Over the weekend, I was treated to some truly hearty laughs when a group of computer programmers posted on GitHub the specifications of a feminist programming language. (It has since been removed and posted to bitbucket.) As a professional software developer and recreational critic of Social Justice Warriors, this article felt tailor-made to my interests. If either of those descriptions applies to you, feel free to check out the link above, it’s worth it.
“I wonder how long it would take an offended “feminist” to overreact to this article?” I thought. Turns out, not so long, as a feminist coder posted her response almost on cue, complete with “trigger warnings”, using the original post as 75% of her article content, the whole nine yards (check it out here).
Naturally, I was reminded about the infamous Adria Richards “Donglegate” incident, which has become somewhat legendary in the tech world, where a female employee of Sendgrid got two men fired because she overheard them making a joke about “dongles” in private at a conference. I couldn’t help but to think of Beavis and Butthead snickering and saying “huh huh, huh huh, she said dongles”. Crude? Maybe. Reason to lose employment? Absolutely not. And yet when “Donglegate” was all said and done, and Adria Richards got fired because sweet justice exists, the feminists and social justice warriors got the last laugh. For weeks, I saw Adria Richards on TV, playing the victim, distorting the story so hard that I was reminded of a famous Simpsons episode I saw on TV.
That was the Adria Richards coverage in a nutshell, and to someone who was not as invested in the story as I was (which is roughly 99% of people) it seems like another chapter in the long continuing narrative of “The evil ‘bro-grammer boys club of STEM fields that hates women and wants to make their life a living hell’”.
This narrative has always pissed me off because I can tell you firsthand that it is not true. In fact, in just about every aspect it has been the opposite. High schools, universities and employers try to fight so hard against the “boys club” stereotype that they end up giving women some rather unfair advantages. How do I know this? I graduated from one of the top science and engineering schools in the country.
When I was a college freshman in the Computer Science program, I immediately noticed that there were a lot more men than women. No biggie, people do what they like. I didn’t think much of it. It was widely accepted that computer science was one of the tougher majors in our university and students would routinely change majors when they started being overwhelmed by the incredibly demanding course load.
How demanding? During sophomore year my roommate and I pulled so many all-nighters that we inadvertently learned the rules of cricket (the cricket world championships were broadcast from halfway around the world, live, in the middle of the night, and it made for better background TV than infomercials.)
I first realized something was wrong when I got into trouble with the housing department of our school. My crime? Being a nerd hitting on the hottest girl in the dorms next to ours. Apparently, this was labelled as harassing behavior, and the only thing that saved me from being kicked out of on-campus housing was a friend of mine, who was an RA and member of some housing committees, vouching for me and promising everyone there that he would remedy the problem in private. Once again, I didn’t think much of it, we talked it out, and I was actually believing that what I did was wrong. But that’s a story for another time.
Some time later, I saw a student giving a tour to some high school kids, but then I noticed that the high schoolers were all girls, almost all of them wearing matching t-shirts. This was our state’s program to get more girls interested in science and math. Boy interested in science and math? You’re on your own there, buddy. The next year, it was touted as a success—many more girls enrolled in our schools science and math programs than they ever have. Except the numbers were still overwhelmingly male, I think the overall ratio moved by half a percent. I didn’t think much of it then.
As I progressed through my classes, I would see the same faces over and over again. By your senior year you will probably be in at least 1 group project, study group or circle with about 25% of your major by incoming class year. And while there were some brilliant, exceptionally bright and hard-working women, they were outnumbered by women who took the easiest duties in group projects and just coasted. How some of these girls ended up in Junior and Senior Level computer science classes at my school was a miracle. There were numerous instances where you would have to explain basic concepts to them. It blew my mind. And we encouraged them! We either took the harder group project roles because we did not want a bad grade, or we acted as complete supplicating chumps and ended up doing about 80% of these girls homework assignments thinking it would win us favors (it didn’t).
It’s not like the school had a shortage of resources to help them. Quite the opposite. There were several women’s organizations to help ensure the success of these ladies by helping them with tutoring, counseling, etc, for free. But these resources were often ignored in favor of the easy group projects and thirsty men.
There was a computer lab that stayed open all night. There were only 1-2 girls there pulling all-nighters at a time. But lots of dudes. Lots and lots of dudes. Because of the course load, people were dropping out left and right, but I can only recall one instance of a girl I knew dropping out, compared to the dozens of guys I knew.
And then came the job fairs. Because of my school’s prestige and reputation, many prominent companies and organizations recruited from our school. And you can guess what happened. All of the girls that coasted, all of the girls that cheated, “short cut” and gilded their way through college, ALL, without any exception, got job offers at these prestigious companies with those sweet high STEM salaries. I have known several guys that could not find work in their field while grinding hard for up to a year on the same exact prestigious degree. This was demoralizing. But, you know, male privilege.
“But maybe you’re just nitpicking and biased?” OK then, I will give you more examples from outside of my college career.
One of my friend’s girlfriend, on the surface, has a STEM career (computer software to be exact). If you google her name you will find several articles about her, talking about the challenges, hardships, and all the other bla bla bla that women face in computer science. The thing is, I am pretty sure this girl has never written a single line of code. And no, my friend is not dating Adria Richards. Companies are so desperate to employ and tout women, to be seen as that “progressive” company, that many create non-technical positions to fill that role, and then pat themselves on the back for it.
Another example: an ex-girlfriend, a hard science PhD, would routinely complain about the sexism at her job. As a caring and doting boyfriend, of course I took those things seriously, until I realized that the issues were not sexist – they were with her work. When you’re doing research-based academic work that kind of thing tends to happen. You are constantly under scrutiny, your bosses are people that haven’t been outside of academia for any parts of their lives, you get paid shit money, and it’s generally an unfriendly and unwelcoming environment. I realized this when I met more PhDs, male and female, from various fields. All of them had the same story. This girl mistook difficulty for sexism. Getting a PhD is so hard that there is a popular niche comic describing the rigors of professional academia (PhD Comics). Their humor won’t resonate with everyone, but every single PhD I know loves it.
So yes, STEM is indeed easier for women. Everyone wants then to succeed. Everyone needs them to succeed. No matter what the cost.
But you know who I respect the most? The grinders. The girls that work hard, the girls that learn, the girls that try to make a difference in the world on the same playing field as boys. Because, in reality, there is no sexism in science. In fact, there is no “-ism” in science. It’s a meritocracy, with knowledge and achievement as the main focus. And I can respect that.
This is exactly why the “bro” culture will persist. Science can not be held to the same politically correct standards as plain old office work. Because if I’m working with you at 4 am, fueled by pizza, mountain dew and cricket matches on TV, no matter who you are, man or woman, you’re gonna be my bro. Because that’s the only way anything will get done.
Read More: Female Bias In STEM: A Bayesian Explanation