Girls show their smarts: Computers are `stupid'

April 18, 2000|By Susan Reimer

A REPORT issued by the American Association of University Women last week finds that girls are scarce in computer classes and in high-paying technology jobs, and it isn't because machines make girls nervous or because they aren't good at math.

Girls aren't into computers because they think they are stupid and boring.

Girls think programming classes are tedious and populated by boys who haven't matured beyond the seventh grade, and the promise of a six-figure Silicon Valley salary isn't enough to change their minds.

The AAUW did not find that girls are excluded from computer classes or discriminated against by high-tech employers. They found that girls think the computer field is dominated by adolescent boys playing killing games, and they want no part of that.

Meanwhile, a separate study funded by the Children's Television Workshop, creators of "Sesame Street," found that boys and girls spend about the same amount of time using the Internet. But while boys are playing games, girls are doing research and e-mailing friends.

Excuse me if I am being dense here, but I don't see what needs fixing.

The AAUW says that the computer culture must change so it can attract girls and women, but it looks like we are there in equal numbers now. And we seem to be using computers very sensibly: for communication and learning. If anything, the computer culture should change so boys won't waste so much time playing games.

The AAUW warns that unless there is change, women will be second-class citizens in the new technological age: consumers, not designers. Hell-o-o-o? Who did they think is going to buy the stuff if everyone is busy designing it?

That's what they mean when they talk about supply and demand. The industry would be a bunch of arrested adolescents testing games for pennies if women weren't out there deciding that the family needed a new computer.

It was suggested in the report that girls need to be encouraged to "get under the hood" of technology, to tinker with the cards and microprocessors, to literally take the family computer apart and see how it works.

But if either of my kids decided to pull the guts out of our $2,000 machine, I would break their little fingers without regard to gender. I have had to make this point with my son several times. My daughter, lending her voice to the AAUW results, thinks it would be a stupid waste of time. Why would you risk rendering this useful machine useless?

Girls, I think, understand intuitively that to use a tool effectively, you don't have to have put it together from a kit. That is as true for a computer as it is for a telephone.

Girls use computers to chat with friends, make covers for their school reports and to look stuff up. As they move through high school, college and into a field of study or work, their use of computers will unavoidably grow. Girls will learn how to make the machine do what they need it to do. Any other information about computers is a waste of brain space, and girls know that instinctively.

I hate reports like this one.

It sounds a false alarm, and women such as me immediately assume our daughters have suffered a deprivation that must be remedied by a forced exposure to some new discipline which may or may not interest them.

The AAUW found no profound barriers to women entering the technology fields. But the group has a problem with the fact that girls don't want to.

I thought our goal was to give girls a choice.

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