I first encountered this phenomenon at BarCamp Portland and again at Open Source Bridge – both this year. Finally, all that “Where the Tech is She?” hype started coming true in 2013 and there were lines at OSCON. And I wasn’t the only one to notice.
As I was sporting some fancy blue shoes, a lovely couple of women stopped to give me props on my incredible fashion sensibility.1 In our brief exchange, which started with a glorious smile that powered me through a loooong day, the woman with a matching blue streak in her hair commented on how nice it was to see so many confident, powerful and strong women this year. Her colleague chimed in on what a relief this was compared to the typical dark, slouching women with attitudes she’s traditionally used to encountering. (Slouching is my word.)
This launched a conversation I tend to shy away from: expectations around and the current movement of getting more women in technology (or all STEM) fields. I, like my new friend of 5 minutes, struggle with woman focused initiatives because I’ve always been a female and I’ve always been in male dominated classes and professions. And the few women I’d meet weren’t typically very friendly. I even grew up in a single parent household with my father and my brother. (And there were a few years when strangers would insist that I was a boy, but that’s a story for another time.)
Here’s the struggle. I love when what I love becomes accessible to others. However, while it pains me to write it, I struggle with the expectation that we need a movement, a noisy focus, a show if you will, to attract, engage and empower women. Yes, role models are critical and for those that identify along gender lines, gendered role models are important.
However, what if I don’t particularly care about my gender? What about if I want to do what I want to do, independent of whether the world is giving me approval?2 I stuck with math because I was fucking good at it and I loved losing myself in problem solving and winning. (If only my 34 yr old brain were as fast as my 14 yr old brain!) For me, it took a teacher 3 to throw me into computers and since then there’s been no looking back.
When I found myself in Portland for an internship summer, I ended up dropping out of college and moving here to pursue the .com dream. The dream I got was working with incredibly strong women who became my first gendered role models. I had no idea there was anything else out there. These women were working in a field that they loved just as passionately as I was. And before I turn this into a “we had to walk up hill both ways” rant, I’ll stop there.
I certainly don’t mean to insinuate that a new generation (or current generations) of women should have to work as hard (or self-directed) as we did or the women before us. I’m simply looking for a way in which I can reconcile the portion of myself fighting against having to have an expectation of inequality based on my gender and wanting instead to avoid those conversations in favor of leading by action – focus on being a role model for younger women and girls as I once was without ever even mentioning a gender word.
Whichever way I slice it, I’m more excited about the growing diversity in my fields than I am struggling with the nomenclatures and conversations at play. Still, if someone could help me stop from cringing at the sound of the simple phrase ‘women in technology’, I welcome your insights and ideas.
- 1 – Note the importance of an adverb in the previous sentence, as heels are not sensible on their own. On their own, I had to take them off near the end of the day and pack up the booth barefoot. (back)
- 2 – I can’t help but think about my favorite poem, A Poem About my Rights, June Jordan (back)
- 3 – More in a future post (back)
Extra: Today is Day 16, Post 14 of my 30 day blog challenge. Click ‘Follow’ at the bottom of the page to receive weekly updates in your inbox or follow me on Tumblr if that’s your scene.
FayeAugust 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm
I like movements because they imply change. I’m not sure if there is a “WIT” movement exactly but it is a conversation (I like those too). Sometimes when change happens quickly (bathroom lines for ex.) people begin to call it a movement. My last teacher told me that I’d have an easier time getting a job in tech because I was a woman during this “WIT” movement. I wanted to pop him one. In general I think it’s a good reminder for all people that if a certain demographic is not being represented we owe it to all of us to figure out why and/or possibly change that. Just because one woman or a thousand is finding success in tech does not negate the hundreds that struggle due to the standards/culture that is currently the norm. PS Thanks for your perspective and being a role model.
JewelAugust 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm
Thanks, Beth. That’s an excellent focus and while it sounds so simple, is just what I need.
BethAugust 2, 2013 at 10:48 am
This is why I focus on dismantling sexism and patriarchy and discrimination in tech spaces instead. “Woman” is a huge category, and what invites some may alienate others. On the other hand, I want it to be much easier for the girls coming up after me. I want them to be free to stay happy and enthused and not burn out and become dower and need to be wary of the world.