What can we do better as a community in these cases?
March 12, 2015 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Coding Like a Girl - sailor mercury at Medium:
"Apparently, presenting as feminine makes you look like a beginner. It is very frustrating that I will either look like not a programmer or look like a permanent beginner because I have programmed since age 8. I have basically always wanted to be a programmer. I received undergrad and grad degrees from MIT. I’ve worked as a visiting researcher in Honda’s humanoid robotics division on machine learning algorithms for ASIMO.

"I don’t think that any of these things make me a better programmer; I list them because I am pretty sure that if i were a white man with these credentials or even less than these credentials no one would doubt my programmer status."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (126 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
Assume people are as or more qualified than you.

If you’re at a conference and talking to a feminine presenting person, assume they are an expert in the field of the conference.

Before you are about to explain a paper condescendingly to someone in a dress, assume that they wrote it.


And the screenshot below this, from a twitter exchange, is just... Sigh.
posted by rtha at 10:00 AM on March 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


The Twitter mansplaining conversation pictured halfway through this article is the single most enraging thing I've seen all day. Development is a great match for me as a career, but it's not a culture I'm proud to be part of.
posted by Mayor West at 10:01 AM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm the father of two women and the grandfather of two girls. Nothing makes me madder than to see a man condescend to a woman because she's a woman. I've become a bit of an asshole about it, because I call them out on it, and if they try to cover, I'm usually unkind.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:05 AM on March 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


I looked up that twitter exchange because I wanted to see how he responded to being called out on his comment. He says it's a typo.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:07 AM on March 12, 2015


I looked up that twitter exchange because I wanted to see how he responded to being called out on his comment. He says it's a typo.

Of course. There's always an excuse.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:11 AM on March 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I once dressed nicely (makeup, dress, etc) to manage an event booth at a technical conference and some of the men (and women, sadly) did not believe I was a programmer. I would imagine if a man was in a suit managing a booth they would assume he was the CEO, director, VP, etc. But if a woman dresses nicely, suddenly she's low level marketing or even a booth babe.
posted by xtine at 10:12 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


He says it's a typo.

That exchange blew up Twitter for awhile after it happened. It's not a typo, the guy says he was responding to her article with a comment prefaced by the fact that he "read the full article". When I scanned his history and listened to his responses, I believed him.

Great article otherwise, but I think that exchange has been "debunked" (as pitch-perfect as it appears to be).
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:13 AM on March 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Seems more than a little disingenuous to include it in an article published three months after the fact.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:24 AM on March 12, 2015


Great article otherwise, but I think that exchange has been "debunked" (as pitch-perfect as it appears to be).

It isn't debunked at all, "typo" or no. Even if he meant to add "I" to the beginning of his statement, it reads like "I, unlike you, read the full article, so let me explain it to you" and either way he's still being condescending and mansplaining her own article to her. The presence of the word "full" gives it away - why specify "I read the full article" if he's not intending to Tell Her How It Is?
posted by dialetheia at 10:24 AM on March 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


I have suddenly decided that there needs to be a t-shirt that says "I wrote the article," and that I need to wear said t-shirt (in pink, with ruffles) the next time I go to a conference.
posted by BlueJae at 10:27 AM on March 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


(In retrospect, I'm as guilty as anyone else, but: notice how the author wrote thousands of words about how she's ignored because of her gender, and 80% of the comments HERE, in an ostensibly-woman-friendly place, are about what this one random dude thinks?)
posted by Mayor West at 10:29 AM on March 12, 2015 [37 favorites]


"Booth Babe"-That's a pretty nasty comment, right there. I bet a lot of "Booth Babes" are competent human beings counted on for public relation skills that supercede all bias, projection, prejudice, and mysogyny, with pleasant demeanor, openness that supports inquiry, and then their core expertise.
posted by Oyéah at 10:31 AM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hanging out with a friend of mine who is a math professor, she commented that she would only paint her toenails, not her fingernails, because she could wear socks and no one would know that she had nail polish on. That seemed silly to me - she had chosen a perfectly reasonably silver color and surely that wouldn't get in the way of math? No, she explained, her colleagues would treat her like a chick if she had painted fingernails.

Fuck the patriarchy, I want sparkles.
posted by maryr at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


why specify "I read the full article" if he's not intending to Tell Her How It Is?

I bought his subsequent explanation of the tweet, included here. You're free to not buy it.

Either way, the article is full of equally terrifying experiences for women in tech that we need to stamp out.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2015



It isn't debunked at all, "typo" or no. Even if he meant to add "I" to the beginning of his statement, it reads like "I, unlike you, read the full article, so let me explain it to you" and either way he's still being condescending and mansplaining her own article to her. The presence of the word "full" gives it away - why specify "I read the full article" if he's not intending to Tell Her How It Is?


