Chicks and silicon chips... a diabolical combination!

Chicks and silicon chips... a diabolical combination!


There have been a couple of “chicks in IT” news items recently that have been turning heads. Firstly, there was a very high profile story in Australia about Sonja Bernhardt, an IT professional from the Gold Coast who decided it would be cool to release a calendar featuring women in IT, posing as movie sirens, to try and drum up girly interest in joining the IT forces. That caused a furore down here, let me tell you. Technology news is usually stuffed down the back of the paper, but when you might sneak a peak at a calendar girl it’s a whole different story... even if she is into computers. There was also a recent slashdot entry about Fedora introducing a group for Fedora women, to help support women in the FOSS world (apparently, chicks don’t dig IT and they REALLY don’t dig FOSS).

What I found interesting about the slashdot post wasn’t the post itself, but the 333 comments (and counting) that followed. All the usual suspects were there, from the vehement pro/anti feminists to the “this is such a dead issue, get over it” brigade. And it all comes down to what it always comes down to in the great gender debate. It’s the nature versus nurture, natural versus social issue. And people, there is no way for a nuturer to win an argument with a nature-er and vice-versa, because the base position of each argument is so fundamentally different that it’s like two people trying to have a conversation while one is speaking English and one is speaking Mandarin. However, I would like to make some general responses to the slashdot comments.

People think gender means women

When you are talking about gender issues, this DOESN’T JUST MEAN GIRLS. If there are certain beliefs about gender abilities, this affects both genders. Even if people acknowledge that girls can do boy stuff and vice-versa, if there is an emphasis on the things one gender can do as being superior to what the other gender can do, then this still affects EVERYBODY. It means that not only are women encouraged to do things that men do, but men are villified for doing things that are seen as “girl things”. This is stupid, because if there was REAL equality in the world and gender really was a dead issue, then men would be able to stay home with the kids if they wanted to, or say they don’t like sport, or don’t like beer, and not be looked at like there is something a bit wrong with them.

Stereotyping hurts everyone

On this topic, there was a fair bit of back and forth with girls saying “geeks see us as second-rate programers/sex objects/irritations” or “boy geeks suck”, and boys saying “girls are second rate programers in general and are better at housework anyway” or “we get stereotyped and unfairly maligned too, how come the girls get special treatment?”. This sort of sniping shows that we ALL (boys and girls) need to get together and do some work on this. I’m not saying the world needs therapy, I’m just saying that we should all be big enough to not make mass generalisations. I know a programmer who reckons that “women are flawed programers”. You know how many he knows? Five. You know how many weren’t that great? Three. You know how many programers he would have met online and assumed they were boys? Lots. You know how smart this guy is in many ways? Very. I could look at him and say that I don’t date geeks because all geeks wear glasses, look like Martin from the Simpsons, eat prunes, and have no social skills. But I can’t say that... because I’ve only met five geeks and three of them are like that... and hell, there are heaps more of you than that!

Genderless?

And leading on from this point, thinking all programers you meet online are boys and thinking this is being genderless is wrong, wrong, wrong! It isn’t being genderless, it is privelleging one gender over another. Everybody does it, I know... we all make assumptions about gender... that’s how we are raised or wired, depending on your beliefs. But think about how counter-productive it is! And, more importantly, think about how you are limiting yourself by just unthinkingly assuming that way.

Reaching the status quo doesn’t mean it’s good enough

Whether you believe in nature or nurture, some things are still valued more than others in our society. And if you believe that gender is a dead issue, and you feel like women are being coddled and that people should just do what they want and it’s all hunky-dory, you are going to be sadly disappointed, because the gender issue isn’t going away. The gender issue will never go away until we all stop defining ourselves, and each other, based on rigid gender roles. Until we can not only stop saying “boys like FOSS, girls like ponies”, but can also stop believing it subconciously. It may not be what everyone wants to have happen. But that’s progress. And, for all of you “girls are naturally inclined to be hairdressers, not programers!” nature supporters, all I can say is: “Don’t you think it’s time we all evolved?”

So, yay for any group promoting above the status quo. By having FOSS groups for women, attention is being drawn to a very much alive gender issue. And until we as a people can resolve this issue, then we as boys and girls will continually struggle with ourselves.

Category: 
Tagging: 

Comments

Terry Hancock's picture

Let's see:

Stayed home with the kids. Check (Off and on, actually).

