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 🙂