August 15, 2017
There’s an old joke about a young comedian making his first appearance at a club in the Catskills. The opening act is a legendary old Borscht Belt comic, whose routine consists entirely of calling out numbers. “17…32…8.” And with every number, the audience responds with uproarious laughter. Confused, the young comedian asks the stage manager, “Why are they laughing at numbers?” The stage manager responds, “Kid, these people have been watching this guy do the same act for fifty years. They not only know every joke by heart, but they also know the order of his set list. He just has to say the number, and they know the joke.” When it’s the young comedian’s turn to go on, he looks at the audience and says, “12.” Dead silence. Confused, he calls out “21.” Not a laugh in the house. Finally, he belts out “6!” The audience boos him off the stage. Dejected, he tells the stage manager, “I don’t get it…I said the numbers, but I didn’t get any laughs.” To which the stage manager replies, “Don’t you know anything about comedy, kid? It’s all in the delivery!”
Sometimes it isn’t what you say, but how you say it. Sometimes two people can say the exact same thing to the exact same audience, and one will get a standing ovation while the other gets a chorus of boos. Because it’s not the words as much as the delivery.
Take, for example, the now-infamous “Google diversity memo,” in which engineer James Damore argued that biological factors helped account for the gender imbalance in the tech field. The outraged cackling from the leftist henhouse was every bit as shrill as expected. On Vox.com, Stanford lecturer Cynthia Lee blasted the memo as “dangerous.” Slate’s in-house tech harpy April Glaser called the memo (wait for it…) “sexist,” decrying the fact that Damore felt “empowered” to share his views (because apparently women can only become “empowered” if men are made to feel less so). In The Guardian, “freelance technology journalist” Holly Brockwell called the memo “cringeworthy,” and Damore a “clown.”
Let’s stay with Brockwell for a moment, because she’s a real piece of work. She achieved fame in the U.K. for battling Britain’s National Health Service for the “right” to have the NHS cover her sterilization (honestly, in her case not a bad use of public funds). In her Guardian rant against the Google memo, Brockwell charged that Damore is not only sexist, but ignorant of history as well. “Women were the originators of programming, and dominated the software field until men rode in and claimed all the glory,” she victoriously announced.
In Jim Carrey voice: Ree-hee-hee-heally?
To back up her claim that programming used to be “dominated” by women, Brockwell cites…
…the many African American women working as “human computers” at Nasa [sic], as highlighted in the book (and film) ‘Hidden Figures.’ One of them, Katherine Johnson, spoke of a time “when the computer wore a skirt”—not faded jeans and five days’ stubble.
Brockwell displayed either massive stupidity or a talent for lying by using the “skirt” quote to bolster her “women dominated the software field” assertion. “When the Computer Wore a Skirt” is the title of a paper on the NASA.gov site. And no, there is nothing there about programming having been an all-female field until men came in and “claimed all the glory.” Rather, the paper details how women like Katherine Johnson began to enter the “computer” field (in those days, “computer” was a job title, not a machine) in the 1940s because all the fucking men were being sent away to war. “To meet the increasing demand of the war effort and offset the loss of manpower as men were recruited to military service, Langley (Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory) began actively recruiting female workers,” the paper states. Starting in 1941, “employee numbers at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory climbed dramatically from 940 to 3,220.” The number of female computers in 1942? 75.
That’s some good dominatin’ there, ladies.
But let’s try a little thought experiment. When Brockwell claimed that the programming field used to be all-female, she received cheers of approval from feminists worldwide. But let’s say that a couple of white men made a movie that portrayed programming in the ’40s as being completely female, with no chauvinism from government and corporate heads, no sexism needing to be overcome…a world in which the industry welcomed women, a world in which women never had to struggle to find acceptance in early tech. Those filmmakers would be accused of being “deniers.” “How dare these men erase all the struggles and hardships that those pioneering women had to endure in order to pave the way for today’s female tech workers!”
See what I mean about “it’s all in the delivery”? Two different people can say the exact same thing—“computer programming in the early years was an all-female endeavor”—and get two distinct and opposite reactions, based entirely on presentation. A feminist can get away with it because she’s using the false assertion to claim “evil men stole our jobs and took all the credit.” But a male using the exact same assertion in order to paint a rosy picture of a sexism-free industry would be clobbered for “rewriting history” to “erase the struggles of women.”
Here’s another example. You know that whole “women don’t excel at certain types of tasks because of innate biological differences” thing? What kind of evil right-wing publication would ever entertain such sexist views? How about The New York Times:
A large body of research on standardized testing shows that responding quickly to recall-based, multiple-choice items in a high-pressure setting is a skill in which men in general, and brash white men in particular, excel. Women do better when time constraints are relaxed, when subtleties matter and when ‘‘strategic guessing’’ is not rewarded. The same is true for many minority-group members.
Wow, such anti-woman propaganda! I mean, if the above is true, if men are better by nature in high-pressure situations in which information recall is essential, then obviously, in certain lines of work, it would be understandable that there would be more male employees (and that men would be paid more and promoted at a greater rate). So who is the woman-hating fascist making this claim? Robert Schaeffer, an anti-sexism, anti-racism “social justice” advocate! He’s the public education director for FairTest (a group that opposes standardized testing), and the coauthor of Sex Bias in College Admissions Tests: Why Women Lose Out. And his February 2000 New York Times piece, quoted above, was met with applause from the left. Why? Context. He was attempting to demonstrate that ABC’s hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was sexist because the audition process involved the use of skills that men excel at and women and minorities don’t. Something had to explain the lack of female and black contestants. And since the audition process was 100% blind (a two-part automated telephone multiple-choice Q&A session), it wasn’t possible to blame subjective human biases for the paucity of female and black finalists, as the prospective contestants were not seen and their names not known during the phone test.