Help help I’m being repressed
One of my theories as to why women stay away from the tech industry is that they don’t want to put themselves in situations that make them feel like sexual targets on a constant basis. If you want a glimpse as to the kind of hostility geek guys can have towards women, visit the comments section on any popular story on Digg like this one about a video where a guy punches some girl in the face after she rejects him for a date.
For any cultural anthropologists doing field research on the hostility that many boys and young men in computing have towards women, Digg comment threads are the jungle. In a few years the crowd will be somewhere else, but without intervention those attitudes will be passed on to the next generation—along with the good parts of geek culture.
Speaking of which, remember The nerd factor is huge? It became the most popular Coderspiel post of all time, randomly after half a year collecting dust, so a few late responses to it were left without responses of their own. Like this one:
The conclusion I came to after reading [Unlocking the Clubhouse] is that in a lot of key ways, “nerd culture” is referring to a set of shared experiences that non-nerds really cannot go back and access. Yes, you can go watch The Princess Bride and Hackers. But you can’t watch it when you were 12. And you can’t retroactively be dateless at promtime or ostracized for you coding skills or install OS/2 on your 486 with 16 megs of RAM.
We’re being asked to feel sorry for someone because she wasn’t dateless at prom, which is hard to do. (Not having experienced OS/2 when everyone else was using Windows 3.1, easier.) But the point is valid that it’s hard to break into the culture after the formative years; that’s true of any culture.
And if we make being a computer programmer about these things, we’re basically talking about playing golf at the country club to a black student in 1960.
Oh good Lord.
We’re referencing a shared experience that some people won’t ever be able to be part of no matter how hard they work. And that seemed very inappropriate to me, so I’ve been a little down on the “CS is for nerds” angle ever since.
Okay that was not the angle of the post. It did include the little cri du cœur “Being a nerd is actually pretty cool in this century,” but that doesn’t imply we should test C.S. applicants on their knowledge of key lines from the original Star Wars movies. In college the exclusionary cultural is just a symptom; the real problem is earlier, when girls avoid learning programming because “when high school girls think of computer scientists they think of geeks,” to quote the original terrible NYT article. Girls as a group are the ones that reject the culture early on, only to be rejected by it later if they decide that computing is a good career path. It’s ironic!
Erm, that “Girls as a group…” generalization has not aged so well! Let’s just say, those that fully avoid The Nerds in high school, be they male or female, can’t expect a welcoming party to greet them later.
Back to Steph, who left her career in tech. She has suffered from the dark, reactionary side of nerd culture. It has made her technology marketing career miserable, and she thinks it has limited her progress. That sucks. But she missed her chance to do anything about it. The only way to fix tech culture is for women—or rather, girls—to infiltrate the software programming that is at its core. When that happens, the adolescent nerd boy culture will no longer be tainted by feelings of rejection that solidify into a misogynistic (sorry!) shell that prevents many nerds from ever socially maturing. It will be better for everyone.
You can’t blame the girls, or the boys. It’s not like they’re doing their befriending and snubbing with the benefit of historical perspective and recognition of social imperatives. But, there it is. Parents and role models need to persuade girls to put down the glitter and pick up the lambda calculus. Or do both, but try not to get glitter in the keyboard.