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Media Matters:. How representation and cultural climate are contributing to the decline of women in computing. Dr. Kim Surkan Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, MIT Media Consumption is Growing.

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media matters

Media Matters:

How representation and cultural climate are contributing to the decline of women in computing

Dr. Kim Surkan

Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, MIT

media consumption is growing
Media Consumption is Growing

Children ages 8 to 18 spent an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day in 2010 consuming television/Internet media, up from 6:21 in 2004 (Kaiser FF)

media effects
Media Effects
  • Reinforcement (or rejection) of stereotypes
  • Symbolic annihilation
  • Lack of visible role models for women in STEM
  • Decreased self-esteem: TV exposure is positively correlated with self-esteem for young white boys, but negatively correlated with self esteem for young girls and African American children(Martins & Harrison, 2012)
trend numbers of women in computing at bs level declining
Trend: Numbers of women in computing at BS level declining

NSF data shows BS levels in

computer science

increased more rapidly

between 1972 and 1984 than

in any other STEM discipline.

BUT. . .

After 1984, CS was the ONLY one

that has seen a decrease in the

participation of women, a trend

that continues to this day.

(Hayes, in Gender Codes, 2010)

masculinizing computer science emergence of the nerd
Masculinizing Computer Science: Emergence of the Nerd
  • Computer programming began as women’s work and had to be made masculine (Ensmenger, in Gender Codes, 2010)
  • 1940s – women worked in Bletchley Park and on the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) machine at UPenn.
  • “Software” as a term introduced later in 1958 but coding/programming was already associated in the 1940s with gendered connotations of appropriate work for women (as opposed to masculine associations with hardware)
  • “The popular association of computing culture with the ‘nerd’ stereotype is perhaps the most common explanation for low rates of participation among females. . . Eccentric, unkempt, antisocial – and male.” (Ensmenger, 137)
sexism in computer culture
Sexism in Computer Culture
  • Rampant sexism and anti-feminism in many aspects of computer and gaming culture creates a hostile environment for women
  • Recruitment/Hiring
  • Hackathons
  • Sexual harassment and rape culture
  • Lack of role models & unwillingness of female success stories to identify with feminism
sexism in recruitment hiring
Sexism in Recruitment & Hiring
  • Image shift from geek to “brogrammer,” defined as “portmanteau of the frathouse moniker ‘bro’ and ‘programmer’”
  • Startup recruitment ads routinely list women as perks, use heterosexist language targeting male job candidates, and feature “booth babes” at tech career fairs
  • Klout (social media analytics startup): “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring”

Hackathons are another important recruitment outlet for programmers and entrepreneurs, yet the culture is overwhelmingly male and often includes frat-boy misogyny.

In September 2013, Australians JethroBatts and David Boulton sparked controversy and protest with the unveiling of their Titstare app at TechCrunch Disrupt, described as “an app where you take pictures of yourself looking at tits.”

Their presentation was followed later in the day by “Circle Shake,” in which Kangmo Kim air-masturbated to demonstrate an app that counts how many times an iPhone can be shaken in 10 seconds.

“The spirit of our event was marred by two misogynistic presentations. . . Sexism is a major problem in the tech industry. . . We are sorry.”

--TechCrunch, September 8

harassment cyber mobbing
Harassment & Cyber-Mobbing

Women who speak out against sexism and misogyny are targeted by hate speech online

Anita Sarkeesian was “cyber-mobbed”

after starting a Kickstarter project to

fund her video series on the representation

of female characters in games

Adria Richards became the target of online harassment after tweeting a photograph of men making sexual jokes about “forking” and “dongles” at PyCon in Santa Clara in March 2013. She later lost her job over the incident.

reluctant role models
Reluctant Role Models
  • Successful female role models in the tech industry are reluctant to embrace feminism
  • Marissa Mayer “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist”

"I don't think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that, I certainly believe in equal rights. I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions," she said. "But I don't, I think, have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it's too bad, but I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word. There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there's more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy."

culture fit and the problem of women in technology fields
“Culture fit” and the problem of women in technology fields
  • While some women certainly are passed up for promotion, discounted, etc. based on their gender (and I personally know people for whom it has), it should never be immediately assumed this is the reason why without evidence to back it up. There's a possibility that maybe there really was a better candidate.
  • A few years ago I would have said the same things you're saying. I found out I was wrong. I found out I was making 25% of what my male peers were making. I was told that development would prefer not to have women in the department because of sexual harassment problems. I was told to "calm down" when I shared my opinions the same ways my male coworkers did. I heard male coworkers calling me "difficult" when I asserted myself. Male peers spent the weekend learning some JavaScript library and got called "experts" by management. I'd been writing JavaScript for years and I heard that I "need to demonstrate it more" (apparently my previous work with the company combined with samples from outside is somehow not sufficient).

Comments from article “This is Why There Aren’t Enough Women in Tech”

the future changing attitudes making new opportunities for women and girls
The future: changing attitudes, making new opportunities for women and girls
  • Girls, games and toys

Goldie Blox – engineering game for girls,

designed by Debbie Sterling

Roominate - wired dollhouse building kit for young girls, designed by Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen


Hayes, Caroline Clarke. “The Incredible Shrinking Woman.”In Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing. Ed Thomas Misa. NJ: Wiley, 2010. 25-50.

Mandell, Nina. “Marissa Mayer: I Don’t Think That I Would Consider Myself A Feminist.” Fast Company.February 28, 2013.

Martins, N. and K. Harrison, Racial and Gender Differences in the RelationshipBetween Children’s Television Use and Self-Esteem: A Longitudinal Panel Study. Communication Research, 2012. 39(3): p. 338-357.

Misa, Thomas, ed. Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing. NJ: Wiley, 2010.

Raja, Tasneem. "Gangbang Interviews" and "Bikini Shots": Silicon Valley’s BrogrammerProblem.” Mother Jones.April 26, 2013.

Rideout, V.J., U.G. Foehr, and D.F. Roberts, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year Olds, in A Kaiser Family Foundations Study, K.F. Foundation, Ed., 2010.

Sorenson, Jen. “The Universal Laws of Ladies in Science.”

Tiku, Nitasha. “This is Why There Aren’t Enough Women in Tech.” Valleywag Gawker. 08/29/2013.

Yurkiewicz, Ilana. “Study Shows Gender Bias in Science is Real. Here’s Why it Matters.” Scientific American. September 23, 2012.