For the odd moments I can manage to think of something.

Gyno-binary

“How do they get to the keyboard past their lady-bumps?” (not mine btw – let me know if they’re yours)

When it comes to matters of gender, I’m usually a dullard at the best of times. I’m mildly intimidated by feminists and mildly bored by misogynists. I’m broadly aware of the issues.

This week three things combined to make me think about things a little more closely. At the start of the week, someone flagged up Clay Shirky’s blog rant about women being terrible self publicists. It chimed with me. I’ve heard jerk after jerk blow hard and strut about like a peacock. It happens a lot. His blog makes many interesting points and examples related to this – read it here.

I read it on the way into work and let the ideas settle a little bit. Later that evening I was due to go to a talk at the British Computer Society. A friend I respect greatly was kicking things off – Dr Sue Black (she of Bletchley Park brilliance and more) mentioned it and I was curious to see who, how many and what sort of women would turn up. I’m not a brilliant math mind, my programming maker skills amount to zero (one of the few numbers I can count up to with some confidence) So who were these women and what were the issues?

I left that evening meeting trembling with rage and spitting tacks down the phone line explaining why I found it so annoying. Put it this way. Say the parameters of the problems are right (I’m not assessing that here) UK women are getting a hard time, there’s not many of them in tech, they don’t get paid enough and hey, they’re really, really clever so they deserve better. (I know, I couldn’t imagine a broader brush, please harass me at the bottom of this post).

If these are the Machiavellian uber-minds that can make things that run our on-line and off-line world. Then why don’t I know the name of every single woman in the room? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a metric tonne of ladies on-line who are loud. Many of them are PR girls, booth babes, presenters, journalists (yeah me in there too) writers, analysts etc. But they’re not makers. People who sit and create something elegant and wonderful, complex on the inside and simple without. It was like being faced with dark matter, I know it’s there but I can’t see it.

I picked on Sue after the talk. She was gracious and patient with me as ever. She’s doing good work highlighting the issues and getting people to talk about this for starters. She told me there were about a thousand members and more on her women and computing network. Clearly I need to do some homework and find these women. I spend a ridiculously anti-social amount of time on-line, I note many, many voices in the crowd – not all, Internet’s a big place I hear… But I still could not pick out one of these thousand female voices. It was disheartening.

This made me angry. Not with society or men, the tech industry or the old boys network, but with those women – that one thousand or so ladies in the know. Much as this is repeating “Clay Shirky and the self aggrandizing jerks” (incidentally sounds like a band name to me – though not a terribly flattering one, I’m not saying he’s a jerk), why the hell don’t they speak up?

I don’t mean lie and be an idiot and talk bollocks – we have many men for that (forgive me chaps, I’m allowed a dig here and there, it comes with the ovaries). Saying that you have done something, that you know something and even better than all of that – that you can make something or have made something. That has to be one of the cool things about doing what we do. Standing back and looking at a piece of work and acknowledging that you did that. People who craft something out of nothing are few. So it really is something to be proud of.

So where are the UK ladies who made something? Those fresh voices? I hear a new tech voice every week and it’s usually wearing testicles.

The third thing? Proving that I can indeed count this far. The third thing was a scoot about looking for news updates highlighting the work of youth on-line. Kids that make cool stuff. Before long I had four different kids under 18 who were creating amazing things, a ten year old programmer, an eleven year old with his own iPhone app, a fourteen year old news editor. Yes, boys, all of them.

Going back to the ladies in that room, telling the world that it’s a bad place to be a female. Where are your daughters? What do they make? I am guessing I will be told that there are no role models…ahem…but there are a thousand of you on a network some place?

I looked for girls making apps and platforms but I was not successful in finding ones that had taken that risk, done that work and then shouted out that they had done something cool. If you know some, let me know, I want to hear about their work.

And here’s a fourth thing. (yeah – proving my counting skills are ball park rather than exact again). I know a very clever programmer who is female who discussed being a woman in tech and wanted to form a group. But this is seen as campaigning and you strike that bargain and many women think you will become a target or you only have negative things to point out.

Maybe it ‘s not about forming a group – but getting to know girls who do tremendous things individually. I don’t pick my friends based on their gender. I don’t choose my heroes that way either. But if I saw more high profile work being run up the flagpole, marked for everyone’s attention, maybe there would be less need to create these groups and I could just appreciate smart creative people for being smart, and creative?

