Women, Gender and Computing
The book "Women, Gender and Computing (from the 1940s to today)" analyses how the role of women in computing has evolved in the US and Europe. It studies how this field became more and more a masculine domain.
This anthology is structured in three parts. The first one focused on (In)Visibility through time, highlighting women's important role in the early years of computing. It enlightens the evolution of their role, first as human computers or punch cards operators, until the strong professionalization of the sector, and showcases their invisibility through time.
The second part, on users and gendered representations, shows how the field of computing has been clearly centered around men, may it be through advertising or national policies.
The third part is focused on empowerment, appropriation, and activism, starting with the first pioneering women in the software industry, such as Elsie Shutt in the 1950s and Stephanie "Steve" Shirley in the 1960s. On the most actual trends, this part includes different initiatives to encourage women into coding, gaming, and computing as a whole.
This Living book mixes historical, sociological, and anthropological approaches, abandoning restrictive outlooks on computing science as a solely programming-centered field. The selected materials provide an overview of practices and representations of experts, computer workers, and users.
This anthology explores the role of women in computing through the representations, imaginaries and realities attached to the relationship between gender and computing, and it analyzes how these issues have evolved from the 1940s to the present day.
The academic resource that opens the first part of this anthology, a keynote held by Janet Abbate at the 2021 "Women in Science and Engineering Meeting", sets out from the start the issues that that challenge our subject. The historian looks back at the decline of women's presence in the field of computer science from the 1980s onwards and relates gender issues to the evolution of computer science. The choice to open this anthology with Janet Abbate was also motivated by the role she has played in the reflection on these issues for several years. Particularly, in 2001 she conducted a series of oral interviews with women invested in computing (see the interview with Elsie Shutt, but also the Charles Babbage Institute's rich collection on the subject), and in 2012 she published the book Recoding Gender. Women's Changing Participation in Computing1 , two years after another seminal book on the topic, edited by Tom Misa, Gender Codes, Why women are leaving computing2 . We should also mention her recent participation in two books that broaden the reflection: Your Computer is on Fire3 , which questions the inequalities, asymmetries, marginalizations and biases at work in technological systems, and Abstractions and Embodiments4, which she co-edited with Stephanie Dick and that questions practices and physical experiences in computing. From the able-bodied at work to the aging or disabled body, from the invisible body to the racialized body, this approach to the computer in society obviously has a strong gendered and intersectional dimension. It is this gendered dimension, which is obvious in representations, professions, uses, programs, and algorithms, that this Living book seeks to present.
Thinking about the relationship between women, gender and computer science cannot focus exclusively on valuing the - very real - contributions of women to computer science and bringing them out of an invisibility that has become more relative in view of recent works devoted to the topic. The challenge is also to better understand the evolution that has led to the current situation, characterized by the disaffection of women from computer science studies and professions. This unprecedented evolution presents a striking contrast with an article published in 1967 in Cosmopolitan magazine, which was enthusiastic about the numerous opportunities offered to women in the computing field. Above all, this evolution is not without consequences on the digital uses and online content. Finally, we must also ask ourselves what the history of women in computing tells us about computing itself: "namely, what has the history of women in computing had to say about computing", as Nathan Ensmenger has pointed out5.
Computing is a complex object to grasp, as it has evolved from the 1940s to today. From punched cards (INA, 1960), human computers and big computers on which the ENIAC Girls worked in the post-war period to mini and then micro-computers from the 1980s onwards, computing is both a science and an industry in rapid evolution. Moreover, these evolutions also influence the practices.
The choice of this anthology was to consider not only the gendered relations within computer science studies and the related professions, but also the uses that develop around computers, their democratization and their networking.
In disciplinary terms, this Living book mixes historical, communicational, sociological, and anthropological approaches. In terms of its geographical framework, this project has sought to move away from a vision centered solely on the United States to make room for analyses of European countries. Selected excerpts thus concern Great Britain, Finland, West Germany or France. The approach covers work, practices, as well as uses, with the choice of considering both women and men experts, workers and users of IT. The intention is to go beyond the often limiting vision, noted by Isabelle Collet, which associates the computer scientist with the programmer, and computer science with programming.
The issue is not only the place of women, but also that of gender relations and masculinity, in advertising and computer associations for example (see the example of the National Machine Accounting Association in this anthology), and in fine it is a question of understanding the evolution of the place of women as much as that of computing in our societies.
A collective achievement
This anthology was produced by a small group of students from the MAHEC (Master in Contemporary European History) at the University of Luxembourg, namely Merima Bahovic, Yan Kremer, Emily Griffin, Andrew Pfannkuche and Timo Wenzel, with the support of two PhD students (Matthias Höfer and Carmen Noguera).
The creation of the Living Book took place during the winter semester of 2022 (14 sessions of 1h30), in a collaborative work, prepared by a state of the art and a general presentation of the topic by the teachers over 5 sessions, with two interventions of specialists, Josiane Jouët and Fred Pailler, and specific insights, for example on the glass ceiling or the gendered uses in advertising.
The plan as well as the choice of sources was made by the students, who were however constrained to introduce a certain number of designated works by the teachers. The selection of sources also had to meet the constraints of accessibility and openness of the resources, and the students were instructed to try to vary the types of sources as well (films, advertisements, posters, web content, oral interviews, etc.). They were also asked to write the descriptions, which were reviewed as a group to harmonize the narrative. These moments of collective rereading allowed the introduction of the notion of peer-review.
