The effect of sexism in tech culture and the tech industry



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Do some reading up online about “dickwolves”, “titstare”, “Adria Richards”, and the low representation women in tech fields and majors.


So far, we have talked about the role of values in science and technology and how to evaluate existing science and technology. In the background of these discussions is the question of whose values. In general, we have assumed that ethical reflection or political decision-making processes ought to inform the values at work. In some cases, the question of who is producing the research and innovation matters very much. As we saw in cases of gender bias in framing hypotheses, who is doing science may have an impact on which hypotheses are pursued, which technologies are developed. Patterns of exclusion may thus lead to biased and suboptimal results.

What’s more, those exclusions may be unfair in their own right. There has been a growing recognition lately of a pervasive degree of sexism in “tech culture,” including especially the culture around video games. Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic and creator of the “Feminist Frequency” YouTube video series, has recently drawn attention to the sexist tropes in video games. In return, she has been subjected to a barrage of vulgar harassment. It is common to find “tech bros” making sexist jokes, talking down to women, and engaging in other misogynistic practices (see “Titstare” and Adria Richards). Further exclusionary forces are seen in the gaming webcomic and blog turned media empire, Penny Arcade, and the associated gaming convention, Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), which have engendered controversy by publishing rape jokes and transphobic comments.

Sexism and other exclusionary practices make a difference. Representation of women in the tech industry, i.e., in information and communications technology (ICT) professions, are estimated as somewhere between 10-30% (much lower than that amongst startups and open source software projects). Many women speak about the hostile climate of ICT workplaces. The percentage of women majoring in computer science has been steadily decreasing for the past thirty years.

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