Moms Can Program
Thursday, October 27, 2011By Steven H. VanderLeest
It is not often that the editor of a major technical journal is forced to issue an apology. The most recent IEEE Spectrum Tech Alert landed in my email inbox this morning, with a headline of “With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program.” A few hours later, the editor of Spectrum apologized for the headline, saying “I’m an IEEE member, and a mom, and the headline was inexcusable, a lazy, sexist cliché that should have never seen the light of day.”
I’m glad that they retracted the headline (the real title was supposed to be “The Making of the Arduino”, but someone on the tech alert staff tried to lighten it up). However, this incident makes it clear we still have some ingrained gender stereotypes. As an engineering educator, I am a bit embarrassed that many of my computer engineering classes are predominantly male, and sometimes, like this semester, I see a class that is entirely male. Why do females stay away from engineering so frequently? I worry that it is because we have set up subtle hurdles that make engineering seem like a “good old boys” club. Even if unintentional, we are enabling an injustice when creating a segregation mentality.
Those of almost any faith persuasion hold justice high on their list of virtuous behavior and consider injustice as one of the foulest banes of a fallen world. We have a divine mandate to right such wrongs, particularly if we are in positions of power to make a difference.
Proverbs 28:5 indicates justice starts with knowledge: “Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.” (NIV), but that’s not enough. Micah 6:8 tells us the Lord requires us “to act justly”. Action, not simply knowledge, not simply words, is required. Men working in technical fields ought to know better than to imply that women are less capable, simply because of their gender. Some men working in technical fields have not gotten the message yet. That’s ignorance at best, bigotry at worst – and injustice regardless.