on being a nerdy girl

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.”

Wearing a Skylanders t-shirt while she plays Minecraft. Just so she has all her bases covered. I love that weirdo.
Wearing a Skylanders t-shirt while she plays Minecraft. Just so she has all her bases covered.

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.

Catie & her bearded dragon, Spyro Jones. (He's getting so big!)

6 thoughts on “on being a nerdy girl

  1. This is timely for me, because I was just listening to a thing on NPR this morning about apprenticeships, and I was thinking how sad it is that we insist kids have to go to college when there are tons of really well-paying manufacturing jobs.

    What would you think if one of your girls decided they didn’t want to go to college? Would you make them go? (My mom made me go, and I resent it often, especially since 18-year-old me didn’t understand what “I’m putting your name on this loan” meant.)
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    • Well, after they’re 18, I can’t “make” them do anything. If my parents had given me the option to not go to college, I probably wouldn’t have, but I doubt that I would be as successful as I am now. Not that I’m, like, swimming in Scrooge McDuck piles of money or anything, but I have a great job that I love, which pays enough for me to support my two girls and live without debt.

      I guess I think 18 year-old me really had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, and college gave me a few years to explore a lot of different options and figure things out. (Since I’m now a technical writer, that journalism degree still comes in pretty handy on a day-to-day basis.) And there are a lot of things about college besides just the education you gain that I think are valuable too (social interactions, a chance to sort of “practice” living on your own before you’re fully self-supporting, etc.). I think that if I had jumped straight into the workforce after high school, or taken an apprenticeship that led me to a different career path, I would have missed out on all of that.

      So would I force them to go to college? No. But I would strongly encourage it. And I would hope that they would view me and other strong, successful women in our family and circle of friends as role models of what they can become, and see that going to college is a good way to help them attain their own goals.

  2. Dear Catie.

    You my sweet, are AWESOME. When I was a kid I wasn’t a girly girl either. I hated pink, refused to wear dresses, and loved the X-Men. My teachers told my mom I should be playing “cheerleader” at recess instead of X-Men with the boys. My mom thought they were crazy!

    I’m 32 now, have a college degree, collect autographs of famous people I meet at Cons, and my fiancé is a big nerd too.

    Be the wonderful kid you are. Because you know what? When I have kids one day, I really hope I have a girl as awesome as you are.

    Sincerely, Nerd girl too,

  3. I took a computer class back in 1993 at Texas Tech, taught by a TA from India, in a big lecture hall. He looked around the room and noted how many women were enrolled, then commented that because of all the women in class, many men were unable to enroll, as the class was full. Then he had the balls to say that computers were a field for men and encouraged the women to DROP THE CLASS during drop/add week(1st week of classes) so that the men could get in! I kid you not! I couldn’t have reported him fast enough to one of the department heads….which was a woman.
    Tell your little girl to never change.
    (Funny thing, I heard a story on NPR last week about why the field was dominated by men at that time, and it reiterated my experience. Women trying to get degrees in computer sciences back in the 90s we’re routinely discouraged or squeezed out by their male peers and professors that felt the same way as my TA. Ugh!)

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