Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code

First panel: Two men stand at a chalkboard. While one man works on an equation, the second man thinks, "Wow, he sucks at math." Second panel: A man and a woman stand at a chalkboard. While the woman works at an equation, the man thinks, "Wow, women suck at math."
XKCD, "How It Works"

Oh, how I hate being the bearer of bad news. Yet I feel I have to tell you something about the frustration I’m hearing, in whispers and on the backchannel, from early-career women involved in digital humanities.

Here, there, and everywhere, we’re being told: A DHer should code! Don’t know how? Learn! The work that’s getting noticed, one can’t help but see, is code. As digital humanities winds its way into academic departments, it seems reasonable to predict that the work that will get people jobs — the work that marks a real digital humanist — will be work that shows that you can code.

And that work is overwhelmingly by men. There are some important exceptions, but the pattern is pretty clear.

In principle, I have no particular problem with getting everyone to code. I’m learning to do it myself. (And a million thank yous to those of you who are helping me.) But I wanted to talk here about why men are the ones who code, so that we can speak openly about the fact that programming knowledge is not a neutral thing, but something men will tend to have more often than women.

This matter is of no small concern to me. It is breaking my damn heart to see how many women I know have earnestly committed themselves to codeacademy because they want to be good citizens, to prove they have what it takes. These are my friends, and this is their livelihood, and this is the career we’ve chosen.

Continue reading “Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code”