Hate sports. Check.

Hate beer. Check.

"not be looked at like there is something a bit wrong with them". Don't care all that much.

I guess I'm an emancipated man.

You didn't mention it, but GNOME's recent call for women to participate in the Summer of Code was apparently pretty successful. Hanna Wallach says they got 200+ applications (which, interestingly, is more than the total number who applied in the genderless call -- none of whom were women).

Which raises questions: why didn't those women apply before? Did they think they couldn't win? Or had they simply never heard of the opportunity? Clearly having a special women's contest was a good idea this year, but what about next? Should they continue to have an "all comers" and a "ladies only" call? Separate mens' and womens' calls (i.e. like we do with sports)?

The idea that women might've assumed without trying that they wouldn't get in, is appalling to me.

My daughter definitely likes ponies. What she thinks about free software remains to be seen. Tux paint is a hit, though, so there's hope!

The truth is that outcomes are the result of both 'nature' and 'nurture', as any decent biologist can tell you. It's even more twisted than that, as it is in our nature to nurture the genders differently. So, I think it's a bad idea to assume that if you eliminate nurturing biases that you will get equal results.

OTOH, it's much more interesting to consider what the right sort of nurturing can bring to the field if it introduces people with a different nature to the same problems. And that's one reason why it makes sense to expend effort on promoting diversity even if it isn't necessarily the same as promoting fairness (e.g. that's one reason why it might be right for GNOME to 'unfairly' hold a certain number of seats exclusively for women).

What we need is more free software with ponies in it!

;-)

Ryan Cartwright's picture

You didn't mention it, but GNOME's recent call for women to participate in the Summer of Code was apparently pretty successful. Hanna Wallach says they got 200+ applications (which, interestingly, is more than the total number who applied in the genderless call -- none of whom were women).
The fact that it received a greater number of entrants is interesting but this also leads me to ask why GNOME felt it necessary to aks your gender in the "genderless" call. Isn't this the kind of thing that Bridget is talking about?

The gender issue will never go away until we all stop defining ourselves, and each other, based on rigid gender roles..

How can we give any group an even break if we continue to distinguish them from others on criteria which may not be relevant to the project? If GNOME were not that bothered about gender then why ask? Perhaps next year they should just ask for entrants and dispense with the gender question altogether.

In some areas there is a greater balance - I work in the UK Voluntary (not-for-profit) sector where it's quite common to encounter female IT workers but even here there is still a higher proportion of male IT workers because the pool from which they are drawn has a higher proportion of men.

I don't know whether the recent efforts to recruit more women into the IT Industry[1] and/or the FOSS Community[1] will succeed. I hope they do as there is an inbalance and that's not a good thing IMHO. As ever though, this is a mountain that needs to be scaled on both sides. There remains prejudice in the industry (just last year I was amazed when at a trade show I was handed a freebie by a scantily-clad woman who was clearly only there to attract men to the stand - despite the number of women delgates walking around) and there is also prejudice on the part of the women they are trying to attract.

[1] I am not sure who or what these groups consist of or how they are defined. I don't even know if they do exist as such - so diverse are their alleged members - but I use the terms because they provide a common shorthand. This waffling footnote excepted of course :o)

AbeLincoln86's picture

Women don't want *equality*. They want *fairness*, which is something nobody gets. Equality means struggling along with the men and mostly getting "the shaft" when a less valuable person is promoted above you because they are better at kissing butt. You don't have to be female to be miserable in the rat race. Women shouldn't be comparing their experiences with those of the *BEST* experiences of men in the workplace, but rather with the average or even the worst.

Cryptimus's picture
Submitted by Cryptimus on

The idea that gender differences fundamentally disadvantage both genders is an odd one. To accept it, you have to accept the idea that gender differences actually disadvantage women to begin with and frankly, I don't even buy that.

The idea that gender is a social construction is frequently raised by the more androgynous members of both sexes and while I understand the advantage for them in making that suggestion, it doesn't mean for one moment I buy it. And neither should you.

What you call 'stereotyping', I call categorisation. Categorisation is a critical life-skill which allows rapid assessment of entities and there's nothing inherently wrong with it. It's an artefact of the limitations of our conciousness more than anything else.

> men are villified for doing things that are seen as “girl things�.

