Blogging my homework: Teaching IT should not be gendered

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in EME6507 | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

This is cross-posted from my class response on Blackboard to the reading Not just a dollhouse: what The Sims2 can teach us about women’s IT learning.

I tried to keep an open mind as I read this article. I really did. I have to tell you it was hard when the article about how a game could help explain how when approach IT learning was framed in the following way:

about 60 per cent of Sims players are reported to be female, leading to the common perception that The Sims is a ‘‘girl’s game,’’ with articles in the popular press pronouncing The Sims to be ‘‘the new dollhouse’’

I knew I wasn’t going to be a passive reader of this paper the moment I read this:

While this drop (enrollment in formal computer science degree programs) has been attributed in part to the IT industry crash in the early years of this century, many educators admit that much computer science instruction is vastly ineffective and outdated, with prerequisites such as advanced mathematics courses that are no longer relevant.


First of all, this is an extremely simplified view of why CS enrollments are down. These enrollments are down mainly in the West, and probably have more to do with the fact that so many CS jobs were outsourced. Besides techie parents (including myself)  discouraged kids from going into CS, the entry level computing jobs CS grads require to really build skillsets were the first to be offshored.

Secondly, only someone who does not actually work in my industry would say that advanced mathematics courses are not relevant to someone who is planning to build code, do networking, etc etc. That is just a stupid and silly statement.

Obviously the authors of this paper mean something else when they talk about computer literacy. It almost sound as if they mean technical proficiency – not setting up and building the systems but interacting with widgets and information. Two different things.

As a technical woman, I really have a problem with equating what women can or should be prepped to do in a digital world with that sort of work. Its almost like the digital version of “woman’s work”. Maybe that is what sets up the gendered environment that keep girls from pursuing technical studies.

There are many leaps in logic in the article as well. The authors suggest that girls do not find programming courses relevant because course content is not tied to their pursuits and existing uses of computing. This was supported by a reference from twelve years ago entitled “From Spice Girls to Cyber Girls? The Role of Educational Strategies in the Construction of Computer-enthusiastic Girls in Norway“.  That’s right, this article says computer instructions is not tied to interests of girls based on a paper written about a study of 41 girls from Norway more than a decade ago. Computing has changed so much since then, it has to make me wonder if computer instruction has changed as well.

What do the authors think computer instruction should be tied to so that it is more relevant to girls? Do they honestly the content most  relevant to girls is a game that can be described this way:

‘‘household simulator,’’ … with the objective of fulfilling needs and wants of virtual families through strategies that reflect rather blatantly consumerist and hedonistic values: buying and decorating houses, earning lots of money, partying, falling in love, and developing ‘‘skills’’ ranging from cooking to charisma.

Isn’t that just reinforcing old stereotypes of about the desires of women, and the work that women should do? Really what are ‘‘socially useful’’ activities? Is this subtle enforcement of how girls should be, what they should like, what activities they should pursue in order to be “socially useful” the underlying reason girls lose interest in technology when they become teenagers?

The article talks a lot about how boys bond and become more deeply interested in computer science because of gaming. For example:

Gaming seems to offer boys a means of developing technology-oriented peer social networks, something that even more tech-oriented girls seem to lack

Most tech-oriented girls game right along with the tech-oriented guys. Here’s my theory: the subtle pressures to act like a girl – to find more socially useful activities – may be too strong for some girls.  They give up hanging with the geeks to be socially accepted, and excuse themselves from the community that would push them to expand their expertise in all things digital.

We have to fix that. We have to keep girls connected to those gaming communities through their teen years. We have to find some way to help them to fight back the overwhelming societal pressure to take up “socially useful” activities. I believe this is the way we’ll get more women in IT.

One Response to Blogging my homework: Teaching IT should not be gendered

  1. Are games the real root of the problems? Are they the basis of our future? Are games what help determine the path a child takes? I hope not.
    I always hate to read articles that say women and girls are not IT or math savvy. That the girls do not have the ability to manage that kind of job. I am in my 50’s and way back in college, was always one of the only girls in physics or calculus. It was not girl like to take those classes so it was always me and 24 males in the class. Not too great for me as I was not looking for a boyfriend but looking to learn. No games for me!

    I am not sure what “girl like” is supposed to be- maybe that was my problem. I was brought up mostly by my grandmother who was born in 1902. She was not educated as women did not get educated then. She became self taught, a single mom, a WAC in the 2nd world war, and the strength that backed me in school. She would test me on questions to help me prepare for a test. I became a physical therapist then, but now I am really involved in computers, technology and science.

    So, what is girl like supposed to be? I thought I was, but I guess I was not.
    Today, girls are still not going into math as evidenced by many of the statistics and reports on education. If moms were “girl like” that is what they will raise “girl like” girls. (Hey do the
    Punnett square on this, it must be a dominant trait! Could it be genetic? That I do not believe- it is an environmental influence via parents and society.
    It has to come down to what parents expect of their little girls.

    After seeing how my grandmother went out of the norm and lived her life on her terms I can see that I am just like my grandmother. It often does not make life easy. I hate clicks and see them in my career- just like in high school.

    My daughter is not technical or like me at all- so what did I do wrong? How can we make girls strong enough to be equal to males in all job roles (and this may not be only in IT and math) but typical male jobs and want to be too?

    I do not have the answer- I think we also need to reach out to the parents as they are the primary people who influence how students achieve many things in life.

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