Thus Spake Zuska

So, they’ve been handing out this award for 40 years. For 39 of them, they couldn’t see fit to find any woman qualified to receive it. But FINALLY! Yay! Three cheers for Frances E. Allen, 2006 winner of the Turing Award and its $100,000 prize!

She only had to wait until she was 75, and retired for 4 years, to be honored for her work. I guess they just didn’t notice her anytime during the last four decades. Lucky for her she lived long enough for the judges to find her.

Plus, she must be the ONLY woman up until now who has done anything deserving of the Turing Award. Unless, sometime in the future, they discover some other retired old woman who did something genius back in the fifties or sixties. It’s just so hard to tell about these things until you’ve had time to study them thoroughly and be sure that the quality of work is there. Breasts, ovaries – they’re so distracting. Get in the way of evaluating things properly.

Poor Frances. Even though she’s clearly deserving of the award, and even though it’s clearly time that the judges stopped being so sexist and opened up their eyes to the fact that women, too, are qualified to receive this prize, she still feels compelled to assure the press that she did NOT receive this award as a sop toward the affirmative action crowd.

Allen called it “high time for a woman [to win],” though she quickly added: “That’s not why I got it.”

Goddammit. Even in our moments of triumph we can’t rest. We’re always under suspicion of not being good enough. Either we aren’t good enough to be nominated for and given the prize in the first place because we’re women, or, if we get the prize, we “only” got it because we’re women. Never, never are we allowed to just “be”.


  1. #1 Kristjan Wager
    February 23, 2007

    I agree that it’s about time that a woman was awarded, but in ACM’s defense I’ll say that many of the recipients in the past did major contributions to the field before Frances E. Allen entered it. This doesn’t excuse the forty years delay in finding a woman though.

    Mark over at Good Math, Bad Math has a good post on Allen.

  2. #2 Jane
    February 23, 2007

    I am really hoping that this will be an impetus for the Turing Award committee to consider more women for the award. Of course, I still believe in fairies and the Easter Bunny, too. 😉

    Many, many congrats to Fran!

  3. #3 Martin R
    February 24, 2007

    I wonder how many of those 39 guys were gay, like the award’s namesake.

  4. #4 joltvolta
    February 25, 2007

    What was the group who issued the Turing awards explanation for waiting so long? Better late than never?

    It would be nice to see the various award organizations go back, review situations where it was clear that a individual was passed up because of gender or race, and issue an award and apology letter. No big bag of money (unless they can afford to!), just recognition of their contribution to the world.

  5. #5 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 26, 2007

    They should also have given one to
    Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper [who] was a remarkable woman who grandly rose to the challenges of programming the first computers. During her lifetime as a leader in the field of software development concepts, she contributed to the transition from primitive programming techniques to the use of sophisticated compilers. She believed that “we’ve always done it that way” was not necessarily a good reason to continue to do so.

    The Computer Science industry and academic community also widely acknowledges Ada Augusta Byron, Lady Lovelace as the world’s first computer programmer.

    There is also a recent book about women dominating the job title of “computer” before machines replaced people for lengthy calculations.

    See also:

    Women in Computer Science

    I had the great honor of meeting and conversing with Grace Hopper and Olga Taussky-Todd, the latter of whom told the story of how she first met Emmy Amalie Noether — the two greatest women in Mathematics in the 20th century.

    I’d like to comment that my wife fought long and hard to become a full-time professor of Physics, as that field is still, in the USA, dominated by men.

    Keep up the great work. This is a very fine blog.

  6. #6 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 26, 2007

    See also:

    Gender differences in grant peer review: A meta-analysis
    Authors: Lutz Bornmann, Ruediger Mutz, Hans-Dieter Daniel
    Comments: 29 pages, accepted for publication by the Journal of Informetrics

    Narrative reviews of peer review research have concluded that there is negligible evidence of gender bias in the awarding of grants based on peer review. Here, we report the findings of a meta-analysis of 21 studies providing, to the contrary, evidence of robust gender differences in grant award procedures. Even though the estimates of the gender effect vary substantially from study to study, the model estimation shows that all in all, among grant applicants men have statistically significant greater odds of receiving grants than women by about 7%.

  7. #7 prosaica
    February 26, 2007

    The top award in mathematics is the Fields Medal.
    From Wikipedia: “(…) the medal was first awarded in 1936 and has been regularly awarded since 1950.” No woman winner yet.
    I’m almost envious of the computer scientists.

  8. #8 Monado, FCD
    April 13, 2008

    I’ve always liked Isaac Asimov’s suggestion that we give the (1916? 1918? – not awarded on account of war) Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Dmitri Medeleev, who didn’t get one because all the best scientists wer German or something.

    And then there’s Rosalind Franklin & DNA…

    I don’t know much about Great Women of Math but Grace Hopper deserved a large award.

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