In the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of 1970s hackers, a popular tale was the one about the wife or girlfriend who just didn’t get it. So-called “computer widows” didn’t or couldn’t understand what was so interesting about the bulky machines and the code they ran — or so the stories went — and sometimes lashed out in “hysterical” ways. One particular oft-retold anecdote went like this:
One day she had finally had it. I came home to find that she had put all my disks… in the oven. I was not going to program anymore, she said, unless I spent some time with her. Luckily, [she] had been so mad that she’d forgotten to turn the oven on!
Like all stories, these were shared because they reinforced myths the listeners wanted to believe. The corollaries implied by the words — that women were too emotionally unstable for the world of computers, or too scatterbrained to carry out even simple plans — were rarely examined. Behind this particular story (which did happen, more or less) lies a pretty obvious truth: the woman in it had intended, of course, for the oven to be off. It wasn’t a botched execution. It was a threat.