Computers and Technology

How Computer Science Became a Boys’ Club

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    • #443966
      alcina
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      • Total Posts: 897

      When people picture the archetypal computer nerd, they probably imagine a certain character: unkempt, eccentric, maybe a bit awkward around women—embodying a very specific, and perhaps unexpected, form of masculinity. Yet computer programming wasn’t born male. As computing historian Nathan Ensmenger notes, programming was initially seen as a woman’s job. So how did the male nerd come to dominate the field and popular ideas about it? 

      https://daily.jstor.org/how-computer-science-became-a-boys-club/

      I was not aware of this, though it makes sense given my own experience. Back in the mid 70s, I signed up for a programming class at the local community college. I was one of two females in the class, and the other dropped out part way through. The instructor probably could have been more hostile to us, but not without employing an actual cudgel. Any time I solved the question on the chalkboard — and I solved most of them and was often the only one who did — he would say it was a lucky guess, or ask who gave me the answer. After I aced the midterm, he called me into his office and tried to get me to confess that I’d somehow cheated. When I solved a new problem in front of him then and there, he grudgingly gave me the A I’d earned. But at the end of the term, he told me I was not welcome in the higher-level course that he taught.

      "The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them." -Julius Nyerere, First President of Tanzania

    • #443975
      jbnw
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      • Total Posts: 5,740

      I’ve worked as a programmer, usually with women and men, and taught computer science at several universities. Yes, there are usually more men than women in courses and in the field, but I have never heard or seen this during my career, thankfully.

    • #444055
      Mindwalker
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      • Total Posts: 385

      It was a way to avoid having to deal with people.  Good on you for sticking it out through that class – wish there had been more female programmers when I was growing up.

      • #444271
        alcina
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        • Total Posts: 897

        Thanks, @mindwalker. I learned BASIC at 14, and then the APL class at 15. I liked that language so much I eventually ended up working with an APL group, but as a writer not a coder. My youthful exuberance for programming had by that time been replaced with an enthusiasm for grammatical bookkeeping. Also a reasonably good way to avoid dealing with people. 😉

        "The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them." -Julius Nyerere, First President of Tanzania

    • #444275
      surrealAmerican
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      • Total Posts: 1,056

      In elementary school (in the ’70s) we had an “av club” – these were the students who ran projectors for film strips. It started by going to each forth or fifth grade classroom and asking for two boys to volunteer. I, as a girl, was interested, but it was never an option for girls. I don’t think it ever occurred to any of the teachers to ask for “two students” instead of “two boys”.

      Those “av club” boys wound up being most of the “computer club” in high school.

      • #444441
        alcina
        Participant
        • Total Posts: 897

        @surrealAmerican

        I had the same experience with chess club in the late 60s. My dad had to make a fuss to get me in — my mom’s fuss didn’t count. But once I was in, most of the boys refused to play against me and the teacher just shrugged.

        Thinking back, the projector kids probably were all boys, along with the hall monitors. I know I got to take the milk money to the office a few times, so I guess that was an acceptable role for girls. Maybe early training for doing the grocery shopping.

        "The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them." -Julius Nyerere, First President of Tanzania

    • #444276
      djean111
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      • Total Posts: 6,558

      at my first job.  Husband worked at huge insurance company, I asked if I could take the test, aced the test, was then told if I was a real woman I would stay a clerk until I got pregnant and then stay home.  First job – asked if I took birth control at the interview,  aced IBM logic test, took the job and fought years of sexism.  At that time programming was not really taught in college, one learned on the job or in classes at, say, IBM or HP or Tandem sites.  Stuff like even after I was Senior Programmer, I was always sent to get fleet car keys for the guys, instead of the guys or the secretary – because the guys in Fleet liked my legs.  Have gone into detail elsewhere here, but yeah, it could certainly be a boy’s club.

      America is not a country, it's just a business. (Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly)

      Everything I post is just my opinion, and, honestly, I would love to be wrong.

      • #444438
        alcina
        Participant
        • Total Posts: 897

        @djean111

        It wasn’t much different in the 90s and noughts, though it was a strange mix of sexism and wokeness. Eg, my biggest advocate at one tech place — a manager who got me multiple promotions, sent me on amazing training courses, and made sure my pay was always equal to or better than the guys in similar positions — constantly told people that it was my “ta-tas” that got me the job, but my brain that helped me keep it. He publicly referred to me as Tinkerbell, and on more than one occasion invited me to sit on his lap. (For the record, I always declined.) The few times I expressed my discomfort with his comments, he brushed me off and said I needed to lighten up. At another job — in Silicon Valley with the wokest of woke dudes all waving their feminist flags — a dotted-line manager refused to call me by name, simply referring to me as “the chick.” A coworker repeatedly thanked me for having “upward-pointing nipples.” Another asked me on multiple occasions if I’d flash him. Even offered me money! And on and on. My direct manager’s take was basically, it’s just harmless fun. HR’s suggestion was that I wear baggy sweaters, which was what that particular HR person had found worked for her. So it’s really no wonder that the more successful females “leaned in” and became almost as sexist as the guys. My manager in that last example eventually became a VP.

         

        "The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them." -Julius Nyerere, First President of Tanzania

        • #444442
          djean111
          Participant
          • Total Posts: 6,558

          Like being able to program was just a clever trick or something.  And my experience with the women who made management is why I begged to differ that women in management are kinder and nicer than men in management.   It is capitalism and the corporate structure that can create monsters.  I did have fun traveling for work, being off-site on another continent or country was fantastic.  But I believe I still do not trust “management” or anyone who thinks they should be managing.  Hah, the most heart-felt apologies and explanations of even perceived sexism I ever got – were from the Japanese guys I worked with.   Took a few beers for them to bring up the subject, but well done.   Back here, a manager laughed when we all had to attend sexual harassment meetings, and said hey, I thought I was good at that, maybe I can get better at it!  Which was absolutely true.  This was in the late ’90’s.

          America is not a country, it's just a business. (Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly)

          Everything I post is just my opinion, and, honestly, I would love to be wrong.

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