, that is, only when the model is female. Even if all of this weren’t true, when’s the last time you need a gold metallic pleather thong leotard for upwards of fifty dollars? (Please don’t answer that.)

The store is, however, very convenient for basic cuts in solid colors (v-necks, A-line skirts, etc.), which is why I stopped by one this weekend, to hopefully find a white crop-top at an okay price. The answer unsurprisingly turned out to be no.

In a moment of desperation, I flipped through the childrens’ tees to hopefully find a size large or extra large. (Don’t even ask why a company that features topless women in their ads makes childrens’ clothing; there is a time and a place for sexuality and it shouldn’t be at a store frequented by preteens and young children).

Lo and behold, I made the discovery that a women’s extra small crop top at American apparel is equivalent in size to a child’s size six tshirt. That’s six years old! Sure, some liberties might be taken for the cropping part, but basically American Apparel expects that a small woman should have the same chest girth as a kindergartener.

I’m a pretty petite person, but I’m not sure on what nation or even planet you might expect women to be the size of a tiny six-year old. That’s some f-ed up idea of body image.

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zero is the new six

28 Oct 2013

American Apparel, that hipster clothing/disco neon hotpants empire, has always been of dubious moral grounds. Despite its loud proclamations of “made in America”, the company is in fact run by a Canadian charged of sexual harassment lawsuits at least five times in the last decade. Not to mention the softcore-porn style ads, that is, only when the model is female. Even if all of this weren’t true, when’s the last time you need a gold metallic pleather thong leotard for upwards of fifty dollars? (Please don’t answer that.)

The store is, however, very convenient for basic cuts in solid colors (v-necks, A-line skirts, etc.), which is why I stopped by one this weekend, to hopefully find a white crop-top at an okay price. The answer unsurprisingly turned out to be no.

In a moment of desperation, I flipped through the childrens’ tees to hopefully find a size large or extra large. (Don’t even ask why a company that features topless women in their ads makes childrens’ clothing; there is a time and a place for sexuality and it shouldn’t be at a store frequented by preteens and young children).

Lo and behold, I made the discovery that a women’s extra small crop top at American apparel is equivalent in size to a child’s size six tshirt. That’s six years old! Sure, some liberties might be taken for the cropping part, but basically American Apparel expects that a small woman should have the same chest girth as a kindergartener.

I’m a pretty petite person, but I’m not sure on what nation or even planet you might expect women to be the size of a tiny six-year old. That’s some f-ed up idea of body image.

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op-ed by a friend

17 Apr 2013

Here’s a great response by my friend Dina to Shanley’s “An Open Letter to Women in Technology”. Her sentiments mirror mine.

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To date I have never attend a Gender Studies class, read any Betty Friedan, burned any of my bras (those things are damn expensive) or gone more than a week without shaving. Sometimes I wear lipstick; sometimes I wear heels. Sometimes I even cook breakfast for men I care about; but only if they do the dishes in exchange. I have an apron that’s pink and somewhat frilly, and sometimes I wear this too, because it has nice pockets and is a souvenir from a great vacation in Tokyo. I support and admire women of strength and of power, and I am pro-female. This does not entail that I necessarily hate men; the world does not exist in binary forms and if there is any animosity, it is merely annoyance in a stereotypical form of frustration between the sexes. I do not know what this word feminist means, because I have never looked it up in the dictionary.

But evidently, it must mean something to me. I have been told before that I am a feminist and sometimes I call myself one for the sake of simplifying arguments. It seems that I have even labeled some of my writing so.

And evidently, it must mean something to others if only that sometimes men roll their eyes at me and women become inexplicably either suddenly warm or colds towards me. Anything that warrants such a viceral reaction deserves to be explained, if even for the mere reason that I avoid strife and find it off-putting to say the least that one should ever react to me in a negative way for mere use of a label. The only other adjective of similiar scope that has been undeniably placed upon me seems to be Asian, and if one were to react in the same way to that label, it would be called Racism, and unacceptably so.

And so now that I am 20, a nice even number, exactly a prime number’s worth of decades, it seems to be a good time to evaluate what that f-word means before I go on, as I am neither so young as to bear it irresponsibly, nor too old to re-evaluate.

