When the parents of my batch first gleefully announced a mandatory career talk, I marched my way onto the fourth and final classroom of the day. Another Saturday stripped away from us with the promise of a better future. After hearing repeats of things that I have heard over and over again (yes – med school is incredibly difficult but rewarding, no, I am not really going to tell you how I got there but instead let me flash you pictures of my astounding achievements) perhaps the very last class would prove itself different.
The most typical thing you’d expect me to walk into, the niche class that all of those people would attend – game design and technology. Parents talking about their incredulous, dream status jobs to kids who would never quite make it, who would probably be urged to err just a bit away from the course of their dreams into something more engineering-related. Flashing on the screen is a video of a speaker who couldn’t make it, speaking words that I can’t even remember anymore. (It couldn’t have happened too long ago, too. It was just at… the start of the year?) The remaining one looks over the classroom, half-empty, half-despondent. He asks if any of us know how to design, hands raise up. He asks if an of us know how to program.
I raise my hand.
I don’t know what I answered exactly, but it was something like, “Yeah, just like that.”
Would the conversation have gone differently if a boy raised their hand instead? Would the conversation have gone differently if I didn’t say those things? Am I just thinking too much, because of course — if it was anyone else, he would have assumed that the full extent of their abilities is on fucking Tumblr.
There’s no wonder why people are vouching for women to get into technology, or to STEM in general. The gap is so unparalleled. In particular, a girl who knows more than graphic and web design is seen as an odd rarity – and if they do program outside of their little web-related languages, they’re horrid or some sort of manic opinionated warrior. Women, representation, diversity, all words that are churned into news articles that are linked to me by strangers named family and news feeds that I couldn’t bother to look deeper into. Again and again, women, representation, diversity — it has never occurred to me how the smallest of incidents build up upon the way people view the women of the world, women as young as I am.
In all honesty, I am graced because I have never seen how bad this could really be until this year. In a fit of narcissism, let me proclaim how I lead the technology club in my level’s strand of STEM. Titled with president yet bestowed authoritarian and feared, it’s like a woman can’t be in a position of power without being looked upon as bossy or abusive of her power when a man in the same would be revered as a good leader. Like it is so damn horrifying for a person of the opposite gender to hold a position of power over you. But nevertheless, things are as they should be. It doesn’t really matter how people view the leader. If my being, the way I was born — dictates draconian fear in power rather than respect in it, then that is how it is. We are all condemned with a little bit of brutality and injustice from the very womb. This is the sentence bore upon me.
But amidst talks with people who I will and already have forgotten the name of – there always seem to be the dwindling inevitability of what is going to come in the future. The same problem that clickbait articles and buzzword drenched reminders and newsletter pleads have always beckoned of. Injustice, inequality, the clear screeching divide between supposed equals for things that shouldn’t matter. Under-reported, underrated, exaggerated, hyperbolized, a mix of everything and anything that comes with a dose of the unknown that we would never know what to expect. I don’t know how many more talks I can listen to when I end up memorizing the list of the speaker’s achievements rather than what they’re actually trying to say. What awaits for a young girl wishing to go into the field of STEM, into technology — particularly into the field of computer science?
A few days ago, I joined a technology and entrepreneurship competition. I had more trouble finding teammates than finding the motivation and willpower to go in, which was at first — backed up with a desire to douse more into college applications, more to say about myself than just a short and possibly-dwindling list. Because of course, my worth is determined into the length of bullet points and body patches. But alas, I found a team anyway. A few people in and out, earnest sayings of “I have something to do on that day” or “I’m just not interested.” But I did gather people, and they were a pretty great team. I do all the developing, design and programming of course — web development since there is no way that I am coding an actual non-web application, and they handle the marketing, the PR, the business side and aspects of it all that I’d be way too buzzed out to deal with.
Two days before the event, I abandoned school along with meals, sleep, and even coffee. I managed to finish a quite-comprehensive project that was really only supposed to be a landing page in a single day, without any coffee. Which in itself deserves an award with how caffeine-fueled my body amounted to be during the past week or two.
