This is cross-posted at Restructure!
By the time I was in high school, I was usually the only person in my classes who didn’t have any Internet access, while most of my peers had high-speed access. When my peers communicated with each other through e-mail and chat, I was shut out of the social conversation and didn’t understand the “technical” terms they were using. I understood the creative potential of being able to communicate with computer users all over the world. I knew that Internet access would allow me to communicate with others without my social anxiety getting in the way. However, my father was hard-set against the idea of “the Internet”.
For five years, I was part of a persistent family campaign to convince my father that we should get Internet access. He thought that the Internet was a software program that was just a “fad” and would go out of style. Back then, the mainstream media was even more confused than now about what “the Internet” was. The news sensationalized stories about online predators luring young girls through “the Internet” to rape them. The implied moral of these news stories was that the Internet was dangerous and full of sexual predators.
My father did not work in an office then, so he heard more about “the Internet” through his coworkers. One male coworker basically explained to my father that The Internet Is For Porn. My father came home and told us that he was never going to let us have Internet access, because girls especially should be protected from exposure to pornography.
Like rape-prevention advice that instructs women to confine ourselves inside our houses to avoid rape, my father believed that it was his duty to protect his daughter’s safety and purity by preventing her from having Internet access. Like other sexist double standards, he thought the possibility of girls being exposed to pornography was worse than the possibility of boys being exposed to it, even when boys are more likely to exploit it, because our culture requires that girls be mentally and physically virginal.
When I was in high school, I discovered that I had a natural talent for programming, because I finished programming assignments in a few minutes, while it was normal for my classmates take the whole period, take their work home, and/or come into the computer lab after hours. In high school, I indulged in my childhood wish to design computer games by creating a 2D fan RPG using a game engine, which I downloaded at a relative’s place through my mom’s machinations, since my mom was pro-Internet and used the Internet at work. I liked programming and software, and I knew I would learn so much more if I just had Internet access. However, I felt oppressed. I felt I was prevented from learning, because I was a girl, and my father was sexist.
The summer before university, I finally had Internet access at home, so I learned HTML. During the five years of campaigning for Internet access, I dreamt of making a website, and it was only when I finally had access that I could.
I’m bitter that I was such an Internet noob in my first year of university, that I spammed other students I wanted to befriend with useless e-mail chain letters. I’m bitter that I still didn’t understand the intricacies of using a web browser, that a fellow student from a CS course had to tell me that I could right-click on a link and choose “Save As…”. I’m bitter that I probably made women in CS look bad. My programming assignments in my intro programming course were still perfect, but people usually don’t understand that someone can be an Internet noob who knows how to code. It’s not that I was technically incompetent because of female brain hard-wiring. It’s that I was technically incompetent because of sexism; because of the patriarchal structure of my household where my father’s opinion overrides the majority vote; and because my father is a special kind of luddite.
Male geeks often say that the geek community is a meritocracy, and that there are no barriers to girls learning technology except for our choices (or our brains), but I faced extra hurdles because of my gender. Not everyone has the same access to technology, because technology does not exist in the ether; it has physical and social components that grant and deny access. I was privileged, because I had a shared family computer before most of my peers. I was also disadvantaged, because I was a girl.