This original pedagogical experience went through some trial and error at the beginning of the project when the students did not yet have a detailed knowledge of the literature. It is the structuring of the Living Book that posed the most difficulties for the group to reconcile the wishes of thematic and chronological approaches, or to choose between a narrative centered on computer science and digital technology or one more oriented towards the longue durée of information and communication technologies, including the telephone or the telegraph.
The choice of research texts, usually done in pairs and then discussed in groups, as well as the choice of sources, was then rather fluid, with difficulties relating more to the balance to be given between the parts and documents, or to the choice between several academic texts (for example for Gamergate) than to a lack of resources.
At the crossroads of the history of computer science and gender, but also of digital and public history, this Living Book has allowed for scientific learning and reading, and for the development of skills related to the analysis and criticism of sources, to scientific mediation, to digital publishing (openness, licenses, etc.).
A three-step structure
A chronological approach would have been possible, describing a so-called "golden age" in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by a shift in the 1980s and a current situation characterized by forms of empowerment and activism, online movements of expression (#MeToo from 2017 onwards), but also reinforced biases, for example in algorithms and artificial intelligence. This option has finally not been chosen, as ruptures and continuities run through the entire period studied (see the glass ceiling encountered by Elsie Shutt or Steve Shirley in the 1950s and 1960s, and which has still not disappeared today in some companies).
Therefore, we have chosen a different structure, intertwining past and present around three axes, each composed of a selection of historical sources accompanied by research texts: the question of the visibility and invisibilization of women in computing is addressed in part 1; the question of users, both professional and domestic, and their relationship to technology, correlated to the representations, particularly advertising, is analyzed in part 2; and finally the issue of controversies, activism and empowerment is at the heart of part 3.
(In)visibility through time
The first part looks back at the invisibility and invisibilization of women. Jennifer Light's article sheds light on the way in which women's contribution to the development of computer science has been progressively minimized or even invisibilized. She enlightens the role of the six women who helped program ENIAC, the first American electronic computer, during the Second World War. Indeed, within "Project X" (the code name given by the US Army to ENIAC), the ENIAC Girls were entrusted with what the mathematicians and physicists Goldstine and von Neumann defined at the end of the 1940s as the "sixth task" of programming, i.e. coding. The other steps6 are reserved for men, who have a higher status within the organization. The programming of ENIAC was assimilated to clerical work, even if it required advanced mathematical skills; women were trained for several months in ballistic calculations.
Two distinct tasks were assumed by the women: they were human computers and six of them were programmers and trained to transfer information into the machine. As Nathan Ensmerger notes, there is no doubt that the work of the ENIAC girls was largely underestimated because they were women7 . Their subordinate position, however, was also due to the fact that they worked in the field of software and not hardware, although the two were closely related. The work of programming was less recognized than that of hardware. Programming was considered a relatively trivial and mechanical activity; its recognition and its rise in status would then go through a masculinization to which the professional associations contributed. The issue of invisibility is also addressed by Giuditta Parolini in an article on the contributions of women in the work of the Rothamsted Statistics Department8. She focuses on the invisibility of 200 women who worked as computing assistants in the Rothamsted statistics department from the 1920s until 1990. At the same time, she examines how their tasks shifted alongside the evolution of computing technologies, going from human computers to data processors. No matter the change of functions, during all these years, they were rarely named in the reports of the scientific activity of the department. They had low salaries and an absence of career prospects. The author unveils several factors that contributed to their invisibility. First, there is a cultural component exemplified by the imaginary created by the British advertising, which represented computer operators as female, low-cost, and unskilled workforce. Second, there is a factor inherent to laboratory practices, which is technicians’ invisibility. Her case study demonstrates the intersectionality of these issues. Women's invisibility is as much about their status as women as it is about their status as "invisible technicians9”. This disqualification of women's tasks, which can be found in the articles by Jennifer Light, Nathan Ensmenger and Giuditta Paroloni, is also addressed in the paper by Corinna Schlombs, who focuses on data entry on punch cards, a task mainly performed by women in West Germany from the 1950s to 1970s. She explores the motivations and working conditions of these women in the financial sector, while emphasizing the importance of their inclusion in the history of computing.
Female contributions to the history of computing have recently come out of the shadows thanks to individual or collective works, which highlight famous figures such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper or even Margaret Hamilton and pervaded into the general public. The 2015 celebration of the 200th anniversary of Ada Lovelace's birth marked a renewed interest in this singular figure. Ada Augusta Byron (1815-1852), daughter of Lord Byron, better known as Ada Lovelace, collaborated with Charles Babbage, a British mathematician and precursor of computer science, and has gone down in history as the "first female programmer in history" (not without controversy). Other examples include the release of the film The Imitation Game (adapted from the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges), in which Keira Knightley plays the crypto analyst Joan Clarke (1917-1996), who contributed to the decoding of the Enigma machine used by the Germans, the series Coded Investigations (The Bletchley Circle), which places the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during the Second World War at the center of its story, the film Hidden Figures (2016) and Halt & Catch Fire, which focuses on the arrival of personal computing in the 1980s and, starting in season 2, features a start-up run by two women. That being said, as Thomas Haigh and Mark Priestley point out, the emphasis on a few heroic figures also has its downside and should not hide the masculinization of the programming sector as a whole, or the gendered roles assigned to women and men. These are notably explicit in the video games that are mentioned in our three parts, from the sexualization of characters in games (see the source devoted to Dinosaur Planet) to Gamergate, via the article by Laine Nooney.
