Kathy Sierra draws parallels between skater culture and Silicon Valley
February 27, 2015 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Kathy Sierra talks about the myth of meritocracy in tech and how skater culture broke her heart. You might know Sierra as the unfortunate victim of mega-troll weev, but her concise and touching analysis of her years as a promising skater shows an entirely new side of her.
posted by averysmallcat (29 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
TIL: Kathy Sierra the programmer is the same Kathy Sierra skater from the early 80's, and in reading all of the crap about her being pushed out of tech, I never connected that she was the same person.

Huh.
posted by daq at 4:00 PM on February 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


As always, Kathy Sierra is a thoughtful, fascinating person. Through a series of coincidences, I have gotten to know some longboarders, headed by a totally awesome woman who competes internationally. I love the idea of a tech world like her longboarder world.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:38 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]




"Enoji. Where no means yes."

Oh my. Sad and depressing beyond words.
posted by greenhornet at 6:16 PM on February 27, 2015


don't read the comments don't read the comments. Lewis' Law in action again.
posted by suelac at 6:42 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I will never forget reading Thrasher back in the early 80s and seeing a big full page graphic that said, "Girls shouldn't skate. They look ugly in black and blue." Until I read this FPP, I thought they were just the usual sexist assholes trying to be shocking. I did not know this was part of a deliberate effort to exclude women. I should have known.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:11 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kathy Sierra is an amazing human being. I really miss seeing her Serious Pony tweets on twitter.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thank you for posting. I had no idea.
posted by stet at 8:01 PM on February 27, 2015


There's a decent documentary about women skaters and their place in the culture called Underexposed. It has its flaws (mostly from those people never made a film before) but it's also really insightful and inspiring. It's on Hulu, last I knew.

As a woman, I'm happy to fight hard for what I want and to force my way into spaces somewhat. But it does get tiring when so many things say "We don't want you here." I get why so many people just give up.
posted by darksong at 9:15 PM on February 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


As a woman, I'm happy to fight hard for what I want and to force my way into spaces somewhat. But it does get tiring when so many things say "We don't want you here." I get why so many people just give up.

Yes, this sums it all up for me, too. I'm all for pushing myself and other women to be assertive, be brave, be unapologetic, but the cost is very high. I so appreciate Sierra for articulating exactly what that cost is, and how it saps the joy out of so many spaces that should be affirming and brilliant and fun.
posted by averysmallcat at 10:32 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Great articles, thanks.
posted by alasdair at 1:21 AM on February 28, 2015


This is a great article. It's so sad that both skateboarding and tech used to be inclusive and are now firmly regarded as boy-things by so many people. And Sierra is right. Sexism in skateboarding is worse. I was going to mention Concrete Wave magazine as an example of an inclusive skateboarding mag, because it regularly features female skaters and does not have sexist ads, but then I read the article I wanted to link to as an example again and saw that the opening quote has She's a beautiful girl but knows how to kick it with the guys. It's depressing to me that my one example of a mag that does a lot of things right still prints comments about a skater's looks (I don't think there's an article that would say he's a very good looking man but knows how to [something]), still compares the woman with men as if "kick it with the guys" is some kind of compliment, and has a "but" in the sentence as if it's a strange thing that beautiful women can be good at something.
posted by blub at 3:29 AM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am intrigued by the final photo. Is skateboarding with a horse a thing that people do?
posted by James Scott-Brown at 3:37 AM on February 28, 2015


Kathy Sierra is consistently terrific, so thank you.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:39 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Kathy Sierra hasn't been involved in skateboarding for thirty years and seems blind to (or to blindly ignore) all the positive progress that has happened over the past decade and more. No mention of Elissa Steamer, who was riding Pro for Toy Machine (one of the biggest teams in skateboarding) twenty years ago. No mention of the thriving online female skate communities. No mention of the female comps that happen locally and nationally (X-Games anyone, for at *least* ten years). No mention of the magazine and video coverage that is far more frequent now than at any other time over the past thirty years.

Just a few mentions of how it was back in the day and the current minority of idiot participants/teams, which exist in pretty much any community. How about snowboarding? Where the ratio of female to male participants is far more balanced, yet you still see rubbish like this?

The consensus on the Sidewalk forum, including from at least three female skaters, is that the article is bollocks.

