Being a woman sometimes sucks

Every so often I come across particular behaviours towards women that really make me feel uncomfortable, upset, frustrated or just plain angry. I just had a comment posted on an old blog post of mine about women in IT:

Wow-this iss uch a popular site.

Why is it however, that when you women do something that men have been doing for ages (without any fanfare or blowing our own trumpets), it’s such a massive acheivement????

Tht’a the problem these days-women are so up themselves, men don’t wamt to know them.Thats the REAL reason why women can’t find men..but of course, that’s not the womens fault…is it??

What a load of bitches.

The post was apparently from a “Hugh G. Rection”, which of course demonstrates the maturity and spinelessness of this particular individual. I was going to just ignore the comment, but it just irked me so I thought I’d write a blog post why.

The behaviour never ceases to surprise me, and in one way I hope I never cease to be surprised, because I would hate to think I’d ever just accept it.

I was talking to a male friend recently and he said he had accidentally offended a female geek by making a crass joke about “jugs”, and I spoke to him about how it isn’t about the crassness. I know many women (and I’m one of them) who can be very rude or crass at times. It is because things like my friend’s joke about jugs, or the comment on my blog above, or being avoided at geek conferences because I’m female, or the occasional death threats against women or women groups, or, or, or…. all these behaviours are constant reminders that I am a woman, when my gender really shouldn’t make any difference. This constant reminder of my gender is thrust upon me and most women I know in IT, and this differentiation unfortunately builds the foundations of some really negative (albeit much less common) behaviours towards women in IT. I am just another geek, the same as a male geek is just another geek. People will always have a reason to disagree about code, opinions, or whatever, but I am really sick of my gender being a reason to be targeted, something that has to be pointed out as being different or somehow weird.

I try to remain positive constantly, and am always saying that we can only improve the environment by coming together as a community to deal with negative behaviours (including sexism, racism, and any other antisocial and destructive perspectives). I usually try to live the change I want to see and I understand that a lot of sexism isn’t done with malicious intent and I myself try to refrain from sexist (or other negative) humour or perspectives. This isn’t a men vs women issue, in fact most men I know are wonderful people, and some are more upfront about smacking down sexism than a lot of women, for whom doing so would often enough incur unwanted attention. Ultimately there is a latent sexism in many parts of the world that I’ll have to deal with regardless, but I would like to ask the Free and Open Source community in particular to please be considerate of the people around you, and try to ensure that whatever project you are in, you are doing your best to make it an open and friendly environment for anyone to get involved. It is after all meant to be a meritocracy, meant to be about freedom and personal empowerment. Let’s try to minimise the impact of old world biases on our awesome community.

In response to the comment above, right now in many countries (including Australia) there is a mistaken perspective that there are no women in IT, that we’ve not really played much of a role, and as such IT is somehow a masculine thing to do. None of these perspectives are true, however the myths are turning many young people (and particularly young women) away from the industry. FOSS in particular is supposed to be a community where anyone can succeed according to their skill and effort. By allowing incorrect perspectives about the industry to flourish, we are not ever going to have a good cross-section of society participating in FOSS, and FOSS – like politics – needs to be openly participatory and representative. Also, we can see in various FOSS projects that gender, politics, religion and other potential barriers to personal interaction can be bridged through common base values and goals.

I believe until any person can participate in any FOSS project without their gender/race/religion being a thing of mockery, hatred, curiousity or any other differentiation, then we are not being true to the philosophies of software freedom or technocratic achievement. Being treated like a human being, and with some basic level of empathy and equality should be a reasonable base expectation for everyone 🙂

44 thoughts on “Being a woman sometimes sucks”

  1. Thank you for this post Pia. Over the years I’ve witnessed some horrible behaviour from men towards women in FOSS. In fact, it makes me ashamed to be a guy. I can’t believe these guys. They wouldn’t behave that way towards their mum, would they?

    Though not all blokes are that idiotic.

  2. Spineless ignorance needs to be opposed. It is not restricted to the Internet either.

    I was intrigued by your comment about being avoided at geek conferences. My experience is that you go out of your way to engage with others at conferences, for which I am grateful for as it does build community and acceptance. Keep up the good work and don’t let the ignorant get you down. The smarter ones may even educate themselves.

