“you don’t look like a geek” or why trains and legos are for girls too

I really have to stop thinking of this as a compliment, because, some might argue, it could be an insult to my entire gender.

Since when do geeks have a look? Should I stop shaving my legs? Maybe put on a few kilos? Lose some? Forego showering for a week? Wear torn jeans with a hoodie? Thick rimmed glasses? Will I then have acceptable credibility? Is that what being a techie is all about? Clothes and eyewear?

I’m saying this, but at the same time, while I was waiting at the Apple store for someone to tell me why my battery was draining at the approximate rate of 1% per minute, I was also crossing my fingers and toes to have a male genius help me. I’ve been to the Apple store twice. Once, a girl pretended to listen and told me “you need to buy more apple things” instead of looking into the issue. The other, a guy -graphics design student- was being coached by a senior techie next to him on having a look at my wifi trouble. So two out of two, I’d met non-techies who were utterly incompetent and represented the genders equally. Why, this time, was I hoping for a male? Am I sexist too?

The argument, bias, and expectation is older than me. Older than you, older than your mother (yes, I said “your mother”). Boys play with guns, cars, and more recently robots and computers, while girls play with dolls, dolls, and, you guessed it, more dolls. And maybe a fake vacuum cleaner and a tea set for good measure. I won’t repeat platitudes. Men are meant to go out into the world, hunt, fight others, and bring home the bacon. Women are meant to keep a tidy house and have babies. Shoot me now.

Frankly, being a girl, if you listen to toy manufacturers, is dreary as dust. Why would I want to wipe baby’s arse or serve imaginary tea when I could be building a robot that can lift a car off the road and move it to a truck? Or a railroad that runs around the house, under tables, behind couches, and can give teddy the ride of his life? Or do some target practise with a nerf gun and mother’s new flowers? Why act out a love story with Barbie and Ken when you could be building them a tower with a penthouse on top (and furnishing it in lego)? Why learn how to clean a house when you could learn how to build one? Of course, thinking like this means you’ll need to hire a cleaner when you’re off building houses. But hey, that sounds like it’s worth it to me!

Life is boring as beans when you’re a girl. I have no idea why most humans of my gender don’t cotton on to remote controlled cars, trains, planes, guns, construction, computer programming and other such awesome things. Are we actively discouraged off them? If a girl picks up a toy gun, is it immediately taken away, handed to her brother, and replaced with a Barbie? If that’s the case, no wonder women think life is all about putting on makeup, wearing pretty clothes and waiting for some guy to fix things for them. Because men are the only ones encouraged to build things. (For the record, destroying things is good too, teaches you how stuff is built).

Until recently, I thought every single parent and every single child in the world had similar encouragement towards problem-solving (that’s what grown-ups call “building cool stuff with lego”) and Maths. Hearing the BBC mention the engineer and scientist shortage that will hit the UK, or how women in science are still a minority, scares me. And it’s on days like today, when someone says “you don’t look like a geek”, that I am reminded of how lucky I am to have had parents who didn’t have the gender bias bug. Although I’ve heard pained stories of my mother clipping a bow to my hair, tired of people wondering what the name of the little boy in blue overalls and lace-up boots was.

It’s 2013. If my daughter – ok, I don’t have one, but maybe some day – wants to play mommy, I’ll get her a doll. Every child’s first impression of being a grown up is pushing a pram, I’d humour that. But in the meantime, she’ll get train sets, remote controlled cars, generic teddy bears, books about robots, and a doctor’s bag with accessories. Maybe I’ll get her a little plastic tea set too. But that’d only be to keep her uninsured little paws off my vintage china, while enjoying tea.

Epilogue
The Apple store guy said every woman he’s helped was of the “I bought it because it was shiny, how does it work?” persuasion. No wonder they make iPhone covers with pink glitter and shaped like kittens. And sell them. (pardon me while I throw up a little)