Here is what the New Oxford American Dictionary says:

Feminist
noun
a person who supports feminism.
adjective
of, relating to, or supporting feminism: feminist literature.

which is an utterly useless definition.
And so we must look one step up, to feminism itself, which means:

Feminism
noun
the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

Which sounds to me a sane and rational cause to support, even self-evident.
I do not know really why one should have such a negative reaction to this well-meaning and logical definition, but I do not claim to have a thorough understanding of the behavior of people on the whole. All I wish to emphasize is that this word seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the cooking of food, cleaning of kitchens, dressing and portrayal of bodies, hatred of men, or most puzzling of all, lesbianism. And with that definition in mind, I can confidently say that yes, I am a feminist, in the true sense of the word, which is, after all, how words ought to be used, and perhaps you should, too.

P.S.: I am notoriously bad at detecting sarcasm so if you are in the same boat as I there is some of that in the above.

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There are many concepts in the human mind that may indeed be figments of one’s imagination: unicorns, flying pigs, and a truly free lunch, for example. Gender bias in math and science, however, is unfortunately not one of these. (That would be called gaslighting.)

It is extremely upsetting to hear that there are men, and even more dissapointing, women, out there who cannot grasp the idea that it might in fact be true, and morever, statistically relevant. This is particularly disturbing considering that students at Columbia are often considered some of the brightest and most liberal in America.

Gender bias in math and science is not a myth. (Check out this post of mine a while back, and for more on this topic, Cathy’s writing on this recent infographic in the nytimes on the depressing results of female performance in science exams in the US).

I will not go in depth today about my feelings about natural aptitude in men versus women in Math and Science, because a) I’m in class and b) really tired of ranting this week, which has been endlessly trying on my patience, but I will leave you this: my firm belief is that Self-Doubt is the Number One cause of underachievement with respect to women in technical fields. I say this because I do not believe that natural talent has much to do with scientific success– only hard work, interest, and a belief in one’s ability to learn.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard women in Computer Science doubt their abilities to code or take courses, myself entirely included in this camp, yet there are very few times I’ve heard a similiar complaint from men: on all levels of learning. I myself did not become comfortable debating and discussing Computer Science (the most fun and best learning method in any field!) until nearly 2 years after my study began; and that was after I found great female (and male) mentors, and formed a strong friend group and area of interest (Data Science and Natural Language) within the community.

The problem with self-doubt starts very young– I often find that girls seem to believe they are not “suited” towards math or “no good” at it. Almost always this is untrue. If you do not believe me I will offer myself as an example: I may be no mathematician but, considering that I am currently attending and enjoying Columbia’s Engineering school and have accepted a full time paying internship for Data Science this summer, I can pretty safely say that my analytic thinking skills are at least adequate. Yet, up until senior year of high school I always believed myself to dislike math and consider it a non-option; almost all the “math geniuses” I knew were male and had personalities and interests far removed from my own.

These sentiments in my mind were even occasionally echoed by others. When I was a junior in high school my pre-calculus teacher actually refused to recommend me for the more advanced BC AP Calculus class. She told me that I was not “naturally suited” towards mathematics, and had I not had such supportive and encouraging parents (being at that age somewhat obedient towards authoratitive voices who told me I was no good at things) I may have never asked for a waiver. This was, of course, entire BS on her part: not only did I enjoy taking Calculus (I went on to take Calculus III and IV at Columbia), I ended up receiving an “A” in the class. Note that there was no concrete evidence whatsoever in her choice to deny my a recommendation; I had in fact been a stellar student in her class and received an “A+”.

I’m not saying that this specific instance was necessarily driven by gender bias; only that if you are a young girl, especially one who is shy and has not yet developed the thick armor necessarily to fend herself from the dissent and criticism prevalent in the perils of daily life; these various doubts on all sides (professors, colleagues, internal) can cumulate and deter a further pursuit of mathematics (or science). Which is a real damn shame.

I only hope that gender bias it will one day go in the way of the unicorn; until then, I will continue to try my best to lead as a good role model and encourage those around me to do the same, or at least die trying. (Hopefully, die of natural causes after a healthy and happy life trying.)

