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      There’s a lot of literature on the subject - Ensmenger’s The Computer Boys Take Over seems to be the best on the subject; I still need to finish it.

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      It’s nice to see a bunch of old PC ads including girls, but their existence doesn’t disprove the argument about home computers being mostly aimed at boys.

      I was a teen in this time period (I turned 13 in late 1977). It definitely seemed to me that computers were a boy thing — I only remember one girl in my school being into them — but I didn’t really question why.

      One possible factor I haven’t seen discussed: initially schools just bought one or two computers. In my middle school at least, this made getting computer time highly competitive. The lone Commodore PET sat in the math classroom, and I think there was a signup sheet for getting a few minutes’ time during class (which we fought to put our names on first), and it was open access during lunch and recess (so we fought to get time.) I don’t mean we came to blows or pulled people out of the chair, but it was definitely competitive. In hindsight, it would have been pretty discouraging for most girls.

      I’m guessing a lot of early home PCs were purchased at the insistence of a kid who’d caught the bug at school; in my experience mostly a boy, like me. And guess whose bedroom the computer went into in my house. And guess how much luck my sister would have had getting her hands on it (not that I recall her showing a lot of interest, but I could have easily overlooked it.)

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      When I was younger, I heard that girls are ahead of boys in social skills (during the age range that these ads target – don’t worry, the boys eventually catch up). Thus, the average boy is more likely to be interested in things, and the average girl is more likely to be interested in people. Social activities for boys are thus oriented around these things, and computers are the ultimate “thing”, with games being the dominant activity, but programming was in there too. In the very early days of home computers, games would be printed in magazines as basic programs, and you would type them in and run them. As a boy, I heard reports that the girls were more interested in social status games.

      Another interesting fact: in my high school, the math classes were segregated by ability, and the high level math classes were dominated by girls. Girls were better at math. So they ought to have been better at programming, too?

      When the home computer boom happened, from a girl’s perspective, computer science probably changed from being a high status, high paying career option to something associated with the home computers that her annoying brother and his friends were obsessed with. Just speculating.

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      I never got the impression that girls were excluded from advertising for computers, literally all ads from that period that I remember featured girls enjoying the computers (especially games) prominently.

      I think it’s a narrative that we tell ourselves that girls weren’t targeted, I believe firmly that they absolutely were.

      What I consider to be more likely is that computers were fringe, and as adoption grew it became more and more associated with degeneracy of various kinds, anti-socialism being prominent until adoption was very high and it was only the people who were really interested that were considered fringe (basement dweller/revenge of the nerds etc;).

      It is true that parents tend to protect daughters more than sons; as such things which are fringe are more acceptable for boys.

      There’s other aspects to this too, in fact the more you think about it the more dimensions open up on this single topic: Boys are more likely to rebel in extreme ways, or put passion above social-standing. Boys interests are not typically engaged with as parents as much as Girls. Lots of Girl “hobbies” tend to be in or around the home, boys tend to explore and this was during the rise of “Helicoptor Parenting”, where parents became ever more fearful of strangers. In the same vein: parents tend to be happier if Boys don’t get into trouble, where Girls don’t seem to get into the same kinds of trouble at the same rates: thus something that keeps them in the house keeps them out of trouble.

      There’s another question though, which far from social seems to be innate: Why do boys naturally gravitate towards computers given no overt external stimuli, I personally think it’s due to the proclivity of boys to be curious about mechanical things and how they work, which manifests quite young. Or it could be the fact that we build computers to appeal to things that boys like, flashing lights in all colours might not be universal. The joy of a click of a keypress, grinding of a harddisk or the soft glow of a computer screen might have had some more natural appeal for boys.

      I know in Japan they tend to care about things like that, the sounds and tactile feel of a thing to ensure it’s pleasant: and I can’t deny that as a child the primary reason I wanted to play with computers was the feel and sound of a commodore64’s keyboard deck.

      I’m speaking obviously in overly generalised ways, some Men did now grow up like this and some Women did.

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        The fact that being into computers as a kid made you a social weirdo has been pretty much memory holed. The idea that there was pervasive cultural gatekeeping is just bunk. It’s a rewriting of history from people who missed out and suddenly discovered half the world was digital and they knew absolutely nothing about it.

        The same thing happened with video games: once it became clear it was a multi billion dollar business, suddenly the people who had been looking down on the entire thing decided that until they came along, the only games that existed were mindless shooters for xbros.

        Yes, there have always been weird autists in the scene. No, this doesn’t mean you get to play mean girl smurfette.

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      I’ve been moving to a new laptop lately and still don’t have everything properly copied over/filed the way I want, so I don’t have my usual references for this stuff, but: in general I don’t think people point to advertisements like these as the reason for the inflection point in women entering computing. Most of the analyses I’ve read have focused on the change in the perception of computers and computing, and thus of the associated status of computer users.

      In simplified terms, this argument says that many uses of computers, in a period encompassing at least the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, were seen as low-status clerical work and thus, according to the mores of the time, were assigned to women. So, for example, a business executive never actually typed his own memos – he would have his secretary do that (and the secretary might also be given only the gist of the memo, and be expected to compose parts of it herself). And the executive would see a computer as just a sort of fancier, multipurpose typewriter; it was not there to be used directly by the executive, it was there to be used by his secretary.

