Saturday, August 12, 2017

Another Response to the Google Memo

On Wednesday, I wrote my own response to the "Google memo" in which I focused on the (pseudo)science used in the memo. I had such a great time writing that post and in chatting with people after that I'm working on another writing project along those lines. Stay tuned.

But I'm thankful to Holly Brockwell, for focusing on the history of women in tech in her response. Because as she points out, women were there all along:
The viewpoint Damore is espousing is known as biological essentialism. It’s used by people who have been told all their lives that they’re special and brilliant, and in moments of insecurity or arrogance, seek to prove this with junk science. Junk science like “women are biologically unsuited to technical work”, which – despite all his thesaurus-bothering, pseudoscientific linguistic cladding (see, I can do it too) – is the reductive crux of his argument.

Damore clearly thinks he’s schooling the world on biology, but it’s actually history he should have been paying attention to. Because he either doesn’t know or has chosen to forget that women were the originators of programming, and dominated the software field until men rode in and claimed all the glory.
Ada Lovelace, author of the first computer algorithm
The fact is, programming was considered repetitive, unglamorous “women’s work”, like typing and punching cards, until it turned out to be a lucrative and prestigious field. Then, predictably, the achievements of women were wiped from the scoreboard and men like James Damore pretended they were never there.

Marie Hicks, author of Programmed Inequality – How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing, believes the subordination of women in computer science has limited progress for everyone.

“The history of computing shows that again and again women’s achievements were submerged and their potential squandered – at the expense of the industry as a whole,” she explains. “The many technical women who were good at their jobs had the opportunity to train their male replacements once computing began to rise in prestige – and were subsequently pushed out of the field.

“These women and men did the same work, yet the less experienced newcomers to the field were considered computer experts, while the women who trained them were merely expendable workers. This has everything to do with power and cultural expectation, and nothing to do with biological difference.”

It might be comforting for mediocre men to believe that they’re simply born superior. That’s what society’s been telling them all their lives, and no one questions a compliment. But when they try to dress up their insecurities as science, they’d better be ready for women to challenge them on the facts. Because really, sexism is just bad programming, and we’d be happy to teach you how to fix it.
In fact, some of the first women to contribute to statistics did so as human computers, who worked for many hours repeating calculations on mechanical calculators to fill in the tables of critical values and probabilities to accompany statistical tests.

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