Quantcast

«

»

Aug 26 2013

You should always ignore some old guy opining on women’s abilities

I had this vague impression that Dave Winer was one of the good guy pundits of the computer culture, but this column in which he asks “Why are there so few women programmers?” is gakworthy and stupid.

Now, I’m sure there is sexism, probably a lot of sexism. But I also think there’s something about programming that makes many women not want to do it. Here’s a theory why that might be.

Programming is a very modal activity. To be any good at it you have to focus. And be very patient. I imagine it’s a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.

There is specialization in our species. It seems pretty clear that programming as it exists today is a mostly male thing. Which also raises the obvious question that perhaps we can make it so that it can better-use the abilities of the other half of our species?

Let’s blame it on biology! Let’s pretend that there’s some intrinsic biological difference that makes discriminating against women in computer science perfectly natural!

It’s a beautiful example of letting your bias dictate your explanation, though. Most psychological studies show men are more impulsive than women (although I’m not a fan of characterizing a whole gender that way, either) — it’s women who have the cultural stereotype of being more patient. It also ignores historical data: 80% of the calculators at Bletchley Park in WWII were women.

Yet now, when it’s time for convenient excuse-making, we get the claim that men are more patient than women. Convenient, isn’t it, how biology is always dragged in to justify the status quo?

I also have to say…who hunts rabbits from a blind?

There isn’t that much specialization in our species, either — it’s not as if men evolved to fit the niche of sitting at a desk for long hours doing the fine motor work of typing, while women were shaped by nature to…sit at a desk for hours doing the fine motor work of sewing.

I also recommend this simple, clean, short presentation on women’s math skills. The difference (if there is any; the presentation acknowledges a very slight statistical difference, while I’m not so sure it’s valid) is not sufficient to account for any difference in aptitude for computer science.

P.S. See the bit in Winer’s comment that is struck out? He acknowledged that he might be off-base later, but that was the bit he thought he might be wrong on. I don’t get it.

115 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    PZ Myers

    The title is not ironic. Don’t trust me, either!

  2. 2
    Andrés Diplotti

    <ep> But, but, but… YOU ARE DENYING THE BRAIN EVOLVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! </ep>

  3. 3
    unbound

    Er, my teenage daughter is a very good programmer (lead her team of boys and girls in a competition at a state university). I have zero doubts about her capability to be a programmer, but I have a lot of doubts about her ability to succeed in the programming / gaming industry…due solely to the rampant sexism there.

    Dave Winer is just another example of a sexist trying to rationalize how it is something other than him and his ilk.

  4. 4
    Jacob Schmidt

    I suspect that, when these and other criticisms reach his ears, his last name will become very appropriate.

  5. 5
    Lofty

    Mr. D. Winer doesn’t want to share his exclusive little club with cooties-bearers?

  6. 6
    dalbryn

    The way people like to use evolutionary psychology to support their bullshit prejudices is starting to remind me of how people like to use quantum mechanics to support their bullshit, ineffective medicine.

  7. 7
    Onamission5

    Yet he never once stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, the reason many women are not involved in programming is because of the prevalence of articles and attitudes like his? That maybe many women started out as girls with a budding interest, and then at nearly every turn along the way they ran up against these sorts of hypothetheories that girls are flighty little birds who can’t do maths engineering physics programming so they got discouraged and gave the hell up? This has apparently not occurred to him. Oh but he’s sure there’s a lot of sexism, he just hasn’t thought about what that sexism looks like or sounds like or in what way he is adding to it.

  8. 8
    mattyarbrough

    Dave Winer is definitely a master self-promoter. He had a few good ideas in the early days of RSS (and some horrendously bad ones as well) and has been a loud voice in terms of what is and isn’t blogging, how to Do It Right(tm) etc etc. This sort of screed from him is pretty typical and he has long been on the avoid list for women in tech at conferences (and men who don’t want to be bored to death by his self congratulatory monologues).

  9. 9
    Maureen Brian

    Does this poor fool know that the person who came up with the very idea of computer programming was a woman?

  10. 10
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Amazing how often a dominant group can look at discrimination and decide that, since it does not affect men, or whites, or Christians, or etc., that it is a normal part of nature and should be ignored.

  11. 11
    chigau (違う)

    I just goole image searched ‘hunting rabbits’.
    Bugs Bunny aside …the horror, the horror…

  12. 12
    jamessweet

    (Read past first sentence before crucifying me)

    I don’t find it implausible that women might tend to be less skilled at the kinds of things that are useful in programming (in general; as always, individual variation outweighs any sort of trend). Nor do I find it implausible that they might tend to be naturally more skilled in those things. Certainly, there are moderate general differences between the genders (again, with individual variation outweighing any of those things), and programming requires a very unusual way of thinking, so the idea that there might be a natural gender differential in programming aptitude is not implausible — then again, it’s not implausible that there is no gender differential either.

    However, with so much cultural conditioning based on gender, the signal-to-noise ratio here is hopeless. It’s pointless to try and speculate. It’s pretty obvious that at least the majority of the gender differential in programming is due to cultural factors, sexism, etc. In the face of that, this kind of speculation is silly at best, and hurtful at worst.

  13. 13
    bargearse

    Now, I’m sure there is sexism, probably a lot of sexism. But I also think there’s something about programming that makes many women not want to do it.

    It amazes me that an otherwise smart person could write these two sentences without realising the obvious implication.

    What could keep women out of programming? Not sexism of course, that’s just background noise that everyone ignores and deals with, except for those bloody women who keep acting like it’s more than just a nuisance. Don’t they have more serious things to worry about?(sarcasm)

  14. 14
    Scr... Archivist

    Notice how Dave Winer’s post focuses on the tasks and activities of his chosen vocation. He is not looking at the social structure of the places where this work is done, the invisible connections and interactions among the people there, and their background experiences in school and work and home. This also means he is not looking at the past experiences of the women who are not (or are no longer) in his field, or the larger society-wide context. (He does mention sexism, but it’s only a mention.)

    Maybe I’m just late to the party, but I think I’m beginning to see a pattern in the numerous discussions about the lack of women in technical/scientific fields.

    Essays and articles on this subject often focus on the minutia of work tasks and not on the bigger picture of academic or workplace cultures. These writers turn the tasks upside-down and inside-out, trying to figure out a binary sex distinction hidden in the nature of the work itself. They start out believing there is a biological component, and they try their damnedest to either find one or invent one. They never realize that they are looking at the wrong end of the ‘scope.

    More men could look at the sociological context around them. They are not biologically incapable of doing so. But I guess that not enough of them (heck, not enough everybody) have been taught and encouraged to examine the world with this set of tools. (And I’m not referring to those malicious people who know exactly what they are doing. I’m talking about the one’s who genuinely want to understand “why” but never learned how to get there.)

    Again, it’s not just a guy thing. But I wonder if it’s a geek thing to over-examine minutiae and miss their larger social and historical context.

  15. 15
    Ingdigo Jump

    Thanks for the “help” sweets.

    Next time consider contributing an original thought and consider if you’re being arrogant in assuming no one has heard what you have to say before

  16. 16
    graham

    Search for “World’s first computer programmer” and what do we find?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace

  17. 17
    Curtis Halbrook

    In my career as a programmer, my development teams have been almost 50/50 in the man-woman ratio. That being said, not a single one of them have been American. There’re Indian women, Chinese women, Korean women, a couple from Brazil… Why no Americans?

    Perhaps it is less of a “wimminz can’t do the codethink” and more of an American/Western Culture thing that is discouraging young women to further explore the field.

  18. 18
    skeptifem

    He is so right about women lacking patience and concentration. That is why most women are better at raising kids-they dont require any patience or concentration at all, amirite?