He does not appear to be a native English speaker.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2015


Umpty-thousand years ago (way back in the 1970s or so) I took a computer programming course. There were about 30 students in my class, equally divided between males and females. At the end of the course, when we were all looking for the same junior-programmer sorts of jobs, we'd compare notes of how we'd done at the various interviews...... one guy, on one occasion, was required to take a typing test; every single woman, every single time, had to take a typing test. We'd all taken and graduated from the exact same course, studying the exact same subjects, and often were applying for the exact same jobs, none of which even involved typing in the first place.

(I was passed over in favor of one of those male classmates once: I was told that his college history made him a 'more stable' employee..... I had worked several years with the same company at that point, with a steady list of promotions; he'd gone to four colleges in 3-1/2 years with seven different majors but never graduated anywhere, and he was 'more stable'. Yeah, right.)

Forty years later, and not one damn thing seems to have changed.
posted by easily confused at 10:34 AM on March 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'm going to cut the guy some slack for the tweet. I can believe he dropped the 'I' because of proof-reading and it's not like we haven't seen a million other examples of people being misunderstood/not explaining themselves well on twitter. The medium seems to encourage it.

OTOH, every example of mansplaining can be explained away if you work at it hard enough.

On yet another hand, just because all of them can be explained away doesn't mean that there aren't ones that really should be explained away.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:43 AM on March 12, 2015


There's a whole bunch of subcultural stuff going on that I think gets captured well here:
But she did and wore a nerdy tshirt and jeans instead, and she had a better experience that day. People assumed she was technical and didn’t dilute their explanations to her.
If you go around at conferences full of geeks, and you don't look like a geek, they don't take you for one. Whereas if you do look like a geek, they expect that you are one and will talk to you appropriately. Now, there's probably sexism involved in the whole process of how one gets visually coded as a "geek," but it makes a lot of sense out of the author's reports of her reception.

If you show up at any event that has subcultural overtones, and you choose to dress in a way that doesn't mark you as an insider, and people have no other cues by which to judge you as an insider, why should you expect to be immediately taken as one?

I'm not trying to say there is no sexism in how the author is received, but I'm trying to process what I see as a contradiction: she wants in-group recognition but doesn't want to "look" like a member of the in-group. I could be misreading this, but I think it is a live question when you ask a question like the post title does.
posted by graymouser at 10:46 AM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I always stress about being promoted to a managerial position because I only ever see the executives at my workplace wearing pants suits and I can't. I have no clue what's acceptable dress code at that level though if it's not a pants suit. I'm reliving high school fears, when my friends and I talked about how we wanted to be teachers but we didn't know how to put on makeup and we thought it was required for the job. You only know what you see.

I'm going to go full femme at sxsw interactive this weekend and say to hell with it. And maybe someone will see me and add that to their mental image of what's appropriate for a programmer. (Except the makeup because I still have no clue how that works.)

So much energy spent on things that pretty much do not matter to doing the actual job.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:47 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a fairly masculine presenting woman in tech. I have been absolutely terrified, my whole life, of looking feminine, in case everyone immediately starts up that whole awful condescending gaslighting dismissive nonsense, that I generally escape from by having short hair and wearing the lady equivalent of man clothes.

I no longer have any clue whether I'd be a more feminine presenting person now if that had never been an issue. Is this really me? I don't even know! How messed up is that!

probably sexism involved in the whole process of how one gets visually coded as a "geek"

No shit.
posted by emilyw at 10:48 AM on March 12, 2015 [31 favorites]


If you go around at conferences full of geeks, and you don't look like a geek, they don't take you for one. Whereas if you do look like a geek, they expect that you are one and will talk to you appropriately.

I wonder what would happen if say, you showed up in a TARDIS dress.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:48 AM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I really shouldn't read articles like this. My motivation deflates like a balloon and I have to spend the time and energy blowing it up again. This year I've been teaching myself to code in my spare time in hopes of moving into the field in some way because I really enjoy it.

Reading stuff like this makes me question my thought process because not only am I female, I am an older female. Though I at least have an advantage in that I look substantially younger.

Every time I go through the process of feeling all bummed and toe stubby and then get are Grrr arrgh, no I won't put up with this. I'll just do it and be strong goddamitt!

I'm realizing how tiring this cycle is getting.

I need some sunshine, lollipops and rainbows...
posted by Jalliah at 10:52 AM on March 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


My 10-year-old takes an app development class as part of her public school, 4th-grade curriculum. Both boys and girls are super excited about this class. Coding is not seen as a "boy thing" or a "girl thing," it's just a fun, engaging thing. So ... maybe the next generation of girls in tech won't face as many of the same issues. I'm hopeful.
posted by Ostara at 10:56 AM on March 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


Reading stuff like this makes me question my thought process because not only am I female, I am an older female. Though I at least have an advantage in that I look substantially younger.