Users and gendered representations
The second part provides elements to understanding the decline in the number of women in the IT professions, which is evident in the statistics from the 1970s onwards. In her study on the case of Great Britain, Mar Hicks shows that in the aftermath of the Second World War, women were numerous in computing, with equal pay and chances of promotion as men. However, from the 1970s onwards, the doors closed for them, while there was a voluntary masculinization of the field10 .
Advertising and its gendered representations, discussed extensively in an article by Mar Hicks, are also present in the Living Book via a selection of sources, including an advertisement for the Smith-Corona electric typewriter (1964-1965) and another from the 2000s for QSOL.com.
When the desktop computer was developed in the 1970s, it was initially in the lineage of typewriters, and was therefore perceived as an office machine, dedicated primarily to secretaries, to women11. Lois Mandel's 1967 article in Cosmopolitan promoted the possible careers for "Computer Girls". Mandel emphasized the unlimited opportunities that were opening for women in the computer industry. According to her, the industry would not discriminate, women would be treated as equals to men and would have the same benefits as their male colleagues. The journalist used a quote from the computer scientist Grace Hopper12 who explained that "programming is like planning a dinner party": you had to plan ahead, so that you had everything you need once you want to sit down at the table, and you had to have patience and the ability to pay attention to the smallest detail. Women would thus naturally have an aptitude for computer programming. Of course, these conclusions, which try to present women as having a natural aptitude for computer programming, are open to criticism, because they imply a form of naturalism, namely the idea that women have an innate aptitude for this or that job; an argument often used to characterize women's work.
Additional elements to explain the masculinization of the computing profession are provided by the comparative analysis of Chantal Morley and Martina McDonell, as well as by the more sociological analysis of Isabelle Collet. Since the 1980s, state measures, the role of professional associations, the evolution of the status of programmers, the development of personal computing and of geek culture have combined to produce gendered biases in the professions, representations and uses of computing.
Finally, the texts by Laine Nooney, Sherry Turkle and Safiya Noble also raise intersectional issues, extending the question to the situation of black women, to the production and reception of content, and to the influence of algorithmic biases on the uses of users.
Empowerment, ownership, activism
Our third section examines the controversies, negotiations, and strategies that have been implemented over time to circumvent the glass ceiling, the Matilda effect, or to deal with gender-based violence. The chapter discusses the online confrontations, sometimes violent, that emerged during the discussions around same-sex marriage and "gender theory" (a pejorative term) in France, or during Gamergate. The development by feminist movements of their own online communication strategies is also presented. This can be done through the use of humor or provocation, as in the case of the hijacking of the Barbie album or the actions of the Guerilla Girls.
The heightened sensitivity to gender bias and violence, which was strongly expressed for example online at the time of the #MeToo movement, is now very visible in the media sphere. But if gender biases are regularly denounced, they have not disappeared from representations, as shown by several of our sources, especially the video-game ones.
Digital literacy activities and actions currently being implemented by some universities to make computer science majors more attractive and inclusive to women, or the fates of Elsie Shutt and Stephanie Steve Shirley, as recounted in Janet Abbate's book Recoding Gender, illustrate how empowerment has also taken other creative forms. The book opens with a recollection of Elsie Shutt, who was surprised by the presence of male programmers in 1953 at Raytheon, where she was hired: "It really amazed me that these men were programmers, because I thought it was women's work13 . Elsie Shutt founded Computations, Incorporated in 1958, a company that at first employed only freelance women programmers working from home. Another protagonist of the book, Stephanie Shirley, founded her own software company in Britain in 1962 at the age of 29, with the intention of taking economic, political, and social action. Faced with the glass ceiling and the impossibility of promotion on several occasions in her previous jobs, she used the name Steve Shirley, so that her potential clients would not know she was a woman until they met her face to face. She also focused on hiring women who want to work part-time and from home so they could continue to care for their children (a topic which is also addressed by Corinna Schlombs in her article). Her company quickly became a success: in 1965 it already had 65 employees, all women, before a decree intended to avoid discrimination in companies forced her to employ men! In 1986, 16% of its employees were men. In 2009, the company has 1000 employees spread over three countries: Great Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands. It should be noted that the problem of employability of young mothers in Great Britain, which Stephanie Shirley's company is trying to address, is presented differently in Denmark, where the childcare infrastructure is much more developed, which recalls both the spatial and temporal nuances that run through our study.
It is all these nuances, beyond statistics or binary visions, sometimes even caricatural in advertising, that this Living Book invites us to explore. It allows us to plunge into the heart of the history of computing and to think about computing and digital technology in society, in a diachronic vision that sheds light on turning points, but also on certain continuities. If the state of research has made it possible to fully grasp the issue - and many other readings could have been proposed within the framework of this Living Book - if the actions of associations, universities, and those taken in certain companies are moving in the direction of greater inclusion, this is far from being the sole concern. As several texts and sources show, the issues of intersectionality are certain, in addition to those related to gender, and it goes far beyond the question of women, inviting us to think about the masculinities at work, as well as the place of LGBTQIA+ communities. Considering the multiple issues related to social diversity, power asymmetries, digital divides (geographical but also internal to societies, seniors, minorities, etc.), participation, or societal responsibility is far from being a given, and a reflection on values, governance, creation within the digital world, its uses and its appropriations remains fully relevant.
Some additional bibliographic resources
- Ashcraft, Karen Lee: The Glass Slipper. «Incorporating» Occupational Identity in Management Studies, in: Academy of Management Review 38 (1), 2013, S. 6–31.
- Burman, Annie: Gendering decryption - decrypting gender. The gender discourse of labour at Bletchley Park 1939-1945, Master Thesis, Uppsala University, 2013. Online: <http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-201046>, Stand: 22.02.2023.
