Girls Don't Want to Be Nerds!
May 1, 2001 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Girls Don't Want to Be Nerds! You know, women like this are the worst enemies women in IT have. I look around the personal web and see nothing but energetic, creative young women embracing technology - not running from it.
posted by gsh (28 comments total)
"More than a century later, girls think computers are bad for their image. As a result, there is a dearth of role models to teach them otherwise: A study of the top 150 public tech companies in Silicon Valley found that only four had female CEOs."

as a result? oh, right, it has nothing to do with the frat-boy-on-speed atmosphere of the IT/dot com industry, or the lack of female CEOs in general, or, or ... right. it's all the girls' fault. COMPUTERS HAVE COOTIES. i forgot. please excuse me while i go apply some more lipstick.
posted by maura at 10:56 AM on May 1, 2001

Waitaminute, why are you two so vehemently against what Korenmann is saying? This is what I read:

1. Young women (in general) don't want to be perceived as "geeks".

2. So-called "Women's sites" are oftentimes little more than backwards sexist pabulum.

3. The idea that women aren't entering IT because they are more interested in nurturing professions is crap.

4. There are few female role models in high tech.

5. The perception of computer careers should change so that the stereotypical geek isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

I don't see her blaming young women, or saying that there aren't women embracing the technology, or anything negative about women in general; instead, she is saying that there is a perception problem, that our society is still perpetuating the myth that men are more suitable than women when it comes to computers, and that the sooner that high tech fields are seen as gender neutral, the sooner there will be gender balance.

So what's the problem, or am I reading this wrong?
posted by Avogadro at 11:22 AM on May 1, 2001

"The last thing a 14-year-old girl wants to be associated with is a geek with broken glasses and a pocket protector," Korenman said. "They see it as a threat to femininity."

I agree with Ms. Korenman's strong stand against stereotyping people.

OTOH, in 15 years in the tech industry, I've never actually met someone who uses a pocket protector.
posted by swell at 11:27 AM on May 1, 2001

Pocket protectors were necessary when nerds carried pens. In the beginning, virtually all nerds were bona-fide engineers (not "software engineers" as we refer to programmers today), and drafting pens were important tools of the trade; no engineer wanted to be without one if they had a brainstorm. Of course, the habit went into serious decline with the rise of CAD, and pocket protectors are more or less extinct today. The twenty-first century nerd carries a Palm for jotting down their inspirations, which are likely to be code, not diagrams and drawings.
posted by kindall at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2001

I think its just her perception that woman aren't wanted in the IT field.

Just as it is her perception that I am 4 eyed geek with a pocket protector. (I don't wear glasses and wore a Puma T-shirt and jeans to work at my IT job)

it is a simply flawed view.
posted by Qambient at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2001

Main point:

Yes, I agree with her. But the way to do it is to make tech culture cool for women. A lot of women are getting into IS classes at local colleges & universities, not many are getting into CS classes. A lot of the "geeks" I know hang out at secret locales such as Henry Fords in Beaverton, OR... and no one ever finds them because they're not at the normal clubs, etc. for the age group where women are still looking at careers.

This ties in to what the real fear is: That being a geek or a computer nerd or even into computers cuts you off from the rest of mainstream society. What they don't recognize, because they can't see, is that computers let you into a whole other society, one that is in many ways more realistic and much cooler than the mainstream.

Side note:
Women are in danger of becoming the new illiterates
Doh! Hey, why don't you solve the OLD illiterates, first? Like the 5th graders in inner-city schools that don't know how to read? Yeah.

posted by SpecialK at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2001

saying 'girls think computers are bad for their image' is the sole reason for the lack of female role models, which the article *does* do in the bit i quoted, is wrong, wrong, wrong. while i do agree with some of other points you pointed out (especially as someone who used to work at a site geared towards females), that bit really stuck in my craw, because it's totally oversimplifying other factors to make a wrongheaded point.
posted by maura at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2001

> 1. Young women (in general) don't want to be perceived as
> "geeks".

There's the core of the problem right there. Not every single IT person in the world is a stereotypical geek, but IT work strongly attracts and is very congenial to your basic geek personality. That's the kind of person who does well at the kind of tasks that IT work requires. There won't be gender equity in the field until more women are interested in becoming geeks. The only alternative to raising more women geeks is to change the nature of IT work, to provide some sort of nonthreatening pseudo-IT work purely for the purpose of balancing the gender ratio.
posted by jfuller at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2001

> In 15 years in the tech industry, I've never actually
> met someone who uses a pocket protector

I have. And he's mighty proud of it and its contents.
posted by ewagoner at 11:55 AM on May 1, 2001

Henry Ford's is not in Beaverton. It's in Portland. At least if it's the one I'm thinking of... with the burning, bubbling fountain outside the picture window and the overstuffed furniture. And Lyle on the piano every Friday and Saturday... damn. I wish I was there now.

