We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

a potpourri of mirth and madness

Have you tried the “white boy” test?

From time to time, someone in the Ubuntu community writes about the experience of introducing a “normal person” (someone who has no specific expertise with computers) to Ubuntu. These accounts provide useful feedback to Ubuntu designers and developers working to make Ubuntu easier to understand and use. They are no substitute for rigorous usability studies, but are nonetheless worthwhile. By explaining where the subject got stuck, they help to identify the most obvious usability problems. By celebrating the user’s successes, they help to build a sense of accomplishment and momentum around usability.  They usually go something like this:

My grandmother is 104 years old and has never used a mobile phone before, much less a computer. One lazy Sunday afternoon, I introduced her to Ubuntu. I helped her into the den, showed her the mouse and keyboard, inserted the installation CD…

They go on to describe the subject’s attempts to use Ubuntu for common tasks, without any prior experience of the system.  I will boldly hypothesize, based on my own reading and without gathering any data, that the subjects are predominantly female.  Perhaps the earliest examples of this were our references to Jeff Waugh‘s mother, in early Ubuntu thought experiments, as an example of an uninitiated Ubuntu user.

Thus, we generalize: Ubuntu is so easy, even your grandmother can use it, or it passes the Mother test, or the girlfriend experiment shows just how far we have to go.

These generalizations idealize women as uninformed, technological novices or intellectual inferiors, which is particularly striking to some of us who learned computing from our mothers.  This is not to say that statements like these are the origin of gender stereotypes, but they do display and reinforce these (often unconscious) beliefs.

In analyzing statements about gender roles, it is sometimes helpful to substitute for gender some other trait, such as skin color or race.  This helps to illustrate bias, because many of us are more sensitized to racial stereotypes: is Ubuntu so easy that a white boy could use it?  Does it pass the white boy testIf my white boyfriend can figure it out, you can too! This can be a useful way to “test” language and reveal implications.

We should think twice when we read, and make the effort to investigate our own speech as well.  Unfortunately, our first impulse is often to deny the possibility of bias, and treat the situation like an argument we want to win.  Instead, we should try to recognize these moments as opportunities to improve our awareness, and listen for new information in the reactions of others.

It would be a huge step forward for us as a community to do better at this.  We will know that Ubuntu has truly arrived, though, when becomes more popular among white people than Apple.

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Written by Matt Zimmerman

June 20, 2009 at 17:37

Posted in Uncategorized

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47 Responses

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  1. While I think the gender -> race transformation can be useful, it does cover over gender differences that could be real.

    People don’t give these “Mother Test” stories because they’re being discrimanatory, rather they are telling a story. Generally you need to say “who” is in the story. Statistically if you have 1% female population then I think it’s reasonable to see many more stories about females than males.

    I think it’s very difficult to emphasize a personalized, user-focused community without actually saying who we’re talking about. As long as people aren’t being discrimantory I don’t see why it’s an issue. Almost all the stories I’ve seen have been positive.

    The problem I do see is if these stories become institutionalized. It’s one thing to blog about you’re girlfriend’s experiences, it’s quite another to start an official “So easy your girlfriend could use it” ad campaign.

    LaserJock

    June 20, 2009 at 18:36

    • Yes, of course people should tell real stories and talk about the people involved. That isn’t the problem at all, and I’m surprised that’s how you interpreted the article. Let me summarize and clarify:

      Telling a personal story about a friend or relative trying Ubuntu for the first time: good idea

      Seeking out a female friend or relative for such an exercise because you think they would make a better example than a male: time to stop and think

      Making generalizations about women based on such stories: logical fallacy and harmful stereotype

      With regard to statistics, the general population outside of the Ubuntu community is pretty close to 50/50. The fact that the ratio is heavily skewed within the community does not explain why women are labeled this way. Statistically speaking, there are just as many men as women who haven’t used Ubuntu before.

      As I wrote in the article, I think that these false generalizations are more strongly a symptom than a cause (though they are both). The bias exists, whether or not it’s stated explicitly, and this is actually a good opportunity to examine it.

