By Alice Banks
The confidence I didn’t realise I lacked.
For the whole of secondary school, I went to an all-girls school. We were taught Python from the get-go and there was, as you can imagine (or maybe you can’t), a lot of competition to be the best. It was cool at my school to code. It was looked up to and almost admired. We had three classes of thirty girls taking GCSE Computer Science, none of them hesitated to take the class. Nobody had the fear of getting mocked for being different. Nobody cared.
I think I took that experience for granted; I had never experienced my own self-doubt because of the sex I was born as.
My first experience of gender-based self-doubt happened when I was sixteen. I decided to attend a taster day at one of the local colleges to see if I wanted to go to an integrated college instead of a singular-sex school. I walked into the Computer Science class, and I was the only girl. I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t know or understand what was wrong with me, this was an experience I’d never had before. Nobody in the class had done, said, or implied that I didn’t deserve to be there; it was just me. One strange look and I would have been in floods of tears. The gravitational feeling of self-doubt was consuming.
The thing that perplexed me about this feeling was that in school, I was the loudest member of the class. Shamelessly I quite enjoyed being the class clown, answering questions obnoxiously loud.
As the class went on, the teacher asked questions about the ‘Fibonacci sequence’, something I was extremely familiar with. However, I refused to answer any questions. The idea of getting an answer wrong would have broken me.
Individually, not even one of those boys did anything but offer their presence. Collectively their presence made my worst nightmare.
I began the coding tasks we were assigned and I found them relatively easy. They included simple data structure-based tasks, stuff I had been doing since I was eleven. I completed one after the other. Finally, the teacher got the attention of the class and asked who had finished the tasks. I raised my hand as well as a few others. He then asked who had finished the extension task. One by one each and every boys' hands lowered until it was just me with my hand in the air.
To this day I remember that day so clearly. Every single aspect of it from what I ate for lunch to what the classroom smelt like. As somebody who has always throughout my life been so adamant about not letting myself be affected by the sex I was born as, I don’t understand how that feeling came about. One thing I took from that experience is that no matter how confident we are as women, no matter how much we tell ourselves that we are no different, it will always be societally engraved into us that we are not good enough.
Every single day of our lives we are told in ways that aren’t obvious (until they are) that we shouldn’t take subjects like Maths and Computer Science because they are for men.
Not even one of those boys will ever feel the same sinking feeling in their heart and the pure fear of not feeling as though you are worthy enough purely based on biological sex.
However, I proved to myself that whilst I did my let self-doubt consume me, I was wrong to do so. I should not have let my confidence to be so severely wounded by the presence of the opposite sex.
Whilst I credit my education to the reason why I and so many girls took Computer Science, Physics and Maths at my school, I blame it for not preparing me for the reality of society and gender bias. The transition to university has taught me a lot about my own unconscious self-doubt. I know a lot of women that I know have experienced sexism whilst being here, whether that be the men in their group project talking over them or objectifying comments being made. Fortunately, I have not fell victim to this behaviour. In my experience, I have felt wholly supported by my male peers but not by my own back. I will automatically assume that any man in my tutorial knows more than me, or that they will be better at the less ‘creative’ sectors of Computer Science such as hardware and networks. This reflection is something I have had to come to terms with over the last few years. It pains me to recognise it, but it reassures me that I can make an active effort to change it.
Whilst I hope I won’t experience this again, it is unfortunately likely to be a persistent theme throughout my studies and career. I hope that in recognising it I can address it and work towards being more comfortable in the skin I was born in.