In my experience it's decidedly better to be past that nebulous age when "would I tap that" stops being the first thing through men's minds when they see you.

Although ageism seems to be strong in this industry, and ageism is gendered, and that thought is for sure playing into my current attempts to escape the purely technical track.
posted by emilyw at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]



Yay. That's some sunshine Ostara!
posted by Jalliah at 11:00 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hoped the article wouldn't bum people out; what made it a definite-post were the takeaways at the end (that rtha posted above, first comment).

There's enormous pressures on women to look 'professional' and also look 'feminine' and 'acceptably sexy/attractive', I thought this piece was excellent in highlighting some of the conflicts and identity problems that can collide when your profession is a male-dominated industry. And the sheer amount of TIME and ENERGY that women must funnel into these issues in order to negotiate their way in the world.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:01 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


>If you go around at conferences full of geeks, and you don't look like a geek, they don't take you for one.

So you think that if a guy went to the conference in Full Polished MBA-carrying Metrosexual mode, he'd be talked down to? Based on what I've seen and experienced in similar spaces, I *strongly* doubt that.

The trouble is that the Venn Diagram of "looks like a geek" overlaps pretty much completely with "looks like a man" and only minimally with "looks like a woman." (I myself am always afraid of ending up too far on the butch end of the butch-femme divide to be taken seriously; I've very consciously chosen to start wearing earrings as I find my somewhere-near-dapper comfort zone in work clothes.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:02 AM on March 12, 2015 [31 favorites]


(Of course, the takeaways have to be read, absorbed, and embraced by people who are making these assumptions.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:02 AM on March 12, 2015


If you go around at conferences full of geeks, and you don't look like a geek, they don't take you for one.

I understand this statement, but I feel that this is the idea that the article is trying to overcome. If you are at a tech or programming conference, shouldn't the assumption (no matter *what* you wear or *who* you are) is that you have some level interest or knowledge in what the conference is about?!

The idea is that if one is at a "foobar" programming language conference is that if they meet or approach anyone they should be asking "so what do you do with foobar?" rather than instantly assuming they are only sidelining it rather than participating in it. Or even worse, dismissing or avoiding a person that doesn't "look" like they would know foobar at all.
posted by xtine at 11:02 AM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Now, there's probably sexism involved in the whole process of how one gets visually coded as a "geek,"

... I'll leave you to your conclusions, I guess, but I'm pretty sure that was the entire point of the article.
posted by dialetheia at 11:05 AM on March 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


So you think that if a guy went to the conference in Full Polished MBA-carrying Metrosexual mode, he'd be talked down to? Based on what I've seen and experienced in similar spaces, I *strongly* doubt that.

Talked down to? Not exactly, but I also don't think he'd be treated as an in-group member by programmers. I imagine he'd be treated like he was a manager, not a programmer, because that's how he was visually coding himself.
posted by graymouser at 11:09 AM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


there's probably sexism involved in the whole process of how one gets visually coded as a "geek"

Probably, yeah. That seems like a really fair bet if you read the linked posts or the comments or anything.
posted by jeather at 11:10 AM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm not trying to say there is no sexism in how the author is received, but I'm trying to process what I see as a contradiction: she wants in-group recognition but doesn't want to "look" like a member of the in-group.

I dress in cargo pants/jeans, boots, Led Zeppelin t-shirts or flannel, and still get crap from friends about the winter I wore the same wool sweater every day (cleanish though). I don't generally give a fig for my appearance; clothes and attitude wise, I fit right into my profession (science).

But I also have long blond hair* and an hour-glass figure. I am going to present as feminine no matter how I dress. I can stand on an outcrop with my hair under the most salt-stained, rankest baseball cap in the world, wearing a t-shirt with a dinosaur on it, and still have a guy I just met challenge/question my authority and expertise, even guys that are basic beginners. "Looking" like a member of the in-group isn't necessarily about clothes or whatever, it's about looking like a man. And that's what's wrong, which is the thesis of the linked article.

*I have long hair because it's also curly and I just don't care enough to take the time to deal with it when it's short, so ironically shorter hair is not a solution.
posted by barchan at 11:11 AM on March 12, 2015 [46 favorites]


Oops, sorry dialetheia, didn't see your comment saying the exact same thing.
posted by barchan at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2015


While yes it did bum me out I agree with the author and the takeaways. I'm am familiar enough with what she is speaking about. For me it's more just a reminder of another detail that I'll eventually have to make a choice about that has little to do with any actual skill for the work.
posted by Jalliah at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personally I'd rather be treated like a manager than like a beginner. So, not seeing the equivalence there.

