I have a vagina, watch me use a computer

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Oscar Wilde

Dear Internet,
The New York Times recently published an article in its economy section about the status of women in technology. The perspective of the article is much like what has written about this topic before: Women are poorly represented in computer science fields, we’re less likely to obtain a computer science degree for X reasons, and if we do end up with a CS degree and work in the fields we’ve just trained for, we’re going to be underpaid in comparison to our male counterparts for the exact same job.
None of this is news. In fact, much of what was written could be hauled out and regurgitated for just about any other male dominated profession when pitting women against the men.
As I was reading this, I began taking umbrage with a lot of what the author was inferring, stating, and implying. It is not necessarily much of what she was writing about was incorrect or nonfactual, there are some points she’s made that I agree with, but her piss poor research model, her inability to look outside of the traditional path for education, and her broad stroke generalized comments got, as TheHusband would say, my vagina in an uproar.
As English majors round the world are often known to say, let’s unpack this shit.
“Writing code and designing networks are also a lot more portable than nursing, teaching and other traditional pink-collar occupations.”
I won’t disagree computing is a portable skill, but I would argue it is not more portable than nursing, teaching, or “pink-collar” (who actually says this?) occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers are only projected 12% growth by 2020 while nursing is at 26% and teaching is roughly at 17%. The projected growth is an estimate of how fast the profession is growing, the number of jobs available, and the sub career paths being created as new job markets open up.
The other part of the problem I have with this is that computer science is much more than just writing code and designing networks and yet almost every article I’ve ever read that brays on this topic, regardless if it is about gender in tech or not, narrows their discussion to just those two options.
“Yet just 0.4 percent of all female college freshmen say they intend to major in computer science.” “Today, just a quarter of all Americans in computer-related occupations are women.”
I have a particular problem with this corollary because not all who go into computers are their main career choice obtain a traditional education in that field, and this applies to men AND women. I’m not strong in maths by any stretch of the imagination, but her figures don’t add up. You can’t lead with shocking claim that less than one percent of women are going into computer science as their preferred major  and yet jump  to 25% of Americans in computer related occupations are women.
When I worked at UUnet in the late ’90s/early ’00s, maybe 1 in 15 had a degree in CS. Almost ALL, men and women,  were college educated with a major in something else (mainly liberal arts degrees) and were either self-taught or learned on the job. This does NOT discount certification, which is different since certification is very specific to a particular hardware or software. And many, many employers were and still are more interested in your certification then your undergraduate degree program. A decade later, many of those I’ve met who work in a computer science field of some kind, almost all did so by the aforementioned method: An interest turned into a passion, which became then the new career path.
When I was talking about the NYT article with TheHusband, he echoed comments I’ve heard from men and women in the field: Those who have CS degrees are less likely to be good at their jobs than those who do not. The reasoning is that seemingly many CS degreed workers do not learn how to hack, explore, and troubleshoot, or even think outside the box, which are super critical skills in this field.
As I was going over my post this morning with one of my BFFs, Kate, who works as a systems admin for a large corporation. Kate admins UNIX, Linux, AS400, and storage servers and she forwarded me an email she received from her DBA recently:

To: Kate
From: DBA
Subject: Error when doing SSH to DB
Could you look into it?
ssh dba@yermom
The authenticity of host 'yermom (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 0e:d8:df:31:26:2b:90:f1:75:51:7d:2e:a7:5a:bd:d0.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

(All identifying information has been stripped.)
The above example illustrates WHY it’s important to learn how to troubleshoot and discover. Now I’m not advocating against getting a traditional education, but I am saying the computing industry is very much a hands on experience, willingness to go outside your comfort zone and get dirty job which will go much farther in advancing your career then just a four-year degree.
You don’t necessarily need a traditional four-year degree to break into the field either. The diversity, hard and soft skills, and availability of career pathways, with the fact most of the technology is still so new and constantly changing, is what makes this field exciting and easily accessible.  And the help available on just about anything from coding to engineering to network design and everything in-between is easily accessible online or in print, and there is always, ALWAYS websites and groups built around the support of self-study. The internet is the largest purveyor of study halls, ever.
Ergo: hack your education.
One of the biggest challenges, according to many in the industry, may be a public-image problem. Most young people, like Allen, simply don’t come into contact with computer scientists and engineers in their daily lives, and they don’t really understand what they do. 
This statement is so damn generalizing – again, could be applied to many professions like my current one: librarians. Personally, I don’t come into contact with people in every field every day, and there are large swathes of fields and industries I didn’t even know existed until well, I found out about them whether by meeting someone who works in that field, coming across something I read, or something else entirely. Yet I can’t help think this is true for most people as well. But this isn’t necessarily a public image problem, but an information literacy issue.  If we teach people how to research and to discover, the propositions of what they know and don’t know will shift.

