A Common Language

Adeline Allen

This year I am a wide receiver and defensive back for Andover’s JV Football Team. When people find out, I get the same three questions (usually in this order): are you a cheerleader? A manager? The kicker? 

The fourth question I get all the time is why I decided to play. Long story short, I love the game. I have loved playing football since I was younger, and even more than that I have long admired the sport. I respect the athletic and mental strength it takes to play, and I am really drawn to the family aspect of the team. Football is a sport that requires every single person on the team to not only work coherently but also to look out for each other. Every lineman has to hit their block or the quarterback is going to get sacked; we all rely on each other to know each and every formation and play so that someone isn’t hurt by our mistake. The athleticism of football draws fans, but the family you find in football is what makes a community. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Speaking of the team, I want to point out that I truly do feel supported by the guys. To be honest, this was a pleasant surprise; I definitely expected more pushback than I received. I have so much gratitude for my coaches for their overwhelming and incredible support, and also for my team. In the end, that is what we are, and the fact that I’m built a little bit differently doesn’t change that. 

However, there have definitely been some challenges. There are the ones that are more easily overcome, like the fact that shoulder pads were not made for people with breasts, but there are some that seem more insurmountable. Communicating with one another has been a big one. I’ve learned that football has its own language; not just the vocabulary, but the way that players talk to one another. Historically, football is a “man’s sport”. It is violent and aggressive, and it breeds a standard of hypermasculinity which is distinctly reflected in how people talk on the field. As someone whose experience in that type of environment is limited, I sometimes find myself feeling like I’m not quite fluent in that language. I really want to stress that this is not a one-way process. When I was younger and competing in competitive horseback riding, a female-dominated sport, I vividly remember having the same barrier between the girls and a boy who joined the team. We just couldn’t seem to find our common language. 

Despite any adversity, I credit this experience with helping me understand more about myself. For me, being in a hyper-masculine environment made it hard to understand where I stood on the subject of femininity. I found myself asking, can I still be feminine and play football? It’s something I grappled with a little bit; on the field, I felt like I should talk at a lower pitch and tie my hair back. Off the field, I felt like I should overcompensate by wearing feminine clothes and makeup. I have come to see that this standard was imposed on me by myself. Although others might have their perceptions, I’m comfortable being me, whatever that means about my femininity. 

In the end, all that I hope for when I step onto the field is to have the opportunity to not be a girl playing football but to be a football player who’s a girl. Proudly. Outside of this season, outside of me, and outside of football, I hope that we can all become more adept at speaking to one another; we’re all people, and despite any gender difference, I hope we can find our common language.

mansplaining, manˌsplāniNG (n.)

The explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

Kaitlin Lim

“No, yeah, I think I understand more computer science than you do,” he scoffed. I immediately froze and slowly turned to look at him. “I’m taking CS 500 right now anyways, so yeah.”

I blinked. Even with the loud din of different group conversations echoing around the classroom, I could only hear his words ringing in my head. He began to list off his past experiences with computer programming and gave me a thorough, unsolicited explanation of why my comments about the coding language Python were incorrect.

There was a gamut of replies that flashed through my conscience, ranging from a retort like “Well, I took that course last year? So I don’t really need your help?” to mild obscenities. But the gears in my mind refused to turn. “Cool, thanks,” were the only words I could muster. My eyes scanned back to my computer screen, displaying lines of code that I was working on minutes prior. I closed the tab.

While I was aware of mansplaining, I always imagined that I would experience it in college or in the workforce, never in a classroom during an innocuous discussion about biological data analysis with my classmates during my Upper year. What soon ensued was a hurricane of internal conflict. Although I had spent the past three years developing my knowledge and skills in computer science, I immediately felt my confidence shrivel, retreating deep within myself. My passion and reputation as a coder—one that I prided myself on and dedicated most of my academic studies to—was stamped out and trivialized in just a few minutes of conversation.

But this was not an isolated incident. Once I began taking more advanced computer science courses, I was embroiled in conversations where male students tried to best each other with their computer science knowledge: one student would make an observation about server management, another would immediately follow with a retort about multithreading, and then someone else would chime in about I-don’t-even-know-what. If the teacher were to ask me about my thoughts, I would only gurgle out a half-assed response that clearly showed that I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. In a room full of remarks like “Yeah, that assignment was so easy” and “I aced that test,” I struggled to ask for help and to find my own comfortable space and role within the classroom.

Unfortunately, my experiences are pervasive and relatable to many other women in computer science and are important obstacles that bar many women from exploring the field. According to a 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, computer science research jobs will grow 19% by 2026, but women only earn 18% of computer science undergraduate degrees in the States, and the majority of these women are either white or Asian. While more women have begun entering the computer science industry on both the collegiate and industrial levels, there is a disparity between the proportion of women who enter college with the intent of majoring in computer science and those who graduate with a degree in it. 

One longitudinal study that featured survey responses from female students attending a wide range of private and public universities revealed that 32% of the female survey participants had taken an introductory computer science course, but only 16% of female respondents actually graduated with a degree in computer science. This same study cites that the main reason why women never further pursue their interests in computer science is because of a constant need to prove themselves, to rise above the male majority and demonstrate their coding capabilities.

This implicit need to constantly validate oneself is a feeling that I’ve identified with too closely since that incident. More often than not, I’ve experienced moments of acute self-doubt and inadequacy, as well as a hesitant, involuntary growing resentment towards computer science. 

But my relationship to computer science is like my relationship to MarioKart on mobile: one of unadulterated excitement and love sometimes, and an angry, hotheaded frustration other times. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon, but I do hope it gets better. In the meantime, though, this is me, reclaiming what voice, what power I had lost during that conversation. This is me, taking back the confidence I had lost and letting go of the anxiety that I had grappled with ever since. I am a coder. I am a programmer. I am a computer scientist—and a damn good one at that.

Enough

by Ashley Alavarez

 

Do you know what it’s like?

Do you know what it is like

to hold someone so precious

so beautiful

so powerful

so important

and be unsure if your hands are enough

to protect the girl in your arms?

The first time I asked myself this question

I was seven years old;

it was the first time I held her.

She was six pounds, with not a hair on her head.

And I would sing her to sleep,

hide beneath her rocker,

cry when she cried,

do everything to make up for the feeling

that my hands were not enough.

They were not enough to make my baby sister happy.

They were not enough.

I am seventeen years old

and I know I cannot protect the women I hold.

I cannot protect my friends

from the microaggressions of our peers

from the ignorance of our teachers

from the off-hand comments that fall on our ears.

Worst of all, I cannot protect them

from them. 

I cannot protect them from the voices in their heads,

the voices that remind them

you can do better

you should eat less

you look fat in that sweater

you’ll never be the best.

I wish I was eloquent enough

to give you the poem you deserve.

Because ___, you are enough.

You are beautiful.

Your body, your soul, your energy 

your being is art.

From the outside in,

your beauty is not only within.

____, you are enough.

I’m sorry: my hands are not enough

but maybe my endless words will be enough

to prove to you that 

you

are

enough.