What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science? - [briefly]
05:36 AM EST - Nov,17 2008 - post a comment
NY Times has an interesting article
looking at the declining numbers of
female Computer Science graduates. Some of the numbers are pretty drastic and
the reasons are still elusive:
Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, recalls the mid-1980s, when women made up 40
percent of the students who majored in management computer systems, the second
most popular major on campus. But soon after, the number of students majoring in
the program had fallen about 75 percent, reflecting a nationwide trend, and the
number of women fell even more. "I asked at a department meeting," he says, "
‘Where have the women gone?' It wasn't clear." His theory is that young women
earlier had felt comfortable pursing the major because the male subculture of
action gaming had yet to appear.
Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University's Center for Technology &
Social Behavior, has written about the efforts in the 1990s to create computer
games that would appeal to girls and, ultimately, increase the representation of
women in computer science. In commenting as a co-contributor in a new book,
"Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming," Ms.
Cassell writes of the failure of these efforts, "The girls game movement failed
to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys' toys'
and that true girls didn't play with computers."
She said last week that some people in the field still believed that the answer
to reversing declining enrollment was building the right game. Another school of
thought is what she calls the "we won" claim because women have entered
computer-related fields like Web site design that are not traditional computer
science. Ms. Cassell points out that it's not much of a victory, however. The
pay is considerably less than in software engineering and the work has less
influence on how computers are used, and whether this actually accounts for the
diminishing numbers of female computer science majors remains unproved.
Ms. Cassell identifies another explanation for the drop in interest, which is
linked to the pejorative figure of the "nerd" or "geek." She said that this
school of thought was: "Girls and young women don't want to be that person."