International Women’s Day, on March 8th, sparked a lot of comments. From the usual ‘Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?’ (November 19th gentlemen, enjoy!) to the more philosophical ‘Do we even need a Women’s Day in this day and age?’ (by asking this question you answer it at the same time…). Several events, including lectures, demonstrations and other gatherings, were held to celebrate womanhood. RightBrains did so by a screening of Hidden Figures, a movie that perfectly fits the organization’s message.
Hidden Figures is based on the true story of three black women, working as ‘computers’ at NASA in the nineteen fifties. To put this into perspective: racial segregation in the US was still very much alive and not long before, Rosa Parks had refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. So having women, especially black women, working on the national space program was ‘progressive’, to put it mildly.
This progression has not continued on the way it could have. Yes, the United States did have an African American president, and even a female American president seemed likely. But women in IT are still endangered species. As a ‘black’ female (am I even allowed say that these days?) that owns a PR company specializing in IT, most people depict me as ‘notable’. And, as RightBrains founder Geke Rosier stated in her opening speech at the event, Dutch girls are still very much subjected to stereotyping during their education: girls don’t do so well in exact sciences, and should focus on the alpha side of the sciences.
Geke pointed out that RightBrains strongly believes in role models. Therefore, Hidden Figures shouldn’t just be seen as an example of how we need to look beyond our innate talents and capabilities. It is also a source of inspiration: will I let anyone or anything stop me from becoming what I want to become? Do I seize upon all the opportunities I am offered? And above all: do I even see the opportunities that are out there? This last question is a great example of why we’re seeing such a massive shortage of women in IT. The IT industry is an unknown world to many girls, and we tend fear what we don’t know. By stereotyping by gender in primary school, fewer girls will even consider a career in IT, just because they recognize their own potential.
Female Science heroes
Of course, we have come a long way already. Women are allowed to study, work and make their own choices. Countless women, from Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel to Emma Watson and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, demonstrate the incredible potential of women. During International Women’s day, many women from all over the world spoke out about their ideas, their opinions, their rights and their opportunities. And in most cases, they were able to do so freely, without consequences. Still, the fact that Lego has released a Lego figurine based on Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA ‘computers’ depicted in Hidden Figures, is considered newsworthy all over the world. We are astonished by the fact that Lego creates a figurine that is both black and female. Science author Maia Weinstock, who came up with the idea for these female figurines, even called it ‘a dream coming true’. And that is wrong, even today: shouldn’t the dream be that nobody is amazed by the fact that Lego depicts female science heroes? Or better yet: that we have so many female science heroes that they are not even considered exceptional enough to star as a Lego figurine?
I really felt I had to respond to the ‘Hidden Figures’ movie, being a black woman myself. But replace the ‘female’ with ‘immigrant’ in this story, and the message remains the same: recognize your opportunities and seize them!