04/08/2014 05:49 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

Words Count

In recent years, intelligent and sophisticated people have begun to realize that extending literacy, suffrage, and other basic forms of empowerment to women in less developed countries is more than a kindly gesture of generosity toward women: these changes make it possible for countries to develop economically, socially, and politically. America prides itself on being developed, but in many ways we lag behind. In particular we are showing signs of falling behind our competitors economically, in particular in one area that will be crucial for development in the future: technology.

Why? Because we don't have enough well-educated workers to do these jobs.

Why? Because women with excellent technical skills and first-rate scientific minds don't want to work in tech companies or, if they take such jobs, leave them before very long.

Why? Well, here's an article from The New York Times Sunday Business section of April 6, 2014. The author, Claire Cain Miller, discusses the many ways in which males in technical jobs make women feel unwelcome. She talks first about a recent app, "Titstare," which allows its users to take selfies of themselves ogling women's breasts. "This is the breast hack ever," remarks one of the app's creators, Jethro Batts. Please curb your hilarity.

I am not making this up.

The sole woman in the room felt "disgusted." Why on earth? The hoodied males "guffawed." Clearly we are at one of those marvelous historical moments when a world-changing invention makes its first appearance. Think of it....

In just such a moment:

  • Thomas A. Edison invented the incandescent light bulb.
  • Jonas Salk created a vaccine to end the scourge of polio.
  • Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak invented the personal computer.

And Jethro Batts and David Boulton invented the Titstare app.

The woman at this presentation, Elissa Shevinsky, happened also to be working with a man named Pax Dickinson. He undertook a defense against criticisms of Titstare as misogynistic.

"It is not," he writes, "misogynistic to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies." Well, that depends on whose boobies, and what "enjoy" means. And a bit later, the article quotes Mr. Dickinson again:

"Women's suffrage and individual freedom are incompatible. How's that for an unpopular truth?"

Let's imagine Mr. Dickinson had made a remark analogous to his "misogynistic" tweet, only racially motivated: "It is not racist to say N------, or to make jokes about black people and watermelons, or to fail to take an African-American seriously." He would have been subjected to public ridicule and shaming, and been made the object of expressions of disgust, and quite rightly so. Someone that oafish and a couple of centuries behind would be seen as someone without the mental acumen to work successfully in the swiftly changing world of technology.

His second pronouncement is even more fascinating. Presumably this man, in order to create apps and evaluate them (his jobs) has to understand and be able to create code; in order to read and create code, he must understand the basics of formal logic. By what logic, I have to wonder, does he claim that women's suffrage (but not, presumably, universal manhood suffrage) is "incompatible with individual freedom"? Suppose, again, he had made the same statement about, e.g., Jewish males?

(I am aware that such statements were often made in the past, but that was back when Mr. Dickinson's place of employment was a fruit orchard.)

Many men, and some women, would take issue with the argument that something must be done to force the culture to change. White men, never having experienced the problem, cannot believe that it really is a problem. But if they have never been there, what can they possibly understand? They need to realize that the problem ultimately is not about women's wimpy feelings, but about the economic success of the United States, as I will discuss shortly.

For women, the question of what to do is especially complicated. If they complain, they may be viewed as hypersensitive whiners -- proof that women are unworthy and not fully human. So, understandably, many women pretend that comments of these kinds, and worse, do not bother them -- they, unlike the grumblers, are tough, strong women. And so in this way as in so many others, women are encouraged to pit themselves against other women, although it does them no good. Women have to learn to make alliances with other women to fight together for what they need in order to be treated with the respect they deserve, so that they can continue to work in the jobs they are qualified to hold, and make the necessary contributions that might help our country regain a strong position in this essential field.

If this country fully realized the economic damage that has been done by excluding the contributions of women to technology, we would consider the kinds of male behavior that drive women out of the field as language crimes analogous to espionage, treating a Batts or a Dickinson like a Snowden or a Pollard. But we're not yet capable of grasping this understanding, so women will still have to take the initiative and force, and enforce, behavioral change in males in technological contexts.

As I said, women must work together. It is counterproductive for some women to stigmatize others as insufficiently "tough" because they refuse to put up with continual denigration. Women must all come to understand that this infantile behavior hurts everyone -- themselves, other women, men, and the U.S. economy. Women, working together and speaking as one, have to make it clear that dispelling misogyny and sexism of all kinds should be seen not as "nice" or "virtuous," but as a patriotic necessity. Continuing to do more of the same must be seen as not merely mewling idiocy, not just cruelty to other human beings, but treated as what it really is, something very close to treason.