Maths, women and programming (Re: [Techtalk] Theory vs. practice)

Mary Gardiner linuxchix at
Tue Jan 15 15:15:24 EST 2002

On Mon, Jan 14, 2002 at 08:34:47PM -0600, Glenda R. Snodgrass wrote:
> > Whatever is keeping women out of computing may be the same thing that is
> > keeping them out of maths, physics and engineering (~5% of all
> I dunno, see, I believe those are very different cases.  I think the
> computer field is so broad now, that being good in math and liking math
> should not be a limiting factor as to whether you can go into computers at
> all, rather what sub-field of computers you might want to consider.  I

I wasn't saying that it's the *same* girls who are being kept out of
each of the careers I listed, just that it might be the same factor
keeping them out.

I've always felt that if nothing else, there is subtle discouragement.
You were given active discouragement, but even if there is no active
discouragement, there is silence. As a teenage girl who was good at
maths and logic, I was encouraged to be a doctor or a lawyer by my
parents. My boyfriend, also good at maths and logic, appears to have
been considered by his family to be destined for computing, whereas I
was the child in trouble for "mucking around with that bloody computer".

I have no brothers, so I don't know if my parents were being subtly
sexist or whether they simply didn't really think about computing as a
career path for anyone. I know that my boyfriend's father waits for him
to come home to fix the computer although his older sister (a biologist)
is just as competant at the things he wants. He took my boyfriend along
to be trained as a volunteer firefighter, and when I asked my boyfriend
why his sisters weren't taken along he said "I guess noone really
thought about it."

I suspect boys who are interested in technical things as children often
will get suggestions like "why don't you become a computer programmer?"
and boys who play Lego will hear "why don't you become an engineer?"
whereas a girl with similar interests may not hear disapproval, but
won't have the helpful people pointing her in that direction. She'll
have to discover it all by herself, and might chose to be a doctor or
lawyer instead, because, hey, she'd be good at that too and had never
even considered the other careers.

Anyway, I suggest that this kind of lack of encouragement of girls with
analytical talents suited to computing (and now other talents too, since
careers in computers are broadening as you point out) also happens to
girls with talents suited to mathematical, physical or engineering
careers, and so the problem of women in computing can't be seperated too
much from the lack of women in other technical and analytical fields. So
even if it isn't exactly the same requirements to be in all fields,
girls with the different abilities suited to each of them are never
being pointed in the right direction, and are often pointed in the wrong

So possibly the solution in each case is identical.


Mary Gardiner
<mary at>

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