Friday, March 27, 2015

Bechdel By Other Means

I recently encountered an essay about an attempt at making a separate-but-equal programming test analogous to the famous Bechdel Test inspired by a tweet from Laurie Voss:
I confess that this is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard in my life, and yet another sign that Slashdot, whence I got it, is increasingly overrun with Social Justice Warrior types and thus jumping sharks with metronomic regularity. In all this raving about female underrepresentation in tech fields, a persistently missing perspective is that of the employer, i.e. why should a woman make a more appealing choice than a man for a particular job? Just as Jackie Robinson represented a means for the Dodgers to acquire low-cost "amateur" talent as first movers, there has to be a motivation for employers to hire women. That should be the case if the "77 cents on the dollar" factoid were true; no rational employer would throw away that kind of advantage, and should stock their cubicles with women almost exclusively. Yet it doesn't happen, and it's hard to conclude otherwise than that there's some underlying reasons for it, such as a preference for fewer hours and more time spent at home. This exact trend animates Sweden's labor market, which (along with the other Scandinavian countries) is one of the most sexually segregated. That is to say, it is a direct consequence of choices women make that their feminist "betters" expressly reject.
Consider, in this regard, the gender disparities in engineering. An article on the Wharton School website laments the paucity of women engineers and holds up China and Russia as superior examples of equity. According to the post, "In China, 40 percent of engineers are women, and in the former USSR, women accounted for 58 percent of the engineering workforce." The author blames workplace biases and stereotypes for the fact that women in the United States earn only 20 percent of the doctoral degrees in engineering. But perhaps American women earn fewer degrees in engineering because they don't have to. They have more opportunities to pursue careers that really interest them. American women may be behind men in engineering, but they now earn a majority of all Ph.Ds and outnumber men in humanities, biology, social sciences, and health sciences. Despite 40 years of consciousness-raising and gender-neutral pronouns, most men and women still gravitate to different fields and organize their lives in different ways. Women in countries like Sweden, Norway and Iceland enjoy elaborate supportive legislation, yet their vocational preferences and family priorities are similar to those of American women.
Instead of worrying about whether module X engages function Y based on the sex of the author, shouldn't we be more concerned about whether the damn thing works as designed? Acolytes of the cult of Ada Lovelace never have much interest in providing value to the end customer, or even asking how meeting their demands would result in customer value. There is in programming no female analogue to either the Negro Leagues, the color line, or Jackie Robinson, i.e. employers are free to hire women, and in fact do so. Such data as we do have suggests women choose not to enter the field in the first place — which is not the fault of employers or coworkers. In the absence of actual polling data, proof by repeated assertion and hyperbolic conclusion-assuming is all we have, and nowhere close to conclusive. In fact, it represents the same kind of willful reality denial we see in the many feminist "rape" studies that insist on answering important questions for women rather than asking them directly: there's a justifiable fear in the questioner that the "right" answer won't come back often enough.

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