A Response To The Insulting, Mystifying "Why Women Shouldn't Code"  



"Women shouldn’t code . . . our current initiative to try to teach girls to code is misguided."

Are you throwing up a little in your mouth? Don’t worry, that’s a totally normal reaction.

I did the same thing when I read the first of many statements in Francine Hardaway’s “misguided” call to inaction. Now before I say anything else, I want to state that I’m a feminist. That word means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in my particular world-view it means that people are judged on their actions, not on their gender.

If you feel the same way, you can go ahead and join me in judging the hell out of Hardaway because of her utterly inane essay and not because she’s a woman. I don't care what she is packing under her trousers, she has some seriously antiquated and bizarre views.

Okay, moving on.

In her rant against the initiatives trying to encourage women and girls to get more involved in tech—especially in coding—Hardaway makes four increasingly ridiculous points. Her first argument goes like this:

"People are fond of saying code is the next language … but there’s a difference between language and syntax. Coding is syntax. It is finely detailed work in a binary world, and it requires both attention to detail. When you write a line of code, you have to close the parentheses and make sure you put in the semi-colon or the code won’t run."

No one would disagree that coding is exacting work, but she fails to explain how that makes it exclusive to men and/or unappealing to women. Women are actually more likely than men to describe themselves as detailed-oriented, so wouldn’t that make them great assets in the software engineering field? But Hardaway’s not done yet, and concludes her first point by adding this nugget of wisdom:

"The most important people in the company don’t write the code, they tell the coders what to write. Coders don’t make the big decisions."

Um, I think Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Adam D’Angelo, plus countless other tech titans would heartily disagree. Coding may not be a CEO’s primary function, but their coding background was an intrinsic help in getting them to that top position. Moreover, Hardaway’s comment is demeaning to coders everywhere. While it’s also true that every coder may not create their own startup or rise to the rank of CEO, CTO, or HBIC of whatever, it doesn’t mean they're not making big decisions with rippling impact. If anything, the small decisions software engineers make on a daily basis can determine the success of an organization.

Not-so-surprisingly, Hardaway’s second point is actually more offensive than the first. 

"Women don’t seem to want to code. They don’t choose it as a career, despite all the job openings and the high pay."

To her credit, Hardaway tries to use research to back up her claims. She cites a study that shows women are more intuitive and men are more reflective, but it has little to to do with her argument. She never makes a successful link between the importance of intuition and reflection and the importance of meticulousness that she harped on earlier. The other source uses phrenology as a reference, which is the same pseudoscience that purported intelligence and character can be measured by the structure of the skull, often leading to unfavorable results for any non-Anglo-Saxon male.

Due to her in-depth research, I’m shocked that Hardaway failed to stumble upon the articles that explain how the percentage of women in computer science was steadily growing until a drop off around 1984, when the narrative began that computers are toys for boys. Nor did she seem to find the studies that show girls are just as interested in coding (and math and science) when encouraged to explore it, especially by family members. Oh and she also, somehow, missed all the first-person accounts from women sharing how they’re treated when interviewing for those high paying jobs or working in a male-dominated environment

Point number three? You have to read it to believe it: 

"There will be plenty of coders in the future . . . But we’re fighting the last war here; we will eventually do the same thing with coders that we did with every other occupation where we identified a shortage: create a glut. We’ve done it with doctors, physical therapists, nail technicians, and lawyers. And then who will make the robots?"

Based on the last sentence alone, I’m going to believe she momentarily realized her foolishness and made . . . a joke. Otherwise, I want to live wherever she does since there are doctors, physical therapists, nail technicians, and lawyers just prowling the streets desperately looking for work. 

And finally, she makes her fourth and final point:

"The difference between good and bad code is like the difference between grammar and writing. Writing requires much more than just a knowledge of grammar and syntax. It also requires organization, imagination, creativity and experience. The analogue to writing in software development, IMHO, isn’t coding per se, it is system architecture and user interface."

As many times as I’ve read this section, I’m still unsure of where she’s going with it. Is she implying that women are better at writing and therefore would not be good at coding? Or coders don’t need to be organized, imaginative, creative, or have any experience to do their job? However you slice it, none of the above is remotely accurate. In her attempt to compliment women by positing the act of writing code as a monotonous task that doesn’t require a higher level of thought, Hardaway neglects to mention that a systems architect or UX designer has to have that basic knowledge to do their inventive work. 

In the wake of all that nonsense and WTF-inducing commentary, Hardaway closes out her essay with a rather reasonable demand (if you can get over her usage of coerce, that is):

Stop trying to coerce women to code. Instead, hire them for the talents they have that tech companies sorely need: marketing, leadership, human capital attraction, and negotiating skills. And then don’t sideline them by calling those “staff” instead of “line” functions. Instead, recognize that a product does not make a company, and that even in a company whose product is software, many other skills are required at which women have always excelled.

Though her choice of words could be a hell of a lot better, Hardaway does surface a valid point: In an industry where software reigns supreme, people working in other capacities—from marketing and HR to accounting and sales—can feel like their work isn’t as valued, that every effort is to simply support the product. And yes, of course—I shall acquiesce this point—there are a host of talented women that could be killing it in the tech world other than by coding.

However, Hardaway ruins it in the end:

"In other words, stop forcing women into the male mold and accept them for who they are."

Web developer Jenn Schiffer best sums up my thoughts on this whole damn thing: 

Oh. And Hardaway used a photograph of Barbie to accompany her article. Sorry, I have to go vomit again.

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