      And so you do find advertisements claiming that some particular model of computer will help your secretary run your office more efficiently. Or that a related model will help your wife run your household more efficiently (It has a database for recipes! It can automatically balance the checkbook!). But this is a consequence of the primary factor, which is the perception that computers and computing were low-status tools for low-status work.

      The real shift, then, was not how computers were advertised to children; it was when working with a computer began to be seen as high-status work deserving of high pay, and not to be left to mere clerical staff. And so you get things like a switch from the businessman buying a computer for his secretary, to buying a computer for himself. Being able to program a computer goes from being a thing that helps clerical staff work more efficiently, to being something that can earn lots of money by starting a business to sell software. And so on and so forth, and this – the argument goes – is why women started being filtered out of computing and related fields, because computing had switched from “women’s work” to “men’s work”.

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      My sister certainly enjoyed playing games on my family’s shared computers (first an Apple IIGS, later a 486 PC), though not the same games that my brothers played. I wasn’t much into playing games myself, mostly because I didn’t discover the good text adventures (e.g. Infocom) until much later. The fact that, of the 4 of us, only I was interested in programming merely means that it’s something that only a minority of computer users get into.

      I was somewhat disappointed that the author didn’t have an answer for the question “Why did computer science see a downturn in female applicants during the home computer boom?”. Anyone else have insights on this?

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        Why did computer science see a downturn in female applicants during the home computer boom? Why was home computing such a boys’ club?

        A study from 2018 summarized in this Atlantic article asks:

        So what explains the tendency for nations that have traditionally less gender equality to have more women in science and technology than their gender-progressive counterparts do?

        And suggests that:

        “Countries with the highest gender equality tend to be welfare states,” they write, “with a high level of social security.” Meanwhile, less gender-equal countries tend to also have less social support for people who, for example, find themselves unemployed. Thus, the authors suggest, girls in those countries might be more inclined to choose STEM professions because they offer a more certain financial future than, say, painting or writing.

        It’s just one study, but it’s a good reminder that people exercise agency.

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        Yes: there was no downturn unless you only look at gender ratios and ignore absolute numbers.

        Around the early 1980s, as with the dotcom boom, there was an increase in interest from both men and women in the field. Then, men’s interest remained steady, while women’s interest dropped back. This is something that feminists ignore because it ruins their narrative of men driving women out. But just go look up the curves, and you will see this effect clear as day in the bachelor degrees. Because there was both and absolute and a relative shift, the relative graph is meaningless.

        Computing was biased towards women because they were for rote clerical work and women needed them for their jobs. When home computers took off, along with self directed hacking, programming and more, men discovered they loved it, and women did not.

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        I am not a sociologist or psychologist or any other kind of -ist so I don’t know if this is accurate or meaningful, but I read somewhere that home computers turned computer science into a largely solitary activity (whereas it was originally a more communal one) and that, for whatever reason, that was less appealing to some demographics.

        I’ve also read that once CS started paying really well, women were discouraged from pursuing it, as a form of structural sexism to reserve higher paying jobs for men.

        Again, I am not knowledgeable in this sort of thing so don’t take this as something true or accurate. These are just two explanations that I’ve seen proposed.

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          I can contribute a small bit of second hand oral history to this matter. My father used to sell computer systems to mid-sized institutions (e.g. regional banks, county governments) in the 70s and 80’s. He told me how many institutions followed the same chain of “logic”

          1. Static discharge can damage computers
          2. Wearing nylons can cause a person to build up static charge
          3. The corporate dress code requires women to wear nylons
          4. Any woman who enters the computer room will be summarily terminated, for she is either in violation of the dress code or a threat to very expensive electronic equipment

          The idea that #3 could be removed with a stroke of the pen from management was never discussed. Similarly, a salesman could walk into the server room in a polyester leisure suit, fry a terminal, and it was just a call to support. Meanwhile, a female accountant who entered the room to grab her print out and left without incident was fired for insubordination.

          The nylons thing wasn’t the only example. One bank did have a woman for their lead system operator. She had a decade of experience and had personally worked with Grace Hopper. She had three assistants, each fresh out of college with no coding experience or ability. All three assistants were paid fifty percent more than she was. The rational was that she couldn’t be paid more than her husband, who was on the bank’s maintenance staff. After she left the firm for a higher paying position elsewhere, the CEO fired her husband (for failing to keep her at the bank) and made multiple comments to the board about not allowing women in management positions on account of being flighty and disloyal.

          I guess that, if I have any thesis to share, it’s that the push to gender computing as a male activity might have occurred around the time of the home computer revolution, but that corporate computing was already headed in that direction without the consumer market.

          Edit: Fixed typos

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            Before the PC era there were taboos about nearly anyone entering the computer room. The computer operators were widely called a “priesthood”. But you didn’t need to enter to use the computer, because you could use a keypunch machine or, later, a timeshare terminal. So I don’t think the nylons factor alone would have kept women out, except as operators. (And back then a lot of women did work on computers doing data entry.)

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        I was somewhat disappointed that the author didn’t have an answer for the question “Why did computer science see a downturn in female applicants during the home computer boom?”. Anyone else have insights on this?

        Yeah, I don’t think a bunch of advertisements will give you an accurate depiction of the market.