Feeling grumpy about gender this morning

Photo by Gubatron. Creative Commons license

If you care about gender and scholarship, stop reading this and go read Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code by Miriam Posner. And then read all the comments. And then note that nearly all the commenters who say something like “oh yes, I agree, but the gendered culture of coding is part of a bigger issue that isn’t about gender, and I’m not comfortable talking about gender, so I’m going to hijack the discussion and talk about the bigger issue” are men.

And not to single anyone out, but when Ted Underwood says:

Miriam Posner has recently suggested that the culture surrounding “coding” serves as a barrier that discourages women and minorities from entering certain precincts of DH. I think that’s right, but I’m even more concerned about the barriers embodied in access to data. Coding is actually not all that hard to pick up. Yes, it’s surrounded by gendered assumptions; but still, you can do it over a summer. (emphasis mine)

he is speaking from male privilege. I don’t know Ted, and I don’t mean to imply that he is anything but supportive of gender equality in digital humanities and everywhere else — I choose to assume he is. But that paragraph just smacks of so much male privilege, it made me grumpy enough to write.

My point is, if you think Miriam has raised a good point and an important issue about the gendered culture of coding, then stop changing the topic. And stop asking the women for the answers. I would like to see more discussion of Miriam’s final point:

And unless you believe (and you don’t, do you?) that some biological explanation prevents us from excelling at programming, then you must see that there is a structural problem.

So I am saying to you: If you want women and people of color in your community, if it is important to you to have a diverse discipline, you need to do something besides exhort us to code.

And, no, I’m not offering any solutions myself right now — because I’m not a coder or a DH’er (or even an H’er), and because I think it is wrong to ask the oppressed group to take on the entire burden of ending their own oppression, and mostly because I’m too grumpy about the issue to do it justice.

12 Responses to “Feeling grumpy about gender this morning”


    • 2 Chris Bourg March 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      Thx for the context Ted. And, again, nothing personal — I agree with so much of what you have written. But you do see how noting that coding is something you can do over a summer in response to an impassioned description of the very real barriers women face in learning coding could be read as dismissive and as coming from male privilege?

      • 3 tedunderwood March 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

        Sure. I was assuming an audience who would have read my earlier comments on Miriam’s post — but of course not everyone will have. So I have updated that paragraph to make my meaning clearer. There are real, structural, gendered barriers to learning coding. But I also don’t think it’s indispensable for everyone in DH to learn coding. People can collaborate. E.g., I have been collaborating with Loretta Auvil, who does kinds of advanced programming that are beyond me. My point isn’t to minimize gender at all … it’s to minimize coding …

      • 4 Chris Bourg March 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

        Fair enough. Thx for responding.

  1. 5 butchwonders March 4, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the great post. I feel like if the world had developed such that 90% of coders were women, coding would be valued a lot less–seen as “women’s work,” thus associated with women, and thus would enjoy less prestige.

    • 6 Chris Bourg March 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Thx BW. You are likely correct, and it remains possible that an influx of women into coding would result in the exact dynamic you describe.

      • 7 Butch Wonders March 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm

        I’m trying to think of other professions where this has taken place. Secondary school teaching comes immediately to mind. Also the teaching of English comp in college. There’s a great article called something like, “Teaching composition is ‘Women’s Work.'” If I can find it, I’ll pass it along.


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