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Technology Hardware

Sexual Harassment In Tech Is As Old As the Computer Age (ieee.org) 439

Tekla Perry writes: Historian Marie Hicks, speaking at the Computer History Museum talks about how women computer operators and programmers were driven out of the industry, gives examples of sexual harassment dating back to the days of the Colossus era, and previews her next research. "It's all a matter of power, Hicks pointed out -- and women have never had their share of it," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Women dominated computer programming in its early days because the field wasn't seen as a career, just a something someone could do without a lot of training and would do for only a short period of time. Computer jobs had no room for advancement, so having women 'retire' in their 20s was not seen as a bad thing. And since women, of course, could never supervise men, Hicks said, women who were good at computing ended up training the men who ended up as their managers. But when it became clear that computers -- and computer work -- were important, women were suddenly pushed out of the field."

Hicks has also started looking at the bias baked into algorithms, specifically at when it first crossed from human to computer. The first example she turned up had "something to do with transgender people and the government's main pension computer." She says that when humans were in the loop, petitions to change gender on national insurance cards generally went through, but when the computer came in, the system was "specifically designed to no longer accommodate them, instead, to literally cause an error code to kick out of the processing chain any account of a 'known transsexual.'"

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Sexual Harassment In Tech Is As Old As the Computer Age

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  • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @09:08AM (#55705897) Homepage
    When you redefine sexual harassment as any unwanted attempt to connect then sexual harassment is quite common indeed, and I have been sexually harassed by a number of women as well by that definition.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Yes, we are under the curse of Babel.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      When you redefine sexual harassment as any unwanted attempt to connect then sexual harassment is quite common indeed, and I have been sexually harassed by a number of women as well by that definition.

      I mean sure, and if wishes were horses every beggar would ride.

      But why play games with silly redefinitions? The only people to use that definition are people complaining on internet comment boards, so it has no relation to real life.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @09:36AM (#55705977)

      It is more complex then that.
      Sexual harassment is about using your gender as a way to to pull power from someone else of a different gender.
      It isn’t about just trying to connect to a person.
      It’s a statement of I am so powerful that I can do things to you and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it.

      There isn’t a well defined line but a gray area where things can be considered differently.
      Normally the rule of thumb is if you have the authority to make someone’s life difficult from retribution of your advances then you are in the gray area. Hence why a lot of people with good guy reputations have been called out recently. Because who are they going to believe?

      As a straight male, it is sometimes tough if there is an attractive woman that you are working with, but it is important to keep your professional and personal life separate and not use your authority as a driver.

      • > Sexual harassment is about using your gender as a way to to pull power from someone else of a different gender.

        Please, review your terms. Not only do I beg to differ, I can find no example of a dictionary that agrees with this definition. Sexual harassment is not gender specific. Treating one gender differently from aanother in unjustified ways _is_ gender discrimination. If you're convinced that sexual harassment is defined by distinct genders, then I'd encourage you to review the history of same sex

      • That was the definition 5-10 years ago. It has morphed into much more; there doesn't need to be a reporting structure for it to be harassment.

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      You're the only one redefining it that way. There's a rather large difference between chatting someone up and having them eventually say "Sorry, I'm not interested in you that way," and you going on your merry way, and grabbing someone tits/ass/pussy, masturbating in front of them after locking the door so they can't get out, and trying to force them into some sex act or lose their job.

      Take a hint. No means no. If a woman has made it clear she is not interested in you, that doesn't mean start sending her p

    • Then you woke up.

  • I'm all out of popcorn and have to go to the shops to get some.

    Could you all hold off for half an hour?

  • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @09:38AM (#55705989)

    Women dominated computer programming in its early days

    Reading the articles about it, it sounds more like they dominated operating the machines, not designing the actual software (or hardware).

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @02:23PM (#55707065) Homepage Journal

      Well, I'm old enough to have met a number of these women, so I can clear a few things up.

      First of all, in the very earliest electronic computers there wasn't really such a strong division between operating a computer and programming it. You had to rewire the computers for each new problem. Second, there wasn't always such a strong division between operations and programming even in stored program computers; that division was sharper in business data processing than it was in scientific and technical computing. Third, yes, there were lots and lots of women who absolutely were what we'd consider "programmers" today.

      You have to understand a few things. First, computers really took off in WW2, and a shortage of men on the homefront opened up a lot of jobs for women. I knew a woman (passed away now) who got a degree in math from an Ivy League university; her expected career path was marriage, but instead she went to work programming on a number of early computers, from Harvard's Mark 1 (1944) through MIT's Whirlwind (early to mid 50s). However interesting these jobs were, they were always viewed as temporary. At first it was only until the soldier came back from the war, and then she was expected to marry at any time and retire. Since the pay was low and there were no other jobs for math geek women other than school teacher, that's what she ended up doing.

      I remember as late as the late 70s there were still many data processing departments with almost entirely female staff and a male supervisor (i.e., no career advancement path). In the early 80s my wife was a member of the first class in her graduate school to be half female; yet the data processing department was staffed with young women who were expected to marry and retire. In addition to operations they did many of the programming tasks you'd give to a student these days, since back then even graduate students wouldn't have had much computer experience). The faculty called the information processing staff -- and I am NOT making this up -- "data dollies".

      There was another path to programming that would be surprising to younger people. Most men before 1980 didn't know how to operate a keyboard. Rather than *learn* how, it was customary to hand off handwritten programs to a low-paid typist or (in the case of punch cards) a keypuncher, who was invariably a woman. Naturally the clever one figured this programming thing out, and in the 80s it was still common to meet women who'd learned programming this way. Their role in computing was largely as cheap temporary labor, but by then some of them were starting to be viewed as career women.

