ENIAC Girlz: Program & Pretend is a speculative girl's play set to spark dialog about the historical inequities for women in computing, from the era of the first electronic computer through this day.
The origins of programming is a paradoxical story for women's empowerment. In the 1950s, the first ever programmers were the women who programmed the ENIAC, the first electronic computer. However, their roles (which primarily were to help calculate missile trajectories for the US military) were only given to them because programming seemed like routine, clerical, and feminine work. And despite being the first ones to problem solve around the newfound complexities of electronic computing, the contributions of these women have been largely written out of history.
“ENIAC Girlz: Program & Pretend” is a fictional toy for young girls that asks us to reflect on today’s efforts to bring women back into computing, that is, a field that systematically pushed them out from the 60s onward. By referencing early computing of the ENIAC era and borrowing the aesthetics of early-childhood domestic make-believe, this play set can inspire young girls to imagine themselves as future programmers – but with what fine print?
Many companies today help fund efforts to get young girls interested in computing, but which of these companies will ensure that girls will end up performing historical roles of inequity as they enter the professional workplace? Which institutions will write out their contributions, keep them in roles that are undervalued, feminized, and underpaid, and discourage them from questioning authority and speaking out against injustice?
Prototyping the Margins