Changing the World

Revamping 1320: Making Intro Computer Science at Trinity More Inclusive

It’s a fact that women are not represented equally in the tech industry. As of 2013 only 27% of computing occupations were held by women [1]. And getting more women interested in computing careers is no easy task. At a young age, girls get discouraged from exploring computer science due to various stereotypes and others will try it out and leave, feeling like they can’t succeed. This is a pipeline issue; at each level from early education, college, to career, there are not enough women. While every level of this pipeline needs to be addressed, I am targeting change at the university level, using my reach on campus at Trinity University to take action.

Since the mid 1980’s there has been a decline in the number of female computer science majors. As of 2012, only 18% of computer science majors were female [1]. Many women take their first computer science classes and decide the field isn’t right for them. At Stanford in 2012, the percentage of women in their introductory computing classes decreased with each continuing course in the sequence. The first class (CS106A) was 40% female, the next (CS106B) was 30% female, and the third course (CS107) was just 20% female [2]. The percentage of female computer science majors that year was even lower, at 12% female [2]. There are three main attributes said to correlate to this drop off in female interest: isolation, lost interest, and lack of role models [3]. This research goes hand in hand with our knowledge of how macho environments and overly stressful classes deter women as well.

In order to combat this, many schools have redesigned their introductory computer science courses. Harvey Mudd is a great example, as they made a few impactful changes to tweak their curriculum and saw great results. First, they switched to Python, a more forgiving programming language than some of the alternatives like C++ or Java that also has lots of use in industry [4]. Second, they tried to combat the macho culture by dividing the courses into groups based on experience level. They now have CS5 Gold for new programmers and Black for those with prior AP level computer science experience [4]. Third, they made gave students choice in their programming assignments by offering different options of implementation to appeal to different students [4]. For example, one could choose a biology application over a physics one, but both would learn the same computer science skills. While these were the main overhauls to the curriculum itself, they also have extracurricular factors that contribute to their success, like a large women in computing club and every year Mudd takes many of its female first year computer science students to Grace Hopper, an empowering conference for women in computing [4]. After implementing these changes, Harvey Mudd got their rate of female computer science majors from 10% to 40% [4]. While we may not be able to enact every change exactly as Harvey Mudd has, many other schools have followed their example and I hope to push Trinity to do the same.

Currently, the introductory computer science class for majors at Trinity is CSCI 1320. There are a lot of great things already happening at Trinity to make our course accessible to everyone. Just like at Mudd, we have options of implementation on our assignments. We also have small classes sizes, which help students feel open to asking questions in class. However, we can still make great strides to make our course better for beginning programmers. Following the model of Mudd and others, I am suggesting the following changes be made to the course in order to create a more inclusive environment and attract, as well as retain, more women: splitting the intro course into groups divided by skill level, adding opportunities for collaborative learning, and offering good faith credit on some assignments.

When students with no experience are placed in the same class as those with a lot of prior knowledge, they become discouraged. Often times, this leads to students, especially women, believing programming is an inherent ability that they can’t possibly learn. While this is far from the truth, these feelings of self doubt are reinforced by the macho environment. Thus, I propose dividing the course into two sections, 1320 White and 1320 Maroon. The classes would essentially be the same, teaching the same curriculum by the end of the semester, however 1320 White would start at a slightly slower pace in order to reinforce the basic principles of computing while 1320 Maroon would extend into some more detailed applications to challenge the already experienced students. By giving the beginner programmers more time to understand the basics, they can move forward with their computer science curriculum with more confidence.

The second change I am suggesting for the intro course is to add opportunities for collaborative learning. As the Stanford study showed, isolation was one of the three identified causes for students leaving computer science. Mudd has helped alleviate this by having some assignments be pair programming, where students work in teams of two to three and work together to create a solution. Doing this can help students find community and lessen the feelings of isolation. Furthermore, the students would get the benefit of learning with and from their peers though these group assignments.

Lastly, I think implementing a good faith credit system could greatly aid our into course. With programming, it’s often that you can start an assignment with all of the intentions to get it finished and put in hours of work, but one small bug can prevent you from getting a correct solution. By implementing a system where students can earn partial credit for working hard on assignments despite getting an incorrect solution could greatly improve morale. Students, especially women, often take grades very seriously. Where a B may not be detrimental, these lower marks can be a determining factor in why women leave computing. By incentivizing hard work, success can become the norm in the intro class, thus rewarding those who put in the effort and encouraging learning over absolute correctness.

I would like to note, that one change I am not immediately suggesting is a switch to a new programming language, like Python. While such a switch could be beneficial, as it was a Mudd, changing the curriculum to a new programming language is no easy task. And in order to make change quickly on campus, I am leaving the argument of programming languages aside. That said, Scala is a fairly user friendly language, used by industry leaders like Twitter among others. While it might not be as popular as Python, it has worked well for Trinity and thus remains in my proposal.

