With a faceless online persona called the Kidlit Underground, it’s probably not that surprising that I feel like I need to hide the aspects of my life that bring me the most joy: my kids and my writing. Well, kids I can’t hide so much, but until I strike that 6-figure movie deal, I need my day job. And keeping that means I have to be careful who knows I write.
I am one of those new millennium feminist icons, a (hashtag) woman in STEM! I’m a project manager in the Marketing/Tech applications development space, and because of that, I’ve been reminded over and over that I need to know “my place” and stay in it.
I have a daughter myself, and cringe every time I hear about pushing the next generation of girls into my path.
On paper, I did everything right for a long time: a National Merit Scholar, I got Early Acceptance to Georgetown University, and went on to become a Big Four management consultant. I had it made, just as long as I didn’t mention or think about the fact that I wanted to be a mom also.
At one point in my career the creepy team lead at Bearing Point who asked my male officemate to help monitor my bathroom trips to “make sure I wasn’t pregnant” was the first of many hand slaps for Working While Female.* Our boss just eye-rolled about how we”didn’t get along” and moved me to a different project.
In a vacuum, what I do is mostly interesting work. It’s just that I was never wired for a career in tech to be my entire heart and soul. I hear it a lot that I’m Not a Strong Woman, Ungrateful For (My) Tremendous Opportunities And Privileges, A Waste Of An Education, A Traitor To Feminism, A Bad Example To (My) Children, A Bad Person destined to be haunted by Margaret Sanger’s ghost for eternity.
It’s seeing friends, family, and colleagues gobsmacked that I walked away from that Big Four job because I didn’t want to be in another time zone from my newborn son five days a week. It’s having female colleagues snark at me when I leave work early because my five-year-old is alone in an ambulance with a 105-degree fever. It’s getting fired in a pretty humiliating way because I sought medical care after being hit by a truck, because how dare I put something else before my job; and having (male) doctors tell me not to ask again about that surgery to fix your damaged arm nerves/tailbone until I “get a job and contribute to society.”**
Somehow in becoming a woman in tech, I traded in my and my children’s humanity for an ergonomically-unsound swivel chair bought in bulk in 1992 at the Staples warehouse sale.
I might have been allowed, albeit reluctantly, into the STEM space, but as often the only Mom in the room, I need to tow the line and apologize for taking up space, or get out of the way. Of course, when I had children, it was another instance of my forcing myself into Motherhood, another space where I am now unwelcome thanks to my career.
Children’s book writing or something adjacent to it, is something I’d like to do full-time. But that triggers people too. I had the gall to reproduce, but am expected to forego my parental responsibilities, neglect my health, invest every dime I earn back into training and certifications, and devote my every waking second into (temp job of the quarter) to Prove (My) Dedication To The Company.
Let’s be crystal clear: I don’t write at work or use work equipment to do so. When I’m at work, that’s my focus. I don’t engage in the You Tube rap battle videos, ping-pong tournaments, and office gossip that the ‘team players’ favor. Yet I’m contracted for 40 hours a week, not 168.
“Stay in your own lane! Writing books is for stay-at-home moms! You have a careeeeeeer! Be passionate about it! ” is something I’ve had hurled at me more than once by loved ones. My writing is – at best – not taken seriously.
The real irony of course, is that a lot of what is drilled into us in writing craft sessions, are exactly the same transferable skills that make me good at what I do for my day job.
Yes, writing is competitive. But at least gender and age aren’t the huge issue they are in tech.
Most of the time I feel at times that I’ve invested too much in an industry that has deteriorated into a bunch of temp jobs staffed by discriminatory and abusive staffing companies, to the detriment of long-term health of both workers and companies.
Also, the Highlights Foundation, and other industry professionals about whom I’ll be vague… seem to think I have talent.
The brainwashed career-slave naysayers are full of it; I know that. But that doesn’t make it not sting when I’m made to feel like I’m doing something deeply morally wrong and forcing myself into spaces where I’m unwelcome; by writing, parenting, and practicing self-care. For self-preservation, I’ve had to achieve a level of cognitive dissonance around this rhetoric that I know isn’t healthy and thus devalues everything I can bring to the table as a human being.
Notice that nothing I have said has anything to do with “tee hee math is hard!” It’s that 95% of the time, The deep-rooted misogyny in a local tech community, or in company culture, means that being a mom in tech usually sucks.
Tech industry thought leaders should be encouraging healthy activities outside of work instead of demanding all-consuming obsession with one’s job, which sucking the life breath out of everyone. We all need to remember we’re human beings, not robots.
I don’t know that I see the industry changing by the time my daughter graduates college, although I hope it does. If nothing else, I’d like to see my Xennial generation be more honest with our daughters about the nuts-and-bolts realities of being a woman in tech.
In addition to STEM, I see a ton of Girl Power / Mighty Girl themes in kidlit, which is great. Or rather, it’s great for girls, but I digress. But if we in the kidlit world (also educators, parents, etc) are going to push our girls toward STEM/STEAM interests, we need to find an age-appropriate way to communicate that there will be those who will actively work to undermine them just because they’re female.
Some antagonists cannot be won over, and positivity and optimism alone can’t fix all story arcs.
All kids need mindfulness, perseverance, negotiation skills, knowledge of their rights for starters. In some cases, they need good old-fashioned psychological defense tactics and to understand that not everybody has a functioning moral compass.
Those points don’t fit the Girl Power narrative, but they need to be part of the conversation too.
If women are going to thrive in the tech field, the conversation needs to go back to the workplace as an honest discussion, so that everyone smart and weird enough who wants to be there can thrive in the tech world.
At the end of the day though, my real goal for my daughter is that she follows her heart and not social pressure like I did.
* Anil, you freakshow… diabetic people pee a lot too! Please get some help. Also, if anyone else deals with this nonsense, the 2009 modifications to the Americans with Disabilities Act cover diabetics.
** Like many project managers and many people in IT, I’m a contract/consultant/temp worker (the terms interchange to fit the speaker’s advantage). I’m just not stuffing boxes in a warehouse for $2 an hour, though not totally clear from the illegal abuse that is part and parcel in the contracting world.
Nonetheless, in my personal life, I am looked down upon by non-techies as an underemployed loser and – you guessed it! A Bad Mom and probably Mentally Unstable if I Can’t Keep a (finite, project-based) Job.
The people I work for right this second are wonderful. But funding for my project runs out in a month and… then what?