Is the term “brogrammer” sexist?
This was the key question in an open forum on sexism in computer science hosted Wednesday evening by Dining Philosophers and Women in Computer Science.
About 25 people attended the discussion.
The event was formed in response to a Computer and Information Science@Penn Facebook discussion thread that occurred the week before spring break. The thread drew heated responses because of a suggestion to create Spring Fling shirts that featured the word “Brogrammers.”
In the more than 200 comments on the thread, students were divided over whether the shirts were espousing sexism or were merely lighthearted Fling-spirited joking. The shirt idea was ultimately declined.
“Brogrammer” is a slang term that is intended to humorously contrast the “nerdy boy” stereotype of a programmer with the “party boy” stereotype of a fraternity member. A brogrammer is a male who embodies the two personas comfortably despite the clash.
“The problem with the term is that it leaves women out of the picture entirely. It takes the most masculine traits of an already masculine profession and emphasizes it, excluding women entirely,” Engineering freshman Tess Rinearson said. “Whether it is a joke or not, the important issue is that there were enough women saying it’s offensive for it to be.”
In addition to talking about the term and its connotations for women, the discussion also centered around the right to be offended.
“At a certain point, there is the issue of hypersensitivity,” Engineering and Wharton junior Nonie Sethi said. “The more you react, the more you are giving the idea credence and a negative perspective that it did not originally have.”
The discussion also touched upon the issue of intent.
2005 Engineering graduate Gayle Laakmann McDowell, who was the first to raise an objection to the sexist implications of the proposed Fling shirt, pointed out that, while the shirt did not have a malicious intent, “it is being viewed by a whole bunch of people who may feel excluded by it.”
“I reacted negatively to it before I even realized it could be offensive,” added Engineering senior Zach Wasserman. “We should be careful about the images we promote because reality will always eventually come to reflect that.”
Regardless of whether the term brogrammer is sexist, a unifying theme throughout the evening was the minority status of women in Penn’s CIS Department.
Originally formed in 2003, WiCS, one of the hosts of Wednesday night’s event, has served as a community for female CIS students. Engineering junior and WiCS President Sandy Sun explained that the group was not formed due to sexism or discrimination, but rather as a way to recognize that women are underrepresented in the computer science field.
Males and females in CIS “are all very good friends and comfortable with one another,” Sun said. “It’s nice to have a community of just girls.”
Sun added that WiCS is often contacted by large companies like Google or Microsoft that are looking to recruit more women. Thus, the club often organizes professional networking events alongside social community-building events like study breaks.
The recognition of women as a minority in CIS was also addressed through the creation of a new residential program — called Women in Computer Science — in Kings Court/English House for next semester.
Engineering junior and residential program co-creator Gabriela Moreno-Cesar said “sometimes I have troubles specific to me as a girl in computer science, and while the guys are supportive, they don’t relate to it as much as other girls would.”
Engineering and Wharton sophomore and Dining Philosophers President Pulak Mittal said he hoped Wednesday’s discussion shed more light on situations like these.
“People needed the opportunity to listen to what other people have to say,” he said. “It’s a big topic to understand, and this discussion is a learning opportunity to help us understand.”
The headline and subhead of this article have been updated to more accurately reflect the nature of Wednesday evening’s discussion.
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