In all, I feel that with these three changes, the computer science department at Trinity will see better retention of female majors as well as see the intro course being a better experience for all students. These proposed changes are also going to be presented to the department in a meeting next spring, hopefully getting turning these suggestions into plans of action. With Mudd and others leading the charge, proving how small curriculum changes can make a big difference, I am confident we can see positive change right here at Trinity and do our part to help close the gender gap in tech.

[1] National Center for Women and Information Technology (2014, Feb 28). By the Numbers. Web. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/resources/numbers

[2] she++ (2012). she++ Collected Statistics on Women in Technology. Web. Retrieved from http://sheplusplus.stanford.edu/sheStatistics.pdf

[3] Causes Of Undergraduate Attrition Rates. Web. Retrieved from http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/women-in-cs/stayingwithcs.html

[4] Taylor, Colleen (2014, Dec 18). How Harvey Mudd Transformed Its Computer Science Program — And Nearly Closed Its Gender Gap.” TechCrunch. Web. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/10/how-harvey-mudd-transformed-its-computer-science-program-and-nearly-closed-its-gender-gap/

Building Confidence in Women in Tech Industries

The Problem

 

One of the biggest problems facing the technology industry today is that there simply aren’t enough women entering and staying in the field. The number of female graduates with computer science or engineering degrees has decreased in recent years, resulting in a lack of women holding positions in these industries. One reason for this problem could be because of the stereotypical “bro culture” that is said to exist in these industries and women’s fear that they won’t be able to fit in. This leads women to feel out of place in the industry,, causing many to leave once they have entered. Another reason could be because of imposter syndrome. This causes women to feel that they don’t belong in STEM classes or careers, causing them to leave these industries and decreasing the amount of women in these careers.

The Goal

The goal for this problem is to increase women’s confidence and assure them that they do in fact belong in these tech fields. According to a recent study from Harvard Business School, 56% if women who enter the field will leave by mid career (Miller, 2014). This could be due to the fact that women are afraid to enter the stereotypical “bro culture” that is believed to exist in these fields. The stereotypical computer scientists are antisocial men who have trouble relating to women and interacting with other people (Cheryan, 2013). Women are afraid that they do not fit the qualifications to be a computer scientist, making them feel like they don’t belong in the field or STEM classes. In a statement from a New York Times article, the technology is described as a man dominated atmosphere saying, “It’s a boys’ club, and you have to try to get into it, and they’re trying as hard as they can to prove you can’t” (Miller, 2014). Women are fearful that they cannot relate to the “bro culture” that is portrayed by the media, making them turn away from technology industries and programming startups. In order to eliminate this problem, women need to have better mentors to demonstrate that they can be successful in this industry and progress in these careers.

Another goal is to eliminate imposter syndrome for women, especially through their education. Imposter syndrome is defined as “occurring when a person is actually doing fine, yet they feel that they don’t have the capabilities to succeed as well as others around them, making them feel like an imposter” (Warrell, 2014). According to a recent study, only 18% of computer science graduates are women, which is a decrease from 35% in the past thirty years (Miller, 2014). In order to increase women graduates in STEM fields and increase the number of women in technology fields, we need to be able to alleviate imposter syndrome and build women’s confidence in their ability to succeed in the tech industry.

The Solution

The solution to this problem would be to target girls from a young age, building their confidence early and lessening their fear of failure from an early developmental stage in their lives. In order to do this, I believe that a social media campaign would be effective targeting young girls on the popular social media site, Instagram. The social media campaign would feature inspiration quotes that build confidence in young girls and increase interest in technology and STEM fields. This would encourage them to pursue these fields throughout their educational careers and could lead to a later career in one of these fields. Another important component of the campaign would be to feature successful women in the technology industry to serve as strong mentors for these young girls. This would show them an example that it is possible to be successful in tech industries and lead them to gain the confidence to pursue these careers themselves. The campaign would also feature camps and workshops that introduce girls to technology and STEM fields at an early age, providing them the opportunity to get started in these fields.

I think that the main solution to the problem of a lack of women in the tech industry and women leaving these fields is to build confidence in women’s abilities to succeed. By doing this from an early age, we would be more likely to give young girls this confidence and have them keep it throughout their careers. By building confidence in women to succeed, they will believe in themselves and be able to achieve success in technology and STEM careers.

Works Cited

Cheryan, S., Plaut, V., Handron, C., & Hudson, L. (2013). The Stereotypical

Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women. Springer Science & Business Media.

Harris, N., Kruck, S., Cushman, P., & Anderson, R. (2009). Technology Majors: Why Are Women Absent? Journal of Computer Information Systems.

Miller, C. (2014, April 5). Technology’s Man Problem. New York Times.

