Why Jurassic Park is great for female (computer) scientists!

Watching Jurassic Park with the kids last weekend I was struck by the strong female characters.  Something that hadn’t occurred to me at the time – overawed as I was by the special effects.

Initially I was irritated by Dennis Nedry the stereotypically geeky, male computer scientist with hygiene and ethical issues played by Wayne Knight.  But reasoning that this was made 20 years ago and it may have reflected the times relatively accurately fair enough.  It’s also a central plot point.

However the character of Lex, John’s grandaughter (Ariana Richards) really shines through.  She is irritated by her brother calling her a nerd early on in the film – preferring to be labeled a hacker (go girl!).  Later on she saves the day when she is able to reboot the computer systems through the park, turning on the door locks at the critical moment before the velociraptor bursts through the door.  Probably my favourite quote in a film.

It’s a UNIX system! I know this!

from http://jurassicpark.wikia.com added by user Eagc7

Dr Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) also has some great lines.  Notably:

Dr Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs”
Dr. Ellie Sattler: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

A nice nod to the everyday sexism in language which 20 years later is still with us. (Yes, yes I KNOW you mean men and women when you say man – but it’s an easy cop out).

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough): [Ellie is going out to the maintenance shed to switch the circuit breakers, the dinosaurs are on the loose] It ought to be me really going.
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Why?
John Hammond: Well, I’m a… And you’re, um, a…
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Look… We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.

I think the best bit about all this is that none of it is really made into a big deal.  The role of the hacker-kid could have been swapped to the brother with no effect on the plot.  Ellie’s feminism equally could have been dispensed with – but write Michael Crichton director Steven Spielberg created two strong characters – good for them.  I’ve not seen 2 and 3, and apparently Jurassic Park IV is due for release in June.  Let’s hope it also has strong female scientists and not just love interests.  Lex should be running the show by now!


Gender, Computing and Culture

This annoyed  me today in Tesco.

 In case you don’t quite see it, Wired is placed in the “Men and Bikes” section of the magazines, in between Viz and Loaded.  Presumably this kind of thing has been annoying female bikers and readers of smutty humour for years but I’m less concerned about them.

Wired magazine in Tesco

Computing is a serious academic discipline.  The wider IT industry employs thousands of people in the UK and contributes billions to the economy. We have a serious lack of young women taking Computing as a subject in school and university.

There are lots of magazines aimed at computing enthusiasts out there.  I read Wired – I subscribe – as it goes beyond the “how to” and product reviews and looks a little wider at issues to do with computing and technology more generally.  I bring old issues into school for students to look at but I’d be horrified to recommend this to ANY student locally.  Can you imagine, suggesting a teenager (of either gender) going into their local supermarket to buy a magazine their teacher had recommended and being faced with THIS?!

Seemingly minor things like this are the reasons why girls aren’t going into Computing in any numbers.  There’s no one big issue.  To borrow a phrase I’ve used before and paraphrase it badly, it’s the aggregation of marginal losses.