A word below from the author of Screen Queens, Lori Goldstein!
I have a theory that those of us who become writers do so for one reason: because we suck at comebacks.
A snide remark, an insensitive joke, a tease with bite, in person, our heads tilt and our lips thin into a tight smile. But the moment plays on a loop in our mind until we conjure the exact right response. Miles too late.
So instead, we write it down, and our characters get to say what we cannot. Fiction affords the ability to “write” the wrongs done by others, which Lucy, Maddie, and Delia get to do in Screen Queens. But real life isn’t so easy.
Something brought home to me once again during the recent controversy surrounding Katie Bouman and the first-ever image of a black hole. With awe and wonder, I watched first this momentous scientific achievement, followed by the joyous face of a woman who had poured herself into her work, and then the fallout. Bouman is an MIT postdoctoral fellow and part of a group of scientists running Event Horizon Telescope, the effort to capture visual evidence of a black hole. When that evidence appeared, she was touted for her work on the algorithms that helped this feat become a reality.
She was lifted up by those wishing to celebrate the achievements of women in this #MeToo era, and her excited face soon came synonymous with that of female empowerment. Cue the Internet trolls claiming Bouman’s role was inflated because she “does science and happens to have a vagina.”
Bouman quickly acknowledged that she was one of more than two-hundred scientists who all deserve recognition (ironically, a statement that only fed the trolls and one that many believe historically reflects a female tendency to not claim credit).
Still, some say the initial tweets touting Bouman’s work could have done so while also pointing more to the work of the full team. Put Bouman’s own words aside for a moment, and let’s say they are right. Odds are, backlash would have still come. For this #MeToo era is as full as those lifting up as those tearing down.
Words matter—on both sides. And yet honoring Bouman as a symbol of female empowerment is necessary because women in STEM have a long history of not getting their due.
All through the writing of Screen Queens, a novel about three young women who experience sexual discrimination and harassment as part of a technology competition, I came across stories of the accomplishments of women being buried beneath their male counterparts.
Be it Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer before there were even computers; Hedy Lamarr, who pioneered technology used to guide torpedoes that became the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems; Annie Easley whose work at NASA framed the technological foundation for launching future satellites and space vehicles; and my good friend whose previous life as a coder ended when her male coworkers were promoted while she was secretly told she was the best programmer on the team.
When questions are directed at the males in the room, when meetings to decide project funding are held in strip clubs, when a male colleague sends a female programmer a “sexy legs” costume Web site at Halloween, it becomes clear that words matter but so do pictures.
And the excited face of Katie Bouman achieving a career goal in STEM provides a necessary role model for the next generation of girls to become the future women of science and technology.
Scroll down to read an excerpt of Screen Queens!
Fast Track to Unicorn Status
(startups or individuals seen as so smart and on point that they’re on their way to instant success; high rate of false positives)
This was Lucy’s week.
Sure, she could handle some amount of code. She knew enough to be entry level (okay, more than) at most organizations. But this was her domain.
“Can anyone tell me three elements of a business plan?” Nishi asked.
Lucy’s hand shot up. “Executive summary, business description, products and services, marketing strategy, management team, funding requirements, financial forecast.”
Beside her, Lucy sensed Delia fidgeting. She caught her eye, and Delia mouthed, “market analysis.” Lucy couldn’t believe she forgot. She tipped her head to defer to Delia, but instead of giving the answer, Delia shrunk lower in her seat.
Lucy shrugged and announced it herself.
“Spot on. Even if it was more than three,” Nishi said.
“Aw, leave the little lamb alone, Ms. K,” Gavin called from the back of the room. “Can’t expect a pretty face and a head for numbers.”
From beside Delia, Eric spun around. “In some cases, neither.”
Gavin snorted. “See what happens, boys? A chick on your team makes you soft. Oh, well, not everywhere, right, Shaw?”
Emma sucked in a breath.
“You entitled piece of—” Fists balled, Eric shoved back his chair. Delia set her hand on his forearm, and he turned to her, sat back down, and clamped his mouth shut.
Well, would you look at that.
Nishi locked eyes with Gavin. “I won’t tolerate this in my room, and neither will this program, Mr. Cox. You’re not in high school anymore, and we don’t operate on a warning system. If today’s guest lecture didn’t make this an excellent teaching moment, you’d be out the door already.” His lips parted, and Nishi added, “And yes, I know who your father is. I turned down his funding offer for the second company I founded. I’m on my third, so that was probably an okay decision, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Cox?”
Gavin crossed his arms against his chest.
“Now, benefits of crowdfunding versus those dear VCs like Mr. Cox, Senior?”
Lucy’s hand shot up.
“Anyone other than Lucy?”
No one spoke, and Lucy sat up straighter in her chair.
This was her week.