Warrell, M. (2014, April 3). Afraid Of Being ‘Found Out?’ How To Overcome Impostor Syndrome. Forbes.

Change the Culture to Change Their Minds: How to Get High School Girls into Computer Science Classes

As girls advance through school they become less and less interested in technology, cutting themselves off from a number of potentially lucrative and interesting career opportunities. At the same time technology companies effectively lose half of the pool of talented workers that they depend on to grow and prosper.

When girls reach high school, there is a drastic drop off in their interest in technology and computer science. Howe, et al., found that in middle school a fourth of the twenty nine girls interviewed planned on pursuing a career in computer science or engineering. When interviewed them again in high school, only one was interested in a career in information technology. Howe et al. notes that some of the girls were simply not interested, but “a third of the students (9 out of 29) were put off by what they believe the work of a computer scientist to be. The prevailing image of a computer scientist is a person whose life is spent in a cubicle in a large office, spending long hours working alone with a computer, in a job that is not creative and not people-oriented” (2005, p. 58). While most of the middle school girls—ninety percent—expressed interest in learning more about computers in high school, once they reached high school only five of the twenty nine had taken or were taking a computer science class. The reasons for not taking a computer science class were: there was not room in their schedule, they were not aware a computer science class was available, there was no class available, they had no interest in computer science, and they presumed that the class would be difficult (Howe et al., 2005, p. 57).

I propose a change in the way high school computer science (CS) classes are taught. This could lead to an increase in female CS majors in college, as well as females in technology jobs after graduation. I would like to create an environment in high school computer science classrooms that is inviting, not only to girls, but to anyone who does not know much about computer science. CS teachers will not only focus on teaching coding, but also showing students what they can do with computer science so that girls see CS as an interactive and creative career that can help change the world. At the very least, if girls are enjoying themselves in computer science classes, then they will continue to take them and learn more about computers and coding. Even if they do not go into a technology career, they will have a skill set that will be beneficial to them when they are applying to jobs in any field.

Cheryan et al. looked at common preconceived notions about computer scientists, which may deter females from wanting to become CS majors. One of these stereotypes is that computer scientists, and especially male computer scientists, are more intelligent than average people. Both male and female students share the assumption that male computer scientists have a higher GPA than female computer scientists, though there is no evidence for this (Cheryan et al., 2013, p. 60). Women also generally “have less confidence in their computer aptitude than do men. As a result, some women, even those qualified to enter the field, may assume they are not intellectually equal to those already in computer science and may be reluctant to enter the field” (Cheryan et al., 2013, p. 60).

Based on this stereotype I believe high school girls are less likely to sign up for a CS class because they think they will be bad at computer science before they have even tried it. They also may be deterred from taking a CS class because they are worried they will be the only female in a class full of unsociable males who are already knowledgeable about computer science and coding. To attract more girls to computer science classes I think it is important to create an environment that actively fights these stereotypes. On the first day of class, the teacher should tell the class it is okay for them to fail. Creating an environment that encourages failure also encourages creativity. If students know that is it okay if their code does not do what it is supposed to do, they are more likely to try new things, think creatively, and feel less stressed about their assignments. Of course, this also comes with the stipulation that students must try, but if their hard work and best efforts do not work out, then they still get points for trying.

Teachers should create an environment where students feel like they can ask questions. Maria Klawe has spent her time as president of Harvey Mudd College changing the culture of science and engineering so that these fields are more appealing to women and minorities. She says: “Asking for help is something I’m really pushing right now because probably the most important thing you can learn in college is how to learn. And one of the aspects of learning is knowing how to ask for help and how to work with other people” (Hoffmann, 2012, p. 119). Klawe’s focus is on college classrooms, but I believe using her methods at the high school level will be just as effective, if not more so since the stereotypes about computer scientists have had less time to sink in. This will create an environment in college CS classes that is even more conducive to asking questions because this kind of behavior will be taught from an even younger age.

Another prevailing stereotype is that computer scientists lack interpersonal skills and are socially awkward. Cheryan notes that “this stereotype has been endorsed by undergraduates and by high school students in the UK and even middle school students are aware of this stereotype. Stereotypes that computer scientists lack interpersonal skills can be contrasted with expectations that women are socially competent and people-oriented” (2013, p. 60). Schools must encourage collaboration to fight the stereotype that computer scientists are loners. Encouraging students to share their ideas with one other and work together to execute those ideas not only shows students that CS is collaborative, but can also make students more comfortable with each other which can lead to shier, less experienced students feeling more confident speaking out. This is also a chance for more experienced coders to team up with less experienced coders, not only to help them, but also to help foster an environment that is supportive of students with less CS knowledge. However, it is important to pay attention to these interactions and make sure the students with more experience are actually helping the less experienced students and not just doing the project themselves or making the less experienced student feel bad for not understanding something.

