I just read this great article in Miller-McCune, Why Have Women Magicians Vanished?.
My interest was peaked, not just because I am a womyn but also because recently finished reading a great book about Jasper Maskelyne, the British WWII magician that outwitted the nazi desert fox. My interest in the Maskelyine story was aroused when I was advised that my perception of the accuracy and reliability of air photos and satellite images should be tempered. Bref, one can trick the cameras! Which is precisely what Maskelyne did to deceive, trick and mislead German recognisance missions. His illusions, installations and camouflage techniques moved the city of Alexandria, concealed the Suez Canal, made armies look way bigger than they actually were, disguised ships, tanks and submaries and he set up completely fake army bases inclusive of dummies looking like soldiers.
While reading Maskelyne’s story, I kept flashing back to articles and books I read about cryptographers, scientists, inventors, and the geek groups I know and love. Maskelyne’s war magician team seemed to exhibit the same sort of traits: perfectionism, extreme attention to detail, control, power, a history of hacking/tinkering with technology, ability and love of working under extreme conditions, incredible amounts of stored knowledge, indefatigable, tunnel vision, camaraderie, and inspiration derived by seemingly insurmountable problems and lost without such problems and large egos or wanting to be the best (e.g. best code, application, solution).
The Miller-McCune article lists the same issues I have observed, encountered and read about the lack of and in some cases declining participation of women in things data, science and technology. In fact, just replace the word magic in the article with the words engineer, physicist, or computer scientists and it pretty much sums up the arguments I have heard time and again. The
Working magicians conjure up rationales — both beneficial and baneful — for why so few women perform magic.
and the women and technology articles I have read, like this one, miss the lack of critical reflexivity of male group norms that manifest time and again in long standing and well established men’s professions. I have only seen 2 episodes of Mad Men, and it pretty much sums it up. Except, that many of the geeks I have met are not misogynist just oblivious to their culture and unreflexive about the social/cultural aspects of what they do and how they do it.
Also, what does it mean when one group has had more than a couple thousands years of assumed dominance, superiority and attention when it comes to learning how to manipulate the material world into form (e.g. infrastructure, architecture, invention, ship building, etc.) while the other half was excluded from those spaces and was relegated to the toil of managing the material wares of the home, cooking for the smart men and wiping their kids boogers and bums. Also, what does it mean for a whole section of the population to culturally adjust to a system they have been excluded from for more than a couple thousands years? Is it just nurture?
I have been auditing a great course called Globalization and Technology taught by my friend Dale Armstrong who is an expert in the geotechnological politics of the satellite industry and space war. So far we have studies the race for a wired world in the early days of transatlantic cables, phones, radio, (e.g. Marconi, Bell, Western Telegraph, etc.). We then looked at the control of the skies such as the regulation of air travel and how it usurped rail and sea travel, followed by the eyes in the sky - satellites, the race to create the perfect clocks for seafarers, atomic clocks in the sky and the Internet as a global clock. I all cases it seems like the same stories repeat themselves. Super focussed inventors, monopolies, empire building both corporate and political, cut throat competition, control, greed, power, fear, war mentalities, wanting technological strategic advantage, technological inferiority complexes (e.g. Sputnik, Galileo), regulation to control technology, its spread and its development, for geopolitical reasons but also very often to buy time to develop locally to compete internationally. In all cases all men, and in all cases not cooperative except at the moment, regarding the control of the skies mostly because it is getting harder to hide.
As I read these articles, I see these patterns, and wonder if the way of thinking about science and technology will ever change. The impetus is never about sharing but always about winning. What if…