(I was reading a good CNN article about the lack of gamer programmers. I had a similar topic on my idea list for Second Tense, so perhaps now is as good as any.)
Gender Awareness - An Oddity of Second Life
A confession, to my readers: I have a crush on every female Linden and every good scripter that is truly female in Real Life. *swoons* Okay, so, when I announced that on the #secondlife IRC Channel, it was sort of tongue-in-cheek. But the fact is that I have a soft spot in my heart for the female geek. (If you don't realize that the term "geek" is a compliment, I suggest you go close this browser window and go pick up a good book, like Snow Crash, or Learning Perl.)
And I'm sorry, Cory Linden, pictures of you are abound on blogs and conferences, and it's public knowledge that you're a dude. And, I may add, you'd make a far-too-hairy chick if you were to claim the opposite!
But there's a lack of female talent when it comes to programming:
- I knew it back when I was in an all-male intro to programming class when I was 15.
- I knew it in college when my engineering school was 80% men and an even higher percentage for the Computer Science department.
- I knew it when I had classes taught by the only two female professors in my department.
- I knew it when I went to work after college.
- And I most certainly still know it when, after wracking my brain and others in the IRC channel, we came up with 2 scripters - at most - who are what I would consider "talented" scripters in SL, compared to maybe two dozen male ones. (And I won't say which ones, lest I imply who is really a male behind a female avatar, or lest I insult others.)
What Keeps the Women Away from Programming?
This is perhaps my ultimate question, and despite contemplating it for years, I have few clues to the answer. Some theories and speculation:
Is programming inherently too abstract and logical for women?
I've also heard that men are more likely to make decisions one way or the other, and women to come up with a middle-ground; what more clear of a decision is a 1 / 0 switch? Though, I doubt it. Some of the best abstract thinkers that I've met have been women.
Has the programming an engineering industry isolated women for years and is now struggling to bring them in?
I think this is fairly likely. A reliable source told me a few years ago that there are Trustees from my alma matar, an engineering school, that still talk about "that damn day they let the women in". (That was in the early seventies.)
Is there something inherent to the programming languages that's male-oriented?
It's possible that, assuming that the industry was male-dominated, de facto, that the programming languages that evolved were made in ways that are easier for men to understand. However, I doubt this. I don't see how a FOR loop has anything but a neutral gender. (And recursion, heck, that's hella sexy - if anything, that's definitely female!)
Is the processes of programming a substitute for childbearing?
I know, it's not necessarily a mainstream view, but psychologists have long theorized that men have a need to build big things like buildings or bridges because they lack the power to create and give birth to a living human. Personally, it's that creative process in programming that I love the most; whether it due to lacking a womb ... well, that's up for debate.
Has Western society set such a ridiculous expectation for women to be big-breasted, stupid blonde cheerleaders who are shy, submissive, and non-technical?
Hey, now here's a pretty strong theory, in my opinion.
We Want You, Women!
Us geeks? We totally dig femme geeks. I think it goes the same way for guys who are into sports, or guys into cars. We want women to be into some of the same stuff we are. As to why that is true, well, I'm not going there in a technology-oriented blog.
How do we get more women interested? Well, Second Life goes leaps and bounds. Back when I went to FlipperPA and JennyFur's RL wedding reception , my girlfriend struck up a conversation with another SL resident's wife. A few minutes later the guy's wife interrupted my chat with her husband, exclaiming, "You didn't tell me it was like playing with Barbies!" Out-of-context chauvinism aside, for a lot of women, SL's draw is the shopping and avatar aspect of the online world.
I don't think it's at all inaccurate to state that guys and girls tend to gravitate toward different genres of computer entertainment - be it war games for guys, playing "house" with the Sims for women, etc. (What the CNN article gets into.) Again, I won't really speculate too much as to why this is true - whether it's genetic or Western society's influence, but these general trends seem to exist. And, hence, SL provides a much broader, and dare I say, much more stereotypically feminine gaming experience?
Gender Inequality ... Or Is It?
Then again, I go to one of SL's clubs and the gender equality clock has been turned back with the women scantily clad. Many clubs feature adult content that almost entirely features the female form. On the surface, it's a men's catered world. But who is doing the catering? I see lots of female club owners, but are they really female in RL?
I also see a lot of female clothing designers making a lot of money. Now, truly this is where women have gotten hold of the Metaverse. From conversations with a few of them, this is an extremely lucrative market for people with Photoshop talent, and it's far and wide female dominated. There's also the lucrative animation market, and the best ones I know of in SL seem to be split male / female about 50/50. But these are very artsy related jobs, not programming.
And there's the Anshe factor, and the Ulrika factor - where notable female residents have taken very visible, very strong roles in Second Life. But while it's encouraging to see business and politics having extremely strong female leaders, where are the programmers?
I'm stumped. Many times I have insight into the future of where technology is heading, but this is one of those times where the problem is visible but no solution.
What makes the whole situation even more confusing are gender-crossing residents. For instance, would a man playing a woman in SL and being a good scripter encourage more RL women to try scripting, or does it simply forward the stereotype? In a world where you can pick your full appearance, does that appearance of being male or female even matter?
And how much faster could our technology progress if we had the full participation of both genders in the creation of programs? What could that mysterious "other gender" add to our geekly creations? How can we change the way we teach new players - or even young girls in school*, on a broader perspective - to be interested more in programming?
Perhaps the answers are out there already. Dang, I didn't realize it at the beginning of the article, but I should have known all roads in the Metaverse lead back to Stephenson. *grin*
* I can only imagine the google hits I'll get from the proceeding four words in that sentence!