emotion vs rationality


In discussions of gender differences, it's not unusual to hear people ascribing emotional responses to women, and rational responses to men. But what Margolis and Fisher found about men's and women's reasons for studying CS were very different. They discuss this at length in chapter 3.

We have found that women decide to major in computer science based on a broad set of criteria. The simple enjoyment of computing is a leading factor for women, but other factors also weigh heavily in their decisions. They value the versatility of computing, its relation to their interests in math and science, its career path to safe and secure employment, the exciting and changing nature of the field, and the encouragement they received from parents and teachers. For many male students, in contrast, the decision to major in computer science barely reaches the level of conscious consideration; it is a natural extension of their lifelong passion for computing.

Of course, the dot-com downturn has had an impact on the "safe and secure employment," and at least one person I've spoken with has told me that they think that's a major reason for women not entering computing fields now. But when you look at the numbers from the CMU study, that factor ranks fourth.

In the CMU study, forty-four percent of the women--but only nine percent of the men--linked their interest in computing to other arenas. Margolis and Fisher call this "computing with a purpose," and again, that's what we've tried to do in IT as opposed to CS. Are we failing in conveying that to the students we'd like to attract? Or is our implementation not in line with our stated goals?

Margolis and Fisher end the chapter by suggesting that computing can--and should--be taught in interdisciplinary contexts.

[This] establishes multiple standards of excellence, which together can yield a stronger community of computing professionals than any one by itself. The perspective that computer science can make itself stronger by incorporating the values typical of women in the field changes the question from "How can women change to fit into computer science?" to "How can computer science change to attract more women?"

(This is one in a series of entries from <a href="<$MTBlogURL$>">mamamusings related to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. For the whole series, go to the "unlocking the clubhouse" category page.)


I'm finding this very interesting, Liz. Thanks for blogging it.

In the realm of interesting observations I don't know the significance of (or even if there is any), I have found over the last 14 years of owning Rottweilers that female Rottweilers are more protective of their 'people' and males are more protective of their 'property'. This seeming to be entirely outside how attached the individual dog is to people in general. I mention this here because of the tie (that I see) to emotion vs rationality.

Anyway, interesting stuff...

hmm, didn't see as much on the relationship between emotion and rationality as i thought. Most people, post descartes, tend to split the two into different functions, but i'm amodern on this topic and think that they are not separable, emotion is rationality and all rationality is emotional, the only way to separate them is to define them as different, but then, though following a grand tradition, it is unclear to me as to where the actually locus of difference arises. It is like the blind man and elephant problem. Everything is one, but if you touch it in a different place it seems different.... No?

Jeremy, much of the chapter in question is given over to detailed quotes from the qualitative interviews, in which it's easier to see the contrast.

The big difference seems to be that women were far more likely to have given a great deal of thought to the decision to study CS, and applied clear decision-making criteria.

Sorry for this being off-topic, but...

When are your XML courses at RIT going to be available? I remember briefly talking with you about them last year, and I wasn't sure when they would be ready....

Thanks a ton,

I find this whole women emotional, men rational dichotomy annoying. I think it's a red herring or at best a shorthand for a much more subtle difference. (The formulas about women seeking a more social collaborative horizontal ethos and men seeking a more vertical hierarchical less-frequently-negotiated one make more sense to me.)

For one thing, stuff like Damasio's "The Feeling of What Happens" have convinced me that emotions are fundamental to rational thought and that there is no separating them. So "not being emotional" really means privileging different emotions or different rationales.

Am I way off-topic yet?

Not off topic at all, xian.

The risk of doing this book-blogging is that I'm placing a lot of what I'm commenting on out of context, which does a disservice to the authors. And when I then muse on the topic, I'm doing so with the fuller context of the book chapter, while readers here see only the narrowest slice of it.

My argument here is not that "men are from mars, women are from venus." Far from it. Rather, it's that decision-making grounded in "emotional" contexts is often associated with women, whereas decision-making supposedly separated from emotional influences is more often associated with men. (Leading with heart rather than with head, being an N versus a T on the MBTI, etc, etc.)

(After writing the above paragraph, I did a little web searching on gender differences in personality typing. Indeed, it seems the T/F scale is the only one to show a distinct gender difference, with 60% of men scoring higher in T, and 60% of women scoring higher in F. From http://www.ransdellassociates.com/historyAndTheoryOfMBTI.htm)

I happen to agree with you--and jeremy--on the problematic aspects of this dichotomy. But even if we substitute your language, the ideas are the same...that there are both real and perceived differences in which emotions are privileged in the decision-making process.




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on July 31, 2003 1:16 PM.

why should we care? was the previous entry in this blog.

does IT share CS mythology? is the next entry in this blog.

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