Catie’s best friend at school this year has been a little boy who I’m going to call A. She’s been coming home talking about him nearly every day. Once, she said, “Mom, I have to wear my Minecraft t-shirt to school tomorrow, because A is going to wear his, and we want to match!”
It was pretty adorable. She asked if he could come over for a playdate. She even mentioned having a crush on him, but when I asked her if she knew what that meant, it sounded more like a friend-crush than a romantic crush. I asked her, “Do you mean like you really like him and want to be around him all the time? Or do you mean hugging and kissing?”
She said, “Kinda just the first part, not the hugging and kissing stuff.”
*whew* Thank God, because I’m so not ready for that.
One night last week, Catie came home in a foul mood. She was picking fights with Lucy over nothing, being rude to me, and just generally not being herself. She knows how to push my buttons sometimes, and I was not handling her outbursts gracefully at all. She was yelling, I was yelling back, it was just a bad scene.
After the kids took a bath and we’d both taken a little time to calm down, I tried to talk with her. She said, “I’m not friends with A anymore.”
Ahh, ok, lightbulb. So that’s why she’s being such a pain in the butt, she’s upset about something completely unrelated. I should have guessed.
I asked what happened. Apparently they’d had a disagreement about some game they were playing, and she said when he got mad at her, “he told me that I should stop playing video games and just go play with Barbies.”
Yeah, so, pretty much the most hurtful thing you could say to an anti-girly girl like Catie.
She was just so sad about it. She said, “I feel like an idiot because I only like boy stuff.”
I told her that she likes what she likes, and I never want her to change what she likes because of what other people think. Because I think it’s awesome that she’s into science and video games, and those are not supposed to be “boy things” or “girl things.”
It was interesting because the conversation segued into talking a little about sexism in society in general, and I gave her sort of a G-rated recap of GamerGate. Obviously, I didn’t explain rape threats or doxxing to my 7 year-old, but I told her about how there are some men who think women shouldn’t like video games, so they say nasty things to those women to try to make them stop liking them. (Like I said, keeping it G-rated.)
And then that led a little into talking about my own career in IT, and how I’m often the only girl in the room at work. Which is fine, I’ve been working in the IT industry for about 15 years now, so I’m pretty used to it by now. But as much as I love my job (and I really do), it’s still sometimes a little uncomfortable to realize you’re always the anomaly in the group.
(At my office, there are about 100 people, give or take. Of those, there are 6 women. Three of them are in administrative, non-technical roles. And that’s not even unusual in my experience. So, yeah, I’d say women are definitely a minority.)
I also told her a story I hadn’t thought about in years, which is how I got started in the IT field in the first place. And I don’t think I’ve ever blogged this story, so here goes.
So, I got my bachelor’s degree in journalism. After I graduated, I found out that journalists make no money. I was offered a position as a reporter for a newspaper in the next town over from where I lived, and the starting salary was less than I was making as a secretary. That’s when I realized I was in trouble (student loans!), and started looking for other possible careers.
I knew I was good with computers (I had installed a modem in my parents’ Windows 3.11 PC, and learned how to set up dial-up Internet access… oh, the 90s). And I had a lot of friends who had jobs in tech support (as I explained it to Catie, “the people you call on the phone when you can’t get your computer to work, and they explain to you how to fix it”). So, I thought, well hey, I can do that.
Here’s the kicker: there was a guy I was sort of casually dating at the time, and he was one of the people I knew who worked in tech support. When I told him I was thinking about pursuing it as a career, he flat-out said, “You can’t do that, you’re not smart enough.”
Catie was horrified when I said that. “But you ARE smart!”
[Side note: That dude didn’t know that I graduated Magna Cum Laude, or that I was in the National Honor Society, or anything about my academic background, because he really wasn’t interested in knowing much about me. 22 year-old me had very poor judgment when it came to boys. If there was any area of life where I wasn’t smart enough, that was it.]
So, really? My entire career in IT can be traced back to the one guy who made me think, “Know what? Screw you. I’ll SHOW you that I’m smart enough.”
Last time I heard from that guy was years later, when I was living in Seattle and working at Microsoft, and he was still answering phones at a helpdesk call center in Memphis, so… I’m gonna go ahead and say I won.
Catie asked, “So how much more money do you make than him now?” I said I don’t know, but since I was smart enough to get a college degree and he wasn’t, I’m going to guess that I make a lot more than him. I mean, it’s a generalization, but statistically pretty likely. And I figured it was a good time to emphasize to Catie the importance of education and going to college.
As for Catie and her friend, nothing has really changed in the past week. It sounds like she’s been playing with other kids at school because she and A are still mad at each other. Maybe they’ll make up, maybe they won’t. But no matter what, I don’t want anyone to ever make my daughter feel like she isn’t brilliant and amazing just the way that she is. Because my god, is she ever.