(Sorry, you can have your topic back now...)
posted by norm at 12:02 PM on May 1, 2001

I'm a geek, dammit!

But, i'm not sure I understand even what Korenmann is saying. ... Yeah, I'm a little confused. I will say this though, I'm the only girl in the web room here that isn't a graphic designer, but does HTML and scripting. Which doesn't really prove anything, I'm just making a point. (:
posted by sarajflemming at 12:04 PM on May 1, 2001

I don't think she was trying to suggest that there was anything wrong with being a geek. Her point is that because of societal expectations, girls are conditioned to see IT as an unfavourable career path for themselves.

There are lots of male geeks in IT, but few female geeks. So, girls think it's okay for the boys to be geeks, but not okay for them.

I'm a computer science major, and while I was pretty sure of my aspirations to geekiness while I was still in high school, I was definitely a minority. Most of my current female classmates didn't realize their interest in CS until they took a first year elective computer course in university, and found it interesting enough to switch majors.

There's no need to change the nature of IT work. Women just need to be shown that it's okay for them to do such work. Unfortunately, with so few female role models, it's not easy.
posted by sanitycheck at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2001

The only alternative to raising more women geeks is to change the nature of IT work...

I really don't follow that, jfuller. While today there is a sort of "geek-chic" due to all the millionaires who've sprouted up over the last 5 years, my boyhood dream certainly wasn't to grow up to be a geek. "Young women (in general) don't want to be perceived as 'geeks'," says the article. Well, until very recently, neither did young men.

Clearly there are too few women in IT (god knows we could use a few more around my office), but I think the whole "geek stigma" exists more in the minds of the reporter and of Korenman than in reality.

Why aren't there more women programmers and webmasters? A number of reasons, including prejudice on the part of the male elite. But this empahsis on "not wanting to wear pocket protectors" makes women out to be vain and overly concerned with appearances, and it's bogus.

"Does this career make my butt look big?"
posted by jpoulos at 12:11 PM on May 1, 2001

> While today there is a sort of "geek-chic" due to all the
> millionaires who've sprouted up over the last 5 years, my
> boyhood dream certainly wasn't to grow up to be a geek.
> "Young women (in general) don't want to be perceived as
> 'geeks'," says the article. Well, until very recently,
> neither did young men.

I wasn't thinking about them. I was thinking about people who encounter something like coding or hardware hacking, find the work fascinating, discover that they can do it not only well but furiously well, and so pursue the interest in spite of being perceived as geekizoids because they don't care how they're perceived. So far from being "Does this career make my butt look big?" it's like (after 96 hours of coffee and coding) "A butt? What's that? Do I have one? Never mind, not an interesting question."
posted by jfuller at 12:28 PM on May 1, 2001

I sometimes find myself wondering if there is a fundamental difference in the genders' psychology that predisposes them to choice some careers in greater numbers over others.

Not so long ago, all professions were very male dominated, yet some more than others have moved much further towards equality of participants than others. I have no figures to hand, but my suspicion is that in the medical or legal professions, for example, there are nearly equal numbers of qualified and practising men and women.

Yet in others, there remains a significant male bias. I qualified as an engineer only a few years ago and there were many more male engineering students than women, just as with the computer science case discussed here.

I find it hard to believe that this gender bias in some professions can be solely a result of current members of such professions being in some way unwelcoming to women. The professional engineering institutions and government in the UK devote significant resources to encourage women to consider engineering careers, for example.

If medicine and law have changed, why not engineering and information technology? Is there something fundamentally different between the sexes that causes this bias, or are (some) women somehow conditioned to avoid such careers and (some) men to favor them?
posted by normy at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2001


Reminds me of something off-topic.
posted by jpoulos at 12:47 PM on May 1, 2001

When I started college in the "early" 1970's "girls" were not encouraged to take "techy" classes. I fact if you did take one, you were the only girl there and were mostly ignored by the teacher and other students. It was not worth the fight at the time. Those notions have only lessened a little in most parts of the US. Some of the bigger schools do encourage women to get into technology. But those guys that were in mine tech classes are now teaching them in Texas and their attitudes have not changed that much from how they were taught.

I agree with the article on the point of the quality of most sites written for women, I can use only so many recipes for tuna casserole, even if I do like to cook. Off my soapbox.
posted by bjgeiger at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2001

did anyone notice that the last stats available for numbers of women graduating in science fields was from 1994? i would argue that there are a hell of a lot more people now, men AND women, that are graduating with techie degrees. and what of the millions of people who might graduate with a degree in, oh say, liberal arts, but who jumped on the dotcom ship? just because you get a degree in English doesn't mean you can't work tech.
posted by sugarfish at 1:33 PM on May 1, 2001

My beef is with how absolutely shallow her research is. She plugs 'girls' and 'women' into a search engine and finds (surprise surprise) more porn than sites geared toward women in tech. She visits so-called women's sites and finds them to be the online equivalent of Cosmo. Again, with the surprise.

