The rise of Geek Feminism

My first degree was in Physics. There were only two or three women on the course. After University, partly to keep my father happy, I became an accountant. Again women were in the minority. It was not like science as at least two of my managers were women, but it still had a boys club feel to the industry. I returned to University to study a Masters in Computer Science and again I was one of the minority. And so on…

The whole of my working life, accountancy, academia (Computer Science and the Physics), and then industry I’ve been one of the few women amongst many men. I’ve gotten used to it. I can’t remember all the injustices but a few come to mind though; Such as the male students I was supposed to be supervising during their masters (since their work was based on my work) who went to my professor rather than me; Or being an acting team leader for a couple of years but whenever I tried to get the promotion I was told “I didn’t have the right attributes” even though I was going the job (I eventually decided the right attributes were a set of male genitalia); Or listening to colleagues discussing the possible appearance of a prospective employee once they discovered she was female. I just learnt to live with incidents like these as did most other women I knew. Yes I could complain but then I would just be seen as a moaning woman but it would have never gotten me anywhere so I kept my head down and got on with work.

Online it was worse! The anonymity that the net gives people allows them to be blatantly bigotted or misogynistic with no recourse. I know women who only post anonymously on Slashdot for example since if they didn’t they would basically get attacked. Some would argue that in most cases it is just words on a screen but eventually enough words have an effect. More often than not I hid behind my nick which is not obviously female. So in the last few years I just haven’t been publicly active on-line.

There is a real issue with gender prejudice and some of the incidents have become really quite nasty. Emma McGrattan of Ingres caused a stir when she commented on gender and coding styles. Discussion sites such as Slashdot had many rather vitriolic posts by people who hated her over it. Kathy Sierra , however, got hate mail and death threats and ended up shutting down her blog because of what she had written. Other female bloggers and speakers worry about having content in which they have opinion because of the backlash and bullying that seems to occur from a section of the IT community. My issues have been light in comparison.

Then recently there have been a few speakers at various conferences who have had inappropriate content. I have written before about the inappropriate slide content of a scantily clad woman parading across the screen at PHP Conference UK 2009. Richard Stallman did not endear himself to women when he gave the keynote at the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit in 2009. And finally, (since I don’t want to make this a long list), there’s Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote at LinuxCon where he used ‘guys’ almost entirely, made an ejaculation pun, and talked about “explaining to girls what we actually do”. All of this is discouraging to women in the industry and I frequently have conversations with women who talk about changing career at some point due to this kind of atmosphere.

But in all this negativity there is a ray of sunshine. Unlike when I first started in IT there are now women’s groups both virtually and actually for example PHP Women, Linuxchix, Systers, Girl Geek Dinners and so on. These groups are supportive to women, provide encouragement to young women interested in a career in technology, and also give us a place to talk to one another about issues we are facing. Some of this conversation obviously turns towards incidents like those I’ve written about above and we are at least annoyed at most angry about it. However rather than just merely griping we’re doing something about it. All of the speaker incidents have been blogged about quite extensively. There are sites such as the Geek Feminism Blog and the Geek Feminism Wiki to name a couple. We’re being positive; we’re doing something about it; and it makes me optimistic for the future.

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2 Responses to “The rise of Geek Feminism”

  1. Polprav Says:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  2. cyberspice Says:

    Sure you can 🙂

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