[Edu-sig] Feedback sought on blog post: "Where do all the geek girls go?"

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Mon Jul 27 16:08:55 CEST 2009


On Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 7:19 PM, Jeff Elkner<jeff at elkner.net> wrote:
> I've just written a blog post reflecting on what a learned in teaching
> Summer enrichment classes about girls and programming:
>
> http://proyectojuanchacon.blogspot.com/2009/07/where-to-all-geek-girls-go.html
>
> Thoughts and/or feedback would be much appreciated!
>
> Thanks!
>
> jeff elkner

So my first reply to this ended up on the EduPython Google Group,
obscure, but with its own advantages (better profile tracking,
something Python.org doesn't support as we don't have user login).

I've got a different reply now for edu-sig, which is again focusing on
"lore", the other axis orthogonal to "skills" in my Pycon workshop
(Chicago, w/ Holden).

What I ran by "Dabo guy" Ed and some others at Pycon were these new
stories we're telling students, about how computer science came to be.

First, it was based in a hoax, talking about The Turk, which defeated
Napoleon at chess yet seemed to be an automaton, a "thinking machine"
(the beginnings of AI in the popular mind).  That prolly drove the
little dictator crazy (which he was to begin with, so in a new +
different way).

Second, it was founded by a woman, as when people later wanted to know
if a "thinking machine" would arise out of work by Babbage & Co., the
Countless Lovelace aka Ada Byron went around the salon circuit
educating people, helping replace idle superstition with the germs of
an actual science:  computer science.

Fast forward to WWII with the Brits working overtime to crack the
German Enigma code at Bletchley Park, Turing in command over military
people hating to work together, but under strict orders (when the war
was over, it quickly fell apart, the centrifugal forces just too great
(it was also a class thing -- machines were dirty, mathematicians
clean (but that's another story))).

Most the patient "hole puncher" types in that invisible army were
women.  Likewise when it came to wiring ENIAC for computations (what
programming was at first:  wiring a spaghetti monster):  most the
doers were women.  Why?

Scientific hypothesis:  hominid women have a social role more amenable
to doing drudgery, very necessary drudgery, for not much credit.
Credit is only useful to people wanting to self promote and women are
supposed to rise through their men in the standard western civ model
(which sucks but we're not here to pass judgement).  Men have their
social networks based on credit and meritocracy, advancing amidst "old
boys" (as in network) by accumulating kudos and being somewhat public
about their skills (picture gladiators, TV wrestlers), pushing women
out of the limelight (where many prefer to be).

Case in point:  so long as "programming" was really difficult,
required almost superhuman patience to get right, the XXs did the
heavy lifting.  Then Rear Admiral Grace Hopper came along and realized
we could start using more human language like words and get the
computer itself to translate to machine code.  This was called a
"compiler" (formerly womens work) and took a lot of the drudgery out,
making CS a lot easier.  Men came flooding in, seeing an opportunity
to accumulate credit, filling the discipline with the loud mouths we
know and love, women again shoved to the back of the bus (where many
of them prefer to be -- lots of controls back there, unlike on an
ordinary bus with a male driver).

The Pycon folks were somewhat amused by all this.  But you can see
where these stories might be useful for holding womens interest, as
its about social networking, culture, and beautiful Ada (smart too).

Another piece of it is to stop using "nerd" and "geek"
interchangeably.  "Nerd" is the larval form of "geek" and is closer to
"hobbledehoy" (gawky youth).  The word "geek" means a Cirque du Soliel
type, lots of social skills, might be a womanizer (even if a woman),
much more like a pirate (in terms of commanding a team).

If nerds are lucky, they mature into geeks, but not all of them do.
As a culture, we've been maturing from nerds to geeks "en masse" and
as we've done so, we've attracted more women, as "female nerd" is
almost an oxymoron per my scientific hypothesis above.  Girl geeks are
becoming tomorrow's leaders today here in Portland, in other cities
too.

Weird Al is a geek, makes fun of nerds.  Kaplan-Moss is a geek.  I
can't think of many nerds around Pycon as most of us are older than
14, and women find us debonair and attractive, are just too shy to say
so.

The rest of my Edupython post was more specifically about Portland.
We have a strong womens community focused around FOSS, lots of
"witches" and "covens".  This was part of Portlandia's lore long
before FOSS came along, before the Torvalds family or the current
ISEPP, but you can see how the culture adapts.  Women like social
causes, social justice (good design) and so are attracted to "code
with a heart" projects.  That'd be like UrbanEdibles and Free Skool,
websites about providing free social services, healthy food, a strong
education.

In terms of Free Skool, I was recruited by a new FOSS witch in
Portland by the name of Lindsey (blog character) who, if she wore a
military uniform, might be right up there with Hopper, at least in my
book.  Here people skills are to-die-for, right up there with Selena's
and Audrey's (our OS Bridge organizers and co-chairs).  We've also
been blessed with Amber Case, the cyborg anthropologist and keynoter
for said OS Bridge.  She's been on the Wanderers boat already (that's
a core "floating office" in our Portland think tank, headquartered in
Linus Pauling House).

These women are roll models for someone like my daughter (age 15).
She sees I look up to women, take orders from them, and that's
encouraging.  FOSS in Portland is *not* male dominated.  At best, men
are equals (but who are we really kidding?).

I could say a lot more, but want to conclude with the advice I got
from OSCON and OS Bridge as well:  focusing specifically on the
"digital divide" among genders is counterproductive.  If men continue
to upgrade their skills, become less nerdy and more geeky, then
they'll spontaneously rise in the meritocracy to where they encounter
more women, a sign of social maturity.

This in turn means working hard on "world domination" (aka "world
peace") which leads to self mastery, promotes self discipline.   So
lets just focus on skill building together and less on how to make men
be less jerky (a lost cause in any case).

Sounds good to me. :)

Kirby

Notes:

* I'm aware of some snarky remarks from the peanut gallery aimed at
dislodging Ada from her pedestal as "first computer programmer",
published my counter narrative awhile back.  There's a retro
(atavistic) throw back kind of guy who still things men should
"dominate" in engineering.  We don't have any of those in Portland,
but I encounter them in my travels.  Maybe contact me off list if you
need more pointers to good writings, or just read Mary Daly.  'Triumph
of the Moon' also good (a history book).  Plus here's a blog post:
http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2008/07/women-and-foss.html

* here's a link to Lindsey's Free Skool page, which links to my OS
Bridge slides, a lot about women and FOSS, maybe take a look (6 meg
PDF, sorry, lots of screen scraping):
http://portland.freeskool.org/?q=node/1216

* Ed Leafe:  http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=17157315@N00&q=Dabo&m=text
 (xBase community took to Python in a big way, though VFP is still
popular in US military and Prague)

* more gender studies, been sharing with Dr. Tag, an Arabic speaking
faculty member exploring Portland's geek subculture (she's me Lindsey
already, not Amber yet I don't think):
http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2009/07/compare-and-contrast.html


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