I just read a very well-intentioned, heartwarming talk about girls who code that, sadly, I think, is missing the biological forest for the cultural trees.
It’s this: Teach girls bravery, not perfection. Read it, It’s short
I like the woman who voiced those thoughts in that way. Well, except for the part about growing up to be Hillary Clinton; do we really want to encourage girls to sleep their way to power and then cover up for their husband’s serial rapes?
That’s not the big problem with teaching girls to be brave rather than seeking perfection, though. That’d be nice if it could be done, but I think it will run smack into an evo-bio buzzsaw.
Reshma Saujani argues, accurately I think, that (in general) boys are brave risk-takers while girls are cautious and risk-averse. She thinks this is how we teach then to be, and that teaching girls differently can solve the problem.
I, on the other hand, look at this and see the bioenergetics of human reproduction. Women have only a limited number of ovulations in their lifetime and, in the EAA (environment of ancestral adaptation) pregnancy was a serious risk of death.
Contrast this with men, who have an effectively unlimited supply of sperm – any individual male is far less critical to a human group’s reproductive success than any individual female.
Do the game theory. It would be crazy if women weren’t instinctively far more risk-averse than men. I’m not saying the ranges are disjoint, but we ought to expect the distribution means to be way, way different.
It would actively surprise me if this difference could be socialized away. I think the attempt is as doomed as the early kibbutznkis’ attempt to raise children in creches. Traits close to our central mating strategies are pretty strongly conserved across cultures and resistent to social engineering.
Sigh…somewhere out there, an idiot will read this and jump to the conclusion that I’m saying this because I’m a reactionary sexist who wants to keep women out of coding. Couldn’t be less true; I like having women in my social and professional networks, they look pretty and they smell nice. My senior apprentice is female.
But if we’re going to fix what we perceive as inequities, we need to have clear eyes about what causes them and to what extent fixing them is possible. If we proceed on mistaken beliefs, such as the premise that every problem can be educated or social-engineered away, we will fail and do iatrogenic harm.
We should be looking in different directions. Here’s one; if we want to encourage girls to code, maybe instead of trying to increase their risk tolerance we should be working on lowering the actual (and perceived) risk.
I don’t have a clear idea how to do that, but at least it’s a strategy that doesn’t seem foredoomed from the start by biology.