How Can We Get More Boys Into Ballet? Response to an argument against getting more women into computing

January 30, 2013 at 2:00 am 9 comments

Do we have a desperate need for more ballet dancers?  Has ballet dancing become the lifeblood of our society?  If so, then we really should try to get more boys into ballet. Or maybe ballet dancers made much more than average.  Then getting more boys into ballet (or figuring out, at least, why they weren’t there) would be about being fair, giving everyone a chance at the high-paying jobs by making sure that there weren’t any accidental barriers or implicit bias.

Fortunately, we’re talking computing, not ballet, and we know the answers to many of those questions for computing.  Computing is ubiquitous in our society and is critical to our economy.  We face a labor shortage of skilled computing professionals.  Computing professionals are rarely female. There are forms of bias that prevent many women from engaging and persisting in computing. Finally, when there are more diverse teams, design gets better.  For all these reasons, we need more women in computing.  There are answers beyond a “positive discrimination policy.”  Changing what we do can making computing education more attractive and engaging for women, and make it better for men, too.  Curb cuts help everyone.

I have a great amount of respect for the efforts of others in doing what they can to try to redress these outmoded stereotypes. I’m just not sure that I agree completely that a positive discrimination policy is an effective solution. This issue is not confined to just this sector of tech and computing but applies in many others. In our school there is one boy in the GCSE Textiles class and 3 boys in the GCSE Food class. I wonder if as a society we should question whether we celebrate the differences between male and female or seek to remove and reduce them. When I stand up on the bus to offer my seat to a lady or hold the door open for a female colleague, am I being courteous, chivalrous or disrespectful to men?

via How Can We Get More Boys Into Ballet? « Teach Computing.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. nickfalkner  |  January 30, 2013 at 3:22 am

    It’s worth noting, on the ballet track, that boys tend to take up ballet later (10-15) than girls (5-8), according to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010–2011. Obstacles to entering the field of ballet include perceived gender roles but, as well, you have a confounding factor in that boys will be dancing as novices with girls who are 5 years advanced.

    Is there a parallel in terms of the maturity of skills and established gendered community in our school-level computing activities? I think I need to go and reread many of your blog posts to check that one out!

    Reply
  • 2. geekymom  |  January 30, 2013 at 6:32 am

    A few points: we need more male nurses and teachers. Those are fields where gender balance goes the other way and where we actually need people. Most studies I’ve seen, though, suggest that it’s not bias there, but that men start to shy away from fields that become too feminized. And as for the food and textile example above, most professional chefs and fashion designers are men.

    Reply
  • 3. rdm  |  January 30, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I have often felt that the right way to deal with biases in how people perceive their future in computing fields is not to “get more people in” but to start treating the people that are already involved fairly.

    If women on average are receiving 30% less pay than men, we should just expect that many rational women would be more interested in spending their time elsewhere. And all our efforts to recruit more — while maybe a great deal for the employers (or maybe not, this is a people problem, after all) — will not really solve anything.

    Reply
  • 4. alfredtwo  |  January 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I’m on advisory boards for a number of career/technical high school CS programs. One of the things that comes up at these schools is not just getting my female students into CS but into all traditionally male dominated fields (like auto repair). There is just as much interest in getting male students into traditionally female programs (childcare for example). Balance is seen as a good thing all around.

    Reply
  • 5. Lex Spoon  |  January 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with the geekymom that teaching and nursing are better examples. Those are activities judged by functionality, whereas ballet is judged by aesthetics. For the time being, let’s not get into the aesthetics of watching men dance versus watching women dance.

    Broadly speaking, the quoted paragraph has a lot of force for me. The quest for 50%, implicit in many people’s writings on gender participation, can easily lead one down counter-productive paths.

    It will do more to make society better if one gets some distance from the quest for 50%. There are better foundations, such as:

    – Addressing “unfairness”, as rdm describes it. I don’t think anyone feels too bad about men who don’t want to be nurses, not being nurses. Trying to convince men that nursing is awesome would move us toward 50%, but I’m not sure the resulting society would be net better.

    – Finding missed opportunities. We are all better off when people do things they are effective at. Try to address cases where someone of the minority gender would have been great, but they dropped out due to being a minority.

    Reply
  • 6. Saad Farooq  |  January 30, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Even though I agree with your argument, I do feel there is a valid point in the ‘non-educational’ argument. Being a foreigner, I find the attitudes towards women and of women inconsistent in the US.
    For instance, I would certainly like to be offered a seat on a bus sometimes, especially if I’m carrying stuff (which I have to often cause I don’t have a car).
    Even more, I’m often confused at the response I’ll get while doing something for women. For instance, I once foolishly commented to a girl going off like a sailor that I felt weird hearing such language from a female. That led to charges of sexism and that there should be no difference between the treatment of men and women. A couple days later before leaving for break, girls got hugs and guys didn’t. That felt weird to me, and sexist. Now I have to almost stop myself from helping an office assistant carry stuff around of whatever cause I got told off once by a girl for thinking she couldn’t do it cause she was a woman.
    It’s weird…

    Reply
  • […] awkward by trying to make them feel welcome?  I tend to think of what we do at Georgia Tech is being like curb cuts that try to make things better for everyone, but I see the […]

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  • […] practice, if the effect is discriminatory, it has to go.  We certainly have evidence that implicit bias exists in computing classrooms and that CS teachers allow their classrooms to develop a defensive climate. Further, we know a […]

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  • 9. Dane Youssef  |  January 11, 2014 at 2:40 am

    FOR THE ALMIGHTY MALE… THE BALLET DANSEUR by Dane Youssef

    For me, there really is nothing more inspiring for me that when the men up there are as beautiful as nearly any ballerina.

    There was a time when a man up there defying gravity and other physical possibilities was considered wrong, evil. A destruction of one’s manhood.

    As a male in ballet meself, it’s always a challenge. Just like nearly all the others, I kept it as secret as government documents. What these people did was nothing short of incredible.

    I’ve been taking it for about nine years now. I have danced onstage with our town’s School of Dance and College. As a male who has taken ballet for nearing a whole decade (as I write this), I can honestly say… it is just a little bit harder.

    Some things just never change. Like how at that tender age in the beginning, it’s still just a “girl’s only club” and if you’re a boy there at that age, you’re like an intruder. The odd man out.

    Maybe all that will change someday, God willing. Hell, us willing. Boys, don’t just cross your fingers. Take arms. Join together, unite and tear down those walls, that barrier that limit us all.

    To the pioneers who showed what’s possible with a boy in ballet–Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolph Nureyev, Edward Villella, Peter Martins, Patrick Bissell, Ethan Stiefel, Sascha Radetsky, Vladmir Malakov, Peter Schafuss, Nikolaj Hubbe, Alexander Godunov–and that’s just the creme de la creme of the ranks.

    My brothers, thank you for paving the way. And to those who are planning to follow in your footsteps… keep it all up. There is no reason to ever lose hope. Keep up the good faith.

    All my love, tendus, pirouettes… and Merde. Endless Merde to you all. Those couragerous and fearless martyrs who made being a male leaping around in pantyhose to classical music a respectable life pursuit, a noble career goal.

    –Your humble brother in arms and tights, Dane Youssef

    Reply

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