Aaron S. Hawley (aaronhawley) wrote,
Aaron S. Hawley

How the culture is hostile to women

I've written before how I believe that a lot of women aren't recruited or drawn into all levels of computing because the culture is male-centered and therefore not attractive to women. I also believe a symptom of this disease -- that also only adds to make the situation even worse -- are the outright sexist and misogynistic acts by men. Often, such harassment is acted out in private or in electronic forums -- these incidents are well-documented. However, occasionally this hostility bubbles up and boils over into public and in-person situations.

This month, there was a presentation at a Flash conference that sounded completely absurd. Read about it at Prude or Professional? by Courtney Remes at the geekgirlsguide.

Earlier this year there was a similar presentation at a Ruby conference. See Why Rails is Still Ghetto by sarahmei and gender and sex at gogaruco by Sarah Allen for reports from a third of the women who attended the conference (2 out of 6 is one-third) and found the presentation offensive.

On all this, I prefer to just quote some of what volsunga wrote in Porn. Ruby. *headdesk* rather than adding more meta-discussion to these controversies. It is stated well.

[...] This is the classic "it's more offensive for you to say I'm a sexist than for me to actually be sexist!" response. People with an agenda (usually those sneaky feminists) choose to find something offensive so they can have a whine and call someone mean names, like "sexist". But what's at stake here isn't that the presentation was offensive per se, but that the context was inappropriate and potentially alienating to women developers, in an environment that's already default male by dint of numbers.

There's also the classic "you could just ignore it if you don't like it" defence. [...]

This presumes that people who don't like pictures of naked women went along just so they could complain. But even if everyone who thought they might not like the talk didn't go, it'll still be wrong to show it; the very presence of such a slideshow at the event creates an atmosphere where women are "them", where some content is made solely for men, but as if "male" is "default". [...]

And it doesn't matter if it was intentional -- no one really thinks [the presenter] sat down and schemed to offend women in advance -- and by refocusing on intention [the presenter] is able to get away with all that "poor little me" stuff in his post, as if his whole character has been impugned.

Newsflash: there's a difference between saying "you're a sexist/racist/homophobe" and "some of the stuff you just did/said contributed to the sexist/racist/homophobic culture around X".

Message to Ruby developers who think this is out of control/proportion/just a bit silly: all your rights to nod sympathetically/join in when someone bemoans the lack of women developers are entirely removed (for ever) if when women do speak up, you pull this self-pitying, I'm-a-nice-guy-really, its-not-my-fault, thats-just-the-way-I-roll, stop-complaining bullshit. And if those who complained then get painted as moralistic, shrill and angry for the sake of it.

There are various posts up and around about why this has become a blame game, and that it's counter-productive. It wouldn't be a blame game if there had been less bombastic denial and more listening on the part of the speaker in the first place. Blame games stop when someone puts their hands up and scrutinises their behaviour. So get on with it.

A fun resource I found while poking around in this is Derailing for Dummies.

Tags: free software, gender

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