#libtechgender: your world and mine

This relates to yesterday’s post on ALA’s new code of conduct, and it doesn’t, and it does again.

So these all happened in the last two weeks:

I consider myself a pretty sensitive person with respect to these issues. In language as well as action, I try to let things be neutral and fair, evicting unnecessary and damaging assumptions. But I didn’t notice the gendered language [of a LITA Forum keynote] at all until I saw the tweets calling it out.

Eric Phetteplace, thanks to #libtechwomen, 9 November 2013

I was actually a little surprised at the gender thing with Github…it makes sense, I just had no sense of it. To know that the Github community is EVEN MORE biased towards males than general tech was…counter intuitive to me? I don’t know, just didn’t realize.

Jason Griffey, personal correspondence (in re this article on unpaid labor and open source, 18 November 2013

That said, I came in to the panel believing that the most important gender related issue in library technology was finding ways for well-intentioned colleagues to communicate effectively about an uncomfortable problem. Listening to my colleagues tell their stories, I learned that there are more direct and pressing gender issues in libraries.

Nicholas Schiller, #libtechgender: A Post in Two Parts, 9 November 2013

I should make clear here, yes, Eric and Jason and Nicholas are all white men in academic libraries. They’re also all staunch feminists who spend a lot of time listening, actually listening, to non-male-identified people’s perspectives about gender issues.

And yet here we are living in different worlds. I take for granted that using a female-gendered IRC/github nick and a picture of my face as an avatar is a conscious choice, and the fact that it has not yet occasioned blowback is just remarkable good luck which will run out in time. I take for granted people will use language which implicitly defines me out of geekdom in general, and its higher reaches of technical competence specifically (developer’s-girlfriend jokes and neckbeard references, I’m looking at you). I take for granted that people will be marginalized and threatened at work in ways it’s just not worth bringing to HR’s attention.

I take for granted all these things that are invisible to you. (And I am living with about all the privilege it’s possible to have — no doubt there are many more things others take for granted that are invisible to me.) And I have to spend energy on surmounting them all and it’s wearying, sometimes. And we talk and we’re friends and you listen. And you don’t see.

Do we (somehow, despite this constant obsessive blogosphere twittering thing) not talk about this enough? Do we not talk about it, or do we only talk about it to other women, or do we talk about it and it doesn’t make any sense because our experiences are so different that you think we can’t mean what we mean, not even because of malice or marginalization but just because you’ve got no context to fit them into where the facts tell us both the same story? Are we over here shouting loudly like drowning people against a chorus of internet voices who are just so tired of it, why are you so upset over nothing, because it really is nothing to you if it never happens in ways you see?

This is why I use a female-gendered nick, you know. Because being female is important to me and it’s not something I stop being when I enter tech spaces, and I refuse to surrender it in order to be technical, or to make it easier for people to fit me into their tech-culture stories. Because I don’t want the stories we tell ourselves about technologists to only encompass neckbeards who don’t have girlfriends; I want them to fit around everyone who wants to play.

But this is what I was talking about when I wrote about my first hackathon, when I said the bar for being a woman in tech is the ability to say “Fuck you.” Because before I can get to the table I have to wade through all these things you don’t even see. I have to defy all these things. And you don’t notice. Or you only notice the defiance. Or the weariness.

Feeling so baffled and angry that here we are in different worlds, colocated and superimposed to look like they’re the same. That overlap until that sudden reminder that, oh no, they don’t.

10 thoughts on “#libtechgender: your world and mine

  1. “or do we talk about it and it doesn’t make any sense because our experiences are so different that you think we can’t mean what we mean, not even because of malice or marginalization but just because you’ve got no context to fit them into where the facts tell us both the same story?”

    This here – I think this has a lot to do with it. Maybe even farther — we do talk about it and we don’t even realize that we’re not talking about the same thing because experiences have degrees and levels and what you mean by yours might sound like what I experienced, but it really wasn’t, at all?

    I saw a movie last week where two characters are talking about a shared experience (divorce) and one describes — ‘it’s like X” and the other says, “yes – it’s EXACTLY like X” and it’s this important bonding moment for them and then by the end of the movie the viewer realizes that for one it was like “X” and for the other it was like “oranges” because they were absolutely not talking about the same experience, even though they could use the same language to describe it. I thought that was a nifty bit of writing. Now, I’m thinking it was even better because yes, I’ve had these experiences talking about gender and my experiences as female in many different spaces. Thanks for writing this.


    1. Wow, that IS a clever piece of writing.

      I’ve had the same kind of experience talking about schools…most people assume, I think, that everyone’s school experiences were more like theirs than they probably were — I mean we have this broad sense that some schools are better or worse, but I didn’t get *how different* they are until I taught prep school for a few years (having attended public high school in West Virginia). People just…talk about stuff and have no idea they’re not only not using the same words, they’re not using words from the same planet.


    2. I agree wholeheartedly with that clever piece of writing. Having gone through a divorce and talking a lot about it more recently with a friend who is going through it too; I realize that while I understand part of her struggles, I can never fully understand all of them because I’m not her.

      I’ve also had this issue with moving to the west coast. I hear many women here say “there are no women in tech” and while I believe their perspective, I also want to simultaneously scream “are you kidding? they are falling from the sky compared to the east coast”. And then I remind myself of perspective. I don’t have their perspective, I don’t know what they went through to get here, and I don’t know how it is for them now that they are here.

      I try oh so hard to live by the mantra that it is always worse somewhere else — and keeping that in perspective (although sometimes I fail at doing it) helps me apply the principles of empathy to all I encounter (or at least I would like to think that’s what I do).


  2. Please name the movie, for I want to see/understand/grok and there is no way for me (cast in the mold of Eric, Jason, & Nicholas) to do so without external stimuli to bend my mind.
    (not “bend my mind around”, but actually “bend my mind” — thereby removing “me” from the equation, which I cannot currently compute)


  3. it was Enough Said (James Gandolfini/ Julia Louis-Dreyfuss). I don’t want to suggest that was the main point of the movie — I didn’t notice it until the post-movie debrief in the pub — but it was pretty cool once I did notice it.


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