  • That's funny, in my 35 year career as a software engineer I've had my share; perhaps 40% of my managers have been women. And they were generally pretty good too. I can't say the same for the men managers I've had. There were one or two who were atrocious.

    And yes, I'm male.

  • by slshdtisctrldbysjws ( 5180469 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @09:44AM (#55706015)

    But plenty of totally unverifiable anecdotes!
    Sounds like a good basis to instigate social change!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been harassed by men. I've been harassed by women. in my case anyway, none of it has ever been sexual. Just because it's between a man and a woman doesn't automatically make it sexual harassment.
  • Is that so many young women today are utterly deluded about their attractiveness. I have seen plenty of women who, all made up and ready for a night on the town, are no better than a "6" who seriously believe they're hot stuff. Like really believe they're hawwwwt and normal men should count themselves lucky to even buy them coffee. It's really bad with the college-educated set who also often scoff at the idea of blue collar men, even if they make more money than the average man in their social circle.

    This i

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @10:29AM (#55706109) Journal

    Please note, I fully support just about everything that Ms. Hicks says in her article, I invite you to click on the link provided and see more details. However there is one claim that she makes (in the original article) that I wish was substantiated:

    "The British computing industry, both governmental and private sector, hemorrhaged talent, she says—and essentially lost its lead in tech because of it."

    I'm sure the British computing industry DID hemorrhage talent because of this pervasive bigotry (like against gays, R.I.P. Alan Turing) but did it "lose its lead" because of it? Doesn't that imply that conditions were better in other, competing countries? I'm sure they were in some, I've heard that the Soviet Union valued women much more equally than the West; however I'm assuming she's referring to the U.S. Were conditions in America that much better? (Maybe they were, I didn't see the movie "Hidden Figures"; how did that portray Minority(!) women doing high level STEM work? Was it accurate?)

    As far as I'm concerned women make excellent programmers, the top coder in our company that has exceptional talent (numerous winners of national mathematics/programming awards) is a woman. To that end, we've actually designed the facility to make sexual harassment more difficult (like glass doors to all non-rest rooms so that nobody thinks they can make a move on someone without possibly being seen).

  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @10:31AM (#55706113)

    ...when the summary adequately communicates the size of the chip on the author's shoulders.

    I don't doubt women still get sexually harassed, or that it was more common and accepted in the past. I ALSO don't doubt this 'historian' is so biased she sees sexual abuse in men saying 'good morning' to her and has no sense of humor at all.

    When I talk about why I have a problem with feminists because people like this represent the movement (never mind that the movement itself is sexist because it's only interested in women - give me egalitarianism any day), THIS is the kind of person who is the velvet glove over the iron fist of the man-hating feminists.

    Oddly enough, as a man, I have a huge issue with people who assume I'm a woman-abusing monster because I have a penis.

  • That "Brogrammer" culture goes back to when programming was usually done with pen and paper and then punched onto cards to be submitted as part of a batch job to be fed into a room-sized mainframe computer." This is about as much news as the sun rising in the morning,
  • Most areas have friendly neighborhood prostitutes who you can harass for very reasonable rates, perhaps $25 to $150. The more things change the more they stay the same.
  • when humans were in the loop, petitions to change gender on national insurance cards generally went through, but when the computer came in, the system was "specifically designed to no longer accommodate them

    I'm going to have to call BS on this one. Back in the days before automation, a request to change gender (particularly in Britain) would get you a trip to the local police department, much like Alan Turing. Once computers were brought in, the lack of a change process (without extraordinary circumstances) just carried forward from manual methods of recordkeeping.

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      That's not quite the context of Alan Turing's dilemma, he admitted to engaging in what were at the time illegal activities. I know of no case of anyone going to prison because they asked someone to change an entry on a piece of paper - if anyone was going to be punished for such a "crime" it would be the person that changed the gender, not the person asking for the change.

      Asking for something isn't a crime, how you ask may be.

  • Hello, there. Want to see my bit?

  • Don't be stupid... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kenh ( 9056 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @01:59PM (#55706943) Homepage Journal

    the system was "specifically designed to no longer accommodate them, instead, to literally cause an error code to kick out of the processing chain any account of a 'known transsexual.'

    Seriously? The system wasn't "specifically designed" to "cause an error code" - it was programmed to process male or female, nothing more than that. The "human" system let the worker take an eraser and change an "F" to an "M" under gender as the person requested.

    The system was designed to accommodate an "F" or "M" in the gender position, it's no more nefarious than that. That a computer system is now designed to accommodate any Unicode character for gender doesn't mean it "supports" transgender rights.

    This is like arguing that older COBOL programs were designed assuming the world would end before the year 2000, so they didn't allow for "century" in date fields, optiong instead for only a two-digit number to represent year.

  • Because of all this social agenda s*** I have to redefine words in my mind until I have evidence to the contrary.

    Sexual Harassment = A man that had the balls to make a pass at a woman or ask to go out on a date.

    Sexual Offender = Someone that got drunk and pissed on a tree.

    Amber Alert = A disgruntled man that temporarily takes his own child because of a child custody case/situation.

    As to the article/subject itself... men and women are different.(Why is that so hard to believe?) They have different but overla

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday December 09, 2017 @06:17PM (#55708119) Homepage Journal

    Hicks has also started looking at the bias baked into algorithms, specifically at when it first crossed from human to computer. The first example she turned up had "something to do with transgender people and the government's main pension computer."

    Historian Marie Hicks doesn't know the difference between a business rule and an algorithm.

    Could the reason be that she's a historian?

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