It is also important to prevent imposter syndrome. Klawe defines imposter syndrome as the idea that “you’re actually doing fine, but you have the impression that you don’t understand the material as well as others around you” (Hoffmann, 2012, p. 119). There are bound to be people in any computer science class that have been playing with computers from a very young age and may already be knowledgeable on the subject matter of an entry level CS class. A high school female who has no knowledge of computer science may be intimidated and feel like she is the only one in class who does not know what they are doing. The stereotype that computer scientists are hyper-intelligent, as well as the fact that “women have less confidence in their computer aptitude than do men” (Cheryan et al., 2013, p. 60) can cause a heightened sense of imposter syndrome. It is important to take these knowledgeable students aside and—without discouraging them—let them know that there are students in the class who do not know as much as they do and need a bit more time and explanation to understand the material. It might also help to give them the chance to be peer leaders or tutors to students who may be struggling. This gives them the change to cultivate the knowledge they already have while allowing the less experienced students to participate more and get help from their peers.

Putting an emphasis on what can be done with computer science can not only spark the interest of more females, but can also encourage more girls to stick with computer science classes. Use entry level computer science classes to show that coding and technology can be used to create new things and change the world. Showing students that there is an end game to learning code can be encouraging because they become aware of the purpose behind what they are learning. Knowing that a line of code can make a big difference can make the frustration in how meticulous coding can be, worth it.

While I have argued for these practices in the context of high school computer science classes, they can—and should—be implemented at every stage of CS education. Even the most experienced coder can feel imposter syndrome and everyone needs help from their peers every once in a while. These methods are also directed towards getting more girls into computer science, but they are also helpful in getting minorities, or anyone who does not think coding is something they would be good at, into computer science classrooms. “The Department of Labor predicts the nation will add 1.2 million new computer-science-related jobs by 2022, we’re graduating proportionately fewer computer science majors than we did in the 1980s, and the number of students signing up for Advanced Placement computer science has flatlined” (Raja, 2014). With so many technology jobs available and so few people to fill them, we should be doing everything we can to encourage all people to become code-literate. These methods will hopefully create more interest in computer science in high schools and the culture created in these classrooms will hopefully carry over into college CS classes and the workplace. While these tactics are designed to get girls into computer science classes, I believe they will also help with retaining women in the technology workplace.

Works Cited

Cheryan, S, & Plaut, V, & Handron, C, & Hudson, L. (2013, June 22). The Stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women. Sex Roles, 69, 58-71.

Hoffmann, L. (2012, September). What Women Want. Communications of the ACM, 55, 119-120.

Howe, A, & Berenson, S, & Vouk, M. (2005). Changing the High School Culture to Promote Interest in Information Technology Careers Among High Achieving Girls. In Proceedings of the Crossing Cultures, Changing Lives International Research Conference, 51-63.

Raja, T. (2014). We Can Code It!: Why computer literacy is key to winning the 21st century. In Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/media/2014/06/computer-science-programming-code-diversity-sexism-education

Coding is For Everyone

One of the biggest problem that the technology industry faces today is its lack of female coders. While employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22% (Occupational Outlook Handbook) by 2020 , only 25% of women make up the technology industry today (down from 36% in 1991) (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2009). Thus, not only are women not benefiting from the increased employee opportunities, but technology companies will soon face a shortage of employees. While it may seem counterintuitive that females are not embracing this opportunity and learning to code, many women reject coding because of various misconnections which leads to them believing that coding “is not for them”. One of the more common misconceptions regarding coding is that “coding is for men”. Many women today are socialized to form a role schema about coding that only men can be coders (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2009). Furthermore, the women are unable to correct these schemas because of the lack of female recognition in the technology industry. Additionally, many women do not attempt to learn to code because of the common misconception that “coding is for computer scientists”. Computer science has yet to become a required course in K-12 education (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2009), so many people (including women) speculate that coding is only necessary if one want to pursue a computer science degree. Finally, many women choose not to pursue coding because they believe that “coding is for smart people”. Thus, when women do start coding for the first time, if they are unable to catch on to the concepts quickly they begin to experience imposter syndrome: feeling that compared to others, they lack the resources to necessarily complete a task (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2009).

Through my use of blogging, I hope to demonstrate first hand to women that coding is not just “for men” or “for computer scientists” or “for smart people”. As a female who has very little coding experience, I will use my background to combat these common misconceptions, and prove through my own experience that coding is indeed for everyone. In my blog, I will provide my own personal reflections on completing both the java and html basic training on codeacademy.com, and offer inspiring video and quotes to offer extra motivation to my audience. If my solution goes as planned, I hope to change societies perceptions about what it means to be a coder, and start a dialogue about the importance of coding. However, realistically I hope that my blog will at least inspire one girl/women that would have otherwise not coded, to try out coding for herself.