What resulted was a quick mock-up, a prototype way too far from a prototype — of a nifty application that acts as an ‘incident report tool’. Out of a myriad of reports over the past week and a trip to Banapple, it was certainly a real winner – something that we were surprised as non-existent at the time. It is still a completely unique concept with an honest-to-God advocacy behind it, which I am looking forward to developing in a real-life clash with Silicon Valley elements. But that’s for me to talk about later. Amidst ideas such as “a body scanner to find the right milk brand for you”, “computer shop tracker”, “sari-sari shop tracker”, and my absolute favorite — “tracker tracker,” for track down the optimal tracker for your tracking needs! Upon my sleep-deprived, hazy mind came an actual idea with substance in it, an idea that I believed in, and though I didn’t know it at that time — would love to make it a reality beyond whatever would occur in the competition.
We advertised the page on Facebook, half of which had likes resulting from my family members — probably. We got a lot of traction as well as praise on the idea, the most kind-hearted and motivating of comments constituting — “I’d actually download your app,” to someone even saying that they would pay for it! I was honestly proud of the traction and page that we built, though also unsure of how it would fare during the competition. Scouting past winners and all, I still couldn’t tell how we would do, but I did my best for a day of sacrifice, I suppose.
On the day itself, I was astounded. The overwhelming majority of people in the room consisted of women. Something really rare from competitions related to technology, of course. But with what followed went against everything that I had hoped for upon the first sighting of the room being flooded.
I was the sole developer of the group, the one who did everything — essentially. Yet that was really hard to believe, I guess. When talking to people, pitching our idea, they always directed their concerns to other members of the group, who eventually gave up on saying that I did everything – knew the most about the application, and could pitch it short and succinctly. I listened to a ton of well-intentioned yet unsatisfactory renditions of things that I could have said. And don’t get me wrong, as lovely as my partners were, they hadn’t contributed much in the days prior, it was still all me. I remain contrite with all my past undeserved blame on others, but this is different.
People were interested in idea, others were polite and moved on, but others were so interested that they decided to ask more about it. And every single time that I would be pointed to as the developer, I would nearly be ignored, as if I was just a member who tagged along with the actual developers — who are um, nowhere to be found exactly. Forgive my narcissism and self-centered mindset, but it happens over and over. It’s like an impossibility for someone like me to be in that position. The same subtle judgement that occurs almost every single day I live and remain in the positions that I stand for.
There were people who nodded at me then continued talking to the others about things like user interface and user experience, when perhaps the person they should be directing those concerns to was right next to them — while their eyes latched onto the others, writing down what strangers said so that I could read it later. People who asked who was responsible for doing this or that, looking in astoundment and disbelief then not regarding my answers afterwards. Only then did it click to me that something was wrong. Maybe it was how I answered, stuttering and half-afraid, never thinking before letting it all loose and just saying what I have to say. And maybe it was part anxiety and part “I am not enough” and part shyness — but it was mostly “I am enough.” And realizing that no matter who I am or what I have done, with all the facts presented to them, maybe it’s just a fact that they don’t care or are not willing to accept that I was responsible for anything. After all, it’s not like they could have anything against me. I’ve been left guessing as to why I received that kind of reactions over the past few days, and if you have any other guesses other than their mere refusal, feel free to enlighten me, because in the span of two days it dawned on me how brutal the lack of acceptance could be. The same mindsets ingrained into me, the same shocked looks I give to people, the same flashing screens, all the same reasons why I got rid of the thoughts, and never shut others down. Fathoming excuses for those past two days has proven to be near-impossible for me. The awakening is screaming itself out, like there’s no other reason why, and believe me — I really, really am trying to find another reason that just isn’t there.