      What do you see as the difference between a “So easy your girlfriend could use it” ad campaign and the Ubuntu For Grandma article I linked to? To quote the article, “if your grandmother can do it, so can you.”

      mdz

      June 20, 2009 at 19:21

      • I’ve not seen articles that specifically sought out women. I’ve seen articles that sought out people close to the user who 1) were available and 2) weren’t familiar with Linux. Certainly in my family that narrows it down to women, but that doesn’t mean I’d be seeking out women or trying to portray some idiotic “women are too stupid to use computers” thought. The UbuntuForGrandma story specifically points out that the other women in his family were fairly tech-savvy.

        The people who write these articles are from the community, hence why the skew within the community is relevant. You’re likely to get more stories about women because the writers are likely men.

        The problem I see is that it seems like you’re generalizing the stories. You’re saying because we have stories about grandmothers, wives, girlfriends that it must be because the community is discrimantory and gender-biased. I just don’t believe that’s true. There are occasionally messed up people around but the Ubuntu community is about the least sexist I’ve ever encountered.

        Ubuntu For Grandma is interesting because it brings out that people who sometimes get overlooked in the tech world can benefit from Linux and Ubuntu specifically. It is a single example. A whole ad campaign around “equal to you except they are female” sounds much more gender-biased.

        LaserJock

        June 20, 2009 at 20:00

        • I don’t follow your logic: “You’re likely to get more stories about women because the writers are likely men.” Why should the gender of the author make any difference in the gender of the subject? Think about it. Each of us is about as likely to have a father as we are a mother, and about as likely to have a brother as a sister.

          Gender bias does exist outside of marketing campaigns. It’s rooted in the (often unconscious) beliefs of individuals, reinforced through observed behavior. Prejudice thrives where behavior goes unquestioned, and

          I understand that you’re trying to defend the community, but this isn’t an attack. It’s a reminder to think about what is said, and if you give in to the impulse to defend, you miss the point of the exercise, which is self-examination.

          Don’t worry about whether I’m right or not. I don’t matter. Instead, make a genuine effort to investigate what you see for yourself. Ask a few women what they think about the “mother test”, whether they think that they’ve been disadvantaged because of their gender, and try to listen without taking sides.

          There are good reasons why there are so few women in the community.

          mdz

          June 20, 2009 at 20:21

          • My logic is that if you’re using spouse or significant other to “test” on you’re likely to get more women than men. We are as likely to have a father as mother and brother as sister, I don’t think they’re necessarily as likely to be willing and able participants.

            Where discrimination happens, we should act accordingly. However, I don’t think the communities perceptions (which are basically non-discrimantory) are really a problem.

            It isn’t an attack? You pointed out specific articles as bad behavior and seemingly as examples sexism. It just seemed to me to be more than self-examination.

            Of course you matter. You’re an incredibly bright guy and one of the most valued members of the Ubuntu community. I’ve done a fair amount of discussing, thinking, and reading about gender issues and no one can really deny that women are disadvantaged because of their gender. I just don’t think the Ubuntu community needs to get flogged for not having enough women.

            There are indeed good reasons why there are so few women in the community, but I think few have to do with how the community itself treats women. Ubuntu is not perfect, but I’ve seen more sexism in communities of 50/50 makeup. I believe it’s rather more to do with perceptions external to the community that we really can’t do much about.

            All this said, I didn’t mean to hijack your post and indeed the call to “think before you post” is a good one. So I’ll shut up now and let you move on.

            LaserJock

            June 20, 2009 at 20:57

            • I got what you meant about “my SO just tried Ubuntu for the first time, and they thought…” being heavily skewed toward female SOs due to the high number of men in the community. I am, of course, assuming there is no statistically significant difference in the number of gay guys in the Ubuntu community as compared to the general population.

              Mackenzie

              June 20, 2009 at 21:09

  2. Regarding the “just substitute in a race word” thing, have a gander at Douglas Hofstadter’s A Person Paper on Purity in Language

    Mackenzie

    June 20, 2009 at 21:14

  3. Maybe it also reflects the fact that women have more open-mindedness than men, which makes more of them accept to run such experiments.