  3. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    @Anthony – I’m pretty engaging but have still experienced it, and I know many women less extroverted than I who feel it more keenly 🙂

    @Joshua – Yeah, but being trolled for being a girl? 😉 Why not be trolled for having two elbows, or some other aspect about me which makes no sense. I’m happy to be trolled for my opinions, my actions, my beliefs, but this kind of troll just makes my skin crawl.

    @Nic – In my experience most guys (and most women) are great people. It is the minority who do the really stupid things and I agree with you 🙂

  4. Joshua, I wish the guys making these comments were only trolls. I fear they aren’t. I’ve witnessed way too many viscious attacks against women in FOSS to think it is relegated to vanilla trolling.

  5. I am not in IT but I have another point to raise.
    My background is in management. In that role it was regularly insinuated that I gained my positions with my “feminine whiles” as opposed to being the most experienced and qualified for the position.
    I am a woman and I think I have every right to celebrate that in the way i present myself!

    The thing that bothered me the most in that situation was, it was not just the guys who were doing the mud slinging, the nasty girls got in on it to, and fella’s I don’t mean nasty in the good way-my attempt at crass humor in a feeble attempt to relate…….

    In my opinion there are some sexist women out there too who have rejected the “sisterhood” along the way.

    Its simple, show each other unconditional respect!
    We don’t have to understand one another perspective but we do have a responsibility to respect that they have a “right” to that opinion.

  6. “Why is it however, that when you women do something that men have been doing for ages (without any fanfare or blowing our own trumpets), it’s such a massive acheivement????”

    Maybe because we keep getting told that we /can’t/ do many of the things men do, and that’s just a fact of nature? Maybe because even if it’s acknowledged that we /are/ capable of doing those things, that we’re often continually discouraged by society in general from doing so? Maybe because it then may indeed be an accomplishment to achieve those things despite having to swim against the tide of such negative attitudes?

    “Tht’a the problem these days-women are so up themselves, men don’t wamt to know them.Thats the REAL reason why women can’t find men..but of course, that’s not the womens fault…is it??”

    Yes, if only women would stop being angry feminists, they would have more successful relationships with men . . . . oh wait:

  7. We can still pick on the Ruby programmers, though, right? 🙂

    Go you. This stuff needs to be said again and again, until it’s no longer necessary. I’m not sure which annoys me more, though, the ones who disparage women at conferences, or the ones who come over all creepy. Neither are helping.

    Also – you have two elbows? Freak.

  8. Go Pia! One of the great features of the FOSS community, and one of the reasons that it has such strong participation and productivity is that it upholds values – like equality. mutual respect and decisions based on meritocracy.

    There will always be trolls, but let’s call them for what they are – gutless bigots – and through upholding common values let them know they’re not welcome.

  9. I feel your pain. I often have to deal with stuff that guys will never have to deal with and which takes away my energy from doing more worthwhile things.

    For example, for at least a year now I have an email stalker and every time I receive one of his emails, I try to ignore it, but it invariably spoils my day. I was thinking about simply marking his emails as spam, so eventually they won’t reach me any more. But I decided not to, in case it gets worse and I need the email history in some sort of court case or other.

    There are mor subtle actions than these, though, but they all have the same effect: do I waste time on dealing with it (and therefore with my ego) or do I just move on. Most of the time I tell my self “he’s an idiot” and am able to just move on. The problem with the moving-on bit is that it’s a missed opportunity to educate somebody about their bad behaviour – and educate others around him that such behaviour is not acceptable.

    So, whatever you do, it will be a lose-lose situation for you. But such is life for may minorities and we will not let ourselves get down by it!

  10. So much for any loser who thought of Jeff as gender-prejudiced! (-:

    My own attitude is that men & women are different. Not quite different species, exactly, but definitely different.

    This makes treating each gender as the exact equal of the other to be a non-winning game. Each typically has benefits, compared with the other, & each has deficits.

