Women In Tech Throwback: Grandma Got STEM

Welcome to the twenty-second installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy new tech column. Not everything we cover will be queer per se, but it will be about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology.

Header by Rory Midhani

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Have I told you guys I worked as a computer teacher for two years? But not like for elementary schoolers. Like for adults. And so many people would ask me to explain things to them “like I’d explain them to my grandmother.” Even the grandmothers I had as students. Everyone had this notion that grandmas were bad at technology because they were a certain age or gender – females over the age of… like, 40. Which isn’t old, so I never understood it. Women would bad mouth themselves, say they’re too old for this, they’re no good at this.  But I don’t think it’s about being old – I think it’s a combination. About age, about gender, about the act of motherhood. Something about all of that makes us – dumb? Inept? Bad at technology? The worst thing is that we, as women, do this to ourselves. To our sisters. If I had a penny for every time I heard one of my students say “I bet your grandmother is better at this than I am” or “I’m about as good at technology as my grandmother” or “explain this like you would explain it to granny” we’d all be living on our super queer commune right now, funded by all those pennies. I got sick of it pretty quickly. If my student wasn’t learning, regardless of age, I had to question what I was doing as a teacher. I did not have to question their age, gender or any other factor about them. I’ve seen it – anyone can learn to use a computer.

Grandma Got STEM is a website that explores that idea and shatters it. From their mission statement: “I would like to counter the implication that grannies (gender + maternity + age) might not easily pick up on technical/theoretical ideas. As a start, I’m planning public awareness / art projects using grandmothers’ pictures+names+connections to STEM.”

Mary Vellos Klonowski via Grandma Got Stem

Mary Vellos Klonowski via Grandma Got Stem

And you can submit a picture and a story if you or anyone you know is a badass grandma that worked or works in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM!), just email ggstem@hmc.edu with their picture, name and story.

Rabeya Ahmed via Grandma Got STEM

Rabeya Ahmed via Grandma Got STEM

You guys – this is so important. Women in STEM fields are rare enough. Misogyny in the sciences is real. But women in STEM fields 20, 30, 40 years ago? That’s amazing! That’s a jewel that should be celebrated. My grandmother was a chemist in a pharmaceutical production plant in an age where women didn’t really work. And yes, she looked at my iPad with a bemused scorn in her later years, but still. Grandma got STEM! And everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, can be a tech wizard with enough focus and determination. A computer is really a series of yeses and nos, ones and twos. If you can get yes, no, one, two, then you’re golden. Or should I say, Golden Girl.


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A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. Here, here! I have been teaching tech to adults in a corporate environment for a decade now. Some truly believe they can’t learn because they are too old, female etc. I love building their confidence and helping them along the way. My seniors are lovely, strong capable women. However, lately I’ve been getting women in their mid 40s using age and gender as a cop out to resist change and learning. I have no patience for these ladies. They perpetuate a false stereotype and throw their sisters under the bus. Now when they make excuses out of laziness I will direct them to read the ‘Grandma Got STEM’ blog.

  2. My grandmother had a career in IT support before she retired. I remember her telling stories about climbing under desks to fix people’s phones from when I was a little girl.

  3. My grandparents shared a myspace account ~ten years ago, and I used to get comments on my blog like so:

    “glad you had a good day, sweety. Love, Grandma”

      • Rachel Levy

        Hi Ali! Thanks so much for this terrific article. I hope you will submit a post or two — sounds like you know some great STEM-mas.
        Best to you!
        Rachel

  4. tv

    One of my grandmas was a math teacher and the other one was a chemist. BAM.

  5. Hey, one of my grandmas texts me in hardcore textspeak and can use Skype on her phone, and the other, now that she knows you can send emails internationally, is an email whiz. Grandmas can learn to use computers!

    • R

      I wish I had came across that a year or two ago. I would have made my parents send me to that immersion program.

  6. Cat

    I love this!
    My great aunt was a maths teacher and during the war she was asked to work for the government as a code breaker COS’ SHE WAS SO SMART PEOPLE! standard.

        • Did she do it? If so – do you know where she was stationed? I know, I’m being a total creeper, but I have this minor obsession with British code breaking in WWII, specifically with the goings on at Bletchley Park, because I am a nerd. Sorry to give you the third degree. :0)

          • Cat

            I’m 99% sure she turned it down to teach instead, but will find out for you! My Grandma loves nothing more than talking about WWII so this will make her day. I should just give you her number, you’d have a blast talking to her!
            I’ll speak to her and message you. I don’t think the rest of AS will be interested in her findings!!

          • Rachel Levy

            Please send the story about your grandmother to me at Grandma got STEM! (Whether or not she decided to take the job…)

          • Ali, let’s be nerdy together! Code breaking is super interesting. Catjay, tell us more about your grandma!

          • Cat

            It wasn’t my Grandma, it was her sister (my great aunt). Sadly my aunt died last year but my Grandma will know what happened. She was a teacher during WWII as well.
            I’ll speak to her this week and get back to you!

          • Are you aware of how excited I am about this?

          • Cat

            As in is it just the code breaking stuff your into? Or WWII in general? My Grandma has a shot tonne of stuff from WWII and were in the process of emptying my aunt’s house. I’ve seen a few telegrams and letters from their husbands at the time. My Grandad was drafted as a cartographer because of his mad drawing skills.
            Anyway I could go on forever… but is it just code breaking stuff your after?

          • I mean, everything’s excellent. But the codebreaking stuff from WWII is sort of how the modern computer was born, so that’s where the minor obsession with codebreaking specifically comes from.

          • Cat

            I’m on the phone to my Grandma now… this is really interesting!!!!!

          • Rachel Levy

            Wonderful! I am excited to receive your post.

  7. gizmo

    Woot tech ladies! I think most of my techy genes came from grand dad and great grand dad, but great grandma did the books for the mining bizniz they had. Not my grandma, but Dr Grace Hopper would be a freaking rad STEM grandma AND the League of Ladies are featuring her on their first run of super heroine undies. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper

  8. Megan

    My grandmother never had the opportunity to even finish high school, because she grew up poor and not many girls got to go to college back then, but I have no doubt she would have been a biologist if she’d had the chance. She loved birds and plants and insects, and it was in part due to her influence that I grew up, majored in biology and chemistry, and went into STEM myself. Grandmas are awesome!

  9. This made me think of my grandma (she raised me). I grew up in a dual operating system home with a Windows 95 in one room, and the first generation iMac in my room. Grandma taught me how to send e-mail using Juno, surf the web, and type before I was going to school. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have gotten a degree in technology. At over 70 years old, if she’s not a techie, I don’t know who is.

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