Girls and Software

December 2013's EOF, titled "Mars Needs Women", visited an interesting fact: that the male/female ratio among Linux Journal readers, and Linux kernel developers, is so lopsided (male high, female low) that graphing it would produce a near-vertical line. I was hoping the piece would invite a Linux hacker on the female side of that graph to step up and move the conversation forward. And sure enough, here we have Susan Sons aka @HedgeMage. Read on.—Doc Searls

Yep, I said "girls". Since men were once boys, but women sprang from the head of Zeus full-grown and fighting like modern-day Athenas, you can start flaming me now for using that nasty word...unless you'd like to see the industry through the eyes of a girl who grew up to be a woman in the midst of a loose collection of open-source communities.

Looking around at the hackers I know, the great ones started before puberty. Even if they lacked computers, they were taking apart alarm clocks, repairing pencil sharpeners or tinkering with ham radios. Some of them built pumpkin launchers or LEGO trains. I started coding when I was six years old, sitting in my father's basement office, on the machine he used to track inventory for his repair service. After a summer of determined trial and error, I'd managed to make some gorillas throw things other than exploding bananas. It felt like victory!

When I was 12, I got my hands on a Slackware disk and installed it on my computer—a Christmas gift from my parents in an especially good year for my dad's company—and I found a bug in a program. The program was in C, a language I'd never seen. I found my way onto IRC and explained the predicament: what was happening, how to reproduce it and where I thought I'd found the problem.

I was pretty clueless then—I hadn't even realized that the reason I couldn't read the code well was that there was more than one programming language in the world—but the channel denizens pointed me to the project's issue tracker, explained its purpose and helped me file my first bug report.

What I didn't find out about until later was the following private message exchange between one of the veterans who'd been helping me and a channel denizen who recognized my nickname from a mailing list:

coder0: That was a really well-asked question...but why do I get the feeling he's a 16yo boy?

coder1: Because she's a 12yo girl.

coder0: Well...wow. What do her parents do that she thinks like that?

coder1: I think she's on a farm somewhere, actually.

When coder1 told me about the conversation, I was sold on open source. As a little girl from farm country who'd repeatedly been excluded from intellectual activities because she wasn't wealthy or urban or old enough to be wanted, I could not believe how readily I'd been accepted and treated like anybody else in the channel, even though I'd been outed. I was doubly floored when I found out that coder0 was none other than Eric S. Raymond, whose writings I'd devoured shortly after discovering Linux.

Open source was my refuge because it was a place were nobody cared what my pedigree was or what I looked like—they cared only about what I did. I ingratiated myself to people who could help me learn by doing dull scutwork: triaging issues to keep the issue queues neat and orderly, writing documentation and fixing code comments. I was the helpful kid, so when I needed help, the community was there. I'd never met another programmer in real life at this point, but I knew more about programming than some college students.

It Really Is about Girls (and Boys)

Twelve-year-old girls today don't generally get to have the experiences that I did. Parents are warned to keep kids off the computer lest they get lured away by child molesters or worse—become fat! That goes doubly for girls, who then grow up to be liberal arts majors. Then, in their late teens or early twenties, someone who feels the gender skew in technology communities is a problem drags them to a LUG meeting or an IRC channel. Shockingly, this doesn't turn the young women into hackers.

Why does anyone, anywhere, think this will work? Start with a young woman who's already formed her identity. Dump her in a situation that operates on different social scripts than she's accustomed to, full of people talking about a subject she doesn't yet understand. Then tell her the community is hostile toward women and therefore doesn't have enough of them, all while showing her off like a prize poodle so you can feel good about recruiting a female. This is a recipe for failure.

Young women don't magically become technologists at 22. Neither do young men. Hackers are born in childhood, because that's when the addiction to solving the puzzle or building something kicks in to those who've experienced that "victory!" moment like I had when I imposed my will on a couple electronic primates.

Unfortunately, our society has set girls up to be anything but technologists. My son is in elementary school. Last year, his school offered a robotics class for girls only. When my son asked why he couldn't join, it was explained to him that girls need special help to become interested in technology, and that if there are boys around, the girls will be too scared to try.

My son came home very confused. You see, he grew up with a mom who coded while she breastfed and brought him to his first LUG meeting at age seven weeks. The first time he saw a home-built robot, it was shown to him by a local hackerspace member, a woman who happens to administer one of the country's biggest supercomputers. Why was his school acting like girls were dumb?

Thanks so much, modern-day "feminism", for putting very unfeminist ideas in my son's head.

There's another place in my life, besides my home, where the idea of technology being a "guy thing" is totally absent: my hometown. I still visit Sandridge School from time to time, most recently when my old math teacher invited me in to talk to students about STEM careers. I'm fairly sure I'm the only programmer anyone in that town has met in person...so I'm something of the archetypal computer geek as far as they are concerned. If anything, some folks assume that it's a "girl thing".

Still, I don't see the area producing a bunch of female hackers. The poverty, urbanization and rising crime aside, girls aren't being raised to hack any more in my hometown than they are anywhere else. When I talked to those fifth-grade math classes, the boys told me about fixing broken video game systems or rooting their phones. The girls didn't do projects—they talked about fashion or seeking popularity—not building things.

What's Changed?

