Open Thread: Desk Set, etc.

Open thread to catch up on comments–building on the Desk Set from class, or other issues around gender and early computer culture.

3 thoughts on “Open Thread: Desk Set, etc.

  1. I would seek dialectical progression on a claim I have made during the class – that the depiction of women in Desk Set was not less sexist in juxtaposition with the depiction on “The Computer Girls”.

    Reiteration of my argument:

    I acceded with the premise that women were shown, in Desk Set, with the ability to attain autonomy, hence an identity*, which did not intrinsically pertain to patriarchal images. Conclusively, though, women were portrayed to be intransigent with their identities as that they -unlike men, primarily Spencer Tracy’s character- were unable to optimize the ideals of their identity to assimilate new developments (computer, in this case).

    As a note, this assimilation does not have to be depicted as an empirical use of the new development, as utilization of the computer, for which no chance was given in the film. Rather, this assimilation can be regarded as acceding with the pragmatic outcomes of the development’s integration; for this regard, (I assert that) the film displayed a blatant opposition.

    Returning to women’s identity, intransigence implies how identity was such a scarce resource for women that they were inadvertently latching onto any form of attained identity. This hence proceeds into my claim that women were displayed again as impotent since they, in the film, retained the same incapability of freely defining themselves.

    I feel as this claim of mine is not firmly founded, am opening it to free dissection. Any inputs?

    * Term clarification: Identity is identity within the system that -when attained- bestows the individual to devise and live in accord with ideals that are not enforced solely by the system. For this identity, economical autonomy is a viable prerequisite in the contemporary systems.

  2. The issue of gender and sexism was displayed in the movie “Desk Set” primarily through two examples. The first was the ease with which the women references transitioned from their jobs as operators to programmers. The ease with which they transitioned makes it seem as though encoding was an easy job. This brings up the issues Jennifer Light brought up in her exploration of women in computing. In her “When Women Were Computers,” Light investigates the way women were portrayed in early computing. As she explains, women were seen as subprofessionals and their work was not respected for its complexity. In the movie “Desk Set,” the women never are seen going through the learning process of coding, which suggests that it is not a difficult task. This nearly reinforces the ideas Light explored.
    The second way in which sexism was explored was through the female character brought in to take care of the new computer. Although the male characters associated with the computer were always level headed and calm even in times of crisis, this woman was the opposite. The only way she could interact with the computer was through treating it as though it were her child. She was never technological in her speaking, and often would act motherly towards the computer rather than professionally. In addition, her final exit is quite dramatic as she loses control of the computer and huffs off in an exaggerated manner. Although she leaves in a frenzy, Spencer Tracy’s character stays relatively calm throughout the matter, and eventually fixes the computer without the dramatics surrounding the female character. The juxtaposition between the male and female character shows the sexism of the time.

  3. While there is quite a degree of blatant sexism in the film, I believe the portrayal of Katharine Hepburn shows women and the operators to be much more savvy than we’re giving credit. In the few scenes that we saw, Hepburn proved again and again that she was an intelligent, capable women that was almost too good to be true. She memorized multiple works and is the clear leader in the office. She was undeterred by Tracy’s riddles, but instead passed his exam with flying colors. In the final scene, when the machine was starting to malfunction, she took the opportunity to prove the female worker’s worth in comparison to the computer by restoring order to the problems the computer had caused.
    Granted, the movie’s portrayal was probably not what Light would want, but these women weren’t computer operators, but rather reference workers. The women controlling the computer was such a mess mostly because she was a “bad” character and not with the cast that we’ve grown to love up until that point. Hollywood reflects popular culture, so even at this time Hollywood was willing to produce strong, independent female characters. The movie is far from being fair between the two genders, but it deserves some credit.

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