I had a very refreshing dinner a few months back with a lab full of college-age engineers, and the women in the lab were on all points of the spectrum from aggressively tomboy, to "silicon valley chic" (for women, that means jeans and a cute pullover), to polished glam. No coincidence that the PI for the lab has always been bluntly and unapologetically feminine-presenting in a field that does not value that.
posted by muddgirl at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


dialetheia, the guy on Twitter said he used "full article" because the author had previously complained about people not reading her articles through. Reading the twitter thread I felt like, who knows, who gives a shit, and wtf twitter? Why the compulsion to stick it to some random individual when their meaning is ambiguous? Like, wait five seconds and there will be another jackass whose meaning is perfectly clear. It's kind of like yelling in the faces of customer service representatives -- just using people as anger sponges whether they deserve it or not.

ANYWAY, this article was a joy to me, even though I am not involved in computer programming, because one of the things I find most outrageous from a sexism POV is the way femininity, not just factual woman-ness, gets treated as an inferior form of self-expression and professional expression. Fuck. That. Apart from the fact that it's a third fucking shift trying to thread the needle of "like a third-class sort of man" and "still a woman" and "professional" and "fuckable", people just need to stop acting like women in general need to be doing almost anything at all about the way we look to prove we deserve being taken seriously. No! It is not for men to decide. That is why when I had to have a talk with an asshole who was deliberately (and illegally) obstructing my work and also cracking jokes about my colleagues getting murdered to their faces, I made sure to do it in lipstick and pearls and a Cher Horowitz skirt and my pinkest scarf. So that when he scrubbed the piss out of his drawers that night, he wouldn't forget that a pretty girl put it there. But I realise that, unfortunately, many women don't have the same freedoms.

Also, here's a Planet Money podcast on When Women Stopped Coding, because it's bizarre how it became something men could feel they owned. There was also a podcast episode about female coders in Britain during WWII on like, BBC's History Extra or Thinking Allowed or something, but I'm afraid can't seem to find it right now.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:17 AM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Let's take for example the idea of a Strong Female Character. There are plenty of them in movies. But think of what comes to mind as traits for a woman being badass: loud, assertive, rides a motorcycle, maybe really good at martial arts. And yes that woman does sound badass. But we pretty much never explore the idea of strong female characters that save the world by being feminine, empathetic, and caring.

This is part of the problem of Lean In, too: women should feel free to be assertive if that's their personality and let's celebrate that instead of criticizing it, but let's also celebrate people that display leadership by empathy and encouraging.
Hrm. OK, so first the author is telling me that being loud or really good at martial arts is likely to get a woman kicked out of the "feminine" club. Fine, whatever. But then she goes on to imply that there's an express correlation to be made between "being feminine" and "being [...] empathetic, and caring," and that's where my hackles will always go up.

"Femininity" and "masculinity" are words and concepts that chafe the hell out of me, and have since I was a kid. I absolutely agree with the basic premise of the piece, I just find the idea that it's OK to directly associate "being empathetic and caring" with "being feminine" to be an incredibly harmful one. Because while I understand that there's supposed to be a bright line between "being feminine" and "being [physically] female," a whole lot of the time, it doesn't read that way to other people at all.

Empathy and caring are traits that can be displayed, treasured, and exemplified by any human being. That they are, at least in Western culture, consistently assigned to "women" as a bloc is not because there's something fundamentally female about empathy, but because empathy and caring are associated with selflessness and self-sacrifice and self-sacrifice is widely considered to be a gendered characteristic: namely, one that falls under the sole purview of women. The reason "feminine" behaviors and modes of appearance are so relentlessly devalued in the first place is because they're so frequently coupled with the fundamental basis of womanhood itself. So to my mind, the root of the problem isn't how people treat femininity, it's how people treat women, feminine or otherwise.

My pie-in-the-sky dream is for the decoupling of any/all sorts of behavior from gender altogether. I want to live in a world that lets women be loud and aggressive and ass-kicking without declaring them insufficiently "feminine" or "like a third-class sort of man" (great turn of phrase!), and lets men be empathetic and caring as all get-out while they wear a face full of makeup without taking away their Man Card or implying that they're "acting like girls." Let's do away with the antiquated notion that historically gendered characteristics are in any way indicative of a person's actual gender. Please? Pretty please? I'm asking as empathetically as I can...
posted by divined by radio at 11:29 AM on March 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


dialetheia, the guy on Twitter said he used "full article" because the author had previously complained about people not reading her articles through

I don't buy it, sorry, and I think this whole "let's defend this poor guy, how disingenuous of the article to include it" thing is a huge minimizing derail. He still tweeted the author of the article, didn't acknowledge her expertise at all (why not "your" article?), and talked down to her about role models as if she had never even thought of it before. The language stuff is a red herring, because the content of the tweet is just as mansplainy. I'm dropping it now, though, before this thread becomes "but what about that poor guy? you aren't giving him a chance!!!" ad infinitum.

