Monday, November 9, 2009

A Female Advantage

I occasionally like to play word games online. One of the sites I prefer put up a team boggle game, which has had some pretty deep "philosophy" discussions in the chat. Inevitably the most valuable player, the one finding the most words during one of the three rounds of play, is a female. A male winning is so rare that everyone comments on it, and wonders if the player is using a bot (an anagram program). And no, it's not that there are only a few males playing, judging by the names and avatars used.

So why are females winning? The two main reasons being given on the site have application outside of the site. The first reason is that more females than males can touch type using a keyboard. For those who don't know, touch typing is typing where you do not have to look at the keyboard as you are typing the letters but look instead at the material to be typed. Touch typists are the fastest typists. Most men use the hunt and peck method. Yes, some of them get really fast at the hunting and the pecking, but they still waste time having to look up at the screen and down at the keyboard. And many mouse instead of typing, the slowest method of all.

Back when I was in high school every girl had to take a typing class for at least one term. Okay, the reasoning for it back then had to do with the fact that a whole lot of women were going to become secretaries after graduation. It was considered preparation for "women's work." However, there were always a few boys in the classes as well. When my daughters were in high school they also were required to take two semesters of keyboarding. That high school still requires the keyboarding but it's taught on computers today instead of typewriters. What is the practical result of girls being taught keyboarding? They can use computers in a faster, more accurate way than the boys can. They are more familiar with and knowledgeable about the features of a word processing program and the other basic programs taught, such as spread sheets.

For college purposes this ability of the girls to keyboard puts them at an advantage. I require that all the work done at home for my classes be typed. For many, many of the boys this is sheer agony. The lucky ones have mothers/sisters/wives who will type up their papers for them. For my in-class exams I send them to the computer labs and have them type the assignment. But first, the lab tech and I have to answer a whole slew of questions about how to do certain basic things in word processing, and it takes them well more than one period to produce a one page letter. In today's world the ability to keyboard is becoming a basic tool of virtually all businesses. And if you don't want to stay for hours after regular quitting time, you need to be able to produce your work in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the more to the right you go, the less likely that computers have been taught to the boys in high school, the less likely they are to have developed any keyboarding skills.

The second reason given for why the females win at this word game? Better vocabularies, and more exposure to the written word. More females than males select as readers. Females are also more likely to read across a broader variety of reading literature, thus being exposed to a broader spectrum of vocabulary. Because of their broader reading they have been exposed to more word/letter combinations and will try certain combinations when playing, because they have seen the odd combinations elsewhere, than the males will.

Again, the more to the right you go, the less reading secular works is encouraged. Even girls' yeshivas offer a highly censored reading list, but at least there is a list. And parents in the home are more likely to "allow" or even encourage the girls to read widely than they are to encourage this with the boys.

So yes, boggle as a window for viewing male/female differences. Keyboarding and vocabulary knowlege are two skills highly sought after in the work world, and women have a huge advantage in these two areas. Yeshivas are doing no one a favor when they shortchange their male students in these two areas. Yes, eventually everyone is going to have to go to work, and the males are missing some key skills.

As I explained to one of my students who was grousing about having to learn to use a word processing program, "When your boss tells you he wants a memo on his desk in one hour you can't tell him that you can't make the deadline because your mother/wife is out shopping and won't get back for another two hours to type up the memo."


David said...

I think that at least in the beginning people thought of computers as being male things. The games that came out at first and even the ones that come out now are action games. They're more like organized sports games then they are games of using knowledge.

Is it that the guys don't have the vocabulary knowledge or is it that the games don't appeal to male interests as much?

Leahle said...

I had a boss once who gave his reason for why women are better typists then men are. He said to look at the keyboard. Key spacing means that those with smaller fingers will do better and be more accurate then those with larger, wider fingers. When someone commented to him that women are just better at small motor coordination type of activities he answered that that is because the items used in these activities are made more for the smaller hands of women then for the larger hands of men.

I didn't buy into his explanation back then. I agree with you that it's more that the boys aren't taught activities like typing in the same way that women are.