  19. 19
    doublereed

    That’s so weird that he talks about how there’s probably sexism and then says a bunch of sexist things.

    Like dude. Self-awareness. Come on.

  20. 20
    ludicrous

    PZ, “You should always” assume that any headline that begins with ‘you should always’ is ironic whether intended or not.

    Colluding with the young and the old stereotyping is not cool. Mid-life is nothing to be ashamed of and need not be defended however indirectly. Anyway you’ll grow out of it soon enough.

  21. 21
    tariqata

    It’s true that I, personally, am both a woman and a lousy programmer. But I have a pretty hard time believing that it has anything to do with my ability to focus.

    I’m married to a programmer; I’m a policy planner. I don’t think there’s much difference between the way my husband zeroes in on a coding problem and the way I spend hours editing a set of policy options. We both get deeply absorbed in problem-solving and tweaking until we get it right, whatever it is, and we both tend to tune out the outside world while we’re doing it. I don’t have to focus like that all the time, but I also wouldn’t be able to do my job if I couldn’t when I need to be.

  22. 22
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Programming is a very modal activity. To be any good at it you have to focus. And be very patient.

    Which is why American popular culture portrays men as the ones who knit, prepare meals, clean the house, organize clubs, manage children, read books, etc. etc. good God how bad is your thesis when it’s not supported by hard data or even broad stereotypes this is so stupid I don’t even aaargh….

  23. 23
    Maureen Brian

    jamessweet,

    Can you come up with a single paper, peer-revied and published in a respectable journal, which indicates that there is a gender-related difference in the size, configuration or functionality of a male brain vs. a female brain? Pre- or post mortem, I don’t mind.

    No, I thought not! So knock it off with this “maybe” line until you have some evidence. Otherwise I’ll perceive you as trying to cloud the issue and to delay dealing with it.

    graham,

    I said that several posts before you.

  24. 24
    Rob Grigjanis

    I imagine it’s a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.

    That really is one of the silliest comparisons I’ve read in a while. I’d say it’s a lot more like writing a novel or short story. Rumour has it women hold their own in those pursuits. Maybe because they don’t involve being hired by an idiot.

  25. 25
    skeptifem

    Can you come up with a single paper, peer-revied and published in a respectable journal, which indicates that there is a gender-related difference in the size, configuration or functionality of a male brain vs. a female brain? Pre- or post mortem, I don’t mind.

    and even if there was evidence of this, the cause wouldn’t be easy to determine. The brain is shaped by environment, too.

  26. 26
    doublereed

    To be fair, he’s gotten raked over the coals in the comments already. Of course he’s trying the whole “no no you’re totally misinterpreting me” kind of thing.

  27. 27
    Maureen Brian

    You are right, of course, skeptifem. I thought of mentioning the proven examples of those differences. Perhaps I should have done because they do prove the plasticity of the brain.

    What they don’t prove is that the brain is a secondary sexual characteristic, something Mr Winer and his acolytes seem to need to believe in!

  28. 28
    ludicrous

    Most boneheaded is this from Winer:

    “I invite comment on this post, but be careful about saying derogatory things about whole genders, …..”

    Huh?

  29. 29
    rumson

    Usually just a lurker, but reading about people who question the abilities of women is beginning to really get to me. I suppose all of this would count as anecdotal, but I remember watching my mother and grandmother as they cooked, knitted, gardened, and worked on projects around the house, and if they weren’t “focused” they were putting on a good show. Or the few women I went to tech school with, when we had time in the shop they were just as focused as any man in the shop, more so in some cases. Or when my girlfriend finds a new subject to explore, and she dives into it head on, looking for all of the info she can find. I would also say she is quite focused, patient, and attentive to detail when she gets into a new painting. Does he even interact with women at all?

  30. 30
    maudell

    I find it hilarious when people try to go for the ‘hunter caveman’ analogy. Especially that it usually makes no sense at all.

  31. 31
    Bronze Dog

    The title is not ironic. Don’t trust me, either!

    I’ll take it with a grain of salt. The difference between men like PZ and men like Winer is whether I measure that grain in milligrams or kilograms.

    IIRC, men and women do have a statistically significant difference in math scores, but that difference has been shrinking over generations, suggesting it is indeed culturally based and that the culture is changing.

    Of course, even if it were a biological difference, I’d say that’d still be good cause to encourage school girls to study their math: 1) Math is a vital skill, so anyone who struggles with it should have help. 2) Humans naturally vary, so some girls will be outliers who have a natural talent for math despite the alleged sex handicap. They should be especially encouraged to develop that talent instead of pigeonholed into the stereotype. Failing to nurture that talent would undermine society’s potential by suppressing talented individuals.

    It reminds me of an argument against racism I once read in an ethical philosophy book: It’s still best to judge individuals as individuals and do your best to leave race out of the calculations. If the premise of racial inferiority is true, meritocratic systems would make discriminatory policies unnecessary. If the premises of racism are false, however, discriminatory policies would only serve to undermine meritocratic systems.

    Then you throw in statistics. I had a racist troll who cited a sample of IQ scores (with the average difference between races much less than the variation within the races, of course) to fallaciously assert there was a biological inferiority. He couldn’t grasp the point that even if I accepted he was right about that inferiority, there’s no pragmatic reason to change my attitude against racism. The only way it’d make pragmatic sense to judge people by race instead of individual merit would be if the average difference was larger than variation within the races, which was certainly not what the study data showed. I was not surprised when I found that the authors agreed with my interpretation. The troll didn’t like it when I quoted his own citation against him. I’d say it really isn’t about merit, superiority, inferiority, or pragmatism, it’s about racists trying to employ highly fallacious and innumerate arguments to rationalize their irrational hate.

  32. 32
    Leo Broukhis

    Au contraire, the virtues of a programmer are laziness, impatience and hubris, all very male qualities.

  33. 33
    Pteryxx

    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/07/28/normalizing-female-computer-programmers-in-the-1960s/

    Anjan G. sent in an example of the normalization of computer programming as a female occupation, posted at Fog Creek. This article appeared in a 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan and quotes computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper, a pioneer in the field, discussing why programming is a perfect fit for women — by drawing partly on gender stereotypes by assuming women are “naturals” at programming because they’re patient and pay attention to details:

    Don’t worry, ladies, it’s just like planning a dinner!

    Good reading in an interview (current) linked from there, too:

    http://blog.fogcreek.com/girls-go-geek-again/

    Also, most girls don’t really get computers of their own when they’re young. It seems like sometimes the family computer is bought mainly for the boy to use and then he’s kind of forced to share it with his sister. That means that girls can’t experiment on computers. You need your own computer because you have to be able to possibly break it while you’re trying new stuff, without getting in trouble. For my sixteenth birthday, I got to build my own computer with my dad and then I could have all the time I wanted on it and break it or whatever. Until I had complete control of my own computer, I never had any interest in trying Linux; when someone else is responsible for keeping your computer functioning, and does a good job of it, there’s little incentive to try something like a different OS, since you’d have to convince other people that it’s a good idea to mess with what’s currently working.

  34. 34
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    80% of the calculators at Bletchley Park in WWII were women.

    Speaking of which, I enjoyed and recommend The Bletchley Circle. I read that it’s been renewed for a second short season, and I hope that’s true.

  35. 35
    ludicrous

    Rumson at 29 above:

    ” Does he even interact with women at all?” Bingo!

    It appears that he interacts not with women but with a stereotype. Since women can easily spot this kind of attempt at interaction there is likely not much motivation for the women around him to push through it. If they tried to do that with these guys they wouldn’t have time for anything else. He needs some help. He is indirectly asking for it in this piece. My guess is he is too hard a case to bother with.

  36. 36
    hillaryrettig

    What I particularly like is the reflexive use of a traditional tough-guy macho metaphor (hunting) for an activity (programming) for an activity that has little or nothing in common with hunting.

