Fair warning: This post might be considered inflammatory. Reader discretion advised.
One of the many things that puzzles me about progressives is their almost pathological obsession with past wrongs. Here I thought “progress” was primarily a forward-thinking activity! Granted, I’m sure progressives would strongly suggest that obsessing over wrongdoings of yesteryear is forward-thinking, but I’ll conveniently ignore how stupidly brain damaged that sounds, especially when repeated by grown adults. But hey, different strokes for different folks. It’s kinda like someone with a substance abuse problem. I can quit any time I like, [puffs heavily], I just don’t want to right now!
I won’t go into details, mostly because anyone who does oppose the progressive engine of regressive tendencies is labeled anything from racist to sexist, but I primarily want to focus on something that’s been gnawing at me for a while. I’m not sure what it is, but the tech community has an exceptionally, well, bizarre obsession with driving more women into technology jobs because of some perceived social (or numerical?) inequality. Whenever the subject arises, it imposes itself immediately in the form of dozens of men stumbling over each other just to demonstrate how feminist they are. Look at me! I want college courses in technology to be 95% more women. That’s 5% more than this other dude! The discussion swiftly degrades into name-calling and insults. Legitimate discourse is caught in the crossfire and ultimately left to bleed to death on the field.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Most of us dudes in technology aren’t exactly the sort who attract women in droves, so resorting to other tactics to gain affection or attention probably seems to be a viable alternative. Unfortunately for those creepers, I suspect that the majority of career-oriented women are above such immature nonsense and find this sort of sniveling pseudo-feminism pushed on them by the opposite sex repulsive. Surely it’s annoying, because women who are seeking access to a specific field or industry would rather be treated as equals than to be sniffed out and fawned over like some sort of rare fruit. People in general don’t like being singled out. Ideally, this means that equal treatment is equal treatment. Of course, suggesting equal treatment for everyone is taken, paradoxically, to mean something else entirely and riles up the feminists for whatever reason. I’ll never understand.
Speaking of which, if one dares to suggest something as progressive as letting women pick the career fields they’re interested in, it’s taken as a slight to the feminist movement. Obviously, the underlying suggestion is that you don’t want women in technology! This contortionism is why we can’t have nice things. Whenever emotion becomes the primary driver of debate, the ability to rationally process benign statements is entirely lost. It’s depressing.
I’m going to take a moment to derail the discussion by channeling Freud here, because I think it deserves to be said. I’m sure some of you are thinking the same thing so I’ll confess first: The thought that immediately enters my mind when I see men acting so stupidly is that it must be sexually motivated, at least in part. I can’t prove it, certainly when the immediate retort is that it isn’t about getting laid. It does give one pause for thought. To pretend that giving a substantial amount of attention (possibly unwanted) to the opposite sex is entirely platonic and altruistic seems implausible, especially when such attention becomes so obvious that it even has its own label: white knighting.
Therefore, biological motivators are likely influential–at least partially–when the individuals in question are in their early to middle 20s. Think about it. That’s when most people get married, screw, and have kids.
So, when you consider for a moment how the political, social, and economic landscape has changed in the last couple of decades, and observe that the relative intrinsic value of the male sex has diminished, it should be obvious that a woman need not seek out male companionship except for her own amusement, love interests, or to start a family. Even then, she doesn’t really need a guy present in her life if she wants children (“friends with benefits,” sperm banks, et cetera). Men, in modern society, aren’t really useful for much. Sorry guys, but it’s true–think about it. Maybe we’re good for a laugh here and there, but by and large, the only tangible benefits men bring to the table is to provide the seed to sow for cultivating
parasitic growths wonderful children. Women, by comparison, still bear the children, but they now hold obligations that were once male-dominated exclusively male. If this trend continues, it’ll be interesting to see how sexual dimorphism in humans changes in the next 10,000 years. Remember, in the kingdom of invertebrates (specifically insects and spiders), the female is usually bigger and badder than the male. Sometimes she also eats him. Tasty!
It makes you wonder a bit about the message we’re sending when we give away cooking utensils or knives as wedding gifts, doesn’t it?
Back to contemporary modern society: It isn’t a bad thing that we’ve sufficiently progressed to a point that women and men are nearly functional equals. Sure, there’s still sexism here and there, especially in the third world, but in the developed world, it’s not quite the same. Do we have work to do? Certainly, but not nearly as much as some seem to believe. The alarmist pulpit-pounding that laments of a “war on women” makes for good campaign slogans, but it isn’t exactly reflective of reality unless your reality is comprised of the perpetual fear that George W. Bush is lurking in your closet to go through your underthings and throw away your contraceptives when you’re not looking. The fact we’re worrying ourselves sick about reproductive rights when women in other parts of the world are still subjected to female genital mutilation should encourage us to give thanks for being born into a free society.