    Men & women have different ways of thinking about things, so take advantage of that in solving problems: use some of each, rather than all of one or all of the other.

    This next statement may sound trivial, but it is quite a key: my official girlfriend has stated agreement with my ideas here.

    I value her not just for being a magnificent femme in various ways, but for many other attributed such as her vastly different insights & attitudes.

  11. @Leon, I’m not saying to treat women and men exactly the same, I’m suggesting that I (and many other women) don’t want to have our gender be the most discussed part of us being geeks 🙂 We want to be a part of the broader geek community and don’t really want to have being a woman as a barrier to that. I’m also suggesting that the constant bringing up of my gender is a frustrating and time wasting activity, and most guys don’t really understand that. Once it is pointed out it is quite obvious 🙂 You wouldn’t like if every day you were dealing with people pointing out (in one way or another) that you are a male, and that is somehow different. It would just get annoying after a while.

    Thanks everyone for the comments! More links and ideas welcome!

  12. Silvia: I wonder if procmail may help you with the stalker. Dump their mail into a file which you never read, nor monitor. If you do ever need it for legal reasons, it’s there, but otherwise it’ll completely disappear from your view and hopefully your memory.

    Pia: The funny thing is that your commentor was a troll of the magnitude that would ordinarily warrant not even thinking about it, and yet we still get a great analysis of the problem from you. BTW, I couldn’t get a word in when I saw you at LCA – you always were chatting to someone/manyones! It’s hard to imagine people avoiding talking to you at a conference.

  13. TimC: it’s on gmail – gmail doesn’t make email disappear even if automatically tagged. He frequently changes email addresses, too, btw, so setting up a rule may be difficult. But thanks for the idea!

  14. I remember a science fiction story where everyone had access to a historical database, people were expected to plugin every now and then to update their understanding of the world – ignorance was not tolerated as the true state of the world was freely available.

    We don’t have anything like a one true history book today, we just have a lot of differing opinions. We do have some knowledge that is considered to be true, backed up by the rigorous scientific method. Unfortunately even here it’s apparent that true knowledge does not affect people’s behaviour, e.g. eating healthy and exercising more is good for you and the community, yet on average we’re eating worse and exercising less.

    It’s illogical to hate minorities for being a minority, but logic does not modify behaviour. Where does this hatred, this misogyny come from? Is it, as you allude to, simply Freudion? Bad relationships, no relationships? I’ve had my personality greatly modified due to the negative way I’ve dealt with previous relationships, but this hasn’t transformed me into a salivating nut. I get the feeling fixing this is going to require generational change, a long haul commitment like the drink driving attitudinal change.

    I’m constantly amazed at the way people let their baser animal like traits define their behaviour, from driving to drinking, from sports to queuing in shopping centres. People have in-built ways of doing stuff, even if they know there’s a smarter, better way. Change will be slow, but keeping the problem in the public consciousness is crucial.

  15. > You wouldn’t like if every day you were dealing with people
    > pointing out (in one way or another) that you are a male,
    > and that is somehow different.

    Been there, done that, it sucks as well. Mightily.

    Incidentally: domestic violence factoid; women will typically cause DV more than 3x as often as men, will typically do at least 4x as much injury per incident regardless of who caused what. Applies at least to Commonwealth & USA.

    This is apparently a _social_ difference (i.e., training not nature), has nothing to do with physical gender. I have been (am being) badly hurt by misuse of it. To the amazement of everybody (either gender) who is not wrapped up in & confused by the deceit.

    I can but imagine (not being a woman) what it must be like to suffer the reverse.

    Forex, women are often billed as “weaker.” Physically smaller, on average, but in terms of stamina & such performance measurements, most untrue. There are reasons for women able to bear children, men not.

    Women are often billed as “dumb” but this means that the biller fails to understand how women operate. Want to find something? Ask a woman.

    Examples are endless, preaching to the choir here, I know. We get it in the neck as well, a process I am not fond of. So in a way, we (as a class) can understand — whether an individual does or not is up to them.

  16. > Dump their mail into a file which you never read, nor monitor.