    And, of course, the inevitable inept use of said metaphor.

  37. 37
    Jacob Schmidt

    Colluding with the young and the old stereotyping is not cool.

    Fair point. Ridiculous mansplaining is hardly dependent on ones age.

  38. 38
    pinkey

    When I was a student of computer science, I would frequently have classes with 50 men and zero women.

    Though there were very few women in CS, I have to admit that those that were in it were not just good, but were VERY good. To me the question isn’t whether women can be programmers, but why not very many of them want to be.

    Couldn’t be that they don’t like the company, could it?

    What is kind of interesting is that originally, programming was thought of as women’s work , and the first programmers were mostly women.

  39. 39
    rumson

    hillaryrettig;
    I find the macho/tough guy thing to be pretty funny, considering if you look at the bone structure of early humans men and women were living incredibly difficult lives, and both would have performed tasks that would be considered very ‘masculine’ by today’s standards. At what point does he think women diverged and became the supposed weak dullards he purports them to be?

  40. 40
    jeffj

    Of course, Winer’s post is incredibly wrong and incredibly offensive.

    Can you come up with a single paper, peer-revied and published in a respectable journal, which indicates that there is a gender-related difference in the size, configuration or functionality of a male brain vs. a female brain?

    Well, 80% of those diagnosed with autism are male. Those with autistic tendencies are going to seek work where thay will be comfortable. Like coding.

    What happened in other historically male-dominated fields, like law and medicine, that helped close the gender gap? What things did they do that we are neglecting to do in IT now? Sexism is unquestionably part or most of the problem, but there is definitely something else going on here.

  41. 41
    maudell

    It’s always fun to see them tripling down too, instead of just letting it go and think (whether it changes their minds or not). In his ‘what you don’t understand follow-up, Winer, goes on full ‘First Amendment’ mode, telling his commenters they can’t shut him up, he’s a good guy, and that the fact that they got upset means that they needed to hear the harsh truth.

    Aaah, good old rationalization (special points for Winer for not mention Stalin and totalitarianism).

  42. 42
    Maureen Brian

    Bronze Dog,

    I recognise that you are not one of the bad guys but when even the Daily Mail understands a problem it really is time to stop looking for special measures to help girls – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2073523/Girls-worse-boys-maths-Study-86-countries-shows-differences-caused-attitudes-women.html

    What we want is, as ever, a level playing field and a reduction in stereotype threat.

    For instance, I have “O” Level Maths. If we go just by the statistics that puts me in the top 5% of mathematical ability for all those born in the UK in 1942. Except that it doesn’t! It says that, OK, I am reasonably bright but it also says I arrived at school with enough polish – not sure how else to say that – to passport me into the bound-for-glory academic stream and to keep me there, no matter how much of a pain in the arse I might be. And I was! It also says that when I struggled with logarithms and the relatively new teacher decided (and said) that I must be thick, I had a parent with enough social clout to involve the Director of Education and get the teaching schedules of the entire Maths Dept rearranged so that I was back with a teacher who hadn’t drunk the KoolAid.

    And I still arrived at university with zero confidence in my ability in that subject because all the bullshit meant that a girl had to be about 3 times as good as her class-mate to be acknowledged as equal.

    That’s the reality. It has nothing at all to do with maybe this or maybe that deficit in the women. It is straight discrimination justified by nonsense.

  43. 43
    Holms

    I like the bit where he acknowledged the prevalence of harassment, and immediately blows right past it.

    WAIT no I don’t.

    I imagine it’s a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.

    I hereby declare programming to be similar to rabbit hunting THROUGH THE POWER OF IMAGINATION!!2!

  44. 44
    Pteryxx

    *headdesk*

    Well, 80% of those diagnosed with autism are male.

    Look up gender bias in autism diagnosis. Please.

    What happened in other historically male-dominated fields,

    *repeated headdesk*

    like law and medicine, that helped close the gender gap? What things did they do that we are neglecting to do in IT now?

    In law and medicine, the most determined and kick-ass women managed to fight their way in and start disproving the bigotry first-hand. Then they started mentoring other women and making noise to raise awareness of the discrimination against them. I don’t know that ‘the fields of law and medicine’ did a darn thing to help them, nor are they now, and both fields still contend with gender segregation especially in the highest-ranking subcategories.

    for IT, goto http://adainitiative.org/

  45. 45
    aziraphale

    Maureen Brian at #23: there is ample evidence that men’s brains are larger on average than women’s (the difference is often quoted as 10%). However this is not likely to have any bearing on their intelligence or aptitudes because:

    Some of the men’s larger brains will be needed to control their larger bodies
    Brain size correlates very poorly with intelligence, except at the extremes

    PZ: I would add a qualification to your heading, to read “except when it’s me (I’m 73) opining that some of the smartest people I know are women.”

  46. 46
    ischemgeek

    @jeffj #40: 1, Autism is systemically under-diagnosed and under-recognized in women. There’s not a good recognition of what percentage of autistic people are women because of the stereotype that autistic people are boys or men, which sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy of majority of those diagnosed autistic are men/boys ->pros think majority of autistic people are men/boys -> pros study men/boys more -> autism criteria are defined by presentation in men/boys -> official stats say more men/boys are diagnosed than women/girls -> pros are biased against diagnosing girls and using the wrong diagnostic criteria as women/girls present differently from men/boys -> majority of people diagnosed autistic are men/boys -> repeat. It’s the same problem that affects girls with ADHD. It was framed as a boys’ disorder from the beginning, and that’s a huge barrier to effective, speedy and accurate diagnosis. Sexism: it hits disability diagnoses, too.

    Consider the fact that girls are on average diagnosed two years older, and have to be more severe than boys to receive a diagnosis at all, a pattern that mirrors that shown in ADHD. Sexism is why I wasn’t diagnosed with anything as a kid – my school referred me to a child psych, and she refused to consider autism because “it’s a boy thing” and told my parents that labels were harmful and that I was “just shy” and needed to be encouraged to socialize more. My coordination issues? Attention-seeking. My disorganization? Laziness. My motor dysgraphia? Carelessness. My attention issues? Lack of discipline. If I’d been a boy, I guarantee I would’ve received a diagnosis of some sort, but I was a girl, and “girls don’t get autism or ADHD. It’s a boy thing.”

    2, speaking as a probably autistic person with autistic relatives, I’m sick to death of the whole “autistic people like code and trains!” stereotypes. Yes, there are fields that we gravitate to. What those fields have in common isn’t that they’re STEM fields or that they’re academic or nerdy, it’s that they’re fields where the working environment naturally accommodates our disability and plays to our strengths and interests. I work in chemistry. I know two autistic guys who work in armorsmithing. I know an autistic woman who’s a gymnastics coach and several who are professional fictions writers.

  47. 47
    naturalcynic

    I also have to say…who hunts rabbits from a blind?

    Cewtainly not that gweatest wabbit huntew of them all – Elmer Fudd. Ducks aww a diffwent mattew,

  48. 48
    ischemgeek

    Please ignore typos in comment #46 above. I’m functioning on 3 hrs of sleep. Typing gets sloppy when I’m this short of sleep.

  49. 49
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    I also have to say…who hunts rabbits from a blind?

    Someone who’s either not very hungry or really after duck, I’m pretty sure. If your goal is to eat rabbit and you haven’t got any domestic ones handy, you set some snares and then go do something else for a few hours.

  50. 50
    chigau (違う)

    And snaring rabbits is really work for women and children, moose hunting is for men.

  51. 51
    smhll

    People domesticated rabbits long before the gun was invented. Maybe men are over-represented in Computer Science because they don’t have the slightest interest in History?

