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

Mara Mills mmills at nyu.edu
Wed May 24 16:43:13 PDT 2017


This comment is vulgar. I performed the Google image search as you advised,
Dag, and I don't see what I presume you want me to see: human penises and
vaginas?

As someone originally trained in biology (BA UCSC, MA Harvard), I don't
have an essential image in my mind of what "male" and "female" look like.
In the life sciences, these terms have been applied -- often dubiously --
far beyond the animal kingdom. This is a subject of debate within biology
proper, as it should be in the history of technology. Even if "male" and
"female" are "readily understood" categories for certain men on this list
(and/or in the field of engineering), we should still want to know their
histories within particular technical subfields. BECAUSE WE ARE HISTORIANS.

I've spent the last several years researching the history of "impairment"
and similar disability-related words as applied in telegraphy and telephony
(and later, signal processing in general). As I assume most of my
colleagues on this list understand, it is the "obvious" concepts that
require our most careful attention as historians.

respectfully,
Mara




On Wed, May 24, 2017 at 6:26 PM, Dag Spicer <dspicer at computerhistory.org>
wrote:

> "There is nothing obvious or literal about the metaphor of “female” and
> “male” connectors- they are indeed ideological referents.”
>
> Really?
>
> Look up "male + female connectors" on Google images and see if you can
> figure it out.  Completely obvious.  Completely literal.
>
> BTW, to call Paul Edwards ‘uninformed’ is pretty rich.
>
> Respectfully,
>
> Dag
>> Dag Spicer
> Senior Curator
> Computer History Museum
> 1401 N Shoreline Blvd
> Mountain View, CA  94043
>
> On May 24, 2017, at 3:17 PM, pne at umich.edu<mailto:pne at umich.edu> wrote:
>
> Yes. Scholars should be respectful of each other.
>
> Sent by my iPhone. Don't blame me.
>
> On May 24, 2017, at 18:15, Sweeney, Miriam <mesweeney1 at ua.edu<mailto:mesw
> eeney1 at ua.edu>> wrote:
>
> 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 umic
> h.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:mesw
> eeney1 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/>
> 527 Gorgas
> Box 870252
> Tuscaloosa , AL
> office 205-348-1522<tel:205-348-1522>
> mesweeney1 at ua.edu<mailto:mesweeney1 at ua.edu> | https://slis.ua.edu/
>
>
>
>
> 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
> @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
>
> ________________________________
> From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org<mailto:members-bounces at lis
> ts.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
> 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://societyoffellow
> s.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/>
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> University of Michigan School of Information<http://www.si.umich.edu/>
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> _______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org<http://sigcis.org/>, the
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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://societyoffellow
> s.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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> _______________________________________________
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-- 
Mara Mills | Associate Professor | Media, Culture, and Communication | New
York University
http://maramills.org/
Co-Director, NYU Disability Council https://wp.nyu.edu/disability_council/
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