[SIGCIS-Members] History of gendered terms, e.g., "motherboard"

Sweeney, Miriam mesweeney1 at ua.edu
Wed May 24 15:15:31 PDT 2017


This response speaks for itself. It certainly would be great if more women felt as if they could chime in. But only if they are properly respectful (i.e don't proffer critiques). I have nothing more to add here.

-M





Sent from my iPhone
On May 24, 2017, at 4:58 PM, Paul N.Edwards <pne at umich.edu<mailto:pne at umich.edu>> wrote:

All, in response to Miriam’s post:

I did not say that mammals have gender. My post could certainly have been clearer about the difference between sex (the relevant metaphor in the cases I mentioned) and gender as a social construction.

Anyone who knows my work will realize that I am one of the many people, of all genders, who have worked tirelessly for the last 35 years to promote attention to gender studies, to women, to race, and to LGBT issues in the history of computing. So I am hardly “uninformed” on this subject. If anyone is curious, I will be happy to provide a long list of bona fides offline.

This thread started with Caitlin’s query about gendered terms in engineering. It was a question seeking answers. The replies on this thread may have come mostly from men, but all were courteous, friendly, and clearly intended to be thoughtful contributions to a scholarly discussion.

I apologize if something in my post was offensive, but I reject the idea that men commenting on gender issues is somehow out of line. Of course it would be great if more women would chime in.

Let’s please return this discussion to its previous respectful tone.

Best,

Paul

On May 24, 2017, at 11:58 , Sweeney, Miriam <mesweeney1 at ua.edu<mailto:mesweeney1 at ua.edu>> wrote:

Hi Folks,

Two thoughts here:

Firstly, mammals don’t have gender (a socially constructed concept reflecting ideas about masculinity and femininity). There is nothing obvious or literal about the metaphor of “female” and “male” connectors- they are indeed ideological referents.

Secondly, I can’t help but read this thread in direct contrast to the thread criticizing Rankin’s talk.  I note that on the latter thread a woman scholar is being taken to task for presenting informed research on gender in computing, while on this thread we have male scholars hazarding uninformed guesses about gender and computing metaphors with no pushback whatsoever.

Reading these threads side by side has definitely given me pause on the state of the field and the challenges we continue to have for fully integrating cultural studies, gender, and race perspectives into information and computing studies.


Miriam E. Sweeney

Assistant Professor , School of Library and Information Studies

The University of Alabama<https://www.ua.edu/>
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Tuscaloosa , AL
office 205-348-1522<tel:205-348-1522>
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On May 24, 2017, at 9:51 AM, Paul N. Edwards <pne at umich.edu<mailto:pne at umich.edu>> wrote:

Interesting discussion. OED does not speculate on this connection; first use of “motherboard” it lists is 1965.

It’s worth noting that some of the gendered terms in engineering are very clear and literal metaphors, not specifically human though definitely mammalian.

“Mother ship,” like “motherboard,” refers to a larger thing from which smaller, but similar dependent units (smaller ships, subsidiary circuit boards) are launched, to which they are attached, and from which they draw sustenance (fuel, electricity).

“Female” and “male” connectors refer to sockets and plugs respectively, also quite literal, also not particularly human but mammalian.

This is not to say that such metaphors aren’t sometimes deployed in objectionable, human-oriented ways, but it would be silly to ignore their value as readily understood descriptors of physical structure and/or relationships.

Best,

Paul


On May 24, 2017, at 9:43 , mike willegal <mike at willegal.net<mailto:mike at willegal.net>> wrote:

My guess is that the term, Motherboard, was derived from the term Mothership, which is still in common usage by the general population, and according to several online dictionaries originated in the 19th century.  Note that when techs and engineers refer to Motherboards, they normally use the gender neutral pronoun, "it".

cheers,
Mike Willegal

On May 23, 2017, at 1:51 PM, Mark Priestley <m.priestley at gmail.com<mailto:m.priestley at gmail.com>> wrote:

Hi Caitlin,

I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you're looking for, but some CS pioneers were rather keen to use the master-slave metaphor to talk about human-computer relations. Eg:

Jack Good reported that: "Turing used to refer jocularly to people who are forced to do
mechanical operations as slaves."

Bardini quotes Engelbart: "Think ahead to the day when computer technology might provide for your very own use the full-time services of a completely attentive, very patient, very fast symbol-manipulating slave who has an IQ adequate for 95% of your today's mental tasks."

And there's this<http://markpriestley.net/pdfs/Huskey.pdf> unfortunate Newsweek caption about Harry Huskey.

I think probably links back to earlier tropes about robots: eg in Capek's RUR, the rebellious robots are precisely slaves. I've got an unpublished conference paper I wrote a few years back about this which I could dig out if you're interested.

Cheers,
Mark




On 23 May 2017 at 18:29, McMillan, William W <william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu<mailto:william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu>> wrote:
Caitlin, this is an interesting study!

I'm not sure, though, if "today's engineers" would very readily coin gender-specific terms for parts of computers.  These terms go back a long way.

The "master-slave" terminology has going for it that the relationship between, say, a bus arbiter and connected devices is, in truth, a master-slave relationship.  The other connotations make it hard for me to use the terms in class, but it's difficult to find synonyms.  Controller-controlled?  Decider-doer?  Kind of awkward.  (Suggestions welcome!)

In contrast to the gendered terms, in describing the tree data structure, the relationship between nodes has always been parent-child, back at least to Knuth's volumes, not father-son, mother-son, or the like.  Same with object/class hierarchies.

- Bill

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From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org<mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org>] on behalf of Wylie, Caitlin Donahue (cdw9y) [cdw9y at eservices.virginia.edu<mailto:cdw9y at eservices.virginia.edu>]
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2017 8:11 PM
To: members at SIGCIS.org<mailto:members at SIGCIS.org>
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] History of gendered terms, e.g., "motherboard"

Dear all,
Do you know of any studies of gendered language in computing? I’m intrigued by the way today’s engineers throw around words like “motherboard” and “daughterboard”, and also “master” and “slave”, without being aware of how those words sound to non-engineers (like me). I’d be interested in learning about historical or sociological studies.

Thank you!

All the best,
Caitlin Wylie
_______________________
Caitlin D. Wylie, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Program in Science, Technology and Society
University of Virginia
wylie at virginia.edu<mailto:wylie at virginia.edu><mailto:wylie at virginia.edu<mailto:wylie at virginia.edu>>
http://www.eands.virginia.edu/faculty-staff/wylie/

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Paul N. Edwards
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Starting July 1, 2017:

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—————————————————
Paul N. Edwards
Professor of Information<http://www.si.umich.edu/> and History<http://www.lsa.umich.edu/history/>
Distinguished Faculty in Sustainability, Graham Sustainability Institute<http://graham.umich.edu/>
Senior Fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows<http://societyoffellows.umich.edu/>

Starting July 1, 2017:

William J. Perry Fellow in International Security
Center for International Security and Cooperation
Stanford University
pedwards at stanford.edu<mailto:pedwards at stanford.edu>

Terse replies are deliberate<http://five.sentenc.es/>. Here's why! <http://emailcharter.org/>

University of Michigan School of Information<http://www.si.umich.edu/>
4437 North Quad
105 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285
(734) 764-2617 (office)
(206) 337-1523  (fax)
pne.people.si.umich.edu<http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/>

























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