I've never had a problem with old-school hackers. These guys treat me like one of them, rather than "the woman in the group", and many are old enough to remember when they worked on teams that were about one third women, and no one thought that strange. Of course, the key word here is "old" (sorry guys). Most of the programmers I like are closer to my father's age than mine.

The new breed of open-source programmer isn't like the old. They've changed the rules in ways that have put a spotlight on my sex for the first time in my 18 years in this community.

When we call a man a "technologist", we mean he's a programmer, system administrator, electrical engineer or something like that. The same used to be true when we called a woman a "technologist". However, according to the new breed, a female technologist might also be a graphic designer or someone who tweets for a living. Now, I'm glad that there are social media people out there—it means I can ignore that end of things—but putting them next to programmers makes being a "woman in tech" feel a lot like the Programmer Special Olympics.

It used to be that I was comfortable standing side by side with men, and no one cared how I looked. Now I find myself having to waste time talking about my gender rather than my technology...otherwise, there are lectures:

  • The "you didn't have a woman on the panel" lecture. I'm on the panel, but I'm told I don't count because of the way I dress: t-shirt, jeans, boots, no make-up.

  • The "you desexualize yourself to fit in; you're oppressed!" lecture. I'm told that deep in my female heart I must really love make-up and fashion. It's not that I'm a geek who doesn't much care how she looks.

  • The "you aren't representing women; you'd be a better role model for girls if you looked the part" lecture. Funny, the rest of the world seems very busy telling girls to look fashionable (just pick up a magazine or walk down the girls' toy aisle). I don't think someone as bad at fashion as I am should worry about it.

With one exception, I've heard these lectures only from women, and women who can't code at that. Sometimes I want to shout "you're not a programmer, what are you doing here?!"

I've also come to realize that I have an advantage that female newcomers don't: I was here before the sexism moral panic started. When a dozen guys decide to drink and hack in someone's hotel room, I get invited. They've known me for years, so I'm safe. New women, regardless of competence, don't get invited unless I'm along. That's a sexual harassment accusation waiting to happen, and no one will risk having 12 men alone with a single woman and booze. So the new ladies get left out.

I've never been segregated into a "Women in X" group, away from the real action in a project. I've got enough clout to say no when I'm told I should be loyal and spend my time working on women's groups instead of technology. I'm not young or impressionable enough to listen to the likes of the Ada Initiative who'd have me passive-aggressively redcarding anyone who bothers me or feeling like every male is a threat, or that every social conflict I have is because of my sex.

Here's a news flash for you: except for the polymaths in the group, hackers are generally kind of socially inept. If someone of any gender does something that violates my boundaries, I assume it was a misunderstanding. I calmly and specifically explain what bothered me and how to avoid crossing that boundary, making it a point to let the person know that I am not upset with them, I just want to make sure they're aware so it doesn't happen again. This is what adults do, and it works. Adults don't look for ways to take offense, silently hand out "creeper cards" or expect anyone to read their minds. I'm not a child, I'm an adult, and I act like one.

My Boobs Don't Matter

I came to the Open Source world because I liked being part of a community where my ideas, my skills and my experience mattered, not my boobs. That's changed, and it's changed at the hands of the people who say they want a community where ideas, skills and experience matter more than boobs.

There aren't very many girls who want to hack. I imagine this has a lot to do with the fact that girls are given fashion dolls and make-up and told to fantasize about dating and popularity, while boys are given LEGOs and tool sets and told to do something. I imagine it has a lot to do with the sort of women who used to coo "but she could be so pretty if only she didn't waste so much time with computers". I imagine it has a lot to do with how girls are sold on ephemera—popularity, beauty and fitting in—while boys are taught to revel in accomplishment.

Give me a young person of any gender with a hacker mentality, and I'll make sure they get the support they need to become awesome. Meanwhile, buy your niece or daughter or neighbor girl some LEGOs and teach her to solder. I love seeing kids at LUG meetings and hackerspaces—bring them! There can never be too many hackers.

Do not punish the men simply for being here. "Male privilege" is a way to say "you are guilty because you don't have boobs, feel ashamed, even if you did nothing wrong", and I've wasted too much of my time trying to defend good guys from it. Yes, some people are jerks. Call them out as jerks, and don't blame everyone with the same anatomy for their behavior. Lumping good guys in with bad doesn't help anyone, it just makes good guys afraid to interact with women because they feel like they can't win. I'm tired of expending time and energy to protect good men from this drama.

Do not punish hackers for non-hackers' shortcomings. It is not my fault some people don't read man pages, nor is it my job to hold their hand step-by-step so they don't have to. It is not my place to drag grown women in chains to LUG meetings and attempt to brainwash them to make you more comfortable with the gender ratio, and doing so wouldn't work anyway.

Most of all, I'm disappointed. I had a haven, a place where no one cared what I looked like, what my body was like or about any ephemera—they cared about what I could do—and this culture shift has robbed me of my haven. At least I had that haven. The girls who follow me missed out on it.

I remember in those early days, in my haven, if someone was rude or tried to bully me, the people around me would pounce with a resounding "How dare you be mean to someone we like!" Now, if a man behaves badly, we're bogged down with a much more complex thought process: "Did this happen because she's a woman?" "Am I white knighting if I step in?" "Am I a misogynist if I don't?" "What does this say about women in technology?" "Do I really want to be part of another gender politics mess?" It was so much simpler when we didn't analyze so much, and just trounced on mean people for being mean.