    /end snark
    [No offense to the computer scientists who did not write the column PZ referenced.]

  52. 52
    carovee

    Bwaahaaaa! In the comments the author gets all huffy and claims he never said anything about women’s ability or biology or anything. Even after several people quoted his words and patiently connected the dots for him (men evolved to be patient, women are not patient, ergo women don’t like programming because biology), he still insists he never said any such thing. I understand not wanting to admit when you are wrong but to completely ignore your own words in the comment section of that very post is an accomplishment in delusion.

  53. 53
    emilybites

    The level of specialisation posited by people who support an evolutionary basis for sex differences in different professions in 2013 sounds fucking ridiculous to me (freely admitting I’m not a biologist or scienceperson of any kind).

    Is there any proof at all that very general, transferable skills could have developed to make the sexes better at different, very specific activities, most of which involve some level of some of these skills? You need focus to CLEAN effectively, for fucking hell’s sake, and that’s a specialism of women, right?

    I imagine you need patience to make it through sixty years of being treated like a fucking idiot because you have a vagina. Sign me up for computer science!!

  54. 54
    Karen Locke

    One of the reasons why I got out of the software engineering world was that I just got extremely tired of the sexism, dealing with it day after day after day. That was after two decades in the field, where by management standards I did brilliantly. I was forced to take a leave of absence to deal with ill, aging parents, which gave me some time to think, do I really want to spend the rest of my life fighting this battle? So I went back to school and got a MS in geology, which has rapidly become less and less sexist in the last couple of decades due to lots of women entering the field. (Also it was my first love.)

  55. 55
    abewoelk

    Why the assumption that if women are underrepresented in a certain field, that sexism must be the reason? That may have been true at one time, but are women still being actively steered away from math and science?

    It’s been ten years since I was in school, but I had several math and science classes in which the students were 50% or more women: Microbiology, anatomy and physiology, statistics, two years of chemistry — and I never caught a hint that the women were discouraged from being there.

    Maybe it’s possible men and women as groups just have different interests. They certainly do at cocktail parties; maybe they do vocationally too.

  56. 56
    Onamission5

    are women still being actively steered away from math and science

    Yes.

    Do consider the possibility that you didn’t catch any of the hints because those hints weren’t aimed in your direction.

  57. 57
    piegasm

    Why the assumption that if women are underrepresented in a certain field, that sexism must be the reason?

    Why the assumption that it’s an assumption?

    I never caught a hint that the women were discouraged from being there.

    Why would you expect to notice this if you’re not the target of the discouragement?

    Maybe it’s possible men and women as groups just have different interests. They certainly do at cocktail parties; maybe they do vocationally too.

    WOOOOOOOOSSSHHHHHHHH!!!

  58. 58
    ischemgeek

    What Onamission5 said. I’m too exhausted to comment in greater detail, but when I’ve caught up on sleep tomorrow, I’ll be happy to list off shit people have actually said to me on learning what I wanted to do when I was young/what I do now. It includes such gems as, “Really? You don’t look like a scientist.” “Science? That’s cute.” “I’m not sexist, I just think men are better at this than women.” and “Chemistry is more of a guy thing.”

  59. 59
    chigau (違う)

    abewoelk is trolling.

  60. 60
    ChasCPeterson

    Can you come up with a single paper, peer-revied and published in a respectable journal, which indicates that there is a gender-related difference in the size, configuration or functionality of a male brain vs. a female brain?

    Here you go, Maureen Brian: a whole freakin bookful from 2007 (odd, isn’t it, that it’s not cited by C.F. Fine [2010]?).
    And since I’m feeling generous, here are two more recent reviews in pdf form:
    link to pdf 1
    link to pdf 2
    enjoy!

    The brain is shaped by environment, too….
    I thought of mentioning the proven examples of those differences. Perhaps I should have done

    Perhaps. That way it would have appeared as if you knew what youi were talking about instead of just bloviating off the top of your head. Hey, it’s never too late! (not that the remarkable plasticity of the brain is in any way controversial).

    men’s brains are larger on average than women’s (the difference is often quoted as 10%)…Some of the men’s larger brains will be needed to control their larger bodies.

    Gosh, what a plausible-sounding explanation! Too bad it relies on zero knowledge of how brains ‘control bodies’.
    Basically, there is no necessary correlation betwen the size of muscles and the number of neurons necessary to control them.

  61. 61
    ischemgeek

    Didn’t JT tell you, chigau? We have to assume that every asshole who comes around Just Asking Questions predicated on bigoted presuppositions means well and ever-so-politely and civilly tell them to quit arguing that bitches ain’t shit. We don’t want to have rude outbursts, after all. */snark*

    Also, please someone explain to me why the fuck every time sexism in a field is a topic of discussion, the dudebros come out of the woodwork to argue that maybe-just-maybe bitches ain’t shit and have you ever considered that?

    I mean, FFS, you’re proving our point for us. Would you want to enter a field where the basic assumption was that you would suck at it and if you didn’t suck, you were some freak of nature and not representative of people like you?

    Cuz, uh, yeah. I work in a field like that, and I tooootally get why other women don’t want to work in it. Hint: It’s not cuz they’re not interested.

  62. 62
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Abewoelk
    Seriously, knock that shit off. You’ve pulled it in enough threads now that you have no excuse for not knowing better, which means you’re just here to be an asshole, and patience is wearing thin around here.

  63. 63
    jeffj

    @ #44, #46:

    There are plenty of recent papers acknowledging a bias in ASD diagnoses, yet still observe that a gender discrepancy persists when testing blind of clinical diagnosis:

    http://www.pediatricsdigest.mobi/content/125/1/e17.full
    “The male-to-female ratio reflected the expected ratio in ASD of 3.5:1. ”

    @44: “In law and medicine, the most determined and kick-ass women managed to fight their way in and start disproving the bigotry first-hand.” So what is different about IT? Is it because it is a relatively new field? Why is the problem less pronounced in other fields that have exploded over a similar timeframe (pharmacy, finance)?
    And why the hostility?

    @46: I would never suggest that “autistic people like code and trains.” I do suggest that head-down coding “naturally accommodates our disability and plays to our strengths and interests,” probably more than any other field of employment (although, I wouldn’t necessarily use the word disability for most people with ASD tendencies). People well off spectrum can code just as well as we can. Those of us on or near the spectrum see the work environment as an incentive rather than a deterrent.

    Again, I don’t deny sexism in IT. I will deny that a larger gender gap must be equated with greater sexism in a given field.

  64. 64
    MrFancyPants

    Don’t forget the well known hiring practice wherein women just aren’t even considered for jobs that traditionally have been considered “men’s” jobs. You’re not going to see female software engineers if the managers aren’t even going to hire them in the first place.

    So yeah, sure, if there’s little or no chance that I’m going to find work in some field, then I’m not going to spend years and my savings training for it. You’d have to be a really driven person who loves the subject to pursue a career with that kind of obstacle before you.

  65. 65
    roro80

    Now, I’m sure there is sexism, probably a lot of sexism. But I also think there’s something about programming that makes many women not want to do it.

    This is just perfect. So, I hear there’s this thing, women who are in STEM fields talk about it all the time as a major source of frustration and being held back in their careers, it often makes them want to go do something else, they explicitly name it as a reason many of their woman friends dropped out of the STEM stuff in high school or college or in the first few years of their careers, and it’s something that we instill in kids from the time they’re infants. But let’s ignore that to talk about how women just aren’t suited to that sort of work! Patience: the womenfolk lack it. Also, It gets me off to think of myself as a hunter, a bringer-home of the rabbit. I cosplay Elmer Fudd.

  66. 66
    ischemgeek

    Rachel Appel compiled stats on why women leave STEM fields. Among them is this statistic:

    52% of the women who enter STEM fields leave due to sexist atmospheres.