There is, of course, no pop-culture corollary for computer science.

There is, of course, no pop-culture corollary for computer science.

There is, of course, no pop-culture corollary for computer science.

You cannot, seriously, make connections that computer programmers are thought of as Dilbert, a cartoon that is widely popular, and then go on to say this. That’s just incredibly stupid.
Computer culture and nerd culture are not mutually exclusive, but there is A LOT of shared similarities. You will almost always find a computer geek who is a nerd and a nerd who is a computer geek. But let’s start talking about this “no pop-culture corollary for computer science” and how it’s absolutely proves the author of the article could not even be arsed to Google.
By no means a complete list, shows/movies with where computers/inteneting/related fields are near a primary focus:

  • The Big Bang Theory – Highly popular TV show about male geeks who hack and love along with their fellow female geeks
  • The IT Crowd – Cult hit UK show that is widely revered in the US about two geeks and their non-geeky boss at a vaguely evil corporation
  • Veronica Mars – Cult show in the US about a teenage Nancy Drew meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who’s best friends with female  hacker
  • Whiz Kids – 1983 TV show about young group of computer experts, including a girl, who play detectives. I LOVED this show.
  • Wargames – 1983 film starring Matthew Broderick about a young genius who hacks into a Pentagon-like network and almost begins WW III
  • The Social Network – 2010 film about the founding of Facebook
  • The Net – 1995 film starring Sandra Bullock about a female computer programmer whose life gets hacked
  • Tron – 1982 film about a hacker transported to the digital world where he needs to fight for his life in a  gladiator type game
  • Antitrust – 2001 film with Ryan Phillippe that is a thinly veiled look at Microsoft
  • The Lone Gunmen – Failed spin-off of the X-Files about well, The Lone Gunman, Mulder and Scully’s personal geek squad
  • Matrix 1, 2, 3 – Did you take the red pill or the blue pill?
  • Hackers – 1995 film starring pubescent Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie as young hackers in love
  • Millennium Trilogy / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Both the original Swedish and US versions are excellent. Central plot around a murder that may or may not happen, but the show is stolen by Lisbeth Salander, the ultra hacker to end all hackers.

Fictional female computer geeks/hackers in film/tv/comics. A Google search came up with over 95M results and the top results list site after site of current articles compiled by big, popular sites such as The Mary Sue and Flavorwire:

I trolled the internet and got lots of other great responses of fictional female hackers ranging from comics to anime to movies and TV shows. Are women under represented in geeky pop culture? Without a fucking doubt, but they do exist. However, to say there is no general pop culture connections or to say there is no fictional outlets to discover female computer geeks is egregious.
I also want to point out many of the above movies and TV shows are popular not within the circles they wish to emulate, but widely watched by variety of different people.
Lastly I noticed the authors quotes were either anonymous, “People in the industry say…,” or were mainly from men. How can you seriously write an article about women in technology and use penis bearers as your definitive source of information on what is happening in the field and expect to be taken seriously? How?
A couple of weeks ago, I proposed lots and lots of ways to start moving past the ballyhooing of the issue and start fixing the issue. I would also add

  • Buy female hacker positive materials such as the TV shows and films listed above as well as books, manga, and more to illustrate that female computer geeks do live in the pop culture world
  • Start a zine aimed at young women and girls as another

The only way the perception and culture of women in computing changes if we start actively making those changes we want to see. We need less of the, “oh woe is us” and more “what are we going to do to fix this damn problem.”
Keep the conversation moving forward.

This day in Lisa-Universe in: 1998

Librarians, Gender, and Tech: Moving the Conversation Forward

"Woman teaching geometry" Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid's Elements (c. 1310 AD) via Wikipedia CC.
“Woman teaching geometry”
Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid’s Elements (c. 1310 AD) via Wikipedia CC.