 

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Suzanne Venker wants us to surrender to our “nature”, our femininity, so that “marriageable men will come out of the woodwork”.

I ask: Why use the word surrender? And what the hell are we going to do with all these men waiting on hand and knee to marry us anyway?

Oh, how I wanted to avoid reading her article, “the war on men“, on fox *cough cough cough* news. Why ruin a lovely Saturday morning? But since it was only about a page long, and I have a very short attention span for these sorts of nonsense, read it I did.

I don’t have the time nor fuse to do a thorough reading and analysis of the piece. Nor do I wish to research the author more thoroughly. As such, I will simply give my reaction to a few select quotes. You may form your own opinions and arguments as you please. Me, I have better things to do.

Note: the best way to read the following is to insert an explecitive of your choice before every noun. Since this a relatively family/work-friendly blog, I left it out, but feel free to be creative.

“Women aren’t women anymore.”

Excuse me, I’m pretty sure as long as we have the correct body parts which we may do with as we please and/or identify as female, that is woman enough for me.

“All the articles and books (and television programs, for that matter) put women front and center, while men and children sit in the back seat.”

Uh, no. This is just plain incorrect. The percentage of female lead characters (and I mean lead characters, not femme fatales, objects of attraction, love interests) is still relatively small. The percentage of strong female leads, even less.

“Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.”

To make the assumption that men are driven by their d*cks you might as well assume women are driven by their uteruses. Oh wait…

“Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex, by dismissing male nature they’re forever seeking a balanced life.”

Thanks for saddling us with the consequences of sex. I hope you never saddle anything else of mine.

“Men haven’t changed much – they had no revolution that demanded it – but women have changed dramatically.”

Then perhaps it is time for men to undergo some change: learn to appreciate women who are career driven, independent, and maybe someone you can actually have a intelligent conversation with? And perhaps someone who can actually be your partner and equal?

“In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy.”

This quote is the one that gets me the most. DO I SEEM ANGRY TO YOU?!

In all seriousness– maybe women are angry for good reason: maybe anger, like pain, is a necessary evil– because it keeps us driven, and points to the fact that there are real, concrete issues out there to be angry about.

If women are angry, I hope we stay angry until there is no more to be angry about. Better to be angry and passionate for change and justice than passive and content to settle.

And just for the record, I can be damn feminine when I want to. Maybe I just have other priorities.

For an extremely funny and entertaining critique, check out this vid from the colbert report.

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Forgive me for the brevity, typos, and lack of filter: my brain has been wrapped around and fully defeated by Online Mistake-Bound Learning Models and log base 2′s and omega bounds and other uncomprehensible things in the last 48 hours.

Anyway, here’s a nifty little article in the NYtimes reporting a study about how not only were men likely to judge female students as less competent in the scientists, but female professors as well.

Does this really come as any surprise? Pretty sure that if 50% of the world tells you that you are scientifically less suited to a certain way of thinking, which is, by the way, entirely false, it doesn’t take long for the other 50% to view these stereotypes as true. Too sleepy right now to expand on that but my mentor this summer aka Mathbabe wrote a wonderful and far more thought-out piece about the stereotype of women in math. Combine that with traditional concepts of femninity (“pushiness” is a turn-off, confidence is aggressive, to be scientific is to be cold) and you have a pretty surefire way to undermine confidence and perpetuate negative thinking.

Finally, two small anecdotes before I nap:

First, I was in a computer science program this summer with a male:female ratio of students of about 10:1 onsite, and I can tell you firsthand it is very hard to compete with the self-confidence of a 20-something white male, and ergo, very easy to be overcome by self-doubt, especially if you are timid. The entrepreneur is an especially cocky breed. Sorry, that was rude, I hope no one takes offense, and I do love you all. And I apologize for neither my apology nor my statement.

