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Girl Coders, Patriarchy, and Despair
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At something called the Harvard Gazette, apparently a literary asylum for ed-majors, sociologists, and the mildly brain-damaged, the female inmates are riled because there are not enough girls in computer science. Yes, discrimination. Their eyes agleam with the dull light of incomprehension, they moo, “When you make computer science about creative problem-solving, when you make it social, when it’s not scary and intimidating, and when you show people who look like real human beings rather than people who’ve been stuck in a basement …more girls will be attracted to it.”

Oh god, oh god, oh god. We’re going backwards. I told you Darwin was wrong. Gerbils to the right, gerbils to the left, and not a thought to think.

Do these look to you like prospective programmers? Like people who could tell a branch instruction from a duckbill platypus?

Intimidating. Intimidating? Dear ladies, dear dear ladies, for men coding isn’t intimidating. It isn’t scary. It is really, really neat stuff. It is neat stuff for us because that’s how our heads work. You don’t need to bait guys into programming. You just show it to them and go do something else. Computers appeal to guys for the same reason girls appeal to us: it is built in.

Some girls can code, some do, and may they flourish—but it is chiefly a Y-chromosome thing. Girls fail to go into computer science because either (a) they don’t want to, or (b) they can’t do it, or (c) both. That’s how tings are.

You can’t make it social. No one codes while in a salon while polishing doilies (or whatever you do with them. I’m not too technical on doilies.) You can’t program, or I can’t anyway, while having a cooperative bonding experience and listening to Sally doing relationship talk about her latest boyfriend.

For guys, computing is like love at first sight, but without child support. In 1968 I came back from Washington’s stupid war of the time and found that my school (Hampden-Sydney College) had gotten an IBM 1130, little brother to the 360 series. It ran Fortran IV, which I had never heard of. I looked at it and thought, “Wow! Motorized algebra!” Which it was. I suspected that it might do my chemistry homework. It did. While I was not a greatly gifted programmer, I loved the stuff.

But my point, oh lovely ladies of the Harvard Gazette, is that computing was even then a guy’s obsession, a geek’s joy. (Geeks are great people, smart as hell and make jokes that other people don’t notice. Such as women at the Harvard…never mind.)

Hampden-Sydney being a small school, the computer room was open all night, so guys—guys—stayed up late punching Hollerith cards and teaching ourselves assembly language and such. We loved it because…because…because it all made sense. Computers didn’t do opinion. There was no maybe, ifness, perhapshood. Computers called powerfully to the male love of controllable complexity. This is as genetic as liking loud motors.

Computing was primitive then, yes. With Fortran IV top-down programming was literally impossible because of the branching structure, so there was a lot of spaghetti code, and things like local variables didn’t exist. Still, it was a real scientific language—we were contemptuous of COBOL, which was for business drones. But Ken Iverson at IBM had come out with APL, a totally crazy language—more controllable complexity—and we had the interpreter. We liked it not because we had any use for it—we didn’t—but because it was complex and we could make it do what we wanted. Guy stuff.

And here, ladies, we come to (eeeek!) a gender difference. As we all know, men have been saying since three weeks before the Big Bang that women are not rational. This is not quite true. As long as their emotions and politics are not involved, women can be quite rational. For example, if a woman needs to use PhotoShop, which is a savage bear of a program, she will learn it and in all likelihood learn it well. But, while a woman will learn a thing despite its complexity, because she needs it, a man will learn it because of its complexity, whether he needs it or not.

Thus a computer geek will read books with names like Computer Architectureabout data buses, interrupt hierarchies, instruction pipelines, superscalars, segmentation vs. pagination, and virtual-memory things like thrashing, which is (if memory serves) what happens when the domain of a loop crosses the boundary of a page frame. (assuming that page frames even exist what with gigabytes of RAM). It’s just, you know, like cool.

Exactly the same instinct explains why in 1964 a boy kid in the country could talk about cars for fifteen minutes without using a single word his mother could understand: “Baa-a-a-d fitty-sedden Chev, 283, solid lifters, ported and polished, Carter AFBs, Isky three-quarter, 4.51 rear, Positraction, magneto ignition, phone flow, Hirst narrow-gate shifter, udden udden uddenudddenudden SCEEECH!!”

This described a nonexistent car with additions to make it go faster and louder than made any objective sense, but was complex and the speaker understood it. Coding.

(In case you are wondering, “phone flow” is Southern for a standard shift of four gears located on the floorboards.)