______________________

Susan Sons' passion for education has driven her open-source efforts with Debian Edu, Edubuntu and her own initiative Frog and Owl, which helps technologists connect with educators to build more useful educational tools.

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go for it! :)

Anonymous's picture

I didn't get my first computer until 18, didn't really get into programming until I was about 23. It's totally possible to pick this stuff up whenever you find an interest in it; the advantage 21 year old who has been hacking for ten years has is simply that they've been doing it long enough to get good at it, that those ten years occurred from age 11 to age 21 has less to do with it than the absolute span of time (in my opinion anyway).

In as much as a comment from an anonymous internet person means anything, I'd encourage you to give it a shot! It's crazy fun and very rewarding to make things and open source has given us all sorts of beautiful tools for free. To be sure, there will be days you want to toss everything with a power cord out of the nearest window, but I kind of get the feeling any creative endeavor has days like that. :) If you've got the curiosity and drive to dig into it, I don't think it matters whether you're 11, 21, or 81.

~ a mid-30s hacker grateful for the wisdom of those who came before and the enthusiasm of those just arriving

Boyfriends ...

Cyth's picture

What's with everybody learning from their boyfriends? What's wrong with just learning the stuff you're interested in? Whether it's making computers do things or figuring out why light switches work (and sometimes don't) ...

Because that's how relationships work

Wittenss's picture

Learning from your boyfriend makes a lot of sense actually. An unfortunate side effect of the current social norms is that many girls/women don't get any positive exposure to hacking and engineering activities.

But if you are in a healthy relationship, and you are sharing interests with your significant other, you can have a really safe, positive initial exposure to the field. Just be careful that if the relationship ends, your interest in the field does not. Because we need more hackers, regardless of gender, or anything else.

I would also semi-tangentially point out that the benefits of learning something with a significant other; there are a lot of known biochemical and psychological agents working to make learning from/with a significant other easier.

I too am learning to code

Anonymous's picture

I too am learning to code from my boyfriend. Of course I could learn things myself, but sometimes I need a hand. I feel overwhelmed, I feel I don't even know where to start to even try to look things up on my own. He's even helping me to learn how to better Google things. It might seem obvious, but I type terribly wrong search terms and it's no wonder I can't find what I'm looking for. Why is he better at it? Because he grew up a boy in a boys world... he has been doing this kind of thing for as long as he can remember, much like the author of this article. I grew up in the typical girls world, where I was kept away from this kind of thing. Now, at 27, I am playing catch up to some degree. The closest person to me who also is interested in tech happens to be my boyfriend, so of course he is the one I chose to learn from, and of course he's more than happy to share this with me. I don't think there's anything weird about the dynamic of it all. After all, I'm teaching him how to cook.

Thank you SO MUCH.

Rick Falkvinge's picture

Thank you so much for sharing this personal story and great insight. Of course you're right; I started tinkering at age 3 and started coding at age 8.

The perspective of "protecting girls from... everything" may be the worst disservice we're doing to our future entrepreneurs.

I'll take this to heart in the event I become a parent some day. Thank you so much.

Cheers,
Rick

Thank you!

Anonymous's picture

I agree with this so very much. Thank you for writing it!

Thank You

MCB's picture

Susan, thank you for successfully expressing something which has been roiling in a corner of my mind recently.

In this past couple of years, I've started wondering what I can do to help with the the disproportion of girls in tech. Until this, most of what I've read seems to be whining from those who seem to think they deserve a spot, but don't really seem to have a true technical inclination.

For decades now, I just figured that most girls didn't want to be in tech. I've been the only girl in the classroom/office/server-room, for so long, it simply didn't occur to me that anything (other girls) was missing.

Today, I'm wondering how many there are out there that *do* have the chops, but like me, are too shy/introverted/self-conscious to speak up.

we tried

Russ Nelson's picture

We tried to turn our daughter into a hacker. The child of two electrical engineers, she got trucks and Lego's and dolls, but she preferred the dolls. She is now fearless around computers, and I take credit for that, and she's also an whiz with fibers, and my wife takes credit for that. Not every girl exposed to tech prefers it, just as not every guy exposed to tech prefers it either.

There's nothing wrong with

Susan Sons (HedgeMage)'s picture

There's nothing wrong with *not* being a hacker -- the human social ecosystem needs lots of other things, too!

I've never been a fan of trying to build a kid toward a particular path. Instead, I've always tried to expose them to as many options as possible and then support their interests. No matter where they are headed, though, I think it's good for kids to get hands on experience self-teaching and improvising and learning by experimentation, though. We have far too many humans who don't seem to know how to pick a topic of interest and dive in, and that's a scary thing to me.

Best contribution to the discussion I've seen in years

justniz's picture

This article is amazing and it so needed to be said by a woman.

As a male software developer of 35 years, who has only seen the same misguided feminist rants about "women in computing" from so many sources for a very long time now, I was beginning to think it was actually me that had lost all common sense. I remember how there used to be way more women in computing, and none of us developers of either gender used to make big deals about gender-specific needs or whatever, we all just worked together and got on with the job.

