programming languages and facial hair

This is all in fun, but look at this blog...

He clearly needs a pic of John McCarthy,
and one of Ken Iverson.

(Presumably APL was successful at first becuse of Larry Breed.)

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But where are the girls? Women rarely exhibit facial hair, following this study I wonder if that hampers their success in the industry.

Denis: If you're wondering

Denis: If you're wondering why there aren't more women in computer science (or PL), one answer might be the existence of comments like yours.


Oops, sorry if I hurt some sensibilities with my poor attempt at humor. I edited my post.

As a side note I studied CS with quality female students and teachers, and met equally capable female colleagues working in IT.

This isn't really about

This isn't really about "hurting anyone's sensibilities". It's a matter of whether you come across as someone who shows respect for your colleagues.

Respect is not particularly compatible with referring to adults as "girls", or with gratuitous remarks about the grossness of various physical features. Having to deal with uncountably many little slights like this every single day of the week really is one of the things that keeps women out of computer science.

Cardinality issues

Having to deal with uncountably many little slights like this every single day of the week ...

(emphasis mine)

Tim, do you have a more accurate characterization of the cardinality here? I suppose if the slights are suffered continuously, with respect to time, it might depend on one's theory of time (linear? branching? I smell König's Lemma ...), not to mention the Continuum Hypothesis, and maybe even whether one uses an classical or intuitionistic framework.

Hmm, perhaps this is why such slights proliferate: after all (think the boys), what is one more in the face of the continuum?


Assuming that facial hair and scalp hair are of the same cardinality, the characterization has long precedent. See David's theorem:

"For troubles without number surround me.... They are more than the hairs of my head..." Ps 40:12

and Matthew's lemma:

"And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Matthew 10:30

Tim, I actually find your

Tim, I actually find your comment to be more condescending towards women than Denis'. Denis mistakenly used an informal word in what should be a formal setting. Your comment seems to imply that many women are too fragile to handle such a mistake. Do you really think a significant reason for the lack of women in the computer science field is due to sexism? If so, what profession(and on what planet) do they all flock to where there is no sexism?


I think the point (on both sides) was made, and further discussion of this (important) issue is beyond the scope of LtU. I encourage you to take it offline.

The problem with mutability

Keep in mind that the comment that Tim originally responded to was subsequently edited by Denis. I agree with Tim that the original comment was quite inappropriate. I'd like to thank Tim for pointing that out.

dhaas: Yes, I do think that

dhaas: Yes, I do think that a significant reason for the lack of women in computer science -- if not the only reason -- is sexism. I recommend Ellen Spertus's excellent paper "Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists?" for the details.

Of course women aren't too fragile to handle such "mistakes" (I'm not going to quote Denis's original comment here, but it was explicit and extremely offensive to women and indeed anyone with good taste.) On the contrary, any woman who manages to last longer than a year as a computer scientist is incredibly strong -- she would have to be, in order to counter the constant stream of messages, implicit and explicit, telling her she doesn't belong in this field.

As a computer scientist who is also a transsexual man, I think I have pretty good insight into what it's like to be treated as a woman in this field. I have been condescended to by people who saw me as a woman, and those experiences bore little or no similarity to women and their allies pointing out sexism where it occurs.

Sexism in the small vs sexism in the large

I agree sexism is a major problem; but I see the biggest problem as "sexism in the large" (societal attitudes towards women in the sciences which may hinder a woman or girl from even considering a career in CS) verses "sexism in the small" (having to deal with boorish behavior from ones peers or superiors within the realm of CS).

In other words, the biggest problem, in my experience, isn't women who have chosen CS as a field being driven from the field due to such issues as rude or sexist remarks, harassment, etc.--it's that many women never consider entering the field in the first place. Ideally, one would expect that the sex ratio of the CS profession would track the sex ratio of humanity as a whole; but it's obvious to anyone (and confirmed by study after study) that CS is dominated by men. However, if you examine the sex ratio of entrants to the field, I bet that it tracks closely to the sex ratio of the profession as a whole, not to the 50/50 split that biology would suggest. (Any studies out there?)

If you look at the messages that society produces (US society, in particular; I'm insufficient familiar with the cultural mores of other countries to comment on them), it includes the messages that a) math is hard, especially for girls; b) intellectual pursuits in general are "nerdy" and unattractive, especially for girls. But the latter might be catching up to the boys. An interesting book to read is David Anderegg's Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, which considers (among many other topics) the question as to why the US lately has produced so few native-born graduate and postgraduate students in the sciences. Many scholars who have studied the problem have focused on economic issues--concerns about jobs in the field being outsourced, the expense of the training needed, etc.--but have not looked much at sociological factors. The author's conjecture--as yet unsupported by formal study (the lack of formal research into the sociological phenomenon of "nerds" is astonishing) is that at least part of the problem is due to "nerd-bashing" (a particularly American form of anti-intellectualism). According to Anderegg, fear of being labelled a "nerd" (and the social rejection that goes with it) discourages children of middle- and high-school age from getting a start on the advanced math and science studies needed to prepare oneself for a career in the sciences. By the time they get to college (where "nerdiness" is far less of an issue), they find themselves unable to catch up. After all, if you don't come to the university with a year of high school calculus (or at least pre-calc)--the necessary catchup probably means an extra year just to get the BS degree.

Bringing the point back to the issue of sexism, the author makes the interesting claim that one reason for declining American enrollment in scientific programs is that beautiful-mind-vs-beautiful-body dichotomy, which has long afflicted girls and women ("boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses"), is now increasingly being applied to men and boys as well. So we've reached a degenerate form of sexual equality--in which members of both sexes are treated like objects, and discouraged from the intellectual training needed for a scientific career.

Of course, sexism in the small and in the large are intertwined. Without sexism in the large; many of the slights and insults that make up sexism in the small would either not be tolerated, or would seem more insignificant (if a left-hander were to encounter a colleague who makes rude remarks about leftys; said colleague would probably be ignored as a nutcase. After all, left-handers--at least in the US--don't have to put up with years of stereotyping concerning their abilities or worth. But male chauvinist pigs frequently find allies). Likewise, small slights (and the reactions to them) frequently reinforce the stereotypes behind them.


Please take this discussion offline, or I will end this thread. It is not on topic for LtU, no matter how important the issue is.

Mugshot Recursion

The debate about beards started when I put together a page for LtU some years back about PL People. See some other photos I need to add, such as the SQL person.