My friend Cate and her friend Maggie have started a blog called CompSci Woman that I think many of you will enjoy reading, and hopefully some of you in computer science will be interested in contributing too! The idea is to make it easier for younger women to find role models who are already involved in the field. They note that although there’s actually lots of us, being female and in computer science is usually an aspect, not an identity, so we’re not all going to show up in Google. Read about the ideas behind this project here.
For September/October, they’re accepting guest posts especially on the topic of “How I got into CS.” I know many of our readers and writers here have interesting stories, so if you have some time, please consider writing a post for the project! The letter for potential contributors is at the bottom of this page, but here’s the short version: “If you are interested in contributing, submit your post (include a link to an illustrative image if you like) along with a brief bio and a photo. You can email this to female.compsci.blog AT gmail DOT com.”
I just put my own story up there. Mine’s slightly unusual because unlike many women who suffer from impostor syndrome especially when they first start out, my story was shaped a lot by feelings in the opposite direction…
To explain how I ended up in computer science, you have to understand the story of how I quit.
First year computer science was geared towards students who had little to no experience with computers, and I realised that Iâ€™d be wasting several years of my life waiting for my peers to catch up. On top of that, it was boom times and CS was being viewed a shorter path to a 6-figure salary than the more education-intensive med school or law school. The people who were there werenâ€™t really in love with the discipline; many were just in love with the idea of being rich. I wasnâ€™t interested in paying thousands of dollars per term to waste my time with peers I didnâ€™t respect in a program that was boring me to tears.
I was disappointed, disillusioned, and wanted a challenge that was clearly going to be a long time coming in CS. So I dropped out.
Here’s an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers (questions still being taken):
Reading Rudy Simone’s Aspergirls prompted me to crystallise this question: where are the female role models for young geek women?
I’m thinking of characters who have genius-level IQs, coupled with a lack of social skills and, for whatever reason, an absence of Significant Other. There are plenty of characters like this: Sherlock Holmes, Rodney McKay, Greg House, Spock … but where are the women?
Where are the isolated geniuses who are married to their work? Where are the women whose ‘problem personalities’ are forgiven because of their talents / gifts / abilities / focus? Where are the women who are single and don’t give a damn because they have better things to do?
I’m probably missing some obvious examples: I’m not a big media consumer. Remind me, enlighten me! TV, movies, comics, novels all welcome.
A few possibilities, from a fellow consumer of not very much media:
Dr Susan Calvin, in various short stories by Isaac Asimov. She’s the leading research roboticist on fictional near-future Earth, and a key employee of US Robots.
Unfortunately Calvin is one of those fictional characters who is a little better than her writer: Asimov lumps her with some unfortunate embarrassing romantic and maternal feelings occasionally, and the song and dance other characters make about their immense forbearance in forgiving her ‘problem personality’ gets a bit wearing. But nevertheless she’s a key fictional influence on the development of robotics, and the main character in any number of the stories.
The character Dr Susan Calvin that appears in the 2004 film I, Robot is young, movie-pretty, sarcastic and really resembles Asimov’s character very little, but I quite like her also and still think she’s a fictional geek role model if you accept that she’s very loosely based on the Asimov character: she’s abrupt, literal-minded, a high ranking research scientist and, something I really liked, she’s not shown as having any sexual or romantic interest in the lead character at all. (Shame she isn’t the lead character.)
Dr Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan in the Bones television series; if, crucially, you can ignore or don’t mind (or like!) the multi-season plot arc about her mutual attraction with Seeley Booth.
Bones is a forensic anthropologist prone to social mistakes or at least idiosyncrasies, but key to criminal investigations due to her unparalleled anthropological skills. The writers apparently think of her as having Aspergers, but haven’t said it in the script because you can’t have Aspergers on Fox, or something like that.
I’m actually not an enormous fan of this show for reasons that are irrelevant to this entry, so I’ll point you to Karen Healey’s guide, since she is an enormous fan and that’s only fair if you want to try it and see.
Few gender differences in math abilities, worldwide study finds: “Girls around the world are not worse at math than boys, even though boys are more confident in their math abilities, and girls from countries where gender equity is more prevalent are more likely to perform better on mathematics assessment tests, according to a new analysis of international research.”
Diversity at what cost?: Lucy questions the push for diversity in FLOSS for its own sake and whether women are being pushed into it against their own interests.
In the name of awareness: Only related to Mackenzie’s New Year’s resolution in the sense that they’re both about women’s clothing, but interesting also. The “what colour is your bra?” breast cancer awareness meme on Facebook others… women who have had mastectomies!
If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if youâ€™re a delicious user, tag them â€œgeekfeminismâ€ to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).
Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.
We [on the LinuxChix lists] also had a long-standing problem articulating what it was that led to the extreme gender imbalance in Free Software development and many of its user communities… There was sexism in computing and in Free Softwareâ€¦ probably? Some women had stories, some women didnâ€™t.
Now we have our long list of incidents, but I want to highlight another list which I’m happier about, our list of women in FLOSS. Back in the olden days, say 1999 or 2000 or so, LinuxChix tried to make a similar list. The Wayback Machine tells us it got to ten names, and I recall a significant amount of head scratching going into that. Now we have a list of women that is no doubt badly incomplete, probably uncompletable, but nevertheless something like ten times the length.
Today, instead of scratching our heads about what women could possibly deliver a keynote presentation at a technical conference, we started listing women who have done so, and I suspect that list too is fated to remain drastically incomplete no matter how actively it is updated. This is an inexpressibly happy thing for me: too many women to name! Thank you geek feminist flowering of 2008/2009!
Are there recent sources of geek feminist inspiration the Internet has tossed your way? Any treasure troves of women doing things you hadn’t heard about before? (Recall, we define geekdom broadly here, there’s no need to limit yourself to tech.) Who are you a mad fan of right now?