C is Manly, Python is for “n00bs”: Our perception of programming languages is influenced by our gender expectations

March 22, 2015 at 7:51 am 7 comments

Surprising and interesting empirical evidence that language use is mostly gender-neutral. Our expectations about gender influence how we think about programming languages.  These perceptions help explain the prevalence of C and C++ in many undergraduate computing programs.

There is also a gendered perception of language hierarchy with the most “manly” at the top. One Slashdot commenter writes, “Bah, Python is for girls anyways. Everybody knows that PERL is the language of true men.” Someone else responds, “Actually, C is the language of true men…” Such views suggest that women might disproportionately use certain languages, but Ari and Leo found in their programmer surveys that knowledge of programming languages is largely equivalent between genders. Women are slightly more likely to know Excel and men are slightly more likely to know C, C#, and Ruby, but not enough to establish any gendered hierarchy.

via C is Manly, Python is for “n00bs”: How False Stereotypes Turn Into Technical “Truths” by Jean Yang & Ari Rabkin | Model View Culture.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dennisfrailey  |  March 22, 2015 at 9:26 am

    From my perspective, any high level language is for wimps. Assembly language is for REAL software developers (you have to understand the computer in order to make it work correctly). 🙂

    • 2. Michael S. Kirkpatrick  |  March 25, 2015 at 7:59 am

      Poppycock! REAL programmers use telepathy to induce electrical signals to manipulate the machine directly. 😉

      • 3. dennisfrailey  |  March 25, 2015 at 8:54 am

        In binary, of course! Or perhaps they do it in base 7 and then convert to hexadecimmal in their heads.

  • 4. alfredtwo  |  March 22, 2015 at 9:34 am

    The whole idea of a language being for men or for women just boggles my mind. I tend to think that a real developer can bend any programming language to their will. 🙂

  • 5. Barry Brown  |  March 23, 2015 at 1:45 am

    I don’t have any trouble believing a programming language could be gender-biased. First, the paper answers the question “of the people who already know at least one language, which ones are they?” The paper finds gender equality. But knowing a language, using a particular language for work, and *preferring* one are different things.

    We often speak of “beautiful code,” admonish our students to “format it so it looks nice,” and praise “elegant solutions.” These are subjective opinions. Eye of the beholder and all that. Artistic expression has, for most of human history, been heavily influenced by gender. How could computer programs be any different?

    I agree with Alfred that any competent programmer can use any language, just like any driver can learn to operate any vehicle. But, given a choice, we like to operate cars/trucks/planes that we find interesting and compelling on a personal level. If we could freely choose languages to program in, what do we prefer? I think that’s a more interesting question.

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  March 25, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Barry, that’s the direction that I was going with this post — not that languages have gender-biases, but we have expectations about those who use different languages, and that influences preferences. I realize that the comments in this thread are joking, but we should realize that there are gender perceptions and biases embedded. “Real developers/programmers do X” is an obvious reference to the phrase “Real men do X.” The posturing about how little support one needs to program is literally machismo.

      We send messages about what we expect of students using different languages when we make comments about what languages “real developers” can use.

      • 7. chaikens  |  April 3, 2015 at 11:30 pm

        What if we proclaimed the truth that real developers review each other’s code, work in teams, and the teams include end users when agile development is done? Would there still be the sexist connotation?


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