Its truly great to find out that there are still a few real women like you out there somewhere, rather than just a bunch of whiny princesses that many if not most professional women apparently are now.

Feminism is sexism

Ron 2's picture

Your son's school must be run by feminists. Thats why they blocked him from advancing his education. Feminism is sexism against men.

Feminism is not sexism

Nik's picture

Dear Ron:

You are wrong.

The fact that someone came up with a dumb idea in the spirit of advancing women in technology does not mean feminism is sexist against men--EVEN IF the person who came up with the idea calls themselves a feminist. A dumb idea is a dumb idea, and an individual cannot represent a concept.

Feminism is a men's issue as much as it is a women's issue, since the pervasive misogyny in our society puts social pressures on EVERYONE. It just looks like it's only a women's issue because the oppression of women happens in a far more active manner.

Sincerely,

A male feminist.

The word you're looking for...

Anonymous's picture

Nik, I think the word you're looking for is "humanist." Feminism isn't a men's issue, except insofar as it involves zero-sum "empowerment" that is hostile to men as a class. However, equality IS a major concern to men.

When I read Susan's excellent post, I think that she contributes to a field and groups that encourage potential, value the individual, and nourish advancement. by her telling, those groups also push back against the petty imperialisms of jerks. if anything, that spirit of expanding knowledge in the pursuit if what is true (and fighting the ideological and the biased) is the core of enlightenment humanism.

The word you're looking for...

Anonymous's picture

Nik, I think the word you're looking for is "humanist." Feminism isn't a men's issue, except insofar as it involves zero-sum "empowerment" that is hostile to men as a class. However, equality IS a major concern to men.

When I read Susan's excellent post, I think that she contributes to a field and groups that encourage potential, value the individual, and nourish advancement. by her telling, those groups also push back against the petty imperialisms of jerks. if anything, that spirit of expanding knowledge in the pursuit if what is true (and fighting the ideological and the biased) is the core of enlightenment humanism.

Amen, sister, AMEN!

mmmpork's picture

Thanks for this wonderful article. I am so frustrated with the recent handicapable vagenda that suggests women are delicate victims that must be coddled with separate but equal facilities... and any who don't agree are just internalizing the patriarchy. I find most of that comes from the most untechnical people who have started latching on to open source groups. I just keep hoping it will burn itself out, these women isolate themselves and don't contribute anything to the communities they are involved in. One good thing, it's motivated me to be more visibly active by speaking at conferences and contributing more. I've found my biggest issues to be at startups where young men (under 30) are put into lead management roles without sufficient emotional maturity. Most of the issues I've had in the workplace are mainly social, and usually I just chalked it up to a crappy manager. Many managers can't think beyond the white middle class male as their standard, which is very damaging not only to women but to men as well. In many startups I've worked at where the workforce average age is under 25, there's a sort of reddit inspired "Epeen" culture that you have to participate in to be respected. I've seen the same thing in many open source communities. Making this lack of emotional maturity an issue about one particular group (eg, women) is very short sighted in my opinion. The bigger issue is overall industry maturity and expecting a certain level of professional standards, regardless of your biological background. Software really is a creative field, but there needs to be a balance between letting the inmates run the asylum and letting the suits treat us like an assembly line.

Thanks a lot

Karmak23's picture

Thanks a lot for writing this.

It's the best contribution to the subject I've read so far.

I'd like to write in turn, but this would probably end up in a useless debate because of basic misunderstanding.

I'll just go back hacking :-)

Have a good day!

Thanks!

Tom174's picture

I have two daughters (5 and 8), and yes, we have dolls as well es Lego they like both (and soon, they will be my excuse to finally buy Mindstorm :))
Couple of weeks ago we built a short wave radio, they are still a bit scared of the soldering ion, but I do hope it will pass. They did like cutting the wires and, as long as i was holding the iron, they held the soldering wire (with about 1m distance ;)).
Whether they prefer dolls or Lego, I just don't care. If they become elemntary teachers like my wife, IT guys like me, plumbers, houswives.. as long as they are happy..

This piece is so true, I had

Jean D. Fongang's picture

This piece is so true, I had to thank you!

I peak at LJ every month and have not commented in almost 10 years, but just had to thank you for this article.

The last sentence is poignant:

" It was so much simpler when we didn't analyze so much, and just trounced on mean people for being mean."

People need to learn to keep life simple and not turn things into drama.

I must dissent.

Tess's picture

Studies have shown that the problem with girls in STEM is not getting them started early. Girls who are quite passionate about STEM frequently fall out of it, when they hit puberty. Getting young girls hacking is only a small piece of the puzzle, because we end up losing them, later on. The Computer Science department reforms at Harvey Mudd and CMU have a lot of potential to improve things, because they give women a chance to get back into things, after the gap (while also giving non-tech-privileged men a chance to get in, too!).

If you're passionate about this topic, perhaps you should stop shunning these "women in technology" groups, so you can be involved in these dialogues. It's OK -- we won't take away your "Just One of the Boys" card. I still have mine. ;-)

While I didn't give it a lot

Susan Sons (HedgeMage)'s picture

While I didn't give it a lot of words (it felt like the article was very long already), I did try to touch on the fact that it's not just childhood experiences that do it:

I imagine it has a lot to do with the sort of women who used to coo "but she could be so pretty if only she didn't waste so much time with computers".