Personally i think the whole premise that silicon valley could learn something from skateboarding is a bit naive. Skateboarding can be one of the worst offenders when it comes to cliques. I say this as a long term skateboarder and advocate for open source.
posted by lawrencium at 3:47 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have to be That Guy. Skateboarding. Skateboarder culture. It's the newest sport to have 'skate' in its name, and it's kind of presumptuous to assume that people would know you're not talking about one of the older ones.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:03 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The consensus on the Sidewalk forum

Umm, you're linking to an thread from 2012 that starts with "Do you think if a female became the world's number one skateboarder that women would ever shut up about it?" and with "Are we allowed to say how hot she is?" "I would love to spend a weekend with her." at the top of the page you link to as proof that there's not that much sexism any more in that crowd? That bit from the article about seeing what is good and beautiful and having your brain filter the rest might apply here.

I am intrigued by the final photo. Is skateboarding with a horse a thing that people do?

It's called horse boarding, it seems, using off-road skateboards. Plenty of Google hits.
posted by effbot at 4:09 AM on February 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


seems blind to (or to blindly ignore) all the positive progress that has happened over the past decade and more.
That's not the point of the article. And it's a problem that women have to accept any small kind of progress as if it's a huge deal and really great. That's the problem with lots of articles about sexism (and other social issues), that people will say that it used to be so much worse so why are you complaining, can't you focus on the good things that are happening.
posted by blub at 4:14 AM on February 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


Are we allowed to say how hot she is?

You missed the second part of the quote: "Since she's an actual model and all?". Given this changes the context of the comment from apparently *being* a sexist comment to being a comment *on* sexism in skateboarding i'd say that second part is pretty important.

And yes, when it comes to some comments, like i said: a minority of idiots.

That's not the point of the article..

If the point of the article is the "sexist, soul-crushing culture of modern skating. Soul-crushing, that is, for women." then how is modern skating culture different to just about any other modern culture? Any you know, that fucking sucks. And i don't know what it will take to change it.
posted by lawrencium at 4:54 AM on February 28, 2015


You missed the second part of the quote: "Since she's an actual model and all?". Given this changes the context of the comment from apparently *being* a sexist comment to being a comment *on* sexism in skateboarding i'd say that second part is pretty important.


The second bit reads to me like "Gosh, I know these females get all uppity when I comment on their appearance, but since this one is *obviously* putting herself out their solely for my enjoyment, I can talk about it, right?" It's an attempt to shield oneself from accusations of sexism, not a "comment on sexism". And considering the reply was "I'd like to spend a weekend with her", yeah, the room there was really not focused on dismantling the patriarchy.

That thread also manages to include a misgendering of the author (!) so I agree with effbot--I'm sure there are some more egalitarian parts of the community, but that ain't it.
posted by damayanti at 6:10 AM on February 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


The second bit reads to me like

It read to me like "there are some places we can talk about appearance where it won't be construed as sexism, and there are some places we can't". Maybe i'm (mis)reading too much into it?

That thread also manages to include a misgendering of the author (!)

Indeed it does by high-c, who happens to be female.
posted by lawrencium at 6:50 AM on February 28, 2015


As a loooong time white guy in tech, I can tell you that the myth of the meritocracy in my field is indeed, a very strong myth.

Unless the merit is having a swinging dick.

You are hired mostly because you have a pulse and would be a good fit. Fit, is defined how you expect.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:17 AM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


[Note: I think maybe we can drop the digging in on defense of comments about the hotness of and/or desires to "spend the weekend" with a woman who happens to be mentioned in relation to a sport / other accomplishment. Thanks. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


If the point of the article is the "sexist, soul-crushing culture of modern skating. Soul-crushing, that is, for women." then how is modern skating culture different to just about any other modern culture? Any you know, that fucking sucks. And i don't know what it will take to change it.

The point of the article was that Wired had recently published an article about things Silicon Valley could learn from skater culture, and Kathy Sierra, who is experienced in both cultures, wanted to point out the problem of sexism in both.

She also, however, highlights the awesome rise of women in certain skater subcultures, like longboarders, and in other parts of the world, like Afghanistan, which is not unlike the rise of women in, for instance, indy games. It is not an anti-skater or anti-tech article. It is an article about how both could do better when it comes to sexism.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:20 AM on February 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


So there's no sexism in skateboarding anymore? That's awesome news!
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Knowing Rodney Mullen's background and his place within skateboarding it's easy to understand where he is coming from. Even though he invented most modern tricks and has been behind a bunch of tech innovations within skating, he still pretty much an outsider(albeit a respected one) when it comes to mainstream cool-guy skate culture.

It's easy for him to see the benefits of being able to fail over and over again for a common goal and how having what I and my buddies always called skate-brain can change your perception and relationship to your environments. He is right in a way how those lessons can help you in tech dev. But the guy doesn't and hasn't ever known anything about greater skate culture or greater tech culture and how toxic either is for anyone but the in-crowd.

