Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rage, rage

As promised, the GeekDinner rant:

I went along to the Cape Town GeekDinner last night, hoping I'd learn something, and meet some interesting fellow geeks, and generally interact face-to-face with a community that doesn't make a habit of it. It's been a year since my permanently-scarring attempt to infiltrate a CLUG meeting, and I was hoping this would be a slightly more welcoming group of people.

Which they were. It was all going ok, until there was a mostly naked women offered free when you buy space in Teraco's data centre. The presenter showed the data centre layout, the state-of-art generator and fire supression system... and a mostly naked women. Pointing out that, when you buy a whole cage, you get one of those free.

Hold on, what??!

/me turns a deep shade of red, and begins clawing the tablecloth.

What was most disturbing was that none of men around me seemed to see what I was unhappy about. Let me put it this way: Imagine if the presenter joked that you get a strong, strapping member of a marginalised race group free with your server (to carry you there on a litter. or, whatever else you desire. He is yours, after all, he came free with the server). Would this be appropriate? socially acceptable? the norm? No, of course not - I regret even having to use this offensive and degrading example.

So, you wonder why there are so few women in IT. duh.

Please realise that this rant is not, in fact, because I am uncomfortable with this kind of raging misogyny. Those of use who have been lucky enough not to be discouraged by families, sexist teaching, and being locked out of the computer science "clubhouse", are all too familiar with it. What does bother me is that it only perpetuates a view of women that most men hold, consciously or not. I bear no malice towards the friendly guy who, when I tried to ask what Ubuntu version (Kubuntu, EduBuntu, Ubuntu / Dapper, Edgy?) was being passed around, explained to me that "oh, it's just a Linux distro". However, I really am getting tired of having to prove myself every single time I meet new people, just because I'm female and work in IT, and your social conditioning doesn't expect my existence.

To the GeekDinner crowd: I hope you get it right next time. I would have loved to explain to everyone there exactly why I wanted to lynch the guy from Teraco, but I'll settle for this: Please open your eyes to how you view women, and how your actions reinforce stereotypes that the world would be much better off without. And, when you realise there's a problem, and see others engaged in exacerbating it, stick your neck out for a change. As the Encouraging Women in Linux HOWTO points out,

Every time a woman sees a sexist joke or comment, she feels angry, left out, and belittled. Every time a woman sees a man stand up against this behavior, she feels included and valued.

For a change, I'd like to interact with this community as geek first, women second.


Blogger Neil Blakey-Milner said...

Well, as the person who said "Just a Linux distro", it wasn't the fact you were a woman that made me say that, but rather that I didn't understand what you meant (which isn't helped by my having a slight hearing problem, and it was quite noisy), and resorted to starting at the level I generally start with when dealing with anyone whose skill level I don't know, male or female.

You had two options - assume that I meant it because you're a woman, or assume I didn't understand what you meant or assume that I was some anti-Linux bigot, or something else. Either way, challenging it (to me, privately) would've led to a better result.

In terms of the presentation with mostly-naked woman - trust me, that irritated me a lot (I take it you missed the "Oh Lord!" I said despondently to a friend of mine).

I've often been the lone voice trying to explain how things even more subtle than that can affect particular groups of people from participating in the community, and I often had to use my "geek cred" to get other developers to listen to what equally-intelligent and equally-talented female developers were saying at the open source gender workshops I've been at in South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, and Kenya.

The best way I've found to deal with it is for you to do what you've done and expose it (without trying to shame the individual with their name). There's really not much that can be done at the time in my experience - I've tried that a few times, and generally it's all defensive "but, but, my wife and other female friends find that sort of thing funny, you're just being politically correct or hyper-sensitive".

But I imagine that the emails he'll be getting and the exposure to your disagreement will have more of an effect - he's not going to be fighting his case in front of a lot of people having to appear right (so as not to have his associations badly reflected upon), and won't have to self-justifying the behaviour because of that.

I hope you come again, and I hope that you offer to talk. The best way to show people that you know what you're doing is to show them that you know what you're doing. That's part of the reason why I asked a (female) friend of mine to present at the next dinner - that and I know nobody better at what she does...

12:36 pm  
Blogger Matthew said...

I'm pleased I'm not the only person who cringed at that rather regrettable faux pas. Easily the worst moment of the evening.

I hope, Melissa, that you can overlook it and still join us again next time.

4:29 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Carter said...

Hi Melissa.

I quite like your rant, I think you got your point across very well- but, I think having to 'prove yourself' to everyone is something we all suffer from these days. Next time some arrogant twit says something like, "It's just a Linux distribution" (not that nbm is /necessarily/ a twit), correct them by saying "Surely you mean a GNU/Linux distribution!?".

One-up them, be bold. Don't stay quiet. In fact, I think it would be great if you could speak for a few minutes at the next geek dinner, even if it's just to read your blog entry.

I think it's great that you speak out, a bigger awareness will certainly go a long way, I'm quite ashamed that I didn't even think that it might offend someone when Joe mentioned the free girl. I was too busy thinking whether he meant free as in beer or free as in freedom, and I do apologise for that.

Hope you'll make it to the next geekdinner, and sorry from me personally for not saying/doing anything last night.


4:30 pm  
Blogger Adrian said...

Why one-up them? This isn't a competition.

"What is that being passed around?"
"Oh, just a linux distro"
"I know, but *which* distro?"

6:39 pm  
Blogger melissa said...

This is great - thanks very much for the supportive response. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this post (I was mostly just angry) but i'm glad i'm not as alone as i thought.

Neil, sorry about misreading your comment, and i'm glad you corrected me. I'm pretty softly spoken anyway, and right after the mostly-naked girl episode i was, i suppose, just expecting more of the same. So, hearing you through a stereotype rather than you seeing me through one. Gets kinda complicated :p but I apologise.

As far as speaking at a GeekDinner, i'm unfortunately completely terrified of public speaking. Not to mention to a partly hostile audience *cold shivers*. I'll think about it. Either way, just having more women speakers, and more women around, would make a big difference.

10:00 pm  
Blogger Neil Blakey-Milner said...

The first couple of times I "volunteered" to present, I was incredibly nervous and couldn't believe I was thinking of willingly putting myself through public speaking - I often froze up in school "orals" in English class in front of the entire class and left the stage under the sound of them all laughing.

In the eight years since, I've spoken in front of groups of up to 200 people. (Which isn't to say I wasn't terrified when I did it. Moving from 70 people to about 200 people is quite a jump! Especially when they're all CEOs and there are Microsoft representatives in the crowd being rude and laughing whenever you mess up...)

And despite all the public speaking, the temerity to go on and introduce myself to one more friend-I-haven't-met-yet just hasn't materialised.

And, as you say, it's probably not going to be easy trying it in front of an audience that you've had a negative encounter with.

11:17 pm  
Blogger Kosta said...

cool post

6:26 am  
Blogger Christopher said...

Sounds dodgy Mel - pity you had to experience that! I want to know why I was not invited, nor knew about it? Hmmm, *giggle*

Hope you are well, have have calmed down ;)

6:23 am  

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