We won the competition. The day of cramming was worth it, though I had regrets here and there of not doing much more — but those regrets are meaningless now. It was honestly surprising to see how prepared we were in comparison to the others. The first time we were called onto the stage, voices cheering, claiming that we made it to the finals — I was frozen. The same face of disbelief that a near-dozen had probably shown me on the same day when I admitted that I created the mock-up designs and that the website was hosted under me (hello, it was under the chiaski.com domain but if they still don’t want to talk to me that’s — that’s okay, that’s fine!) and no they’re not just pictures I coded a very embarrassing and messy prototype, as you can see.
But even if first place became synonymous to our name, there was still the ringing disappointment that showed itself again and again in the span of two days.
Handshake, congratulations, none directed to me, like I am some sort of sideline. I’m usually one, though. I say thank you anyway, stand around. Maybe it’s a result of overthinking, exaggerating the situation, but it doesn’t really matter to me anymore, either way.
What matters is what was behind it (the certificate is gleaming and it’s hiding behind thin strips of plastic, just like we are), but it can’t help but hurt.
Again, I emphasize how that was the first time I experienced something like that — as drastic as it. The two major situations that I talked about were in special cases that wouldn’t have happened in an ordinary everyday situation. I emphasize this pleading.
The beginning of the divide and social stigmas was not rooted in how I lived in every single day.
Evident is of course, the undeniable stereotyped features between men and women, the debate of ‘bossy’ vs. ‘excellent leader’ that exists in the very school grounds that I tread. But if you look closer, there is no question about the position of authority I hold in the ‘technology club’ that I lead in school. No one asks if I am really suit to lead it, if I know anything about what I’m talking about (and I am pretty sure that the singsong lectures and mild headaches and panicked ‘how do I explain this in a simple and understandable way asdfgag’ prove that there is no question, I deserve to be standing up front) or if someone else should be leading it. Every after-Tuesday, the room is dominated by men, but there is still no question about power.
It’s only when I stepped out of my regular school day, into a competition with strangers, facing parents and elders who have conformed to the idea of women not being able to perform this task — that they’re so much more incapable of it, etcetera etcetera, that I faced comments making me seriously question who I am as a person, as a girl, wishing to delve into technology. Into more than just the face talking to people, doing all the communication.
And I am afraid, because the rest of the world outside the confines of the computer lab where I still hold respect amidst judgement and fear of how I speak, how I act and how I even look is all the same with the speaker who gave the career talk on technology, or the people from the technological entrepreneurship competition. They are waiting all around the field that I love and adore, I am sixteen years old and terrified; because the smallest of remarks started right when I was more vocal or passionate, not just resorting to passing on computer projects adorned with CSS and unnecessary responsive-features, but when I spoke up, rose, and seriously pursued the career that I am set on taking for life.
The plight is not only limited to the area of technology. Rest assured I believe that it encompasses all of STEM, all of every strand, anything.
Do I continue my life hiding behind schools who pick out people for the sake of diversity and a balanced pink and blue line on their public pages, scholarships, awards and programs that choose girls and only girls so I could feel safer, rows of badges and pins that state my achievements out loud and clear so I can attain the spotlight?
Because that is not the way I want to live, not the way I want to fight the speaker who downed me at fifteen or my own fellow women from that competition.
Here is my personal letter, not for others like me, not spoken for any but the bones that typed this in a shattering, withering sense of demise, not for the world to hear nor to listen to but for it to know.
I echo the words that everyone lives by. “Prove them wrong.”
Not because it is the only thing I know how to do, or the only thing that everyone else has done and taught, but because it’s the best thing there is. I have not seen a world completely unblinded to the prejudices instilled in us that have been grown and nourished by malice and offset hatred. But let me profess that I have seen a world with much less of it.
Enter a girl fuming with worry and remarks of self-deprecation before she even knows what lies out there. The same worries that you shatter over and over, mock at, and blame a generation despite you having birthed it. You molded this world in the image of falsity and let the scanlines bleed out on how we should follow our dreams – except if they are like that. You molded a world that I have lived to love and loved to live in until you decimated the good in truth and in trying. Hyperbolic to a degree, this is all articulated pleading on why I was born in the wrong place and the wrong time, with the things that I have been sworn to love from the very beginning. Secondly, it is a wake-up call to a protest. You molded a world but it isn’t all that there is. You are no god.