Back on topic, this is a great place to share my favorite observation about my department! I'm a grad student in forestry and I noticed one day that every woman in my class was wearing a puffy vest. Once I started looking for it, I saw it everywhere - we all wore puffy vests all the time! I have a Theory that it's subconsciously intended to mask our secondary sex characteristics (breasts, curves) and make us all look brawnier and more like men so that we'll be taken seriously (which is a huge issue). I've never once seen a man in my department wearing a puffy vest but women in forestry wear them all the time. Anyway, to push back in just a tiny little way, the men all wear hawaiian shirts on Fridays so I'm considering instituting my own Ultrafeminine Fridays and wearing dresses instead. Heels would probably be a step too far though...
posted by dialetheia at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


He still tweeted the author of the article, didn't acknowledge her expertise at all (why not "your" article?), and talked down to her about role models as if she had never even thought of it before.

"There's a chicken and egg problem w/ female tech role models." You could read that as condescending, or you could read it as implicitly agreeing with the article that women don't feel comfortable looking feminine while also being programmers, and adding that part of the problem is a lack of feminine programmer role models like Jobs and Gates are for guys. That's not "mansplaining," it's just good commenting (or the best one can do in one tweet). Why pick the least charitable interpretation? Assume that commenters have something worthwhile to say, just like assuming that someone at a conference is qualified to be there.

This whole "derail over one guy's tweet" started because the article itself quoted him, and now that tweet is getting a pile-on of replies from people who now have a chance to advertise their anti-sexism (a phenomenon discussed on Metafilter before).
posted by Rangi at 11:45 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems really off to be complaining about one guy's feels in the context of an article about how women are systematically sidelined in tech.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:50 AM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


. . . I'm prone to wearing puffy vests. *gasps*

One of the things I've started to become really careful about in the last few years is in the field safety lectures I give to newer students. Some women aren't aware that sunscreen should go on under their make-up, so when I talk about hydration and sunscreen, when I bring up the sunscreen and make-up thing I make a point that it's perfectly acceptable to wear make-up in the field and encouraged if that's the way women (or men!) want to express themselves. I've also started including a photo of one of my women colleagues hacking away at some rocks with a hammer while wearing pearls when I give STEM encouragement talks to students.

There's so many little things. It's good to have these kind of articles so we can think about what we can do as a community to improve it for everyone, and a lot of it does involve small actions.
posted by barchan at 11:53 AM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Talked down to? Not exactly, but I also don't think he'd be treated as an in-group member by programmers. I imagine he'd be treated like he was a manager, not a programmer, because that's how he was visually coding himself.

Getting talked up to like money is a world away from getting talked down to like you're support staff, be it personal or professional. The in-crowd might expect you to buy them coffee, but they won't expect you to fetch it.

I wonder what would happen if say, you showed up in a TARDIS dress.

I suspect a new third class of obnoxious behavior. Something along the lines of being treated like either a mascot or meat.
posted by maryr at 12:00 PM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


> If you go around at conferences full of geeks, and you don't look like a geek,

What does a geek look like, and who sets those rules? If programmer = geek, then a person who programs is a geek, no matter what they look like or how they dress.
posted by rtha at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Personally I'd rather be treated like a manager than like a beginner. So, not seeing the equivalence there.

I'm not drawing an equivalence; I'm pointing out that there are ways that people can present themselves that mark them as in-group or out-group. It is sexist when women who are visibly out-group are treated as lower status, I would agree with that.

But the OP also wants to go to spaces and be treated as a member of the in-group, but without looking like one. And if you want to do that, no matter what visual markers the in-group has, you need to establish yourself as a member of the in-group somehow. That's a very different subcultural shift, because being in-group as a programmer generally contains a lot of status cues that clash with a traditional "feminine" image.
posted by graymouser at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you go around at conferences full of geeks, and you don't look like a geek, they don't take you for one. Whereas if you do look like a geek, they expect that you are one and will talk to you appropriately. Now, there's probably sexism involved in the whole process of how one gets visually coded as a "geek," but it makes a lot of sense out of the author's reports of her reception.

Nope.

I don't dress in a particularly 'feminine' way. I wear glasses, solid colors, and rarely wear dresses or heels. I tend to dress a lot like my male colleagues. And I was dressed like my male colleagues on the first day of a technical conference, in I think gray pants and a regular fitted t-shirt, and I was repeatedly mistaken for a booth babe. Fortunately, I'd also brought a gigantic t-shirt with me as pajamas, so I wore that for the rest of the week. (I still got mistaken for a WAG, though, and some guy at a booth I was loitering near before a talk told me that this was not a shopping mall.)

I have never heard of a man having to wear his pajamas at a professional event to avoid sexual harassment.

