This will be a short (considering the subject) and (therefore) superficial rant. I do just want to look at one tiny aspect of the much bigger issue.
One of the topics my brain insists on pondering, in idle moments, is that of women in technology. If you spend any time on teh internets you encounter the “girls don’t game” and “girls don’t code” mythos. You also witness brutal attacks on social media targeting females who say and do things which contradict those “truisms” and dare to stick their heads up and object to what they see as offensive behaviour. That sucks.
I recently bemoaned the lack of women↑ on the long list of speakers and panel members at a Virtual World Conference (there was 1 out of a total of 44). Philip and Ebbe were asked about the absence of women in the industry (by that 1 on the list) and I assume they misunderstood the question. They both responded by saluting the accomplishments of females in Second Life. The actual question, and the issue, concern the industry as a whole – the programers, architects, designers, developers, executives, visionaries – not the situation inside the virtual world.
The solution, of course, is to get more girls interested and more women active in the profession. However, this is not an easy path. A prevailing culture that reflects a frat-house view of life is not exactly female friendly.
Having said that, one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in various discussions on the topic has been put forward by some young women. When discussing the difficulties of entering and progressing in tech, having to deal with misogyny, sexual harassment, offensive comments and actions, their attitude is:
Why should we have to? Just get rid of the creeps!
um, let’s talk.
Why should we have to?
Nobody should have to put up with personal and physical attacks. You are entitled to the same treatment as everybody else in any profession you wish to enter.
Now, guess what happens when entitlement meets reality.
Malala Yousafzai↑ is not the first female to have to fight to receive an education you’d expect would be her right. Oxford University actually allowed women to attend lectures beginning in 1870; they could do all the work and take the exams but, until 1920, they didn’t get their degree. Getting into something like medicine was even more difficult.
The academic world’s thinking can be summarized by “Harvard professor Edward H. Clarke (1874) who proclaimed that women seeking advanced education would develop “monstrous brains and puny bodies [and] abnormally weak digestion.“
It was also 1920 when women got the right to vote in the United States. Getting it wasn’t easy↑ – campaigners were tortured, killed, and imprisoned.
Try being a firefighter, jet pilot, astronaut, or Head of State today. It’s not exactly smooth sailing.
Tech is a newer profession – that doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to behave like an adult.
Just get rid of the creeps!
Just get rid of them. Well, I appreciate fantasy as much as the next person, but there’s that whole reality thing.
What you seem to be looking for is a hero – somebody who will clear and smooth that path for you. I assume that person will have a sonic screwdriver and magic glitter.
Here’s the thing, creeps never disappear. They remain in every profession, no matter how forward thinking and equitable it appears to be. What happens over time is that they get marginalized and silenced, but they never go away. I think there’s a secret breeding program somewhere. I don’t like to dwell on that because the images are too scary.
The tech industry has some new wrinkles though, as far as creeps are concerned. First they can take advantage of all aspects of social media and its inherent anonymity to launch aggressive and sick campaigns – they can be as base and ugly as they want and giggle about it. This makes what you have to deal with very public and painful.
Second, that whole garage skunkworks mentality just feeds into the boys’ club culture and they never get past puberty. Think of them as Orcs with pimples.
The good news is the third wrinkle – there are a lot of educated, intelligent, men in the industry as well. Many of them speak up.
Don’t look for a hero … find allies.
Look for men and women who will stand up in the middle of an offensive presentation and say “This is unacceptable” before walking out. Writing a blog post later↑ is great, but having the creeps lose face in front of the alpha male they’re hoping to impress, or the woman holding the key to the investment they want, is better. When they lose funding and career opportunities, when their startup fails because of their assholery, they start to change their behaviour.
Look for the people on social media like one current and one ex-Linden↑ I follow who respond to the creeps↑ appropriately.
Why should we have to?
Because you want to be part of the industry. Because you want to help build it, create things, realize the possibilities. Because dealing with creeps comes with the double X chromosome package; like childbirth and PMS.
I’m not saying grow “Rhino Skin” to deal with these issues. Frankly, that would lead to considering the behaviour acceptable. I will say, have a big first aid kit. Report the abuse, mute the creep, slap on a bandage and keep moving forward.
The industry will evolve but, much like all others, the creeps will abide. They will become smaller, fewer, quieter, and easier to ignore.
You have to because the industry needs you. It will be much harder than it should be, but your future granddaughters will thank you.