Finding Solutions

Women of Color & Technology

Women are making wonderful contributions to the technology field, many thanks to backgrounds in computer science. However, despite the great things various women are doing such as Kimberly Bryant –founder of Black Girls Code —  or Reshma Saujani — founder and CEO of Girls Who Code — there are still not enough women in the field of technology. Moreover there the majority of computer science degrees are earned by men. The percent of women who graduate with computer science degrees or work in the technology industry and stay in it is low. The numbers for women of color graduating with computer science degrees, or working in the technology industry, are significantly lower than their white counterparts. Black, Latina, and Native/Indigenous women usually have the least representation within the field of technology and computer science. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 2011, only 18% of all undergraduate computer and information science degrees were obtained by women (1), meaning an overwhelming 82% of CS degrees were obtained by men in 2011. Despite women going into the field of technology without formal computer science degrees, it is still valuable for more women to obtain these degrees to lessen the gender gap in the technology field and to make the pool of ideas and projects in the tech industry more diverse and creative. This will only happen if the number of women in tech grows. In 2013, only 26% of computing occupations were held by women (2), however breaking this number apart leads to shockingly low percentages for women of color. In fact, in 2013, only 3% of the computing workforce was made up of Black women and 2% made up of Latinas, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. The problem that women of color face in obtaining computer science degrees and entering the field of technology is related to several barriers, related not only to gender, but also to race and culture. Some of these barriers include racial and gender discrimination, lack of resources, isolation, questions about their skills due to their race and/or gender, and lack of diverse mentors and peers (3).

My solution to the lack of women of color obtaining computer science degrees, along with the lack of women of color in the technology industry, is to propose the creation of startup program that will help women of color begin their own startups in the field of technology, along with providing classes for young girls of color to foster their love of technology and provide them with mentors that could eventually lead to more women of color entering computer science programs and completing them. The most optimistic outcome arising from my solution is that the number of women of color obtaining CS degrees and entering the field of technology increases after the program has been established for some time. Moreover, another optimistic outcome is that this company hosting a startup program and other tech classes for women of color will help foster a sense of community. I’d like it to be safe and accepting space where women and girls of color can collaborate and learn from each other to make the tech industry a better place. The unique experiences that come from being a woman of color in the U.S., I believe, would surely prompt creative solutions and projects that would change the tech industry, and maybe even our society on a small local level or large national scale.

As I mentioned, my solution to the lack of women of color graduating with CS degrees and entering the field of technology would be to create a company that hosts a startup program for women of color, along with providing classes in different tech related topics for both young girls and older women. This startup program would be similar to Dr. Luz Cristal Glangchai’s VentureLab 3 Day Startup San Antonio program. However, this start up would be a 5 day program, long enough to do many things, but also short enough that it wouldn’t be a hindrance to the women who may have families, jobs, school, or any other responsibilities they have to get back too. This startup program would specifically target women of color in order to increase the number of tech startups led by women of color, thus increasing the number of women of color in general in the technology industry.

This 5 day startup program would introduce women of color to investors and entrepreneurs that are interested in investing in women of color projects and helping them get ahead in an industry that isn’t a reflection of them. The women would be able to apply to the program, form teams, learn from other entrepreneurs and women in the technology industry. Women in the program would be able to present their products and ideas to a group of investors, venture capitalists interested in investing in projects that could potentially make the tech industry more creative and diverse. The 5 day program would also include a chance to network with industry professionals so that even if some startups are not chosen or invested into, the women still have connections to these professionals who may know colleagues that would like to invest in the women’s startups or help mentor them. The point of the program would be to foster a safe space where these women could learn from professionals and each other, and bolster enough energy and momentum to continue their projects.

Other than the startup program, I’d like the company to provide other round the year programs to help young girls of color and older women of color as well. Other programs would include coding camps for young girls so that if they do end up liking coding and want to continue programming, they already have a connection a group of women that can mentor them. BY having mentors this could solve the feeling of isolation and increase the number of girls of color entering computer science classes in high school and computer science classes in college.

