What will ET look like when we meet him/her/it?

Lynn, Ada, Grace and me


This isn’t strictly science related.  Bear with me.

My first college degree was in Outdoor Education, because I loved rock climbing.  I can’t think of a single classmate that didn’t climb, and it was a great community in which to begin my college career.  However, in my last semester, there was That Guy.  In one of my classes we were discussing rock climbing history and the rise of women in the sport.  Prior to that point I had met That Guy, but only vaguely disliked him.  That particular day, That Guy asked, “What do you attribute [the rise of women in rock climbing] to?  Is it just better shoes?”  Despite the rage filling my brain (I am female, just in case it wasn’t obvious), I did hear the (male) instructor’s response.  He told That Guy that Lynn Hill, a female rock climbing icon, was not only the first woman to climb the Nose (really hard, iconic climb in Yosemite) without using certain gear, she was the first PERSON- male, female or purple spotted alien- to do so.  Her many accomplishments happened in spite of the convention that “women are not good rock climbers”.  A Canadian gentleman I climbed with in Red Rocks a couple years ago called Lynn Hill the greatest climber in the world because she not only redefined the sport for women, she simply redefined rock climbing.

Recently, I read the Joe Peacock’s article on females at conventions and John Scalzi’s response.  There has historically been a gender gap in geekdom, similar to the rock climbing gender gap.  Generally, the role of female participation in geekdom and at sci-fi conventions is getting much more attention than I remember.  A lot of that attention is negative, such as what happened to Anita Sarkeesian, and some positive, such as the numerous blog posts by men supporting women in geekdom or the Readercon convention committee apology.  I’ve been going to conventions practically since I was born.  With all the attention in the blogosphere this discussion is getting, I have to wonder: While I’ve been away from Geekdom (getting a couple college degrees and rock climbing mostly), have geeks en masse turned into That Guy?  Did I just not notice That Geek before?

If you realize you’re That Geek and you would like to become less ignorant, first of all, congratulations, you’re way better than the average That Geek.  I have a couple Lynn Hills of the Geek World for you to research.

Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer.  Ever.  She wrote a computer program for the Babbage engine before the engine was actually built and she had this idea that computers could do more than just mathematics.  Grace Hopper created the first compiler, which proved Ada Lovelace’s idea correct.    For the non-geeks in the virtual room a compiler translates different types of computer code, different computer languages which allows humans to create computer programs.  For example, let’s say a computer runs off of a language called Swahili (not a real computer language!).  Essentially, Swahili tells which parts to move when.  The compiler translates the Swahili into Spanish (also not a real computer language!) so we can tell the computer to do stuff in Spanish which is a bit easier to grasp, being closer to our own language.  Grace Hopper’s work in computer languages led to COBOL (for the non-geeks, she changed computing languages into something workable) and later in life they called her Grandma COBOL.  She also popularized the terms “debugging” and “computer bug” after her associates found a moth interfering with the operation of one of the computers.

I love Geekdom.  I consider myself a gamer, a scientist (in training), a fan, a writer (well, a blogger anyway) and general, all around geek.  I love the idea of a culture based on the love of ideas, rather than the level of conformation to an ideal.  The fact that I am female should be irrelevant to my choice in hobbies.  This is especially true since women have been computer programmers since before the Babbage engine.  We’ve always been geeks.  Perhaps the fact that male geeks haven’t seen women in large numbers at conventions has less to do with the geekiness of women and more to do with social constraints on women.

At the end of the day, I don’t care about mainstream society’s demands upon me based on my gender.  I just want Geekdom to love me back.

Any comments about great female geeks appreciated. Now back to the science!

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