    @TimC, @Silvia: Many webmail servers drop the IP address of the user’s browser into the headers. If so here, this will give you hints about his ISP.

  17. @Cecilia, thanks for your comments. I think it is an important part of the discussion.

    @Anthony, I may have two elbows, but SO DO YOU! 😉

    @Clinton, Yeah, I think there is a lot of change coming with younger generations, a lot more general knowledge about the world and I feel like there is more tolerance. After all many of them are plugged into the internet from a young age right? 🙂 Only time will tell.

    @Leon, I am not saying that women are never at fault. I am aware of the issues around DV. Your points are important but slightly offtopic 🙂

    @A.Y. Siu & @TimC, I’ve ignored many, many trolls like this. I was just in a mood to comment why it upsets me. Someone trolling me for my opinion is easy enough to ignore, but trolling me for my gender does get under my skin, no matter how much I usually try to brush it off 🙂

    @Kathy Reid, point taken, the problem is that dealing with trolls is one thing, but the latent “you’re a woman and that is different” is a problem that is more subtle. Less easy to deal with. It is easy enough to flame a nasty person, but what about the well meaning person who makes a sexist joke around you because he/she honestly thinks it is funny or ok? Or what about the meek male geek who avoids you because you’re a girl? What about the well meaning male friend who says “I try to encourage women about FOSS but they just aren’t interested, I guess women really aren’t interested in IT, present company excluded”. I honestly think a lot of the issues will be resolved as we get more women into IT and into FOSS. Any environment which has a majority of one demographic or another can easily fall into bad habits which make it uncomfortable for another demographic, without those bad habits being intentional (eg – all female teacher group in a school tittering about a new male teacher, casual porn in an all male mechanic’s workshop) so one of the best things we can do is encourage young girls and women to enter the industry 🙂 After all, it is such an awesome career and community to get involved in!

    Also, last word, a funny story for you all. A friend of mine who has been at IBM for about 28 years told me when she first started she was an operator, working with big old UNIX systems changing tapes and so forth. The first location she worked was all male when she arrived and they had porn plastered over many of the walls. She asked them to take it down and they refused. She came in the next day and put copious amounts of male porn up much to the absolute disgust of her male colleagues. They immediately went to upper management to complain. Upper management to their credit said if she had to take it down, they had to take theirs down too.

  18. I hate to say this, and I hope I am in some way mistaken about this, but some of the responses to Silvia are actually pinging my geeks-treating-women-differently radar. Silivia, as I think the respondents know, is a fairly hardcore geek and a longtime hacker and… the advice she is getting is along the lines of “use procmail” and “look up his IP address”?

    This kind of thing is always difficult to talk about, as it can’t possibly have been deliberately meant. But please, Pia’s request to treat women geeks as geeks first and foremost does mean differentiating between women geeks, we aren’t homogenous. There are female and male proto-geeks who don’t know a lot about email, of course, and who would welcome succinct technical advice with email problems. But there are also female and male hardcore geeks, and it’s probably a fair working assumption that they’ve thought about what procmail and email headers have to offer them.

    The assumption that any woman in a geek area has just shown up and is a beginner is very pervasive also, as well as the more aggressive hostility Pia documents (I have got the “aw, that’s great, so, you’re hear to learn about Linux? that’s so cool, great to see women giving it a go” talk at whose programme committee I have chaired) and while it is not cruelly meant?—?in fact it’s often motivated by a desire to encourage women?—?it is discouraging in its own way, and I am pretty sure that it’s on top of the cross-gender geekly tendency to show of your knowledge at inappropriate moments.

    Silvia: really sorry to hear about you being harrassed. If I can help in some way, let me know.

  19. @Pipka: sorry if I drifted, will stay more clearly focussed on technical stuff now.

    @Mary: the comment about the IP address was not intended to have a gender bias. The hardest-core geeks of whatever gender may simply not have thought of that possibility.

    I’m not hardest-core, but it did surprise me to stumble across that; I ran across a forwarded message from Hotmail which had an IP in its headers revealing that the sender was using dialup. A few months beforehand they had stridently explained that they had no interest at all in Internet from home, but the suburb referred to in the name of the IP is a local call away from their small town at the edge of suburbia (they are actually in range of ADSL1, but evidently not using it). Not earth-shattering knowledge, yet de novo information.

