People love opining on Silicon Valley's gender gap — even if they have no data or even relevant anecdotes to back up their theories about why so few women enter coding or technology professions. The latest offering in the genre comes from software developer Dave Winer, who, like many others, fell into the obvious trap of saying women are inherently bad at programming. Winer, the "protoblogger" who helped develop the first blogs, RSS, and founded Small Picture, Inc, shared his flimsy "theory" on his blog Scripting News Monday evening, where he likened programming to the hunting and gathering our ancestors did in the wilderness...a skill that is not something women are genetically predisposed to do:
Programming is a very modal activity. To be any good at it you have to focus. And be very patient. I imagine it's a lot like sitting in a blind waiting for a rabbit to show up so you can grab it and bring it home for dinner.
Winer, predictably, got torn apart in the comments and on Twitter, where critics called the post "sad" and "poorly thought out." The most up-voted commenter on Winer's own blog, in fact, was a detractor who began her takedown thusly:
If you say "I think there's something about programming that makes women not want to do it" then you are displaying a worldview that's very gender-essentialist. Gender essentialism and sexism walk hand-in-hand.
The dearth of women and minorities in coding has long been a popular topic of discussion: See here, here, and here. Some of it is simply "mansplaining," especially in the case of Winer. But, there's another factor at work here: The false idea of the Silicon Valley meritocracy, which posits that people succeed in computer related professions because they're the simply best at what they do. The logic, it then follows, is that if the industry suffers from alarmingly low numbers of black, Latino, or female programmers, it must have something to do with the individuals themselves, not the larger culture.
This is exactly the sort of problematic mindset and inability or unwillingness to look at structural issues that leads to nonsense like Winer's hunter gatherer theory, or assertions that "women just aren't good at programming", aren't "attracted to programming at all" or don't work hard enough. It also, unreasonably, puts the burden on women, rather than the very real "artificial barriers" keeping them out of the field, as Ellen Spertus, a computer science professor who wrote the seminal 1991 paper "Why Are There So Few Females in Computer Science?" told The New York Times in 2008.