That was something I heard over and over as a preteen and teen: that I'd never be attractive to a member of the opposite sex if I continued spending my time on computers. I think it might have worked to push me away from coding if I hadn't been "the fat kid" nobody was interested in anyway. The way I saw it, my chances of ending up partnered were so low it didn't really matter.

Ironically, once I hit college I learned that geeky females are in pretty high demand. Formerly the girl nobody wanted, I suddenly had to cope with multiple guys competing for my attentions. Crazy!

>> the problem with girls in

justniz's picture

>> the problem with girls in STEM is not getting them started early.

Wow. Why do they need to be "got started"? Your attitude that kids are just passive, dependent blobs that need completely guiding is the real problem in society these days.

Back in the late 70's I was 14 or so and I got myself started in electronics and computers. No school or home I knew of had a computer or anything like it. I didn't have electronics lessons, no one got me started, Yet I learnt digital electronics on my own and designed built my own simple computer from scratch. I don't mean just plugging a few pre-built boards together like you can easily do these days, I mean I hand-made circuits of my own design from standard TTL logic chips and a 6502 CPU on veroboard.

Its immeasurably easier these days to get into computing. Computers are already ubiquitous and the internet makes a ton of information available that I had no access to. If I could do it then, anyone can do it now. Maybe instead of thinking you need to provide for and guide the little princesses every step, you just need to stop doing everything for your kids and teach them to think and act for themselves.

I believe you misread the

Anonymous's picture

I believe you misread the comment. From what I can tell, you think she means something along the lines of, 'The solution is getting them started early;'

Whereas, what it looks to me like she means is, 'Some people think getting them started early, but that is not the problem. The reason I think that isn't a problem is because girls who do show an early interest lose that interest in puberty.'

So, in other words, she agrees with you that the solution has nothing to do with getting started early; I think she's suggesting the solution involves something that either keeps them interested through puberty if they're already interested, or regains their interest after puberty.

Maybe you're both right

Catherine Raymond's picture

Maybe you're both right.

Some girls are naturally attracted to STEM fields, and become discouraged when they receive active opposition or persistent discouragement. Other girls might develop an interest in STEM, even if they do not gravitate that way by themselves, if it is presented as an interesting possibility.

Russ Nelson made a good point when he noted that, although his daughter never developed a strong interest in STEM, she is at least unafraid of computers because of her parents' early efforts to present technology to her, and that IN ITSELF is a good thing.

In short, the best thing is "to teach [your kids] to think and act for themselves [justniz] and to crack down on people who are belittling or otherwise making it hard for kids to do so [Susan]

I understand your frustration

Michael C Smith's picture

I think part of this is the imposition of corporate culture upon open source culture.

Open source culture, for the most part, is okay with hacking, ad hoc organization, steep learning curves for n00bs, rude behavior toward the clueless, and just a metric f*ton of blue language.

Corporate culture hates all of this. Corporate culture demands top-down design, manager-heavy organization, coding for maintainability by people with shit-tier skills, documentation written for a 6th grade level, and not so much as the word "hell" in any communication.

One manifestation of this: if Bob sees Charlie acting like a jerk towards Alice, Bob steps in and chastises Charlie. Bob doesn't worry about looking like a White Knight -- it is assumed that Bob has no sexual interest in Alice. Bob simply expects Charlie to treat Alice like a professional colleague.

If my hypothesis is correct, it's a culture shift, and a painful one. And, you're in the dead center of it. I don't envy your position.

All the best.

Thank fuck for this article,

Anonymous's picture

Thank fuck for this article, I thought I'd been taking crazy pills for the last 10 years.

Hmm, this is quite a pickle

Lessinger's picture

Hmm, this is quite a pickle of a situation. I dunno what to think.

Great article!

Jim Lynch's picture

Susan,

I linked to your article in today's open source news roundup on ITworld:

http://www.itworld.com/open-source/403735/gender-doesnt-matter-linux-and...

Thanks so much for writing it, I shared some of my own experiences in the roundup working for and with women in technology over the last twenty years.

Yours is a voice of sanity in a sea of inane media blather about gender in technology. Well done.

I see what she did there...

Anonymous's picture

"It is not my fault some people don't read man pages, nor is it my job to hold their hand step-by-step so they don't have to."

Grr, why is this such a fuss!

Anonymous's picture

I've erased my comment so many times and restarted for fear of being called sexist. Which is part of the problem btw.

I really hate this "issue" because honestly who cares? Who sat there and thought "this mailing list post was written by a woman, lol *trash*", there's no book that has "fuck off slag" on the front, most of them should say "picture unrelated" or something.

Swear-words, bad jokes, meme references and so forth are fine in code-comments, it's supposed to be memorable, who among us hasn't used "Overly Possessive Girlfriend" captions in comments, to make dialogues popup as if written by the girl himself.

That meme isn't the product of a society trying to keep the women down, that's the result of extrapolating something to to the absurd and using the result as comedic fodder.

There are also overly possessive guys, the worst stalkers are (probably) guys, but writing a joke about making a lampshade out of someone's skin is not really a joke. Actually... vengence dad maybe... anyway!