Link to my website: http://codingisforeveryone.blogspot.com

Works Cited:

Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2014). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Retrieved December 17, 2014, from

http://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm

Ashcraft, C., & Blithe, S. (2009). National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).

Becoming what they wish they’d had: why lack of mentorship for women in science is a problem and a proposed solution

The Problem:

Many of the readings and speakers have suggested that one big problem for attracting girls and women to STEM is a lack of mentors or role models in the science, engineering, technology and math fields. For example in Women in Computing- Take 2, Dr Maria Klawe said, “It is widely recognized that declining interest in technical disciplines among female students starts at a young age. Therefore early-intervention efforts are important to ensure future increases in representation… expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere, given that the absence of such models has proven to be a deterrent.[1]In How Mentoring May Be The Key to Solving Tech’s Women Problem, Cassie Slane said, “One of the difficulties wit keeping women in technology is that there are few female mentors for them to look to.[2]” In Women’s Entrepreneurship by Kelley et. al. we learned that, “When people know entrepreneurs, such acquaintances offer the possibility for role models, networking, advice, and encouragement.[3]” These sources all express the need for more mentors for women in technology, especially more women mentors.

The Intended Goal:

My solution to this problem involves talking to and learning from young women in college, studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and getting their opinions and stories of their experiences as women in these fields, particularly in terms of mentorship or lack thereof. Using these stories, I will write an opinion piece describing the problem and suggesting a solution. The proposed solution would be for women of college age to notice this problem and notice that they can fix it by choosing to encourage or mentor someone younger than them who is interested in the field. Ideally, the most optimistic outcome would be for the piece to be shared widely, perhaps over social media, and for many to see it and start the movement. Realistically, not a large majority of college age students would read it, but perhaps a few would and would still be inspired to encourage and mentor someone else.

Becoming what they wish they’d had: why lack of mentorship for women in science is a problem and what can be done to solve it

 

Chloe Phea, Brigette Lee, and Christine Campbell are four students at Trinity University studying to become doctors and engineers. Each became interested in their field by watching a parent or other adult and aspiring to become like those they looked up to. Each agrees that women are equally capable to men in STEM fields, however they also agree that women are underrepresented.

Underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields is a problem with several key causes. One of these causes is the lack of mentorship by other women or lack of women role models to look up to in these fields.

According to Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College in California, “It is widely recognized that declining interest in technical disciplines among female students starts at a young age. Therefore early-intervention efforts are important to ensure future increases in representation… expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere, given that the absence of such models has proven to be a deterrent.”

Early intervention should mean as early as elementary school, where girls are introduced to science, math, and computers, and develop either a love or fear of these subjects.

But, these fields aren’t appealing to many young girls. Typically, the image you envision when you hear “computer scientist” is a nerdy, overweight, white guy who lives in his mom’s basement. This is no different for young girls. They don’t want this image. Speaking for myself, I can say that the people I looked up to and wanted to be like when I grew up were the cool “big girls”- the girls that babysat me, or coached me or volunteered at my elementary school. I would argue that these are the most appealing role models to young girls.

So, when these “cool big girls” are the college-age young women, they should be reaching out to the next generation and hoping to inspire the girls sitting in the seats where they once sat.

Junior biochemistry and molecular biology major Brigette Lee agrees that having other women as role models is important. She credits her mother as one of her most important role models and one reason why she became interested in science. “They are not only able to show that women can be competitive in the field, but they can also demonstrate how to balance professional life with personal/family life,” she said.” However, she also noticed that many of her professors are men, and that in classes with male professors, men are more participatory in class because women fear being seen as loudmouths.

Another science major, sophomore Christine Campbell is studying engineering. She says that “it is easier to relate to someone who is the same gender as you. If you don’t see yourself in your mentor or role model, it makes it harder to imagine yourself in that position.”

Sophomore neuroscience major Chloe Phea reinforces the importance and lack of mentors for women in science. She says “I have yet to meet a female neurosurgeon. Girls aspiring to be in science should be able to find themselves a female mentor.”

All of these women’s experiences echo the benefits and need of more women to be role models for those following in their footsteps.

One proposed solution would be for these women, who are realizing the importance of mentors and the discrepancy between mentors for men and women would be for them to take the initiative to become mentors for younger girls. There are many volunteer opportunities for facilitating these relationships. Women in college could inquire with local elementary schools about programs that allow older kids to mentor younger kids. They could encourage cousins or neighbors or friends’ younger siblings. There are tons of opportunities, young women just need to take them. Younger girls look up to older girls and if they see these young women succeeding while studying to become doctors and engineers, they may be inspired to do the same and not deterred for fear of having a negative or nerdy image. These women agreed and hope that others with similar experiences will too.

