Re: [Scientific American] Gender Gap in Computer Science continues.

Eve Schooler (
Thu, 6 Aug 1998 11:17:02 -0700 (PDT)

>The insinuation is that things like computer games, long hours and the
>"antisocial image of the hacker" have tended to steer women to other
>areas. So be it...

yes and no. if a woman wants to be a software programmer, a computer
graphics wizard, a networking guru, a tenured cs prof, etc., then she
has to go through the ranks, like everyone else. there are no
hurdles that prohibit a talented woman from doing that -- at least
not intellectually. the hurdles are whether or not you mind being
engrossed in a foreign culture. foreign in the sense that women
are in the minority. any minority feels the glare of being the odd
person out. things about the setting are just "different" than if you
were in the majority. and there are plenty of gender differences to
highlight how foreign you feel (this coming from someone who has
persisted being in cs, despite the shrinking numbers of women).
sure, i'm "used to" the maleness of my environment, but do i embrace
it or look forward to it or think its ok that it is self-perpetuating?
i try my damnest to change it in subtle ways, but also to understand
how i too can change to be more effective within this foreign place.

>The computer culture that exists today is what it
>is; to change it in order to bring other people into the ranks is silly.

except that more people are needed for the industry to sustain itself.
also, it is not just to bring people into the ranks. it is the hope that
by making it more accessible to other types of people, the industry
itself will benefit by the skills of these other people -- skills that may
be markedly different than the existing norm.

>It's like deciding that all-male schools should be required to admit
>females. It's like females deciding that they need to serve in
>traditionally male roles in combat, on ships, wherever. If women want
>to participate in those settings, then let them embrace the culture that
>exists rather than seeking to change it.

pooh. no one is requiring the cs field to admit women. the point is that
if someone wants to be a computer scientist then it is more than
learning algorithms. they have to put up with the culture. if this
is what is causing people to leave the field, then perhaps it needs

i say, if women want to participate in those professions, they should
have as much opportunity as the next person. embrace the culture to a
point. tolerate it to a point. but don't make it unnecessarily
more difficult than it already is, i.e., saying the problem doesn't
exist. if you don't have to deal on a daily basis with being "foreign",
then isn't your job easier than mine? should it be?

>I saw a piece on television about this ritual that the navy has... When
>you cross the equator for the first time, you go through this hazing
>ceremony where you're made to dress in embarrassing clothes, you get
>smacked in the butt with pieces of hose and you're made to do things you
>ordinarily wouldn't. The emphasis in the story was on several women who
>took part and then felt themselves to be humiliated and offended.
>To me, in the situation I just relayed, it comes down to this... If
>you want to join the navy, then you need to embrace its traditions and
>customs. The hazing ceremony that goes with crossing the equator is
>many years old. It's what's done. It's traditional. If you don't like
>it, don't join the navy -- and don't try to change the navy to suit you.

there are systemic problems with the navy that are entirely different
than the field of cs. in the past women have been explicitly prohibited
from holding certain jobs. the culture MUST adapt to allow women
those opportunities. if along the way some of the traditions have to
change, so be it. the enduring, important traditions will prevail.
i for one am comfortable with hazing rituals persisting, but it is
inevitable that they will become more gender neutral.

>Same thing with computer work... Either you like it (the way it is),
>or you don't. If you do, fine... Do it. If you don't, don't try to
>change it.

why not? if you don't like something you had better try to change it
or you forfeit your right to complain about it.

>Wouldn't it be silly if short people decided that the NBA is acting in a
>discriminatory fashion, since only "tall" people get hired. Suddenly,
>there's a short-person's lobby that's calling for the net to be lowered
>to 5'5", in order to accommodate those who feel threatened by the higher
>net. It's ludicrous.

no one is saying that the cs field is acting in a discriminatory
fashion since only males are getting hired. women aren't asking for
standards to be lowered. they are simply asking that those involved
in the field become aware of the fact that something about the culture
is broken enough that the pipeline thins more dramatically than
it used to. one can live with the maleness of the culture, the
stereotypical nerdy images, the long hours and hard work; there are
plenty of other professions with those same profiles, e.g., other
engineering disciplines, medicine, that have maintained or boosted the
numbers of women entering the workforce. it is more the harrassment and
the gender discrimination -- not to mention a high percentage of people
who don't believe a problem exists :-) -- that cause women to leave the

>My $0.02.