The internet is a silly place. This is a known fact. An even sillier place is Twitter. It's impossible to have any meaningful conversations with a limit of 140 characters. What is possible is for someone to say something ridiculous then double down on it. Enter Louise Mensch.

Louise Mensch used to be a conversative MP between 2010 and 2012, but now seems to write for The Sun1. As an avid Twitter person I saw someone retweet this with a scathing comment around it:

I thought I may as well get in on the action of minor scathing, except with a bit more anger.

There's a couple of things wrong here in my mind:

  • Saying that girls can't code because they don't have as mathematical a brain is like saying they can't do maths because they don't have a mathematical brain.
  • The tech industry is doing a good enough job on it's own of creating barriers for women and minority groups in general (whether by accident or not). We really don't need prominent columnists to help them.
  • Twitter is never the place to try and start that debate because 140 characters leaves no nuance. She's a columnist. She could at least write 600 words somewhere so people can respond to what she actually thinks instead of to what we think she means.

What's the problem with this?

It's fairly similar to this good old XKCD:

XKCD how it works

I've been interested in coding since I was fairly young. I took pretty much all the coding courses available to me throughout my education2, and a constant in all of them has been the number of girls there.

  • At high school, our classes had 20/25 people in them, but there was 3 girls.
  • At college, 15/16. There was 2.
  • University at least had 200/300 people. I think there were 40.

Those numbers are really low. Suprisingly, those number make their way to the industry as well3. Girls Who Code is about trying to get girls into coding and they've recently done a new video explaining why girls can't code. Those allergic to extreme sarcasm may want to give it a skip:

But she's starting a debate!

No. She isn't. A debate is followed up instantly by points for or against it. This is a cheap way of saying "I think that girls can't code because they aren't mathematical" - by wrapping it in "Discuss", she's trying to say "I think this, but I don't want to be held accountable for that thought".

This is why Twitter is a terrible place for it. It's a place to dump quick thoughts (because, you know, there's not space for anything more in depth), but any attempts to have a long essay is naturally limited by the fact you can only say 140 characters4.

Why do you care?

I care for two reasons

  • I work in the tech industry. I'd quite like the tech industry to not be awful.
  • I'm a folk singer, and we're always welcoming to new voices and faces5. It'd be nice for all the bits of my life to be similar

The tech industry is really good at building up barriers for non-white men ourselves, whether it be accidental or on purpose. We really don't need a famous face joining in.

  1. The typical pot shot by some would be to say that those are all marks on her character, but that's incredibly stupid. ↩︎

  2. Most of it before university was immediately overwritten by university, but it's the thought that counts. ↩︎

  3. See Kayla Daniel's talk on the Code Manifesto for a bunch of stats - slides 9 to 14 are the interesting ones. ↩︎

  4. There's attempts to use Storify for that, but it's still short 140 blasts and the moment you have to use a separate service to do something with the one you want to use, you should maybe think about whether your service is actually worth using... ↩︎

  5. I've always said I came for the songs and stayed for the stories, but it's also because everyone is ridiculously nice ↩︎