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Re: Female Programmers-WOT

by John M. Dlugosz (Monsignor)
on Jul 13, 2001 at 19:35 UTC ( #96441=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Female Programmers-WOT

I also agree that it's physical, not just cultural. Real Hacker (as defined in the Jargon File) Culture is very tolerent and open, so there would be no problem with acceptance based on sex.


Re multitask: In my own mind, I employ spacial skills to organize a program or a system. Hardware support in the brain for that kind of spacial reasoning is a distinctly male trait. Likewise, you mention "multitask rather than superfocus", the superfocus thing is also the sterotypical male "hunter" mindset.

But, TMTOWTDI, right? The "gatherer" (as opposed to the "hunter") would go through the forest and find things, and includes the ability to tell things apart easily when they might look just the same to us. Navigation is done via landmarks rather than by remembering distance and bearing, but it still works. If a female programmer also mapped a problem to a territory map, she might notice subtle difference and find bugs that way, recognise idioms and patterns more easily, etc.

Most significantly, the female brain has much better language ability. And just what is programming, but language? So I would expect that would avail itself to developing a very high level of fluency in programming languages.

So, we hyperfocus when "hunting down a bug", "tracking a problem", etc. But who says she has to do it the same way? Maintain awareness of the large system, rather than focusing on a detail.

Something I saw on the Discovery Channel showed rock-climbing as an example where different male/female skills worked out to give equal results, overall. Why isn't programming the same way? Maybe it's only a matter of appeal, not ability. But those generally go hand-in-hand—we evolve to be good at what we do.


Comment on Re: Female Programmers-WOT
Cognitive Traits - W,WOT
by frag (Hermit) on Jul 14, 2001 at 02:04 UTC
    Hardware support in the brain for that kind of spacial reasoning is a distinctly male trait.

    (Uh-oh. You stepped on my pet peeve's tail...)


    Nothing personal, but no, it's not. There are statistical studies, with results of statistical significance but not always significant magnitudes. There are bell-curved distributions of performance, brain region size, and brain blood flow, all with overlaps.

    From none of this sort of data does it follow that

    1. This cognitive trait is necessarily distinctly male
    2. That there are necessarily distinct brain mechanisms between the sexes driving the differences reported in the data. (I.e. that men have brain circuitry X, women have Y, and neither group has the other's: this sort of conclusion does not follow from these kinds of data.)


    Sorry about that. I'm not saying there aren't differences, I'm saying they're not either/or differences, which probably seems pedantic. And, um, it mostly is (hey, that's what pet peeves are for, right?), except that it really can effect how you approach these things, if you see women as physically incapable of ever thinking certain things, of solving tasks in certain ways.

    -- Frag.

    Update: slight wording change.

      Actually some of the results are far more striking than you might think. The third example I give in People don't think like you think they do is an excellent illustration. Again, there is no proof there of why there is a gap between the sexes, but I can vouch that there clearly is.

      As for your pet peeve, I agree with the spirit. There is no faster way to cripple yourself or someone else than to encourage a belief that they cannot do something. And even if they cannot solve a particular problem in a particular way, do not discount the possibility of them finding a different solution. My follow-up article in that thread gives an interesting example involving police officers.

      As for the actual subject at hand, I will give 2 data points. The first is the fact that my wife is (IMHO) smarter than I am. (The PhD and MD should give you a hint why I might think that.) But despite this, she is not a programmer. No interest at all. The second is that the only programmer I have personally known who had an IBM mainframe at home was a woman. (It was for a consulting gig, and she said that the electric bill while she had it was impressive...)

      From this I conclude that you can be very, very smart and not be inclined towards computers. And you can be female and very, very good at programming.

        Interesting. If it (the cup trick from your link) is as striking a gender difference as you say, I'm surprised I haven't seen it flogged as a cardinal example of gender differences in Intro Psych texts. If it is there'll be citations. I'm going to have to try hunting this down; I'm particularly curious about whether there's been any developmental/cross-cultural studies or attempts at shifting the results by changing the way the problem's framed.

        [googling takes place, then...]
        This press release describes an interesting study. Your cup problem may be related to these mental rotation tests, and the interesting finding here is that the effect may be confined to 2d representations, because they report that the gender difference vanishes when you redo the test using 3d objects in VR. (Now that's what I call a psych experiment.)

        In any case, consider that sometimes dramatic effects can be be generated by structures that don't have dramatic differences in their mechanisms. A lot can depend on the task being given. Then you're left arguing over what test is getting at 'the truth' -- the one that results in a sharp split of performance, or the one that results in a more graded distribution of results?

        -- Frag.

Re: Re: Female Programmers-WOT
by jepri (Parson) on Jul 14, 2001 at 23:24 UTC
    To paraphrase some guy, "Whenever I hear social darwinism I reach for my gun". I realise that this thread is going to have a few people saying similar things to you, but you are the first person who went that far.

    From general observation (danger!), people who invoke social darwinism tend to use it to justify a point of view that they already hold, rather than to explore and develop a hypothesis.

    If you feel I am being unnecessarily strict here, check up on the Piltdown Man debacle to see a clear (and very embaressing example) of what I am talking about.

    There is a theory that suggests that very small differences in children can be amplified as they grow older, but in general culture overrides instinct in humans. Otherwise no one would buy Pokemon.

    I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.

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