I sent Korenmann an email with the suggestion that she abandon corporate sites and come take a look at the large numbers of personal web sites designed and coded by women and girls.

Also, I am tired of seeing these articles pop up every few months bemoaning the absence of women in tech. It's complete nonsense. This is not to say that there's not more ground to cover, but good god, huge strides have been made. And I don't buy the argument that a woman has to be a CEO in order to serve as a role model.
posted by gsh at 1:42 PM on May 1, 2001

SpecialK wrote: What they don't recognize, because they can't see, is that computers let you into a whole other society, one that is in many ways more realistic and much cooler than the mainstream. Oh, YES! THANK YOU! *grin* One of the problems with ANY news article is that it's geared towards what they think are the MASSES. Trouble is, there's less of a MASS out there than there is a lot of growing specialized groups. If you believe movies and tv, everyone always wants to be in the popular group, but it's just more propaganda. I'm a geek and never wanted to be "popular" - I just wanted to do my own thing. IMO, THAT is what makes a geek, a willingness to go their own path and to profess interest in what they really like. Primarily, geeks are individuals. I'd have to say, from personal experience, that girl-training is less about being individuals and more about fitting in and being accepted. BUT... the girl geek who finds her way out of belief that there's popular OR having no friends will, as SpecialK said, find their own society to have fun in, and to be supported for who she really is. Now, if we could only get the papers to encourage THAT. {end of rant}
posted by thunder at 1:44 PM on May 1, 2001

> I agree with the article on the point of the quality of
> most sites written for women,

The quality of sites written for women has -- nothing -- to do with the question whether women are achieving equality in IT. The IT-specific work women are doing is not gender-marked, and if you go out looking for gender-marked sites you won't find it. A google search on "women" goes straight to (with features on Johnny Depp, keeping children quiet on a plane, and "You reveal your sexiest intimate moments.") But it doesn't turn up google itself, where the director of research happens to be female.
posted by jfuller at 1:46 PM on May 1, 2001

bjgeiger: This is MetaFilter. Please remain on your soapbox with your seatbelt securely fastened at all times... :-)
posted by jpoulos at 2:18 PM on May 1, 2001

i, too, was the only female in the web room, scripting and coding html for the male graphic designers who didn't know how to code anything themselves. for awhile it was something of an ego boost, having coworkers all over the room saying, "hey, alison, do you know how to ..." until i grew tired of doing other people's work without receiving any credit. i grew tired also of having most of the ideas and suggestions i would bring to meetings shot down immediately by these same men, men who had much less knowledge but much more power than i had, men who would stand in groups five feet from my cubicle and discuss, in rather lewd terms, the waitresses at the local hooters. deciding finally that the polo shirts with the embroidered company logo (available only in extra-large) didn't fit and neither did i, i gave up.

i'm sure that my particular situation is not representative of what all women experience when working in technical fields, but it certainly soured me on the whole thing, at least for awhile. as i like to think of it, it's not that women aren't ready for IT, it's that IT isn't ready for women.
posted by bluishorange at 2:21 PM on May 1, 2001

It's vastly oversimplifying to say that women "don't want to be stereotypical geeks", but I think it is very valid that a lot of women see, for example, a 12-hour coding session, and think "ugh, this isn't for me". If I had to work the same times and duration as our engineers, I'd go crazy. That doesn't mean that I don't have the same enthusiasm for solving a problem or dismantling hardware.

I'm also tired of reading these "for the masses" media pieces about how there are no women in tech, blah blah. Maybe those of us who are happily geeking (but not CEOs) should rise up and start demanding journalistic notice?
posted by calvarez at 3:50 PM on May 1, 2001

Hmmm, most web sites geared towards women are fluffy. That doesn't come as a surprise to me when you consider the number of fluffy magazines and television shows geared towards women. And those have been around much longer.

As for women not entering technical fields. I spent two months doing a group project on this topic for a class last quarter. The Women In Computer Science project. It's not perfect, I'm not 100% sure I agree with everything we said, but there's some good reading material in the resources section.

If anything, visit the Carnegie Mellon Women in CS pages.
posted by kathryn at 4:49 PM on May 1, 2001

Maybe more (not all) women like fluffy?

male/female differences aren't just physical, y'know...
posted by owillis at 5:16 PM on May 1, 2001

Just a few random thoughts...

1) I graduate in June with a comp-sci degree. Easily 50% of the students in the department are of the female persuasion and of all ages.

2) I'm a geek. It's fun!

3) A butt? I don't have time to have one of those. *grin*


posted by NsJen at 5:29 PM on May 1, 2001

You'd think a rear admiral would make a fairly good role model.
posted by davidgentle at 3:57 PM on May 3, 2001

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