[ox-en] Young, male and (probably) NOT single
- From: "geert lovink" <geert desk.nl>
- Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2002 19:39:14 +1000
Open source 'geeks': Young, male and (probably) NOT single
For years we have been told be some women and a few men that sex
differences in involvement / success in various careers and activities
reflect anti-female bias (by men and probably women too) rather than
underlying sex differences in the innate mental capacity and interests.
This view holds that there are no such innate sex differences. Another
less extreme version of this viewpoint is that there are sex
differences, but that the outcomes reflect a more extreme divergence
than innate sex differences would lead to if females were supported and
accepted identically to males. I am not arguing in support of sexism -
just that that there are real sex-differences and that divergent
outcomes will happily and healthily occur even in the absence of sexism.
In particular these claims of sexism blighting women's lives are made
about leadership roles in politics and commerce, about mathematics and
about engineering. I don't think we hear it much in the humanities or
biological sciences because there are clearly lots of women taking an
interest and being very involved and successful in these fields.
In politics and corporate management, it can be difficult to distinguish
between sex differences in innate ability/interest and the effects of
social factors. Social factors start at birth and continue operating at
the level of selecting candidates for leadership position. They also
affect the ability of women to sustain their leadership roles once they
get them. In politics and management, women's success is necessarily
subject to very strong social factors - so I think it is impossible to
isolate these effects from any underlying sex-differences in interest or
aptitude for leadership.
To some extent, the same could be said of professional work in
engineering, because in order to work professionally as an engineer, one
has to survive several years in an engineering course and then be chosen
for an engineering job - both of which are processes involving strong
Some "feminists" have long been championing girls and women becoming
involved in engineering - to the point of stating that anything less
then a 50/50 sex ratio on the final composition of the profession must
be the result of anti-female bias in the educational system, in how
children are raised etc. This claim assumes that there is no
difference at all, in general, between female's interest in and capacity
to do, engineering. This claim is untenable now that more is known
about sex differences in cognition, how they are affected by hormones in
utero and day to day (monthly fluctuations in estrogen have been shown
to affect the capacity to think in certain ways - I have some references
here somewhere . . . - and the optimal levels of testosterone and
estrogen for various skills is neither low or nor extremely high).
But here is another angle. Suppose we find a field of "engineering"
endeavor which is very largely unaffected by social factors. Then, if
we find a significant sex difference in participation rates, then this
would indicate that one sex or the other was genuinely more interested
in it than the other, and/or that one sex generally had their brains
organised (presumably by biological processes) to do this kind of
activity better than the other sex.
I well known example is childhood play. Many parents who formerly
believed there were no innate sex differences regarding dolls vs. guns
etc. change their thinking when the observe how their children play.
One adult example is open-source computer programming. You can do this
without having to work with anyone, and certainly without having to be
accepted into any training course. Lots of open-source projects
involve people working alone. In group projects, there is the
potential of rejection due to social pressures on grounds of sex - but I
would think that open-source projects are willing to accept the
contributions of all people who have something to offer. Also, since
most interaction is by email, a person's appearance, race, accent, sex,
dress sense (or lack thereof), is likely to play little or no role in
their social acceptance and subsequent involvement in a group project.
I see women involved in the Mozilla project - though not, as far as I
know, in coding. By the way, I think that one of the very worst things
about most computer programmers is that they fail to clearly lay out and
clearly document their code and data structures. This greatly detracts
from their ability to write robust, easy to maintain, well designed
software! I attribute this primarily to instinctual processes in young
men - who are prone to showing off their hunting prowess without
explaining how they do it, and who are very often prone *not* to
communicate at length or verbally at all. This is an aspect of
programming which would benefit enormously from some more innately
So according to this survey, 98.9 percent of open-source programmers are
male. Surely this reflects what I believe to be a fact - that in
general, women are interested in things rather different from computer
I once had a friend and his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter here for
show-and-tell. We looked at pond water, tadpoles, water weeds, little
water-borne creatures etc. under the stereo microscope for a long time.
We had been out getting things from the frog pond in the back yard and
she was fascinated by all this, and happily spent ten or fifteen minutes
with our guidance looking at things under the microscope. She clearly
understood that what she saw was what she could see without the
microscope - so it was not for her like watching telly. When we had
run out of living things to look at, I put a CPU chip under the
microscope. I have a very good Illuminator, and the chip is at least as
strikingly visual as strands of algae etc. She looked at it for a few
seconds and then turned away.
