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

Code: Can’t learn my way out of being female

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I read AsherWolf’s post this morning about her treatment and the hacker community and it made my heart sink. I don’t even have the skills to join yet and well, for a moment, the whole thing lost its shine for me.

AsherWolf doesn’t put me off. Along with so many other women, she helps. Dr Sue Black, Rain Ashford, Dorothy Molloy, Selena Deckelmann, Melinda Seckington, Molly Sauter, ‘Femi Adesina, Colleen Lin, Vinoba Vinayagamoorthy, heck, if I could remember all the names I would list  them, I might add them later, but they help. While I have been learning, they help me.

I don’t want to be different as a woman learning to code. I want to catch up with the other women (jeese I hope!) and talk with mixed genders about cool stuff.

I am also lucky enough to know a whole host of guys (ok, seriously too many to list, you can count yourself in if you ever encouraged me with efforts to code) who are not inclined to make sexist remarks or talk down to me. They help too.

Admittedly, with my water-wings on and my splashing around in the shallow end, I expect to be talked down to – I’m learning. But teaching people by beating them is not a good form of encouragement.

Each time I read something where another woman has more troubles with hacker communities, I struggle. I know that it’s not the whole group of people, but I don’t want to be a target. Especially while I still want to be enthusiastic and optimistic.

When I was small and knew a little BASIC, a little C+ (shutup, yes I am not that young) I read books about amazing hackers and their adventures (ok, mostly grey areas of the law and people who got caught). Their stories taught me that code is powerful, an enabler.

But there still seems to be a gap, it doesn’t seem to make you that powerful or enabled if you’re female and stuck facing another guy who thinks sexism is okay.

It happens in my industry and many others far too much. I’d like to think that people of either sex could be appreciated by the work they do. I know, a cynic with a soft, gooey core of naive optimism.

I am a long way from being at the level of the hacker heroes I read about as a girl. I’m probably too old now to catch up really.

Seeing this sort of thing puts a dent in my hope. I’ll still keep learning and maybe one day I’ll even make something useful too. But those cool hackers I read about as a teen were guys. Was I being too optimistic then too when I wanted to be a part of that?

Whatever the dents for now, I at least hope that girls starting to learn at school age are not put off. My mother’s generation put up with a pat on the ass, I’ve told people I would happily break their fingers for less and verbal harassment continues.

So to the questions. Can this be turned around? Why is hacker culture still an area where these problems are highlighted? Is the problem very big or is it that there are too few women in the mix and so there is more pressure?

I feel shy about learning when I see that some women get hassled along the lines of their gender. It’s not something I am willing to change about myself (I hear it’s really expensive too). Does learning more and getting better mean sexism stops? I’m not sure I think it does.

JK

4 Responses to “Code: Can’t learn my way out of being female”

  1. vruz

    Lots of encouragement, good vibes and best wishes, hoping the new year will bring people skills to the inadequate nerds you described. ( nerd != hacker )
    I’m doing a little bit of my work as I type this, in my niece’s bedroom setting up her new computer, she’s 10 and she still doesn’t have an urge to code specifically, but she’s very enthusiastic and uses computers in many creative ways. When she learns more about hackerish arcana and nerd wizardry here’s a watchful uncle willing and available to help.

    Love,

    H

    Reply
  2. Richard

    It’s hard to know what to write about this because I’ve read a number of truly shocking blog posts recently from women who’ve been harassed (e.g. http://www.irisclasson.com/2012/12/19/stupid-question-107-shhh-harassment-not-a-problem-strong-content-warning/ ) as well as the whole #1reasonwhy hashtag that was talking about sexism and harassment in the games industry ( http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/182336/Twitter_hashtag_1ReasonWhy_exposes_sexism_in_game_industry.php ). It all makes me very sad and about the really aggressive harassment I don’t even know what to say, let alone do, because I literally can’t understand why someone would behave that way.

    First of all I’d say please don’t be put off learning what you want to learn because some other people are jerks. The situation with getting more women into technology as an industry is a slightly different one to communities like hacker/maker/crypto because in business people are bound by standards of conduct and most companies take harassment seriously these days (which is why the #1reasonwhy thing was even more shocking as it puts the games industry behind the times compared to others).

    In the communities people are participating in the free time usually and so don’t feel bound by those same standards of conduct and as a result there’s a tendency for at least some of them to turn into little boys clubs. It seems also that the crypto/security area attracts more than its fair share of assholes and nutjobs – I don’t see nearly as much controversy coming from the maker community for example.

    Here’s the thing though: If you are learning about programming and electronics because you find it interesting and because you want to be able to make stuff, then great – you shouldn’t run into any problems. If you are trying to be part of community and win their respect, then expect a tougher time because you not only have to deal with (hopefully a minority of) people who talk down to you because you are female, but also a general tendency for techie people to talk down to beginners. A good article about this recently: http://lostechies.com/derickbailey/2012/12/14/dear-open-source-project-leader-quit-being-a-jerk/ . When that happens you have to know when to say enough is enough, walk away and find another group that’s more welcoming.

    So anyway, I hope you continue doing what you’re doing – I really respect people who learn how to actually do things rather than just write about them. You sound like you’ve got lots of friends to back you up and if you need any help with your programming, let me know.

    Reply
  3. Joshua D'Alton

    I think people need to learn about TA (Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne) and learn how to engage the hackers in a way that doesn’t immediately put them in “inner child” mode. There are doubtless going to be a small minority who will never be able/willing to change, but the majority of the hacker culture is able to change, they just have to be shown how and in a way that actually allows them to.

    I know a couple completely misogynistic asshat douchebags that spout things like “why is she out of the kitchen” who can completely turn it around the next sentence given an “adult” response that shifts them out of “wounded/rebellious child” into “adult” themselves.

    I don’t mean to suggest that it is acceptable that all the onus is on the ones wanting change (in danger of simplifying here, but, ‘the women’), but the reality is that the change needs to be effected by those who can remain “adult” and bring others to “adult” thinking.

    I’m far from completely “adult” myself, and I have my own share of.. “isms” “ists” etc, but I’ll only ever be aware of them and be able to act on them by being talked to as an “adult”. While it might seem somewhat counter intuitive, “telling off” adults mostly leads them to “inner child”, whereby they become defensive, ignoring, abusive, etc, and change nothing. Of course, there is always going to be a situation whereby these hackers (guys) feel threatened by other members (gals), no matter how the women interact, but most of the… communal abuse will disappear when the majority of the group is in “adult” mode.

    Maybe. Hopefully people read this comment as fairly rational and reasonable and open, if not then certainly hopefully people will think they can communicate with me in “adult” mode if I do have some/most/all of this wrong, as I want to be part of the solution not the problem ;) :)

    Reply
  4. Heather

    “Code: Cant learn my way out of being female | Something to
    be said.” was indeed a superb posting, can not help but wait to look at even
    more of ur blogs. Time to squander a little time on the internet lmao.
    Thanks ,Olen

    Reply

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