(And a fistbump to easily confused: I also was given a typing test at a job placement seminar after I'd received my technical degree. ON A TYPEWRITER! I hadn't used a typewriter in years. I think I got 11 wpm or something.)
posted by ernielundquist at 12:07 PM on March 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


And if you want to do that, no matter what visual markers the in-group has, you need to establish yourself as a member of the in-group somehow.

Perhaps by being a programmer?

Dollars to doughnuts if a male programmer showed up in leather and spikes and a purple mohawk, he'd still get listened to before a woman dressed in any way whatsoever, despite not 'looking like' the in-group.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


you need to establish yourself as a member of the in-group somehow.

I think asking detailed questions should establish that:
When she asked people very technical questions about their stack, questions she assumed would indicate that she was a programmer, she was brushed aside and told, “You wouldn’t understand.”
posted by f289ohjrl at 12:19 PM on March 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


"But she did and wore a nerdy tshirt and jeans instead, and she had a better experience that day. People assumed she was technical and didn’t dilute their explanations to her."

Is there maybe an ounce of "Slobbish Geek-Street-Cred" going on here?

I don't know the con in question, but I can see something similar happening to a 20 something white male who shows up to Defcon in business casual.
posted by habeebtc at 12:30 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Does this discussion extend to me standing in a computer hardware store wanting to buy a new motherboard and every.single.employee addressing my hipster boyfriend with the snazzy facial hair although he kept saying "dude, I can hardly switch on a computer let alone build one"? Because I have plenty of hard data for that discussion.
posted by kariebookish at 12:35 PM on March 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


Actually, thinking about this more, all of this stuff about how she should dress differently is victim blaming in the same way "she shouldn't have worn such a short skirt" is.

Unless there is an actual dress code, it is not incumbent on her--or any woman, or any man even--to dress in a way that makes her 'look' like a programmer. It's incumbent upon all the men to stop being assholes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2015 [24 favorites]


Are people here seriously arguing that men are just as judged on how they dress as women are, in particular in tech conferences?
posted by jeather at 12:39 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm considering instituting my own Ultrafeminine Fridays and wearing dresses instead. Heels would probably be a step too far though...

I totally wear heels and clomp around our department (Ecology & Evolution) on days when I am feeling defiant. Fuck 'em.
posted by pemberkins at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm pointing out that there are ways that people can present themselves that mark them as in-group or out-group.

I think the industry has established that the range of acceptable in-group wear is simply wider for guys -- want to wear a polo shirt or button down and khakis instead of jeans and a nerd t-shirt? I think you'd still be treated just fine, judging from what my co-workers at the NOC wear.

Me, I stick with jeans and t-shirts, and leave everything else, even the basic, non-fancy pieces, at home.
posted by rewil at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2015


"Are people here seriously arguing that men are just as judged on how they dress as women are, in particular in tech conferences?"

No. Nowhere near as judged. Just that they can also be judged, because they dress in a particular (i.e. more formal) way.

I think we can all agree that a dress is more formal (generally) than jeans and a T-shirt.
posted by habeebtc at 12:45 PM on March 12, 2015


Are people here seriously arguing that men are just as judged on how they dress as women are, in particular in tech conferences?

Nope, so you can just hop off that horse now.
posted by graymouser at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2015


The keyword everybody is grasping at here with all the fine fashion discussion is gender.

"I think we can all agree that a dress is more formal (generally) than jeans and a T-shirt."

No. A dress can be as formal and casual as any other item. In our present-day society, however, it is a piece of clothing usually for female individuals.

Gender.
posted by kariebookish at 12:48 PM on March 12, 2015 [24 favorites]


Actually, thinking about this more, all of this stuff about how she should dress differently is victim blaming in the same way "she shouldn't have worn such a short skirt" is.

Nope. I didn't say "she should dress differently," and neither did anyone else.
posted by graymouser at 12:49 PM on March 12, 2015


And the whole point is that technical expertise is not conveyed through personal presentation, including gender presentation. Would anyone be comfortable telling men that they should feminize their appearance if they want to work in traditionally feminine professions?

The point is that those assumptions about what a technically proficient person looks like are factually wrong. They're unfair and exclusionary, more importantly, but even if you don't care about those things, they are objectively incorrect. I've worked around "geeks" all my adult life, and as anyone can tell you, there are a lot of people who dress in unusual ways. People who won't wear shoes, 60 year olds with mohawks, dandies of varying stripes. Anyone who has any breadth of experience in technical fields should know that sometimes, tech people dress funny. If a pink dress or lipstick is enough to throw you off, you are either very new to the field or the assumptions you're making are not just about some sort of semiotics of geekery.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:50 PM on March 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


Owned/operated a small ISP from 1996 to 2007. Bought the machines, configured the servers, designed the network, stuck the modem banks in the racks, ran the cabling, saw to cooling in the server room, polled the boxen and generated graphs, dealt with the upstreams for address space, evaluated/bought/configured the router, learned enough BGP to make multihoming work without annoying upstream peers, dealt with outages and attacks on servers, fixed mailserver when disk started thrashing, blah blah blah. I *was* the tech part of the operation. Went to trade show events wearing sneakers, jeans, t-shirts and no makeup or hairdo beyond ponytail (and that's what EVERY OTHER ISP GEEK THERE WORE except some of the men had longer hair and more jewelry than I did), kept getting asked if I worked in "marketing" or "web design". Grar.