In support of my contentions, ladies, I will wager that all of you can drive, but that none of you knows what a cam lobe is. You needed to drive, so you learned how. You don’t need to know what is under the hood, so you don’t. It is a gender difference. Live with it.

A further point is that every known test of mathematico-logical talent shows that certain groups have more of it than others. Determining the identity of these groups I will leave to the reader as an exercise. How many do you see in the photograph above?

Hint: There is a reason why women are underrepresented as offensive linemen in the NFL. The solution to this injustice probably is not to make football a caring cooperative experience so that it won’t be scary and intimidating.


Finally, dearest ones, you want programming to be about “creative problem solving.” I wonder what you think you mean by this, if you think you mean something. Maintenance coding aside, programming is the solving of problems. I won’t ask you what you mean by “creative,” as you might tell me, and I am not sure I could stand it. You will forgive me if I take leave of you now, as I need to polish my doilies. Whatever they are.

Good book: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, really good account, often funny, of how we got Prohibition, who done it, and how we got around it.

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Feminism 
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  1. pyrrhus says:

    The statement by these dingbats that coding is “scary” tells you everything you need to know…I had a similar experience, Fred, learning to program in the early 1970s with Fortran and PL1…one of my models predicted that the world would start collapsing right about now! I know, couldn’t happen….

  2. bossel says:

    “when you show people who look like real human beings rather than people who’ve been stuck in a basement …”
    Ain’t that hate speech (kind of)?

    • Replies: @Matthew Fisher
  3. […] Girl Coders, Patriarchy, and Despair – The Unz Review […]

  4. MarkinLA says:

    In the past a good programmer would have to do more than just hack out some garbage code to create a web page. You needed to understand the memory hierarchy, interrupt handling concepts, data storage techniques, numerical analysis, compiler construction, and on and on.

    The handling of page faults when I was an undergrad was such a big deal it was enough for a PhD on it’s own. Tons of papers were written on the algorithms to improve the performance.

    We probably will see more women programmers because today you don’t even have to know how a computer works to be a “programmer”. Your whole career can consist of developing web pages in languages like Java or “testing” software. However, it won’t be a very secure job for somebody with such limited skills.

  5. yeah…looks like Larry Summers was right. Women have less variance of IQ, which means fewer genius scores, resulting in women being underrepresented in STEM fields.

  6. Tom_R says:


    Thanks for the nice article, Fred. A few typos there, eg ting (you mean thing), etc.

    Also, as far as the real reason is concerned, let me just say it to the women: Computer SCIENCE like all physical sciences requires LOGICAL thinking, not feelings. It requires a higher IQ. Women are NOT able to think logically and have lower IQ’s, so they cannot do well in computer and other hard sciences. That is the bottom line.

    • Replies: @Boris
  7. Gene Su says:

    Two things come to mind:

    1. There were very few girls in my Electrical Engineering class. Most female engineers were going for a Chemical Engineering major. Even there, they were a minority.
    2. The day before I graduated, my professor, who was about to retire, once said to me that an engineer is a modern version of the medieval alchemist. He turns base metals to gold for the sake of his ego and aggression. Girls, I’m sure, have far less of this sort of ego and aggression.

    • Replies: @K.
    , @map
  8. Max Payne says:

    In the future all “programming” will be through these What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get applications allowing women to join in on the fields of Computer Science. That’s the “creative problem solving” she’s discussing. Streamlining software engineering to the point where a semi-trained laborer can be given a job.

    It bothers me that there is a “Women for Science and Engineering” program which basically lowers the average admission for women entering science and engineering in university. It isn’t fair that the average male has to achieve 10% higher on his average from high school to enter these programs.

    That has bothered me for more than a decade now. I wonder if they do that for medical studies. I hope not….

    • Replies: @Jim Don Bob
    , @SFG
  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Although I have been a software development program manager for a few decades (I must earn a living you know), my education and love is philosophy and logic. An interesting facet of philosophy is that there has never been a female philosopher on the level of Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Hegel, or Nietzsche. I don’t suspect there ever will. Sorry ladies, yes, there are affirmative action slots in today’s “politically correct” philosophy departments for … well, people claiming expertise in the Philosophy of Education or Women’s Studies, but let’s get serious.

    Women have problems with transitive reasoning … the If A -> B -> C, therefore, If A -> C. Transitive reasoning is how one finds one’s way about the world and survives. Transitive reasoning is how one plots the consequences of behavior in the world. Transitive reasoning is how one makes a motor run or executes a line of code.

