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Sexual division of labour

A while ago I was asked to write an article on why there are so few female open source hackers, and I came across the argument that women don't have the necessary level of concentration that men do. So, while men are prepared to stay up for 14 hours to fix a bug, say, or immerse themselves in writing a new KDE application on top of their full-time jobs, women lack that same level of dedication and become distracted by other things (we're better at multi-tasking, apparently - woo hoo!). Even some women said that they just couldn't commit the same amount of time as men to open source, because they had children to look after and housework to do and so on. Which would be rather depressing if true.

I have been reminded of this argument recently, because one of the male geeks that I live with has become obsessed with watching the entire canon of Babylon 5. I don't just mean one series, I mean the whole lot. Every episode made. I know he won't be able to concentrate on anything else until he's seen the space station blow up, or whatever happens at the end.

It's the same dedication that I see when periodically one of the geeks buys a new computer game and disappears to play it in our darkened games room until completion, or when geek number one spends days building a landscape renderer.

Of course, that's what makes them geeks. I have known female geeks. (One would play horrific games like Silent Hill from Saturday morning to Sunday night with only a beer and vodka break. Another made me go with her to the university Star Trek Society one evening. Apparently, Captain Janeway is not hot.) But not many. And I thought about men in sheds, and blokes spending hours pimping up cars, and wondered this week, as I heard the Babylon 5 music start up once again through the floorboards, if maybe that theory about men being more obsessive than women is correct - even if it's cultural, not inherent genetically.

But I went to this museum last Saturday that had an exhibition of patchwork quilts. OK, bear with me: they were sort of historically important patchwork quilts that said clever things about the history of America. These things are huge, and incredibly detailed, and astoundingly would have been made /without/ a sewing machine or that sort of iron-on stuff you use to stick hems when you can't be bothered to use a needle and thread or a radio to listen to or one of those handy spotlight things. I mean, it was just the colonies. A scratchy blanket would have done. Then we went to another museum, where there was a ridiculously beautiful dress with about a bajillion flowers embroidered on by this lady who only took up sewing in her 60s or something but became a Grand Master of saddle stich in record time. It was just needlessly, stupidly ornate.

They might not have sewed alone, and they might have gossiped while doing it, but I hope that this kind of embroidery pornography demonstrates that women have the same capability of concentration and obsession as men. Even I have been known to stay up til 5 in the morning rearranging the furniture in my bedroom. I suppose that if people want more women in open source (and I don't know if everyone does), the trick is to try to get more girls channelling their obsessive qualities into programming, science fiction, and that weird animation that Mike likes.

Oh, and we need to get more men doing housework, too. The geeks I live with are lazy mothers!


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