There is an incandescent argument in the tech community about why there are so few women in IT. Some say it’s natural, some say it’s discrimination, and others say it’s neither or both.
I have an idea I’m calling the Attraction Argument, which I’ll present below in a few different deductive forms:
- For both men and women, a primary drive is to be attractive to the opposite sex
- Women who appear smart and technical are considered significantly unattractive to many males
- Women who appear feminine and intellectually passive are considered attractive to many males
- Dramatically more females, therefore, attempt to appear feminine and intellectually passive
- Appearing smart and technical is a common requirement for being successful in information technology
- Fewer women are therefore in information technology
- A primary drive for both men and women is to be attractive to the opposite sex
- Men are considered successful by society when appearing to be good providers
- Women are considered successful by society when they appear attractive to good providers
- Jobs like information technology are more tuned towards providers than those providers find attractive
- Fewer women therefore pursue jobs like information technology
- Humans behave in a way that is reproductively most advantageous
- Men tend to like feminine women who are intellectually passive
- Most women model themselves accordingly
- This behavior runs counter to a successful career in many fields
The animal within
On Big Bang Theory, Penny is an attractive airhead, and Bernadette is a smart and kind scientist. First question: Which do most men find more attractive? Second question: Which would most women rather be?
Humans dislike viewing themselves as animals, yet that’s what we are.
Reproductive pressure is an extraordinary force on our species, and I believe the number of women in technology has nothing to do with talent or aptitude, and everything to do with what they perceive to be attractive to men.
If it were considered (more) attractive to (most) men for women to be smart and technical instead of feminine and intellectually passive, more women would behave this way and there would be more women in fields (like technology) that reward those behaviors.
But that’s the reality we want, not the reality we have.
To see what we as a society truly find attractive we cannot ask people directly. When asked, both men and women tell us not what they actually want (if they even know), but instead what they think they should say. Or, even worse, what they wish they wanted.
The true standard of female attractiveness is most honestly presented on magazine shelves around the world. That’s what most men really find attractive, and what most women wish they were. It’s true that there are women’s magazines that don’t have models and actresses on the cover talking about how to attract men, but they don’t make it to the top shelf because women don’t buy them.
For male attraction it’s the opposite. They’re rewarded reproductively by appearing to be good providers to women, and they therefore migrate towards behaviors (and careers) that exemplify this. Culture is full of examples of smart and technical (but not necessarily physically attractive) men being rewarded with money, fame, and…well, women. So for men it’s reproductively advantageous to be in fields like technology and finance that reward intellect and assertiveness.
Stated plainly, being smart and making good money are not the main things that make women attractive to males, while those exact things do make males attractive to females. This, more than anything, is why some fields are male dominated.
As someone who considers himself an advocate of women’s rights and equality, it’s troubling to realize the nature of this obstacle. The saying that “it’s a man’s world” reeks of truth when viewed in this light, as it is plainly attractive for men to participate in many high-paying jobs while it’s simultaneously less so for women to do the same. The explanation is elegant in its disappointment.
To be clear, I’m not just describing why there are fewer women in some industries—I’m describing why fewer women want to be in them. There’s little question that other variables are in play as well: women are sometimes treated poorly by the men in these fields, and are often discouraged from acting “like a man” throughout their lives. But I think—even combined—these factors do not equal the simpler and more powerful reason:
Humans tend to behave in the way that they think is most attractive to the opposite sex, and women doing what it takes to be successful in most male dominated industries simply isn’t attractive to most men.
Man can do what he wants but he cannot want what he wants. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
We as the post-sexual elite can thrash to and fro in rebellion, but until we can change what humans find attractive—on the scale of our society in total—we will continue to see the effects of this primal black hole in our raising of children, throughout our media, and in our workplaces.
- As I wrote about here, there are many other factors involved as well. My point is that this could be an underlying current that drives many others.