  20. If Hugh G had more neurons at the other end of his spine, he might recall who the computer language ‘ADA’ is named after. There’s a first for you!

    However, while I recall a fair number of them in the year I did my degree, I have encountered very few women in the 20 + years I have spent in the IT industry since.

  21. Having never been a woman myself I can’t really comment from a female perspective. Ok, I could, but I would just be making stuff up, which wouldn’t be that unusual, but I digress.

    The comment “the REAL reason why women can’t find men” has me somewhat baffled? Can women really not find men? Perhaps what he meant to say was that women can’t find men who are not complete wankers. Having said “wankers” now reminds me of just how much I hate it when men feel the need to make apologies for using offensive language in front of women, WOMAN ARE REAL PEOPLE! TREAT THEM LIKE REAL PEOPLE! (sorry, but that one just pisses me off, and I am reasonably sure that women don’t actually self destruct when they hear a man swear).

    Anyway, there really was a question in there, do women actually have trouble finding men? Do smart or successful women have more trouble finding men? I’m generalizing here, and not talking from personal experience, but isn’t it men who have trouble finding women? Isn’t that why there are so many men obsessing over their lack of Hugh G. Rection?

  22. @Mary: I think you’re reading something into the comments that wasn’t there. Sure, I would have tailored my comment had I known who I was speaking to (I’m not going to suggest procmail to one of the authors of procmail), but I don’t have the benefit of knowing Silvia, and so had no clue as to whether she was master hacker or newb. However, the comment would have been the same had it been man or woman. It’s just how I would have solved her problem myself (and indeed, how I have set it up for my own purposes — fetchmail to query google’s imap servers, with procmail doing the filtering — which solves a bunch of problems in one go, the most important of which I don’t have to rely on an uncontracted 3rd party to store my data, and I can manipulate it with my own tools to my heart’s content).

    BTW, does anyone know why livejournal and/or openid on several blogs including this one is broken? (It just says “you are not logged on” on this blog. Can’t remember what I got when trying to comment on stibbon’s blog a few weeks ago)

  23. @flame, Heh, thanks for the comments 🙂 I don’t know where the “can’t find men” bit of the comment come from, but I have to say many geek women I know have chosen relatively geeky partners, but many geek men seem to choose non-geeky partners. I think this is partly because geek women already feel slightly on the outside of society and having a partner that understands what its like to be a geek is a step towards not feeling like an alien 🙂

    I remember going to work at an ISP, and the initiation of the techs was done simultaneously with the customer support people. I was the only female tech getting training, which didn’t really bother me at all, I got along well with the other tech trainees and the day was going well. I’ve always had a lot of male friends. At lunchtime a group of about 6 women cornered me when I went to grab a drink to giggle and ask what it was like to be the only girl tech. It felt very weird and uncomfortable all of a sudden, and in typical Pia style I dealt with it by joking around, but it still made me feel out of place. It saddens me to say it took me till my early 20’s before I felt comfortable with my own femininity (getting dressed up for ones wedding day certainly helps 😉 ).

    I’ve always felt comfortable being a geek though, and so have always on some level been able to relate to other geeks, even the ones who don’t feel comfortable with me because I’m a woman 😉 That is probably why it is so continually frustrating for me when gender keeps being an issue in the geek community, because it’s my community, and I don’t want to feel like an alien in my own community.

  24. @TImC, @Leon Discussions like this area always tricky, because individuals can reply with “oh, I behave like this to everyone” and they of course can be right. (Although, believing that you behave identically to everyone and actually behaving identically to everyone are two different things, but I cannot tell for you personally either.) But over time my husband and I have compared notes and I receive a lot more of both “have you tried [very well known UNIX tool]?” and “it’s so awesome to see you trying so hard” unsolicited advice than he does. That’s anecdote, but it has led to my tending to feel that advice is sometimes more about the giver than about me.

