Great post on girls and tech by legendary hacker Susan Sons. At the age of 12 she became a respect member of an IRC channel where she was fully accepted despite her age and gender:
Open source was my refuge because it was a place were nobody cared what my pedigree was or what I looked like—they cared only about what I did. I ingratiated myself to people who could help me learn by doing dull scutwork: triaging issues to keep the issue queues neat and orderly, writing documentation and fixing code comments. I was the helpful kid, so when I needed help, the community was there. I’d never met another programmer in real life at this point, but I knew more about programming than some college students.
Twelve-year-old girls today don’t generally get to have the experiences that I did. Parents are warned to keep kids off the computer lest they get lured away by child molesters or worse—become fat! That goes doubly for girls, who then grow up to be liberal arts majors. Then, in their late teens or early twenties, someone who feels the gender skew in technology communities is a problem drags them to a LUG meeting or an IRC channel. Shockingly, this doesn’t turn the young women into hackers.
Why does anyone, anywhere, think this will work? Start with a young woman who’s already formed her identity. Dump her in a situation that operates on different social scripts than she’s accustomed to, full of people talking about a subject she doesn’t yet understand. Then tell her the community is hostile toward women and therefore doesn’t have enough of them, all while showing her off like a prize poodle so you can feel good about recruiting a female. This is a recipe for failure.
Young women don’t magically become technologists at 22. Neither do young men. Hackers are born in childhood, because that’s when the addiction to solving the puzzle or building something kicks in to those who’ve experienced that “victory!” moment like I had when I imposed my will on a couple electronic primates.
Unfortunately, our society has set girls up to be anything but technologists. My son is in elementary school. Last year, his school offered a robotics class for girls only. When my son asked why he couldn’t join, it was explained to him that girls need special help to become interested in technology, and that if there are boys around, the girls will be too scared to try.
My son came home very confused. You see, he grew up with a mom who coded while she breastfed and brought him to his first LUG meeting at age seven weeks. The first time he saw a home-built robot, it was shown to him by a local hackerspace member, a woman who happens to administer one of the country’s biggest supercomputers. Why was his school acting like girls were dumb?
Thanks so much, modern-day “feminism”, for putting very unfeminist ideas in my son’s head.