Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why are we still geeks? Correcting media images of Computer Science / GHC13

Maria Klawe (Harvey Mudd College, far left), Brenda Laurel (Purple Moon, far right), and Kim Surkan (MIT) gave an insightful panel about the images of geeks in the media.  In some ways, I didn't learn much new, but I liked hearing about their personal experiences and getting new language to talk about the problem with.

For this post, I'd like to share some of my (mostly raw) notes from the session.

Maria's Part
  • no progress made in changing the image of professionals in the media
  • is a believer of failure
  • "people listen to you more" when you have gray hair
  • remembers a time when there were very few female doctors and lawyers
  • in the 70's shows depicted both male and female doctors and laywers (though not in the same show), and this caused flood of women into these professions.
  • more recently: forensic crime shows caused influx of women studying the field, even though job opportunities for forensic science and CS are at opposite ends of the spectrum
  • it's not just about tech women (problem with portrayal of all women, and of tech guys as well)
  • in the mid-90's, she was seated at dinner beside NBC exec responsible for Sat night movie series; said we needed shows about scientists and engineers; he said nobody knew any engineers in real life so wouldn't relate!
  • tried to write a pilot episode but saw halfway through it was going nowhere (too unrealistic)
  • someone wrote a pilot for a show called Rush about Silicon Valley start-up trying to win the DARPA challenge; she sent it out to 20 people with connections in the media; everyone loved it; but it went nowhere!
  • optimistic but doesn't know what else to personally try
Brenda's Part
  • looking at the GHC poster from last year: not geeks, wearing nail polish; white woman in the middle giving advice to the black woman, asian woman starting into space (did a photoshop to fix this)
  • Numbers proves it's possible
  • we are responsible for our own representations ("I like the way we look!") 
  • "put out our own self-representations"
  • "deny power to the spectacle"
  • "do good work and get noticed for it"
  • check out and Wikipedia storming
Kim's Part
  • media consumption is growing (2010: average 7 hours and 38 minutes) 
  • stereotypes of women being bad at math, as STEM fields being boring and unfulfilling
  • it's hard to notice what's not there, but when it isn't, you begin to associate the idea, for example, that all doctors are men, white, etc...
  • only computer science is declining in females, not other STEM fields
  • was not always this way; women were active in programming (e.g. ENIAC)
  • nerd stereotype most common explanation for low female participation
  • sexism in CS culture (especially gaming): recruitment, hackathons, sexual harassment/rape culture, lack of role models


Anonymous said...

I think parents need to take the bulk load of responsibility in encouraging CS for their daughters. I tell my daughter you can do anything you put your mind too & CS is like a tool box. Whatever you are passionate about and want to build, think - how could CS help me achieve that?

Amos said...

Ah sorry, forgot to mention thank you for the post Gail. Very informative.

Makes my blood boil there is still sexism in CS. It was rife back in my day in the 1990s when I was at College.

Gail Carmichael said...

I'd like to think it's getting better since we don't all directly experience it (I have never felt out of place myself, for example), but you keep hearing stories (for example on Systers)...

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