- Cassell, Justine; Jenkins, Henry (Hg.): From Barbie to Mortal Kombat. Gender and Computer Games, Cambridge, Mass. 2000.
- Collet, Isabelle: La masculinisation des études informatiques. Savoir, pouvoir et genre, These de doctorat, Paris 10, 2005.
- Collet, Isabelle: L’informatique a-t-elle un sexe ? Hackers, mythes et réalités, 2006. Online: <https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:102574>, Stand: 22.02.2023.
- Ensmenger, Nathan: The Computer Boys Take over. Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise, Cambridge, Mass 2010 (History of computing). Online: <https://www.mondotheque.be/wiki/images/0/0b/Ensmenger_The_Computer_Boys_Take_Over%28BookZZ.org%29.pdf>.
- Hicks, Marie: Meritocracy and Feminization in Conflict. Computerization in the British Government, in: Misa, Thomas J. (Hg.): Gender Codes. Why Women are Leaving Computing, Hoboken, N.J. 2010, S. 95–114.
- Jouët, Josiane: Communication Technologies and Gender, in: Reseaux 120 (4), 2003, S. 53–86. Online: <https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_RES_120_0053--communication-technologies-and-gender.htm>, Stand: 22.02.2023.
- Julliard, Virginie; Quemener, Nelly: Le genre dans la communication et les médias : enjeux et perspectives, in: Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication (4), 15.01.2014. Online: <https://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/693>, Stand: 22.02.2023.
- Light, Jennifer S.: Programming, in: Lerman, Nina E.; Oldenziel, Ruth; Mohun, Arwen (Hg.): Gender & technology: a reader, Baltimore 2003, S. 295–327.
- Margolis, Jane; Fisher, Allan: Unlocking the Clubhouse. Women in Computing, Cambridge, Massachusetts London 2003.
- Noble, Safiya Umoja: Algorithms of Oppression. How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, 2018. Online: <https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1pwt9w5>, Stand: 22.02.2023.
- Parolini, Giuditta: From Computing Girls to Data Processors. Women Assistants in the Rothamsted Statistics Department, in: Schafer, Valérie; Thierry, Benjamin G. (Hg.): Connecting Women. Women, Gender and ICT in Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, Cham 2015 (History of Computing). Online: <https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-20837-4>, Stand: 22.02.2023.
- Vehvilainen, M.: Gender and Computing in Retrospect. The Case of Finland, in: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 21 (2), 04.1999, S. 44–51. Online: <https://doi.org/10.1109/85.761794>.
- Vogel, William F: Shifting Attitudes. Women in Computing, 1965-1985, SIGCIS 2014 Workshop, Dearborn MI 09.11.2014. Online: <https://www.sigcis.org/files/Vogel.pdf>.
1Abbate, Janet: Recoding Gender. Women’s Changing Participation in Computing, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2012.
2Misa, Thomas J. (Hg.): Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing, Hoboken, N.J. 2010.
3Mullaney, Thomas S.; Peters, Benjamin; Hicks, Mar u. a. (Hg.): Your computer is on fire, Cambridge, MA; London 2021.
4Abbate, Janet; Dick, Stephanie (Hg.): Abstractions and Embodiments. New Histories of Computing and Society, 2022.
5Ensmenger, Nathan: Making Programming Masculine, in: Misa, Thomas J. (Hg.): Gender Codes, Hoboken, NJ, USA 2010, S. 115–141. Online: <https://homes.luddy.indiana.edu/nensmeng/files/Ensmenger2010-MPM.pdf>, Stand: 26.01.2023.
6This involves mathematical conceptualization, algorithm selection, accuracy and approximation error analysis, determination of scaling factors so that the mathematical expression fits within the computational capabilities of the machine, and finally the analytical prediction of the computational work of the machine.
7Ensmenger, Nathan: Making Programming Masculine, in: Misa, Thomas J. (Hg.): Gender Codes, Hoboken, NJ, USA 2010, S. 122–123. Online: <https://homes.luddy.indiana.edu/nensmeng/files/Ensmenger2010-MPM.pdf>, Stand: 26.01.2023.:
"There is no question that the work of the ENIAC women was disregarded in large part simply because they were women. But almost as significant as their gender was their subordinate position as "software" workers in a hardware-oriented development project. Obviously the two are closely related. (...) In the status hierarchy of the ENIAC project, it was clearly the male computer engineers who were significant. The ENIAC women, the computer "programmers," as they would later be known, were expected to simply adapt the "plans of computation".
"There is no doubt that the work of the women of ENIAC was overlooked, largely simply because they were women. But their subordinate position as 'software' workers in a hardware-oriented development project was almost as important as their gender. Clearly, the two are closely related. (...) In the status hierarchy of the ENIAC project, it was clearly the male computer engineers who were most important. The women of the ENIAC, the "programmers", as they were later called, were simply to adapt the "calculation plans". (Our translation)
8Parolini, Giuditta: From Computing Girls to Data Processors. Women Assistants in the Rothamsted Statistics Department, in: Schafer, Valérie; Thierry, Benjamin G. (Hg.): Connecting Women. Women, Gender and ICT in Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, Cham 2015 (History of Computing), S. 103–117.
10Hicks, Marie: Programmed Inequality. How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing, Cambridge (Mass.) 2017.
(Marie Hicks changed her name to Mar Hicks).
11 On the history of office workers, see: Gardey, Delphine: La dactylographe et l’expéditionnaire. Histoire des employés de bureau, 1890-1930, Paris 2002.
