On Being a Woman in the World


This, changes things.

I was walking home from a gig by myself, at not particularly late on a Sunday night. Walking up St-Laurent, someone walking the other way stopped to talk at me. Someone asking for change is more passive. I stopped to listen. They wanted to go get a drink somewhere. I declined, and continued to walk, they continued to talk. Decline, decline, decline, leave me alone.

Still following me, a couple blocks from where I live, people walking on the sidewalk towards us, I said, “Do I need to make a fuss in front of these people for you to leave me alone?”.

Several steps further along, with a group of people milling across the street, I yelled at him to fuck off. Apparently that makes me a bitch. But, really, I feel extremely lucky that name-calling is all he did, and that he walked back away in the opposite direction – because what if he hit me for having the audacity to yell, and to not do what he wanted. You know?

I did get the rest of the way home, uneventfully. Although the saga continues.

Skip forward a couple of days, and I was at dork-Xmas party at a bar. There are many dorks. Who are generally polite. There was also a bouncer who was less polite. A half dozen sentences of small talk, and they had the audacity to squeeze at my belly/waist in a how-ripe-is-this-fruit kind of manner. Bad Touch. That, was a little easier to deal with – filthy look with an “I’m going over there, now”, because, y’know, what could he do about it?

Although when I left the bar, he was standing outside at the front door; and I had a what-if-he-follows-me-home freak out, which doesn’t seem rational.

Skip forward a couple of days, and I was going to be meeting someone at a metro station. I got to the foyer at street level, and there were a bunch of guys milling around. Rather than standing around inside, in case one of them started to bother me, I waited outside, which doesn’t seem rational.

Skip forward a couple of days, and you get to today. I have a ticket to go to concert tonight. And I now have an expectation that by being a woman who isn’t walking around with a guy, that I will be considered fair game, and that unless I am defensive, another man will feel that it’s appropriate to touch or squeeze at me.

I’m not sure what I can do to change that. I am, at a fundamental level, someone who is polite, and nice, and pleasant, and open; and I don’t know how I can become someone who is closed. I do not like being a person who is overcautious to irrationality.

I really do not like being a person who is being evaluated almost entirely on how I look – Neither man who touched me uninvited had any information to suggest that I am the crazy-freaky-interesting person that I am.

On Becoming a Woman in Tech

I am a woman in the tech field, because I’m not sure there’s another field that I could have grown into.

When I was a small person, not very tall at all, I was the kind of kid who played with lego. I think I might have had a My Little Pony, maybe, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a barbie doll (although for one Christmas I did end up with some kind of a very pink hair salon type thing).

When I was a little taller, but still very small, I started to program. Bits of it, using logo to draw pictures. Then meticulously typing in programs from magazines for simple games, and the inevitable jump to making my own games.

By now, I was almost as tall as I am now, but not quite. The next step towards the career I have was a modem as a Christmas gift (: I BBS’ed for a few years, and, heavens, in 1995, I think, I ended up with an internet account through the university in Wellington (which is oddness in my timeline). International traffic was expensive, and I had a shell, so for a long time, the internet was a lot like email and IRC (:

Then I got PPP access. Oh boy! PPP! And Mosaic! And my very first homepage! (It was at http://tao.sans.vuw.ac.nz/~chrisfox clearly, very clearly, it is long gone) I’m told it was regarded as high falutin’ and fancy at the time. It had Javascript!

Which brings us to the end of high school, and figuring out what to study at at university. Chemistry and Computer Science were the two things I was considering as a major. Chemistry was going to take six thousand years of grad work before I’d do anything more complicated than cleaning test tubes. Computer Science, not so much. It’s a co-incidence that the computer science schedule was over three days, mostly in the afternoon. An amazing co-incidence.

So here I am, doing coder stuff professionally (Argh! I started working doing systems stuff at an ISP 10 years ago, now. I feel old). I don’t think anyone particularly intervened to push me here along the way; and I suspect that if they had I would have been resistant to participating.

I’m going to guess that it’s the kind path that most guys take to end up as a coder. Which makes it really hard for me to constructively help get other women to take the light path to coder.

Rant in the Key of Women at Conferences

.conf { border: 1px solid #ddd; margin-left: 10px; background: #fff; padding:10px; width:250px; } .bucket, .conf { float: left; } .bucket { width: 50%; font-size: 2em; line-height: 1.2em } .ladies { color: #B5509C; } .fellas {color: #62B1F6;} .conf h5 { padding: 0px; margin: 0px;}

The under-representation of women who work in technology is an important issue. It’s not one that I know how to fix. But one of the ways that it shows up, is in the lack of women who speak at conferences. I don’t know why women don’t speak at conferences in general; speaking for myself, I’m just not that great at public speaking (:

In the past couple of years, I have been to two stellar conferences (Webstock ’08, in Wellington; and BitNorth, just outside MontrĂ©al) and a few more that were okay-I-guess. This is what the gender breakdown of the amazing conferences looked like:

♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂

♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂

I speculate that when conference organizers care about trying to fix the hard problems, they’re going to care about all of the little things that go into a conference.

I am not going to this one.
♀ ♀
♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂

I mentioned the absurd gender disparity of this conference to a (white, privileged, technical, male) friend of mine, in what turned into quite a surreal conversation.

me: (I count three of ladies.)
him: heh
that’s pretty common
ON one hand, i’d like to see a better balance
On the other, I’m kind of tired of hearing about “women in open source”
me: Did you, uh, complain about hearing women talking at conferences?
him: I complained about hearing about women talking at conferences about women talking at conferences

I am horrified that he felt that the content of womens’ talks was some how a way to rationalize the lack of women at a conference. I am also horrified that women feel the need to speak about their place in the technical eco-system that there is a perception that it’s the only thing they talk about (I don’t think I’ve ever been to a rah-rah women in technology talk, but I have heard women speak on all sorts of technical subjects). I remain horrified that he thought this was a position that was worth vigorously defending; and I have The Fear that this is a common perception.

And that makes me really fucking angry.