“Girls Can Code” Ep.1 on BBC3

I was super excited to see a short series called Girls Can Code [Ep.1 on iPlayer till 15 Oct 15] in the TV schedule. I wanted to see how the low percentage of women in tech would be addressed.

Within a few minutes of watching the programme, I started to get annoyed. My husband only managed 10 minutes of it before he had to leave the room.

I waited till the end to see if my hunch was right. Yes, the main researchers, the Producer and the Director were all male.*

* Disclaimer: I don’t hate men. I don’t think that sexism only happens to girls and women. I don’t think that sexism is only perpetrated by men.

For context, I have degrees in psychology and computing. I co-founded one of the first web companies in the UK (and it’s still in business). I am equally comfortable running requirements workshops, designing user interfaces, designing databases or programming.

What’s great about Girls Can Code

The title.

Eileen Burbidge, co-founder of Passion Capital.

What’s not great about Girls Can Code

1) “No need to show off!”

This part of the narration was what finally compelled me to blog about this programme.

The narration in context:

Next stop on our tour of opening the girls’ minds is to show them the money.

Alex and I have come to meet a true inspiration. Eileen Burbidge, co-founder of Passion Capital, one of the newest and coolest investment companies in tech.

[…]

Eileen is at the very heart of UK tech. In the summer, she was made the Government’s tech envoy.

No need to show off!

If you don’t know what’s wrong with saying “no need to show off!” just AFTER listing a woman’s accomplishments in a male-dominated industry in a documentary about encouraging young women into the industry, then SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU.

2) They’re not “girls”

The five people whose journey into tech was being documented ARE NOT GIRLS.

They are over 18. They are young women.

By referring them to “girls” deliberately, and throughout the programme, their standing in society is undermined.

3) “all [social media] apps were started by men”

Not true. Ning, Eventbrite, Polyvore, BlogHer, Meebo, Digital Fan Clubs. There’s probably more. Sack your (two male) researchers.

By saying that only men built all the social media apps, they’re reinforcing the misinformation that building digital business isn’t for women.

4) “selfie queens”

“They might find they’ve gone from selfie queens to digital queens”

“Can our selfie queens go from digital zeroes to start-up heroes?”

Patronising. They’re already using tech to take and share selfies.

More importantly, one of the key factors in gender stereotyping is valuing girls and women by their looks. Interest in make-up and fashion is manufactured – it’s not innate. In the rest of the animal kingdom, it’s the male of the species that has colourful displays.

I honestly think that the main reason girls and women have low confidence is because their worth is judged by OTHER people on, literally, surface attributes.

Referring to these young women as “selfie queens” perpetrates every sexism that girls are obsessed with their looks without recognising WHY that might be the case.

5) Example apps reinforce gender stereotypes

Imagined conversation in the production meeting:

A: “What are girls interested in?”

B: “Shopping, make-up, boys and fashion”

A: “Great, we’ll show them apps about make-up and fashion!”

First they are taken to a company that has created an app for digital make-up.

Then they’re taken to an agency tasked with bridging the gap between fashion and technology.

Instead, ask yourself WHY don’t women feel welcome in the computing world? Might it be because the message they’ve had from the moment they’re born is that they are valued on their looks? Why reinforce the very stereotype that’s keeping them out of tech? *facepalm*

Conclusion

I’m embarrassed by the documentary “Girls Can Code”.

I’m embarrassed for the BBC.

I’m embarrassed for Eileen Burbidge.

I’m embarrassed for all the people who appeared on the programme who might have had twinges of “umm, is this right?” whilst grappling with the need to encourage more young women into computing.

In the end, I think that this programme will do more harm than good. It reinforces gender stereotypes and undermines women, whilst asking “hmm, I wonder why there aren’t more girls in tech”.

To the researchers, Producer and Director of “Girls Can Code”. Sorry, boys, but You’re Part of the Problem.

Update: I storified the reaction to this blog post and similar comments on the TV programme.


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8 thoughts on ““Girls Can Code” Ep.1 on BBC3

  1. a great Blog. I haven’t seen the programme but am downloading it now. From what you say, it is excruciating to watch – and utterly derogatory of talented, successful women like you. #shameonBBC

  2. I am interested to know what you think of the programme after you’ve watched it. Please come back to let me know.

  3. You’re spot on there.

  4. Pingback: “Girls Can Code” on BBC Three | Digital Media Girl Dot UK

  5. I got so annoyed watching both parts. The one point where they could possibly have learnt code, they literally got a man to write the code for them

    later on narrator mentions on part 2 how far they have come. They still knew nothing of code or how business models could be applied to free apps despite having just sat through a presentation from shazzam before

    people will say “yeah but it shows the oportunities in tech “really? Ok then mention 3 roles in tech that was mentioned during the 2 shows and maybe a little about some of the skills needed? No. Didn’t think so.
    In every way this programme failed. It failed the wonen involved. It failed the premise of the show and it failed the industry it attempted to show.

  6. I agree with you, but would argue that there was one other good thing about the first episode – those amazing 9 year olds talking about learning Scratch. Their enthusiasm shone like a beacon.

  7. I completely agree with you… and i’m a man! me and my girlfriend turned this show on because I would love to see more girls in the web design industry, I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t stomach it for more than 5 minutes, I believe that code should be introduced in schools at a young age for anybody that has a creative mind, gender shouldn’t even come into it.

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