    I don’t know how most geeky women feel about this actually, but I tend to feel that unless I am posting in an technical advice forum (eg a LUG technical list) or I’ve explicitly asked for technical advice, that I’d prefer people be a little less forthcoming with it. Because otherwise I get a lot of people assuming that I’m a newcomer without proof and eventually I start asking why.

    @TimC I am also getting bugs with trying to use my OpenID (which is referred to LJ) on Pia’s site. I’ve sent details to her.

  25. Pia, I would honestly moderate away comments like this and go on with your life unconcerned. Comments like these are not legitimate criticism of females in technology.

    There’s an unfortunately high ratio of bipolar sufferers in geek-male circles.
    And yes they are suffering.

    Comments like those only come out as a product of their awkwardness with the opposite sex and desire for attention to address their mixed feelings. Most often, their comments dont even = their real opinions. It’s a validation game whereby giving attention makes them move to the opinion because it yields the highest response rate. It’s a mood disorder and sufferers are educating themselves in the opposite way that people react to them.

    Please remember that because idiotic comments like those are calls for attention, they are more visible in comments than the silent majority.
    We’re talking much less than 1%.

    The best way to help these people is to ignore them until they try positive contributions. Sadly borderline personality disorders and bipolar disorder are untreatable until the sufferer themselves takes initiative.

    Once again, absolutely not legitimate criticism and absolutely not your problem. Do you listen to those crazy doomsday guys?
    The best bet is to educate peers about mental health conditions and not become a victim.

  26. @Andy, as I mentioned in the comments, I rarely do take notice of these comments. I just decided to blog about it because it is an extreme factor of a larger problem where women are treated as different, as somehow a little more alien than male geeks. The example I gave was certainly an extreme, and perhaps bot the best way to start this blog post, but the behaviours that lead to this start with a majority of people treating women geeks as different. I agree that the comments of sick/unstable people are a massive pity and I don’t tend to get upset normally at such things. Even the death threats sent to Debian Women a while back were more sad than actually intimidating, but I digress.

  27. @Andy, I’m know you didn’t just say what I think I thought it sounded like you might have said something like… but I thought I should just clarify anyway.

    Some people are just jerks, they may have a bipolar disorder, but if they didn’t then they would still be a jerk. Also, having a bipolar disorder does not automatically mean a person is awkward with the opposite sex. Dismissing some idiots offensive behavior as a symptom of a bipolar disorder could be quite offensive to real sufferers of bipolar disorders… but only half the time.

  28. @Flame I’m with you there. This is going seriously OT, but… It’s not just people who have Bipolar Disorder that is badly seen, but generally anyone who has a mental health issue is discriminated against just because of it. People will often say “chill, take a pill”, or “she must be off her meds today”, or “he’s ready for the looney bin”, not realising the perpetuate a perception of mental illness that is much more negative than it needs be. It’s no more appropriate to say things like than than it is to focus on a coder’s gender.

    Getting off my soap box now.

  29. “The behaviour never ceases to surprise me, and in one way I hope I never cease to be surprised, because I would hate to think I’d ever just accept it.”

    This made me pause and think. When I see obnoxious people acting out sometimes I think the whole world is that way and I need to change my expectations so I’m not surprised next time someone lashes out. But your post makes me realize that we really cheat ourselves if we react that way. Now I’m going to be conscious about expecting good things from people and if that means that Hugh surprises me some day with another display of spineless obnoxiousness, that’s okay. He’s still in the minority. Maybe the very loud minority, but a minority nonetheless.

  30. Andy has presumably left the thread and isn’t coming back, but I was pretty shocked by what he wrote. To me it reads as “Pia, just ignore the fact that you’re being targeted on the basis of your gender by this hateful commenter and instead have sympathy for what he, according to my drive-by diagnosis, must be going through”. Firstly, as Flame points out, there is absolutely no evidence that this person is mentally ill (and lecturing Pia about caring for someone with a mental illness seems to me to be the height of obtuseness). But more to the point, Pia accurately points out in her blog post that this is indicative of a much wider problem, one that won’t simply go away if we ignore it.