    Women seem to prefer the If A -> B model, which is the simple projection of emotion into the world. Men call it “bubbling”. In our private moments together, we describe how the women in our lives “bubble”. This is not a criticism; rather, it is a reflection of our reality. Another aspect of that reality is our awesome respect for the womanly ability to care for the men and the children in their lives. This is so universal that one does suspect that the differences between men and women are in our DNA. Yes, women often pretend to be men … but they can never seem to get that transitive reasoning thing down right. At that point, they project; they get angry and start screaming at the world and everyone in it. We call this feminism.

    Have fun with this 🙂

  10. @Max Payne

    Hate to break it to you, but AA in medicine has been going on for almost 40 years now:

    I go to male NAM doctors because Raaaaacism.

  11. SFG says:
    @Max Payne

    I have many friends in medicine.

    They don’t to get in (but they DO lower scores for blacks and Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, though not other Hispanics–Argentines and Venezuelans are out of luck). The girls were about as smart as the boys.

    Some male-dominated fields do lower scores a little, but the macho ones like surgery tend not to take women anyway–they don’t want to do it, usually.

    A surgical field that attracts mostly women is obstetrics and gynecology–which I am OK with, honestly, the whole field involves lady parts, so why shouldn’t the OB-GYN have the parts she’s working on? Makes sense to me.

    Honestly, a medical career is a pretty good thing for a lady with a 140 IQ, apart from the few rare birds like Marie Curie or Emmy Noether who can actually make it in science on merit.

  12. Boris says:

    Fred is having terrible problems with his eyesight…please ease up on the criticism of his typos.

  13. Bill says:

    “This is as genetic as liking loud motors.”

    That tickled me. I learned FORTRAN in the tenth grade in 1969 in a 4×12 foot “room” that had four Teletype machines in it. When we all got going, it sounded like a machine gun nest (or at least what 13 year olds thought one sounded like).

  14. map says:
    @Gene Su

    I have noticed a lot more women in material science and chemical engineering. Are these fields just less competitive compared to mechanical or electrical engineering.

    • Replies: @Gene Su
  15. How about Elizabeth Holmes? She was majoring in Chemical Engineering and she’s already started her own company.

  16. Gene Su says:

    I think it has to do with the fact that men are by tradition home builders while women are by tradition home makers. Chemistry and material science appeal to those maternal instincts while robotics and computing appeal to paternal instincts.

  17. Maybe there are so few women in Computer Science because they’re all going to law school. My ’86 CS graduating class was about 30% female. Within seven years, they were all in “project management” or other fields entirely.

    Oh, and by the way, it’s “Hurst”not “Hirst.” That was the first after market piece I bought for my first car – a ’69 Camaro – after I dropped the 327 into it.

  18. MarkinLA says:

    My ’86 CS graduating class was about 30% female

    This was sort of the high water mark. The salaries weren’t being held down by H-1Bs and many companies had programs to keep the existing talent current. Hughes Aircraft Company even had a program where women with a BA in other fields would be put on fellowship and work a light load doing mainly cleanup work while they got their BS in CS or EE and eventually an MS.

    With salaries stagnating and actually going down why screw up your GPA getting a STEM degree unless you want to be a patent attorney?

    One of the women in that program left to be a teacher – LAUSD really started jacking up the salaries in the 80s based on all that garbage about needing higher pay to attract talent and “close the gap”.

  19. Alvin says:

    Its a true defeat of human intellect that in a space with so much information at one’s disposal you buy into the promotional engine of the University System and then make claims about gender difference based on that propaganda (think about why the University would want to educate more people in every field–$). Truthfully, overall, am in disbelief that this small corner of the internet is so myopic and scientifically selective/self serving, at the detriment to everyone (men and women, and their interactions). For the record, when I was an undergrad, mechanical engineering was the easiest branch to go into, next to civil engineering. Chemical and electrical were the most difficult and with the more extensive requirements.

    Gene Su’s comment about alchemy is important in relation to the University system. His observation relates to the suspicious opinions held in the nineteenth-century about science (even observations in fiction went down this road: Frankenstein paints a scathing picture of the University system overall, and focuses precisely on the lack of pragmatic use for isolated scientific pursuit).

    Your focus in the future might be less on what the University does and rather on what men and women are each encouraged to do/not do in the home, and whether or not they have access to free time and technological tinkering, before they ever decide (or, are able) to enter an institution. I feel like you could talk more about the limitations placed on both men and women based on the class in which either sex grows up.

  20. Joe says: • Website

    That’s NOT FUNNY!

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