Women and Tech and Intangible Frustrations

When the whole PyCon thing went down I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In July Wired referenced the incident in an article about public shaming and it brought the issue front of mind for me again. I know pretty much everything there is to say about this has already been said, but the fact that I think about so regularly has made me want to write about it here.  Also, please note this is my opinion and my experience. I know a lot of women who would agree with me, but also a lot who have had different and more positive experiences. 

Do you remember Adria Richards? She was the woman at PyCon this past spring who overheard some (male) developers making adolescent and sexist jokes, she took their picture and posted it to her influential twitter account. An uproar ensued and one of the developers and Richards herself got fired. I remember this, in fact I still think about it all the time.

Prior to landing my dream job at an NGO, I worked at a software company for 3.5 years. It was a great company with a great staff, I have a lot of respect for the leadership and my direct management were some of the most supportive and wonderful people I’ve ever worked with. I learned so much and was given so many opportunities there and I am grateful for my time. That said, the work environment could definitely be hostile towards women. On any given day I’d encounter a guy who couldn’t look me in the eyes, I would be looked up and down. I received so many unintentionally inappropriate comments that were endearing but tiresome. In one business partner meeting where I was the only woman in a room of 20, I was literally skipped over in the introductions (I KNOW). And the tones, oh god, the tones that some of the male (they were all male) upper management would use with me were enough to make me want to stab them in the eye. None of these were major things, and if they had happened in isolation they wouldn’t even be things. But they didn’t happen in isolation, they happened all time and came from everyone and when all put together it made for a really shitty environment. My last year with the company I cried almost every day out of sheer frustration. I was so frustrated with all of the intangible things, but there was nothing I could do. Claiming that I was hurt or offended by someone’s tone or body language would make me sound ridiculous. I was upset by the intangible and in software the intangible doesn’t matter. It is legitimate to be frustrated by a bug or a deadline or a client, or the bottom line, but not by what you cannot see or count.

Anyways, my first reaction back in March was: awesome. These men were being made examples of and they needed to take responsibility for their actions. Perhaps the punishment didn’t fit the crime, but you can bet these guys won’t be saying ignorant stuff again. And neither will those close to them. That alone is a small step towards a less hostile space. The more people who call out ignorant behaviour, the more people who will think twice before engaging in the first place. The day that I found out I shared my outrage with my best friend Katie and she came back with outrage of her own. She was horrified by Richard’s actions.  She argued that she wouldn’t want to live in a society where you’re always looking over your shoulder, afraid that if you make one mistake someone would take a picture of you and post it all over the internet. She had a point and her opinion shifted my narrow perspective as it has a tendency to do.

After reading the Wired article, I brought this up with my boyfriend and he had a great point: you can’t just slap someone and hope for change. Yes, those individuals may change and maybe a few others will think twice, but will that really make a dent in the culture? No, probably not. He’s right. He suggested change via education not punishment. Men in male dominant industries need to understand the consequences of their actions and the effects they have on their female co-workers. They need to understand that even the smallest action/remark/tone contributes to a culture that isn’t fun for women. They need to understand that if they do chose to participate, it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and it could their reputation at stake.

While I don’t blame Richards for anything–I would have done more sooner probably–I agree with Kurt. Education will bring about more change than public shaming. But the fact is, right now, there isn’t education and few feel there is a need for one. I don’t think this will be addressed anywhere other than online until something tangible (a release date, an angry client or the bottom line) is affected. Until then, there is just a population of women with an intangible frustration who feel like their only option is to post pictures of socially awkward dudes on their social media accounts or cry.


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