    As for my personal case, my mother is far better than my father with computers, and she runs exclusively Ubuntu on her lappy.

    Steve Dodier

    June 20, 2009 at 21:42

  4. Be careful what you ask for: “Ubuntu is good enough for your mother. But does it have the bling to score well with white male teenagers?”

    David ‘krunk’ Smith says, “Ubuntu is okay. I’m down with the humanity ‘n’ shit. But I’m all, where’s all the gansta games and rhymes? And it’s Free? I ain’t gonna be seen using no cheap piece of crap.”

    It’s not like there aren’t stereotypes about “white boys either”.

    pwnguin

    June 20, 2009 at 22:47

  5. “These generalizations idealize women as uninformed, technological novices or intellectual inferiors, which is particularly striking to some of us who learned computing from our mothers. This is not to say that statements like these are the origin of gender stereotypes, but they do display and reinforce these (often unconscious) beliefs.”

    Can we cut the PC mantra? It is out of control in the general population. Lets not let PC botch up the technology field.

    If my grandmother was still alive and wanted to learn how to use a computer. I help her. Has nothing to do with sex, but blood. I make it easy for her because I care, not because it think she is a dummy.

    Further I open doors, and other cultural deferences to women, not because they are women, but because I am a gentlemen. I know a lot of women in the technical field, better than half more capable than I am. Does that mean I now go into PC mode because they are better? I think not.

    The reason that ‘so easy your grandmother can do it’ has more to do with generational changes in our lives that any perception of gender bias. When your grand children are walking around with implants they will be saying grandpa is quaint because he still uses a keyboard and ‘we need to help him’.

    Your perceptions blind you.

    JohnMc

    June 20, 2009 at 23:23

    • “PC” is a convenient way to label any critique which challenges you. By calling my position “PC”, you can avoid the need to investigate the issue.

      I’m not very interested in more comments from men denying the existence of gender bias. It’s not contributing anything to the dialogue.

      See also http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

      mdz

      June 20, 2009 at 23:45

  6. While I do understand the concern, I feel that the though experiment you’re presenting is possibly a bit disingenuous. To simplify it:

    If we replace a politically charged or controversial word in a statement with an even more politically charged or controversial word, the statement becomes more politically charged and controversial.

    Well yeah, no kidding. But that’s kind of obvious, and you can do that with any sentence, and any two hot-button topics, so it becomes sort of useless if you really think about it much. It’s so easy a caveman could do it.

    f.p.

    June 20, 2009 at 23:27

    • The point isn’t the level of “political” charge; it’s how you respond to the statement personally. The paper that Mackenzie provided is a particularly good example:

      http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html

      It reads basically like JohnMc’s comment with the appropriate substitutions (and much improved writing style).

      mdz

      June 20, 2009 at 23:48

    • Wait…shouldn’t we examine *why* racism is perceived as being “more politically charged” than sexism? Why is sexism acceptable?

      Mackenzie

      June 23, 2009 at 04:48

  7. IMHO the test is really about generations hence IMHO the test should be named something like this:

    Gen. 0 – brothers, sisters, friends
    Gen. +1 – parents, uncles, aunts
    Gen. +2 – grandparents

    Gen. -1 – your little cousin, nephew
    Gen. -2 – your grandchildren

    So that tech-savvy grannies and grappas can still experiment on toddlers and report how quickly they find SHA collisions.

    ;-) am I being age’ist now?

    DIma

    June 21, 2009 at 00:21

    • Why we even feel the need to classify the test subjects into groups based on their gender/generation/race/religion/eyecolour is completely beyond me.

      A Newbie is a Newbie, completely irregardless of any genetic or cultural demographic.

      In behaviour tests, it is rare for any positive value in pigeon-holing subjects like this, but rather you will find people being insulted because of it, which is a negative value.

      Melissa

      June 21, 2009 at 02:00

      • The examples of “so easy my grandmother can do it” are anecdotal and not scientific studies. The lists that dima created are demonstrating the real understanding of these anecdotes. That is, that persons FURTHER REMOVED from the technology at hand (unix type operating systems) are able, despite this separation, to use the system.

