Andrea's daughter Maya, wearing pink and braids

Girls and Robots

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. This is a guest post, cross-posted from Deus Ex Machinatio.

My daughter Maya is five and a half years old. She’s in kindergarten, and is as clever and adventurous a child as you’ve ever seen. She loves dancing and princesses and rainbows and anything that is pink.

Andrea's daughter Maya, wearing pink and braids

Maya has also always, always loved cars and robots, right along with those butterflies and flowers and hearts. But recently she’s been saying that she doesn’t like these things anymore.

“I don’t like cars,” she told me, “because I want people to like me.”

This breaks my heart. And I imagine it breaks your heart, too. Five years old, and she’s already figured out just exactly how this thing works.

It turns out that “it got out” in school that she liked cars, so she says. And then the other girls in her class made fun of her for liking boy things.

All her life I’ve been talking about being true to yourself, about liking the things you find in your heart whether it’s a girl thing or a boy thing, and still, still, this is how fast it can unravel. Five years old, and she’s already trying to change who she is because she doesn’t think it’s who she should be.

Internet, talk to Maya, and talk to me. Tell us about girls who make robots and cars and bridges. Girls who build rockets, girls who can make and build and invent — girls who have grand adventures, but who can still go dancing, and still braid their hair, and still wear pink. Tell us about you. I know you’re out there.

169 thoughts on “Girls and Robots

  1. Mary

    Hi Maya!

    I’m a girl who loves dresses, skirts, pretty shoes and flowers. I can also fix things around my house, take care of my car, and I help my friend on her farm, which means I get to drive fork lifts, tractors and back hoes.

    When I was a kid, I was part of a science team that built machines and did experiments and traveled around the country going to competitions. There were tryouts to get on the team, and we had more people sign up than the basketball team. I had a lot of friends on the team and the other people at school thought we were awesome.

    I’ve also lived in a tent for 3 months on top of a mountain while studying rare birds. Afterwards, I worked in a really cool science lab that required an eyeball scan to get in to, just like in the movies. Now I’m getting my PhD in medical entomology, which means I study how mosquitoes can carry diseases, so I can help save lives.

  2. Becky

    Hi, Maya!

    I am a professor of computer science, and I teach students to build robots. A lot of my students are artists who think robots are cool. One group (all young women) made a robot that looked like a kitten and could draw houses and flowers. Another group made a robot that could make pancakes, if you helped it pour the batter. Robots are really fun to make and you can be really creative about getting them to do interesting things.

    When I was a little girl, some of my friends laughed at me for liking boy things, and it made me feel sad and a little scared that other kids wouldn’t like me any more. But I found out that liking different things is part of what makes me who I am. I like to look pretty, and I like to build things. I have a son and a daughter and they both like all kinds of things too. I hope you won’t stop liking cars and robots and pink and princesses and everything else that you want to like!

  3. Linda Nicola

    Who was the first computer programmer?

    She was Ada Lovelace, born in 1815 and the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron. She was taught mathematics from an early age (in an effort to counteract a possible tendency toward madness), and grew to be so brilliant that Charles Babbage, the eccentric inventor of a mechanical computer, called her an “Enchantress of Numbers””. Ada published an algorithm, which is now considered to be the very first computer program, that would enable Babbage’s “analytical engine”” to calculate a sophisticated number series. She did not, however, have the foresight to call it an “app”.

  4. Kim Asher

    Hi Maya, your dolls and teddy bears probably like cars, too, because they need to go places, so you will need to have cars to help them get from place to place.

    Don’t you worry about what other girls say – their dolls can’t go shopping or to the beach or to school like yours can. You keep your cars and you keep liking cars because cars are very useful.

  5. Carolyn

    Hi Maya,
    I just wanted to tell you about my fantastic sister. When we were growing up we both really liked doing all kinds of things. We dressed up as princesses, had rollerskates, played in the mud, helped my grandpa restore cars and clocks and we are both pretty quick with knocking up something with the hammer and nails, we both play the piano but we also snowboard and like to play sport like hockey! Our Mum and Dad told us that we could do anything that we liked when we grew up and we believed them.

    My sister is smart and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she grew up. She tried all kinds of things, learning about history, learning about engineering, selling things to people. She was very good at them all! After lots of learning she has found the thing that she loves to do and wants to do for a long time.

    My sister loves sailing, she sails old ships and new ships, yachts and motor boats, she even knows how to sail the kind of boat that Christopher Columbus used to sail to America! My sister is going to be the captain of an LPG tanker, which is a very important job and one that means that you need to know all about engines, boats, science, how to navigate by the stars and use computers and how to fight fires and prevent disasters and speak in morse code! . I am so excited and so proud of her that I wanted to tell you about her because she is doing something that she loves.

    Maya don’t listen to those girls, they only say those things because they don’t know how interesting, exciting and awesome those things that you love are.