  67. 67
    ischemgeek

    Also, see this post at Skepchick which does a better job than I can of explaining how you can construct a testable hypothesis of whether or not sexism explains gender imbalance in a field, and discusses a few fields that shows it in.

  68. 68
    Howard Bannister

    I just left a meeting. The good kind, where we were tearing apart a design and rebuilding it from the ground up to, y’know, actually work.

    There’s a variety of people there of varying skillsets and skill levels.

    Thank the gods I don’t believe in for the women in that room.

    Some of the best programmers I know are women. Sure, there’s the occasional man who can handle this kind of high-stakes work, but in general I just think men aren’t suited for this work.

    I mean, since the OP has already shown that anecdata like mine can be used to, y’know, decide how the world should be, and all that.

  69. 69
    roro80

    ischemgeek — both of those links are really awesome. Thanks!

  70. 70
    aziraphale

    ChasCPeterson at #60:

    You say “Basically, there is no necessary correlation between the size of muscles and the number of neurons necessary to control them.”

    There is, however, an actual correlation among mammals between brain mass and body mass, following roughly an 0.75 power law. Taking the average mass of US men and women as 88.3 kg and 74.7 kg respectively (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_weight ), that power law would predict men’s brains to be 13% more massive than women’s.

  71. 71
    ischemgeek

    @jeffj: And when you screen heart attack patients blind of clinical diagnosis, the men will be caught more than the women.

    Why?

    Because the screening criteria themselves are sexist.

    If you set up the diagnostic criteria to only take into account how one gender presents with something, chances are it’ll miss a larger portion of those with other genders. Thus men get screened +ve more for heart attacks because the screening criteria were designed by studying men only.

    Fancy that, the ASD criteria by and large were designed by studying men and boys only so it misses people who don’t identify as men and boys considerably, since people with ASD who are not men or boys tend to present differently than autistic men and boys. So long as the screening criteria are designed without taking into account gendered differences in presentation, it will continue to miss a larger portion of women, girls, and gender-nonbinary folk when compared to the men and boys. As such, you can’t estimate what the actual gender ratio is. The screening criteria themselves are sexist and flawed.

  72. 72
    MadHatter

    jeffj @63

    Women had much greater representation in the field prior to about 1985. Between 1984 and 1998 the percentage of undergrad CS degrees awarded to women went from 37% to just under 27%. Is there any reason to suppose that “biology” suddenly kicked in post 1984 and caused a drop in women’s interest in the field? Especially since women helped pioneer it? I’d suggest instead that it suddenly quit being such a niche field and with a huge influx of men the culture shifted.

    Someone mentioned that if you don’t get a computer to play with when you’re young enough, you don’t learn. I’m a programmer, I’m also a scientist in one of the the most male-dominated biology sub-fields. I’m also a woman. One of the biggest difference I note between myself and other coders my age is that they had a computer very early on. They learned by tinkering at age 8. I learned at 22 because I realized it would be important for me to know. I had been building computers for a couple of years by that time, but I didn’t start that until I was 19. I also heard growing up from teachers about how “girls were no good at math” and “programming is all math”. The stupid thing is that I was good at math too, but I didn’t think I was because…girl.

    So what’s more likely? Sexism driving women away (and I have plenty of stories there that aren’t even 2 years old, never mind those that go back decades), or a sudden shift in biology 20 years ago? There’s absolutely no reason to even consider biology as potential influence here. And that’s why the hostility.

  73. 73
    MadHatter

    I should add that most of the women I know who code (some of whom are also scientists) had much the same experience in that they learned much later and did not have computers to tinker with. Anecdotes, but on the front lines as it were.

  74. 74
    roro80

    Ugh, I just read the full linked threads. What a douchebag.

  75. 75
    emilybites

    @60 ChasCPeterson

    I haven’t read the entirety of the book you cite, Sex Differences in the Brain, but I read the few pages available in the Amazon preview and saw enough to make some Seriously Sceptical Faces.

    Among the various risk factors for mental disorders, gender is pre-eminent. Relative to males, females are at least three times as likely to have anorexia nervosa…’

    Moreover there are gender differences in the clinical features: females with major depressive disorders are more likely to express sadness whereas males present with irritability.

    We do not understand the mechanisms for any of these gender differences, but patterns of gonadal hormone action are major candidates.’

    O rly? The repeated conflation of behaviour with genetics casts doubt on the robustness of their analysis. One is demonstrably substantially due to environmental factors at work during the person’s life, one is not. Similarly, the use of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably suggests that they are conflating those two as well. One is biology, one is culture. They also do a lot of ‘bald-bottomed rats do X, therefore women prefer Miller Lite’ extrapolation from animal studies to people. And they say ‘males’ and ‘females’ instead of ‘men’ and ‘women’, which is just weird.

    I’d be interested to read the book, but it looks a little evo-psycho from the intro. Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender is great, in case anyone hasn’t read it.

  76. 76
    emilybites

    Oh…darn.

    Failure to blockquote paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 (which are quotations from Sex Differences in the Brain) @75

  77. 77
    jeffj

    @71:
    The study in the link I provided is about a trial of an ASD test for toddlers. I’m pretty sure the published, peer-reviewed researchers are aware of the many ways of introducing bias. The best research we have now tells us that ASD affects males a whole lot more than females. The burden of proof lies with those who believe otherwise.

    @72:
    I do not question sexism. I question whether the ridiculously larger gender gap in coding jobs implies a ridiculously larger degree of sexism.
    I find it entirely plausible that:
    1/ the cultural realization that coding is a good niche for those with ASD or ASD tendencies only developed in the last 30 years,
    2/ those with ASD or ASD tendencies are disproportionately male, and
    3/ the incentive for the niche leads more men to coding jobs.

    No “shift in biology” is necessary. It has nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with incentives. To me, this seems more plausible than the notion that the employment stream leading to coding jobs is sufficiently more sexist than, say, finance, to produce a gender gap that is four times larger.

    We’re playing for the same team here. I want open doors for my daughter, who demonstrates so many of the same social tendencies I did at the same age. It is tempting to look at the huge gender gap in coding jobs and think there is a low-hanging fruit that can be addressed by stopping sexism in that particular field. I think that would be misguided, and that there are general problems with sexism and the path to STEM employment that are more worthy of attention. I have no idea where the best place to intervene is, but parents that encourage princess mania might be a good start.

  78. 78
    Maureen Brian

    ChasCPeterson,

    Why are you so angry?

    So that you do not do yourself a harm I will tell you where I’m coming from. More than 50 years ago in my first year university psychology class we spent about 50% of the course on the structure and workings of the brain. In the course of all that there was no mention of inherent difference – any differences at all – between the male and female human brains.

    Oh, there was sexism aplenty in 1960 but it was justified with other stories – that we were emotionally fragile, that we lacked physical stamina, that our reproductive organs would either shrivel up or fall out. None of these were coming from scientists but they lingered in the air along with the last ghostly wisps of phrenology.

    Curiously enough, once we got past the hurdles of gender stereotyping and different expectations and made it to university, we women were not treated as intellectually inferior or even different, though our different body shapes were more than one or two of the dons could cope with.

    Since then my life took an entirely different course from the one originally planned and, of course, we now know a damn sight more about the brain from use of the scanning technologies, more attention to neurochemistry and a whole different style of anaesthesiology which permits far more brain surgery.

    So I am as I was when I wrote @ 25 earlier today – a lay person but one who had a good enough basic education to follow and at least sometimes understand all new research as I have been able to follow it in grown-up newspapers, journals and BBC science programming.

    We have first-hand accounts in this thread of how unsupportable assumptions about gender delay ASD diagnosis. From the wider world of science we are beginning to suspect that regular exercising of the brain is at least partly protective against Alzheimers, another physiological condition which like heart disease presents differently in men and women.

