Female programmers have to excel in a profession that is notorious for having a dearth of females and a general condescending attitude toward the few that seek to thrive in it as equals. Thankfully, TechCabal has a hugely popular series dedicated to identifying and brain-picking “Girls Who Code” in the now-virile Nigerian software development community.

The series is quite eye-opening. However, it is the response within the community that seems to be even more amusing.

As inferred by the Geek Feminism Wiki, female programmers have quite a few not-so-trivial things to worry about, including but not limited to:

  • Being called “the lady programmer”.
  • Wondering whether you’re well-known in your community simply for being “the female one”.
  • Worrying about the possibility that people won’t believe you when you say you are a programmer.
  • Being described as “hot” first and a competent professional second.
  • Wondering whether you got hired at your job because of affirmative action or “quotas” relating to male-female staff ratios.
  • Your peers writing articles and posting pictures of you on Twitter solely because people of your gender are a novelty (See this tweet).
  • Feeling exploited when companies make a show of supporting gender equality in their promotional materials, but do not actually practice what they preach in terms of hiring and promoting.
  • Worrying that if you switch to a less technical career, you’d be betraying the cause of gender equality.

There are hundreds of other reasons which when taken into consideration, can give people the strong impression that “Girls Who Code” deserve accolades and conscious recognition for getting into and staying in a profession where females are typically considered to be an anomaly. Indeed, focusing a great deal of attention on female programmers could yield a huge number of benefits, including helping to identify typically hard-to-find role models for other women trying to navigate the same testosterone-driven waters of the computer programming profession. However, one could also wonder whether a female programmer should be singled out and applauded as some sort of hero specifically because she is a “girl” who codes.

The world is now more sensitive to issues of gender equality than ever before, a tad too sensitive, I might add. This popular story involving a female developer is a case in point. Tangentially, giving special attention to female programmers can simply come across as Exceptionalism. According to the Geek Feminism Wiki:

Exceptionalism is when women in geek communities become extremely well known not for their geeky work but for being a woman, or when a woman’s arrival in a geek community is heralded with a great deal of excitement focused on her being a woman.

If the hoopla about gender equality is to be taken in a strict sense, would it not be quite astute to say that unless a female programmer achieves something extraordinary from a gender-neutral perspective, there is really no need to make her seem extraordinary?

Obviously, articles, blog posts and entire websites dedicated to discussing and drawing attention to women in computing often have entirely noble causes. However, it might be necessary to constantly reiterate what these purposes are, in order to avoid the highly probable event that the wider community begins to lay excessive emphasis on the “female-ness” of the individuals rather than how exceptional their contributions to the “geek” community actually are from a gender-neutral perspective. Geek Feminism Wiki goes as far as saying:

…excessive emphasis on and attention paid to the female-ness of an individual woman by the wider community can make her feel isolated, and, paradoxically, invisible in the sense of not being able to do any work, no matter how exceptional, that is more important to the community than her being a woman.

We would all love to see more women in technology. However, we should always resist the temptation to grant overt recognition and applaud for the mere fact that they are women in technology, but instead do so because they are fellow soldiers who have made great and exceptional “kills” in the same battle we all fight in… as equals.

So, she’s a “girl”, and she writes code. Do we need to collectively hand her a giant cookie, and a Nobel prize for added effect? Probably not.

NB:

Editor’s note – David makes very valid points, even if I do not consider them applicable to the context of TechCabal’s Girls Who Code series. Accordingly, I have responded to on the original post on his blog. and will do here also in the series wrap-up next week, as well as lay out how we intend to approach the women in tech narrative going forward…because we will continue to.

– Lordbanks.

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