Note – Yes I know there are other places in the world where being a woman is not a great thing for survival. Yes I know there are darker topics about feminism and I’m not aiming at those issues here. I’m talking about work and creating things – so don’t bother training your sights on me for those things, that’s another issue entirely. I just thought this might be a good minefield to open up again…(adopts the crash position).

19 Responses to “Gyno-binary”

  1. Sue Black

    Thx for this very elegant piece girlfriend. Nice to have you sharing my anger :)) Love the Clay Shirky piece too, thx for the link. Now let’s get out there and change the world! :))

    Reply
  2. retrophile

    If I’ve read you correctly, you acknowledge that there are plenty of women in peripheral occupations but are disappoionted that you don’t know the names of any ladies in the actual creative field. Well, although I agree with you that almost all the tech stories are about men and not women surely that is just a result of the disproportionate numbers involved. Because of the male majority there are more men in the field that you never hear of than women you don’t hear of. If you had a list of a thousand names in a male (non publicity media) tech group how many of those names would you recognise?

    I wish I had made it to that meeting so that I had some of the background information that was obviously presented, but in my experience women programmers are no different to men. They do their jobs equally well and are treated equally on merit. (I can’t comment on pay)

    Surely the point is not ‘why don’t women promote themselves more?’ but ‘why aren’t they interested in the same numbers as men?’. I wonder how the ratio of women to men in tech compares to the ratios in other math, science or engineering fields?

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      Hi Retrophile.

      I think you are making a good point about the disparity between creators and blow hards. Maybe there is indeed a publicity deficit around tech creators. I know I interviewed the chap who made the shopping cart online that we all take for granted as web furniture and he didn’t mention this at all until the tape had stopped. Then he seemed disinclined to talk about it on the record. That had certainly bothered me for a while. Is it a character trait or an individual choice?

      There are so many questions around the numbers of women in tech from approproate role models to get young women interested to those who claim that girls are just characteristically disinclined. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with those, but it was this one theme that I wanted to highlight about the women who were already achieving – that I guess I wanted to hear them crow like the boys more often. The math and engineering ratios to tech appear to be quite close.

      Reply
  3. guylaine l'heureux @chagota

    Very entertaining and clever way to raise these issues. It provides much food for thought, indeed. Your analysis is very keen and it will certainly help me look around and find many echoes within my own work environment. And question my own attitude.
    One of the obstacles, if I can write it plainly, is the lack of solidarity among women. I do not want to list the various reasons as we all have some idea, sadly, of how it tends to be this way.
    Let’s start by giving one another more support. Maybe some of these existing voices only need us to hear them better.

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      Support is always a very welcome idea. I know what you mean about that particular observation but I hope it’s more to do with the weakness of the individual rather than a pack mentality when competitive women are together.

      Reply
  4. Sunshine Mugrabi

    Great post, but I think there are ways to look at this that aren’t quite so blaming of the women creators. As someone who has worked as a tech journalist and PR person (and now a combination as a paid and non-paid tech blogger), I have observed that oftentimes the creators of great things aren’t as good at talking about themselves and their work as they should be. They tend to be introverts. Not all of them, but overall this is the profile. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It just means that if they’re to be recognized, what they need is someone who will do their PR or in some other way shout their accomplishments from the rooftops. This is not just a woman thing–it’s a man thing, too. So, what’s the difference then with the women? Well, one big difference is that not enough women are being found by the tech journalists, PR folks and others who would toot their horn for them.

    So, how do we fix this problem? We find them and shout their accomplishments to the rooftops, that’s how! I’m doing this in several ways myself, and I am finding it immensely satisfying so far. It really feels like now is the time. So, I have a weekly podcast featuring women movers and shakers in high tech, TechnoGirlTalk. So far, I’ve found a wide and interesting swath of women to interview, from a virtualization architect to a storage industry analyst to an SE at Cisco and, yes I’ve also thrown in a few marketing/PR folks in the mix as well. These women are often highly accomplished and have all the same skills as the so-called “creators”–even sometimes holding degrees in computer science and/or engineering. But they chose marketing because they found that it spoke to their creative and communicative sides as well.

