Why I’m Not Watching Robot Wars

If I watch one more token woman on Robot Wars delegated to “snacks”, “morale” or “aesthetics”, I am going to cry. I know I’m probably preaching to the congregation in here, but there are so many reasons this needs to be said:

  1. Setting an Example

Nobody is accustomed to women in STEM spaces. Even before we dive into the world of pay gaps and office sexism, people simply aren’t certain of a woman’s position in that room, and whilst we can vaguely apportion blame to society instead of any tangible human threat, it doesn’t make it less true. We are not used to seeing women occupying STEM roles without it being viewed as an exception, inspiration, or token. In short; we’re not used to seeing female scientists as normal. So when I open up iPlayer to scope out which cluster of metal will reign supreme over the plebiscite robot community, it frustrates me to see that cliché being played out in a world where even personified spinning knives can be powerful.

  1. Reinforces the idea that engineering isn’t normal for women

I’m not arguing that there’s a lack of women on Robot Wars. The representation isn’t an even keel yet, but there are definitely women on the show. My frustration lies in their positions. Multiple father-son duos are accompanied by “Mum, who does the snacks, “Mum, who got the t-shirts”, or more than one “Mum, who boosts morale”, as well other named women (lucky them) occupying similarly described roles like ‘aesthetics’. What better way to show that the women who are privileged enough to be allowed into the boy’s club of engineering classes, aren’t there to engineer.

  1. Belittles the roles these women occupy

Nobody even stops to acknowledge the value of these roles; it’s a joke that we’re all in on, because everyone is meant to know that ‘snacks’ or ‘aesthetic’ is just an excuse to have a girl on your team- a girl who’s lucky to be there.

Have you ever looked after people? I spent one evening responsible for my sisters (15, 8) and their two friends, which included walking to the high street for dinner I didn’t even make, and they honestly need to move to a different continent before I get enough space to recover from my irritation. Catering for a full family, day on day is hard. Catering for a family which includes a father-son duo, building a fighting robot and tagging you on as “Mum who does the snacks” must be infuriating.

Cookery is just something women are expected to know; until a man tries it, it’s easy. Same thing goes for house work, team work, and patience.

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I’ve always felt a pang of pseudo-feminist guilt when I couldn’t get through all Robot Wars, or Top Gear, or anything else lacking well represented women, without falling asleep. However recently I met a girl at an event for girls in computer science where I was mentoring, who told me she aspired to become Felicity from Green Arrow. I was ever so slightly crushed by the fact that in the whole world – a world which has developed an entire society – this girl had only one supporting character that represented her dreams. Thinking about it, I know only two: Willow, from Buffy; and Kaylee from Firefly. It is so hard for women to break into engineering, and when female STEM role models aren’t even represented in fictional worlds, a message is sent that female engineers aren’t something we can even imagine to exist.

So, I’ve stopped watching Robot Wars. I can’t stomach another episode of waiting to see a woman on a team, only to have her diminished by a job description nobody recognised as a challenge in the first place.


Article by Suzie Murray

Why You Will Want The BBC Micro:Bit

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Article by Suzie Murray


Computers are great. They can save lives, change lives, and sometimes they’re responsible for wasting lives. What could be better?

Microcomputers. Like computers but smaller, sturdier, more accessible. The joy of the Raspberry Pi is not just that ‘A Scientist shrunk your computer’, but the ease with which you can plug in anything you like, and make it do whatever you’d like. By stripping back the surface, microcomputers become much more versatile.

However the smaller size demands compromise on features, and the Pi treads a fine line. The Raspberry Pi errs on the side of complexity, but it comes at the cost of some educational benefit: they’re fantastic machines but they aren’t quick to use without a background in computer science. The Makey Makey Go leans the other way, and opts for über simplistic crocodile clip connections, which I’ll come to later.

The BBC microbit does everything the Raspberry Pi set out to achieve. It’s easy to code, easy to use, and super cute. I thought I was appreciating the microbit, and then I showed mine to two 10 year old girls. I did not give the 4×5 rectangle of magic half of the credit it deserved. If Harry Potter rode in on a unicorn, carrying a candy floss machine, I’m fairly confident they would continue to modify the microbit code. The clear connection between the code they wrote and the results they got made it satisfying to learn with.

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The documentation makes it really easy to learn the ropes. Straying from the usual program doc format, it’s almost bizarrely easy to stay awake during and after reading. These are written for people to learn from. The docs are also a good go-to for if you’re not sure what you’d like to achieve. The code included is easy to modify and learn from, whether you’re happy with computers or technically challenged. Because everything is online (including the program GUI and compiler), everything is in one place and it’s difficult to lose files when they’re auto-saved onto a cloud.

My biggest gripe would be the output pins. Initially I was impressed by the tickling project, and so enthusiastically, naïvely, I made the pilgrimage across school to the physics department to haggle for some spare crocodile clips. Woe is me. Nothing I tried worked. Energy which could have been spent catching Pokémon, wasted. If you’re looking for devices to network, the micro might not be for you.

That said, the microbit is my favourite toy of the summer. I feel that I’m being fair in calling it a toy; not demeaningly but because I truly enjoy using it. The process of investigating, writing, and importing your code is not just satisfying, but painless. I haven’t seen a bad review yet.

If you want to buy a microbit, the best spot to preorder looks to be from Tech Will Save Us for £15.

Introducing Suzie

To help our blog run smoothly we put a call out for young writers whom are interested in either STEM and or music, Suize is one of them. Suzie will be writing as our UK technology correspondent. Needless to say we are very excited to read her articles.

So who is Suzie? We’ve asked our new authors to answers a few questions to introduce themselves.

What is your favourite STEM subject?

Technology, definitely. I could write code for days.

Why do you think the gender gap in STEM needs to close? 

Because it’s lonely out here! On a more serious note, there is so much talent we as a society are missing out on because girls aren’t led to the same opportunities in STEM. If I hadn’t been drawn to computing by a driven and encouraging female computer science teacher, it’s unlikely I would have taken the subject. There is no good reason for fewer women to take up an interest in computer science.

Do you have a role model? If so whom?

I don’t have a role model per se – I’m really lucky to be surrounded by inspirational women in tech. I do think that Vi Hart, Sue Black, and Ciara Judge are all wonderfully clever and motivating people.

What do you work as / study? 

I am studying maths, further maths, computer science, and English literature, with a view to read computing and philosophy at university.

Can you describe yourself in 6 words? 

Motivated, competitive, enthusiastic, feminist, unconventional.

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If you’d like to join the Echoing STEM blogging team please email echoingstem@gmail.com