    By the way, Chas, it would be good if you could tell us all when the law was passed saying that you could not query an assumption or demand evidence unless you had a Nobel Prize in the subject.

    I’ve only met one person with a science Nobel and he’s considerably more pleasant to mere mortals than you are.

    (You demanded that I justify myself. Do you plan to do the same to jamessweet?)

  79. 79
    jefrir

    I find it entirely plausible that:
    1/ the cultural realization that coding is a good niche for those with ASD or ASD tendencies only developed in the last 30 years,
    2/ those with ASD or ASD tendencies are disproportionately male, and
    3/ the incentive for the niche leads more men to coding jobs.

    Even if we grant those, it is implausible that this would explain the gender gap. For it to do so, something like half of all programmers would need to be autistic. This seems… unlikely.

  80. 80
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Anecdata, because there have already been studies: I code, and I’m a social scientist (in grad school, 2nd Masters.) I loved computers but was forbidden to play with them until my brother and father were done (and I had to sneak out of bed because otherwise I was nagged to get off or ordered off the computer, which was for men.) I finally got my HFA diagnosis this year, at 36, despite ALL the classic warning signs (clumsiness, inability to maintain eye contact, repetitive motions and behaviors, fixation on subjects, inability to read social clues/intuit and conform to social rules, inability to make friends, literal interpretations of words, thinking in symbols and pictures, crying when held as a baby and preferring to be left alone, early polysyllabic speech–a “little professor”, etc.) I get so absorbed in detail tasks that my partner has to remind me to eat (and sometimes bathe, sorry baby.) As far as standardized tests growing up, I rank in between 96-99% in all general abilities but math, in which I rank between 86-94%.

    I’m even told by people that know me that my behavior is very nearly masculine. If the OP thesis was correct, I’d be the best coder evah and acing all my coding classes…..

    except that many people find me off-putting because of those behaviors, which are ‘weird’ for a woman. I can’t get questions answered in many of my math and science classes, the profs refuse to give me credit for correct answers both in class (and sometimes on exams–I’ve had to go to the dept with slides and my exam for course credit) and sometimes male students will go out of their way to be shitty to me (like standing behind me in class and complaining about my code).

    Shit, I’m actually currently taking therapy to LEARN pro-social and political behaviors (which is a giant PITA, btw, but as a woman, I’m expected to know how to be social because tits.)

    The take away might be that there’s this…. problem….. with the environment.

  81. 81
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    In the engineering class in which I had to go to the department with slides and my test, the professor contented himself, after I complained, with staring fixedly at my tits for the rest of the semester and standing behind me during lecture (circular table.)

    Boy, it’s not like that effected my performance in the class or anything.

  82. 82
    Great American Satan

    Winer claims humans are “specialized,” by which he means we have specialist abilities divided by gender. When zoologists say an animal is specialized, they usually mean that they have a specific niche they’ve adapted for that limits their abilities in another area. For example, pandas can’t run fast or easily eat meat because they’ve specialized to be ponderous-but-intimidating plant eaters.

    Humans aren’t specialized in that way. We’re omnivores with flexible digits capable of functioning passably in a variety of environments. We’re generalists the way raccoons and rats are. And a species with great adaptability, it makes sense environmental factors and socialization would be the strongest factors in out ability at tasks like math.

    (IANAZoologist)

  83. 83
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    If this study hasn’t been posted yet, it should be.

  84. 84
    rnilsson

    Veeell, here in Sveden ve have a old saying: “Nobody knows where the rabbit may rome, said the old woman, set a snare up the chimney”.

    Oh, while I’m at it: “Cross my ass, said the preacher, sat on a scythe”.

    There you go, two more data points. And me not even a programmer! So there.

  85. 85
    Paul S

    I hate it when you make me think, or worse try to remember things.
    As far as I can remember In my 30+ years in IT, the applications groups were about 1/3 to 1/2 women when I worked in state government, retail, and wholesale distribution from 1980 till 2006, not too many in infrastructure and darn few in management.
    Due to corporate policy restrictions, I cannot publicly comment about my current company.

  86. 86
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    I can’t link to these full text of these studies for free, but for those of you that have access to research databases, the following articles are also useful:

    “How Different are Girls and Boys Above and Below the Diagnostic Threshold for Autism Spectrum Disorders?” study abstract

    “Understanding Sex Bias in Autism Spectrum Disorder” study abstract

  87. 87
    laurentweppe

    Put yourself into Winer shoes:
    You have two options:

    Option one: Publicly acknowledge that the game is rigged in your favor and that there are thousands if not millions of individuals of the opposite gender who are on a bad day smarter and/or more hardworking that you could ever dream of becoming and who therefore should be much higher than you in the social food chain.

    Option two: Lie about it and pretend that the fucked up system which allowed you to acquire a status you would never have had if skills and work were the only variables involved is perfectly natural while doing your best to ensure that the dices remain rigged.

  88. 88
    crocodoc

    Unfortunately, here in Germany I never met a single girl or a woman who was interested in programming, computers, electronics and so on. I’ve been working in the semiconductor industry for 15 years now, it’s a 100% boys club. In the U.S. (at least in silicon valley) it seems to be similar. I met one woman in a technical position during that time (compared to about 100 males) – and I must say she did an outstanding job. That’s very different in China and Taiwan, where more than 1 out of five support staff members or engineers I work with are female today already. They are all reliable, competent and pleasant to work with.

    Anyway, here’s a great video with Barbara Liskov, an adorable female computer scientist.

  89. 89
    Doug Hudson

    This is a perfect example of the kind of garbage that evo-psych has let loose on the world. By popularizing the idea that modern human behaviors can be explained by hominid evolution, evo-psych has given a blank check to anyone who wants to oppose social change. “Not many women in computer sciences? That’s just the way humans evolved! No reason to blame sexism!”

    As if the behavior of early hominids has more impact on human behavior than the intensive socialization all humans receive as part of our culture.

    Gah. The field of Evo-psych needs to be salted to keep more foul blooms from rising up.

  90. 90
    poxyhowzes

    The standard in programming, in my RL experience, is very stereotypically: “if (when) it works, use it!” This is of course a variation on “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In other words, folks never reward the “better” program over the “soonest” one.

    Moreover, there are extremely few side-by-side “competitions” in programming, such that a problem is posed and multiple people compete for the best solution. That sort of competition happens all the time in other creative human endeavors, like architecture, music, and even NPR’s periodic “3-minute fiction” competitions. Symphony orchestras typically use “blind” trials where the performers are hidden from the evaluators. Architects are often required to enter competitions in order to secure commissions. That type of competition can help eliminate several biases, like race and gender.

    Programming doesn’t work that way.

    There is no effective peer review for programming code. Programs, especially programs that “work,” are not typically edited or critiqued by experts. Programs that don’t work are never identified as such, and hence are never evaluated as to “why” they didn’t work. They simply are re-programmed and de-bugged until they DO work.

    Other creative human endeavors are edited and critiqued, even to the extent that criticism has become its own creative field as has editing. Peer Review in science is *the* established mechanism for establishing soundness.

    But, in general, in computer science, programs that don’t work are merely considered “incomplete,” and are analyzed merely for “bugs,” not for fundamental design errors.

    Fixing “bugs” may take far longer than an alternative strategy of redesigning from the start and reprogramming with a different team. But because that time trade-off is unknown at the outset, and because managers seldom, if ever, have the two teams to deploy, Fixing Bugs is the chosen tactic, and “when the program works” is the criterion for success. And, as almost every purveyor of software has demonstrated, even the concept of “when it works” is fungible: “Bugs” all too easily become “Features.”

