Geek Mythologies: Women in Computing

Geek glasses

Having started working on my masters final project, which was on the subject of women and computing, I began to realize that like the Greek mythologies of yore, the modern world has it own myths, especially surrounding geeks, technology and who is categorized as computer literate. I had read about a scholar in Norway, Hilde Corneliussen, who peaked my interest when she published a book in 2012 called “Gender-Technology Relations: Exploring Stability and Change”.  It contained some excellent examples of how women began to see themselves as lacking the ability and aptitude to work with computing technologies, despite the fact that women had been the first computer programmers and had played critical roles during the advent of computing. Though it often seemed like a cultural conspiracy to make ‘geek’ and ‘male’ synonymous, the evolution of this stereotype had an element of happenstance she captures well. I could recall the numerous articles in the 1990’s that showed women lagging behind men in computer and internet use. And though I had been engaged with computing since the 1980’s, even I had to concede, women seemed to shun computers in growing numbers. And the more women shunned computers the more of a feedback loop it became no matter how it all started.

Corneliussen discusses the reality behind the longtime headlines of ‘more male computer users than women’ that there were in fact a majority of men AND women who were not savvy about technology or even felt much interest in computing, programming and technology tools. She argues that over time an imbalance in media coverage coupled with evolving, new social constructs surrounding an exploding digital world, made male non-users of technology (a majority of men originally) invisible, and female users with technical abilities just as invisible. Looking back it can seem irrational that a whole gender could be seen as having less computing aptitude, but this myth was created and perpetuated, especially in popular culture. And the raw statistics seemed to support it, even while we were ignoring the fact that a large majority of the population was still trying to figure out the remote on the television and how to record on a VCR.

Here is my paper on the subject: GeekMythologies_Detrie

Reading her book, made me curious about cultural myths, semiotics and how cultures construct themselves. And it got me interested in tracking some of the ‘geek mythologies’ we hold to be true but don’t bear up under scrutiny.