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Catagories in Computer Science

Oak's picture

After we talked about gender categories in class, I found myself thinking about this interesting speculation on the nature of computer programs used to store information about marriages.
Purposely starting with a rather simplistic view of marriage, the writer of the post begins with a scheme that assumes there is one man and one woman per a marriage, and they are either married or not. It then goes through several less interesting permutations--data is added that allows for beginning and end dates to marriages, and the possibility of re-marrying. Then, it makes the more interesting jump of replacing the "male" and "female" categories with the "human" category, and allowing any two humans to marry each other. For a few more versions of the database each "human" has a "sex," first binary, then with many options, but then the person writing this hypothetical code points out that that's not really relevant to this database, and completely throws it out. (Then it makes the jump into polygamy, but that's for a different discussion.)
The point is that technology does not have to have gender programmed into it. We impose gender on the technology. We make these systems and then people say that change is hard.
Of course, I'm generally for the most practical thing, and while lack-of-gender is the most practical thing for this database, lack of categories is not the best thing for real life. While we don't want technology or bureaucracy deciding categories for us, we need to be able to band together, to say "We are all people who have experienced this thing. This thing sucks in ways imposed upon us. Hey, you over there, stop imposing on us." Maybe too light a wording, but you get the idea.



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