    Even worse, the programmers who created the “bugs” in the first place, usually without being subject any kind of management or peer review, (or even ‘discovery’ of the bugs by managers or peers) are the very ones tasked with fixing the bugs, and the Fix is also seldom, if ever, subject to review. {“When it works, Use It”}

    There seem to be very few areas in programming where the “best” is sought, much less rewarded. There is no “Golden Globes” for elegant programming or efficient programming. There is, even in gaming, seldom a reward for the means (a program, however elegant or efficient) as opposed to the end (a workable program, however clumsy or inefficient).

    SO: are there somethings in the programming industry (for example gender stereotypes) that mitigate against women in that industry? Well, yes.

    o If you or your boss believe that women will inherently, or usually deliver “better” code than men, but that men will deliver “sooner,” how will you know? how will you test your biases?

    o If you or your company believe that “MATH” skills are inherently important to programming, have you sought any evidence that your general proposition is true? Have you proven that maths is essential, or even important to your kind of programming? Have you checked the evidence that women do maths better than men? Have you devised hiring exams or other measures that will distinguish the stellar female from the dullard male?
    o If you want to try to diversify your programming staff by hiring some women, AND if your boss’s ONLY criterion for code is “the sooner the better,” then how do you evaluate any two candidates, much less a man versus a woman?

    Does any of the above suggest a way, within the programming industry, to overcome what seems (to me) to be a systematic bias in society against women being good at, or even capable of “thinky” things in general, much less maths or programming in specific?

    Not in my opinion. — pH

  91. 91
    gillt

    @ischemgeek & jeffj

    Speaking with someone who does ASD genetics, there are x-linked genes associated with autism, meaning that boys are more sensitized to mutations that they inherited from their mothers because they only have one x chromosome. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been systemic ascertainment biases at the clinical level, which does inform GWA studies.

    *An X chromosome-wide association study in autism families identifies TBL1X as a novel autism spectrum disorder candidate gene in males.

  92. 92
    Maureen Brian

    Thanks for that paper, mouthyb.

  93. 93
    ChasCPeterson

    This is a perfect example of the kind of garbage that evo-psych has let loose on the world. By popularizing the idea that modern human behaviors can be explained by hominid evolution, evo-psych has given a blank check to anyone who wants to oppose social change.

    Right! Because before Ecological Psychology was let loose on the world (1979) nobody thought that human behavior might have anything to do with evolution, let alone popularized the concept!
    (certainly not these guys)

  94. 94
    ChasCPeterson

    only except sub “Evolutionary” for “Ecological” there, thanks.

  95. 95
    ChasCPeterson

    pre

    view

  96. 96
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    laurentweppe:

    Put yourself into Winer shoes:
    You have two options:

    Option one: Publicly acknowledge that the game is rigged in your favor and that there are thousands if not millions of individuals of the opposite gender [sic] who are on a bad day smarter and/or more hardworking that you could ever dream of becoming and who therefore should be much higher than you in the social food chain.

    Option two: Lie about it and pretend that the fucked up system which allowed you to acquire a status you would never have had if skills and work were the only variables involved is perfectly natural while doing your best to ensure that the dices remain rigged.

    Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized (another book I recommend to Richard Dawkins) describes this dynamic. He’s talking about the colonial relationship, but the argument can be extended to all forms of oppression and their attendant psychologies/ideologies.* Describing the “colonizer who accepts” and so becomes a colonialist, he writes:

    [A]ccepting the reality of being a colonizer means agreeing to be a nonlegitimate privileged person, that is, a usurper.

    …[T]o possess victory completely he needs to absolve himself of it and the conditions under which it was attained. This explains his strenuous insistence, strange for a victor, on apparently futile matters. He endeavors to falsify history, he rewrites laws, he would extinguish memories – anything to succeed in transforming his usurpation into legitimacy.

    How? How can usurpation try to pass for legitimacy? One attempt can be made by demonstrating the usurper’s eminent merits, so eminent that they deserve such compensation. Another is to harp on the usurped’s demerits, so deep that they cannot help leading to misfortune. His disquiet and resulting thirst for justification require the usurper to extol himself to the skies and to drive the usurped below the ground at the same time. In effect, these two attempts at legitimacy are actually inseparable.
    Moreover, the more the usurped is downtrodden, the more the usurper triumphs and, thereafter, confirms his guilt and establishes his self-condemnation. Thus, the momentum of this mechanism for defense propels itself and worsens as it continues to move.

    *The book is sexist and speciesist, made even more so by the introduction by the sexist and speciesist Sartre. Also, when I say the ideas can be extended to these other relationships, I don’t mean to suggest that many of them hadn’t already been expressed by feminist and anti-racist writers before Memmi.

  97. 97
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    No problem, Maureen. :D I love good grist for the mill.

  98. 98
    ChasCPeterson

    it would be good if you could tell us all when the law was passed saying that you could not query an assumption or demand evidence unless you had a Nobel Prize in the subject.

    um wut?

    I’m not angry, and I don’t need to know where you’re coming from to see that you disguised an assertion as a rhetorical query/demand.
    The reason I could tell it was thetorical was that you proceeded to assume the answer. I felt that that the answer you assumed was based on false premises and so I provided the evidence you rhetorically demanded because you’d heard there wasn’t any. That’s all that happened there, and I’m not particularly angry.

  99. 99
    Maureen Brian

    I thought we were discussing the credibility or otherwise of the notion that women who were best at such work in 1940 suddenly became almost incapable of it in about 60 years.

    Human evolution takes tens of centuries and social change rather less, so right now the good money is on a sociological explanation.

  100. 100
    ChasCPeterson

    emilybites: feel fre to make any kind of a face you want to; none of it’s my work. It and the other two links are intended as nothing more than sources to the peer-reviewed research Maureen B. asked about.

    oh, and M.B.:

    You demanded that I justify myself. Do you plan to do the same to jamessweet?

    again: um wut? \
    I demanded nothing from you. All I did was provide the kind of evidence you demanded of the other guy, because you seemed to be assuming none existed.

  101. 101
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    emilybites: I’ve noticed that, as you point out, the criteria for proxy classes between biological and sociological events is frequently poor in the evo-psychology papers I’ve read. It’s not clear to me that the authors often have a clear or even probable criteria for generalizing from some bio result, and that lack of clarity really muddies up their interpretation and their selection process.

    To take the Miller Lite example, but slightly more like the papers I’ve read on the subject, if the researcher attempts to tie something like sexual selection for slimness to Miller Lite consumption, I can sort of see that (given some serious, serious stipulations limiting the universality of result and more variables for confirming evidence, since it is not universally true that women wish to be as thin as possible and that they will prefer Miller Lite because of that). What I’ve more often seen is women drink Miller Lite and women want to be thinner therefore evolution means women who are thin are more attractive, which is made of bunk.

    Pity that much of what is popularized is the later, not former, type of articles.

  102. 102
    Victorious Parasol

    I wish I could hear what Grace Hopper would’ve said to this old guy.

    For that matter, I wish more guys of all ages would ask women why (about anything) rather than building these rickety towers of evo-psych babble.

  103. 103
    roro80

    Which also raises the obvious question that perhaps we can make it so that it can better-use the abilities of the other half of our species?

    Just the framing of this question implies that there are no women in the field, and that it is men who should be consulted to figure out how to make better. It reminds me very much of the classic “Where are all the women in movement atheism?”** Shockingly (not shockingly), the same dynamic occurs in the comments over there. Women show up to say that that reason you came up with? The ones about rabbit hunting? That’s not why we’re not around. It’s that those in power, those with voices in the field (or movement) are often so hostile to women that we don’t want to hang around, even if we are extremely capable and interested in the supposedly core ideas. Women use the stupid sexist trope about rabbit hunting (or whatever) that the author put forth in the first place as an example of this hostility. This is then, of course, followed by a shitstorm of defensiveness and breaking of the rule of holes.