    I am also on the committee for a conference, Dare2BDigital (http://www.dare2bdigitalconference.com) that offers young women aged 13-16 a chance to learn more about the exciting and creative careers that await them in engineering and computer science. It’s just one conference, but I can say that if something like that had existed when I was a teenager, my life might well have gone very differently.

    Finally, I’m living my vision. I am a woman in tech, in spite of my fears and insecurities about my abilities. I deeply admire the people around me who are doing great and innovative things, and yes, most of those people are still men. But the more that I stand in that role, the more likely other women will feel comfortable and empowered. Or so I hope.

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      This is an interesting avenue and I am definitely checking out your links – they sound great.
      It sounds like a very positive move to work with young women and encourage them. There were very few tech role models when I was growing up so I sort of learned that most of my tech heroes were men – Ada aside that is.
      How do you find your women in tech if they are not so great at shouting out?

      Reply
  5. Spacedog

    Hello

    I’m a maker – have always been one – and a programmer. And you’re right – there’s nothing more satisfying than creating something new. For me, it’s more than an issue of problem solving – the desire to fashion new contraptions, compositions, apps or whatever is something that’s never left me, not since I was a kid – it’s like an itch I have to scratch. Now I make my living from this obsession. I’m making three things at the mo, all of them kinetic in some way or another.

    I’ve actually spent a good part of my career learning strategies to make it clear to my audience, clients, peers and so on that I have, indeed, devised the artefact they’re hearing/looking at – and solved all the technical problems – and haven’t deferred to someone else to do the ‘clever bits’. But I can also tell you that most people I meet start off assuming the opposite. I suppose that’s understandable, given the scarcity of women in my line of work. On bad days, this can get me thoroughly down – especially when I have to calibrate how to get the message across, and overcome people’s prejudices, without coming across as bolshy. But those bad days get increasingly rare, as I’ve figured out better ways to overcome any negative stereotyping.

    I’ve never felt a lack of solidarity with the (few) other women in my field. Quite the opposite. I also enjoy working with like-minded men. But there are very few people I feel comfortable working with on creative projects. I think that’s because I have such clear ideas about the things I want to make, I’ll never have a very democratic approach to my output!

    I would say I’ve spent most of my life feeling like an outsider. When I was 20, I felt an outsider and that bothered me. Now I hardly mind it and all. Sometimes I bloody love it (so do those who care about me and ‘get’ my work).

    …hope some of that chimes with other readers.

    Sarah Angliss
    aka Spacedog

    PS You can find my iphone app online – it’s called Telepath and it’s a collaboration with my good friend Richard Wiseman. I did shout it from the rooftops and made a quick buck from it. More on the way. You can see my more tangible work at http://www.sarahangliss.com.

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      Hi Sarah,
      This sounds like incredible work. Y’know with this many amazing comments, I’m going to have to eat my words at this rate!
      It’s grimly amusing that people think you’re not responsible for the “clever bits”, show’s that there is a long way to go. Bolshy is also a problem I think. There are still mainstream stereotypes about women showing what they know or showing off at all sometimes that gets them labelled in a negative way. I’m guessing that steps from each of us, makers and otherwise might eventually turn this around.
      I’m off to download your app.

      Reply
  6. Alan in Belfast

    Couldn’t disagree with your post. Isn’t this what Finding Ada – with their strapline of “bringing women in technology to the fore” – and their annual Ada Lovelace Day, is trying to address?

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      I am very familiar with the Finding Ada day and the movement around it. But I still don’t think it is making the headlines it deserves. Also – and by no means knocking their work which I think is outstanding – it’s one movement that needs to be raised in profile among a wider audience and to those women who could benefit.
      I still stand by saying that not enough women in tech are shouting loud enough about their achievements, but yes, Ada is a good move in the right direction.

      Reply
  7. Daniel

    I love Sue :)
    Its funny to me that men can self promote themselves and they are seen as confident or good at their job and sometimes slightly arrogant! but if a woman dares to do it she is seen like Jordan! maybe its gonna take about 10 or 20 years before women can actually achieve something on their own worth :)

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      The Jordan of tech? There’s a woman I’d like to meet. Might not be everyone’s flavour of self promotion but holy-cow that would make some headlines.

