Not long ago someone tweeted “Stop using "guru," "ninja," and other terms for job descriptions. You are a Sparkly Code Princess. Own it!” It’s been running though my head ever since. Then last week Laura Blankenship wrote a post called Pronouns and abstract nouns matter which added to my thinking. Way back in 1997 I participated in a program at Carnegie Mellon that had the dual goals of teaching AP CS teachers how to teach Java and how the better recruit and retain girls in computer science courses. One of the things that was talked about was how we talk to and about girls/women in the field. Related to this was how we create an environment that is friendly and welcoming to female students (and everyone really). Of course words matter.
Now there are for sure some girls who want to be a “ninja” that may not be as common for girls as it is for boys. And so many of the words we use for top software developers are that way. Think about “Code Warrior” for example. Do we have similar meaning terms that are more female friendly? I’m not sure we do. It may not be necessary to have them either but I don’t think it creates a great atmosphere if we use the “boy friendly” words to often. We should strive to use inclusive language at least!
“Sparkly Code Princess” may or may not be a good substitute. “Queen of the Lab” or “Code Diva” likewise. But I think we need to be aware of what words we do use and how we describe the “Rock stars” in our classrooms. One thing I think we can do is support girls who self identify with creative names. If a girl one is teaching wants to call herself a “Code Princess” (sparkly or other wise) that is just as valid as a boy who wants to be a “Code Warrior” and should be respected as much.
We want students to feel good about their accomplishments and their own identities. How they choose to call themselves is important to them and we should not try to force our own labels on them.