12 Grace Hopper earned a doctorate in mathematics before turning to computers and joining the U.S. Navy in 1943. There she worked on the Mark I, Univac, IBM machines, invented the COBOL programming language, and worked on the Fortran language. An international technical conference, organized since 1994 by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, is named Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in her honor.
13 Abbate, Janet. 2012. Op. Cit. at 1.
Part 1 - (In)Visibility through time
US Army Advertisement for the ENIAC
US Army Advertisement for the ENIAC, nd.
The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was launched during World War II to calculate missile trajectories. The engineers decided to recruit female programmers and for months, six “ENIAC girls” spent their workdays programming the computer. They were given what mathematicians and physicists Herman Goldstine and John von Neumann defined in the late 1940s as the sixth task of programming, namely coding. Lot of women also worked as human computers in this project. The programming efforts of the “ENIAC Girls” were only recognized in the second half of the 1990s.
This photograph is an example of how women were systematically outshined and hidden in the computing industry. It was framed in order to hide the woman operating the machines. With the accompanying text, we can perceive that the advertisement targets young men with the prospect of career advancement.
National Machine Accounting Association Annual Meeting (1951)
National Machine Accounting Association Annual Meeting, 1951.
The National Machine Accountants Association (NMAA) in the US and its annual gatherings made no exception to the so-called “Men’s Club” phenomenon. This picture from 1951 shows many men in suits, while in the background, only a single woman can be seen. The picture is also reproduced in the chapter “Masculinity and the Machine Man. Gender in the History of Data Processing” by Thomas Haigh, published in the book Gender Codes: Why women are leaving computing, edited by Thomas J. Misa. As Haigh explains, the NMAA grew from an association mainly aimed at punched card supervisors to a more general computing association, leading to a name change in 1963 to Data Processing Management Association. In 1964, only 2% of its members nationwide were female, keeping in line in what can be seen in the image. This was even less than the 10% that were reported in 1953 for the chapter of the NMAA in Kansas City.
Women in Data Processing (1980)
Women in Data Processing, 1980.
Speech given by Stephanie “Steve” Shirley in 1980 for the Women in Data Processing Conference about women in computing. This document is part of the University of Kent Special Collections & Archives’ blog. The reader can find more documents in the article here.
Stephanie “Steve” Shirley is one of the most famous women in ICTs. Born in Germany, she moved to Great Britain where she earned her degree in mathematics. In 1962, she founded the company Freelance Programmers after repeatedly reaching the glass ceiling at different companies throughout her career. She is known as “Steve” because of the same sexist atmosphere that led her to create the company. She found that by hiding her “female” name, she was more likely to receive positive replies and clients for her company. Freelance Programmers was run exclusively by women until gender equality laws required them to let men in as well.
Dinosaur Planet (Nintendo 64 Prototype) vs. Star Fox Adventures (GameCube) | Side by Side (2021)
NeoGamer - The Video Game Archive:
Dinosaur Planet (Nintendo 64 Prototype) vs. Star Fox Adventures (GameCube) | Side by Side, 2021.
In this video, Anita Sarkeesian (who was at the center of GamerGate harassment) draws the public’s attention to the developmental history of Star Fox Adventures (2002) which was originally designed as a stand-alone title called Dinosaur Planet in 1999. This YouTube clip compares the changes that took place between the N64 prototype of Dinosaur Planet and the final (2002) version that was released on the GameCube in 2002. The plain, androgynous, female character is sexualized between the different versions of the game.
In her famous Tropes against Women in Video Games series, Sarkeesian highlighted how plans for a female protagonist (Krystal) were quickly shuttered after the developers decided that the game would feature a male protagonist. Although they chose to keep Krystal, the developers turned her into a typical “damsel in distress”, with a skimpier outfit to match, who would be waiting to be rescued by the game’s new male protagonist.
How Gender Shapes Opportunity in STEM
How Gender Shapes Opportunity in STEM, 11.13.2021.
Dans sa présentation de 2021 à la "réunion des femmes en sciences et en ingénierie" au Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, l'historienne et ancienne programmeuse Janet Abbate croise perspectives passées et présentes sur l'influence qu’a le genre sur les opportunités dans le domaine des sciences, des technologies et de l'ingénierie (STEM) en général, et de l'informatique en particulier. En se concentrant sur les parcours professionnels, l'organisation du travail et la perception des compétences en informatique, Janet Abbate retrace l'influence culturelle et structurelle du genre dans le domaine des STEM et offre des perspectives sur la manière d'améliorer l'inclusion. Pour ce faire, elle s'appuie sur des exemples historiques qu'elle a décrits dans son livre Recoding Gender : women's changing participation in computing (2012), où elle a exploré le rôle des femmes dans l'informatique entre la Seconde Guerre mondiale et la fin du XXe siècle.
When Computers Were Women
Jennifer S. Light:
When Computers were Women, 1999.
In her 2021 talk at the “Women in Science and Engineering meeting” at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, historian and former programmer Janet Abbate brings together past and present perspectives of how gender influences opportunities in the STEM-field in general and in computer science specifically. Focusing on career paths, the organization of work, and the perception of skill in computer science, Abbate traces how gender influenced the STEM-field culturally and structurally and offers perspectives of how to improve inclusivity. In doing so, she draws from the historical examples she described in her book Recoding Gender: women's changing participation in computing (2012), where she explored the role of women in computer science and the computer industry between the Second World War and the late 20th century.
Built on the Hands of Women (2023)
Built on the Hands of Women. Data, Automation, and Gender in West Germany's Financial Industry, 2023.
