Women and technology, a clarification

As I suspected, I poked a stick in a hornet's nest with my comments yesterday. But that's fine, because I think this is an important issue that bears discussion and we've been silent on it for far too long. Dave's post which I was unable to link to yesterday is available again. Dave's also got some more stuff on his site today in response to my piece and there's an interesting essay by Robert Scoble on his Scobleizer site. (Scary stuff by Scoble, definitely worth a read. He says he observed that mostly the boys were playing with the computers. Does it really start this young? Egad. Though he also says the boys were playing computer games, and with a dearth of quality games for girls [like they're going to play this?], I begin to understand why they chose not to use the computer.)

To clarify some points from yesterday, and perhaps some misunderstandings. First, I want to make clear that I did not mean to imply that conferences were at fault in any of this. I recognize that there are often very few women speakers to invite. This is merely a symptom of the problem, not the cause. And it's one I've spoken about with concerned folks like Rael Dornfest, who want to see more female attendance and participation at O'Reilly's events.

Second, Dave writes, "When Meg looks at me she sees a mindless sexist — her words not mine." [update: this has been changed on his site.] Actually, I said Dave was "spouting some sexist drivel," which is quite different. In fact the word "mindless" didn't appear any place on this page . I certainly don't consider Dave mindless, in fact I think he's very mindful; he is always thinking and questioning. I take umbrage at his assumptions, the little sexist generalizations that he doesn't seem to realize he's dropping. (And these assumptions go both ways you know, there's a bunch of stuff that he says about men that I think is untrue as well, that builds upon the same old societal stereotypes regarding roles of men.)

For example: (all emphasis mine)

On the decentralization mail list I asked if the P in XML-RPC is People. The discussion up till now has been very male-oriented, about the finer points of plumbing. Only a man could find this interesting (disclaimer: I am a man).

Everywhere I looked there were secretaries and librarians, doing the organizing and writing. The Web is a structure of documents. Women get that in a way men don't. Evolution created them that way.

Now we need to connect it all together, and we need help to do that, because we're mostly men, and men don't do civilization.

Here's the one that pissed me off yesterday:

But software comes from men with few exceptions. And I'm not saying anything should change there, there may be a reason why men's minds are better suited to creating complex and dark caves and patiently retrying connections. Evolution created us differently from women.

Dave doesn't ask if men's minds are better suited, he wonders if there's a reason why men's minds are better suited. The assumption here is that men are biologically more adept at creating software than women. Also he brings up a long-held misconception about female capacities when he talks about "creating complex" pieces of work, as if women can't do this. Opponents of female enrollment at universities in the 19th century argued the complexity of studies were beyond a woman's grasp, and potentially damaging to her reproductive system and mental health.

But lest you think I want to bash Dave to bits, which I don't, I'll concede a point he makes. Dave writes, "And I see Meg as fearful of something." Yes, I am fearful of something: of the 21st century unfolding like all the others before it, as male-dominated.

Men continue the run the show and every day women are missing out on the opportunities to craft and lead what are critical elements of the 21st century. This stuff is the advancement of humanity; the New Economy, the post-New Economy, Silicon Valley, technology and the web, it's all changing the way society interacts and communicates, and women need to be involved on all levels.

I'm also fearful because women are so silent when sexism appears. I'm fearful the young women think women's liberation is over; the movement's done. How many women do you know who say things like, "I'm not a feminist but…" What's wrong with being a feminist? And why are so many men, and women, afraid of the label? I am terrified that men will continue to hold the power and control. And I'm afraid that women will silently sit back and let them.