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Yet, the field of computing history has been slow to integrate sexuality into its historiography or theorize how sexuality plays an important role in computing’s past.The history of computer dating is a good point of entry because it is a topic whose very nature requires a discussion of sexuality.Written and designed by men, these computer dating programs promised to take the messiness of human interaction out of the process of meeting women.At first glance, the approach seemed novel and potentially progressive, part and parcel of the context of growing sexual permissiveness in American cities during the 1960s and the “swinging sixties” in London.The idea that these masculine-identified machines might sexually harass women workers as proxies for real men often figured into jokes and cartoons of the era (see cartoon below).A reminiscence from a worker at LEO, an early British computing company—and the company which created the first dedicated electronic business computer—described how LEO bucked the norm of hiring female operators and hired men instead.By the 1960s, popular discourse on technological change highlighted concerns that computers would eventually take over most intellectual tasks, and perhaps even more than that. The flip side of these fears about what computers might do was the fact that early computers still required an enormous amount of labor in order to successfully and completely run programs.Early mainframes were prone to breakdowns and human labor was a key part of the fiction of effortless automation represented in the popular press.
In the early days of computer dating, however, machine-mediated romantic interactions were often considered untoward or slightly shocking, for reasons similar to the ones that kept women from working alongside men at night.The idea that women and men might meet casually, for sex, instead of within a social context that positioned marriage as the objective, hindered computer dating.In order to limit the “sleaze factor” associated with match-ups made by machines, early computer dating services focused on transferring the social mores that structured non-computerized dating and mating onto these new machine-aided systems.The tape reels were so high, he related, that if a woman operator reached up to change them it might “might snap her bra straps!
” But the reason LEO’s computer operator jobs were earmarked for men had everything to do with the particular career opportunities they afforded, rather than having anything to do with women’s needs.Source: ICL News, 1970 Paradoxically, the same sexual strictures that hurt women’s employment chances also meant that women were ideal fodder for a new type of computing project.