Saturday, August 28, 2004

An Exegesis of Feminist Research on Women in Information Technology
The important computer science organization ACM has a thrice-weekly posting called TechNews of news items about the world of computing and technology. When the posters are not shilling for Linux or actually reporting on something interesting, hardly a third-of-a-week goes by where they fail to discuss what every nonthinking IT professional knows is a crisis of monumental proportions: the small number of Women In IT.

I have known many feminist computer scientists for a long time, and they have always known the cause of this problem. In the seventies and early eighties they knew that the problem lay with the way that parents and grade school teachers treat very young girls and boys: these parents and teachers (perhaps unintentionally) steer girls away from an interest in computer science. Studies were done, and this explanation was proven correct. Of course, these feminists were young adults with no children of their own. Later they had children and their friends had children and they saw differences between girls and boys, so they no longer offered this up as the explanation; in fact, they had never offered this up as the explanation, so no apologies were necessary.

New explanations were needed. This is a problem that has to be explained and fixed because ...

Well for one thing, we need a huge number of additional IT employees (or at least we did before the "bubble" burst), and where else can we find them but amongst women? I suppose we could look for more men, since most men are not IT employees, but presumably the men who aren't in IT have a good reason for not being there: they aren't good at it, or they aren't interested in it, or they are otherwise gainfully employed. Women who aren't in tech, on the other hand, are leading useless lives and need to be saved. For another thing, women have a lot to offer IT that men just don't, and presumably these special skills aren't as important in that other stuff (law, medicine, motherhood, etc.) we want to take them away from.

Here, chronologically from almost five years of the ACM TechNews archives, are some explanations that have been offered for why there are so few women in IT and for why we need them so badly, as well as discussions of how to solve the problem. I've only chosen a small number of articles that I find especially amusing. ACM is obsessed with this issue (in a totally one-sided way), and this obsession reflects the incredibly totalitarian atmosphere in the IT industry, and especially in university computer science departments. (Remark: My host, Dan Simon, objects to this slur upon the IT industry.)

I've put (links to) these explanations on a separate page. If you read them you'll learn that sexism is to blame for the large number of female entrepreneurs; or that the real problem is that women don't like introverted white male geeks; that video games are the problem; that men do social networking better than women; that IT is too time consuming; that women are differently abled; that the rise of dot-coms hurt women; that the fall of dot-coms hurt women; and much, much, more. Each of these articles is idiotic and most are self-contradictory, but the sum of them together totally destroys any illusion that the ACM takes this subject seriously.

Here is a challenge for my reader(s): Find a feminist oriented article about women and IT from the last four years that was deemed too stupid to make it into ACM TechNews.

Here are the links.

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