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In 2011, the Editor-in-chief of the magazine IEEE Spectrum sent the following message to its readers:

“Please accept our sincere apologies for the headline in today’s Tech Alert: ‘With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program.’ The actual title of the article is ‘The Making of Arduino.'”

What is your initial reaction to “Now Even Your Mom Can Program”?

  1. I don’t have a particular reaction.
  2. The sentence implies that young women are weak in technology.
  3. The sentence implies that older women are strong in technology.
  4. The sentence implies that older women are weak in technology.

Some people may not have a particular reaction, but you may have noticed that the sentence “Now Even Your Mom Can Program” reinforces a negative stereotype about older women. It conveys a subtle but pervasive message about their supposed lack of technical skills. It implies that if programming were difficult, they would not be able to do it.

Girls start receiving subtle, negative “micromessages” such as the IEEE Spectrum headline at a very young age in relation to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It is important for educators to understand the nature of these messages and the impact that they can have.

Micromessages are ways we communicate our feelings to one another that goes well beyond our words and frequently beyond even our conscious minds. They are referred to as “micro” because they are small. However, the impact and consequences they have may be enormous and frequently unrecognized. Many times, we are completely unaware of the actual messages sent and, to complicate things further, the message received can be very different than the message we meant to deliver.

However, the message received is more important than the message intended!

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