Women in STEM

women in STEM

“Are you really a developer? You don’t look like one.”

Sigh. I have gotten this question so many times, I’ve lost count. Always with a straight face and almost exclusively from men; It happens on dating apps when I list my occupation and interests, in my direct messages on Instagram (which is devoted to women who code), and even at developer conferences.

My response is usually along these lines:

“What exactly does a developer look like?”

I was actually brave enough to say once, and the person who asked it actually doubled down on his disbelief and continued to question me further on my recent projects and accomplishments. If you’re really a developer, prove it.

It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising. In some cases, I thought the commentator actually meant it as a compliment. As if to say, “you’re not the the hideously unkempt tree monster we were expecting.”

Uhm, thanks?

And I’m not the only one. The assumption that women cannot be both attractive or feminine and have a career as a developer or in any other STEM field is a decade old stereotype. The stereotype that women who care about their appearance or appear sexually attractive in any way are less intelligent and less dedicated to their work. It’s so pervasive, there are hashtags on Instagram and Twitter devoted to pushing back against it like #ilooklikeadeveloper, #ilooklikeanengineer, #scientistswhoselfie.

Recently, an article published in Science Magazine by Meghan Wright, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, made headlines after she asserted that “Time spent on Instagram is time away from research, and this affects women in science more than men. That’s unfair. Let’s not celebrate that.” She continues to make the argument that selfies undermine the fight against sexism in the workplace and that women in STEM should spend more time arguing for changes in policy instead of spending time on looking attractive.

While I understand the inclination toward encouraging people to use policy to create real change, there’s no need put down the influence and power people have on social media. In fact, a recent eMarketer survey reported that nearly “80 percent of adult internet users feel that social media has at least some influence over public policy decisions.”  We don’t need to choose between social media activism and political engagement; we don’t need to choose between attractiveness and intelligence. Both of these things can exist at the same time.

Saying that “cute selfies” are the reason why women in STEM aren’t taken seriously or paid equally, underscores the sexism that already exists in the field. Furthermore, it blames inequality on women rather than structures of power that enable rampant sexism in the workplace.

NEWSFLASH, sometimes women wear bikinis, sometimes we wear sweatpants,  sometimes we’re buttoned up, sometimes we drink a little too much wine,  sometimes we wear a little lipstick, and sometimes we dare take pride in ourselves and our work by taking a selfie.

Yes, I look like a developer. And so does she. And so does she. And so does she.

So, to my fellow women in STEM, You don’t need to prove anything.  You are more than capable. You deserve to be in the room– lipstick, heels, and all.


  1. Excellent article, gets to the heart of the matter; every representation of “woman” belongs in STEM regardless of the external package her physical attributes are in.

    Keep up the great work!

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