Typically choosing to surround myself with those who identify as “progressive individuals”, the most sexism I had faced was from teenage boys attempting to find refuge behind the light of their computer screens while throwing verbal attacks in my direction out of envy of my personal successes.
To say that choosing to participate in FIRST Tech Challenge has been one the best decisions I have ever made would be an understatement. Because of the program, I have identified a deep passion for engineering and computer science, I have something to concentrate on and look forward to, and I have made lasting connections with students and professionals across the United States.
Encountering small tufts of sexism too, has been a blessing; even if it is one that has been disguised. Being the co-captain of an all-girls team, and a social one that too, I have encountered quite a few of these tufts.
No matter how much we attempt to drill the idea of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition into FIRST students, there will still be quiet sexist exchanges that can only be dug out from the memories of those tied into some of the tightest social circles in the FIRST Tech Challenge. Social circles that unravel themselves as an onion would—with those most passionate, successful, and social at the center, and those progressively less so with each layer of the onion.
This past season, I had unknowingly worked my way towards the center of this social onion. Here, I was tagged as one of the more “chill” girls out the of the few girls that were in this odd circle. The closer I got towards the center, I would realize later on, the more acceptable sexist remarks became. After further inspection, I came to a realization that most students were against these remarks, but would say nothing in fear of being marked as “uncool”, and losing their position in the group. Classic.
The number of boys I ran into who clung onto the idea that my team (and other all-girls teams) won awards and advanced solely because of the fact that we are an all-girls team is ludicrous. Oftentimes, they would neglect the fact that we had put in hundreds of hours into perfecting our team’s work (just as they had with their own teams), and would claim that our gender immediately secured awards for the team.
One would expect that after 0 all-girls teams from New Jersey moved onto East Super Regionals the barrage of sexist one-liners would ultimately cease. Instead, a handful of unrelenting boys moved onto more personal attacks. A team once called me out of the blue, and members took turns insulting my work, my team’s advancement status, and even my relationship status. It was especially unsettling because this was a team that we had once worked with very closely. One member (whom I had never even met) went so far as to Direct Message me and make disparaging comments on my intelligence, and my team members’ mental capacities.
It is important, dear FIRST friends, to remain nonchalant in situations like these, and refuse to swoop down to their level and attack them in return. One must hide the frustration and hurt as refraining from doing so will only encourage the oppressor.
It is interesting to note that all these occurrences took place online. Perhaps it is their fear of judges lurking in the shadows, or maybe it is because their confidence suddenly wavers when they can see the faces of those who they are hurting; whatever it is, no one has attempted to make such disgusting comments towards my teammates to our faces at competitions.
It was almost comical that these boys were so bothered by our success that they had dedicated so much time to attempt to stop us. The thought process behind this, however, needs to be brought to the light: being discredited for one’s own work is the daily reality for far too many women in STEM fields. Although these are merely small acts of sexism, and nothing like the growing number of cases of women being sexually harassed in the workplace, it must be addressed. We must extinguish even the smallest of flames as they always have the potential to grow into large, uncontrollable fires.
This blog was written by Aparna Rajesh of FTC team 11306 Prototype G. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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