Last spring I started a job in a web development start-up. There was a high turnover of developers but I noticed pretty quickly that they were all guys around 30 years old, except for 2 guys who were older. I thought this company was *so* sexist (and they were, somewhat). But then I read a statistic that 91% of web developers are male (this site says 92.4%). And I thought: What the fuck? Where’d the women go? That’s some fucking backlash.
Many articles ask the question like this one, Why Aren’t There More Women in STEM?. (*)Some studies give weird answers like girls avoid STEM because it makes them feel less attractive. Really? If perceived attractiveness is a reason girls avoid STEM, sometimes it pays to be a social pariah. I was one of only two girls in AP Calculus as a senior, but I’m sure we didn’t consider this as an obstacle to dating. It was never going to happen in my case anyway, as I was completely off the attractiveness rader.
This one seems slightly more plausible, that girls are usually geared for more communally-oriented fields.
Here’s something else: sometimes it just takes a strong role model to change people’s minds. This insanely cool woman, the current dean of engineering at a small college, has tripled the amount of engineering majors. It does seem, from this article, that what we need is a critical mass of girls and women in STEM and someone to lead us. And the reality is that when you go to a web development job, you’re probably joining an all-male team. And here’s something I’ve experienced. When a work team is all women and there’s just one guy, the women will go out of their way to make sure he feels welcome and not excluded. And the opposite is true with all-men teams; they are not going to give you a break. They’ll act like you are not in the goddamn room. I was really surprised to experience this recently. Eventually they accepted me, but it took months, whereas I noticed they accepted each other almost instantaneously. But, to cut these guys a break (not that I should) I’ll say this: based on these statistics, I may have been the first women developer they worked with, or at least, the first older women developer. I may as well been from Mars. Yeah, but on the other hand, sexism (and ageism) are kind of disgusting.
In any case, what happened to all those women I wrote code with 20 years ago? Where are they now? Why is there such a dearth of folks not only my gender but my age in web development? I don’t know if anyone has an answer to this, but I’d sure like to know.
*Science, Technology, Engineering, Math
It’s funny, but when my Dad wasn’t that old, he used to refer to himself occasionally as “Dear Old Dad.” Now that he is actually old, he doesn’t seem to say this. A lot of things about him have changed since I’ve been an adult, but especially since he turned 80. Up until then, I had a really hard time getting along with him. Recently he came to visit for six days — the longest time we’d actually been together since I was 21 — and I was sorry to see him go.
Some things about him haven’t changed. His moroseness, for one. He loves to says things like “Enjoy life — because you’re gonna die.” It’s said with a dry laugh at the end of the sentence. Same goes for “Life’s a joke. You’ve got to laugh — what else are you going to do?” These kind of sayings drove me nuts up until a few years ago. Maybe now I’m just glad he’s still alive, or maybe it’s because I kind of agree with these statement now that I’m older — maybe both — either way, they don’t bother me any more. In fact, I think they’re kind of funny because they are SO HIM. My Dad has become a sort of caricature of himself. Besides these pet phrases, he also has about fifteen of the same stories that he tells over and over. The time he says Joe Louis fight from a rooftop when he was 12, the time he caught a bunch of snakes and put them in bottles (which his grandmother later dumped out), the time he was three or four and came face to face with a bobcat (which his grandfather scared off with a shotgun). All of his stories have to do with when he lived with grandparents on a farm (ages 3-12) or when he was in the service (WWII), except for the Joe Louis story. I’ve noticed that if you’re around him long enough, some new stories do come up that I haven’t heard before. However, he doesn’t talk about living with his parents, or being my father. It’s as if we never lived together. When he occasionally references it, it’s never about me in particular; it’s more about being a Dad in general, and it’s usually glossed-over memory, like him making pancakes for breakfast on Sunday morning.
Now it’s all in the past, and I hold no anger towards him, but my Dad wasn’t such a great father. He had very little interest in me. He would only pay attention to me if I nooged him relentlessly. Then he might toss me a ball, or let me read Peanuts comics to him, but I could tell he wasn’t enjoying it. There were three things he liked. One was taking care of injuries. He loved cleaning up and putting a band-aid on a cut. I used to joke and call him doctor at these times. I found out as an adult that his Mom desperately wanted him to be a doctor, but he didn’t have the grades. The other thing he enjoyed was, on Sunday nights, he would take turns lying in bed with each of us kids for about 15 minutes. During this time, he would act silly in a way he wouldn’t do otherwise. I kept up this tradition long past my siblings, until I was about 12, which was the time I started feeling self-conscious about my body and feeling weird about a lot of things. Lastly, I realized somewhere in my teens that my Dad was the tooth fairy. I lost my last baby tooth at 15 or 16, old enough by far to wake up when he stuck a quarter under my pillow. Even though he never openly admitted he was the tooth fairy, and my parents told me I was too old for tooth fairy, I insisted that the tradition continue. I even wrote threatening messages on the over-decorated envelopes I would put my tooth in: “The tooth fairy better come!”
