Feminist Programming and the Tragedy of Postmodernism

Michael Enoch
The Right Stuff
December 16, 201

While it is tempting to brush off the more ridiculous manifestations of postmodern thought by mocking their unintentional hilarity, occasionally a more serious takedown of the ideas is warranted. In my last article I mocked the idea of so-called Feminist Programming Languages by pointing out how stupid and unworkable it is to try to create a supposedly “new” kind of programming language out of a hodgepodge of abstract nonsense, deliberate contradictions and politically correct bullshit. I offered my opinion that Arielle Schlesinger, the woman behind the project, is nothing but a hack that knows how to repeat technical sounding jargon, but has no actual understanding of computers.

That was all well and good, but I failed to address the more fundamental point that Feminist Programming is not supposed to work in the first place. There is no point to actually trying to make it work. The whole thing is a huge lie and a massive boondoggle.

You’re kinda cute when you’re exploring feminist critiques of logic.
You’re kinda cute when you’re exploring feminist critiques of logic.

The most important thing to understand about postmodern feminist philosophy is that it is political rent-seeking behavior. The purpose of this school of thought is not to discover some kind of truth or to come to a better understanding of reality, but to come up with rhetorical techniques and mechanisms that allow feminist activists to perpetually frame and re-frame the terms of discourse to their advantage. Usually the strategy is to gain the moral high ground by constantly uncovering novel forms of oppression and discrimination in every aspect of society. This is why feminists support premises like paraconsistent logic and standpoint theory. These systems are fluid and can be easily adapted to changing social circumstances. The rhetoric is deliberately designed to confuse people, obfuscate reality, conflate categories and poison the well. The end goal is to use social shaming to gain security, resources and power from men or male dominated institutions that they are incapable of competing with or participating in.

This is why we have Feminist Programming Languages. This is why we have developer evangelists. This is how people like Adria Richards and Arielle Schlesinger get jobs. This is how think-tanks like HASTAC get founded and funded. The computer programming field has come under particular scrutiny from feminists recently because it is the most active sector of the economy. It gets a lot of media attention and the people involved in the production and design of tech products are overwhelmingly white and male. That is a huge, juicy pile of resources that is just too tempting to pass up.

Trigger Warning: Adria Richards.

Remember me?
Remember me?

A revealing comment by user “Cathy Davidson” on the HASTAC website further illustrates this point:

“I give a lot of talks now at corporations dedicated to technology innovation and, within fifteen minutes, I always hear that the single biggest problem in that world is lack of diversity. CEOs and CIOs don’t see it as a problem for women but a problem for technology: you cannot create technology for a very diverse world (in every sense) with a homogeneous core of developers and managers. They find it to be a major problem and are funding ways of changing the problem to the tune of billions of dollars a year worldwide. No one knows what to do but no one in that world is sanguine about the fact that the number of women entering the field of computer science has declined since 1993 when the Mosaic 1.0 browser was released to the general public and the “Information Age” officially began.

That’s a problem. So is the 9%-14% (the numbers vary depending on what and who you count) representation of women among editors of Wikipedia. We have a major cultural, social, political, and economic issue here and everyone in the tech world is aware of it.

Please put the parodies aside, folks. This is a real, serious issue. Getting to the root problem is essential in real, practical terms as well as in theoretical terms. Ari Schlesinger is performing a real service to the profession by provoking serious conversation on these matters.”

So here we see it all laid out really. Feminist programming is facilitating a conversation, which is all it really needs to do. Being stupid enough to get neckbeards to make fun of it may even be a plus here. Big corporations are looking at ways of funding a solution to the supposed diversity problem in technology. What sorts of programs do you think are going to be getting a big chunk of that money? It will be speakers like Cathy Davidson and “researchers” like Arielle Schlesinger. These women don’t actually want to work in the tech sector and we know this because they did not choose to study technology despite zero structural barriers preventing them from doing so. They want sinecures that provide resources, security and prestige but don’t actually require thought, hard work or concrete results.

If any CEOs are actually complaining to Cathy that they have a diversity problem, they are saying it to temporarily appease her as they fulfill their federally mandated “diversity in technology” training seminar. No doubt they forget about it as soon as they go back to their desk to do real work and Cathy takes her pants suit and Powerpoint presentation to her next corporate speaking gig. No one in the tech sector right now gives a shit about diversity. There is no reason whatsoever why a lack of diversity in the field would be a problem unless it comes from government quotas and legal threats. The fact that most programmers are White or Asian is not a problem for the field in and of itself. An attempt to artificially shake up the demographics of the industry probably would lead to real problems with social cohesion and productivity, but that’s not really the point here. The feminists are already getting what they want.