Male Perspectives on Women, Geekery, and Mastery

Dan refers me to a Slashdot link to a ZDnet story about how the “inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for an end to the ‘stupid’ male geek culture that disregards the work of capable female engineers, and puts others off entering the profession.” From the ZDnet article:

Berners-Lee said that a culture that avoided alienating women would attract more female programmers, which could lead to greater harmony of systems design. “If there were more women involved we could move towards interoperability. We have to change at every level,” he said. […]

One academic went through a sex change, submitted the same papers [for publication] under both identities, and found that papers were accepted from a man but were rejected when they came from a woman, said the web inventor. This bias is unaccountable, but adds to institutional bias, he said.

This should be no surprise to anyone who’s read Margolis and Fisher’s book Unlocking the Clubhouse or the conference paper following up on it. (I am somewhat confused about how greater industry and workplace diversity—a valuable end in itself, I think—would “lead to greater harmony of systems design,” but that’s neither here nor there.)

What may be somewhat shocking and enlightening are the comments following this story on Slashdot, mostly from males. Some argue Berners-Lee’s point, but many or most react defensively:

What about stupid fashinista culture? (Score:5, Insightful)
by gurps_npc
I get discriminated against by stupid, pretty female culture a LOT more than women get discriminated against by stupid male geek culture. I am willing to be that most geeks feel the same way.

You want a cease fire? Fine. start playing fair with us and we might play fair with you.

Re:What about stupid fashinista culture? (Score:5, Insightful)
by ccccc
So… your premise is that the pretty, stupid female community is the same as the capable, skilled female engineer community? Does the set of “male” gets subdivided into “geek” and “non-geek” but all women just go under “women”? I’m not either female or what would be called a feminist, but come on. Someone needs to work with more women, but I guess that’s probably the crux of the problem.


Re:What about stupid fashinista culture? (Score:5, Insightful)
by Sj0
Every women I’ve ever met is incredibly sexist. They’ll tell you all the terrible stereotypes they hold about men in a heartbeat. In fact, it’s THEIR terrible sexist stereotypes that are to blame for the lack of women in trades and engineering.


Re:What about stupid fashinista culture? (Score:5, Insightful)
by vux984
they’re facing a lot more obstacles than you deal with as a pasty male geek with no fashion sense

Really? I’d contend that pasty female geeks with no fashion sense fit right in. The pastier and geekier the less resistance they experience.

Its the pretty people that face the obstacles. But those are the same obstacles us pasty geeks (male and female) with no fashion sense run into when we try to get jobs that favour the beautiful people. How often do you see a pasty geek hosting a restaurant? Anchoring a news team? Modeling swimwear?

I’m not saying its right, and I agree it should be changed, but its a bigger problem than just the ‘geeks reject women’. Its that discrimination still occurs at all levels and between all segments of society.

You get the idea; check the rest out yourself if you’re so inclined. It shifts for awhile into a conversation about what makes a good engineer, with the implication (outright stated by Fisher and Margolis, and others) that equating “obsessive” with “good” limits geek culture to certain types of men.

Just to be clear here, I’m not implying that there’s no truth to some of these comments—sure, there are plenty of kinds of discrimination, and women share some blame in propagating gender stereotypes—but what I see here are repeated attempts to skirt the actual issue at hand. It’s very telling, I think, that this giant thread started with someone who (by his own admission, it seems) hasn’t had a lot of friendly contact with women, and who believes he speaks for male geeks in general.

Something else worth musing upon, I think, is whether this marks a point of divergence between the “geek cultures” of IT/engineering and the “geek cultures” descended from sci-fi fandom. While each is clearly dominated by men, I get the sense that women are more actively welcomed (to the point of fawning over them) by the latter. Perhaps this is because fandom is less about proving oneself a master of geeky skills—a scenario in which women might be seen as either threatening or slowing down the big boys. This would also fit with the dual role women seem to have in gamer geek culture in particular, alternately being fawned over (by the more fannish part of the culture) and being insulted and made to feel unwelcome (by the more competitive part).

4 thoughts on “Male Perspectives on Women, Geekery, and Mastery

  1. “I am somewhat confused about how greater industry and workplace diversity—a valuable end in itself, I think—would “lead to greater harmony of systems design,” but that’s neither here nor there.”

    You might be interested in the recent study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology. It surveyed patent citation rates and found that (summary quote from Forbes): “mixed-gender teams’ technology patents received up to 42% more citations than their single-gender counterparts.” Forbes article link:

    That addresses usefulness rather than harmony, so it’s not a direct response to your comment, but I think it’s pretty interesting. It’s the most direct evidence I’ve seen for the value of gender diversity in engineering.

  2. Hm, that’s interesting. I’ll check it out. It does seem kind of commonsensical to me that a more diverse professional community would be better at tackling a diverse array of problems in useful and novel ways, but it’s interesting to see how we might offer evidence to that effect.

    As for the whole “harmony” thing … I guess anybody credited with inventing the web probably knows what he’s talking about better than I do here. I just always thought of diversity as provoking useful tensions rather than encouraging harmony (which looks like “more of the same” under a negative light).

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