    This is not just about the “less than 1%” of the community who feel they have some justification for leaving insulting, misogynist comments on someone’s blog. Making excuses for the behaviour of someone like that simply serves to reinforce that it’s considered somewhat acceptable, which is exactly the problem that women in male-dominated fields face every day of their professional life. Asserting that the victim should “ignore them until they try positive contributions” smacks of victim-blaming (almost as good as “can’t you take a joke”, another old anti-feminist chestnut) and an utter lack of comprehension of the issue at hand. It is part of the death by a thousand cuts that leads to so many women giving up on the technology industry.

  31. Hey I want to just appologize on this thread for singling out BPD and BD mental illness as a probably cause for such jerkery.

    I’m the ever-optimist and genuinely believe that appalling behaviour is never justifiable but always explainable. Granted people who encounter attacks from these people should never be held responsible to sympathise with them but I’d like to encourage the responsible use of intelligence and insight anyway. Especially if it helps resolve an emotionality affecting attack.

  32. Sorry I hit ‘submit’ too soon

    I’ll never have the full insight/experience of being a female in the tech industry so I know my suggestions to dismiss those people are uninformed and won’t always measure up to the practicality of the circumstance at hand.

    I’ve never stood for discrimination regardless of my relationship with the offenders. And I’d sooner break kneecaps than spend the time explaining why someone’s comments was wrong. But a little understanding can also help resolve negative feelings about such lame attacks and turn them into pity.

    … after reading my own comments I realise this is like feeling sorry for monkeys throwing feces because they don’t know it’s wrong to throw things… it wont stop them being jerks.

    Sorry to be so passive

  33. @Andy, I was a little surprised at your initial post, although I understood your point about trying to be aware of people and circumstances. For instances, a young male geek being shy around a woman geek isn’t sexist, even though for her it is a subtle reminder again that she’s treated differently from the rest of a geek crowd. There certainly are people who have mental disorders or circumstances in which they be awful, and understanding any context in play like this would help understand the situation for what it is. I really like your comment “I’m the ever-optimist and genuinely believe that appalling behaviour is never justifiable but always explainable”, because that kind of optimism about basic human nature is nice. I myself bounce in and out of being optimistic and slightly pessimistic about human nature, but ultimately I believe all people have a goodness inside, even if they’ve covered it up 🙂

    Contextual sensitivity is something we aren’t particularly good about in the West, and I think a little contextual sensitivity can be a major help in life generally. It doesn’t invalidate the very real undercurrent of behaviours that many female geeks have to deal with day in and day out (in many countries, but not all), however I think it can help us differentiate between well-meaning behaviour, and nasty behaviour, which I think is important. Much of the undercurrent comes from well-meaning nice people (guys and girls) and the best response to a person like that is a calm explanation of how it makes you feel, after which most well-meaning people will probably avoid the undercurrent 🙂

  34. Firstly, thanks to Andy for coming back to respond to the criticism (from me and others) of his comment. That takes some bravery.

    Secondly, just wanted to add to my original comment, and to the comments made by Andy and Pia since my comment:

    “Granted people who encounter attacks from these people should never be held responsible to sympathise with them…”

    Right, exactly. Moreover, this is not a problem of isolated attacks but of a culture that doesn’t encourage immediately stepping up to say “this is not acceptable under any circumstances”. The “death of a thousand cuts” which I mentioned stems from this: people see women being treated differently in all the ways Pia mentions in her post, and just allow it to happen, and the problem is perpetuated because the people doing it never hear the message that it’s not ok. Obviously it’s not like nobody is saying it’s not ok (and as Pia points out there are even plenty of men willing to step up to the plate) but until the vast majority of people simply do not tolerate such behaviour, it will persist. This is, of course, an incredibly complex problem which isn’t going to be solved overnight, but an ongoing recognition that it is a problem is a good start.

    “But a little understanding can also help resolve negative feelings about such lame attacks and turn them into pity.”

    Yes, that is true, and a good strategy for dealing with negativity in general. But to paraphrase and underline the point made in the first quote, you simply can’t expect women to be saints with infinite patience and compassion for their detractors, whatever form they might take. At some point a person simply can’t take any more, no matter how enlightened and understanding they may be.