I honestly am starting to treat girls specially just so I don't get accused of being sexist, which is sort of the opposite then think "no I shouldn't do that" and think "so should I not do this because I might be doing it only to 'prove' I am not sexist?" it's not right.

I say some truly horrible things during multiplayer games, and during my day to day life towards friends. http://macromeme.com/cat/friends-vs-best-friend.png is a great example. I regually call male friends faggots, it doesn't apply to girls so they don't get called it. Despite the fact that I have had boyfriends and am part gay I'm still happy to throw around ... I sound bad now... technically homophobic phrases - but they are never meant.

To clarify something in that (this is why I am posting anonymously) I liken my self to spaghetti, straight util it gets hot.

Anyway, there are 2 more things I want to say. First there's a pattern, if I am listening to/reading/discussing something about X and someone goes "well as an X I feel..." I automatically tune out, it becomes awkward, like talking about obesity to someone who is huge. It does't help, mostly, it just makes people tip-toe and act differently.

Secondly, please dont start an outreach program for women and stuff, recently I saw something about women in some job role but women only was at the bottom away from the title. I read it thinking "this'll be cool, I could go to this" then felt ... kind of left out because I couldn't. I'd not want to see some "sisterhood" (or "coven" for comedic effect :P) form where guys would be rejected for being guys. I was ever so disappointed when I read "women only" on that leaflet.

Oh and lastly! If you are "hanging" with a group of guys and they're throwing words like "bitch" about a lot (with intelligent people it is always meant in jest, if they intended to hurt they could form words that'd hit much harder, don't you think?) or somehow (and I don't get how it works) bonding by throwing insults at one another - please please join in. Become "one of the guys" (guys being convention, not meaning a group of men) engage in the banter.

The author mentioned the 12 men drinking thing and how bad that is, I sympathise, I recall once being at university and I had become friends with a group of black people. I'm pale and white, I felt out of place but after a while I felt like I was doing the walk from Reservoir Dogs, then I didn't care, I was enjoying the company, the thought never occurred to me. I think this is because we tend to vastly overestimate how much people care about and notice things.

I urge you ... women, to just join in. I don't care that you are women, if I never meet you in person it might not even register with me, I'll just "subconsciously" replace "he" with "she", I suspect most PEOPLE are the same.

I hope that this is realised and this "issue" dies down, I'd hate to be on edge around women for fear they take something badly.

I leave you guys with the following:
I once exclaimed "You bitch! This question will take forever" - not with an angry tone, a sort of sarcastic fake-angry tone I suppose, it's hard to explain, she stopped writing on the chalk board looked at me and said "deal with it princess", because of that she joined the 3 male subgroup of the tutor group, now we are great friends. If she hadn't have done that and instead filed a complaint.... Also bitch applies to all, no idea why, I have no good friend that I wont call a bitch.

Grr, why is this such a fuss!

Anonymous's picture

I've erased my comment so many times and restarted for fear of being called sexist. Which is part of the problem btw.

I really hate this "issue" because honestly who cares? Who sat there and thought "this mailing list post was written by a woman, lol *trash*", there's no book that has "fuck off slag" on the front, most of them should say "picture unrelated" or something.

Swear-words, bad jokes, meme references and so forth are fine in code-comments, it's supposed to be memorable, who among us hasn't used "Overly Possessive Girlfriend" captions in comments, to make dialogues popup as if written by the girl himself.

That meme isn't the product of a society trying to keep the women down, that's the result of extrapolating something to to the absurd and using the result as comedic fodder.

There are also overly possessive guys, the worst stalkers are (probably) guys, but writing a joke about making a lampshade out of someone's skin is not really a joke. Actually... vengence dad maybe... anyway!

I honestly am starting to treat girls specially just so I don't get accused of being sexist, which is sort of the opposite then think "no I shouldn't do that" and think "so should I not do this because I might be doing it only to 'prove' I am not sexist?" it's not right.

I say some truly horrible things during multiplayer games, and during my day to day life towards friends. http://macromeme.com/cat/friends-vs-best-friend.png is a great example. I regually call male friends faggots, it doesn't apply to girls so they don't get called it. Despite the fact that I have had boyfriends and am part gay I'm still happy to throw around ... I sound bad now... technically homophobic phrases - but they are never meant.

To clarify something in that (this is why I am posting anonymously) I liken my self to spaghetti, straight util it gets hot.

Anyway, there are 2 more things I want to say. First there's a pattern, if I am listening to/reading/discussing something about X and someone goes "well as an X I feel..." I automatically tune out, it becomes awkward, like talking about obesity to someone who is huge. It does't help, mostly, it just makes people tip-toe and act differently.

Secondly, please dont start an outreach program for women and stuff, recently I saw something about women in some job role but women only was at the bottom away from the title. I read it thinking "this'll be cool, I could go to this" then felt ... kind of left out because I couldn't. I'd not want to see some "sisterhood" (or "coven" for comedic effect :P) form where guys would be rejected for being guys. I was ever so disappointed when I read "women only" on that leaflet.

Oh and lastly! If you are "hanging" with a group of guys and they're throwing words like "bitch" about a lot (with intelligent people it is always meant in jest, if they intended to hurt they could form words that'd hit much harder, don't you think?) or somehow (and I don't get how it works) bonding by throwing insults at one another - please please join in. Become "one of the guys" (guys being convention, not meaning a group of men) engage in the banter.

