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Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing by Thomas J. Misa

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6

Making Programming Masculine

NATHAN ENSMENGER

In the April 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, sandwiched between “The Bachelor Girls of Japan” and “A Dog Speaks: Why a Girl Should Own a Pooch,” there appeared a curious little essay entitled simply “The Computer Girls.” As the article explained, these were the female “computer programmers” who taught the dazzling new “miracle machines” called computers “what to do and how to do it.” There were already more than 20,000 women working as computer programmers in the United States, argued the article’s author, Lois Mandel, and there was an immediate demand for 20,000 more. Not only could a talented “computer girl” command as much $20,000 a year, but the opportunities for women in computing were effectively “unlimited.” The rapid expansion of the computer industry meant that “sex discrimination in hiring” was unheard of, Mandel confidently declared, and anyone with aptitude—male or female, college educated or not—could succeed in the field. And not only were women in computing treated as equals, but they actually had many advantages over their male colleagues. Programming was “just like planning a dinner,” Mandel quoted the noted computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper as saying, “You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so it’s ready when you need it. Programming requires patience and the ability to handle detail. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming” [1].

It would be easy to dismiss “The Computer Girls” as a fluff piece, ...

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