I was really excited when I was tagged into the #codinggirls campaign by Primo Toys just in time for Women’s Day. Getting girls into STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) subjects is a topic very close to my heart.
A little about myself
I was a lucky one. My mother has graduated in mathematics and she inspired me to do the same, even though she went on to become a middle-school teacher. I have studied theoretical mathematics in one of Italy’s best and toughest universities. It wasn’t long before I found myself being almost the only girl in the room.
I’ve worked for a few years as a researcher in a Finnish university. I had many female fellow PhD students, but there were no female professors in my subject. It didn’t really build up my career dreams. Later I turned to coding and now I work in a software company. I have supported and sometime captained several organisations for women in science, advocating for equality and equal opportunities. I have some small successes to be proud of in this regard. I am also mother to a girl, and my husband and I have worked from day one to empower her and teach her the sky is the limit.
Inspired by Primo Toys’ initiative, I prepared two hot cocoas, and my four year old daughter R and I sat down for a formal interview on what it means to her to be a girl.
Me: “So, R, today I will interview you. It means I will ask you some things and you need to tell me what you truly think I may ask if you like something or not, or about some things that have happened… Alright?”
Me: “My first question is, what do you like the most about being a girl?”
R: “That I can grow my hair long”
Me: “Wow, sounds nice! Anything else? Maybe something you think the boys cannot do?”
R: “Mmm no” (thinks) “If something comes up, I can tell later…”
Me: “Has anyone ever told you, ‘you cannot do this because you are a girl’?”
R: “No.” (looks at me like I’m talking science fiction)
Me: “Not even when playing? Maybe some boys were playing and they’ve told you you couldn’t play with them because you were a girl?”
R: (even more shocked at this idea) “No!”
Me: “Good to hear! Listen, what would you like to become when you grow up?”
R: “I don’t know… Oh wait, now I remember. When I grow up I want to watch the computer to know how people live.”
Me: “Can you explain better? What do you want to see exactly?”
R: “I wanna see everything“
Me: “Everything inside people?”
She’s very fascinated by scientific subjects. Her favourite topics are space and volcanoes, and we often read books about them. When it first snowed this winter, we even built a snow volcano, with flames coming up. Lately she has been claiming that she wants to study how people are inside and what allows them to live. She says that “computers know everything”, so her plan is to research by “watching videos of how people are inside”. I wanted to find out if she had any role model who inspires her somehow.
Me: “Is there a girl or woman that you like so much, you would like to be her?” (whispers ‘say mom’ – didn’t work)
R: “Mmm no.”
Me: “Think also about cartoons or books… Anyone?”
R: “I want to be the horse I watched this morning…”
R: “Yes but not Spirit, the girl horse, that is white and brown”
She is the only girl in her class who plays with both girls and boys. She seems to be quite immune from common gender stereotypes, but I can see it does affect her if she sees some gender compartmentalisation, like boy VS girl toy sections in a shop, or if she meets female role models she sticks immediately to them. She loves to play as BatGirl or Nya from Lego Ninja Go. If there is a female character, she automatically identifies with her, which makes me think how essential gender representation is.
I reconnect to my experience as an adult. Not seeing female role models in your dream career triggers the thought “If no woman ever made it to the top, how likely it is that I will be that woman?”. This is why it’s crucial that parents expose children of both gender to a diverse representation of reality, where people of all genders, ethnicities, and social extraction act as empowering role models.
Me: “What can you do with the computer?”
R: “I can play…”
Me: “What else? There is something you do for me sometime, when I bring you to work…”
R: “I copy written things… And I can write random things also”
Me: “Yeah and you’re good! Listen, do you know what mommy does with her computer?”
Me: “I write in a special language and explain to the computer what it needs to do for me. You also write in the language of computers, when you play with Cubetto”
R: “Cubetto beeps to me!”
Me: “Also that, but you also tell it what to do with the arrows and it does”
R: “No no no no… It only says ‘beep beep'”
Here I couldn’t explain her that language is not always spoken. I went on and asked her if she wish one day she will able to speak the language of computers and what would she do then.
R: “I would ask, computer, search and show me what’s inside people!” (mimics typing)
Me: “Thank you for the interview. Do you want to shake my hand?”
(we shake hands)
Me: “Come back soon to my show!”
It was really fun to have this one to one chat with her. I love her self-confidence and we parents want to take some credit for fostering it.
Empower your girls
If you are a parent or an educator of girls, please be aware that you can have a profound influence and impact on their self-esteem. Coding is one example of activity which can grow self-confidence and provide with an indispensable skill for the future. If you lack the experience or struggle to find resources, you can start from this free e-book published by Primo Toys or check out my review of their amazing product Cubetto (proud Kickstarter backer right here). Here’s some books on coding for kids you may want to check out (we love Linda Liukas’ books!). If you have older children, you can check out finer tools, like Blocky by Google. Beside direct influence, you can take further action and consider sponsoring organisations that support women who code, for instance Girls Who Code, Women Who Code, or Project Girl Code.
Coding is already an essential skill in today’s world. I want all girls to have a real chance to appreciate how fun and empowering it can be to code. Let’s make it real, shall we?
I was invited to take part in the campaign by Primo Toys but the post is not sponsored. The post contains Amazon affiliate links, which mean I get a small % on sales at no additional cost to you.
Big thanks to F, my husband, who shot the post pics while we were having our interview.