Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Percolating Fury

An otherwise amazing two-day conference of technological innovation was soured by an ill-timed remark.

During last weekend’s Barcamp NYC4, I attended an interesting session on how to bypass the cable networks and use your computer as both a digital TV tuner and a DVR. There was a poetic irony in the session presented by an employee of Microsoft—how to avoid corporate by using corporate—and it was, in many ways, a 30 minute plug for Windows Media Center. It was useful and should have been a completely innocuous product-driven presentation. When he was all finished, the presenter passed the floor to one of the participants to discuss his startup—an open-source cross-platform media center software application. I’ve been a long time supporter of his company and have recommended it to many of my non-tech friends who are looking for a sleek alternative to cable. I was looking forward to what he had to say.

He introduced himself by smiling and remarking,

“Well, that was a little more technical than any of us were expecting. I know you lost the girls at hello.”

There was a moment of stunned silence as his meaning registered across the room. “Heyyyy---” I cried out in offense. Yet he offered no apology and continued with his product demo as if nothing unusual had happened. The room, filled with men and women all wearing identical red Barcamp NYC t-shirts, said nothing. At the end of the session, the women in the room gathered to share our collective outrage over the unsavory remark.

A man in the room overhears and tries to commiserate.
Can you believe that guy, he asks.

No! What a ridiculous statement to make. We’re here because we work in tech, I reply.

It was kind of funny, he comments.

How was that funny, another girl asks.

Oh, you know, the man tries to explain. That guys like that exist.

Nope, really nothing funny about it, a third girl adds, as she turns to us and explains, that’s why we’re trying to get a girls’ tech empowerment group together. Just a little something through which we can connect so that we’re not all alone at these industry events.

The man asks how we would feel if he started a tech group and only let men join.

That was all of history, I retort.

The man rolls his eyes.

I get his argument. We say we want to be treated as equals but then we identify ourselves through self-selected exclusion. You can’t have both, he is thinking.

And to those men—and women—who make that argument that you can’t single yourself out and expect to be treated equally, I will agree… when and only when we are paid equally, we are promoted equally and we are represented equally. When we can go to a tech conference and not have our intelligence reduced to a frailty with a single statement, as if—unlike every man in the room—we were unable to comprehend the concept of a DVI cable and a couple of codecs.

On a thematically-related note, @breakingnews had a Twitter update last night about a girl whose rape was streamed live over the internet. And that’s when my percolating fury started to steam. Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.

Not even close.

Gender Proportions in Congress and in the U.S.

Median and Average Gender Income Disparity

Gender Corporate Position Disparity

U.S. College Sexual Assault Statistics


Rob Blatt said...

You're bound to have a few assholes at an event like BarCamp. They always seem to be. I'm surprised you didn't out the company he was working for because that kind of stuff is relatively important to other people who care about these things. I have my suspicions, but I'll reserve them until I hear for sure.

Meg said...

It's so frustrating when a desire to be seen as an equal -- not superior, not special, just equal -- is somehow derided as being oversensitive or self-aggrandizing, as with the "women in tech" group.

That said, I'm not really involved with many "girl" or "woman" organizations online OR offline. I think my role as a writer on the fringes of the tech space (I'm more marketing/PR/web content) hasn't exposed me to the same kind of hard core bias women in the "true" tech space have experienced, so I haven't needed to seek out a specific kind of community just to get a break from the bullshit.

I know some women in the tech space who don't seem to experience any of the stupidity out there, and others that shrug it off as "the way things are", and I think there will always be split opinion on whether or not gender-specific orgs help or hurt the cause of equality. I tend to just want to prove them wrong by excelling.:)

But in moments like that, it seems like the only way to avoid dealing with idiot chauvanists who think their cracks about the capabilities of women are clever.

And remember, silly tech boy -- even if women aren't on your dev team, we may certainly end up being your customers.

I'd go out of my way not to buy from an asshole.

shespoke said...

As someone who's an other in the world of sports and writing, I share your fury. I've been pigeonholed into writing "chick pieces," so women can find them. But categorizing my stuff as female means I'm not reaching the other half of the aisle, the half that really needs it.

What's a girl to do?