Second anecdote: I was in a study group last night with three other very intelligent, outgoing girls for aforementioned problem set, and somewhere around 2 am and the 10th proof in, the topic came to topic of female attractiveness w.r.t. men (because yes I am a normal college-age girl and not a robot). Anyway, it came as a suprise to me (or maybe not really a suprise) that it was heavily insisted upon that appearing “vunerable” was attractive. While I would probably agree that this is true, it made me slightly sad. Vunerability is of course what makes us human and lovable, but the idea that you might want to appear slightly weaker than you are in order to catch someone’s eye or heart could be potentially dangerous. Deception, of course, is not admirable; yet trying to actually be weaker is more than frightening.

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Musings on a haircut

12 Sep 2012

Recently, I got a short haircut for the first time in my life, chopping off nearly a foot and a half of hair.

This decision, like most of my most drastic ones, was made spontaneously without much reasoning. Ironically, I tend to spend hours on hours hemming and hawing over tiny nuances of the heart and mind yet act rashly and boldly on all else. One day, I woke up, and simply needed to cut it all off. I couldn’t even wait for an appointment– I made my mother hack at it with kitchen scissors. Snip, snip, snip: and months and years of long brown locks fell into the garbage.

How interesting it is that we as humans have this special ability to transform and redefine ourselves with a mere reshaping of cells already dead. A lion doesn’t wake up and think, maybe it’s time to grow out my ‘fro. There are long-haired cats and short-haired cats and they are born that way and remain for life. Usually one species has the same coverage, or, at most, one variation for the female and one for the male, and perhaps a protective camoflauge for the young. But here we go in the most human way, imposing all sorts of rules: short for men, long for women; gingers are sassy, frizzy hair unruly, blonde hair dumb, brunettes boring.

Of course, since it’s me, the implications that stand out the most are the gender ones. Last week, one of my friends and mentor showed me off her new pixie style, joking that this was her “dyke haircut”, and when I asked another about her opinion on my short hair, she replied that I was “feminine enough to pull it off”. The first thing my friends asked me when they saw me was whether or not I felt “so much freer”. The physical answer is not really– short hair sits surprisingly heavily on the back of ones neck and it’s a hassle not to be able to sweep it up into a big ballerina bun. They are, of course, mostly talking about the mental implications– and that makes ponder the true state of women’s liberation, if even in the era of iphones we still stop ourselves to fuss about a hairdo.

I feel less pretty with short hair and maybe that’s a good thing. Some dresses and shirts don’t look as cute anymore and so I’ve simply stopped decorating myself for them. I have this theory that for every inch of hair you cut off, you have to make up for it with an inch of personality and I wonder if that’s true. I guess I have still quite a few feet to grow.

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Now here I was, sitting at home on a lazy summer’s day, full of food and sleep, reading through the NYTimes to find something good and juicy to write about, and thinking maybe, just maybe, that actually none of the articles annoyed me today.

Then aforementioned now ex-roommate Jennifer comes to the rescue (as usual!) with a link to this appalling post. And I smack myself in the forehead now for forgetting: Silicon Valley’s like a gold mine of Sophie-rant material. Put together 99 parts men, one part opinionated woman, and an extremely distorted and sensationalist media, and you have one big recipe for trouble.

Anyway. Apparently 140 Stiches is “dedicated to all you tech nerds who have far more important things to do than care about what the hell you’re going to wear. You were gifted in many ways – fashion sense not one of them. That’s okay, because I have absolutely nothing better to do than tell you smart asses what to wear.” Umm, OFFENSIVE, JUST A LITTLE?

But to cover-up right quick, the author makes sure to clarify that even though she just insulted the pants off your algorithm-loving asses, she’s just one of “the boys”. “If you think I’m just your average fashion obsessed girly girl, think again. I know my fair share about the interwebs and my favorite movie is The Social Network, in which I may or may not know every line.”

Look guys, fashion sites are GREAT. Fashion advice is helpful and fun for those who WANT and need it. But making the bullheaded and unfortunate assumption that all nerds are men and unkept ones at that is not only offensive, it’s, well, sexist. To both sexes!  I am a computer scientist and a nerd, but I also happen to be a fashionable metropolitan woman. And I also happen to like my algorithm-writing, bespectacled companions in their hackathon shirts. At least it shows a preference for intelligence over vanity, which not many people these days seem to have.

 

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