      Reply
  8. Joanne Jacobs

    Wow. I don’t know if I could disagree more with assertions in this post. Not in a bad way, mind, but just in the execution of the problem you’ve identified. I agree the problem of women not being identified exists. I just think you’re barking up the wrong tree when it comes to how you reveal these women.

    But let me quickly respond:
    1. Shirky’s post.
    It worries me greatly how many people here have applauded Shirky’s post. I have been following Shirky for well over a decade and he’s someone I admire greatly, but in this post he more-or-less proves he has feet of clay. His very assertion that women (or men) should bullshit as a means of getting ahead goes against EVERYTHING we are experiencing about authenticity and social media. There’s a HUGE difference between taking a dip in to territory that you don’t know well but know you could probably handle, and actually lying about your abilities. I’d NEVER recommend the latter. Not because I fear repercussions (I don’t think anyone could accuse me of fear of controversy), but because your legitimacy and authenticity as a worker is completely compromised by such an approach. Trust is gone. I would rather be blunt and compromise my popularity and even job security than be dishonest. For a decent response to Shirky’s post I recommend you read Tom Coates here:

    http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2010/01/should_we_encourage_s/

    2. Creative women.
    They’re EVERYWHERE. And they ARE loud. You’re just not looking in the right places. You need to be going to barcamps, Mobile Mondays, ed-tech meetings and get on to creative arts groups – there’s a proliferation of creative developers and curators of creative works in the digital space that are not just impressive but groundbreaking. I keep coming back to my wonderful friend Deb Polson from Australia who not only designed educational technologies using mobile telephony but also curated exhibitions of her work. Of course, I was lucky at ACID (Australasian Centre for Interaction Design) because I was surrounded by artists, developers and creative types everywhere. But there are still huge numbers of creative women here in the UK too. The main reason why they are not being profiled is because they are not invited to speak at events. That’s an organisational problem, not a deficit problem.

    3. Writing and problem solving is not uncreative
    You note you are surrounded by authors and journalists. These are still creative types. And creative problem solvers in the management space are some of the most important thinkers of our time. I get slightly defensive when people assume that writing is merely blowing hot air and isn’t about creative development. Writing is the basis for much communication in the digital space; we can’t all be broadcasting and in meetings. And creative problem solving is the basis for improvement in design, development and delivery of products and services. So suggesting that writers are not coming up with digital solutions for bridging the gap between people, and that creative problem solvers are not generating digital works is potentially insulting. If you wonder why women are not putting themselves forward as creative people, perhaps it’s because your definition of creativity is too narrow?

    Let me say: I’m not in the least bit offended by what you’ve said in this post, I just think you need to think a bit more about the problem you have. I also think you need to consider more carefully, advocacy of Shirky’s contention. If moderation is applied all round, you get the result I think you’re looking for. That is, if instead of following Shirky’s advice, you instead advocate women getting “out of their comfort zone” and ensuring they balance family and home considerations with maximising their public exposure (rather than letting family and home be an excuse not to participate in profiling activities), then you have a reasonable point. Also, if you consider creativity a little more broadly and less in terms of strict application programming, then you have a rich selection of women producers in the UK. I know where you’re going with this idea and of course I’m an advocate of promoting the great work I see being produced here by UK women. I just don’t think it’s fair to assume creative types are not promoting the (authentic) work they do in their own sphere.

    Reply
    • jemimahknight

      Hi Jo,
      I’ve been expecting you. :)
      You make interesting points but not quite about what I have written here maybe. I’ll follow your numbers here – (I had to make notes to get through all your excellent pointers!)
      1.I do advocate what Shirky says and very much acknowledge that telling lies is not the way to proceed. Standing on the achievements you have made and taking a risk to learn in the next role though – that’s something pretty enlivening. So dishonesty, no, of course not, confidence and risk taking – yes.
      I appreciate that the piece can be interpreted either way and the link you posted rather nicely represents the other side of the piece that I was not focusing on in my post this time. I think most smart women can read it either way – right?
      2. I do attend conferences and I watch closely those that I cannot attend. I think you are right on the money that there are not enough women speakers invited. Let’s hope that this changes. I also pointed to the UK in this post too. Though native Australian, it would break me to fly home to all of the conferences I would enjoy. I am very proud though if the atmosphere there is as you say.
      3. The definition here that I was making was between coders and writers. You know of course that I have written for too many years to remember so I’m not slinging arrows at myself in this post. Of course creative people write – that’s bascially a no-brainer. As an art student, journalist and broadcaster – my view of what is creative is enormously wide, but these are not the women I am talking about. It’s creative coder creators. Like some of the women who posted on here.
      – I totally agree that geting women out of their comfort zone and getting the sun on their face with regards to their technical achievements is a great idea and will mean hopefully that they can influence the daughters of the next generation and maybe their daughters too.