But equal treatment isn’t enough for some.
The common charge in the tech world is that there simply isn’t enough women in the field. When pressed, the argument vacillates between gender inequality and sexism, or the notion that such unequal representation is an artifact of the Victorian age, stubbornly held on to by rich, white males. It’s an impossible charge to argue against, because the only evidence needed to “win” is the fact that such unequal representation exists; in other words, it exists, therefore it is true. Last year’s PyCon incident doesn’t help, either.
Unfortunately, the very fact that off-color, potentially offensive jokes can trigger everything from death threats to DDoS attacks is more telling about our society at large than it is about the relative success of feminism. I agree that it’s important to be mindful of one’s surroundings when discussion potentially offensive material (unless you’re a comedian), but the whole thing erupted into a mud-flinging contest of such proportion that it nearly drowned everyone involved. Whatever sanity could have been salvaged in the early hours of the dispute was lost the instant both parties decided to continue the escalation to DEFCON one status. What have we come to?
I return again to declining value of the male sex in our society as a theory that potentially explains this phenomenon. Attention seeking behavior, particularly the kind motivated by sexual urges, can be presented with such urgency that little consideration is given to collateral damage. While it’s far more apparent in the animal kingdom where potential suitors will occasionally fight to the death for a female, it’s curious to me that we humans are arrogant enough to believe we’re immune to instinct and biological pressures. I don’t think we are, and I believe that’s at least part of what motivates some of the ridiculous behavior that occurs in various spheres of influence.
I just finished reading a blog post, for example, written by a fellow who claims he retweets only posts that originated from women. I’m sure he feels it’s entirely altruistic, and maybe it is, but one can’t help but wonder. I can’t imagine the research effort required to pull off such a feat. I never give a second thought to the sex of the person behind Twitter accounts I follow because 1) I don’t care and 2) the content is what’s important. More power to you if you want to go through the effort of filtering out your Twitter contacts based on sex.
(Aside: I also don’t bother retwitting or whatever it is you do on Twitter, because it takes effort and I’m simply not that engaged. Maybe if I used Twitter more…)
Going back to the question of women in technology, or the relative lack thereof, requires much more consideration than most people are willing to invest. Just off the top of my head, I can come up with a few questions necessary for deeper analysis: Is it really a problem? If the answer is yes, then we need to examine why we feel it is a problem. What kind of a problem is it? Is it an imposition on women’s economic status, or does it impair their ability to participate in an important industry? What is the percentage of the female population that actively wants to participate more deeply in technology? Furthermore, we need to answer the questions: 1) Is it a problem strictly because we see it as a statistical imbalance, 2) is it a problem due to supposedly prevalent harassment or discrimination, 3) is it a problem endemic to (and therefore a failure of) our educational system that is putting selective pressure on women to go into other fields? What might happen to those industries that are female-dominated if we attempt to reverse this trend and will they be negatively impacted from our meddling?
The puzzling thing about the latter question is that progressives, when confronted with the evidence that some industries–namely nursing, medicine, and teaching–are female-dominated, often by a substantial margin, sidestep the issue or return to their fallback obsession of righting past wrongs by placing the blame on gender bias, discrimination, and inequality. It seems strange to suggest that women’s incredible success in the medical industry, both in terms of achievements earned by women and by the shear number of individual participants, is the fault gender inequality. There are tons of brilliant and gifted women out there (my girlfriend is one of them), and I suspect it would take an inordinate amount of work to find one of them who subscribes to the philosophy that their success is entirely thanks to mistreatment by the opposite sex.
The answer, then, regarding women in technology isn’t as simple as some of the pseudo-feminist progressive males seem to suggest. Granted, if the matter is simply an issue of harassment, discrimination, or bias (#2, above), then we have a severe, potentially systemic problem in the tech industry with accepting participants based exclusively on their sex. I’m not sure I’m convinced this true considering the countless numbers self-described feminist males who are begging for increased female participation and make their cause known every chance they get. Yes, I realize it only takes one or two bad apples to spoil it for the lot, but I think women generally have thicker skin than their male counterparts (and their pain tolerance is, on average, significantly higher, too). In a way, it’s almost comical: Women in technology tend to be more pragmatic and less emotional than some of their male peers! Take that you tired, old stereotype!