Dear Internet,
Nearly a year ago, there was a small explosion over a post I had written on why men should not write about gender and technology, which stemmed from conversations that were being held simultaneously over several similar mailing lists and blog posts.  At the end of the post, I had proposed in the following to help keep the conversation flowing:

  • Donate to the Ada Intiative.
  • Start/chair an interest group for women in technology in LITA, the technology arm of ALA
  • Start a GeekGirl Dinner in your area.
  • Use Meetup.com to start/find groups in your interests (there were loads of Women in Technology interest groups on MeetUp).
  • Depending on where you work, what you do; start off-site initiative for women to have a hack-a-thon
  • Find local hackerspace communities to start a women’s initiative
  • Use professional conferences to propose panels/groups/discussions to get more people aware but also to pay it forward
  • Create a women in tech book club at local bar/coffee house
  • Donate time to do mentoring to high school and middle school girls
  • Donate to or become a sponsor for a nearby women’s conference, like GeekGirlCon

In keeping with the spirit of my suggestions, this week I presented with a load of great people on gender, technology, and libraries at Internet Librarian.
Twenty four hours later, I was publicly sexually harassed. Like I said, the irony was not lost on me.
Now that the conference is over, I am home and I have had a few days to simmer on the events of the week, I’ve decided to take up the mantel permanently on the topic. My reasoning for this is layered, but primary cause is I don’t think we’re doing enough in the profession to bring this to the forefront of our mind. I only tend to write about it when something has happened either to me or I’ve become impassioned for another and my opinion must be heard! I’ve noticed that others seem to act the same way, thus the discussion tends to dip and rise depending on what is getting peoples ganders up at the moment.
I was curious as to how others are discussing it within the profession, so here are a few examples of how we’re not addressing this topic:

  • A search of “sexual harassment” in American Libraries turns up only 23results, most on opinions on events occurring in the late ’90s and on public court cases
  • A search of “gender technology” in American LIbraries Magazine turns up 27 results, much on the concentration on gender in the classroom
  • ITAL, the journal for LITA, has no results on “sexual harassment,” and two results on “gender,” one of which about the financial disparity between men and women and discussion on the roles of women in technology, which is low, in a profession where the role of women is high
  • Code4Lib Journal has no mention of “sexual harassment” in its journal, and “gender” brings up conference reports on forums on inclusion and diversity. To be fair, a lot of the big discussions happen on their mailing list, but that doesn’t entirely erase the fact there is no discussion happening in their journal
  • As far as I can find, until now, there is no known topic or panel of women, technology, or gender that have taken place on local or national forums in terms of panels, posters, or discussions at conferences
  • There was no known Code of Conduct at ALA Annual 2013, or any other ALA related conference. When I asked and asked, I was constantly told this was a “topic of discussion” stretching back for many years but no one was actively working on it because it was assumed it was not needed. Thanks to Andromeda Yelton, who rocks my little socks, and others who helped get this out of the discussion period and into the actual tangible thing. Hopefully this will be taken up by other arms of ALA for their future conferences.

Then there is always the other side of sexual harassment — the side of men being harassed by women. I had a conversation with a male librarian while at Internet Librarian who regaled me of stories of sexual harassment occurring towards him while at conferences, meetings, and the like. Now what is interesting is social convention states that as a male, he’s supposed to not only take it, but be flattered by the attention. Why are we also not discussing this?
Another intriguing thing about this topic is the fact the discussion seems to be happening all over and around librarianship, via national outlets and personal blogs, but not within the profession itself. Some good examples of these conversations that give a lot of food for thought are:

Now some of the above writers are librarians, others are not, so when I say “within the profession itself,” I explicitly mean within professional journals, organizations, and conferences.
Now this post is meandering all over the place, but lets add more on what to do to keep the conversation going:

  • Started near the end of 2012, I formed LibTechWomen with Becky Yoose, Bohyun Kim,  Andromeda Yelton, and many other awesome people as a way to create a safe space for women and their allies to talk about these and every other issue under the sun. You can find us, mainly, via Facebook, Twitter as @libtechwomen and #libtechwomen, and GoogleGroups.
  • A national summit, Leadership-Technology-Gender, is happening at the end of Electronic Resources & Libraries conference in March, 2014. Great start, but we need to keep this at  local level as well
  • Start doing panels, proposals, forums, Q&As at at library related conferences, local and specialized
  • Use this topic as a launch pad for discussion in your classes. (Thanks, Nick!)
  • Start implementing a Codes of Conduct1 at your conferences, meetings, and other large gatherings
  • Start writing on this topic on a regular basis both in personal blogs AND professional journals, most specifically NOT just when something happens
  • Push this topic on Twitter using #libtechgender

Over on my professional site, I’ve started to curate all of this into a page of its own. You can track the updates by subscribing to the tag here when I write a new article or checking the page manually or subscribing to the page’s RSS feed to get updates when the page itself is updated.
As always, I have obviously not covered everything so if you have an article, link to an already happened or upcoming panel, or whatever, please feel free to drop a comment below or contact me.
I also encourage discussion on this topic from all perspectives, as more voices the better, whether here, your own blog, or on Twitter using #libtechgender. But please keep it civil.