In this article, Corinna Schlombs sheds light on female professional tasks, and notably in the field of automation and data entry in West Germany, from the 1950s to the 1970s. She relies on two case studies that she selected in the financial industry: Allianz insurance company and Sparkassen savings banks. She focuses on the work of keypunch operators, who were mostly women, and notes: “Doubly disadvantaged as women and as presumably unskilled employees, keypunch operators need to be integrated in the standard narrative of computer history”. While also comparing two industries with regards to female employment, she enlightens the motivations of women entering keypunch operations and analyses how this task “albeit low-paid and routine —may have appeared suitable and even desirable positions for mothers since they offered work in a white-collar environment at respectable institutions”.
Historical Reflections Innovators Assemble
Thomas Haigh and Mark Priestley:
Historical Reflections Innovators Assemble: Ada Lovelace, Walter Isaacson, and the Superheroines of Computing, 2015.
In this 2015 article in Communication of the ACM, Tom Haigh and Mark Priestley give an overview of who they consider to be two ground-breaking figures in the field of ICTs: Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper. Looking at American biographer Walter Isaacson’s work, the authors claim that the public’s interest lies in discovering the life stories of the real people behind technological innovations. They criticize the male-centered gaze of the representation of people working in ICTs. To counter this, they emphasize the potential that lies in telling the stories of these women by showing them to the public as heroes to better embrace this part of the history of technology. Nevertheless, the authors point out the risks of such a discourse centered around leading figures of a scientific field; it tends to oversimplify and hide away the “little figures” that work behind the scenes. The process of storytelling should not come in the way of accurate historical representativity.
Making Programming masculine
Making Programming masculine, 2010.
In his chapter “Making Programming Masculine”, Nathan Ensmenger, an expert in the social and cultural history of software, explains how women got pushed out of the programming sector. His paper starts with the Cosmopolitan article “The Computer Girls” from the 1960s. Nathan Ensmenger analyzes the role of women in the ever-growing field of computing. The aim of his research is to demonstrate what the history of women in computing could tell about computing itself. By doing so, he leaps back to the ENIAC girls and illustrates that computer programming was initially a women’s job, which changed over time. With its professionalization, a certain masculinization of the domain occurred.
Part 2 - Users and gendered representations
The electric typewriter (1964-1965)
The electric typewriter, 1964-1965.
This advert was released in 1964-1965 for the Smith-Corona electric typewriter. Electric typewriters became very popular, especially for their features which were different from the manual typewriters. On the electronic typewriters, the content could easily be modified when it has already been typed and several copies could be obtained if changes were made on the documents. On this advert one can see a secretary holding the cable of the electric and placing it on her cheek, suggesting an affectionate movement towards the typewriter. The sentences “I love my new electric! (My boss loves its manual price)”, suggests asymmetries of power and visions, while also patronizing the woman.
The Computer Girls (1967)
The Computer Girls, 1967.
This article by Lois Mandel was published in Cosmopolitan in 1967. It consists of a text and three photos that show a woman (Ann Richardson, at the time a systems engineer at IBM). She is seen working with another male engineer and presenting a "light pen" to three colleagues who look amazed. In the article itself, the author points out that the computer field is also a job for women and offers them the opportunity to be paid more than in most other jobs. The article includes a quote about programming from Grace Hopper, one of the leading female figures in the history of computing: "It's just like planning a dinner." While this article clearly encourages women to take up coding, the comparison made by Hopper perpetuates a gendered view of skills considered typically female.
Advertisement by QSOL.COM (2000 and 2007)
Advertisement by QSOL.COM, 2000 and 2007.
This sexist ad was run by Qsol.com back in August 2007. In terms of composition, the ad follows a classic model, with a prominent image, a tagline and the company’s brand. Already back in 2000, an earlier version of the same ad had been very contested and even received a DisGraceful Award from GraceNet (a group that promotes women in IT), after which QSol.com publicly apologized. However, this didn’t stop them from republishing it basically word-for-word 7 years later in the same magazine, Linux Journal. In this ad, we can see the face of a woman with bright red lips. The tagline says that QSols servers won’t go down on you. This is phrased in the form of a pun which in combination with the model insinuates a sexual act.
When Women Stopped Coding (2014)
When Women Stopped Coding, 21.10.2014.
This graph by Quoctrung Bui has been regularly reproduced in articles about the disappearance of women from computer science. Originally made for National Public Radio (NPR), it shows the stark reduction of women in computer science relative to other disciplines. After a continuous rise of the percentage of women in computer science comparable to the ones in medicine, law and physical science, a watershed moment can be identified for the mid 1980s, where the relative number of women in computer science started to decline, defying the ongoing trend of a continuous upwards movement present in the other disciplines. It shows how historical developments continue to influence the field decades later, pointing to their ongoing relevance.
Report from the US National Board of science (2022)
Amy Burke, Abigail Okrent, Katherine Hale:
Report from the US National Board of science, 2022.
The US National Board of Science published a report in January 2022 on the current state of US science and engineering both on a national and international scale. In the section discussed here, the focus is put on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and labor force. The data used is from surveys and administrative data collected by companies, governments and organisations. Looking at the demographic composition of the workforce in STEM between 2010 and 2019, the share of women grew by 2%, making up 44% of the workforce in 2019. Nevertheless, women are still not equally present in all fields of STEM. While in 2019, women were outnumbering men as social scientists, as they constituted 65% of the workforce in this field, they only made up 16% of engineers and 26% of computer and mathematical scientists. These figures show that the question of underrepresentation of women in STEM is still pertinent.
