[Edu-sig] Microsoft's KPL

Laura Creighton lac at strakt.com
Sun Oct 9 13:37:25 CEST 2005

In a message of Sat, 08 Oct 2005 23:06:18 CDT, John Zelle writes:
>OK, I think I'm getting some insight here, but something still doesn't 
>quite ring true for me.
>I said:
>>>I hear researchers say this at conferences, and I read it in the 
>>>literature about gender balance in computer science, but I still don't 
>>>understand it. Can you explain why when selecting majors women consider
>>>CS as "not useful" and therefore to be avoided when they seem to have n
>>>such qualms about, say, history or English literature? Here in the 
>>>states, women are also severely underrepresented in natural sciences an
>>>engineering, also areas of obvious utility.
>Laura responded:
>> When we interviewed the chemistry students here at Chalmers, as to
>> why they were 'bucking the trend' -- last years, decades, worth of
>> female students who lead the way seemed to be the answer.
>> I think that your question indicates your problem.  It is not that
>> women start with a list of 'everything is worthwhile' and cross
>> things out.  Rather, they start with a list of a few things that
>> are worthwhile.  Those not on the list are assumed to be worthless.
>I think I understand what you're saying, but what I still don't 
>understand is how majors like English lit and history _do_ get on the 
>list. There are many "non-service" majors that do not seem to have this 
>problem with gender balance. How are women getting the message that it's 
>OK to pursue a "selfish" interest in literature? The obvious answer to 
>me that they must get more enjoyment from literature than from 
>computing. The question is why? Is it cultural, or is it a natural 
>male/female distinction?

No.  This is completely false.  Start with the premise that a woman will
never, ever, ever do something because she enjoys it.  (This is also
false, but a lot closer to reality than where you are standing.)  Thus
there are some women who persue literature 'because it is an accepted
thing for women to do' and discover to their joy that they enjoy it.
They are therefore able to get away with doing something enjoyable.

The rest of them are not enjoying it.  But they aren't necessarily aware
of the fact -- and if they are they most likely consider it irrelevant.
Whatever they were doing, they would not expect it to be enjoyable.

>Computer science to you must only be theory. That's fine, but for the 
>record, there's plenty of practical and applied CS as well. I think in 
>Europe CS tends to be much more theory laden than it is here.

It is indeed, and you have pegged me quite correctly.
The practical stuff I call 'programming' and not 'computer science'.

>This seems way too strong to me. I find it highly unlikely that humans 
>would have survived if women weren't damn good at raising children. And 
>I doubt that civilization would ever have evolved if it required somehow 
>"brainwashing" women against their natural characters to take care of 
>the children. Certainly, plenty of women (and men) find having and 
>raising children to be enormously rewarding.

No, the problem is that my standards of 'good child raising' are
very high.  When actually, any fool can get pregnant, and then,
provided that you don't destroy your children, they will survive
however wretchedly you raise them.  

>> There is a two proned attack on this.  The first is to tell
>> women that 'raising children takes no skill, or training, only
>> love and unselfishness'.  This is wrong.  The second is to
>> convince women that being selfish is the ultimate evil.
>Warning, I'm _way_ out of my element here. It seems to me that learning 
>to raise a family only requires that people can learn how to raise 
>children based on their experiences of how they were raised. Larger 
>societal messages are only strictly necessary to learn things that can't 
>be directly experienced by individuals. But everyone was raised in some 
>How is the message about selfishness differentially taught to boys and 
>girls? I certainly try to teach both my son and my daughter to behave 
>unselfishly. And, of course, I encourage them both to pursue what 
>interests them. I don't feel any compulsion whatsoever to treat them 
>differently in this respect. Where is the coercive power structure that 
>instills such apparently different values in boys and girls in our 
>modern society? If I as a parent don't feel it, what causes it? If 
>anything, it seems that men have traditionally had the burden of 
>"having" to pursue externally useful skills because they were expected 
>to be the bread winners.

Oh women brainwash their daughters.  

>I just don't think it's as simple as girls being "taught" that they must 
>always serve others. There still must be a reason that they prefer not 
>to serve others by studying English lit rather than helping others by 
>creating new technologies. Or maybe I'm missing something in this 
>argument. It is true that I have no firsthand experience of the societal 
>pressures that girls/women feel.

A think that you have missed is that a large number of women define
their own value by how much they are 'suffering' and 'sacrificing'
for others.  This keeps them very far away from careers which are
seen as self-serving.  And if you do not know whether a course of
study is selfish, then you can always count the number of women
in it.  If there aren't lots, then there must be something wrong 
with it.  Thus lit gets people, not because women decide that it
is an unselfish way to live their lives, but because they think that
lots of women in it IMPLIES it is an unselfish and good way to
live their lives.

This is part of the chemistry story.  it attracts women who say the only
important reason for them to become chemists is that 'there were a lot
of women in it'.  Which is rather hard on those of us who would like to
spread the succcess elsewhere.  It means that if we could get even
moderately successful, we could probably snowball, but the first
step seems as hard as ever.


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