1. I’m going to be writing more on this topic at a later date, as I think this is just as important as talking about sexual harassment and women in library technology

This day in Lisa-Universe in: 2012

Why (white) men should not (mostly) write about gender disparity in technology

Dear Internet,
In 1994 or ’95, I started getting interested in computing and even more specifically, the INTERNET. This all stemmed from a class I took at the time  (taught by a woman) succinctly titled, “An Introduction to the Internet”; which would be all command line interface until the college installed Netscape .9 in the open computer lab later that year. Color. Photos. From. Finland. WOW.
That class changed my entire life.
I got my first paid gig doing tech support at a local ISP in 1996, which lead to another gig in San Francisco, which lead to other gigs that took me around the country. My last pure tech job was as an Senior Internet Systems engineer at UUNet/Worldcom, which I spent my days configuring routers, studying for the CCIE, and other network engineering fun things. As WorldCom was going through a bit of a rough patch, I took this as a sign to head back to university, finish my undergrad in English (where I had started nearly a decade prior) and figure out the rest of my life. I moved back to Michigan and started classes at Aquinas in January of 2003.
I completed my undergrad in the spring of 2005, my first masters in the spring of 2008, and my second masters in the spring of 2010.
None of my degrees have anything to do with computing or technology, which was very much on purpose. My creative brain needs a lot of hand holding while my technology brain does not. While there were gaps between my technology jobs (school and all that rot),  I’ve always kept my head wet by keeping up my interests. My current position is the perfect job for me since it combines my education AND my experience: I’m a systems and web librarian at a local college. All of my senses are tingly.
I’m giving you this background not because I think I’m unique in my education or my foray into technology, but to illustrate that I’ve been in the technological world for a very long time and I have very rich experience of being a woman in a man’s world. I knew getting into tech back in the early ’90s  women were not as dominant and they were just starting to get into the peripheral of the scene. When I went to Def Con in 1997, the number of women who were hackers at the time were just beginning to be as dominant as the ones who came along to support their partners. In the next couple of years, the more cons I visited, the more women were becoming an integral part of the scene and less like visitors from another planet.
As this is such a male dominated landscape, I’m no stranger to sexism or sexual harrassment that was and still is clearly abundant in the world of technology. This is the one constant that has not changed since that first class I took in 1994.
To wit, within the last week alone, two seperate vendors did the following:

  • One sent an email explaining that to turn on the server I had just received by documenting I had to push the big green blinky button
  • After explaining to the vendor I was going to use sudo for installation of Enterprise backup and walked him through the steps, he still explained what sudo was and why I needed to use it

This is in addition to my day to day life where sexism runs rampart, whether it is intended or not. Last week, the beer guy who kept talking to TheHusband about the deliciousness of beer when we picked up a bottle of Guinness Black even after I pointed out it was for me; the car sales people who kept approaching TheHusband when we were shopping for cars even after we pointed out I was not only the primary person driving but also the purchaser. The comic book store clerks (5 out 6 we’ve visited) who kept trying to suggest titles to TheHusband even when it was I asking to buy such and such issues. So forth, and so on.
For many men, most I would think, don’t even think they are being sexist. Some even think they are being helpful. Our culture is so ingrained that something designed as being very male (beer, car shopping, computers, comics) belongs to the male of the party, they  without thinking about it direct all conversation to the male even if it is the female who is inquiring. I’m betting that 9 out of 10 men do this unintentionally and subconsciously, there is no thought that what they are doing is sexist.
I’ve long come to accept this is part of my life, as my interests in male dominated areas (comics, technology, sci-fi/fantasy) continues to grow, so too will the sexism (unintended or not) continue on. I’ve developed a thick skin to the daily sexisms because fighting each and every turn is exhausting, and often futile. So I pick my battles when I can and fight on like a good warrior for these battles.
This is one of those battles.
Ealier this week, Roy Tennant, who writes at Library Journal’s The Digital Shift, published an article called Fostering Female Technology Leadership in Libraries.
I’ll wait while you go read.
I’m going to go make some tea while you’re going through the comments.
I may also start a new cross-stitch pattern while you’re going through that.
Are you back? Good.
Here are the problems I have with Roy’s article, and later his comments.

