Yes that’s right, exactly like this


At Wired, Elena Glassman, Neha Narula and Jean Yang tell us what happens when women in a STEM field talk about…oh, whatever.

“We’re 3 female computer scientists at MIT, here to answer questions about programming and academia. Ask us anything!” we wrote for our Reddit Ask Me Anything session last Friday. And then, boom:


Dozens of questions like these were interspersed with marriage proposals and requests to “make me a sandwich” in our AMA. We had intended for the AMA to be a chance to answer questions about what our lives are like as PhD students at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), and what we could do to get more young people excited about programming.

So, naturally, what they got was what women do get, because that’s how life is now.

They wanted to talk about their work – programming, academia, MIT CSAIL – and how they got into it. They also wanted to talk about what it’s like to do that as women in a male-dominated field.

We decided to actively highlight the fact that we were three female computer scientists doing an AMA, to serve as role models in a field that’s less than 20 percent female.

As it turned out, people were extremely interested in our AMA, though some not for the reasons we expected. Within an hour, the thread had rocketed to the Reddit front page, with hundreds of thousands of pageviews and more than 4,700 comments. But to our surprise, the most common questions were about why our gender was relevant at all. Some people wondered why we did not simply present ourselves as “computer scientists.” Others questioned if calling attention to gender perpetuated sexism. Yet others felt that we were taking advantage of the fact that we were women to get more attention for our AMA.

Uh huh. Professional victims; gender feminists; radical feminists; cultural Marxists; ideologues; yadda yadda.

The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”.

That’s “get the fuck out” as of course you know.

The dynamics of our AMA reflects gender issues that lead to disparities in who chooses to pursue careers in STEM fields. People treat girls and boys differently from an early age, giving them different feedback and expectations. There is strong evidence that American culture discourages even girls who demonstrate exceptional talent from pursuing STEM disciplines. For those few young women who continue to study science or engineering in college, there is still a good chance that they will leave afterward. There has recently been much discussion about how tech culture causes women to leave “in droves;” the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon of females choosing to stop pursuing careers in STEM is a well-known problem.

That’s why we wanted to talk about it. Head on. We made gender an explicit issue in the AMA to engage our audience in a discussion about both the existing problems and potential solutions. And in that way, it was a success. We were able to raise awareness about technical privilege, implicit bias, and imposter syndrome.

Good. (I look forward to Christina Hoff Sommers’s debunking of the whole thing, preferably in a video.)




  1. Rabidtreeweasel says

    Of course they needed to specify that they were female. Otherwise, people would have assumed they were male. Male is the default, after all. They didn’t *make* gender the issue. They brought attention to the existing issue of gender.

    At least the misogynists who replied were familiar with Lewis’s Law. That was helpful.

  2. canonicalkoi says

    If you mention you’re women, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t mention, but use a photo showing that you are, in fact women, you’re doing it wrong. If it’s a call-in show and you don’t use a speech modification device to disguise the fact that you’re a woman, you’re doing it wrong. If you can’t mention it, show it or sound like it, it makes it oh, so much easier for those who do that sort of thing to point and say, “See? None of them there women-folk in STEM!”

  3. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    It’s the folly of post-sexism all over again. Daily.

    God, womenfolk, we KNOW you were once unequal (and maybe still are, but I just won’t acknowledge it because men have problems too) now will you PLEEEASE shutup about it?

    You’re challenging my fragile worldview: one where guys are simply naturally better at everything therefore by the transitive property I, as a guy, must be better at things than a majority of girls. Ha! AT LEAST I’M NOT A GIRL!!!!11one!

    OK, maybe it’s not post-sexism at all, but maybe we’re not even post-playground.

  4. says

    I wonder if the people (mainly men?) complaining about “why is gender even an issue” are even professionals in a computer science field. If they are, they’re stunningly unobservant.

    I am a computer science professional (formerly academic, now in the private sector) and I can confidently state that gender is a huge deal in this field. As an academic, I repeatedly saw promising female grad students drop out of the computer science program or switch to a different field, and it was apparent that this was happening due to the boys’ club nature of the research labs at that time (and at that university). Now, as a private sector professional, I’m dealing with the effects of that: a depressingly small pool of qualified candidates for jobs, which is altogether unsurprising since society is basically turning away half of the potential graduates before they even really get started. Some of the positions that we are trying to fill at my firm (a tiny startup with excellent wages, benefits, and profit sharing) have been unfilled for five years or longer.

    There are real reasons why women are not taking part in this field in greater numbers. We need to understand them if we’re going to change it. So for my part, at least, I think that it’s not only just “an issue” that women in engineering/computer science bring up gender, but it’s actually vitally important. So bravo to Elena Glassman, Neha Narula and Jean Yang.

  5. carlie says

    If they had been men and just said “We are three men in computer science”, no one would have blinked an eye. It would have just been seen as a descriptor.

  6. johnthedrunkard says

    If they were men, it would never have occurred to anyone to draw attention to it. The trolls are oblivious to the fact that their immediate reaction demonstrates just how important it was for them to announce gender.

    Where do these troglodytes come from? Are they an long-existing faction, which has been gifted with the internet as the perfect venue for bullying and harassment? Are they a product of pop-culture (porn, lad-mags, PUA etc.) clashing with Real Life? How numerous are they in proportion to the noise and distress they generate?


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