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Why Women Don't Code? (quillette.com)
105 points by jseliger 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

My first computer was a BBC micro and I "wrote" my first code using GW Basic when I was between the age of 5 and 10.

I now have two daughters, and it's my goal to give them every opportunity to do the same.

Recently I sat down with my eldest and we wrote Ruby together to print out her name in rainbow colours on a terminal. She loved it.

As part of the journey of being a parent, I've come to realise how gender biased the world is. It's even encoded in our picture books. My mother taught me to flip all pro-nouns to female. Because, otherwise, it's "Bob the Builder" and "Mr Fox climbs the mountain". Pick up any kids book and count the male/female ratio. Look at who does the talking, who makes the decisions. It's encoded in our kids from day 1.

Until we change the foundations of our society, we will have results like this.

> My mother taught me to flip all pro-nouns to female

There are languages where pronouns are not gender-red, they are neutral and you see the same results.

> I've come to realise how gender biased the world is

A lot of it is due to biology itself being "biased" and a lot of society evolved to accommodate those sex differences.

I think tech is over glorified and is presented as this boy's club where everything is amazing, ignoring the downsides. I don't think most people would find it fun to maintain a legacy financial application or to work every weekend to finish off the video game because the publisher refuses to adjust the release date.

My native tongue (Turkish) is one language without grammatical gender. Learning languages with it, it was immediately clear to me that that was a problematic thing. Luckily no revolutions are needed, as languages tend to become more analytical and lose grammatical gender progressively.

I think that what enabled women to gain many rights and at times actual equality in most societies was/is technology. Before widespread use of advanced technology, we needed actual muscle power to survive, and that was what shaped the societies since hunter gatherers through various stages of agrarian societies. As machines substituted raw muscle power in many areas of production, women could become part of the workforce too. And thus we had a virtuous cycle of more potential and more power, which affected in turn women's rights and their participation in many other areas. Since the decades following industrial revolution, they became more and more present steadily in politics, academia, culture, etc., becoming quickly co-protagonists of modern life.

Thus, I believe women should really get into technology, and become actual tech people instead of many faux-techie types we see that are promoted as symbols of how feminist a workplace/org is or as figurines to "lure" women into STEM and IT. I really want women to be the change they want. Today, there are few women in FOSS that are famous and revered for their technical skills, actually only Jessica McKellar comes to my mind (and I'm not talking the designer types here). I think they should just force their way in into the building blocks of the ecosystem.

As males, what can we do? Well, a Linus-y mailing list turns me as a male (from Turkey where both men and women enjoy casual swearing). So we get rid of it, not only to include more women, but also more men from among the sensible, mature demographic. We also do away with the caricaturising stereotypes. Many people think a programmer is an asocial and overweight nerd living in a cubicle in the morning and isolated in a badly-lit room in the evening/night. So we can just not spread misinformation about us. We also maintain our decency around females, because many weird shit guys do that I read in similar threads here in the past is just straight-out psychopatical and very cringy. Other than that, it's on women to make the decision and pursue the careers.

I dream of a world where one's sex is just a biological detail that matters in their amorous affairs and private life. And, futhermore, I know that it's totally possible ATM. It's only a matter of time.

> women could become part of the workforce too

> women's rights and their participation in many other areas.

> Since the decades following industrial revolution, they became more and more present steadily in politics, academia, culture, etc., becoming quickly co-protagonists of modern life.

Some studies say that as a result they are unhappier and have less children.

See: https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/files/wp09-11bk.pdf

> I dream of a world where one's sex is just a biological detail that matters in their amorous affairs and private life.

Do you want men and women to act, think and feel exactly the same?

I dont want to be men and women, I want to be persons. I want us to transcend all the categories.

We dont work to be happy. We work to earn money. Also, women are not baby factories. Just like we are not sperm dispensers.

> I want us to transcend all the categories.

I don't think that's a happy outcome. Identity is important.

Identity could be personal. I think on this matter quite often. It would be off-topic to ponder on this at length here, but I can summarise saying: I think categories and identity are different, and tye former takes away from the latter, instead of adding to it.

There's actually a spectrum between, being fairly treated in the workforce and in politics, and 'think and feel exactly the same'

> politics

US almost had a female president. Germany, which is the most powerful country in the EU has a female chancellor. The UK has a female prime minister.

> workforce


> There's actually a spectrum

How far down that spectrum do we need to go in your mind?

