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On being a nerd and a girl, and knowing your path in life

Perhaps I was twelve or thirteen years old when my older sister taught me how to use a computer. I learned how to move a mouse using MS Paint , and when I was fifteen I made my first "web page" on Geocities, awfully ugly and full of animated gifs as the pages on Geocities were, but also, my first approach to understand how a website worked, how HTML and PHP worked at that time. In 2006 , at age twenty-one, I created my first blog using Blogspot, one that would meet various incarnations to reach its current version, but that always kept the same name: Life brings no instructions. Created as a way of trying to explain the world to myself as I was discovering it, this blog has become the place where I found who I was, where I made unlikely friendships throughout the world that would remain even stronger than those of my adolescence or childhood, and also he sandbox in which to throw around my unpopular ideas about books, laws and the workings of the world. It would be also the place where I would meet a never-ending parade of trolls and haters, people trying to overcome arguments with personal attacks, and where my skin started grewing thicker with every new hate comment I read.

I think I was incredibly lucky to learn early in my life the immense potential of creation that Internet makes available, something that fascinates me and has led me to explore areas that are not close to my field of ​​study and work (the law). The amazing things that can be created seemingly out of nowhere, typing some instructions in a foreign language and making a computer obey them, are extraordinary. However , I also learned early on that the Internet can be a dark place to be a woman, especially if you are young and vulnerable (which doesn’t necessarily goes always hand in hand with being a woman , sometimes it's just part of your personality, as is my case) and it is easy to hurt you by telling you that you do not belong to a place, that you're not able to do something: it is easy to hurt you because you are just discovering who you are and what is your place in the world.
For a nerd at heart, that identity -the things you love-, can be more central, stronger, than gender identity, which usually consists of highly external elements inherited from the society. Consequently, it is very rude - for someone who loves books , technology , science , literature - to be said -in many different ways, some more offensive than others-, that being a nerd and being a girl are incompatible things, and since you can not change being born girl, being a nerd is denied to you by nature.

Years have gone by, and today there are great campaigns to make people understand that your gender does not limit your interests. However, the fact that these campaigns exists (and the fact that they didn’t exist fifteen years ago, when people my age began to make contact with the Web and create their identity ) says more about the problem than the solution .

After my skin hardened a little, just enough, in several jobs of which I liked some things and some not so much, I found myself faced with the harsh reality that I am not a normal person. I was not born to spend eight hours a day, five days a week in an office, or to receive a biweekly paycheck; I’m not the kind of person who can do the same job day after day without getting bored beyond tolerable limits. I need air, light , time and space, I need a place to branch out and play with different things, learn, innovate, create different projects at the same time, going from a subject to another. It is the only way in which I flourish. 

I told myself: normal is overrated, and accepted me as I am.

Ten months ago I left my job, my regular, biweekly-paycheck, manager-in-a state-company job. Now I don’t have a standard answer to give people when they ask me how I make a living (as a lawyer, I give advice on alternative licensing; I translate legal documents from English into Spanish; I diagram ePubs drawing my self-taught knowledge of XHTML; I study French, C programming and copyright distance courses; I teach classes on creative writing and on access to information and free speech, I read everything I can, and between one thing and another I do activism: what fascinates me the most and what I do not charge for). That's the hardest (“what do you do for a living ?” people ask, and sometimes I get too lazy to explain all this, explain that I strictly earn what I needed to survive and give me time to read, fill me with stories, learn new things and try to work on my novel; explain that to me, “work” is not anymore just way in which I make my living, that I do many things, some give me money and others don’t, and that’s all) . The rest of the time , this is one of the things that spin around in my head:
What would happen if we could make it so that all women, all girls, had access to the immense creative potential of technology?
What would happen if everyone could access these tools without being afraid to be who they really are, to love the things they love; if everyone could use them to develop the ideas they have in their head, to create , to build, to connect with others?

How can we make the Internet a safe place for girls and women around the world , a place where they can develop their skills without fear , without being attacked , without being vulnerable?

I think we all have different answers to this, and perhaps the real answer is the result of the collective construction of putting them all together. My answer to this is education. I think if we give all people, especially women , the tools to take charge of their own safety and not rely on anyone else , to be confident that they are prepared and have taken the necessary steps to ensure that their online activities, their information , their sensitive data is protected, this safety will be the most powerful tool to empower them so that they can manage to build extraordinary things we can not even imagine yet.
That's the world I want to see , and that is the world to which I want to contribute. It is a difficult answer to summarize in a line when they ask me my profession, it’s true, but it is the path I have chosen for my life, and I tell you that knowing your path is an incredibly liberating experience.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

Comments

LeanaM's picture

Thank you!

Thanks, Marianne, for sharing your story! I feel so much connection to everything you wrote, and specifically to your experience growing up. I can definitely relate - like you I created a terribly formatted geocities site (I'm too embarrassed to even admit to the content - although I will say that it reflected an obsession I had with a certain band!), and that was where I learned both about trolls and haters, as well as the incredible way the Internet can connect us to surpass borders and cultures to bring us together.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us -
Leana
Digital Action Campaigns Manager
World Pulse

CaroCimador's picture

Te felicito!

Gracias Marianne! y Bienvenida! Me encantó escuchar alguien con tanta sinceridad de la historia de vida que atraviesa para crecer. Me parece muy valioso. Salir de nuestra zona de confort nos desafía a romper algunos esquemas y beneficiarse del intercambio, el trabajo de autosuperación y como la internet y las herramientas de comunicación nos hacen descubrir, apasionarse y trabajar en esa experiencia liberadora.

Un gran saludo
Carolina

Nancy Janus's picture

A welcome adventure

Your posting has been like a lovely adventure through your growing up and maturing with the Internet. It would be such fun to see your original GeoCities website and compare it with the intelligent posting you have made now about Internet use for women. You sound like such a brave woman to have left your traditional job and moved into an arena where you can read what you want to read and be as active as you want to be. It is awesome that activism comes at the top of your preferred activities list. Besides your commitment to make the Internet a safe and kind place for women and girls, I would like to know what other causes inspire your activism. I agree with you that education is the key to inspiring women to use the Internet safely.

I believe that this posting gives real insight into your activities and beliefs. Thank you for submitting it.

Best regards,
Nancy

Kristina M's picture

Keep on following your path

Marianne,

It was great to read about your journey of learning about technology of webpages and blogs despite the haters who put you down and could have discouraged you from continuing to have a presence on the internet. I agree "life brings no instructions" and we need to do a better job of providing girls and women a safer place to expand their minds and figure out who they are just like you have done.

Kristina

thank you for sharing this story is very inspiring

sylvie

thank you for sharing this story is very inspiring

sylvie

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