Wednesday 5: Women in the News

In this week’s Wednesday 5: Dispelling myths about why women are leaving tech; honoring the pioneering women who were at the forefront of computer programming; photographer Fazal Sheikh captures the widows of Vrindavan; photographer Rania Matar captures the lives of Lebanese and American girls in their most personal spaces—their bedrooms; and a mom takes on Target for its gender stereotyping in children’s clothing.



Why Women Are Leaving Tech

Just this week, a headline in Fortune magazine read “Why women leave tech: It’s the culture, not because ‘math is hard.’ ” The author, Kiernan Synder, who conducted a study of 716  women who have left the tech industry, dispelled myths that the problem lies in the gender gap:

It is popular to characterize the gender gap in tech in terms of a pipeline problem: not enough girls studying math and science . . . There may be work to do on the pipeline, but the pipeline isn’t the problem. Women are leaving tech because they’re unhappy with the work environment, not because they have lost interest in the work.

That “culture of the tech environment,” according to Synder’s study, includes the following: challenging maternity leave policies, the lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, a salary that is inadequate to pay for child care, and “discrimination related to their age, race, or sexuality in addition to gender and motherhood.”

Read the full findings and anecdotes from the women in the study here.




The Forgotten Women Who Created Modern Tech

The_Innovators_Walter_IsaacsonSpeaking of women in tech, Laura Sydell of NPR also published a timely piece this week that reminded us, “Decades ago, it was women who pioneered computer programming—but too often, that’s a part of history that even the smartest people don’t know.” The radio feature is based on the book, How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, by Walter Isaacson, who begins with the story of Ada Lovelace. In the 1830s, at the young age of 17, Lovelace envisioned that “a computer can do anything that can be noted logically . . . words, pictures and music, not just numbers.”  We also learn from Isaacson that “. . . in the 1930s,  female math majors were fairly common—though mostly they went off to teach. But during World War II, these skilled women signed up to help with the war effort.” (Also, watch  The Bletchley Circle on PBS, an award-winning drama that tells the stories of some of these very women.) 

Listen to the full NPR feature here.




The Widows of Vrindavan

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In this week’s dose of inspiration (and art), we share with you the work of MacArthur Award–winning photographer Fazal Sheikh and his collection, Moksha. The images, which capture the widows of Vrindavan, are a visual meditation on solace and resilience. Of the collection, Sheikh shares with us on his website:

Each year thousands of women make their way there to join the community of widows who spend their days in the temples, worshipping their god Krishna, and preparing for death. Hindus believe in the cycle of reincarnation called ‘samsara,’ from which they may be finally released into a higher state, at one with the universal spirit, which is called ‘moksha’. . . Their stories revealed how powerless some of the women had been under the strictures of traditional Hindu law. They were victims of enforced marriage, physical violence, sexual abuse, and neglect. Some had been evicted from the family home once their children were married. Others had left of their own accord. . . [W]hat the women find in Vrindavan is not just religious solace, but in the sisterhood of other widows they find companionship and support. In the portraits their faces are suffused with calm–in some cases they already seem to have reached a half-life, somewhere between this world and the next–and their religious faith, in many ways the source of their past troubles, finally brings them peace.




Exploring the Bedrooms of Girls in the Middle East and the U.S.

bookcover-homeIn the news this week is another photographer, Rania Matar, who is using the camera to explore the inner lives of women and girls. Her project, A Girl and Her Room, captures Lebanese and American girls in their bedrooms, their personal spaces—a place that Matar feels serves as an “extension of the girl.” In an interview with BuzzFeed, Matar said that what binds these two communities of young girls from opposite ends of the world is that they both exist in vulnerable spaces. “They are so vulnerable at that age. They are trying to fit in  . . . figure out who they are and how they want to present themselves to the world,” said Matar.



Mom vs. Target

Here’s our story of heroism for the week. When mom Stephanie Giese discovered some striking differences in the clothing sizes and shapes for boys vs. girls at Target, she wrote a open letter about her findings, posted it to her blog, watched the thing go viral, and get picked up by The Huffington Post.

One of more striking points of contention in her letter includes the following evidence that speaks to the gender stereotyping in children’s clothing:

“I have no idea why an XS shirt (size 4-5) needs to curve like that to show the shape of a young girl’s body, a body that hasn’t even developed the curves that a woman’s shirt in that same cut would be trying to feature.”

Yikes! Well, Target responded that they were thankful for Giese’s feedback and that they were working with her to hear her thoughts on their children’s clothing. We’ll see what actually changes, but we applaud this mom for her activism.

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