Another year round program could be computer classes targeting older women of color, women who may have not grown up using computers or who would also like to learn how to use computers. Furthermore, the company could help women who have left the tech field who now want to refresh their skills and reenter the workforce.

By providing a startup program that is, hopefully, held more than once a year and by also providing different year round programs, my hope is that the number of women graduating with computer science degrees would increase over time, as well as the number of women of color in the technology industry. The importance of similar peers and mentors who deal with similar barriers, I believe, would be helpful in getting women of color ahead in the tech field.  And the exposure to investors and entrepreneurs interested in helping women of color led startups would diversify the tech industry and bring more creative ideas to the table.

 

References

  1. National Center for Women & Information Technology. (n.d.)[Girls in IT: The Facts Infographic] [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/infographic/3435
  2. National Center for Women & Information Technology. (n.d.) [Women and Information Technology By the Numbers] [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/btn_02282014web.pdf
  3. Scott, A., & Martin, A. (2014, July 9). Diversity Data Shows Need to Focus on Women of Color. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-scott/diversity-data-shows-need_b_5571685.html

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/

Interaction, Integration, Implementation: A Curriculum Solution

The Problem:

We have discussed many problems related to women in the technology field throughout this semester—from education, to retention, to mentorship, to the unwelcoming bro-culture. While all of these problems are important, the area I feel can create the most long-term change is education, specifically among younger age groups. Research has shown that girls entering or already in middle school, specifically those enrolled in advanced math and science courses, show a high level of interest in computer science and other STEM related degrees. However, by the time these same girls get to high school, they show a “general lack of information about computer science, computer scientists, and careers in computer science” (Howe, et. al, 2007). Some researchers point out that girls can be dissuaded from pursing computer science at ages as young as elementary school (Klawe & Leveson, 1995). What adds to this discouragement is a lack of hands-on and engaging computer science education at this age, if a school even offers a class in computer science at all (Goodman, 2013; Raja, 2014).

Adding to this issue is the fact that pre-college experience with computer science significantly affected the success of females in computer science in college (Taylor & Mounfield, 2004). Maria Klawe also suggests that better computer science education at the K-12 level will encourage more girls to stay in tech through college (Klawe, et. al, 2009). It was clear to me, then, that the root of the problem happens in middle school—girls become less interested in computer science at this age which leads to fewer girls taking AP computer science courses in high school and ultimately fewer female computer science majors in college.

Intentioned Goal:

My solution—an integrated computer science curriculum—has several main goals. First, by targeting middle-school girls I hope to break down some of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with computer science that prevent many girls from pursing this field further. Showing girls that they fit into the world of computer science will hopefully eliminate the idea that computer science is a “male domain” (Howe, et. al, 2007). Second, by actively engaging middle-school girls with computer science my goal is to encourage them to take advanced courses in computer science in high school. This will hopefully lead to more female computer science majors in college. I will do this by eliminating the difficult and uninviting introductory computer science course that often dissuades girls from enrolling in it. Instead of just writing lines of code behind a computer desk, students will learn how to apply the skills they learn in the introductory course in the real world and may be more open to pursuing tech-related jobs. Finally, my solution will hopefully show that computation thinking is a skill that can be used in any discipline, not just STEM fields.

The most optimistic outcome of my solution is that the bro-culture surrounding the tech industry would be eliminated because boys and girls would be interacting with one another in this environment from a young age. This outcome involves a change in mindset and culture, so it is difficult to judge how successful or easy it will be for my solution to combat this issue. However, the most realistic goal of my solution is that more girls will stay interested in computer science through high school and then go on to become computer science majors in high school.

