As last semester wound down, Cecilia and I committed ourselves to honing our skills with Ruby. During our first study session, we found ourselves talking about gender issues and the emerging role of each member within the Praxis team. It is looking increasingly like the men will be more involved with programming, while the women of our group will focus on user interfaces, linking with social media, and management of the project. During the last few meetings of our Ruby Boot Camp with Wayne, I’ve been aware of this emerging division, noticing that the women (perhaps mostly Cecilia and myself) have a tendency to ask more questions and to lay bare our lack of programming skills by joking about it or blatantly declaring our confusion. In contrast, the men in our group are able to engage in two-way dialogue with Wayne in a vocabulary that is still largely foreign to me.
Despite my sense of unease and disappointment in this stereotypically gendered division, I had been comforting myself by insisting that such a division of labor within Praxis was a result of coincidence. In general, the men in our group came to Praxis with some previous experience in programming, while the women did not. Both Cecilia and I are still in coursework and teaching, which meant that we had different scheduling difficulties from some of the others. As Ruby boot camp amped up at the end of the semester, so too did the demands from coursework. As a result, both Cecilia and I struggled to find time for our Ruby homework. And finally, I don’t find myself drawn to programming. While it is incredibly satisfying to solve a puzzle and get the program to complete some task, it is not the kind of work I would like to do all day long.
Some of these circumstances actually are merely coincidences, but most are themselves structured results. There are structured reasons why men often have more programming experience than women. There are even structured reasons whyI have no great desire to be a programmer. Gendered structures and practices work on us both externally and internally, shaping our desires, personalities, and goals. (For more on these issues, check out this article on Forbes and one from the Chronicle of Higher Ed.)
So, the question is, what do we do now? From a practical sense, it seems reasonable to let those who already know how to program to do their job. The rest of us will find other ways to contribute. This is certainly the most practical and efficient way to complete the set of ambitious goals that we are developing for the coming semester. But—-as some might recall, I wrote a blog post earlier this semester suggesting that Praxis had the potential to challenge norms within academia. Shouldn’t we also try to undo gender stereotypes and stop the perpetuation of gendered structures? Is there a way to make use of the skills we have brought to this team (gendered and otherwise) without perpetuating such norms? My hope is to start a conversation about this issue. I’m looking forward to your thoughts.