        If we were creating a scientific study we’d want to follow lots of rules, create double blind studies, take random samples from various groups. Even then the conclusions drawn years later from the studies, often are reading in additional information that the original study did not provide.

        Joseph James Frantz

        June 21, 2009 at 05:04

  8. Nobody should have a problem with stories of girlfriends/wives trying out Linux based OS’s. There are certain subtle differences in perception between genders/age-groups/cultures which are not rules through which we can pass judgments, but are quite intriguing and make for an interesting read.

    In parts of India (particularly the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu), for example, there is a massive use of Linux, and FOSS in general, but the rest of India is pretty much solid M$ territory. These differences are interesting, and should be investigated with an open mind, and without fear that these investigations would be looked upon with too much suspicion.

    There are just as many blog posts about dad’s, grandfathers and nephews so the vast majority of these stories are not there to malign any gender, race or age-group.

    I see this, however, as being more of an issue with the creation of ‘tests’ such as ‘girlfriend test’ or ‘grandmother test’. Such ‘tests’ can only really be seen as poking fun, and nothing less. Even ‘Benny Hill’ or the ‘Carry on’ films we’re seen as poking fun for the sake of a laugh, but that sort of comedy would not be acceptable today.

    Nigel D

    June 21, 2009 at 07:36

    • Telling a story about a person from a certain demographic being introduced to linux is a far cry different from an test which is in reality an “experience-level test” being referred to as “specific-demographic test”.

      Melissa

      June 21, 2009 at 09:01

      • The only “demographic” I’ve seen in any of these anecdotes is “my”. The thing that follows the my has varied greatly. “My” friend. “My” uncle. “My” dad. “My” grandmother. “My” girlfriend.

        Indeed in every single case that I have read, it is an experience-level anecdote, not a demographic anecdote. There’s not one that I’ve seen that has referred to itself either directly or by implication as a demographic test.

        Joseph James Frantz

        June 21, 2009 at 19:44

        • That’s because you didn’t read the article, which provided three references to demographic generalizations.

          mdz

          June 21, 2009 at 20:46

          • I quote myself:

            ‘The only “demographic” I’ve seen in any of these anecdotes is “my”. The thing that follows the my has varied greatly. “My” friend. “My” uncle. “My” dad. “My” grandmother. “My” girlfriend.’

            In each of the cases, the relevant “demographic” is “my”, not “women” or “grandfathers”. The posters are posting, not scientific studies, but their own *personal* experience with someone *they personally know*. It’s a far stretch from that to the next point that “all grandmothers” or “all grandfathers” will have the same experiences, or lack of experience/knowledge with ‘nix.

            The cases you quote are exactly the type that I mentioned.

            Joseph James Frantz

            June 21, 2009 at 21:03

            • Quoting the links: “if your grandmother can do it, so can you.” and “the Mother test”

              Neither of these are personal experiences.

              mdz

              June 21, 2009 at 22:20

    • I have no problem with these anecdotes being told (I explain at the start of the article that I see them as a positive thing in themselves).

      The problem of sexism is not caused by these stories, and the stories are not inherently sexist. However, we can see in the patterns and generalizations which are made (such as the “Mother Test”) a glimpse of the underlying problem. It’s something much deeper than “poking fun”, I think (which implies a conscious act).

      mdz

      June 21, 2009 at 09:35

      • The problem is most men know how to use computers and are really good with them already that we know. A test with someone who is good at dealing with computer problems means nothing. I know a ton of women who have no clue how to use a computer, but I literally don’t know a single man in that situation, even my grandfather. My grandfather and mother are afraid of them, and many of the girls that I know call me for help all the time, and not for complicated issues like the guys I know, but for very basic things. Women, in general, just aren’t into computers. If you go to any school and look at the elective computer classes, 80-100% of the students will be men, even though often times women make up 60% of the students in the school! AP Comp Sci, when I was in high school, had ZERO women in it. In college, a lecture hall with 200 people for a CS class contained TWO women.

        hhhh

        June 21, 2009 at 14:53

        • You are sorely misguided.