Good example. When a woman in America can get the same fair shake as a black man, then we've made progress.

Can you point out everyday situations where this is the case?

I tend to agree with everything you say. I'd like to call out this part:

I believe women should really get into technology, and become actual tech people instead of many faux-techie types

I was surprised to read this, but not totally surprised. I've been wondering when this phenomenon will start to be publicly discussed. I think women faking technical skills to benefit from "women in tech" hype is a really serious problem that isn't discussed anywhere near enough, probably because people are scared of the crazed feminist witch-burning crowd. But women and especially actually technically skilled women need to start addressing it head on.

The problem of fake "women in tech" seems to have grown astronomically in the last few years. I've been writing software for decades but I don't remember noticing this even as recently as 2010. It will, eventually, if not strongly discouraged, cause men to quietly and silently start assuming that a western female who claims to be a programmer or claims to be technical is probably lying (10x so if she's attractive!). This risks setting back equality of opportunity in technology, which I think everyone agrees on, by many years.

In the past year alone I've encountered perhaps four or five cases of women who exaggerate their technical abilities to the media or others online, to the extent that they're just deliberately deceiving people. One case was a journalist who claimed in her bio she was also a contributor to a somewhat well known open source library, which surprised me because why would you be a low paid journalist on a low traffic tech news site if you had programming skills good enough to take part in that project? Turns out her "contribution" was a single character typo fix in a comment, submitted through the github web UI. Another case involves a woman who was put in charge of a corporate funded open source project and liked to loudly and repeatedly claim to the media that she was a 'hacker' with an interest in machine learning and cloud infrastructure, who hung out and gave talks at hacker conferences. She actually did give a talk at a security conference once: on suicide prevention. She has no program traceable to her anywhere, no history of doing any programming work in the past and no github account despite the project she led being hosted on github. In short, no evidence of these supposed hacker skills are anywhere to be found. She is allowed to make these claims about her skills unchallenged because nobody will criticise a "woman in tech".

Of course most cases aren't so blatant. But they add up. It makes total sense for women to do this. Claiming to be technical has become a free pass to jobs, status and wealth and they know nobody will call them on it.

Unfortunately in an environment where Damore can't even suggest that men and women are different in ways that cause them to have different interests without getting fired, the far more touchy subject of deliberately deceptive behaviour by women is unlikely to ever come up outside of anonymous forums. The problem will fester until many years have passed and attitudes have become entrenched. Neo-Victorian attitudes may rise again. It could be a terrible pity.

I'm not sure we've demonstrated that men behave any differently? Then this becomes a simple strawman with 'woman' painted on it.

> I'm not sure we've demonstrated that men behave any differently

We don't need to demonstrate it because men can't take advantage of the gender diversity wave, they were talking specifically about untalented women(in tech) taking advantage of diversity programs that are supposed to help talented women. The reason this is important is because it creates the stereotype that the reason women need diversity initiatives is because they are not as good as men are in the field.

Anybody with relevant character flaws can behave this way. It's just that popular approaches for diversity are easily exploitable by such people.

Men absolutely will exaggerate skills to try and win status and profit: I've caught men lying on CVs before.

The difference is that when they get caught they are swiftly dealt with. There is no social pressure to go easy on men in tech. If a man exaggerated his technical skills to the point that he was claiming to be a hacker and open source programmer but couldn't point to any programs or actual contributions of code, he would rightly be laughed at and dropped from a hiring pipeline. If he was busy making such claims to the media, journalists would investigate and expose him.

The incentives not to do this mean that whilst it does happen, I feel it's much rarer. I don't remember the last time I encountered a male journalist making unsubstantiable claims to be an open source contributor.

Thanks, I mostly agree you too. This topic is a hard one to discuss, nearly a taboo. A proof might be that this post was flagkilled, luckily when I mailed the mods about it they did unkill it.

When I said faux-techies I mostly thought about HTML/CSS programmer types. While I did not know about the types you talk about, it's not very hard to believe, given how the way we execute this whole diversity thing is so open and defenceless to exploitation by bad actors. Unfortunately taboos mixed with a prejudiced view of woman as a naive, pure being (which is deeply patriarchal, if anything) are a big obstacle.

Thank you for contacting the mods. I am entirely unsurprised that the response to my post was to try and suppress it rather than post any replies or arguments against it.

