Today’s installment comes to from the “Yes, they are actually serious” department of HASTAC, a group that describes themselves as “an alliance of more than 11,500 humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and technologists working together to transform the future of learning for the 21st century.” Feminist scholar Arielle Schlesinger has embarked on a radical new project to transform the world of computing by doing research into the creation of a feminist programming language that will be freed from the constraints of oppressive man-logic and other patriarchal modes of thinking.
“In the scope of my research, a feminist programming language is to be built around a non-normative paradigm that represents alternative ways of abstracting. The intent is to encourage and allow new ways of thinking about problems such that we can code using a feminist ideology.
The idea came about while discussing normative and feminist subject object theory. I realized that object oriented programmed reifies normative subject object theory. This led me to wonder what a feminist programming language would look like, one that might allow you to create entanglements (Karen Barad Posthumanist Performativity).
I realized that to program in a feminist way, one would ideally want to use a feminist programming language. So what is a feminist programming language? Well I took a look at the major programming paradigms, the following are the four main groups a programming language can fall into: imperative, functional, object-oriented, and logic. I decided to explore feminist logic such that a feminist programming language could be derived.
I am currently exploring feminist critiques of logic in hopes of outlining a working framework for the creation of a feminist programming language.”
What is feminist logic you may ask? How does it differ from formal logic?
I don’t have a good answer for this question. There is great scholarship talking about weather a feminist logic can build off of formal logic or if it has to reject the laws of identity and create something entirely new. There are solid arguments for both camps, personally I’m swayed by the constructive theories that would build onto formal logic through a feminist lens. There exist logics that handle contradiction as part of the system, namely paraconsistent logic. I think this type of logic represents the feminist idea that something can be and not be without being a contradiction, that is a system where the following statement is not explosive: (p && !p) 1.
How does one respond to this?
For those that are not familiar with programming language notation the above expression (p && !p) 1 is the same as saying that both P and not P are true at the same time. So this statement breaks the law of identity, the first law of formal logic. Schlesinger does not tell us how she expects a computer to process this in a meaningful way. While the human mind is capable of holding such a contradictory concept without shutting down, a computer can only return an error. This expression will always evaluate to false no matter what. Does Schlesinger also have plans to design feminist logic gates that would be able implement these sorts of non-normative feminist programming functions? We can safely assume she has not thought that far ahead.
But even if such a thing were possible, why would anyone want to? Why would it be useful? What sorts of applications would there be for feminist programming? What kinds of real world problems can be solved with paraconsistent logic? How would you ever know that you had in fact solved anything if any variable can be both true and false at the same time? These are pretty basic questions that any reasonably intelligent non-programmer could come up with, yet it seems that none of Schlesinger’s colleagues or advisers ever thought of them in all the years she has been doing this “research.”
It is interesting to note that one of the goals of Schlesinger’s feminist programming is to create entanglements, not to unravel them. She has identified four current classes of programming language: imperative, functional, object-oriented, and logic. So we would have to assume that her new feminist language will not fall into any of these categories. Unlike those outdated, patriarchal programming languages:
“A feminist programming language is a language that respects the agency of objects, acting upon them only upon mutual consent.”
One wonders if Schlesinger asks her clothes for consent to wear them.
Of course all of these problems stem from the fundamental category error of introducing ideology into a field that is purely functional. Despite all the critical gender theory and deconstruction of patriarchal norms, computer programming is designed to achieve concrete goals, not to enforce abstract, oppressive gender paradigms. The fact that Schlesinger and her ilk feel oppressed by the traditional subject/object normativity of computer science says more about them and their ideology than it does computers, programmers or society at large.
Schlesinger doesn’t know anything about computers. She knows how to string together long chains of jargon in order to sound smart and important. This lack of knowledge is her own fault, she certainly has had the time and resources to learn actual computer science if she had chosen to. It is always amusing when women that do this sort of “research” ask why there are not more women in the tech sector and then proceed to blame capitalism, patriarchy, bro culture or whatever else for the disparity. Well, no one stopped you here sweety. You could have learned real programming instead of exploring feminist critiques of logic. Or maybe you couldn’t.
I am curious if feminists such as Schlesinger will ever realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot with these kinds of narratives. After all, if the idea behind “feminist programming” is that there is actually a different structure of mind for women and therefore women can’t do oppressive man-logic, then it is nothing more than a repeat of familiar old misogynist tropes that portray women as trivial, scatterbrained and not able to do the serious thinking of men. It seems that Schlesinger has internalized this oppression and is unconsciously collaborating in it.