And so they should be. A man's world is fundamentally different to a woman's and all the politically correct assertions to the contrary will not change that. In both biological and sociological terms men are equipped with advantages for certain roles and abilities. Nudging them away from those for the sake of trying to erase the gender divide is a fundamental betrayal of who they are. It's a piece of sociological engineering for the sake of gain on the part of those who wish to see differences between the genders blurred or erased.

One of the main gender issues with IT is that it very much tends to be populated by men whose understanding of women is so poor their interaction with women both online and off is something of an embarassment. As such, their interaction will usually fall somewhere between the twin poles of crudity on the one hand and pathetic fawning on the other. To a certain extent that's changing and there are men who are socially adept but IT is not exactly swimming with them.

> I’m just saying that we should all be big enough to not make mass generalisations.

Nonsense. They're adults, they'll get over it. This is not an issue which needs any kind of concerted effort. The fundamentals are about men and women interacting, the IT issues are irrelevant.

Presuming that a good programmer I meet online is a guy isn't limiting me in any way. It's a blase assumption brought on by experience and probability. It's the same as women who presume that IT guys are generally socially inept and unlikely to make attractive boyfriends. Brought on by experience and probability. We're human, that's pretty much how our brains work. Does it really matter? Not to an adult.

> The gender issue will never go away until we all stop defining ourselves, and each other, based on rigid gender roles.

I don't see a problem with that. Really. If you want to be an exception to the usual rules about your gender, be my guest. Frankly though, trying to impose double-think on everyone merely to satisfy that need strikes me as a tad self-focused. Gender influences so much of who we are that trying to erase it, nullify it, deny it or villify it is pointless.

Kazadagu's picture
Submitted by Kazadagu on

I found the article and the opinions expressed therein just right. I find you, however, bigotted, insulting, arrogant, and offensive.

> The idea that gender is a social construction is frequently raised by the more androgynous members of both sexes

I view gender as a social construction. I am not androgenous; I'm a "masculine" male; and before you try questioning by sexuality, I'm heterosexual and comfortable with it.

> What you call 'stereotyping', I call categorisation

So if you think that excuses you from being sexist, I guess that would be your excuse for being a racist, and a homophobe too.

>> men are villified for doing things that are seen as “girl things�.

> And so they should be...

If you have a wife or girlfriend, please pass on my pity. It would be a shame if you bred and passed on your archaic attitudes to yet another generation. I guess you'll have little Timmy playing with trucks and little Jenny playing with dolls, and if they don't like it you'll think them queer.

> One of the main gender issues with IT is that it very much tends to be populated by men whose understanding of women is so poor their interaction with women both online and off is something of an embarassment.

And you are clearly a prime example of the type of "man" you describe. And, to that end, you are an embarrasment to the rest of IT-mankind.

>> I’m just saying that we should all be big enough to not make mass generalisations.

> Nonsense. They're adults, they'll get over it.

Nonsense?!? "They'll get over it"! That is nonsense. Stereotyping does hurt people, and to say they're not adults is like kicking them while they're down.

> Frankly though, trying to impose double-think on everyone merely to satisfy that need strikes me as a tad self-focused.

I found your opinions voiced with more imposition and force than I did the author's. Being as arrogant and callous as you appear to be give me the impression you are the one who is self-focused.

> Gender influences so much of who we are ...

Speak for yourself.

>...that trying to erase it, nullify it, deny it or villify it is pointless.

I will happily villify you (and the rest of society) for putting individuals into boxes and I'll do my best to destroy the roles you expect me to conform to. I am an individual not an object that falls into one of your "categories".

It is a shame that you are able to pollute the virtual landscape with your biggotry, but I am a believer in the right to free speech. Oh well, I guess you have to take the good with the bad. I can only hope that people who experience your opinions find you so abhorrent and repulsive that they are driven away from you and your way of thinking. Someday people with your attitude will die off and leave the planet to those of us who care about each other.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Kazadagu - Hear, hear!

Cryptimus:
>> men are villified for doing things that are seen as “girl things�.

> And so they should be...

I am a heterosexual male, and I don't think I am considered 'androgynous'. My wife doesn't seem to think so. Please explain to me why it is wrong for me to enjoy "girl things" such as baking, cooking, pretty flowers and china patterns. I also dislike many "boy things" such as most sports. What is wrong with that?