Kathy comes from the opposite side of being immersed in skate culture, but not deep in skate innovation. She does understand the point about tech culture that Mullen is fumbling with in the same way that he understands skateboarding: she is in a position of deep understanding of tech innovation but is keenly aware of the toxicity or both skate and tech culture.


So without rambling too much and coming from a perspective of having skateboarded for 20 years and now being a part time coder I can say that I absolutely love the act and experience of skateboarding but can say that I absolutely hate "skate culture". In the same way I can say that coding a tough/interesting problem is deeply satisfying but every time I hear about modern tech culture I wanna puke a little.
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 1:26 PM on February 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Personally i think the whole premise that silicon valley could learn something from skateboarding is a bit naive. Skateboarding can be one of the worst offenders when it comes to cliques. I say this as a long term skateboarder and advocate for open source.

That is exactly what the article is about, lawrencium. That is her whole point, that silicon valley shouldn't turn to skateboarding for lessons, since it has a lot of its own sexist and exclusionary dirty laundry that is still very dirty and out in the open. You claim she cannot speak to this point because she hasn't been in the skating scene for thirty years, and yet she came up with the some conclusion you did. Why is she required to be a historian of every positive note in skateboarding in trying to make this same point?

I had no idea Kathy Sierra was a skater first. This woman is genuinely amazing, and this was a heart-breaking article.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


That is exactly what the article is about, lawrencium. That is her whole point, that silicon valley shouldn't turn to skateboarding for lessons, since it has a lot of its own sexist and exclusionary dirty laundry that is still very dirty and out in the open. You claim she cannot speak to this point because she hasn't been in the skating scene for thirty years, and yet she came up with the some conclusion you did. Why is she required to be a historian of every positive note in skateboarding in trying to make this same point?

It's the same conclusion for very different reasons.

Whist skateboarding might be full of cliques that will ignore you on the basis that you might not skate the same way, or be a longboarder, or only skate park, or like a particular brand, or skate street, or not be into certain skateboarders, or being from a different "scene", or have a different style, or do particular tricks, or even horseboard; i can genuinely say that you will never be excluded on the basis of your gender, at least not in my experience.

Is there sexism in skateboarding culture? Yes, but it is largely limited to the marketing bullshit that doesn't speak for the majority of skateboarders. If you think that represents the common view then you're essentially saying the same thing as pop music represents all musicians and Hollywood represents all film makers.

Kathy Sierra seems to think that skateboarding is not a meritocracy because there is a gender imbalance and some sexist elements in a minority of companies. This is not how a meritocracy is defined. If you excel in skateboarding you will float to the top, regardless of your gender or background. This has and always will be the case.

I don't know what else to say. Perhaps reading the following interviews might convince you that the sexism in skateboarding is limited to the same places it can be found in just about any other culture:

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/01/boardwomen-an-introduction/

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/04/boardwomen-lisa-whitaker/

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/02/boardwomen-amelia-brodka/

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/03/boardwomen-mimi-knoop/

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/05/boardwomen-ben-powell/

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/05/boardwomen-frauke-meyn-and-erika-kinast/

http://www.planetnotion.com/2012/10/02/boardwomen-jenna-selby/

I'm done.
posted by lawrencium at 11:31 AM on March 1, 2015


i can genuinely say that you will never be excluded on the basis of your gender, at least not in my experience.
Your experience as a male skateboarder?

My experience is different. As a women you will not usually be literally excluded (though there are competitions that explicitly do not include women) but nobody ever said that that was the specific problem women faced. Women are not excluded from studying computer science or having jobs in tech either. Doesn't mean there aren't significant barriers for women that men do not face. As Sierra said too: great female skaters do exist. And even then, they're still often compared to men, as if "skates like a guy" is the best compliment you can give a women. And I think it's telling that in the thread you linked on the skateboard forum someone asked how many female skaters they had there on the forum, and people came up with less than a handful of names.

I opened only one of the articles you linked and the female skater said: When I got sponsored, riders were getting picked up for their skill, but ow it seems to be wavering on how a women looks rather than what she can do And that's an article you linked to show that there's not really an issue with sexism and skateboarding anymore?

I don't know why it's relevant that other cultures have sexism too. As multiple people pointed out: Sierra did not write this article because she wanted to write about sexism in skateboarding, it was a response to the Mullen article and gave an important counterpoint, I thought. I found it very moving and articulate, and admired how she did not lay blame on individual people (including Mullen) at all, and also acknowledged some good initiatives.

If you think there's no problem with sexism in skateboarding aside from marketing imagery (as if "no means yes" ads are just a small problem not really worth talking about), don't you think it's strange that in those powerpoints by Mullen he showed only men as inspiring people?
posted by blub at 1:01 PM on March 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


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