It seems we’re having a controversial week here on Hacking For Christ, so let’s continue. [Just to clarify: the following post speaks in generalities – it has to in order to avoid massively cumbersome sentences. So when I say e.g. “men can do X but women can’t”, I mean “in general, men are much better at doing X than women”. I do not mean either “only men should be permitted to do X”, or “all women without exception are incompetent at X”.]
The UK Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has launched a drive against “career sexism”.
“Career sexism is about saying that engineering, for instance, where only 10% of employees are women, is really a male-dominated industry. Construction is even worse.”
While totally agreeing with the principle of “equal pay for the same job”, I think that the feminist hyper-equality agenda is obscuring the fact that men and women are, in fact, different. The underlying thesis of Hewitt’s campaign seems to be that equality means men and women being interchangeable, and so we need to keep working “for equality” until these industries have an approximately even balance of men and women.
A book I’ve heard good things about, but not yet read, is “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps“. Its basic idea, which I agree completely with, it that womens’ and mens’ brains are wired differently, making each gender good at different things and bad at others.
My ex-housemate, Abbie, thought nothing of simultaneously ironing, talking to someone on the phone, and watching an episode of Friends. She’s a great multitasker. When I’m watching Friends, on the other hand, someone can loudly ask me a question and I simply won’t notice for 30 seconds, after which my brain will process the backlog and I’ll look up and say “Er, what, sorry?” This is what’s actually happening in a “Why Men Don’t Listen” situation. My brain is very serial indeed – I am not good at multitasking. My task-switching latency is measured in seconds.
Now, it’s fairly obvious that there are not many female computer programmers. I suggest that this is because single-minded concentration for long periods is a vital attribute for a programmer. You need to simultaneously think of the correct name for a local variable, while keeping in your head what you are doing in the scope of that function, that module and that application, and continuously zoom in and out mentally between those levels without losing track of any of them. And the very features of mens’ brains which makes them bad listeners makes them particularly good at this skill.
Great female programmers certainly do exist. I know – I work for one. But it is misguided to argue that there’s something wrong with the IT industry until 50% of programmers are women, and such an attitude will only lead to misery for the women coerced into a job they aren’t suited for.