[1] Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). Women in computing- take 2. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68-69-76. doi:10.1145/1461928.1461947

[2] Slane, C. (2014, 10 April, 2014). How mentoring may be the key to solving tech’s women problem. Huffington Post Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cassie-slane/how-mentoring-may-be-the-_b_4717821.html

[3] Kelley et. al.Women’s entrepreneurship. (pp. 28-29-32)

Fixing Filmmaking’s Gender Gap

Fixing Filmmaking’s Gender Gap

The problem

The films produced today tend to provide inaccurate portrayals of pretty much everything, including people. The problem is that viewers, especially young girls, don’t differentiate between what is shown on screen and real life, which affects their worldview and self-image. A study cited by WebMD found that TV shows focused on appearance are impacting the self esteem of girls as young as five (Heubert, 2006). Changes must be made behind the scenes to change what’s appearing on the screen. Although women purchase half of all movie tickets sold in the U.S., the creators of movies are most likely to be men who thus control what viewers watch (Zurko, 2013). Underrepresentation of women in the film industry is a problem because it results in excessively biased films, harming those who don’t separate media from reality.

The goal

Ideally, the solution to this problem would diminish all inequalities between men and women on screen, thus eradicating misconceptions of women that stem from their portrayal on film. This optimistic outcome would be the result of an even amount of men and women working in the film industry in jobs at entry level and executive positions and everything in between. Ultimately an even distribution would lead to more diverse decision-making teams that would work toward producing movies that focus on character development rather than their physical appearance. As Tiffany Lathe, vice president for human resources and legal at Rackspace has said, “a more diverse workforce is better for business” (Trapp, 2014). After all, film viewers come from different backgrounds—why don’t the producers? A more realistic outcome is that the culture of the film industry would become more supportive toward women in ways that encourage more women to join and take part in roles that have direct a direct impact on film content.

The solution

I propose a three stage solution called FFF, or Furthering Females in Filmmaking, created for women and designed to cultivate, foster, and apply an interest in filmmaking careers and general knowledge about the industry. Although each stage builds atop the previous one, it would be possible for a female to jump in at the stage most appropriate to her age level. The program would take place as an after-school extra-curricular activity run by volunteers who are passionate about the cause. I think that this solution would be most effective in a city with an abundance of resources and interest in the filmmaking industry such as Los Angeles or New York City. Therefore, the program would originate in one of these cities, but would be open to growth depending on its success.

The first stage has two objectives: to introduce filmmaking roles and to open dialogue about female representation in the media. Stage one of FFF would include open discussions about how women in their lives, such as mothers and teachers, differ from women they see on the screen and in advertisements. This topic is included in stage one because it’s important to distinguish media from reality and the earlier this recognition can be instilled, the better. Also, this stage would introduce filmmaking by taking a closer look at kids’ favorite films such as Frozen or How to Train Your Dragon. Girls in FFF would learn about the roles of a director, editor, producer, and screenwriter through the context of familiar films. Through interactive games and activities, they would try out different roles and realize their responsibility of controlling the final product. Stacey K. Black, hairstylist and partial director on TNT’s Major Crimes, thinks women are underrepresented in the film industry “because they are used as currency in advertising…if women were in charge of more content in the film and TV industry, I feel like we would be less of a commodity” (Black, 2014). Stage one aims to tackle her point by showing girls that females are not currency and that they are capable of executing film-making jobs.

The second stage of FFF would take effect once girls have grown out of the first stage, which would begin at middle school and last until the end of high school. This stage would further develop conversations about representation of women in addition to teaching girls more technical skills involved in filmmaking. At this point teachers from stage one would no longer be sufficient for educating the girls in FFF. Industry professionals inspired by FFF’s cause would be brought in to mentor girls in stage two. Girls would gain valuable knowldge from their technical expertise and industry experience, so whether the mentor is a male or female is not very important. As Maria Klawe from Harvey Mudd mentioned in her presentation, a mentor’s gender is not as important so long as they are a helpful resource and support their pupil’s endeavors. These professionals would use their expertise to teach girls filmmaking skills such as creating storyboards, writing scripts, editing sound clips, and so forth. Kendall Sherwood, writer on Major Crimes, said that “men are raised to think they have certain skills that make them more valuable and—in an industry that takes itself pretty seriously—executives may assume they can only find those skills in men” (Sherwood, 2014). Stage two takes on Sherwood’s point by educating girls in filmmaking skills to give them the confidence they need to compete with men that with high self-esteem.