The author mentioned the 12 men drinking thing and how bad that is, I sympathise, I recall once being at university and I had become friends with a group of black people. I'm pale and white, I felt out of place but after a while I felt like I was doing the walk from Reservoir Dogs, then I didn't care, I was enjoying the company, the thought never occurred to me. I think this is because we tend to vastly overestimate how much people care about and notice things.

I urge you ... women, to just join in. I don't care that you are women, if I never meet you in person it might not even register with me, I'll just "subconsciously" replace "he" with "she", I suspect most PEOPLE are the same.

I hope that this is realised and this "issue" dies down, I'd hate to be on edge around women for fear they take something badly.

I leave you guys with the following:
I once exclaimed "You bitch! This question will take forever" - not with an angry tone, a sort of sarcastic fake-angry tone I suppose, it's hard to explain, she stopped writing on the chalk board looked at me and said "deal with it princess", because of that she joined the 3 male subgroup of the tutor group, now we are great friends. If she hadn't have done that and instead filed a complaint.... Also bitch applies to all, no idea why, I have no good friend that I wont call a bitch.

Thank you for writing this!

Alex Reynard's picture

If I clap loudly enough here in Michigan, will you hear it wherever you are?

This was one of the best online articles I've read in years, honestly. It's not just the subject matter, but the writing itself. It's expressive, efficient and sharp. And, compared to other essays I see where I'm expected to believe someone just because they *insist* so fiercely what's true, it's a marvel to see you use so many examples and anecdotes to demonstrate what you're talking about. This is "show, don't tell" done right.

I've bookmarked this article because I know I'm going to want to refer to it again eventually. Frankly, you say a lot of things I've tried to convey to other people, but better. Especially about being adults instead of children. Being childlike is fine (said by the 31 year old man who still collects Transformers), being childISH is not. I see a lot of childishness when I talk about this topic. People replace arguments with insults. They call it an "attack" to be criticized. They turn 'I'm offended' into 'you're a threat'. And, sadly often, they block or ban rather than allow any communication at all. I really would prefer to live in a world where we're not trained to see each other as enemy combatants. It seems like girls are taught from birth that every man and boy has a loaded gun pointed at them, and the boys are left permanently perplexed, trying to put away a gun they can't see.

On a lighter note, I also appreciated the autobiographical parts of this. It brought me back to being a kid again, using my trusty screwdriver to take apart and put back together every toy I owned. :)

Also, the three lectures made me snarl in rage, and the line about child molesters or worse made me guffaw loudly.

Will you adopt me?

choperena's picture

Ok, I admit that I am 33, but you are the first person I have found that doesn't view me as an anomaly. I grew up in Mexico City, where I got a degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. I was the only girl in a class of 30 guys, and they always made me feel like just another person in the class. I'll admit that I probably got more locker room talk than I would have liked, but that's because nobody cared my gender. It was irrelevant.

Moving to the US for grad school was very heartbreaking. Materials Science is a very balanced discipline, so I didn't have any gender problems here, but the moment I stepped outside of my lab, I was barraged with accusations that I am oppressed for being a woman in STEM, and that I'm just not noticing the harassment, or I'm a freak because it happens to EVERYBODY ELSE.

Thank you very much for this article, and for reminding me that it is ok to just be a normal part of the group.
Drea.

Thank you for your kind

Susan Sons (HedgeMage)'s picture

Thank you for your kind words. I know *exactly* that feeling.

If I were being oppressed, I'd like to think I'd have been the first to know. :)

so it's not just me?

Another woman in CS's picture

I always wondered why it was that *I* had never been harassed or oppressed.

At various points I thought maybe it was because I was a strong woman and honestly, I probably could have kicked ass of anyone who would have even thought to try. I've been told maybe I'm oblivious to it - like it's possible to miss... And when someone has treated me less than I thought I deserved I just assumed they were a jerk, or not smart enough to see that I was right or too insecure to admit I was smarter than he was - I've never in my life assumed it was misogyny...

Or maybe this was because I've always felt more like "one of the guys" and only started having women friends once I started meeting other women like me - who didn't have the same interests as majority of the other girls and always related better to geeky boys than anyone else ... and were usually the only girl there.

Congratulations

mitcoes's picture

Girls usually like other things than boys, BUT and and it is a big BUT "girly boys" or "lesbian boys" or viceversa are minorities that usually do not have an easy way to learn.

It is not sexist what your boy was told it would happen almost the same to boys at a clothes design class. And there will be always exceptions.

If you see any Tech class you will not be able to find any with more than 50% women but some other studies as medicine or education are dominated by women.

Women - or men - are not dam we are, each one, better for some things, and, in general better for some tasks than others with a big percentage of exceptions.

In my opinionon the problem in education is the NO IQ segmentation, men and women with the same IQ are very similar in interests, There are more men with low IQ results than women and also more with higher one.So there are more genius men and more idiots men than women, BUT as this idiot women use to go to special schools with this special men, THERE IS NO SPECIAL GROUPS or SCHOOLS for high IQ boys and girls.

Getting started

SynchroM's picture

Great article.

