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January 31, 2011

The Technology Gender Gap

This article caught my attention -- it states that only about 15% of the articles on Wikipedia are written by women. And it probably says something about me that my first thought was, "That many?"

Computer and software technology is a heavily male-dominated area, and always has been. There have been many arguments over the years as to why that is so, but the fact is unassailable. Every so often, feminists or journalists or sociologists will drag the dead horse out and beat it some more: Why aren't more girls into video games? Why don't women go into computer-programming in greater numbers? Why do girls seem to find the fact and detail oriented world of technology so much less interesting than males?

This sort of thing usually degenerates into stupid arguments as to whether men are "smarter" than women, which I think completely misses the basic point: I think that women can be as good at technology as men in general; I think they choose not to. In other words -- what we are seeing is a basic, cross-cultural gender difference. I think that men are simply more willing to devote the deep focus and single-minded intensity to master a given topic (which may not have any immediate practical application) than women are. And I think that there is a degree of natural selection at work here: men are high-achievers because they want to impress women.

I think that this is pretty much the same reason that men dominate the hard sciences and upper echelons of the arts. Women seem far less willing than men (not less able) to devote years and years of study and practice to the mastery of a given field. Women also seem to be more communal and less competitve than men in general, which may lead them to "give way" in the face of more competitive males.

I guess my point is that I don't think there's anything to be done about the "technology gap" because it's a facet of a deeper gender difference. Women can master technology when it's to their benefit to do so (they led the charge in the cellphone revolution, and are the main impetus behind social-networking sites like Facebook), but they seem to prioritize high-achievement less than men do. This isn't necessarily a bad thing to be "fixed". In fact, I think it would do lots of men good to be less focused on their jobs and careers and more involved in their family lives. (Some men become practically autistic in terms of narrow focus on a technology or gaming subculture. I have done this myself and know whereof I speak.)

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posted by Monty at 09:58 AM

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