geek_cover_1Happy Ada Lovelace Day everyone! A time to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

When editors Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders had the idea for this anthology of essays about women in science, technology and geekdom in general the response was beyond their expectations. They were contacted by women from different fields, social backgrounds, sexual orientation and ethnic background. The strength of “She’s Such a Geek!” lies in this variety and the fact that the challenges and barriers these women had to face were, in the end, very similar.

One common thread was the identity of a girl and woman geek in a male-dominated world. My passion is words and languages and I work in communications, so I can only imagine what it’d be like to love physics instead and at a crucial time in my upbringing have a physics professor openly tell a class that women can never be as good as men. This happened to one of the essayists and also to one of my best friends, who today is a successful marine biologist.

To overcome something like this requires a lot of resilience, self-confidence and supportive family and peers, so it’s no wonder that so many women give up along the way. I was surprised by how many women benefited from taking women studies classes in college, even when their majors were it astronomy or theoretical physics, and not so surprised how having female role-models help them overcome their self-doubt.block1Credits: Hark, a vagrant

Another common topic, also connected to identity, is sexuality. Many of the essays talk about maneuvering the fine line between being attractive and being take seriously, which apparently are inversely proportional:

During my first year of graduate school, three female classmates who frequented the clubs of Boston hit a serious snag in their search for boyfriends. Time after time, guys approached them – only to walk away the minute the women mentioned their occupation. So my friends started lying. They claimed to be flight attendants, yoga instructors, or kindergarten teachers. And the dating pool magically widened.

Some of the essays about mathematics and genetics were a bit over my head, but I still enjoyed them for the writers’ pure passion for their fields – it was fascinating to read about the joy of solving an equation or the eureka moment when maths just clicks. Still, my favorite essays were written by the gamers. They’re also incredibly varied, from the players to the programmers, from the hacker of adult sites to the leader of an all-female war game squad, from tips on how to conquer a virtual empire to the ethics of topless-girl-on-bikes games. So. Much. Fun.

The essays were written by women who mostly grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, so I’d be curious to read a similar book written by younger generations. Would the same barriers come up?