The sort of people who support these diversity movements always seem to be the same sort of people who immediately jump for censorship and other communist-style tactics. If the way to figure out who runs society is just to look at who you aren't allowed to criticise, then we surely live in a matriarchy.

Oh, actually the story itself was flagkilled, not your comment. I contacted to unkill it. Sorry for the misunderstanding :)

In your second comment you go a bit too far. Yeah feminism has a problem with accepting criticism and with extremisms, and so are many activist types, but that does not invalidate feminism and activism by itself. We need both, but we also need more calm and more reason. And matriarchy is so inexistent that it might be dark matter.

I think the poster may have meant proper nouns rather than pronouns?

(Well, I mean the "builder" part of "Bob the Builder" may need to be flipped in some languages, but I'd assume there aren't that many women named Bob, so...)

If you want to see the foundations of our society, ask and investigate what create social status. Even at preschool, kids usually arranging themselves into group with a hierarchy. Usually those groups are separated on gender, through at the youngest age group they tend to be a bit mixed and by the time kids hit puberty its almost fully sorted into groups of single-gender. Age 5 to 10 should provide a bit of insight into this process.

What signals is encoded in our society that make one girl to get higher social status among other girls. Similar, what signals are encoded to give one boy higher social status among other boys. In that difference between the two strategies for social status, what incentives has parents if they want their child to have high social status among other children.

From that point we can look at what puberty does to the incentives to maximize social status among one own gender, and the relation to dating. Add a few additional years and they have to pick career paths with accumulates all those incentives into a point where gender segregation really start to pick up speed.

I think there's discussion about how segregation of the sexes during a period can lead to improved outcomes, and that children cross-culturally self-segregate.

I could not reply to this earlier since the topic was dead and flagged.

There has been some data to show that gender segregated schools can create improved academical outcomes, through I have not seen conclusive meta studies if the improvement is statistical true or how large the effect is. A common criticism to gender segregated education is that it harms gender segregation in society and reduce pro-social behavior, which in context of this article would be counter-productive.

I visited Toys ‘r’ Us shortly after they started shutting down, and saw a pile of drum sets. Half were black, half were pink.

I was pleased to see the black sets showed both a boy and a girl using the drums. However, the pink ones showed only the girl.

Progress? I suppose. We have a long road ahead.

It's also interesting to note that not too long ago, pink was considered a masculine colour.

Would you mind expanding upon that or providing a link? That would be a very interesting read for me!


Recent studies have shown that gender differences in personality tend to be larger in developed countries. I think more developed countries tend to have a toxic set of socal standards.

If you want to figure out why women are underrepresented in technology, examine the differences between boys and girls toddlers and how they interact with their environment. There is a 'girls toys' isle in store but not a 'boys toys'.

Work you way up to 4th grade and see that most girls remain interested in math and science but when they hit 6th grade something changes, a young woman feels pressure to express herself in certain ways or face social stigma.

There's a reason Big Bang theory is one of the few American shows banned in China, it's not just good old fashioned American anti-intellectualism, it's social engineering.

Maybe it's cultural differences, maybe it's preference. I will provide an anecdote. I'm a woman who enjoys coding, and is currently in a math degree. Growing up, my toys were never pre-selected although my mother encouraged my love of puzzles (lego and toys like that). Still, I had an obsession with dolls as most girls seemed to, and I remember genuinely enjoying those things. There was no pressure, I simply liked caring for and dressing up tiny models of myself and my friends. I think for most girls this is genuinely a true preference that carries on into adult life. In fact, I'm still toying with either becoming an independent developer or a math teacher for young children, and often wonder if I'd even like to be a stay-at-home mom and do some freelance stuff.

I don't think we can say either way what it is that "keeps" girls from science, but I honestly lean towards the preference angle. There are differences between males and females and that's okay.

Exactly. I grew up in quite poor family and shared room/toys with my sister the whole time - we played the same Lego sets, I made dresses from cloth scraps for dolls, we both collected toy cars and Kinder sets. Still, since the early childhood the differences were already clear and the gap only increased with the time. I strongly believe that the key reason on why we have few women in IT (or math, physics, engineering for that matter) is natural preferences combined with peer pressure, so simply making childhood sex neutral won't make a real difference.

The differences in personality in more egalitarian societies is due to biological and psycho-social reasons.

When women are less constrained, then they follow their passions (ie: biological instincts and passions to work with people vs. things)

Follow Hanlon's Razor: Do not ascribe to oppression which could more simply be explained by exercising Freedom of Choice.