Only the Clothes Changed
Only the Clothes Changed. Women Operators in British Computing and Advertising, 1950-1970, 2010.
Mar Hicks is the author of Programmed Inequality. How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing (2017). Her study begins in the 1930s and ends in the late 1970s. This choice covers the period from when women entered computing through code breaking and data processing to the progressive decline of female presence in this field, while also addressing “gendered war work” and the divisions of labor during World War II. Mar Hicks' investment in the analysis of the gendered relationships that pervade the history of computing, particularly in Great Britain, is well established. In this article published in 2010, she analyzes through a case study covering the mid-1940s to the 1970s “how advertising both reflected and potentially affected early British computing labor by creating certain imagery and cultural models for workers, and by influencing management expectations”.
The Gendering of the Computing Field
Chantal Morley and Martina McDonnell:
The Gendering of the Computing Field in Finland, France and the United Kingdom Between 1960 and 1990”, 2015.
Despite several paths and trends, as demonstrated by this chapter by Chantal Morley and Martina McDonnell, which compares three different European countries from the late 1960s to the early 1990s (the UK, well studied by Mar Hicks (see previous research text), France, and Finland -a latecomer to the computer industry with regards to the other two), there are similarities concerning the role women played in the computer industry.The masculinisation of computing also has similar causes in the three countries. This chapter is part of an edited book by Schafer and Thierry, Connecting Women, Women, Gender and ICT in Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (Springer, 2015), whose chapters offer a “longue durée” perspective on the intertwinement of ICTs and gender, from the phone ladies and the telegraph to computing.
Effet de genre
Effet de genre. Le paradoxe des études d’informatique, 2011.
In this article published in 2011, Isabelle Collet, author of Les Oubliées du numérique (2019), already stressed the absence of women in computer studies. "Rather than questioning a global disinterest on the part of women, it is more accurate to speak of a craze and a massive orientation on the part of men towards these fields, which marginalizes the already rare women", she remarks. She underlines the weight of the imaginary and social representations at the time of the development of micro-computing, with the rise in popularity of the figure of the geeks, the hackers, etc.
Computional Reticence. Why Women fear the Intimate Machine, 1986.
Isabelle Collet's observations in the previous article are to be put in relation with Sherry Turkle's previous reflections dating from 1986 on women's reticence towards computers, the rejection of the figure of the hacker, the reticence towards formal systems or the feeling of uneasiness in front of the power, notably the psychological power, of the computer. We can thus note the precociousness of the reflections carried out on the gendered relation to computers. Sherry Turkle is a Professor at MIT, and the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She is renowned for her books on digital cultures like Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011); The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (2005); Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1997).
Safiya Umoja Noble:
Google Search. Hyper-visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible, 2013.
Safiya Umoja Noble specializes in the intersection of gender and race in digital culture. She is best known for her 2018 book Algorithms of Oppression (NYU Press), but this 2013 article in InVisible Culture is where she first outlined how search engines promote racist and sexist stereotypes. Noble demonstrates how Google's role as the “dominant ‘symbol system’ of society” reproduces “racialized and gendered power relations” that put black women into a double bind where they are either forgotten or commodified as racist and sexist caricatures. In the article, she tells activists that an anti-racist Internet cannot be colorblind, it has to positively promote Black, woman, and other silenced voices.
Archaeologies of Gender in Videogame History
A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter. Archaeologies of Gender in Videogame History, 2013.
Laine Nooney’s research focuses on feminism, media and technology. This article appeared in Game Studies, the international journal of computer game research. The author asks about the role of women in video game history. Using the example of Roberta Williams, game designer and founder of Sierra On-Line, the author shows how women are portrayed in the “masculine gaming” world. Nooney opts for a critical approach to video game history and the role of women in it. Williams, “the lone woman”, did not fit into the image of a geek, and didn’t picture herself as such. The stereotypical gender roles, which were forced upon her, motivated her to create her particular style of games. Laine Nooney is advocating for a widening of the topic to reveal the quickly forgotten female figures that were not part of the “boys club’s”.
Part 3 - Empowerment, appropriation and activism
Elsie Shutt: An interview conducted by Janet Abbate
Interview conducted by Janet Abbate, 26.01.2021.
This oral interview conducted by Janet Abbate in 2001 showcases Elsie Shutt, a pioneering woman in the software industry in the US. She became an early entrepreneur in 1958 by creating her company, Computations, Inc. In the interview, she talks about her experiences in school, as a programmer, and as a business owner. Shutt started working at Raytheon Company in 1953. When she got pregnant, she had to quit her job, as required by the state law. Nevertheless, she wanted to remain professionally active and found her way around by doing some freelance work for a year until events pushed her to create her own business. Indeed, she asked the company she was working for to subcontract two female colleagues in the same family situation. After they refused, she created Computations, Inc. and hired them. This unconventional workforce became the basis of her business model.
Feminist Hacker Barbie
Feminist Hacker Barbie, 2014.
Published in 2010, alongside with the release of a doll, the book Barbie: I can be a computer engineer received immediate backlash due to its misogynistic and prejudiced representation of women in computer science.The story follows Barbie who, after having an idea for a computer game, asks two of her male friends to make it for her after her clumsy failed attempts. She is shown as having an inventive mind but lacking the technical knowledge to follow it through properly. it perpetuates the image of women constantly needing technical help from male protagonists. The book was the subject of ironic reinterpretations such as Kathleen Tuite’s 2014 blogpost : Feminist Hacker Barbie, inviting users to re-write pages of the book on a dedicated website she created. The book was later pulled from sales by Mattel, owner of the brand Barbie, who promised to show Barbie as an empowered character from then on.