The Solution:

My solution has three parts: develop a computer science program that focuses on hands-on, project-based learning; making this program a requirement for all students; and then implementing this program through an integrated curriculum as opposed to a rigid computer-science class. “The goal of project-based learning…is to develop viable, creative solutions to real-world problems or authentic challenges” (Levin and Schrum, 2013). A computer science program would work well under this curriculum because students would have the opportunity to apply the skills they learn in the real world. By creating an introductory computer science course that follows this methodology, students would learn that computer science and computational thinking skills are valuable in any situation—not just in writing code. Women tend to be dissuaded from computer science because they are more people-oriented and perceive jobs in computer science as sitting behind a computer screen all day (Hall, 2007; Harris, et. al, 2009; Cheryan, et. al, 2013). This project-based curriculum will highlight the communicative and interpersonal side of computer science and other tech degrees—especially if the projects are presented to the community.

Another reason many students, and girls in particular, don’t pursue computer science courses in high school is because these classes either aren’t offered or don’t count for a math or science credit. “In 36 states, computer science counts only as an elective credit…many students are ‘smart enough’ not to take the classes because they don’t count toward graduation” (Goodman, 2013). With my solution, computer science would become a required credit needed for graduation, which would keep students enrolled in the classes and hopefully encourage them to take advanced courses as they progress through high school. This might also stimulate interest in computer science for students who would not have taken the class were it not required. In this way, my solution would not only keep girls in computer science classes but may help girls realize that they actually like computer science when they thought that they didn’t.

Finally, this required, project-based computer science course would be implemented through an integrated curriculum. Rather than teaching computer science skills for only one class out of the school day, students would be engaging with technology in every course. This would further highlight the fact that computer science knowledge and skills is applicable to any discipline and is not just limited to STEM fields. Some examples of this would be creating video games in math courses to help learn material, building robots or conducting experiments in science courses, create webpages on events, people, places, and works in English and history classes, or creating multimedia projects for art, music or theatre classes. This integrated curriculum computer science course would keep students actively engaging with the material throughout their school day. By the time these students get to high school, they will be accustomed to using the technology and may be less likely to succumb to the imposter syndrome.

Conclusion:

By bringing an integrated and interactive computer science curriculum to middle schoolers, we can solve many of the problems associated with women in technology. Girls would not lose interest between their middle and high school years, they would be more likely to take advanced computer science courses in high school, they may not as easily succumb to the imposter syndrome, and may be more willing to be computer science majors in college. It would also help alleviate the bro-culture that surrounds the tech industry because boys and teenagers would be used to having females in their classes. While some of these outcomes will be difficult to measure in the short-run, this solution will have long-term effects that will make the world of technology a more welcoming and interesting environment for women.

Works Cited

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

Goodman, J. (2013/2014, “A Girl Who Codes.” Fast Company, 132-138, 160.

Hall, L. E. (2007). “Nature, Nurture: What’s Behind Scientific Ability?” Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie: The Challenges Facing Women in Science and Technology, 35-55.

Harris, N., Cushman, P., Kruck, S. E., & Anderson, R. D. (2009). “Technology Majors: Why are Women Absent?” Journal of Computer Information Systems, 23-30.

Klawe, M., & Shneiderman, B. (2005). “Crisis and Opportunity in Computer Science.” Communications of the ACM, 48(11), 27-28.

Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). “Women in Computing—Take 2.” Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68-76.

Levin, Barbara B., Schrum Lynne (2013). “Technology-Rich Schools Up Close.” Educational Leadership, 70(6), 51-55.

Riegle-Crumb, C., King, B., Grodsky, E., & Muller, C. (December 2012). “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? Prior Achievement Fails to Explain Gender Inequality in Entry into STEM College Majors Over Time.” American Educational Research Journal, 49(6), 1048-1073.

Taylor, H. G., & Mounfield, L. C. (1994). “Exploration of the Relationship Between Prior Computing Experience and Gender on Success in College Computer Science.” Journal of Educational Computing Research, Volume 11(Number 4), 291-306.

Tiku, N. (May 31, 2014). How to get girls into coding. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/opinion/sunday/how-to-get-girls-into-coding.html?_r=0