I think that these connections come out very clearly in this piece from The Atlantic, "What Programming's Past Reveals About Today's Gender-Pay Gap" (2016). The hook of the piece is that computer programming, which is now a male-dominated field, actually began as a career considered particularly suited to women. So, what happened?
The answer comes down in a very real way to how our
|Margaret Hamilton, Programmer for NASA (1969)|
conceptions of “expertise” are inseparable from gender. As Judy Wajcman, a sociology professor at the London School of Economics, has argued, “The classification of women’s jobs as unskilled and men’s jobs as skilled frequently bears little relation to the actual amount of training or ability required for them. Skill definitions are saturated with gender bias.” Gender stereotypes pervade definitions of competence and status, contrasting work that requires brain or brawn; mathematical or verbal ability; individualism or cooperation. When an occupation undergoes a shift in gender composition, the description of the job often morphs to better align with the gender of the incoming hires—such as when programming went from being understood as clerical work suitable for women to a job that demands advanced mathematical facility. When women replaced men as typists, it went from a job that was seen as requiring physical stamina to one that needed a woman’s dexterity. In providing profiles not only the male-dominated field of programming, but the female-dominated field of teaching, this piece underscores how our perceptions of different careers, their power, prestige, and the paycheck that goes along with them is deeply coloured by our culturally-informed ideas of gender.
|Dr. Christine Darden. Courtesy NASA|
Quick links & further reading:
- "What Programming's Past Reveals About Today's Gender-Pay Gap" (The Atlantic, 2016)
- How does language shape our worldview? (17 October 2016) and other anthro everywhere! posts on language
- "Margaret Hamilton, the Engineer Who Took the Apollo to the Moon" (Medium, 2014)
- "Meet the Black Female Mathematicians Who Helped America Win the Space Race" (Observer, 2016)
- "What's Up with Chicks in Science?" Neil Degrasse Tyson responds to an old white dude about minorities (African-Americans and Women) in Science (YouTube, 3.30 minutes)
- "Alabama scientist, one of nation's few black female physicists, breaks ground in cancer research" (AL.com, 2016)