    Carolyn

  6. Debs

    I have a friend that is a civil injury. She makes certain that things like drinking fountains and houses get their water from a clean source. When it was discovered that a San Diego playground had a drinking fountain with dirty water, she told the workers where to connect the pipes so that the kids could drink clean water. She also has gone into prisons and fought to make certain that the inmates have clean water to drink. She plays with tools & manholes, but she’s still a girl. She’s a tom-boy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Now, she is living in Italy working, so her job provides well for her needs & gives her some adventure, too.

  7. Kim Curry

    Hi Maya,

    My name is Kimberly, but I just go by Kim. I’m an engineer with a degree in Electrical Engineering, currently working as a Systems Engineer.

    I don’t like a lot of girlie things, but I do like to wear purple. I feel good when I’m wearing it. Sometimes I’ll wear purple because I already feel like it’s going to be an amazing day. Other times I’ll wear purple because I’m really feeling down, and want to cheer myself up.

    I love robots. One of my favorite classes in college, was when I got to program a robotic arm to play tic-tac-toe with these wooden X’s and O’s. That was fun! For the class project, my partner and I programmed our robot to build a house out of Lincoln Logs.

    I’m a contractor for NASA, so I know a lot of rocket scientists and a lot of other engineers. Some of the women engineers I’ve worked with have been cheerleaders, or danced in the pom-pon squad. I know a woman who drove in drag car races, and another who had a large collection of cars.

    Sometimes I do my hair up in braids, but sometimes I cut it short. I especially like braids when I’m competing in martial arts tournaments, because it keeps my hair from flying all over the place, and the sparring helmet can’t mess it up.

    I also do counted cross stitch, which is a sort of embroidery with special cloth, needles, and colored thread. I can make all sorts of shapes from the tiny little x’s. I’ve stitched horses, wizards, unicorns, dragons, and many, many flowers.

  8. Ewa

    One more voice for Maya – I’m a PhD in plasma physics. I build and improve motors for satellites and rockets. I’m 44, my hair go below my waist, I (with my husband) dance in a ballroom dance club, I wear hot pink and magenta, because those colors really fit me. I make my own jewellery, and it’s not all from nuts and bolts – exactly the opposite :-) And I have tons of female (and male) friends all over the world. Do not care for the girls who do not like cars and robots. Be happy with what you are :-)

  9. Kate

    Hi Maya and Andrea,

    I don’t build robots or rockets, but I am a teacher and Girl Scout troop leader, and I always make sure my girls know that the best thing they can possibly be is themselves. It’s clear that there are a TON of cool ladies out there doing amazing things with science and technology, so why not share some of this awesomeness with your classmates? Andrea, I would recommend getting in touch with Maya’s teacher and discussing the possibility of doing some kind of project with the class to promote women in the sciences. I’m sure the school would want to address this problem with you to ensure that Maya AND her misguided classmates have all kinds of great opportunities in the future.

  10. Ken

    Well, there don’t seem to be other dudes leaving notes, so I hope you don’t mind me jumping in.

    Maya, I have a five year old daughter and she loves princesses and ponies just like you might think, but she also comes with me to classic car shows, tries to figure out how everything in the house “works” and she loves to help me build things.

    Reading this thread brought tears to my eyes because I worry about the same kind of things for my own little girl every single day.

    I want you to know there are strong women out there who do whatever they want. My mom teaches kids that have lost their hearing so she needs to know all about sound and electronics for hearing aids and the biology of the ear. My wife is a nurse who helps babies be born every day. One of my aunts is an engineer who has helped build nuclear power plants.

    I work with computers used in hospitals and I can tell you I work with some very smart ladies who love technology.

    You can be whatever you want. Smart women are amazing women. I’d say you’ve got a pretty smart mom, yourself.

    Now I’m going to go share this story with my own daughter.

  11. Iris

    Hi Maya! I see myself in you. When I was a kid every girl loved Barbie and Polly Pocket dollhouses, but I was more into Matchboxes and building those do-it-yourself Tamiya cars that come in boxes. I was fascinated with business at a young age, learning real estate from my mother when everyone else was simply playing with their dolls. By the time I was a teen I encountered this game called The Sims which had a very big influence in my life. That was the time I started trying to learn how to teach myself with designing & programming. Soon enough I was able to learn Photoshop and transmogrify (in layman terms of that program to make cool custom Sim stuff, Sim Transmogrifier, it means to create) objects such as furniture and other custom items in the game. I was hooked. It was an amazing feeling to create something you could put in a game you love! That love yielded and led me to the path of taking up interior design in college. But I also fancied graphic design as my passion. Looking back, everything else fell into place – my mother and my father being great supporters of what I wanted to do, they were the ones who gave me the creative freedom to enjoy being who I am today.

    Never let anyone stop you from doing what you love that is good. Do not worry about being made fun of – I was heavily teased ugly and a tomboy when I was a little girl for simply owning Matchbox cars way too much and having the love for reading manuals, the dictionary & literary books. They said I know too much words and that I don’t fit in with the cool group like them. I was okay with it as long as I had my one true bestfriend – who is still after 6 years my best friend till now. :)

    Maya, always strive for your passion. Find a friend who shares your love for this and she will be the only friend you will ever need. Your parents are there to support you, these people are the only ones who matter. :) When you’re old and grey you’ll then have a very fulfilling childhood full of knowledge and productivity that you’ll be proud of what you have learned from life. It’s the only thing you will have that will give you infinite joy.