    “…a young male geek being shy around a woman geek isn’t sexist, even though for her it is a subtle reminder again that she’s treated differently from the rest of a geek crowd.”

    Pia makes a subtle point here: there is no fault, but there is a problem on both sides of the exchange. The young male geek can’t help that he hasn’t spent a lot of time around women, and the woman can’t help that it is just one more reminder that she’s different. But another result of this kind of problem is that instead of learning to deal with women as equals, the young male geek can sometimes take a ‘sour grapes’ attitude, deciding that it’s not worth his effort to get over that unpleasant awkward feeling. Once again, obviously this isn’t the case for most young male geeks, but it’s a problem that an individual woman is completely powerless to help (since the geek in question will probably avoid talking to her, and may even discount her opinion if she does). For this reason it is important to build a culture wherein that kind of behaviour is not tolerated by men or women.

    Anyway, all that said I do get a positive feeling from this comment thread; it seems like the message is getting through!

  35. In addition to Alice’s point above, I’d like to point to Kate Harding’s On Being a No-Name Blogger Using Her Real Name, in which she explains that it’s important to denounce verbal attacks on women, because somewhere out there, there’s someone listening who not only thinks verbal attacks on women are OK, but thinks physical attacks are too.

    And you don’t want that man (people who commit violence against women are very often men) to think that you’re on his side. You want him to think that you are very much on the other one. So it’s not just for the women listening that that this needs to be said, but in order to demonstrate to the very small but dangerous percentage of nasty people that your space isn’t safe for them!

  36. Thanks for the link, Mary. For me the money quote from that piece is this:

    “You’re enjoying the luxury of not having to take what we’re telling you seriously–and that’s why we get so goddamned frustrated and angry and hysterical. Because we don’t have the option of not caring about this shit, and you just keep telling us not to.”

  37. It’s curious, isn’t it, that there are professions that either have a female or a male image. And sometimes this image changes over time. Take for example teachers. In the 19th century, and possibly in the early 20th century, a teacher had to be male. Now, being a teacher, especially in primary school, is more of a woman’s job. University lecturers are more men. And yet, women make very good uni lecturers.
    The same with the helping professions. When I did my NLP training, it was interesting to see that there were about 20 women to 2 men doing the first level, the NLP Practitioners course. This was the about same in the subsequent courses, until the trainers training. There, there were more men than women being trained as a trainer. So, a therapist, personal development consultant, or similar professions are seen as being more female, and a trainer is male. How can we change such images?

  38. The troll gives themselves away at the end of their comment by inferring women exist for men and if she can’t find a man then she had no worth.
    Plenty of men and women think this way. I was highscool friends with some. (one friend was afraid to do most physical activities because she might delevop muscle tone and this not be able to find a husband)

  39. I had a quiet chuckle when I read the post from a “Hugh G. Rection” because by some inverse coincidence today my husband prepared a plate of nibbles for our visitors (a first) and he took great pains to tell our visitors, then our neighbours and anyone else whom he saw what a clever boy he was. So I read the first paragraph as; “Why is it however, that when you men do something that women have been doing for ages (without any fanfare or blowing our own trumpets), it’s such a massive achievement?” LOL

    But seriously, being a ‘mature’ women in IT I can assure Mr “Rection” that it matters not whether one’s dangley bits are set lower or higher – one’s dangleys do not maketh one’s IT abilities greater…. the brain is the organ responsible and smart ppl think with their brains 😉

  40. ‘Women in IT just get in the way.’ That is what I was told early in my career and after 6 years of observation I would agree, as crass as it sounds. We do get in the way of boys being boys and we will never be taken seriously while IT is in its present state. As IT continues to shift to utility status these a$$clowns will have little to do but to continue their pursuits of Xbox dominance. I moved on….

    1. There are unfortunately some idiots out there who hold this view, but I’ve found the vast majority of people (men and women) to be active in trying to create and maintain a good environment. I love working in IT and wasn’t going to let those few people who would rain on my parade get in the way. Sad to hear you moved on Hope, maybe you just needed to move companies or communities :/

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