While he was there, I asked him if I could interview him. He agreed and I videoed him for about 45 minutes. I hope I have a chance to continue those interviews. After we were done, I took out an interview I did with him 30 years ago, on cassette tape. We listen to it for a short time, but it was just too weird. We couldn’t recognize his voice. It had changed so much over the years, getting hoarser and hoarser, that we no longer remembered what he used to sound like. At the time, he was 55, but he sounds about 30. I, who was 20 at the time, sound like I’m 12. I’m a bit whiney, which is embarrassing.
After listening to that tape for about ten minutes, I recognized his old voice. I remembered the father he used to be, and I felt sadder and sadder. Because even during the interview, I can hear how he doesn’t really want to do it. He’s eating, his answering my questions, but begrudgingly — as he always was. He just didn’t seem to care about me. I was not allowed to sit on my parents’ laps. They didn’t say they loved me until I was an adult.
The things is, lots of parents were a bit lousy back then. My parents did not stand out. Lots of parents were neglectful and disinterested, or demanding and unreasonable. Lots of parents told their children how annoying they were and how one day they’d see how hard it was to be a parent. They held that threat over their kids because they were 100% sure that we all were going to have kids. I wonder how many of those parents remember saying these things and regret it now. My parents don’t, but I feel a twisted glee that I avoided their prophecy by not having kids.
So, my Dad and I stopped listening to that old tape. I don’t know if I can ever listen to it. I want to hear what he says, because even in the short time I listened to it, there was information that he no longer includes when he talks about his life. I just can’t do it. It’s just too painful to remember how he was when we’re finally enjoying each other.
During his visit, he also talks about how he still has nightmares a lot. My Dad is a war hero; he liberated three concentration camps. He was 18 or 19 at the time. I didn’t know this until I was about 25. He never spoke about it when I was growing up, and even now, he will not go into any details. I can see now that my Dad has probably dealt with life-long undiagnosed PTSD. And K tells me, since he deals with PTSD folks, that it make people very self-absorbed. They have a pain they can’t resolve, so they keep going over and over it, consciously or not, continuing to turn in on themselves.
Both my parents have always been very self-absorbed, but they have very different personalities. Now I wonder, what traumas did my Mom suffer? She’ll never say. Clearly they were both emotionally impaired as parents, and it’s likely that this is why. Recognizing this made me understand my Dad a bit better. I wonder if he wants to talk about it after all? If this is why he mentions his nightmares? Would it be prying to ask?
My Dad clearly has a fear he’ll be forgotten when he dies. My brother can’t bear him, and he’s the only one with children. So my Dad’s only grandchildren have been raised to believe that he’s just an annoying, weird guy. My Dad says things like, “I was a human being. I had a life.” Or, “When I die, I want people to know that I was a mensch — not an S.O.B. And I think that’s one of the reasons we get along, because I am genuinely interested in his story. I don’t care how many times he talks about the snakes in the bottles, or the bobcat, or whatever — I’m just glad he’s here to tell me these stories. For as many times as he wants.
Since I have made Tzipi’s acquaintance, I have read all I can about the Western Scrub Jay, which is now considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world because of its prodigious memory. I learned that Scrub Jays often live with their parents for their first five years of life and help with succeeding chicks.
So it’s should be no surprise that Tzipi and Mississippi now have some adolescent kids hanging around my backyard. O.J. & O.J.G.F. do as well but they are not quite as extroverted as Tzipi’s kids. Like their dad.
One of his kids we refer to as Junior Tzipi because he looks just like Tzipi except 3/4 size. The other we refer to as Fuzzyhead, for obvious reasons, and Fuzzyhead appears to be female although because her head is fairly gray. But it could be that these are just baby feathers.
Fuzzyhead comes around a lot at this point. More than any other jay. She’ll come to the feeder even if you are in the backyard, although she will position herself so she can’t see you. This behavior seems similar to the tale of ostriches putting their head in the sand so that you can’t see them. It’s kind of funny to see. I have tried to get her to come to me but she will have none of it.
Junior Tzipi just shows up now and then, and is even less likely to hang around if we are in the yard.
Tzipi mostly comes around at dusk now, for a bedtime snack.
Mississippi still comes around a couple times a day. She always runs along the fence to the place closes to the feeder, which is pretty cute.
O.J. has been taken baths in our pond on a regular basis.
So that’s the latest on the gang. I have hopes of feeding Fuzzyhead by hand but don’t have a lot of time these days to stand and wait for her.