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.