Spring 2019 · Speculative design
Exhibited at NYU ITP 2019 Spring Show, and Primer Conference 2019
ENIAC Girlz: Program & Pretend is a speculative toy set to inspire young girls to learn to code.
Through make-believe, girls can role-play as the historic ENIAC Girls of the 1940s - along with the history of inequity that surrounded these women.
This play set can inspire young girls to imagine themselves as future programmers - but like the women of the ENIAC, how might these girls grow up to face inequity in the field of computing?
And what does it mean for a toy to permit girls to enter computing, but only by going through the motions of (women's) work that was once deemed clerical and non-intellectual?
My work in ENIAC Girlz was inspired by several topics within the realm of women in technology.
The story of the ENIAC computer — the first electronic computer, and a machine designed for calculations of war — was a rather paradoxical story of women’s (dis)empowerment. The ENIAC Girls were the women assigned to work with ENIAC in the 1940s. They became the first computer programmers and tackled novel, never-before-seen problems.
However, their contributions were written out of history, and their story is situated in a larger trend of computing fields systematically pushing out women, and of professional fields systematically undervaluing women's work.
Before electronic computers, large-scale mathematical calculations were done on paper by women "computers". The women who were eventually tasked to program the ENIAC were recruited because programming - as the successor to human computing - was also seen as rote, clerical, and less intellectual than where the "real work" was (in electronics and hardware).
Today, many companies work towards and fund efforts to get girls (back) into computing through toys, education, and scholarships - hoping to address issues of workplace diversity down the line.
As someone who has worked for Girls Who Code, a non-profit geared towards empowering girls with coding education, I'm invested in this sphere and am interested in a critical dialog about the underlying ethics and philosophy behind recent efforts to get girls into computing.
For example, in 2018 Raytheon announced it will be funding a national computer science program for Girl Scouts. What does it mean for an institution at the heart of the military-industrial complex to act as a champion for empowering girls' futures in STEM - perhaps inspiring them to become engineers for the weapons of the future? Is there a relation between this and the fact that the ENIAC Girlz were primarily tasked to program ballistic missile trajectories?
Additionally, many companies blame the pipeline for lack of women in engineering positions - but it's clear that so much of the problem is due to toxic internal work cultures. See: Girls Who Code's survey on discriminatory hiring practices
When we look at efforts from companies to bring girls in to computing, which of these institutions still repeat a history of writing out women’s contributions, undervaluing women’s work, and silencing women who speak out against injustice?
...(to be written)...