Now am landlord. Own apartments, show apartments, rent apartments, evict bad tenants, fix problems. (I diagnose and repair furnaces, anything electric, anything water/sewer, doors, locks, windows, flooring, tiling, drywall, frozen pipes. I cut the effing grass and shovel the effing sidewalks. I do hire a guy to lay carpet and a different guy to do roofs, but the rest of it, I'm point-person for the solution and usually it is me. I Fix All The Things. I am the fixer.) I dress like a person who fixes things, spends a lot of the day getting in and out of a beat up truck, and regularly expects to get grubby at the job site... kinda beat-up jeans, several layers of shirt, and speckles of paint or whatever on the outermost shirt. It makes sense -- on any given day my job may include "Pull toilet, snake sewer line" or "Clean oil furnace" or "Crawl into attic to look at wiring". I don't know how to look "more maintenance-y" than this. Yet, when I tell people I'm a landlord (sometimes they correct me to "landlady" and I politely ignore them) they are all "That's cool. Who does your maintenance?" Grar.

Everybody is all "dress for the job you have" and I do that. It has never been enough and it's infuriating. Probably I'm just having the wrong jobs all the time. Probably that's the issue.
posted by which_chick at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2015 [25 favorites]


I think we can all agree that a dress is more formal (generally) than jeans and a T-shirt.

I do not think we can agree on that.

I agree that dresses cover a larger range, from "just as casual" to "ballgown", but I doubt that she was wearing a cocktail dress to present. I don't feel there's some reason to assume she wore a formal dress.

Nope, so you can just hop off that horse now.

All the "but GUYS can't wear just anything" comments must have been my imagination, then.
posted by jeather at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm not trying to say there is no sexism in how the author is received, but I'm trying to process what I see as a contradiction: she wants in-group recognition but doesn't want to "look" like a member of the in-group.

Why should this be an expectation for anyone?
posted by divabat at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


"A dress can be as formal and casual as any other item. In our present-day society, however, it is a piece of clothing usually for female individuals. "

Of course it *can be*. But on average, how do people perceive it? Maybe there's a gendered perception gap on this issue.

In the pecking order of formality, I would on average put women wearing dresses to work around the same area as a man wearing a polo shirt. (Assuming neither dress nor polo contains holes and stains)

But I'm a guy, and maybe most women feel differently about the formality of wearing a dress to work.

"but GUYS can't wear just anything"

You won't find me saying that. It depends on the office/conference, but obviously they can get away with much, much more. It's practically self-evident.
posted by habeebtc at 12:58 PM on March 12, 2015


Nope. I didn't say "she should dress differently," and neither did anyone else.

How else to interpret your statements about how she needs to dress differently to signal belonging to the in-group, then?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:58 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm always kind of amazed in discussions like this the lengths some people will go to to find reasons why it can't be sexism, like sexism is some extraordinary thing that requires extraordinary evidence before it can be considered.
posted by rtha at 12:59 PM on March 12, 2015 [39 favorites]


Why should this be an expectation for anyone?

There is no "should" in what I wrote there. It's descriptive, not a suggestion.
posted by graymouser at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2015


I'm an obese man who will be attending a tech conference next month, attended by people who already know me by reputation as knowledgeable in the field.

Now I'm thinking, maybe I should wear a tutu and ribbons in my hair? Something more subtle maybe?
posted by idiopath at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2015


[A few comments deleted. Ok folks, let's cool this off please. Let's not get into making fun of each other, and folks advancing the skeptical hypothesis here, maybe lay off and let the conversation get past this point?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm always kind of amazed in discussions like this the lengths some people will go to to find reasons why it can't be sexism, like sexism is some extraordinary thing that requires extraordinary evidence before it can be considered.

It's definitely sexism. I doubt anyone here disagrees with that. We can still discuss the particular dynamics at play, can't we?

If people were trying to say "it's not sexist because men's clothing also functions as a signaling device" then that's silly, but I doubt you'll find that logic on metafilter.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 1:13 PM on March 12, 2015


But we see "it's in-group vs out-group" without acknowledging that sexism plays a major role in who gets defined as "in" and in what ways.
posted by rtha at 1:16 PM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've seen this in action many times, and even now I have to remind myself not to fall into this way of thinking in some cases.

