Monday, May 4, 2009

Rails Pr0n Disaster and Gender in CS

Recently, there was an explosion in the Ruby on Rails community. Long story short, a presenter at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference thought it would be a good idea to use a porn metaphor throughout his 79 slide presentation. You can read about it in a million places on the interwebs; these are a couple of good places to start:

The first explains what happened pretty well, the second explains why everyone should be interested in making sure this doesn't happen again, regardless of whether or not the particular person was offended.

While reading through all of these things, I came across this in a post at

"It is difficult to encourage young girls to get in this field. I get emails all the time. It is scary being "the only girl in your class," and one of three in a room of fifty people. It's scary to ask questions when you're afraid your entire gender will be judged by your grasp of a concept. Asking girls to brave these situations because writing software is fun, and interesting, and exciting is a moot point when faced with these type of stories."

This is something I take issue with as a symptom of a much larger societal problem, not a problem within CS. I think that girls are just terrified in general. Terrified of not being perfect, terrified of failure of any kind, terrified that people won't like them. Constantly worried about being judged.

I think we need to teach our girls not to give a fuck.

Now, maybe I have something of an unorthodox view on this because I came to CS by somewhat unorthodox means. I chose CS for several reasons, the largest of which being that I wanted a challenge. Math is my weakest subject, and because CS is so heavily math based, I knew it would be hard for me. I wanted to struggle. I wanted to be the kid in the class who just didn't get it. That was something that had never happened for me before (except in math classes.) I was tired of always having the answers, I was tired of everyone rolling their eyes when I talked to the professor about something I cared about, I was tired of having to shut up so that I didn't dominate class discussions. I wanted to HAVE to go to class (in classes where I understood everything, I would just stop going, and then do poorly from boredom)

So that's why I entered CS. Fortunately for me, I also found that I loved it. So I never really cared if people thought I was dumb. And sometimes I do ask questions that Zack is like, "Man, that was dumb", and immediately begins explaining it to me in words my tiny brain can understand. And then I kick him in the shins and feel better. Okay, not really. He is often my hardest critic, though--most of the other guys are just grateful that I'm asking the questions that they were thinking. Actually, he's always my hardest critic, with the possible exception of me. However, since he also regularly has sex with me, I only call him on being an asshole and move on with it.

But I am getting away from my point. My point is that you can't let fear stop you. And if we are raising girls to be afraid of men, we have an issue that we need to address as a society.


austen.ito said...

I wish I could write like you. I crack up when I read your blogs.