[Humanist] 27.700 girls & computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jan 14 07:10:09 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 700.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2014 09:23:22 +1100
        From: Suzana Sukovic <suzana.sukovic at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.684 girls & computing -- and lower-cost technology
        In-Reply-To: <20140108075008.397775FA3 at digitalhumanities.org>

Interesting points. I didn't know about pink rifles, but I imagine girls at
my school would be amused. All these pink toys are clearly a product of
binary imagination. I wonder what Kristeva would say.

You convinced me to look more seriously into RPi. Norman, thanks for
suggesting Adafruit - I never heard about it (not that I am an expert in



                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 684.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    John Levin <john at anterotesis.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.680 girls & computing; lower-cost

  [2]   From:    Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  27.673 lower-cost technology; and 27.672 girls and

        Date: Tue, 07 Jan 2014 09:25:44 +0000
        From: John Levin <john at anterotesis.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.680 girls & computing; lower-cost
        In-Reply-To: <20140107075352.95D38621E at digitalhumanities.org>

> That's a very interesting point. On a pre-Christmas visit to a large
toyshop in the UK, I was struck by how heavily some manufacturers have
invested in producing 'boy' and 'girl' versions of what are essentially the
same toys, such as Nerf blasters and LEGO bricks. In many cases, it appears
that the 'girl' versions are in some way the odd ones out. For example, the
Nerf blasters with photographs of boys on the boxes are simply branded
'Nerf', whereas the Nerf blasters with photographs of girls on the boxes
are branded 'Nerf Rebelle', with what I felt to be some incredibly clumsy
gender stereotyping: the Heartbreaker Bow and the Pink Crush Crossbow in
particular. Perhaps I shouldn't mention the availability of child-sized,
princess-pink hunting rifles in the US. Is it only a matter of time before
someone releases a pink-themed 'Linux Princess' distro in a misguided
attempt to prepare girls for careers in systems administration?
> Best wishes
> Daniel

No princess linux distro that I know if, but how about a pink desktop
theme for ubuntu?

See also:

Pink computer (toy) for girls:

Phone cases in pink "for girls":
And more:

And what about 'Della', Dell's 'computer for women':

Tech sector is just as bad as the toys'.


John Levin

        Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2014 11:24:52 +0000
        From: Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  27.673 lower-cost technology; and 27.672 girls and
        In-Reply-To: <20140105095252.11D425F8A at digitalhumanities.org>


I think these two recent threads may be intimately connected (look out for
low-flying kites, below).

Dave Postles wrote:

> RPi is fine, particularly for Python coding, although you could do the
> same some time ago with the olpc (with python tutorials integrated).
> Anything which encourages the use of Linux, on the desktop as well as on
> servers and embedded, is fine with me, The problem with the RPi is still
> that it has only sold 1m units, so it's impact is fairly confined.  There
> are, of course, many other single-board PCs (SBPCs) out there.  Python is
> useful for digital humanities (especially for corpus linguistics).  I have
> a suspicion, however, that it's (RPi's) impact, welcome as it is, is being
> overhyped.

I have limited but concrete experience with RPis.  It seems to me that the
thing that's special about the RPi is not that it does anything that hasn't
been done before -- other such systems exist -- but that it represents an
impressively managed set of trade-offs, in the service of a particular
interesting target.

That target is:

  1. It's cheap: if you fry the thing, because you shorted the wrong pair
of pins, it's irritating but not a disaster.

  2. It's intimately connected with hardware: as well as connectors to
standard gadgetry, the board has prominent support (the double row of pins
in one corner) for connections to low-level hardware, namely transistors
and capacitors and integrated circuits and things you've soldered up


  3. It's well integrated: it's not just for the sort of folk who already
know how to design their own electronics.  It's easy to get started, and
the RPi Foundation have made a start on creating a helpful community round

Achieving both 1 and 3 at the same time is I think a significant technical
and design achievement.

Thus I think it _does_ link to the picture that Willard painted:

> But
> what I knew about and reached for were the kits from which one could
> built radio transmitters and receivers, voltmeters using only basic
> components (resistors, capacitors etc) and simple tools (wire-cutter,
> soldering iron, screwdriver etc).
> So I wonder, how does the Raspberry Pi compare in its extent and kind
> of influence? I was building devices from kits at ca. age 8.

The RPi is the sort of thing that young Willard could have investigated
with a soldering iron and an 8-year-old eye-gleam, _and_ that is very
different from what 'computing' has meant in the last few decades.

And that leads to my point.

Amongst a number of interesting points, Suzana Sukovic said:

> It seems there are a few factors at play, roughly around 3 connected
> 1. Girls' interests
> 2. Cultural issues around gender and geek cultures
> 3. The way computers are presented and taught.

If the RPi is indeed different from what 'computing' has meant for the last
50 years, then it represents an opportunity to broadly disrupt
'computing'/geek culture; the RPi represents a bit of cultural barricade
broken down.

In particular (and this point isn't fully worked out, so forgive some
clumsiness), I think it would be possible and entertaining to use the RPi
to subvert some stereotypes about gender and technology, and about the
distinction between computing and electronics.  Plunging into those

  * Computers are about binary things (which boys like, As Any Fule Kno);
electronics is much more inflected (which girls like, as any fule...), and
never certainly in one state or another.

  * Computers proceed, instruction by instruction, from one stable state to
another; electronics is much more dynamic, with one part of a system
interacting unpredictably with another.

  * Computer systems are constructed by the composition of components with
well-defined interfaces; electronics is much more physical, like cooking

And so on.  Viewed through the right spectacles, electronics could surely
be presented as much more feminine than masculine, or more yin than yang
(if that makes the argument go better), without any danger of the result
being written off, as Suzana fears, as merely 'soft computing skills'.  And
RPis mean that this subversion is more naturally backed up with practice,
rather than being merely a paper exercise.  That would be RPi impact.

There's presumably a link here to the fashionably increasing visibility of
'makers'.  Also, one of my prime associations with this sort of electronics
(I'm not a hardware person, and have only bumped into this recently) is
Adafruit  http://www.adafruit.com/about/ , which is definitely not toys for

(I fear this may be heading off at a tangent from Digital Humanities)

Best wishes,


Norman Gray  :  http://nxg.me.uk
SUPA School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK

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