  • When pointing out his suggestions were just as sexist, or at the very least patronizing to the very people he was trying to help, he told me, the very type of person he was trying to help, I was wrong.
  • When giving him suggestions on how better to further the action or dialogue, he ignored them.
  • When several of us pointed out that as a white man, he had the utmost of privilege and that his suggestions were born from that privilege, unintentional or not, and ergo why his suggestions sounded patronizing even when he thought they were’t, he took that to mean we were attacking him personally even though we were attacking his argument.
  • Ditto for the number of times he keeps discussing how much of a feminist he is on this site and other social media as well as alluding his critics are off the mark. Let me point out once more  the criticisms have come from the very people he’s trying to help. No one is disputing your feminism Roy, we’re critiquing your proposed solutions and your dismissiveness of our experiences in your follow up commentary.
  • When I disputed that the experiences he was writing about were not the same I experienced, so he should not generalize, he said, “yet I’ve heard the opposite from other female colleagues — that such jokes create a hostile environment for women. For now, I’m still with them.”  The problem with this is you cannot expect special treatment for women (tampering down of jokes/commentary  in the work place) if you want to be equal. You can’t have it both ways. It has to apply to EVERYONE or apply to NO ONE. It is not equality if special considerations are made. This was the huge problem I had with this list, because tampering down jokes and being respectful to a woman should not just about women, it should be for all humans.

What really gets my goat, however, is Roy’s apparent ignorance of his own privilege on this matter as he keeps beating it around social media how much of a feminist he is, so he’s right and we’re wrong. It was pointed out to him in the comments that as a white male, he enjoys specialized treatment, which he may not even be aware of but as a white male he does certainly enjoy. He told the person,

Karen, the fact that you think you know me is laughable. Indeed I have “given up privilege” as you put it. For but one example, I voluntarily left the LITA Top Tech Trends panel to make way for the committee to add more women, a number of whom I nominated in the process, and subsequently when the panel at one conference was again male-heavy I complained about at the session. I notice that they’ve largely been better about it since.

So. Giving up privilege, to him, means he left a panel on a professional association. And then complained about it’s male dominatedness later on? And that’s it? This is supposed to make me feel better? Nothing here about his personal life. Nothing here about what he is doing at his own company to promote women in technology or in other very public spheres he’s active in. Because an empty seat on a panel for a small subset of the profession is so helpful to the rest of the female gender in getting them into technology?
Ultimately what is causing me the most frustration is what also makes me the most depressed. Here is someone who has power, who is known on a large scale in the profession, who can’t even acknowledge that his approach to this very worthwhile topic is perhaps not the way that it should be? That maybe, instead of labeling myself and others critical of his approach (again, the very same marginalized group he is attempting to promote) as his “attackers,” he could step back for a moment and at least acknowledge our commentary might have some substance?
(Bears repeating: No one is disagreeing this topic isn’t worthwhile. I am disagreeing with this execution.)
This fight for equality is not even close to being over yet, nor will it be even in my lifetime. However, the unfortunate part is that it is people like Roy, self-styled (white) male femimists, who have solidarity for our cause, who want to be supportive of our needs, are the very same ones who are often our worst detractors. I believe Roy genuinely thinks that he’s doing a very good thing by writing about this topic, even if I disagree with what he wrote. I also think this is why he’s so defensive of any critique of his actions because he thinks he’s doing something to help the downtrodden, how on earth can this even be remotely bad?
Do not ever be afraid to be critical of anyone, regardless of who they are, when they start discussing means and ways of experiences and feelings when it is clear they have no experience in what they are discussing. You, and only you, can own your experiences and feelings. Do not let others dictate how you should live.
Roy asked for ways to change this, which I gave him a list which was ignored. Here is more to add to that list if you want to support women in technology:

  • Donate to the Ada Intiative.
  • Start/chair an interest group for women in technology in LITA, the technology arm of ALA
  • Start a GeekGirl Dinner in your area.
  • Use Meetup.com to start/find groups in your interests (there were loads of Women in Technology interest groups on MeetUp).
  • Depending on where you work, what you do; start off-site initiative for women to have a hack-a-thon
  • Find local hacker space communities to start a women’s initiative
  • Use professional conferences to propose panels / groups / discussions to get more people aware but also to pay it forward
  • Create a women in tech book club at local bar/ coffee house
  • Donate time to do mentoring to high school and middle school girls
  • Donate to or become a sponsor for a nearby women’s conference, like GeekGirlCon

Wanting to bring a voice to a marginalized group is a very good thing, but dismissing the concerns or critiques of that same group when brought up to you is bad. Do not generalize your assumptions of women as a whole in a particular area (in this case, technology) because your sample of that experience will be small and it will not be representative of all voices. Do not presume, as a male, to know my experiences and also, to dictate how I should feel about them. I can only speak of my experiences in my life, I cannot speak for other women, but the broader, much larger vile act of sexism is very, very real. Everyday Sexism is documenting this in spades.
Once this is posted, I’m donating to the Ada Initiative. I welcome any civil, commentary on this topic but keep in mind any obnoxious trolling will be deleted.
Fight the good fight,
Edited: Nov 4: Added link to start a SIG at LITA in the to-do list