          Historically computing on the software side was very much an acceptable and indeed popular thing for women. In fact many moments in computing history can be credited to women. Fran Allen, Beatrice Worsley, Anita Borg, Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Ada Byron are names you ought to research.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_computing

          Some women still in the computing field these days can recall computer engineering classes where women were the majority, rather than the minority. This is decades ago when the hardware side of things was deemed masculine, and the software side was considered feminine.

          What has changed in that time? Have women got ‘less manly’? I strongly doubt it.

          Melissa

          June 21, 2009 at 15:23

          • HHH’s experience is not “sorely” misguided. It is not fully representative of everyone else’s experience, but it’s what HHH has seen.

            You too are right, historically there have been women involved in high levels of computer. But these are exceptions that prove the rule. The rule being that there are not as many women in these areas as men. The only question is why?

            I had a fairly detailed post discussing it, but it was deleted.

            Joseph James Frantz

            June 21, 2009 at 18:55

            • Women used to dominate the computing field. 1940s? All programmers were women. All six of them. In the 80s, the number of women took a sharp nosedive and haven’t picked up since. It wasn’t just that women stopped going to school for it. The ones that were doing it already picked up and left.

              Mackenzie

              June 22, 2009 at 15:24

          • Uh…Ada Byron & Ada Lovelace are the same person, Elky dear.

            But hey, why not throw in all 6 ENIAC programmers, Barbara Liskov (Turing Award recipient last year), and Wendy Hall (head of the Association for Computing Machinery)?

            Mackenzie

            June 22, 2009 at 15:42

            • Ha. Brainfart!

              Late night comments are susceptible to that sort of thing.

              Besides, he’ll probably find more info if he looks under both names :P

              Melissa

              June 22, 2009 at 15:47

        • It is hard for me to believe that you’ve never met a man who was unskilled with computers, or a woman who was very capable with them. There is no shortage of people in either category, I assure you.

          You said that you get fewer phone calls from men with basic computer problems. Is that because men simply don’t have basic computer problems? None of us were born knowing how to use computers, and we have all had basic questions, including men. What conclusion do you draw from this?

          In the US in the 1960s, there were far fewer women driving cars than men. Men concluded that “women are just not into cars”. Half a century later, it’s very close to 50/50. What changed? Women are suddenly “into cars” now.

          “They’re just not into it” is not an explanation; it’s just another way of saying “there are fewer women than men involved in it today”. The question is, why is it that way? It is not because women are born without a “computer interest” gene, or because they’re unable to learn computing. Using a computer isn’t even a special-interest category anymore: it’s part of daily life for many people who wouldn’t consider themselves “into computers”.

          If you’re interested in exploring this question, and perhaps how the situation could be changed, here is one starting point (which links to a number of other resources on the subject):

          http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Encourage-Women-Linux-HOWTO/x106.html

          mdz

          June 21, 2009 at 15:47

          • MDZ said: “It is hard for me to believe that you’ve never met a man who was unskilled with computers, or a woman who was very capable with them.”

            You must have missed this line:
            “My ***grandfather*** and mother are afraid of them,…”

            This is the problem with the “everything is always sexism” side of the debate. Facts are often ignored.

            Joseph James Frantz

            June 21, 2009 at 18:59

            • No, I just realized it was an error, because I read the sentence before it, which read “I literally don’t know a single man in that situation, even my grandfather”.

              mdz

              June 21, 2009 at 20:41

              • Before I jump to conclusions here, two of my posts have disappeared. Are you deleting them?

                Joseph James Frantz

                June 21, 2009 at 23:29

                • Yes. Are you surprised? This isn’t your first visit here, and you’ve demonstrated that your intent is not particularly constructive.

                  If you would like to post rants about injustices against men, and otherwise try to derail reasonable dialogue, I understand you already have a favored pseudo-ironic misogynist forum in which to do so.

                  I would prefer that you post there, rather than here. Cheers!