Another field of adult endeavor which involves technical engineering
mechanical things but which does not require the participant to get
through social hurdles is electronic music, including software
generation of music. But for now, lets consider the use of physical
electronic instruments to make music.
There's no positive m/f sex difference I can see in general interest in
music - if anything, I would say more girls and women are interested in
music than boys and men. Likewise, there are plenty of females who
enjoy dancing to electronically generated "techno" and "trance" music -
at least as many as males.
It does not take peer acceptance to become involved in using electronic
instruments to make music. Anyone can do it - just buy or borrow the
gear and get on with it. It is often a relatively solitary project.
I earn my living largely by modifying a particular electronic musical
instrument, the 1982 Roland TB-303, to become the ***Devil Fish***:
Think of it as being a $3000 Fisher Price activity set for adults, with
the wildest sounds which inspire many people to dance and smile. (Once,
I had the Devil Fish babbling away with a few neither-here-nor-there
melodic patterns and two four year old nieces immediately began dancing
and happily cavorting around. This must be because it sounds great -
they had no idea of the cult of the TB-303 / Devil Fish. They weren't
twiddling the knobs and they probably had little or no prior exposure to
I have worked on 134 Devil Fishes since 1993. While I find my women
friends generally as fascinated with it as my male friends, here is the
breakdown of my 134 customers:
1 Male -> Female transsexual
I have a female friend who is keen to have her TB-303 modified, so
hopefully this will be two female Devil Fish owners soon. (She's a
professionally successful artist widely known for her swinging, funky,
playful music - and she has quite a collection of equipment.)
As far as I can tell, no-one is keeping women out of music, or the use
of electronic equipment in music. Rachel - what is your experience?
Some fabulous work is being done by women artists - but there aren't
very many who it compared to the number of males. (I am not suggesting
that all those males do great work, like in any field, a lot of it is
nothing to get excited about.) At the recent B(if)tek W.I.N.K awards:
run by the two-woman electronic music outfit B(if)tek this relative lack
of female involvement was lamented. The audience was pretty much 50/50
male female - so its not a lack of interest in this form of music. The
difference seems to be in how many women, compared to men, actually put
their money down, buy the gear and get on with it.
One does not have to go to a shop (with typically male sale staff and
potential social biasses) to get into this. A lot of the gear is
purchased second-hand via the Trading Post or eBay, or purchased via the
I don't see any pressure at all against women - but maybe there is some.
Furthermore, I don't see how any such pressure could prevent women from
*doing* it. Arguably some anti-female bias might prevent women's music
from being on the radio, but this makes little sense considering there
are female presenters of such music on stations like 3PBS - and male
presenters happily play the music of female artists such as Melbient.
My Devil Fish customer sex ratios have nothing to do with *achievent* in
music, or in the social processes of being recognised as "successful".
The Devil Fish customer figures entirely reflect people's desire to
spend time and money acquiring the gear to make the music - very often
on their own or perhaps with one or two friends.
There are plenty of women who pursue singing, flute, cello etc. to make
music - but not so many who do it with things which involve wires, knobs
and reading manuals.
There are women who have a detailed interest in technical things such as
video editing, computer software for music etc. But it seems to be much
rarer for females to have an actual interest in the technology than
males. This is perfectly natural and healthy as far as I am
concerned. I am not suggesting that engineering is the most important
thing in the world!
But I think that female participation rates in electronic music and
open-source DIY and collaborative programming provide a pretty good
insight into natural, unsocialised, sex-differences in what sorts of
activities interest girls and women compared to boys and men.
Sadly, sexism does exist. It is natural that people will develop
associations and expectations based on the patterns of behaviour they
see. So if a female walks into the electronic section of a music
store, there is a temptation for the staff to think that perhaps she is
lost and is looking for the cellos! This could result in sexist
difficulties for women with a genuine interest in technical things not
having their enquiries taken as seriously as if from a male, because it
is in fact unusual for females to have a genuine interest or
understanding in these fields.
This can manifest as discrimination, or at least thinking dimly of
someone who pursues an activity more typically associated with the
opposite sex. Contrary to the usual "feminist" complaints, the negative
effects of sexism are not just for women and girls.
For instance I have long known a senior and highly respected telco
engineer who had a long history in engineering and management with
Telstra. I was surprised to find out recently that he plays cello in a
quartet. He told me that he actively suppressed most people's knowledge
of his musicmaking, for fear of what others in the telco engineering /
management field would think about him. He should have known better
Original posted to http://sunsite.anu.edu.au/link/