Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology & Social Behavior, has written about the efforts in the 1990s to create computer games that would appeal to girls and, ultimately, increase the representation of women in computer science. In commenting as a co-contributor in a new book, “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming,” Ms. Cassell writes of the failure of these efforts, “The girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys’ toys’ and that true girls didn’t play with computers.”
She said last week that some people in the field still believed that the answer to reversing declining enrollment was building the right game. Another school of thought is what she calls the “we won” claim because women have entered computer-related fields like Web site design that are not traditional computer science. Ms. Cassell points out that it’s not much of a victory, however. The pay is considerably less than in software engineering and the work has less influence on how computers are used, and whether this actually accounts for the diminishing numbers of female computer science majors remains unproved.
Ms. Cassell identifies another explanation for the drop in interest, which is linked to the pejorative figure of the “nerd” or “geek.” She said that this school of thought was: “Girls and young women don’t want to be that person.”
Cassell believes it has a lot to do with stereotypes. I definitely think that’s part of it. Interest in these fields develops at a young age, and if young girls are taught that computers are for boys, then they probably won’t engage with them. But there’s more to it than just stereotypes.
As I wrote in one of my three articles on women in academia last spring for Campus Progress, part of the problem with getting women to go into science, especially academic science, has a lot to do with mentorship. There’s a lot of reason to believe that women simply don’t get the support that’s needed to be competitive in academic sciences. There are few women to serve as role models and mentors. One way that a group of women in academic sciences approached this was to be peer mentors to one another, gathering every other week to talk about academic and career goals. This kind of mentorship becomes especially important in fields that are so heavily dominated by men.
Cross posted at Pushback.