Jersey13's picture
Submitted by Jersey13 on

Nature versus nurture is a moot discussion. There are a lot of opinions floating around, and everybody is entitled to their own. If a male programmer wants to believe he's a better programmer than I am simply because he's male, it's his right to believe it if he wants to, whether I agree with him or not.

Personally, I'm tired of feminist and anti-feminist discussion. Women in my field are not coddled, nor do I believe they are overly mistreated these days. The field of computers and programming, and likely almost all engineering fields in general, have ALWAYS been dominated by men. Most doctors are men. Most construction workers and fire rescue workers are men. I would even venture to say that even the majority of professional musicians are men. There are a LOT of fields that are dominated by men.

I think we should be looking more at our roots, as a people. Way back when humans were primitive and living in small groups, men had roles and women had roles. Men hunted and fought, women cooked and tended house and children. Why? Because those methods of cooperation and that division of labor suited our nature.

If I was suddenly transported into the stone age, you had better be sure that I'd rather cook and tend babies than compete in hunting parties and instigate fights with other clans. We as humans lived that way for millions of years until a bunch of humans started working cooperatively to accomplish more, and thus the bronze age was born. That was only a few thousand years ago. Why shouldn't it be natural for women to have more of a maternal and social instinct and for men to be more agressive and more strongly muscled?

Our society is changing so rapidly, it's no wonder that our insticts and traditions and culture are finding it hard to keep up. In our world today, jobs and roles are so much more complex than they were, who can truly say that one gender is better at some job than another? Who can truly know, when everything around us is so different from what it was just a few years ago, much less a thousand?

Yes, in general, men are are physically stronger than women. Yes, women are the ones who have babies. But the mental tendencies and capacities between men an women can only really be judged by neurologists, and I don't believe that science is advanced enough to say for sure who's better at what. I try not to judge anybody else except by their own individual tendencies and expectations for themselves, and my own tendencies led me to love computers.

People who make rash and unsubstantiated statements about gender or race are fools who just want the attention that comes with saying things that tend to make people angry. Prove to me that all men in the world are better programmers than I am, and I'll believe anybody who says that women shouldn't be programmers.

Terry Hancock's picture

No, asking for an applicant's gender is just collecting data. As far as I know, the information was not used in the evaluation process. You have to give this information to attend school or get a job, so why is it strange here?

And why do you give this information? It's so that people can track trends like this and know when something has failed miserably to be an equal opportunity. If GNOME had received 180 applications from men and 10 from women, that would be a bit bleak, but plausibly represent no bias. But 181 applications, 100% male -- that means something is not working. For some reason, GNOME's normal application process does not attract women.

'Why?' is a different question. There's many different levels at which this can be happening, from 'women never hear of it' to 'women don't want to be around geeky guys' and so on.

'Who cares?' is a possible response. After all, it's not like "free software developer" is a common title for anyone of either gender, and the fact that it seems to appeal to a certain kind of male techie may not really matter all that much. There aren't a lot of female auto mechanics or garbage collectors, either.

However, I find that I do care.

I care in principle simply because I think people should be able attain their maximum potential, and I think there must be many women for whom free software development could be fulfilling. After all, it seems strange that women, who are generally much better at cooperating and sharing than men, should be left out of the party when it comes to shared software development.

I care socially, because I'm a lot happier in co-ed environments. Men on their own act like pigs, frankly. I clearly can't really know first-hand what women on their own act like, but I hear tell that isn't good either. I think we're designed to work together, and communities with both genders are usually a lot more sane and friendly, in my opinion.

I care technically, because diversity is always a benefit in any creative endeavor. I think women are fundamentally different than men, and that's a good thing -- fundamentally different people find fundamentally different solutions. There are some problems men alone will likely never even recognize, much less solve. That argument works for ethnic groups, too.

Finally, we can ask 'what next?' I don't know what the right thing to do is. I'm not sure why 200 women applied to a program when it was reserved for women, but wouldn't do so when it was (theoretically) genderless. Maybe they'd never heard of it, and all it took was the kind of press you get with a headline like "Gnome Needs Women". Or maybe, those women did see the call, but didn't think to apply without encouragement. Or maybe, they thought to and then thought better of it after their last experience on comp.lang.whatever.

Author information

Bridget Kulakauskas's picture

Biography

Bridget has a degree in Sociology and English and a keen interest in the social implications of technology. She has two websites: Illiterarty and The Top 10 Everything. She also handles accounts and administration for Free Software Magazine.