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Trek Scares Girls Away From Tech

Is geek culture turning off women in more ways than we imagined?

Back when I was in college, the presence of a Tron poster on the wall was a pretty solid indicator that the only action that dorm room would ever see was on the Schwarzenegger tape in the VHS player. And while there were beautiful women abounding all across campus, the only ones likely to show up there flashing a come-hither stare came neatly packaged in GIF form on 3.5” floppy disks.

Not that I would know anything about that.

The point was pretty clear, however. If you wanted to be a hit with the ladies, it was generally a good idea to keep any obsessions with Voltron, Krull and Ultraman under wraps—even if your interest in the latter was purportedly ironic. This was in the days before geek culture was a thing, mind you, when regular people didn’t do sci-fi conventions and the words sexy and costume were rarely used in conjunction with one another. Nowadays, though, geek culture has gone mainstream—probably inevitable, with Disney cranking out Marvel and Star Wars flicks on a schedule that would make even Roger Corman blush—and with hit shows like The Big Bang Theory paving the way for even the nerdiest guy to score with the homecoming queen, it seems like everybody is getting in on the fun.

“There is research that shows that workplaces that are plastered with stereotypically ‘tech or nerd guy’ cultural images – think Star Trek – have negative impact on women’s likelihood of pursuing tech work and of staying in tech work in general or in that particular work environment,” said Chris Bourg, director of libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wait, what?

Replace the Star Trek posters with travel posters, don’t name your projects or your printers or your domains after only male figures from Greek mythology, and just generally avoid geek references and inside nerd jokes,” Bourg added. “Those kinds of things reinforce the stereotypes about who does tech; and that stereotype is the male nerd stereotype.”

Oh, hells no! You can have my Star Trek posters (and Franklin Mint commemorative Spock plate) when you pry them from my cold, dead hands! After decades of enduring wedgies, swirlies and getting stuffed into lockers for the crime of giving the Vulcan hand salute and saying, “Live long and prosper,” we geeks have finally been accepted by the cool kids. No way is some MIT librarian going to force us all back into the closet.

Chris Bourg? More like Chris Borg. Where does she get this nonsense, anyway?

She. . .point[ed] out her advice “comes directly from the research,” and provided a link to the study: “Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science.”

Impact is not a verb, by the way. That should be your first clue that this study has about as much scientific accuracy as the Grapefruit 45 diet plan. Well, that and the whole ambient belonging thing. That sounds so stupid it could have been an episode title from Star Trek: Discovery.

The 2009 study examined whether “stereotypical objects” like Star Trek posters “signal a masculinity that precludes women from ever developing an interest in computer science.” Or, as the authors dub it, how the “ambient belonging” of women is affected by tech-geek ware.

While conceding that the tech-geek “masculinity” in question may not refer to a “traditional definition” (think “strength, assertiveness, and sexual prowess”) the authors argue the “stereotypicality” of the group still has a “profound” effect on the ability to recruit people who do not see themselves as fitting that stereotype.

But stereotypical objects like travel posters put women at ease, because, ya know, all women totally love travel and stuff.

That all of this is grade A, certified horse puckey is so obvious that it barely needs pointing out—but point it out we shall, and not merely because it gives us a good laugh. You see, in condemning stereotypes, Bourg engages in the sin of stereotyping women herself. A lot has changed since Star Trek first hit the airwaves back in 1966 and Star Wars made science-fiction the popcorn of the masses. In an age when bros can be Bronies, how can anyone simply make an assumption that a fellow human being would be intimidated at seeing a Captain Kirk figurine in the workplace simply because she’s female? If that ain’t rank sexism, I don’t know what is.

Geek culture is something all of us, men and women, can and do enjoy together. As to Bourg attempting to divide us on that front, I say chillax. Resistance is most definitely not futile.

Great comment. It seems that the world is expected to accommodate everyone lately. Kids need more sleep, we should start school later. Millennials don’t like “x” therefore the world must change to attract the snowflakes. Women don’t flock to tech jobs, we must get more women interested in STEM. This goes on and on.

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As a female engineer, I wish people would stop trying to tell me what should have scared me away or what makes me feel left out. Quite frankly, if you're so easily deterred from a technical field that THIS is a concern, you shouldn't be here anyway. You wouldn't emotionally survive your first major design review or difficult client, and I don't have the time (or the budget) to hold your hand while you work through it... Silly newbs.

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Thank you, thank you! Science major, 40 years working in male dominated industry. I am so tired of assumptions about women. It is more difficult to get along in the workplace now than it was when I started out!

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Think, 1964 Civil Rights Act! The law clearly stated that women and minorities were not "equal" to compete unless they were treated special! Perhaps they were not as qualified but they had to be give preference in hiring, promotion, education, etc., etc. To many, it (the law) was the greatest thing since apple pie; to others it was a put-down of women and minorities.

It's crap.. people are hired for jobs they can't do based on skin color or gender, and good luck getting rid of someone who's proven to be incompetent.

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