The Internet Was 84.5% Male And 82.3% White
The Guerrilla Girls:
The Internet Was 84.5% Male And 82.3% White, 1996.
The Guerilla girls are an anonymous female art collective, naming themselves after famous deceased women. In a book published in 1998, the Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, they depict themselves as artists fighting against all forms of discrimination. This print is from 1996 and is extracted from a portfolio that was created between 1985 and 2017. Raising an intersectional issue, it shows a provocative statistic making it clear that the internet is dominated by white people and by men.
Black women and coding
Black women and coding, 2019.
This 2019 video, by Mashable, presents “iamtheCODE”, an initiative created by Senegalese-born tech-entrepreneur Mariéme Jamme. Founded in 2017, the program aims to give more opportunities to girls from under-privileged areas in Africa and helps them gain access to education in STEAMD (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Design). Jamme's aim is to support the education of over one million girls by 2030 as a means to contribute to the UN 2030 agenda for sustainability goals for education. Through this program, the participants are taught how to code, they gain experience in problem solving through creative learning and they are given a strong support system thanks to mentoring programs.
Women as Background Decoration
Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 - Tropes vs Women in Video Games, 2014.
Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian’s Youtube series Tropes vs Women in Video Games attracted a large amount of attention (and hate) from misogynistic corners of the internet that resulted in rape and death threats. The 20-episode series ran from 2013 to 2017 and featured feminist critiques of how women are portrayed in video games and how this both represents and influences the culture that creates and plays them.
The specific episode featured here was published on 25 August, 2014 and attracted the misogynistic reaction of GamerGate participants who had recently organized themselves against the game developer Zoë Quinn. Sarkeesian’s academic feminist media critiques faced crass, vitriolic, and, rambling attacks by GamerGate participants.
A Woman Named "Steve"
How a Woman Named "Steve" Became One of Britain’s Most Celebrated IT Pioneers, Entrepreneurs, and Philanthropists.
This article, accompanied by short documentaries and testimonials, sheds light on the career and life of Stephanie Shirley. She is one of the women entrepreneurs who, like Dina St Johnston, set up their own software company in Great Britain. Their careers reflect a willingness to take action against the glass ceiling and organizational constraints of their time, whether economic, political, or social. After working in the British postal service and in a software development company, faced with the impossibility of promotion, in 1962, at the age of 29, Stephanie Shirley created her own company (Freelance Programmers) and started using the name Steve Shirley. Her company would quickly become a successful one: in 1965 there were already 65 employees, all of whom were women. Faced with the problem of motherhood and the social status of mothers of young children, Stephanie Shirley's company provided answers by employing mothers part-time as freelance home workers.
Encouraging women in computer science
Eric Roberts, Marina Kassianidou and Lilly Irani:
Encouraging women in computer science, 2002.
Written by computer scientist Eric Roberts and two then undergraduates of the computer science department at Stanford, Marina Kassianidou and Lilly Irani, this 2002 paper published in the ACM SIGCSE Bulletin explores what measures university computer science departments can take to counteract the underrepresentation of women in such programs. After identifying the barriers hindering women to pursue and also finish a computer science program, like a lack of role models or support by peers, the authors detail the initiatives taken at Stanford to raise their number of female computer science students. These include a redesign of their introductory course, the involvement of role models from several stages of the academic hierarchy, a mentor-program, and a number of so-called bridge programs which aim to help prepare beginning students. The authors underline that such steps only are the beginning, which is why possible future measures are touched upon as well.
The Long Event of #GamerGate
Torill E. Mortensen:
Anger, Fear, and Games. The Long Event of #GamerGate, 2018.
Torill Elvira Mortensen describes the swarm-like event of GamerGate (GG) as a right-wing movement opposing “politically correct gaming” and a feminist reading of gaming history. GG took place in 2014-2015, mainly on Image Board Places, whose technical design allows to systematically hide opposing opinions. Supporters of the movement used freedom of expression as a cover to defame various gaming researchers and journalists. The uncoordinated movement took diverse forms; in some cases, the actions were limited to verbal threats but it also took more radical forms of Internet pranks, such as doxxing and swatting. Mortensen connects the movement to football Hooligans and hypermasculine values.
Les mobilisations féministes en ligne
Josiane Jouët, Katharina Niemeyer and Bibia Pavard:
Faire des vagues: Les mobilisations féministes en ligne, 2017.
This study offers an analysis prior to the MeToo movement. In their article "Making Waves: Feminist Online Mobilisations", the authors focus on the renewal of feminist mobilisations in France. Their study focuses on online presence and practices, placed in perspective with past struggles. This heritage is examined in the digital age. Recourse to the past is an integral part of digital communication strategies, with videos, photographs and archival documents being used. Access to technology and digital tools has also created a renewal of activist processes, mixing online and offline practices, to increase the forms of activism and mobilisation.
#Theoriedugenre. Comment débat-on du genre sur Twitter?, 2016.
To close our selection of research texts and to open up to broader issues, linked to the digital uses, Virginie Julliard's article dedicated to the debates on the so-called "gender theory" on Twitter seemed to us to be an interesting point. Indeed, on the socio-digital networks, Internet users actively debate questions related to gender, for example in France at the time of the controversies around the "Marriage for All", which is reflected in the article by Maxime Cervulle and Fred Pailler in "#mariagepourtous : Twitter et la politique affective des hashtags" (2014). In her article, Virginie Julliard points out the polarization of debates, the partitioning of discussion spaces, the neutralization of discordant voices, and the violence of exchanges.