A major theme throughout the piece “When Computers Were Women” is the idea of subtle sexism. Subtle sexism is a branch of sexism that seems so regular to us, that it goes almost unrecognized. Because of this, it is almost never addressed and continues to be an issue in our nation. The sexism explored in this document is displayed in the article “The Computer Girls” and includes specific wordings, phrases and sentences that were truly awful. These sentences and phrases were used to undermine the intelligence of the work the women were doing and the women themselves. For example, it was noted that “A good programmer doesn’t read more into a problem than is already there.” This is an example of subtle sexism because although it is not completely obvious or blunt in its wording, the sentence still is insulting towards women in that it suggests women will not think about the work they do. This sentence suggests that women will not or perhaps can not think deeply about the work they do, and instead blindly accept the instructions given to them by their male superiors. Even the mindset in which Lois Mandel portrays typical parenting when it came to math grades was incredibly sexist. For example, Mandel explains it is often believed that mathematics is not feminine and little girls should not be expected to learn arithmetic beyond the “bank balance” and “grocery bill”. Although Mandel encourages the girls to explore mathematics more thoroughly, it is not because she believes they can make breakthroughs in the scientific and mathematical fields. Instead she points to the opportunities to make money and meet men. Her comments about men bring up another form of subtle sexism.
Mandel’s comments when it came to men were very sexist. For example, she comments on the ability to meet men in computer work, and explains the staggering statistics. “The field is overrun with males,” Mandel explains when trying to show how easy it is to find a man. In addition, she quotes one computer industry man as saying “We like having the girls around… They’re prettier than the rest of us.” These are more forms of both subtle and blatant sexism. Mandel here shows she does not think that women are important factors in the computer industry by encouraging them to get involved not to make progress in the field, but to possibly find a husband. The man she quotes is more blatant in his sexism. He clearly does not value nor recognize the skills women may have to offer in the world of computers.
The two documents on women in the computer industry clearly show how prominent sexism was in the 1940s. Yet sexism is still a very prominent issue today. Psychologist Madeline E. Heilman of New York University describes modern subtle sexism in this way: “The issue is: men and women are probably behaving exactly the same but women are taking a hit.” This description is incredibly accurate. An example of this is the idea of having children and a job. If a man has children and is dedicated to his work, he is seen as a hero- devoting his life towards working for his kids to have a better future. Yet when a woman becomes a mother, she is expected to dedicate her life to her child. To do this, a mother is often expected to give up her career. Working mothers are often looked down upon and blamed for issues their children may have in the future. Another example of subtle sexism comes in the form of dating. If a nerdy guy asks a beautiful girl on a date and she rejects him, people believe it is because the girl is shallow and mean. Yet if a nerdy girl asks a good-looking guy on a date, he may reject her because she seems “desperate”. In both examples, men and women are acting in the exact same ways, yet are viewed and judged differently for their actions. This is subtle sexism.