Friday, March 29, 2013

I Am Woman

I’ve had such wonderful and close relationships with women in my life. Growing up with a cultured, gracious, talented yet unassuming mother and a maternal grandmother that kept a home that was my personal favorite destination. From a sister that I can best describe as "sweet," to a loving and caring wife that I now share thirty-seven years of blissful marriage, to a beautiful and talented, as well as gracious and sweet granddaughter, these women in my life have taught me much about caring and nurturing and putting others before themselves.

But then that is often the role that women have played in our society. From the natural and biological job of raising children and keeping a home, a time-honored yet often unappreciated role that women have had throughout the centuries, to the male protectiveness toward mothers and sisters and wives and daughters, to a secondary place in culture and business, women have been abused and ignored and treated as second class citizens, even to the point of denying them the right to vote in this country founded on the principles of democracy … or were we? That’s a point worth discussing, but let me remain focused on women and their success, hard earned in a male dominated world.

We talk about minorities and minority rights, which also have been denied through both legislature and practice, but women are not a minority, they actually outnumber men in America. As of the last census there are 158 million women in the US compared to 153 million men. At the age of sixty-five and older, women are 13 percent greater in population. Women have nearly 58% of the jobs and about 42% of those are jobs in management, professional, and related occupations compared with 35% of males as of the end of 2012. However, there are only 38,000 women officers in the US military compared to nearly 202,000 total active duty officers. The median annual earning of women 15 or older who worked full time, year-round in 2011 was $37,118 compared to the equivalent group of men who earned $48,202 making female pay about 77% of men’s. A number that has improved in recent years, but still lacks equality, yet the number of women 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2011 outnumbered males, 31.4 million to 30 million. Women have a larger share of high school diplomas, including equivalents, as well as associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. (However, more men than women have professional and doctoral degrees.)

It is an interesting intellectual exercise to ponder why careers that are dominated by women, including public school teaching, administration and secretarial, and health care have lower salaries than other comparable career paths. These jobs tend to have lower pay than similar jobs with comparable skill requirements. Is it low pay because these jobs are dominated by women, or is it vice-versa?

So how did all this come about? Did it start with the weaker sex remaining in the cave while the manly men went hunting and gathering? Is it a built-in prejudice from patriarchal societies? Is it just brute strength and domination of the male over the weaker female? Well, yes!! That and a dozen or two more reasons stemming from psychology and history and religion.

I am woman, hear me roar.

“I Am Woman” is a song written by Australian Helen Reddy and singer-songwriter Ray Burton. The song first appeared on Reddy's debut album I Don't Know How to Love Him, released in May 1971.

After securing a recording contract with Capitol Records that yielded the hit "I Don't Know How to Love Him," Reddy — then living in Los Angeles — was asked for an album. She gave the label a set of 10 jazz-tinged pop songs. Nestled among the Leon Russell, Graham Nash, and Van Morrison songs were two Reddy originals. "I Am Woman" was one of them. The composition was the result of Reddy’s search for a song that would express her growing passion for female empowerment. In a 2003 interview in Australia’s Sunday Magazine she explained:

I couldn't find any songs that said what I thought being a woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that.

The only songs were “I Feel Pretty” or that dreadful song “Born A Woman. (The 1966 hit by Sandy Posey had observed that if you're born a woman "you're born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on and treated like dirt. I'm glad it happened that way.") These are not exactly empowering lyrics. I certainly never thought of myself as a songwriter, but it came down to having to do it.

Reddy’s own long years on stage had also fueled her contempt for men who belittled women, she said. "Women have always been objectified in showbiz. I'd be the opening act for a comic and as I was leaving the stage he'd say, 'Yeah, take your clothes off and wait for me in the dressing room, I'll be right there.' It was demeaning and humiliating for any woman to have that happen publicly." Reddy credits the song as having supernatural inspiration. She said: "I remember lying in bed one night and the words, 'I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman,' kept going over and over in my head. That part I consider to be divinely inspired. I had been chosen to get a message across." Pressed on who had chosen her, she replied: "The universe." The next day she wrote the lyric and handed it to Australian guitarist Ray Burton to put it to music.

So there you have it: women as second-class citizens. Held back by culture and, quite frankly, men. Women have had to struggle all through history to attain the status and recognition held by men. Often denied a basic education, even today that is an issue in some countries, what great odds women had to overcome to be recognized for their accomplishments, or even to obtain any accomplishments.

Throughout history there have been powerful and influential women, but it is their very rarity that makes them special. Beginning in the twentieth century in America and other advanced nations, things started to improve. I could write about the suffrage movement and hard fought victory of the vote or about the first woman in Congress, Jeanette Rankin, elected by Montana in 1916. After being elected she said, "I may be the first woman member of Congress but I won’t be the last."

But this is the STEAMD blog, and so I want to write about women in technology and science. I’ve always had a special fascination for the history of science, and I would haunt the college bookstores seeking out volumes that described just how we got here and who discovered what. An excellent book I read in my early years about the history of mathematics was E.T. Bell’s The Men of Mathematics written in 1937. Although it was a well-written and very informative book, the title seemed a bit challenging. In fact, when I first read Women in Mathematics: The Addition of Difference, my first thought was it was a direct response to the challenge implicit in Bell’s title. This 1997 work by Claudia Henrion made it clear that women had also contributed, often quite significantly, to the advancement of what, after all, is referred to as the “Queen of the Sciences.” (Oh, and there is no king!)

It seems that the progress is very slow, and I’m sure my sisters, as well as mothers and daughters will agree with that. However, given this strong current of history that has often marginalized women and their efforts, isn’t it extra rewarding to learn of advancements and successes that the female gender has offered society, even if they had to swim upstream to accomplish it.