    I am now working as a lead graphic designer for a US company. But is also doing freelance work. I love my job and I couldn’t love it more. I’m thinking of going back to school to learn further. I love learning new things and sharing what I know to people. It’s how you give back to the world. I wish you the best of luck and always take care of yourself and who you want to become. Remember in your heart to put your talent to the most virtuous purpose.

    Best regards,
    Iris

  12. Sarah

    Hi Maya!
    I also gave up cars and robots in kindergarten because I wanted people to like me. But liking those things never went away, and now I build technology tools for trains. It’s a really cool job, and now lots of people like me and want to talk to me about it all the time. So even if you want to give these things up right now, you can always pick them back up in the future, and you should – it’s worth it, I promise!

    - Sarah

  13. Karen

    Hi Maya,
    When I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to not have anyone tell me how I needed to behave as a girl (I was home-schooled), but I STILL ended up loving pretty things and acting very feminine. I’m 20 now, and I’m going to college studying biology. I love science (although they make you wear pants in labs… and I don’t like pants at all.) I think that you can keep everything that you love, because that’s what makes you interesting. I think it’s far more important to be yourself than to fit in with what everyone thinks a girl should be. How will anyone ever remember you if you aren’t being your wonderful, interesting self? And yes, I get funny looks for wearing lipstick in the lab, but I know I look fabulous, so it doesn’t matter!

  14. RRY

    Hi Maya!

    You want to know what’s just as awesome as pink,dancing and princesses? Dancing pink princess robots that’s what!!!! Also cars can be pink and princesses drive them all the time to special places like dance recitals, robot building workshops and ice cream parlours!

    I know what it’s like to want to change to please others and give up things you like. Believe me it’s way more fun to be yourself and know what you like!

  15. vla22

    Hi Maya! When I was young, I loved ballet. I read horse stories and school stories. I also played with Lego, and loved my toy garage and its cars. I never fitted in much at school, but the great thing about school is that you’re not there all day. Also, you get to leave school, and can start socialising more with people who get that you love cars.
    I still love cars, and ballet. I watch my ballet DVDs, and I watch Top Gear and Formula 1 racing. I work in testing web software, and helping people use that software. That’s pretty cool. I tried to make my tastes when I was at school more like other people’s. This didn’t work – they could still work out that I was different, and it made me unhappy that I wasn’t doing the stuff I really loved, and they were still teasing me anyway. I couldn’t make the problem go away by pretending I didn’t like maths – because I still so clearly did. (And this wasn’t just true for maths, it was just something it was really hard to hide at school – hiding my love of cars was much, much easier.)
    It turns out that people at school aren’t necessarily interesting in asking questions. Questions like: Why do we think that cars are for boys? And people at school aren’t necessarily helped by people around them to ask these questions – this is true for some teachers too. You have to work really hard not to put people in categories – because categories can be really useful, especially when you’re dealing with large numbers of people. (So knowing how many boys and girls there are in your school district helps you plan things like toilets. Knowing how many children are in the district helps you build classrooms, and hire teachers.) It’s just they’re not very useful when dealing with one person. People are too inclined to say that because people are in a category, they must like things that many people in their category like, or do things that many people in their category do. And it’s quite hard to get people to realise they’re doing this, because so many people are doing this generalisation already.
    I never was going to fit in with people at school. But I’ve found places I do fit in now. And it’s really, really good, because it means I can be honest about what I enjoy.

  16. T

    Dear Maya,
    It is okay to like pink, princesses and cars too. I promise. You can do whatever you want, and do not ever let anyone else tell you otherwise. Robots are pretty awesome, and maybe we’ll need pink princess robots one day too.

    Sincerely,
    A roller derby girl that likes to wear makeup, skirts, get sweaty and hit people really hard on roller skates, while studying web development and working with web code every day.

  17. Babita Baruwati

    Hi Maya,

    I am a scientist myself. I finished my PhD and further studies in physics and making new materials. Now I work for a multinational company. As a child and now also I like sports and cars as equally as those preety dresses and nice shoes. I used to play all the times the so called boy’s sports.

    I love to drive new cars and rent all kinds of cars and drive them whenever I have a chance. I go to see most of the car shows whenever possible and keep know the pros and cons of most of the cars in the market.

    I am a long distance runner and also quite muscular. But I love cooking and a good cook either.

    I have a bunch of freinds ( both men and women) who loves me to their best because of the person I am, not for anything else.

    So my dear Maya, donot bother what others say. Be true to yourself and with time you will grow as a beautiful person whom everyone will love and respect. Okay :) Now cheer up and love your cars and robots… Keep learning about them and one day you might be able to make one of them !!!

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