Considering the issues we’ve outlined above, if the problem is a matter of statistical imbalance (#1) or educational deficiencies (#3), then the solution isn’t as “simple” as reworking the industry in such a manner as to discourage discrimination, harassment, and unwanted behavior. The problem instead becomes something that’s much more difficult to quantify. Worse, we’d be doing a disservice to ourselves and affected individuals if we focus exclusively on a single industry that exhibits such imbalance. If the desirable solution is to promote an understanding of gender inequality, we need to study female-dominated industries, learn of the reasons for their success and, hopefully, discover why male intrusion is almost entirely absent. It’s perplexing to me that the crux of the focus on gender inequality falls squarely on the technology sector while other industries are ignored. Why do we overlook the medical industry, or education, both of which trend toward majority-female participation? What about vocational studies, like mechanical work and other labor intensive industries, that are male-dominated? If the objective is institute gender equality, we need to be examining the situation in every sector. Failure to do so will only limit our capacity to fully understand the scope of the problem, and it will impair our ability to formulate a solution.
No, I’m not being sarcastic, either. This is an honest observation. What you do for one, you do for all. That’s the definition of equality, is it not?
The other side of the coin presents us with a minor elephant-in-the-room conundrum that I’ve only seen mentioned once or twice (ironically by women, not men). If we do successfully funnel more women into technology, the increased numbers will invariably necessitate a decrease elsewhere. If, for the sake of argument, we increase female enrollment in technology by 10%, what will we do if we simultaneously decrease female enrollment in medicine? Will male enrollment make up for it? What damage might we do if we completely screw up and channel women into fields they’re not especially interested in but choose to participate simply on the merit that the scholarship guarantee is more likely? What harm might we bring to industries, like medicine, if we encourage schools to push students into other fields based simply on their sex? Precisely how dependent is an industry, like medicine, on women, and would reducing their number negatively affect advancement in these fields?
I think these are important questions that need further study to analyze what impact we might have if our solutions aren’t optimal. Obviously, scholastic rewards (scholarships, etc.) are one tactic to entice more women into traditionally non-female fields. But the side effect is that it might potentially siphon talented individuals from fields for which their skills and passions are better suited. Worse, a substantial percentage of college freshmen seldom have any idea what field they want to enter. We must be cautious about the directives we feed impressionable young minds. It’s equally as important that we keep as many doors open to success as possible, but we don’t want to prematurely shut a door simply on the merit that too many women have already gone through it. The suggestion alone seems sexist in its own right.
Another consideration is that the problem might be self-limiting. In the coming years, first time students entering college won’t remember a time before the Internet because they were born well after its inception. In the coming decades, first time students won’t even remember a time without social networking, smart phones, and ubiquitous technology. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago when programming computers (much less knowing how to use one) was considered a fringe activity. Only nerds used computers all the time. Recalling my own experience in high school, girls were largely discouraged either by social pressures, by their peers, or by their parents from associating with nerds or activities that were deemed “too nerdy.” Although many of the top students in my classes in math and science were girls, few of them considered computer science as a viable activity, possibly because of the social stigma. As that stigma evaporates, the social pressures pushing girls away from computer-related activities will also vanish.
I’m well aware that this doesn’t explain why nerdy activities were acceptable for young men and not women. It’s plausible (and very likely) that it’s the fault of nurture over nature. Or, perhaps pimple-faced young men congregating en masse around a computer screen acts as an effective filter, turning away young women from an industry they see as populated by gross, unkempt, dirty future-neckbeards. Hey, you laugh at me for saying this, but when I was in high school, those of us who were not genetically fortunate enough to be blessed with clear skin were often social outcasts whom girls would seldom speak to, much less socialize with! Whatever activities we participated in were therefore further dominated by majority pimple-faced dudes. Girl repellent, if you will. (It also worked rather effectively against jocks, I might add, but that’s out of the scope of this article.)
Bringing us back full circle to progressive pseudo-feminism, we’ve examined many potential problems facing women in technology, possible solutions, and contributing factors that may or may not influence a girl’s interest in participating in technology. Making idiotic statements subjecting otherwise innocent bystanders to such nonsense as tweeting “only” female twitterers or fawning rather embarrassingly over a handful of ladies whose only interest is to write good code isn’t driving the engine of progress forward. Remembering history so as to avoid repeating it (glass ceilings, sexual discrimination, etc.) is a good thing, but obsessing over historic wrongdoing to such an extent that we ignore current success is damaging to us all. The progressive notion that not actively fighting against sexism makes you sexist is foolish. It’s a fun catchphrase for those who have difficulty motivating themselves to do good in the world, I’m sure, but it’s unnecessarily vitriolic language that serves to alienate the very people whose help you need to achieve the goal of equality. Modern progressivism is almost entirely driven by alienation and that’s a problem. It works well at the polling booth by serving to further deepen the political divide.
Consider this as my parting gift: If equality is what you desire, shouldn’t you be treating everyone as equal? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I’ve seen it suggested that true understanding can only be achieved when men are treated as women were hundreds of years ago, as property, but is subjecting others to the same wrongs your ancestors were really progress? Sometimes I wonder if the intent is to impose equal suffering rather than opportunity.