World War Two created a special opportunity for women. With most of the able-bodied men fighting overseas in a war that required massive amounts of manufacturing and technology, women naturally filled in for the missing men. Rosie the Riveter was part of it, of course, as women took on blue collared jobs on the factory floor building the arms needed for battle overseas. In addition, women took clerical jobs in banks and firms that had previously been held primarily by men.

(My mother was a “machine accountant,” which is an early form of computer operator, at a bank in Seattle, while my dad flew a B-17 out of England.)

There were many technical jobs that women filled including an early form of “computer” which were just people working hard with devices similar to an adding machine to calculate formulas. The term "computer", in use from the early 17th century, meant "one who computes": a person performing mathematical calculations, before electronic computers became commercially available. "The human computer is supposed to be following fixed rules; he [or she] has no authority to deviate from them in any detail," said Alan Turing in 1950. He was a founder of computer science, a mathematician and code breaker during the great conflict. Code breaking was an example of the type of calculations during that time, as well as work on the atomic bomb. Teams of people were frequently used to undertake long and often tedious calculations; the work was divided so that this could be done in parallel.

It is in that context that we now celebrate Ada Byron King also known as Ada Lovelace as the first computer programmer. She worked with Charles Babbage to program his original calculating machines and used a very early type of punch card to encode the programs.

Over one hundred years later, one of the first digital computing machines, called ENIAC for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was developed for the US Army to calculate artillery trajectories. So guess what happened? The programming of the new device fell heavily upon women scientists. Kay McNulty, Frances Spence, Jean Bartik, Frances Elizabeth Holberton, Ruth Teiltelbaum, Marlyn Meltzer, Adele Goldstein, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jennings, and Fran Bilas have all been honored for their work programming these early machines.

If you want to learn more about these ladies and their accomplishments as well as other women in computer science, I suggest this web site:

The list at this site concludes with Ginni Rometty, first woman President and CEO of IBM (2012-present).

I recently read an obituary for Jean Jennings Bartik. She died of heart disease at a nursing home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She was 86. (For those not aware, Poughkeepsie was the manufacturing headquarters for IBM Corporation throughout most of the twentieth century and is the home of the “main frame.”)

She was the last surviving member of the group of women who programmed the first all-electronic digital computer, the ENIAC. It was completed in 1946, too late for use in World War II, but was a milestone in the evolution of modern computing. The ENIAC led to the development of the Univac, the first commercial computer. It was only after the release of the Univac, that IBM developed their own line of electronic computers. Prior to this point, IBM made “Unit Record Machines” which manipulated punch cards to perform calculations, but were not true electronic computers of the type we recognize today.

When the ENIAC was shown off at the University of Pennsylvania in February 1946, it generated headlines in newspapers across the country. But the attention was all on the men and the machine. The women were not even introduced at the event.

"For years, we celebrated the people who built it, not the people who programmed it," said David Alan Grier, a technology historian at George Washington University and a senior vice president of the IEEE Computer Society.

The oversight has been somewhat redressed in recent years, and Ms. Bartik, in particular, received professional recognition as a result. Ms. Bartik and Frances Elizabeth Holberton, who died in 2001, were the lead programmers among the small team of women who worked on the ENIAC.

In 2009, Ms. Bartik received a Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society, and in 2008 she was named a fellow by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

The ENIAC women were wartime recruits with math skills, whose job was initially described as plugging in wires to "set up the machine." But converting the math analysis into a process that made sense to the machine, so that a calculation could flow through the electronic circuitry to completion, proved to be a daunting challenge.

"These women, being the first to enter this new territory, were the first to encounter the whole question of programming," said Paul E. Ceruzzi, a computer historian at the Smithsonian Institution. "And they met the challenge."

Betty Jean Jennings was born on Dec. 27, 1924, in rural Missouri, the sixth of seven children in a farm family whose parents valued education. She attended Northwest Missouri State Teachers College, now Northwest Missouri State University, majoring in math.

Her faculty adviser saw an advertisement in a math journal in 1945 that said the Army was recruiting math graduates for a wartime project in Philadelphia. She applied, was accepted and told to come quickly. She got on the next train, according to her son. "She wanted adventure, and she got it," he said.

In Philadelphia, while working on the ENIAC, she dropped the use of the first name Betty, and down the hall at the University of Pennsylvania, she met William Bartik, an engineer working on another Pentagon project. They were married in 1946. (They divorced in 1968.)

After the war, Ms. Bartik joined the ENIAC designers, John Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, in their effort to develop the Univac, an early commercial computer, which was introduced in 1951. While at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation — acquired by Remington Rand in 1950 — Ms. Bartik worked on hardware and software for both the Binac, a small computer made for Northrop Aircraft, and the general purpose Univac.

Ms. Bartik called working with the Eckert-Mauchly team on the ENIAC and later the Univac a "technical Camelot," a tight-knit group advancing the frontiers of computing. "This was the most exciting time in her life," said Kathy Kleiman, a technology policy lawyer who has been making a documentary film about the women who programmed ENIAC.

Ms. Bartik left the computer industry in 1951 to raise her three children and returned to it in 1967. After holding a series of jobs in programming, training, and technical publishing, she was laid off in 1985. Since was nearing 61 and could not find another job in the industry, for the next 25 years Ms. Bartik was a real estate agent in New Jersey — another common job for women. Age discrimination is another bias that seems to be greater against women.

I guess the legacy of exclusion and prejudice is still with us. May we soon become as enlightened as a society as these social pioneers and technology leaders have been. Why we would ignore the contributions of over half of our society is a sad question that all people should ask themselves. While we are appalled at stories of girl’s schools in Afghanistan being blown up by the mindless barbarians, we should take a good look at our own society to see if the only difference in the way we treat women is just a matter of degree. We should be a lot better than that. I know I try to be.

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