If Programming Language Articles Were People

…then the one I’m about to talk about would be some guy going “I’m not sexist, but those women sure are difficult to work with aren’t they?”

Tim Chevalier asked me to document my calling out of sexism. I was already semi-planning to, but to be honest I was probably going to put it off due to the afore-mentioned crushing feeling of awkwardness. I’ll try not to do that, so this is my first account. It actually happened before the publishing of the last post and the difficulty I felt doing this was somewhat the spur for said post.

I’m going to establish an anonymity policy here though: Anything I mention is going to be at most as public as its source. Something in public on the internet I’m happy to link to and name and shame, something that happens over private email I may reproduce but I’m absolutely not going to name. This isn’t an ideal policy from a combating sexism point of view, but I think it hits a nice “Not being a complete asshole about it” middle ground. I may revise this policy later, but until I explicitly say otherwise this is what I’m going to do.

A developer acquaintance recently sent a link around to me and a few others. It was If Programming Languages Were Women. On writing this, I am very pleased to note that uTest have published a nice apology. So, well done on that. Thanks.

So uTest have handled this well in the end, but this is about the person who sent me the article. This was my response to them, written very much with the assumption that he probably just hadn’t really thought things through and trying to explain why it was a problem:

Yeah, sorry, this is a call out.

This sort of article isn’t really ok. It’s not that it’s wildly
offensive or anything – it’s not really (even if the first three women
described respectively have “serious issues”, are “seriously fugly”
and used to be “slow and a bit ditzy”. Nice).

The problem is that there is a widespread culture of “Just us guys” in
the software world. This isn’t surprising given the gender
distribution, but it in turn makes that gender distribution worse – if
you’re a woman in the industry you are constantly being given
reminders that you’re different, not really part of the core group,
and ultimately that can drive you away.

Imagine you’re a female developer and you read this article. What do
you think reading it? Do you think “Ha ha. You’re right! Programming
languages are totally like women”. Or do you think “Oh, right, thanks.
I forgot for a second there that I’m not really one of the normal
developers, I’m just a woman who happens to also write some code.
Appreciate the reminder”.

Female software developers are far more likely to drop out of the
industry than male ones, and things like this are a large part of why:
When you’re constantly being reminded you’re not actually part of the
group, it’s not terribly surprising you decide to leave the group.

There’s a big gender problem in the software world. Let’s not make it
worse than it is.

(What I am describing here is Othering, or maybe the experience of a Grunch. I thought it would probably be unhelpful to use or explain those words, as being confronted with jargon from an unfamiliar discipline when being told they’re wrong can sometimes make people defensive. I have no idea if this was the right call).

His response was less than ideal:

Agreed, wholeheartedly. Sorry if this didn’t enhance your day as intended.

More girls in our industry would be terrific. However my experience has not been the greatest on that front. I had a coworker that cried when she fell on the wrong side of a dispute over design; that behaviour gets old very quickly and is very unprofessional. Can’t imagine a guy using that particular tactic — with the exception of Steve Jobs perhaps.

Nevertheless, I have subsequently interviewed and offered positions based on talent to female job applicants and without prejudice.

I thought the comedy value and creative merit of the article was worth sharing. I wouldn’t blog this personally. but saying that, I don’t broadcast any of my random thoughts and observations.

I… really didn’t know how to respond to this, so in the end I left it at a single link:

How it works

I mean, I’ve worked with some remarkably difficult people in the past. Most of them have been men. Am I to conclude that men sure are difficult to work with, aren’t they?

This entry was posted in Feminism on by .

10 thoughts on “If Programming Language Articles Were People

  1. Tim Chevalier

    This is a great example, and I think you nailed it WRT people in a group that gets “othered” being taken as examples of their group, whereas people in a dominant group get treated as individuals, with their flaws being blamed on themselves as opposed to the group they’re part of.

    Reply
  2. Jed Davis

    The crying-coworker anecdote reminds me of this article I saw a few weeks ago: http://thegloss.com/career/bullish-life-men-are-too-emotional-to-have-a-rational-argument-994/3/

    That article is primarily about political debating, but applying its ideas here… if instead of a woman crying it had been a man getting visibly angry and maybe shouting over people or interrupting them, I bet that the emotional reaction in question wouldn’t have been immediately labeled “very unprofessional” like that, and wouldn’t have been condescendingly called a “tactic” that “gets old very quickly” (suggesting that it was faked as a ploy to manipulate people).

    Reply
    1. david Post author

      This was a really good article, thanks. I particularly like the point about how typically “male” emotions essentially get a free pass as not emotions.

      I’m also definitely a little guilty of the interrupting thing. Will have to keep an eye on that.

      Reply
    2. david Post author

      Also, yes, I agree with its relevance. I considered pointing out some examples of behaviour like that and saying “Can’t imagine a woman behaving like that”, but I decided not to go with it because I didn’t think it would be terribly helpful in context (also it’s not really true, in the sense that there are definitely women I know who I can imagine acting like that. Failing to imagine people deviating from their stereotypical behaviours is really just a failure of imagination)

      Reply
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  4. Ambrose Chapel

    I think when a guy complains about a woman crying when she feels bad, and calls it a “tactic”, that tells you way, WAY more about the guy than it does about the woman.

    Reply
  5. Amber

    I wandered to your site through a series of links, so I haven’t read anything else you’ve posted.

    While I am only tangentially associated with the computer programming world, as a female geek, I must say thank you for pointing out to your email sender that the list was inherently biased and likely to drive women away from the industry.

    I’m one of those women who cries during stressful situations. It’s an involuntary physical response to high stress and/or frustration. The only way I can control it is to completely lock down my emotions, which is not possible in some situations. One way to help prevent triggering this kind of reaction in coworkers/friends is to not be smug and stubborn about believing only you (generic, not specific) can be right.

    Reply
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