I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.

This is cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

I demonstrated an aptitude for computers when I was a young girl, but I didn’t have home Internet access until I graduated from high school. I blame the Patriarchy, partly.

By the time I was in high school, I was usually the only person in my classes who didn’t have any Internet access, while most of my peers had high-speed access. When my peers communicated with each other through e-mail and chat, I was shut out of the social conversation and didn’t understand the “technical” terms they were using. I understood the creative potential of being able to communicate with computer users all over the world. I knew that Internet access would allow me to communicate with others without my social anxiety getting in the way. However, my father was hard-set against the idea of “the Internet”.

For five years, I was part of a persistent family campaign to convince my father that we should get Internet access. He thought that the Internet was a software program that was just a “fad” and would go out of style. Back then, the mainstream media was even more confused than now about what “the Internet” was. The news sensationalized stories about online predators luring young girls through “the Internet” to rape them. The implied moral of these news stories was that the Internet was dangerous and full of sexual predators.

My father did not work in an office then, so he heard more about “the Internet” through his coworkers. One male coworker basically explained to my father that The Internet Is For Porn. My father came home and told us that he was never going to let us have Internet access, because girls especially should be protected from exposure to pornography.

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If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged.

Often, computer geeks who started programming at a young age brag about it, as it is a source of geeky prestige. However, most computer geeks are oblivious to the fact that your parents being able to afford a computer back in the 1980s is a product of class privilege, not your innate geekiness. Additionally, the child’s gender affects how much the parents are willing to financially invest in the child’s computer education. If parents in the 1980s think that it is unlikely their eight-year-old daughter will have a career in technology, then purchasing a computer may seem like a frivolous expense.

Because of systemic racism, class differences correlate with racial demographics. In the Racialicious post Gaming Masculinity, Latoya quotes a researcher’s exchange with an African American male computer science (CS) undergraduate:

“Me and some of my black friends were talking about the other guys in CS. Some of them have been programming since they were eight. We can’t compete with that. Now, the only thing that I have been doing since I was eight is playing basketball. I would own them on the court. I mean it wouldn’t be fair, they would just stand there and I would dominate. It is sort of like that in CS.”
– Undergraduate CS Major

Those “other guys” in CS are those white, male geeks who brag in CS newsgroups about hacking away at their Commodore 64s as young children, where successive posters reveal younger and younger ages in order to trump the previous poster. This disgusting flaunting of privilege completely demoralizes those of us who gained computer access only recently. However, CS departments—which tend to be dominated by even more privileged computer geeks of an earlier era when computers were even rarer—also assume that early computer adoption is a meritocratic measure of innate interest and ability.

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Lady Lovelace was the first computer programmer.

When I was a young girl and learned about Lady Lovelace, the first computer programmer, I found it deliciously ironic that someone who defied gender stereotypes would have such an absurdly feminine and alliterative name.

The name “Lady Lovelace” was similar to that of a 80s cartoon character I liked when I was younger, “Lady Lovely Locks”. Lady Lovely Locks was beautiful because she had long, blonde hair, and the wicked villain was a girl with black hair. (As an Asian girl with short, black hair, Lady Lovely Locks was only one example of children’s media that communicated to me over and over again that blondes were more beautiful, and that I was ugly.) I amused myself by imagining that Lady Lovelace looked like how her name sounded, having long, flowing, blonde hair and wearing lacy dresses with heart designs, while computer programming.

What is interesting is that even at a young age, I was already aware of the stereotype that computer programming was a male domain. Some people who offer hypotheses about why fewer women go into computer science treat 18-year-old adult women like tabula rasae who have never been exposed to the idea that computer programming is for men, and attempt interventions right when women choose their university majors or accuse such late interventions of being “social engineering”.

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