Anonymous said...

My dear father was so wise and ahead of his times. He advised me to take typing and shorthand in high school (back in the 70's) - not because he wanted me to be able to work as a secretary, but because he knew I wanted to be a lawyer and he thought those skills would come in handy during college and law school, which they did. A professor in law school told me that when I started at a law firm, I should never let any of the men see me type, and I followed that advice. Then, computers became common and lawyers started having to do a lot of typing, and I was way ahead of the game. Thanks Dad.

Aaron said...

My company gives a keyboarding test to all incoming employees. Those who don't meet at least the minimum standards are given an intensive course in keyboarding and are expected to practice. We produce lots of reports going to government and regulatory agencies and they have to be presented correctly.

And yes we have found that the women rarely have to take the keyboarding course and the men do. Today's technology means that schools have to readjust what they believe as far as teaching skills to males.

JS said...

The standard keyboard is sized appropriately for probably 90+% of users. Not conclusive of the point, but I have never heard anyone say "I can't type quickly because my fingers are too big." Though I have heard that when people are referring to blackberries or other smartphones. It's just experience and getting used to the keyboard layout. Like all skills in life, you have to practice at it. Most people I see that hunt and peck know that they type slowly, but they don't care enough to improve.

Interesting factoid: the keyboard layout was purposefully designed to make typing slow. It was designed for the typewriter. If people typed too quickly, the hammers that hit letter to the page (I'm sure there's a better word for that) would get bunched up and not reset properly and the typewriter would jam. The keyboard layout was considered a huge innovation as previous iterations of the typewriter were wholly unusable due to jamming. The computer keyboard, which obviously lacks this problem, is a holdover from this era.

Rae said...

I'm not as worried about the ability to type as I am about the lack of vocabulary. The typing is going to be a forced issue as fewer and fewer people have legible handwriting and schools aren't stressing penmanship anymore.

Vocabulary already is a problem. You don't expect your friends to use ten dollar words when talking to you casually. People don't use those words in their casual emails either. But when it comes to business too many people are writing like they are first going to learn English tomorrow, and they speak that way too. I don't need them to try and impress me with big words used just for show, but they should be able to speak with an educated and fairly comprehensive vocabulary.

Doesn't impress me at all or instill confidence in a product when a sales person is trying to sell me a piece of technology with a hefty price tag and then he tells me that to turn it on I only have to depress the thingy on the side of the machine.

Lion of Zion said...


"the keyboard layout was purposefully designed to make typing slow"

i've heard this, but i've also heard the opposite, i.e., that the letters are arranged according to common letter combinations.

Anonymous said...

Is this a Jewish game website? Or was the intro a segue into the topic?

JS said...

See here. Great site with lots of interesting questions researched and answered.

JS said...

So, it seems my story was a bit off. It wasn't designed to slow down typists. It was merely designed to prevent jamming at normal typing speed. A slight, but important, difference.

SubWife said...

I only met one person at work (in his 50s) who wasn't able to type. yes, he is a man. Everyone else types reasonably well. But women, in general, are better at this. It must have something to do with the female brain.

mhz said...

I'd put it down to the schooling. I'm a guy – I can type reasonably quickly and accurately, but my touch typing increases my error rate by a an error or so a line. Give me a different keyboard than the one I'm used to, and the error rate goes flying up (until I get the hang of it). I think it's fair to assume this has much to do with picking up typing, as opposed to learning properly.

You can get the 'faster' keyboards, known as Dvoraks, or even soft-reprogram your QWERTY.

observer said...

When your students complain, forget about not telling the boss that they can't get the memo done. You could point out to them that they probably won't get the job if they don't know how to use a basic word processor. Lieing on the resume MIGHT work, depending on how well the prospective employer tests for these things, but you can be sure that the minute it is discovered that they can't use the WP, they are in deep trouble.

By the way, I took typing in HS, but I still can't completely touch type (20+ years later.) My boys all know how to type and use a word processor - learning well before HS.