Girls and XHTML Validation

If you’re ever debating whether or not something is sexist, change the gender statement into a racial one and see how it fares…

ie. (taken from the intertubes)

Lucy
We don’t know a whole lot about Lucy, except that she’s one of the few females on the planet who can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages.

Changes to:

Sipho
We don’t know a whole lot about Sipho, except that he’s one of the few black people on the planet who can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages.

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12 thoughts on “Girls and XHTML Validation

  1. Wendy, yes, I also run a course called “Good Touch, Bad Touch – The Corporate Guide” and “Why your IT experience from the 80s is no longer relevant”.

    Book now!

  2. how about a seminar called “let the girls play in the club-house too” or “how to get over your frat club mentality ten years after you graduated”

  3. Kenneth
    We don’t know a whole lot about Kenneth, except that he’s one of the few chemical engineers on the planet who can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages.

    Arnold
    We don’t know a whole lot about Arnold, except that he’s one of the few quadriplegic people on the planet who can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages.

  4. Kenneth is unlikely to know a lot about computer science because he’s in a different profession. Noting how impressive it is that he does does not constitute prejudice against chemical engineers.

    Arnold is a borderline case. On the one hand, you could argue that because quadriplegics are a very small minority, it is statistically remarkable for there to be a quadriplegic involved in any given profession. On the other hand, there’s nothing inherently amazing about a quadriplegic being good at computer science — it would be remarkable if he were good at tennis. Why mention it at all?

    My semi-related peeve is the usage of the nouns “male” and “female” to describe human men and women*. Today, this terminology is most commonly used for animals, and using it for humans has unpleasant connotations. See if you can spot when a local news article talks about “a male” or “males” — the only time I see it is in articles about crimes committed by black men. They are presented as something “other” and not quite human. Similarly, the usage of “a female” suggests that the writer considers women to be some kind of alien species.

    * Non-ironic usage, by people fluent in English. Nouns, not adjectives.

  5. Lucy is unlikely to know a lot about XHTML, because statistically speaking, there are about as many female computer experts as there are chemical engineers who are XHTML experts. Noting how impressive it is that she has triumphed over historical bias and discrimination against her gender does not constitute prejudice against women.

    (Also, XHTML validation has about as much to do with computer science as chemical engineering does…)

  6. It would be significant to discuss Lucy’s bold struggle against The Man in an article which is specifically discussing Women In Science/Technology. Mentioning off-hand that Lucy is a GURL in IT (zomg, amazing!!) for no particular reason is annoying. It does not help the cause of women seeking to be accepted in IT to gawk at them and emphasize their gender in a context where it is irrelevant.

    Regardless of what the writer’s intention was (and I fully accept that he/she probably thought he/she was being complimentary), dropping in that phrase about Lucy’s gender implies that:

    * It’s amazing that Lucy is good at these things because she’s a woman, and women have an inherent tendency to be bad at them because their brains just don’t work that way. Wow, *well done*, Lucy! Have a gold star.
    * Lucy is only worth mentioning in this article because she’s a *woman* who is good at these things, rather than just because she’s really good at them. If she were a man, her expertise would be insufficient for anyone to care about it.

  7. I have a hard time seeing the implications you list as anything other than projecting your own bias and/or prejudice onto other people.

    For example, you don’t seem to have drawn the equivalent inference from my statement about Kenneth; that is, you don’t think I was implying that chemical engineers have an inherent tendency to be bad at computers. Likewise, making reference to the fact that female computer experts are rare does not carry an inherent implication that women are bad at computers.

    The second implication is somewhat different; since the original context of the description of Lucy is missing, we have to guess at what it was. The way it was written suggests that it was part of a pre-existing list of some kind; a list of employees of a small company, say, or people that attended some event. If, in fact, this is not the case, and the only reason Lucy is on this list is that she’s a gurrl (zomg, amazing!!), then I would agree that the mention is annoying / insulting.

    However, assuming the former scenario, then I don’t see why you need to take the description at anything other than face value: the authors don’t know much about Lucy, but they do know that she’s a woman, and that she can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages; of course, you could deliberately ignore the likelihood of that combination, but that would seem to make the description even more awkward (the “elephant” effect).

  8. I *do* think that the statement about chemical engineers implies that chemical engineers have a tendency not to be extremely knowledgeable about computer science — because they are by definition *in a different profession* which is *not computer science*. The implication is thus that they tend not to be knowledgeable in this field because becoming proficient within their own field occupies a lot of their time, not that they are too stupid to understand computers.

    Women, black people and paraplegics do not, by definition, have any similar time-consuming occupations which would preclude them from learning computer science. When someone remarks on how astonishing it is that a woman, black person or paraplegic is a computer scientist, the implication is that they are *surprised* to see such a person in computer science.

    Why would they be surprised? Is it merely a neutral statement about the lack of probability of this happening because of the current demographics of the field? Would the statement still make sense if the population subgroup under discussion were a minority (in computer science) to which no social prejudice (relating to intelligence or technical proficiency) has been attached in the past?

    * We don’t know a whole lot about Alastair, except that he’s one of the few colourblind people on the planet who can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages.

    Would anyone ever say that? I’m pretty sure there are more women than colourblind people in IT.

    * We don’t know a whole lot about Sebastian, except that he’s one of the few Basques on the planet who can hold a conversation about search engine algorithm changes and validating XHTML pages.

    Would anyone ever say that? There are probably very few Basque people in IT too.

    Regarding the “elephant in the room”: if you consider the presence of a woman in IT to be so unlikely, even today, that you think it unusual and awkward for nobody to remark on it when discussing such a woman, then I think we’re really just going to keep talking past each other.

  9. Women, black people, and paraplegics don’t (inherently) have any time-consuming occupations precluding them from computer science, but they do have other external obstacles. In the case of women and black people, these obstacles are primarily social (and also economic, to some extent); in the case of paraplegics, there are also potential technical obstacles. Of course the implication is that they are surprised; if something is not noteworthy, why would you make a note of it? However, I don’t believe that the only possible motivation for such surprise is prejudice against the intellectual capabilities of any of these groups.

    Obviously (as I believe I already mentioned) I cannot be certain about the motivations of the original author, so I can’t answer your question “Why would they be surprised?” I don’t see why either of your hypothetical statements is implausible. I would certainly expect them to occur less frequently, for two reasons: 1) since such statements can be made out of unfair prejudice, and there is less of such prejudice against colourblind people or Basque people, statements made out of prejudice would be less frequent, thus reducing the overall frequency of such statements; 2) there are fewer colourblind / Basque people in IT, thus reducing the possible opportunities for making such statements.

    As far as the “elephant in the room” goes, perhaps I didn’t convey my point of view well enough. I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone should be going around saying “*GASP* A GIRL!” every time they encounter women in IT; that would be inappropriate and absurd. However, in the absence of other, more interesting observations about a particular person in IT, it seems perfectly natural to remark about their gender given the current demographics; having to go “oh, wait, sorry, can’t say that” is unnatural, and leads to the stifling blanket of “political correctness” that so damagingly pervades certain areas of society. In fact, I believe that this kind of attitude is to a large extent responsible for the current “us vs. them” situation that seems to be developing, which is likely to lead to more irrational prejudice, not less.

    I’m not suggesting that people should be going out of their way to highlight the relative scarcity / rarity of women in IT, I’m simply opposed to censoring what would otherwise be a perfectly natural remark; if it wouldn’t otherwise be a perfectly natural remark, then don’t make it. If the reason for the remark is an underlying unjustified prejudice in your world view, then you need to correct that problem at the source, not just run a PC censor over your output.

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