      Reply
  9. Eyeborg

    Hmm,

    Well I think that there are two main points here.

    1. Women in my country, Canada, make up 60-80 per cent of university population now. I suspect the numbers are the same in the UK. (?) Women are doing well. Just not so much in tech. Boys are more into that stuff. At least for now. Things, though, are obviously, changing rapidly.

    Medicine, Law, English and languages and the Liberal Arts (natch) -these areas have already been slamdunked by women. In engineering, and tech stuff in general, more and more young women are getting into it. The graph is on its way up it just hasn’t got there yet. It seems to be the last of the old boys network that girls aren’t as naturally drawn to. Not as human beings not capable of it…but as a result of the socialized business as usual aspect of it.

    Although, as far as social media goes, never underestimate the power of female communicating to push that tech. Is that sexist? Prolly.

    2. Boys have one billion references in stories and fairy tales of being the hero…on a quest. Throwing caution to the wind. The girls…not so much.

    Women have always been taught to be responsible. There are advantages to that – obviously – but there are also disadvatages.

    I sucked at school…but I always knew I should go on a quest. That I could do something weird and crazy. Whether its considered irresponsible or not. And you know what? My particular quest was completely irresponsible. I blew all my money on making my prosthetic camera eye wireless video camera eye. Not sure my sisters would stoop that “low”.

    Here’s the project:
    eyeborgproject.com

    And what’s more – we talked about this issue in the documentary world on my documentary discussion list. Women in documentary are always the producers, the mothers. the responsible ones. The budget hens. Obviously, there are many exceptions to this but it was a female conversation of docmakers that made this point.

    The young hero is the director. The one who will go on a quest – go into danger. Or this is the idea that is the problem that stops more young women being directors. Oddly enough, not really a power position being a doc director. Tons of broadcasters and producers are women. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was most. Directors are the glorified but underpaid yahoos who get ripped off.

    There was a concerted effort on our doc discussion list to not shunt young women into producing rolesas soon as they wander, wide eyed, into a production company,
    But no-one can tell someone to go on a quest. It has to be your own irresponsible belief.

    Joanne Jacobs said this:

    “There’s a HUGE difference between taking a dip in to territory that you don’t know well but know you could probably handle, and actually lying about your abilities.”

    Sorry Joanne. Don’t buy it. Kind of. I mean, what you are saying is correct. But its too cautious for my taste. I don’t want any moderation all around.

    I did exactly what you are saying and it got me all the way to doing what I was actually bullshitting about. I just went for it. And now I have done it. With bullshit as gasoline.

    As a guy who worked in marketing before….I KNEW that if you can sell the sizzle it helps you get the steak. I never had a budget. So press is how you pay all the young guys who have helped me build my camera eye.

    I had no bloody clue how to make a camera eye. Did that stop me from telling Wired that I most definitely could? (rhetorical).

    I am really good at tooting my own horn. Not in an asshole way (well maybe a bit) but if you can get a Wired article about you TRYING to make a wireless video prosthetic eye (before you have even come close to doing it) this is modern currency to get people on board to help you acutalize it.

    PS – got dozens of emails from dudes who wanted to help out after I started getting some press. Zero women. Why? Probably, and this is just my semi-arsehole guess, they felt this was too irresponsible. And they haven’t busted this field yet. But they will. Just like they did in Literature then Law then Medicine and soon Engineering and shortly Nerdish Studies.

    It’ll take another decade or so. (prolly less). But I did this giant corporate video on Canadian Universities and if the stats I have seen are any indication – young women are getting a lot more confident and questy. And it won’t be long before they don’t give a fuck and say they can do something when they aren’t sure if they can.

    In my humble opinion…say you can do something…then do it. Cuz it will be absolutely ball/vag crush you if you say you can do it then you don’t deliver.

    And all the best things worth trying seem impossible.

    Bob

    Reply

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