Why do we not discuss how women vastly outnumber men in Nursing and Teaching? The disparity there is remarkable.

What about Military?

The fact is that we have biodiversity (taller vs shorter people, brown hair vs lighter) and it we also have psychological diversity as well.

I never watched Big Bang Theory - what is it about the show that you think got it banned in China?

China has just as large, if not larger, challenges in getting women into and keeping them in tech jobs. The overtime cheerleaders don’t help matters.

Also, Big Bang theory is really popular in China, my wife had already seen every episode when we were living in Beijing (I don’t have any intrest in the show). The reason for the ban (which doesn’t affect piracy sites) is probably more financial than cultural.

Or it was banned in China for basic economic reasons as highlighted in this article? http://adage.com/article/global-news/real-reason-china-banne...

He argues that the 30% share current top US CS schools are getting is the global maximum. I think he is missing the “Whys” for women in tech and “perceived sense of individual strengths being too good for tech”, is not one of them.

Coding is a form of communication. Knowing how to write is essential today and you’re not going to write less about your passions just because you are so much better at swimming. Some of the reasons I pursued coding were:

- Because I grew up in the middle of nowhere and knew the whole world could see my work online. I didn’t want to be put under a lid. Code, like writing, lets your work be seen across locations and time.

- Because of economic opportunity - I could build tools that earn a living for me, so my earnings are not dependent on my work hours (a very VERY attractive feature for women).

- Because every coding effort is cumulative. No work result is dependent on the testimony of others. You can see if it works or doesn’t and the more you do, the more people see when they see you. Fantastic property when women are often discounted in the workplace.

- Because no matter what new passion I develop, I could always make a living building something around it with code. Handy skill, if you think you have social abilities, not a disadvantage.

The curious part was that I’ve always loved to code, but the periods of burnout that I’ve experienced came from work culture not the nature of the work. Coworkers hitting on female programmers and retaliating when feelings are not reciprocated; meatgriding business models that push for time spent billing vs actual productivity; discounting biased people, who make your life hell by presumption instead of fact. The cure was always to take an entrepreneurial route - work to rise above the role that drains you by using some of those notorious social skills, then build a kick ass project that relies on your skill and not someone else’s permission.

Coding is not a narrow career path and neither is a CS degree. It is a power and a freedomm. Show everyone the basics and let them taste the opportunity it presents in a required K-12 class.

I agree with a lot of your points. But I feel compelled to respond.

> Coding is a form of communication

Yes, but it's also so much more than this. Not everyone is capable of the mental gymnastics or visualisation required to be a good software engineer, and that's okay.

> Because of economic opportunity...

While there are a ton of practical reasons to do things in life, if you don't love algorithms and data structures (at some level), programming will ultimately be a chore.

That being said, I agree that learning to write code is empowering, and everyone should learn to do it. But that's different from working as a software engineer.

You might enjoy this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imV3pPIUy1k

True, and the mental gymnastics in Law, Surgery, and a number of other fields are also hard, if not harder, but they still attract =>50% women these days. Maybe we could draw some of these women by showing the broader purpose behind coding as a challenge worthy of a career. Working as a software engineer is an undersell. You could be a founder of a tech company, a researcher in AI tool that finds cancer better than Radiologists.

> - Because of economic opportunity - I could build tools that earn a living for me, so my earnings are not dependent on my work hours (a very VERY attractive feature for women).

Perhaps which is why developing countries like India has much more women engineers than rich developed countries? Once women can pursue their passion and have reasonable incomes, programming goes way down the list?

> Show everyone the basics and let them taste the opportunity it presents in a required K-12 class.

Is programming NOT a required class during high school anywhere in a developing/developed country? I got out of school a decade ago and programming was a part of "IT" class, which was required. From what I hear, now they're putting even more programming into curriculum and introducing it at earlier age.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that women have to hear "Well... maybe it's just that women aren't naturally good at programming" 17 billion times throughout their careers.

Do they hear this from white men smoking cigars?

They ought to man up.

I remmeber attitudes towards info tech modules at school, some of the more popular girls would chatter that it's boring and not glamourous. This is because they've been taught they need to focus on other areas, now the geek will inherit the earth and they are all bandwagoning

"Equality of outcome" is a straw-man. Inequality of outcomes sometimes get presented as evidence of inequality of opportunity, but it is hardly the only evidence.

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