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).