                  P.S. No, this is not censorship. Yes, I support your right to say whatever you like, even if it’s utter crap. Just not in my space.

                  mdz

                  June 22, 2009 at 09:36

          • An example used on DevChix recently was Title IX. Girls just weren’t interested in sports. Well, um, that wasn’t really true. They’d play baseball in the streets with the boys until the boys went off to Little League, leaving them a few players short of a full field.

            Mackenzie

            June 22, 2009 at 15:33

  9. Haha, yeah… while using my own Mum as an example, I was that I was always aware in the back of my mind that she’s pretty comfy with computers in general.

    It’s a seductively easy (and intellectually deceptive) shorthand which I try to avoid now, and it’s good to see more public discouragement and awareness of these smaller, less obvious sins of discrimination.

    We need another shorthand for “people who use don’t really care about how computers work (or take them to bed, or give them funny names), and just want to do cool stuff and get stuff done”.

    :-D

    Jeff Waugh

    June 21, 2009 at 15:52

    • Which really drives home the point of what most of these posts are about. It’s not “so easy a woman could do it” or even implied. (Women are more than capable so that would be silly anyhow) Rather it is “so easy this person inexperienced with ‘Nix can do it”. Why is this the touchstone? Because Nix is seen as something that requires a lot of time and effort.

      I don’t know that we even need a shorthand, shorthands tend to lead to isms, personally I’ve always found the term newbie to be used insultingly, almost never in a good light. So how about we do, what most of these posts are already doing, and just explain the situation itself.

      Joseph James Frantz

      June 21, 2009 at 19:36

  10. The problem with making Linux easier is that the old way of doing things is suddenly removed for veteran Linux users.

    Take connecting to a Windows server from Linux through Samba. Sure it is extremely easy now to just go through places Network and click. But it is much harder to mount a network drive at startup to a local folder at the location you want it.

    Take installing to a EIDE mixed drive setup that also has SATA drives. This has been broke and last worked on Gutsy Gibbon. All 12 of my computers have the OS installed on EIDE and to reinstall I have to do a Gutsy install and several upgrades. This has had several attempts since Gutsy to fix but only “new make Ubuntu easier to use” features seem to be of concern.

    I am all for making Linux easier to use to compete with Windows. However, let’s not use the old flexible ways.

    Let’s not take the choice away. Leave the old methods alone and just add new features to them.

    That makes Ubuntu into Windows.

    Timothy D Lynch

    June 21, 2009 at 16:15

    • Or another way of saying it Timothy, “don’t fix what ain’t broken.” Ubuntu has a tendency to do that a LOT lately.

      Joseph James Frantz

      June 21, 2009 at 19:39

  11. So you’re saying that *buntu is pretty fly for a white guy?

    Rambo Tribble

    June 21, 2009 at 16:36

  12. Putting the matter of Ubuntu quality aside…

    Now it occurs to me that all the people whom I have helped migrating to GNU/Linux were women. I never made “tests”, we just tried to solve a problem. Mandriva, Ubuntu, sidux were typically an answer to the slow pace of Vista, lack of foreign language support in MS Office, or simply lack of money for software licenses.

    My personal experience does not allow to draw any conclusions as to any correlation between user’s gender and preferred OS. The best guess I can make is that women are not the ones who post “does it run Crysis?” on every forum.

    Matthewb

    June 22, 2009 at 00:44

  13. I think you overlook a fundamental problem in your thinking here. The problem is, the stereotype is not entirely untrue.

    Now don’t get me wrong – I wish it was, and the idea that this is due to a lack of ability or even a lack of interest in computing among women is certainly something I deem insulting… but we can’t fight facts.

    Only 10% of IT professionals are female, even fewer current comp-sci students are. This is a sad reality, but it is a reality. Now I have no doubt that the main reasoning is cultural, in Madagascar the figures are reversed, only 10% of IT students are male – but in Madagascar the culture expects boys to do jobs like being policemen or plumbers engineering is seen as a “girly” job.

    In most of Western society, it’s seen as a boyish job without much interaction with people and lack of socializing – and girls are expected to hate it, so only the most hardcore geeky girls ever even try it.

