As I hate bugs with every cell of my body, it’s rare that a bug story makes me feel toasty inside. But thanks to Sophia Spencer, an 8-year-old girl who adores bugs, I’m slightly reconsidering my revulsion. See, Sophia just got an author’s credit in a scientific journal called Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
Sophia had been made fun of for even being interested in bugs. Other kids called her weird. She didn’t know any other girls who were interested in bugs. Even though I lose all adult functionality when I’m near an insect, I know what it’s like to be a weirdo. I’ve been the only woman in the room for tech press events. I’ve been the only woman DJ on a festival line-up. I’ve been the only woman engineer in a room of producers hemming and hawing about VSTs and DAWs and mastering chains. I even did a TEDx talk about all this called “Women, STEM & EDM.” So I read about Sophia and my first thought was, “Hell yeah, do your thing, bug girl!” I felt proud for her.
The whole thing started because Sophia’s mom wrote to the Entomological Society of Canada last year. “I want her to know from an expert,” she wrote, “that she is not weird or strange (what kids call her) for loving bugs and insects.”
The society wound up tweeting the letter with hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and boom, an entire #BugsR4Girls thing started happening on Twitter. Then, Sophia got paired up with an entomology PhD candidate, to write a paper about how services like Twitter can help get more women interested in science. For the first time, Sophia was seeing other girls who thought bugs were cool. She was hearing from women who had made careers out of bugs. For the first time, Sophia wasn’t alone. Sophia the weirdo bug lover turned into Sophia the super-smart cool girl who could tell you all about bugs. I imagine her walking down her school hallway, an adoring boy asking her to autograph a copy of the journal. She signs it while telling him about the cicada life cycle.
But don’t take my word for it. Take Sophia’s, which I’m quoting from “Engaging for a Good Cause: Sophia’s Story and Why #BugsR4Girls:”
My favorite bugs are snails, slugs, and caterpillars, but my favorite one of all is grasshoppers. After my mom sent the message and showed me all the responses, I was happy. I felt like I was famous. Because I was! It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs. It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers… My mom says I’m back to being my funny old self with my confidence after seeing all the girls who like bugs.
I had no girlfriends growing up I could go record shopping with, or have a production session and vibe over a sweet new plug-in. Like Sophia, I found those people online — though much later than her. And when you can see people who look like you that are interested the same things, it’s not odd anymore. It’s normal.
Sophia really says it best. In an interview with NPR she said, “Before… I really thought loving bugs wasn’t the best hobby. But after I realized bugs are for girls I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I should start loving bugs again, because just because people say they’re weird and gross doesn’t mean I shouldn’t like them.'”
I may never want to tell a male grasshopper from a female grasshopper; I may never figure out how to pronounce “stridulate,” the special science word for when bugs rub their feet together. But as someone who found her own crew online, I’m happy that Sophia found her people — and that she still loves bugs.