The third and final stage of FFF is designated for women who are serious about filmmaking as a career. High school students interested in this career path would transition to stage three to learn about higher education in filmmaking. This stage would also attract those seeking internships and jobs in the industry. This stage would not only include young women seeking resources, but it would also include female professionals in the industry (who may or may not be mentors in stage two) that would use FFF to network amongst themselves. They could use the program as a way to recruit women looking to get into the film business, such as those who graduated from stage three. Female film professionals could also use stage three of FFF as a support group in which they share advice about how they balance their career with their personal life, thus encouraging women to stay in the industry. Leah Breuer, assistant editor for Major Crimes, believes that filmmaking’s gender gap is due to the pull toward family life. In an interview she stated, “This is an industry that requires so much of our time that it may be a turnoff for some women who want to raise a family” (Breuer, 2014). By exchanging tips and stories of how they have been able to make their careers harmonize with their family lives, women will be able to overcome this turnoff. This final stage serves as a lasting resource for all women involved in the industry, so they are welcome to stay in stage three for as long as they choose. Every woman has something valuable to offer and something to learn—in this way, FFF benefits women looking to get into the industry, women looking to recruit others into the industry, and society as a whole that’s sick of the trend of films today.

References

Black, S. K. (2014, November 11). Interview by C. L. Patridge., Los Angeles, CA.
Breuer, L. (2014, November 11). Interview by C. L. Patridge., Los Angeles, CA.
Heubeck, E. (2006, October 18). Helping Girls with Body Image. Retrieved December 6, 2014, from WebMD website: http://www.webmd.com/beauty/style/helping-girls-with-body-image
Sherwood, K. (2014, November 7). Interview by C. L. Patridge., Los Angeles, CA.
Trapp, R. (2014, January 31). Technology Needs New Role Models. Forbes, Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2014/01/31/technology-needs-new-role-models/
Zurko, N. (2013, November 25). Gender Inequality in Film. Retrieved December 6, 2014, from New York Film Academy website: https://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/gender-inequality-in-film/#!prettyPhoto

The Representation of Female Characters in Video Games

FINDING SOL. PAPER (Link to Word Doc)

Representation of Female Video Game Characters: A Finding Solutions Analysis

            PART 1: In today’s modern age society, video games serve as a key source of entertainment, providing players with an array of colorful stories and characters. That said, there is a distinct issue of representation in how female characters are portrayed and utilized in video games. Female characters are often portrayed as sexual objects or used in a manner that creates even less of an impact in the overall story than their male counterparts. In many cases, the portrayal of female game characters shows how the gaming industry neglects its female customers, representing their gender as mere eye-candy for the player and not giving female characters enough leeway to transform into their own strong, capable individuals.

According to Beasley and Standley in their academic essay on the clothing and sexualization of women in video games, “The majority of female characters are dressed in such a way as to bring attention to their bodies, particularly their breasts” (Beasley & Standley, Pg. 289). Many modern female video game characters are assigned sexualized clothing that emphasizes their bodies in an erotic manner, aiming to titillate the assumed male player over actually developing these women into strong characters that possess a personality outside of their gender. Furthermore, Tracy L. Dietz states that “while there are instances in which female characters are portrayed as positive role models, in general most of the games minimize the roles of females” (Dietz, Pg. 436). This is true in that many modern video games feature storylines in which the female character is an object to be rescued or desired, such as the Mario series for instance. And additionally, when female characters do get some level of focus, they become, as Anita Sarkeesian puts it, ‘Ms. Male Characters’. This basically makes them merely objects used to cash in on the popularity and prominence of their male counterpart without adding that much importance to their overall presence, as seen in examples like Mrs. Pacman. Under the shadow of the ‘Ms. Male Character’ principle, female video game characters “are defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterpart” (Sarkeesian). They are not given enough development or respect into becoming their own unique entity. Clearly, female characters in video games are not getting the proper level of development and representation that their male counterparts are receiving and thus, something must be done in order to change it all for the better.

With this said, my intended goal is to alert the media by way of creating an opinion piece for the New York Times that expresses my sentiment that women need to attain a stronger level of representation in video games, calling on my readers to stand up and take more notice in this prominent issue in order for female characters to one day receive the same scale of proper development and respect that male characters do. I feel that The New York Times would be a great place to publish such a piece as it is a highly respected and read magazine, gaining worldwide recognition for its culturally-relevant writing pieces. I hope to primarily reach an audience of those who are passionate about both gender and activism, influencing them through my writing to feel more invested on the issue and begin to think on what might be the best way in fixing the problem. The most optimistic outcome of my solution would be that of getting the gaming industry to see the error of its ways and then go on to forge a stronger representation of female characters in the gaming world. My more realistic outcome, however, would probably be that of simply causing a slower, but gradual shift in attention on the issue like Anita Sarkeesian did with more and more people beginning to recognize the importance on why this issue must be changed for the better. I wish to write something that has enough of an impact to cause a kind of Blackfish Effect—that is to say, something so emotionally appealing that people begin to take more notice on the issue and start campaigning for change. While I know that such a huge change in the gaming industry might not take place overnight, I feel that we, as a society, have the potential to make a huge change in how we go about this issue. With greater attention focused on the problem and how to get more people involved and aware of it, I feel that there will soon come a day in which we can completely change how women are portrayed in video games.