    Reality is though – both cultures have it dead wrong, the interest in technology, if sparked – is lifelong and the personality types best at it is just as common among men as among women – if it were not, then we wouldn’t see such a complete reversal in figures purely by looking at a different culture.

    So yes, we absolutely must make an effort to change the culture to a viewpoint that bears at least a little more resemblance to reality.

    And now I will say the controversial bit: I think these articles are actually doing a good thing, even if most of the people in the story are female, in fact BECAUSE most of them are.
    Those stories do not end there. Some of those women will find their technology interest peaked by the experience, will begin exploring rather than just using those computers. Their friends will ask them about that funny thing -and they’ll find themselves advocating in the same way their sons and boyfriends had advocated to them.

    In other words, some of those women in the stories are geeks who due to bad cultural conditioning have never found it out… and they are about to discover a whole new world, about to experience that wonderful sensation of “this is just so awesomely cool” we had the first time we geek boys of the west were having when we were ten years old.

    In short: the prevalence of female characters in these stories is a result of the current situation, created by an incorrect cultural bias, but the stories represent a trend among technologists that will actually reduce the effects of this bias – ultimately helping to remove the bias itself. I think the long term consequences of reacting to the bias in this particular manner is not to enforce it – but to destroy it.
    This is not an assumption that the mother or girlfriend can’t use it, it’s an assumption that she just never had a chance – and an attempt to provide that chance, the continuous successes (and nobody publishes the failures) is a direct assault on the bias you are worried about.

    A.J. Venter

    June 22, 2009 at 09:59

    • Thanks for your comment.

      I agree with you that the stories themselves, both in the act and in the telling, are generally positive. I think they help drive momentum around usability, and (as you point out) may also help stimulate interest and participation by open source “outsiders”.

      I do not agree that the stereotype is true, however.

      Yes, it is a fact that women are under-represented in many technology fields, and in the open source community in particular. However, that’s not the population we’re talking about here: it is its complement, the population of people who are not techies, i.e. “everyone else”). Women make up a solid half of “everyone else”.

      For example (warning: made-up numbers), if we say that “techies” make up 1% of the population, and 90% of them are male, then (assuming I did the math right) the population of non-techies is still 49.5% male.

      This holds so long as we can agree that techies are a relatively small minority in the general population, which should be uncontroversial. Even if that minority is strongly male-dominated, there are nearly equal numbers of men as women out there who could be subjects of a “non-techie test” like this.

      As it happens, the techies that I know are overwhelmingly light-skinned. However, I wouldn’t conclude from that that darker-skinned people can’t be techies. It just happens that most of the people I know (techies and non-techies) are light-skinned (I live in London).

      mdz

      June 22, 2009 at 11:20

      • In most western countries male and female population isn’t split 50/50 but closer to 49/51.
        USA: 49.1% male, 50.9% female
        EU: 48.9% male, 51.1% female

        Men also have shorter life expectancy.
        USA: male 75.29 years, female 81.13 years
        EU: male 75.75 years, female 81.46 years

        Numbers are from wolframalpha.

        The following numbers are from Statistics Finland so I don’t know how well they compare to other countries.
        population: 49.0% male, 51.0% female
        life expectancy: male 76.3 years, female 83.0 years
        average age for first time marriage: male 32.5 years, female 30.2 years (so men lose an additional 2.3 years from the time they are eligible to take the grandparent test)
        single parent families with children under 18y: male parent 16%, female parent 84% (seems pretty probable that the person taking the parent test is the one who they live with)

        population +60 years: female 56.7%
        population +70 years: female 61.6%
        population +80 years: female 69.2%
        population +90 years: female 79.1%
        population +100 years: female 85.0%

        I’m not saying that those numbers alone explain the uneven distribution of male and female test subjects. Just pointing out that there can be many valid reasons for it.

        KO Vatanen

        October 17, 2009 at 17:28

  14. The “mother test” concept broke down for me when I had a colleague who’s mother was a CS professor.

    Rick Spencer

    July 16, 2009 at 00:42

  15. You are simply anti-Caucasian.

    J Bailey

    December 26, 2009 at 18:49


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