I was part of the local coffee shop gathering the other morning. We were talking about fighter jet procurement and how the Swiss actually voted on the question of F-35 versus Saab Gripen versus sticking-with-the-old (story). I pointed out that “Angela Merkel says that Germany can’t rely on the U.S. in the age of the Trumpenfuhrer, so the Europeans will have to buy a lot more military hardware.” The response was “The Europeans are like teenagers. They want to rebel, but they also don’t want to be responsible for anything. The U.S. is the parent who remains in the background to clean up any messes.” Conclusion: Europeans are the new teenagers.
The conversation shifted to a friend’s Facebook post:
Another Happy Mother’s Day tribute to my mom, an original feminine trail blazer! Cheers to all the strong and courageous moms out there who forged their own path, … in 1970 became a private pilot. Happy Mother’s Day!#mothersday #strongwomen #womenpilot
He’s not completely wrong. A woman earning a Private certificate was a “trail-blazing” achievement… for Raymonde de Laroche in 1910. By the 1940s the Women Airforce Service Pilots were flying the P-51 Mustang, a 1,620-horsepower taildragger, and B-17 four-engine bomber. Their Soviet counterparts were flying 24,000+ combat missions. Jerrie Mock made it around the world in 1964 in a 1953 Cessna whose navigational gear today would barely suffice for a 50-mile sunny day hamburger run.
How is it that, in the aviation world, adult women are now being celebrated for stuff that used to be considered basic, e.g., taking a docile trainer around the pattern at an airport designed for transport jets? “That’s only been true for the past five years,” said one local Deplorable (he doesn’t have a rainbow flag on his house or Black Lives Matter sign on his lawn in our all-white/Asian nearly-all-hetero-couples town). “Before that, people were able to remember that women used to be as capable as men.”
We then discussed how this seems also to be true in the engineering and programming world. An adult woman who gets a straightforward program to work or who passes an undergraduate course gets extravagantly praised (see “Most computer science majors in the U.S. are men. Not so at Harvey Mudd” (LA Times), for example, celebrating women on track to get a bachelor’s in CS at age 22). A well-meaning, correct-thinking, Hillary-voting computer nerd friend in Boston described Jean Sammet, part of a six-programmer team on a committee designing COBOL, with “In the field of computer science she was a giant.” Twenty years ago, the same guy would have used “COBOL” as a synonym for computer-assisted mediocrity and incompetence. Certainly COBOL was promulgated years later than Fortran (which has given us hundreds of predictions of future Earth temperature?), ALGOL (which grew into today’s C, Java, et al.), and Lisp (which became a religion). COBOL was also years later than the business data processing languages from which it borrowed features, e.g., COMTRAN. A 1975 view from Dijkstra: “The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense.” (Of course, there are women who are generally agreed to have been “giants” in computer science and you can see their names among the rest of the Turing Award winners (though don’t forget the “super-giants” Emil Post, Alonzo Church, Alan Turing, and John von Neumann))
The question was posed: What other group in society is regularly praised for achieving fairly straightforward stuff? “Children” was the immediate answer agreed upon. Thus the group concluded that, at least as far as their portrayal in the media and in descriptions by activists purporting to assist them, Women are the new children.
Readers: if the goal of 1960s “equality feminism” was to put women on equal footing with men, has the result of present-day feminism been to put women on equal footing with children? (And, separately, could this be why a lot of high-achieving women refuse to identify as “feminists”? Examples: Angela Merkel, the PhD in physical chemistry who runs Germany; Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, hasn’t been seen wearing a pussy hat; Patty Wagstaff talks about the men who helped her (including an ex-husband in Alaska), not about obstacles that were placed in her path due to her sex.) Do the well-meaning journalists celebrating minor achievements by women inadvertently make readers think that women are less capable than men?
[Personal anecdotal history: When I started programming in the 1970s, every software development organization seemed to have at least some women. I learned to program from a woman who had a terminal (110 baud, printing!) in her home. I can’t remember anyone suggesting that it was more or less difficult for woman to write software than it would have been for a man. At the software development company that I co-founded in the mid-1990s, two of the earliest employees were women, one a Caltech graduate and one an MIT graduate, and they quickly rose to management positions due to their superior abilities. No customer ever expressed surprise that the manager responsible for their project was a woman. Nobody within the company ever expressed surprise regarding a programmer or a manager being a woman. Base salaries were the same for men and women (this was before the transgender age, so those were our only two categories) and bonuses were decided upon by a committee of project leaders. Women were awarded equally large bonuses by their peers.
In classes that I have taught at MIT, ranging from probability theory to circuit design to database programming, women have usually been over-represented among the best students.
I’ve been part of the same airport community since 2001. There has always been a mixture of men and women at every level of flying experience and nobody has ever said “I am surprised to see that Woman X is flying a jet now” or “I don’t feel comfortable with Woman Y as my instructor.” One of my primary instructors was a woman. My first flight in the cockpit of an airliner during training at Comair (Delta regional jet subsidiary) happened to be with a female captain and young male first officer. When I came back from the flight, nobody in the training class expressed surprise that the captain had been female or asked a question regarding her competence.
Among the pilots that I have worked with as an instructor, the ones who identified as female didn’t stand out as having any difficulties learning, nor did any ever complain that she was struggling to overcome a sex-linked barrier.
So… if I didn’t have the New York Times and a cluster of social justice warrior friends on Facebook, I would be aware that women were a minority in flying and computer nerdism, but I would not be aware that women faced special obstacles in these worlds.]
- Sho Yano, celebrated for earning a bachelor’s in science at age 12 (Yano went on to earn his PhD at 18 and MD at 21, useful to remember next time someone brags about an academic achievement!)).