These cries of imbalance have only begun because you called for it. Because you dictate the world that I am going to roam in, the halls in which I have to fear the saying of my name, the country that I come from, and now the biological checkmark ticked by medical professionals since the first day. How shallow it is for our kind to be afraid of things that we cannot choose, of the things that lie beneath our veins and the way that we look. How disappointing is it that I can’t even look at the same ones I am grouped by, because I am not the same. Because they cannot believe.
I say to prove them wrong because I refuse to let the mindsets of those who do not matter, of those who are the ones who should be closeted to the rest of dignity and hope stand as obstacles to what I could become. I say to prove them wrong for every single person who faces these realities in one form or another, the smallest of setbacks manifesting into malignant barriers from our own minds. I say to prove them wrong because it is the only key that can set everything as it should be, warp their fragility and sensitivity into realizations, from enigma to epiphany.
But is this not what we’ve been doing?
Since forever, the words “prove them wrong” have been echoed. The story of my competition, the story of ignorance, the background behind it, the clarification that there is so much more. But we are tired of being hidden beneath the surface, it is tiring to be the constant reminders of “do not judge a book by its cover” when it’s about fucking time that I get to be on the cover.
Prove them wrong is only step one. Prove them wrong and let them know that they’re wrong is the second step.
Because geniuses resort to madness and half-hearted unproofread rendezvous massacres in their minds when they are left in the dim lights. Because the brightest of ideas only come to life when you see it through, why masters and artists and poets coat their words and hide the truth beneath them, but they swear to god that the essence of it all is still there. It is their story of finding prominence in avoidance of the downfall of their subconsciousness. It is everyone’s selfish little side that hopes for a bit more opulence.
When I stand in front of that room, I make sure that my name is heard, because nobody is an ally. Not even the ones that are fighting the same struggles as you. But in a way, the end tale is the hymn of all your names — marked with significance and virtue, a few sparks of light — before you all become nothing once more.
It’s just a letter to the world for not taking the sixteen-year-old seriously when it was all she ever wanted. Just questioning why they could not have helped her up and taught her how to do better and instead ignored her completely. A wonder and a guess if this is the same thing that occurs to thousands of other people, of any name, of any face, of any skin. A little (or rather, a lot of) fear and acknowledgement as to the fact that this is what waits for everyone in the journey with no sight to an end.
I worked so hard for it, I wanted to learn — but I was denied of it. But that’s how it is.
I join the fight of countless others like me, unlike me. To question why the world is how it is. Wondering why they just shut the enthusiastic down, degrade them even — when all they want to do is learn, to become, to be. From me as a child, set back and told to stop wasting my time staring at things that I clearly don’t understand when I was first learning web development, inspired from the myriad of flash games and television shows that everyone my age was accustomed to. They pulled me back and told me to watch television instead, since it was way more educational than the laptop screen. To that career talk where I first talked aloud about what I wanted to do in the future, and what I could do for it — only to end with lies. For the two-day experience that I was excited for, months beforehand — for me to learn nothing and find other people who would work hand-in-hand, compensating for days of toiling and hours of ignorance. I could also be an equal, I could also be more, I could also be welcomed. I know I am more.
Step one is the first place certificate I had garnered a few days ago.
Step two is all that awaits my future.
If you wish to learn more about the application in question, I’ll be detailing it in another post that should come along soon. I have an amazing new team of fellow coders, coupled with a ton of potential in this product — whether it makes it into market or not. I am so excited and this is definitely one of my best creations even if it hasn’t properly begun yet. It is the brainchild of an afternoon filled with laughter and sleepy haze, with its prototype as the result of Pretty. Odd. in repeat.
There is so much more to it, and I can’t wait to show you all – and to show the world.