    In other words: ask the question — there are so many of us women who are eager and willing to answer. But don’t pretend that you’re trying to help if your reaction to the truth of why we’re not around in larger numbers is something that you are unwilling to hear. You only prove the point, and drive more women away.

    **Note: it’s also a dynamic that is extremely common when privileged white feminists ask “Why aren’t there more women of color in feminism?”, so it’s not inherent to guys, it’s inherent to privilege.

  104. 104
    Ingdigo Jump

    Right! Because before Ecological Psychology was let loose on the world (1979) nobody thought that human behavior might have anything to do with evolution, let alone popularized the concept!
    (certainly not these guys)

    Strawman. But you surely knew that

  105. 105
    numerobis

    Anecdote the first: my father became department head, and noticed that his entire department was, like him, white men. He figured that it was a bias not so much against women or against non-white skin, but rather an unconscious bias towards hiring people similar to oneself. To fight this, he made a concerted effort to break ties in favour of difference. It worked: nobody thought the new hires were any worse (nor noticeably any better) than who they previously were hiring, and suddenly there were non-whites and non-men popping up.

    Anecdote the second: I mentioned this first anecdote to my manager in a programming shop. Out of the roughly 30 developers I worked with, all were men (big company; there were a small number of women developers in other groups, but I don’t know how many). The QA people were mixed; this is a job that demands similar skills but is of lower status. Admin staff were all women, IT were all men. My manager replied that he didn’t think there was a problem; we just hire the best candidates we can find. I never heard or saw any overt misogyny, but the hiring practices clearly were biased, and management wasn’t seeing it.

    So I personally see a very clear way to improve the situation: hire people who are competent and who are different than me. Hopefully I’ll soon be in a position to do that.

  106. 106
    Amphiox

    Now, I’m sure there is sexism, probably a lot of sexism. But I also think there’s something about programming that makes many women not want to do it.

    Yeah. That “something” would be the sexism.

  107. 107
    =8)-DX

    I imagine it’s a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.

    I am a programmer. He’s completely right. I sit at my computer all day, waiting for the ellusive algorithm to stealthily hop past. Perhaps twice a week, one will appear in my vicinity. Then I must act quickly: with my intellisense-improved programming environment I quickly latch onto the wild code and start streaming the ones and zeros into my source files. After that things are almost simple – I methodically flay the digital organism, of redundancies and divide its meat into appropriate object classes. Leaving the bulk of the code to mature, a few days later I can begin to prepare each part for build, providing my hungry testers with nutritious programs to digest.

    NOT. (ok, I’m a lazy sob, but rabbit hunting? Nah, programming is more like exactly what the stereotypes say women are good at: multitasking the resolution of a host of individual problems on various lists, responding to the requirements and considering the needs of multiple individuals. And not leaving anything out. A bit like cooking and shopping and cleaning, only you do it in your head and with your fingers).

  108. 108
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Which also raises the obvious question that perhaps we can make it so that it can better-use the abilities of the other half of our species?

    This sentence makes me think that Mr. Winer is at least trying for equality in his field, even if he is indulging in a fallacious abuse of biology in order to justify the current state of affairs. Does his track record validate that suspicion, or am I being too charitable?

  109. 109
    Maureen Brian

    Well, Thumper, he’s hosting someone at the moment who asserts that the calculators at Bletchley Park in WWII were essentially typists and filing clerks. No-one troubled to correct him.

    What do we call people who rewrite the whole slews of history to account for their own, otherwise inexplicable, eminence? That’s right, begins with “f” …..

  110. 110
    gworroll

    Calculators at Bletchley Park, Admiral Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace? These are kind of key figures in the history of computer programming, Lovelace *literally* starting the field in her work with Charles Babbage.

    He’s going to have to cite some actual studies if he wants me to not laugh at his premise.

    At least he states equality as the end state he wants to see. I’m not sure how much help he’ll be in achieving this starting from his view of how things got the way they are now, but he might be more salvageable than the “you just don’t belong” crowd of assholes.

  111. 111
    Rey Fox

    Which also raises the obvious question that perhaps we can make it so that it can better-use the abilities of the other half of our species?

    We just need some sort of separate-but-equal system in place. Those always work, right?

    On a completely unrelated note, is there a corollary to Godwin’s law regarding bringing up Jim Crow and such?

  112. 112
    David Marjanović

    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/07/28/normalizing-female-computer-programmers-in-the-1960s/

    Anjan G. sent in an example of the normalization of computer programming as a female occupation, posted at Fog Creek. This article appeared in a 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan and quotes computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper, a pioneer in the field, discussing why programming is a perfect fit for women — by drawing partly on gender stereotypes by assuming women are “naturals” at programming because they’re patient and pay attention to details:

    But, at the same time, women are, like, totally only a quarter as likely as men to be on the autism spectrum!!!1!eleventyeleven!

    :-D

    …And then comment 40 comes forth and asserts it’s not even a quarter, it’s just a fifth. *facepalm*

    Here you go, Maureen Brian: a whole freakin bookful from 2007 (odd, isn’t it, that it’s not cited by C.F. Fine [2010]?).
    And since I’m feeling generous, here are two more recent reviews in pdf form:
    link to pdf 1
    link to pdf 2
    enjoy!

    The book is by a heap of psychologists and psychiatrists; only one of the authors is a neuroscientist, and one “is a Professor at the Institute of Animal Science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich” (so might be a neuroscientist or an ethologist or who knows what). The introduction, as noted in comment 75, makes lots of assertions, doesn’t mention any potential difficulties with diagnosing various conditions, and doesn’t mention sexism in any other context either as far as I’ve seen.

    The first review is similar, except that its author makeup isn’t lopsided towards psychologists.

    The second, by a medical anatomist, starts by listing anatomical differences, but then moves on to such gems as:

    Emotions

    Male oriented brains, hardly express feelings. It is due to the use of the right hemisphere only. Male brains separate language, in the left, and emotions in the right, while the female’s emotions are in both hemispheres. It helps explain why the male brain has a hard time expressing its feelings [54].

    LOL.

    Reference 54 is:

    Geary DC. Chapter 8: sex differences in brain and cognition. In: Male, female: the evolution of human sex differences. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association Books 1998; p. 153.

    Psychologists again.

  113. 113
    MadHatter

    Ignoring the really overt sexism in CS (like seeing my female developers get ignored in meetings, or never given the interesting work): finding a job is hard enough. Your name matters when looking for a coding job or when looking for job in research science.

  114. 114
    roro80

    Thumper 108:

    Does his track record validate that suspicion, or am I being too charitable?

    I don’t think it would be too charitable in and of itself, if one were feeling charitable. The big problem is that he asks the question, and when it is answered in the form of “yeah, it’s more that there’s a lot of explicit and subtle sexism, some of which take the form of blowhards talking about innate inability of women to do or be interested in the work, so maybe stop that shit and it could help”, he basically digs in and says everyone is hallucinating and closes comments. He went on to write a couple of follow-ups, including saying he will never apologize for saying what he thinks (no matter how offensive), and “the term mansplaining is sexist”. This tells me he isn’t really all that interested in actually helping the situation. He had a thought on something, thought it was genius, and when it turns out that other people (those affected, like women programmers) might have actually thought about the subject in the past and come to more substantiated and less ridiculous conclusions, he had a fit.

  115. 115
    Anne Marie

    I read this out loud to the programmer boyfriend and his response was that it didn’t sound like the author knew how to program OR to hunt. Maybe boyfriend’s doing it wrong though, I’ll tell him to just wait patiently behind a blind for wild code.

Comments have been disabled.