Subtle Sexism




By Lara Salomon for Imaginet

“How has being a woman negatively affected you?”

The question is asked in such a way that it almost seems complimentary and accusing at the same time. On one hand, I am a relatively successful woman who is in a pretty good position at an IT company. By all accounts, I am doing pretty well for myself. On the other, it’s assuming that as such a woman, I am immune to sexism. That I’m almost proof that it doesn’t exist.

The question is asked by someone that I am very close to – practically family in fact – and it’s one that takes a moment to sink in. It’s not what I would have expected. So, I choose to sit down and explain to him how being a woman has negatively affected me.

I tell him about high school as an example. When I was in high school, I made a choice to take Computer Studies as a subject. But not regular Computer Studies – I chose to take the standard grade equivalent.

I am in no way denying that this was a choice I made. But I made it for a reason.
When deciding which subjects to study, I was faced with a range of options – languages, sciences, all sorts really. I was particularly drawn to computers, as I had always been, but I decided to go for the standard grade equivalent in part because I wasn’t sure that I was good enough, and in part because I would have been the only girl taking the subject.

At the time, I also chose to study Mathematics on standard grade. I was called into the Grade Head’s office, where we discussed why I felt that I should take Maths SG and how it would affect my chances at a Matric certificate. Not once during this discussion did we talk about Computer Studies and how taking Computers SG would affect my Matric certificate.

I wasn’t unintelligent, I wasn’t unqualified for the subject, though at the time I felt that I wasn’t good enough. With encouragement and a gentle push in the right direction, I feel that I could have excelled at the higher grade equivalent. I could have learned the basics of programming languages and I could have saved myself some time learning then things that I am trying to teach myself now. Instead, I learned how to use Microsoft Office, how to browse the internet and the basics of computer theory (which, to be fair, I was pretty useless at – mostly because I found it tedious).

So, you ask me how it was that I was negatively affected by being born a woman? It wasn’t in an obvious way. No one has told me that I am less deserving (no one that I care about anyway) and I was brought up believing that I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be. But subtly, in the background, I was being pushed into a direction which I didn’t want to go into. While some of my hobbies and passions were encouraged, others were put to the side because, well, women don’t study computers.

And look where I ended up – at an IT company, combining the two things that I love (even if it is in a small way) – computers and writing working together as one. And I like to think that I’m better off for it.

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