Sander, browse/search for projects that you find interesting, find their github repos (I'd suggest you avoid sourceforge to save picking up bad habits!), take a look at their issues list, see if there's anything you can do to help with the skills you have. If you're not up to that, fix a typo in some documentation and use that to learn how to fork a git repo and submit a pull request. Then do the same again, but faster and better! No need to stick to one project, there are millions of them to choose from. Open-source projects always need contributions, no matter how small. Here's a nice article on getting started with github.

been on both sides of this one..

zapster's picture

I started out as a machine designer in '73, just a couple years after Title IX passed, the law that said girls had to be able to take the same courses as boys. I was a farm kid too, and was used to having to fix the baler and stretch fences, but I had not been allowed to take any "male" courses in school, which included such things as advanced math, physics and chemistry. And drafting, the first year I requested it. After Title IX passed tho, I insisted on taking it in my last 2 years, missing one year of it. Anyway, that resulted in an internship at a local engineering company and a full-time job--and that was to satisfy the also-new Affirmative Action law, of course. It was a profoundly uneasy position to be in. I was clueless, and the resentment against me as token woman was relentless. But clearly, I would never have had a chance without the law, so I ran with it.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and the internet appeared, I got a Vic 20 at a pawn shop and taught myself peek and poke and a little assembly eventually. I had a houseful of small children by that time. Layoffs in the engineering biz were a fact of life, so over time I taught myself a good bit about hardware, and eventually grew into an electronics engineer, designing circuits and boards and stuff, and I found my way into IRC.

The first time I dropped into an electronics channel on Dalnet, I was immediately slammed with 10 pms--half of them the most vicious abuse I'd ever seen and the other half making pornographic suggestions. I never had a chance to even lurk. I immediately changed my nick to one that concealed my gender and didn't reveal it again to anyone for the next 10 years. Fortunately, being in my 20's, it didn't do any lasting damage. It might have to a 12 year old tho.

Work in the real world eventually got better because the next generation was a lot less weirded out by women than mine was, but it was a long time before it changed much in the irc world. I am delighted to report that now it actually has, and I love my friends there and find plenty of support for whatever I want to do, even from guys that know I'm a girl. And I, too, am frustrated by the shortage of women. However, I know at least 3 now that are chemistry or physics majors and at least one of those is also a hacker, so we're starting to show up. I do my best to encourage them. I also suspect that there may be more of us around than are willing to let on.

But I can see why most girls just don't get there. It takes, if not a supportive family, one that doesn't get in your way and lets you have the gear and the time to pursue it, as well as a strong sense of your own competence and often, a fairly thick skin.

This is an awesome account tho, and I'm delighted to see that things genuinely have improved for others of us. We're out there, we just need to open the door a little wider.

Just what I've always said

tracy_anne's picture

Only way more eloquently. Thank you, my personal experience tells me you are correct.

While it is hardly a useful statistic, everything I've seen in the last 35 + years, as a programmer, with respect to this subject supports your thesis. There were way more women programmers back then, and now there are less, and less showing interest and less staying the course. There are in my opinion two major reasons cultural indoctrination... where those who would are dissuaded early, and steered into less productive (and in my opinion less interesting) areas of technology, primarily to become consumers, and Gender Politics, which as often as not creates creates a situation where those who are not dissuaded by cultural conditioning are made to feel less by the very people who claim to want to improve the situation, and give up.

This is the first time in a long time that I have responded to any piece on the subject, as I usually find most of those involved in Gender Politics strident and rather bullying towards those who disagree with what I call Political Correctness.

Me too

justniz's picture

As another developer who's been around for 35 years I also have seen exactly the same things and completely agree with everything you said.

and the mystery is solved

Erinn's picture

Wow. Just...wow. And you wonder why women don't read this rag.

ad hominem

quadling's picture

Troll, please ignore parent

:-)

Sander Teunissen's picture

great to see I'm not the only one who thinks like this :-) I afree with you on every point.I am against discrimination against and before race, gender or anything else unrelated to the actual point. Which is programming in this case. That being said, I could use someone to help me get started on a small open source project. I'd like to try something small but I don't really know how to get started. Could you or some other reader perhaps help me at getting started?

Hey, Sander... If you need

Susan Sons (HedgeMage)'s picture

Hey, Sander...

If you need more help, feel free to chase me down on irc.freenode.net (I'm HedgeMage), but here are some tips to get you started:

Don't try to found a nontrivial project until you've worked on a couple. There's so much to grok about development practices, social stuff, and so on that can't be explained as well as it can be learned through experience.

Pick something you *use*. It's quite simply easier to maintain interest, and easier to stay informed and do a good job, if you are working on software you use.

Start with scutwork. It takes time to mentor someone, and you'll find it's easier to find help if you show you're willing to help the community, too. It's pretty easy to help give support on IRC, to improve documentation, and/or to triage issues in the issue queue. Once you're "the helpful guy/girl", start branching out and finding other things you want to do -- a bug that's been bothering you, a feature you wish the software had -- and ask for help when you need it. Be ready to read documentation, and learn to ask smart questions so that you are a pleasure to help.

It's amazing how much you can learn when you're willing to step up and lend a hand. With a little luck, you'll find a good mentor or mentors who can help you know where to go from there.

Happy coding!

--Susan

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