On Girls and Perfection

Via Instapundit and ESR, this TED talk on how girls are too “perfectionist”—read “cautious”—to code.

My response:

Isn’t this Althouse’s law? Stories must be framed in ways that compliment women? “Women are too concerned with being perfect to code.”


First, coders are often perfectionists—perfectionism is where you work until something is perfect (or never stop, because it never is). That’s not at all the same as “I can’t ever make a mistake or be wrong or admit I don’t know everything.”

Second, failure lies along the path of all learning. The very point of learning is that you don’t know. Therefore you err. If girls are able to reach 5th grade with some illusion of perfection, it’s because nobody’s ever asked them to do anything—or nobody’s ever corrected them.

How is coding different from any of the art fields, in this regard? Learning to draw, you make mountains of crap. Learning to play music, you make constant mistakes. Sports? Even the most natural athlete fails more than he succeeds. Any sort of craft? Knitting, quilting, sewing, woodworking? It’s pretty easy to make edible food with cooking, but if you’re going to be a chef, there’s a lot of trial and error.

So what, exactly, are these girls doing where they’re perfect? Memorizing the nonsense their teachers feed them and regurgitating it on tests?

Maybe that’s the damn problem.

As a side-note, my momma was a coder. In the early ’60s. I told her about that recent study that showed women don’t get into STEM fields because they’re not interested in the sorts of MEN who are in STEM fields. Her exact words: “You got that right.”

Girls don’t like to code, by and large. Some do, and God bless. I’ve worked with a few females over the decades, and I can only think of one who was a true hacker, in the classical sense. The rest were largely into the social roles—project managers and QAs—that are peripheral to development, and for the ones who were actually twiddling bits, they were largely into data. Making sense out of data, graphing, reporting, charting, etc. Almost all of them had coded at one time or another.

But unending hours or days or weeks or months of exclusively interacting with a machine? Not really a chick thing.

You can see it in gaming, too. Girl gamers are more into the casual, the group, the social—the sorts of things that hardcore gamers mock. Hardcore gamers are about beating or breaking the game, or their opponent.

I wish I could be more sanguine and heart-warmed, like ESR was, but I think the conclusion to this line of thinking will be “We must add/alter this field women do not excel at,” and you end up with feminist interpretations of glaciology.