No, we are not post-gender!

Last week a blog post of the Communications of the ACM, written by Mark Guzdial asked the question “U.S. Women in Computing: Why Isn’t It Getting Better?“. His answer then was that it primarily might be due to computer scientists own neglect of gender issues. As this situation does not seem any different from the Austrian or many other contexts, I thought it is time for taking up the issue again. The most disturbing fact to me is, that despite the ever low ratio of women in computing (education and industry) most male computer scientists seem to think that there is no gender issue at all. This fits to the nerdy accounts of (especially, but not only) male computer scientists throughout very diverse settings, whether it is at the Pirates Party who think they are post-gender, or at the computer science faculties at the Viennese universities, or even in our own contexts – the /bin is of course not a place where we have already reflected upon all oppressive structures in society, but at least we try to make room for such discussions and reflections, and we try to give voice to those who think there is a problem instead of those who neglect problems because they don’t feel themselves affected.

So, in order to make room for more of such reflections, I want to invite all of you to join in diverse efforts to reflect on that and to establish more just practices in our daily lives, within and without the often fuzzy realms of computer science.

That it is possible is shown in several instances. The book “Unlocking the Clubhouse. Women in Computing” by Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher, which was cited in the blog entry of Mark Guzdial, gives some well elaborated impressions on that. If you are interested in that please write to bagru (ät), we might order it for our library then. A very practical guide comes out of the Linux community and may just as well be applied to many settings throughout computer science: HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux, written by Val Henson and many others presents some of the major problems many women* face when entering such techno-centric male-dominated domains like Linux or computer science. This is done not on some abstract theoretical level but by highlighting concrete situations that often drive women* out of the field. Another account on diverse inclusion strategies for the field of computer science is given by Vivian Annette Lagesen in her paper “The Strength of Numbers“, published 2007 in Social Studies of Science vol. 37 no. 1, which is available as full text on-line if you are using the network of the University of Vienna. If you do not get access you can just visit us in the /bin (next to HS 24 in the University of Vienna main building) and load the paper from there, or otherwise contact us digitally. Then of course, as Vivian Annette Lagesen also showed in another paper, just changing the ratio of women to men quantitatively does not solve all gender based issues. See therefore her paper “A Cyberfeminist Utopia? Perceptions of Gender and Computer Science among Malaysian Women Computer Science Students and Faculty“, published 2008 in Science, Technology & Human Values vol. 33 no. 1, also available in full text through the university network. In it she shows that even in those places where women make more then 51% of computer science faculty, there is still unequal distribution of power some dominant models and perceptions of what computer science is, should be about, and about how to apply it remain. But of course this is not any excuse for not trying to change the devastating situations we have here in and around Austria when it comes to quantitative inclusion. We only have to bear in mind that this is of course only one aspect of a broader struggle towards a socially responsible computer science and a more just society.

So, if you now are in the mood of discussing these issues with other interested people let us know at bagru (ät) or write to me ( jackie (ät) ). We might even work on a re on a new version of the self-organized seminar on “Computer Science & Sex/Gender”, which was held in 2009 and 2010, but so far only in German. I’d be glad to work on a revision of that course also in english, if there are some interested people out there. Meanwhile you can also take a look at the collection of papers, books and materials which we started for the course.

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