PART 2: New York Times Piece

Take a moment, if you will, to try to think about great female characters in movies. There are certainly plenty out there—Ellen Ripley from the Aliens franchise, Sarah Connor from Terminator, and even Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. All of these women are strong individuals who make huge impacts in their stories, relying on their courage and wits in order to survive their situations. But while film is certainly a medium that celebrates the inner attributes and strengths of the female character, the world of video games is, sadly, a much less inclusive place for female characters to find their footing. Video games are great fun; they’re engaging, creative, and they often provide the player with lots of interesting and complex stories to enjoy. But with all that said, female characters in video games often seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to representation and depiction, especially when it comes to their physical appearances and overall roles in the story. All too often, female characters are shown first and foremost in an erotic or passive light, taking the backseat to their male counterparts and very often not getting much to do in the main narrative other than look pretty or occasionally offer words of encouragement. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you saw Princess Peach actually dishing out the punches and rescuing herself? When’s the last time you saw her actually have to rescue Mario? Those instances, if there are any at all, are certainly not the first things you associate with the character. To the average player, she is a treasure to be won, a reward for a long and grueling quest in which the titular Mario must put his life at stake to rescue his distressing damsel princess.

It isn’t to say that these kinds of games are bad of course. It simply shows that the portrayal of female characters in video games is quite a troubling issue. Furthermore, there exists the issue of prominent sexualization from female characters. From Bayonetta to Lara Croft, female video game characters are more than often shown in a titillating and physically desirable manner, trying to show off a pair of breasts or butt over that of actually taking the time to focus on other attributes. And yes, while many of these sexualized female characters do actually get to fight and duke it out every now and then, it still doesn’t help that they have to look so erotically appealing at the same time. There are many strong and capable male characters in video games that aren’t sexualized. So why just the women then? It’s as if the gaming industry wishes to suggest that women are only appealing to the player if they are sexualized, that normal-looking women or women that value brains over physical appearance are less important in the grand scheme of things.

There’s no law on the planet that demands that women be portrayed in a lesser way than men. Not only are there women out there that are quite capable of relying on their own strengths and merits, but there are many female video game players out there that would want to see their gender shown in a much stronger way. But alas, dear reader, it seems as if the video game industry has neglected its female community. And though these games might be fine games on their own, they still nonetheless articulate the notion that female characters do not hold the same level of depth or importance than male characters, used as either eye-candy or objects to be rescued. Folks, we got to turn this thing around. Women characters can be just as important or as strong as male characters and there’s no reason to keep assuming otherwise. As a community of gamers, it is our job to see to it that women have the same opportunities to make impacts in the gaming world, both as characters and in their representation.

The good news is, of course, the fact that more and more people are starting to try to develop stronger female characters in video games. In the critically acclaimed game, The Last of Us, the character of Ellie is both a fierce and determined survivor, actually getting the chance to rescue her male caretaker, Joel, at some point later in the game. And in The Walking Dead game franchise, the character of Clementine is shown to be an actual character before she is a female; continuously proving herself to not only be incredibly emotionally endearing for the player, but also very useful and capable of taking matters into her own hands. The Portal series, likewise, is also breaking new ground in how females are portrayed in video games as it features not only a female protagonist, but a female antagonist as well. In the game Portal 2, interestingly, it is actually a male villain that both protagonist and former antagonist must work together to defeat in order to assert their own needs and goals. So there’s hope yet for the portrayal of women in video games.

Of course, I don’t expect to just snap my fingers and have the whole problem fixed instantly. Life simply doesn’t work that way. This sort of issue is something that must happen gradually, must spread like wildfire until it reaches the core of the gaming industry. Video games are universal; both men and women can enjoy them. But there needs to be a change in how we portray our female video games characters. There’s a whole realm of unexplored, complex female characters out there just waiting to be discovered. And the sooner we get on to actually go out looking for them, the sooner we can all make a huge change for the better in the gaming world. Complex, well-written characters are not solely male. It’s time to give women the chance to prove themselves beyond that of skimpy clothing and big boobs. There is a heart to every character that someone takes the time to pour their souls into. If we all do a little bit of digging, perhaps we’ll get to find it.

Work Cited

Beasley, B., & Standley, T. (2002). Shirts vs. Skins: Clothing as an Indicator of Gender Role Stereotyping in Video Games. Mass Communication & Society, 5(3), 279-293.

Dickerman, C., Christensen, J., & Kerl-McClain, S. (2008). Big Breasts and Bad Guys: Depictions of Gender and Race in Video Games. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 3(1), 20-29.

Dietz, T. (1998). An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior. Sex Roles, 38, 425-442.

Sarkeesian, A. (2013, November 18). “Ms. Male Character–Tropes vs. Women” Retrieved from www.feministfrequency.com/2013/11/ms-male-character-tropes-vs-women/