I know a lot of mathematicians, logicians, philosophers, and other people in technical academic disciplines. One of the most impressive logicians I know is also a very femmey woman, wears makeup and heels with smart dresses and follows fashion and so on. I met her when I was kind of partway through my training/socialization into the profession, and I can't overstate how much meeting her forced me to recognize this weird bias in myself. My first thought on seeing her was, literally: what's she trying to do here? why did she dress that (weird!) way? what's with the makeup? a dress, really? Didn't she know it made her look less technical? less serious? Or rather .... it made her look more like a woman, whereas I'm over here working hard to not be seen as gendered at all (so that I can be seen as professional, you know, a regular guy, not a woman)? A part of me felt like she was letting down the side, walking around, looking like a woman.

(And of course, later in her talk, as she just crushed the questions from the men in the room by unflappably chalk-and-talking her way through proofs on the fly, and the board filled edge to edge with symbols, because she really is the top expert in the world at this stuff, I gradually started feeling like, ok, this is pretty awesome.)

But all this to say - yeah, this stuff is crazy and it's very deeply ingrained even in fellow technical women, not to even mention men.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:24 PM on March 12, 2015 [29 favorites]


"She's not getting excluded because she dresses feminine, she's getting excluded because she doesn't dress like a geek! How do geeks dress? Well, they dress like men. So, there you go, problem solved."

A quick image search for the conferences she mentions by name shows plenty of men in dress shirts and khakis, and plenty of male presenters in sports coats and ties. It also shows plenty of men dressed less formally but with plenty of attention paid to their appearance: artificially colored hair, mohawks, carefully coordinated hipster outfits, etc. And, yes, plenty of men in jeans and T-shirts. But if all of those men are accepted as part of the in-group based on their dress -- and apparently they are -- then I would like to know exactly what "dressing like a geek" means, and how it is different from "dressing like a man."
posted by KathrynT at 1:28 PM on March 12, 2015 [24 favorites]


Dollars to doughnuts if a male programmer showed up in leather and spikes and a purple mohawk, he'd still get listened to before a woman dressed in any way whatsoever, despite not 'looking like' the in-group.

My mohawk was blonde, not purple, and my mohawk period did not overlap with my leather and spikes period, but with the sole exception of the two miserable years I worked at Microsoft I never observed any change in the level of respect or attention people showed me regardless of what I was wearing.

I am sorry to say that I have not had the opportunity of working with enough female programmers to make any meaningful comparison, though it is blatantly obvious that there is something deeply wrong with the process that funnels people into the industry, and that we are doing a bad job of retaining the handful of women who do show up. I don't know what the solutions are but I really hate the increasingly monogendered nature of the industry I work in. It wasn't always this way!
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:34 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


So I'm trans and I work as a software engineer in sf. I think people assume I'm male. At one point, I started presenting more femme, which includes painting my nails.

One day, a friend notices my nails for the first time and said something like, "Oh… so did you start painting your nails recently?" I hadn't been asked that question yet, so I stammered. And then, without missing a beat, a coworker next to me, who is male, wearing khakis & a t-shirt, frantically pulls off his shoes and show his toes painted in a pretty teal color. He says he's basically been wearing toe polish everyday since he joined the company. I laughed so loud in delight that I almost fell.

There's a spirit of "wear whatever you want to work!" in tech that we've somehow taken to mean "wear whatever as long as it looks a certain kind of masculine!" There's a spirit of "we accept everybody!" in tech that we've somehow taken to mean "we accept everybody that can perform a certain kind of male nerdiness!"

One of my good friends is very femme and also kicks ass at her job in academia. When she first told me she was a total nerd, I definitely felt an impulse to dismiss her because of her gender. Women can be nerds. Femmes can be nerds. This shit is toxic.

So basically I think I'm going to save a bunch of money and become a botanist.
posted by I made this account so Matt could have a $5 beer at 1:37 PM on March 12, 2015 [31 favorites]


"we accept everybody that can perform a certain kind of male nerdiness!"

I think this is kind of key in a lot of these "nerd"/"geek" spaces, to be honest, and it kinda runs close in line with the whole, "men are the default (player 1)" thing as well.
posted by qcubed at 1:41 PM on March 12, 2015


I think that this is exacerbated in tech culture by the fact that often management can't tell a skilled dev from an impostor, and then we get weird shibboleths and cultural tics that come from the constant need to prove you aren't one of those apocryphal talentless fools who fooled the clueless management.

And I kind of want to be that guy with the painted toenails, or make some kind of meaningful push against the "femininity = dum" mindset. I mean maybe I don't actually want to wear a tutu to that conference, but despite not really feeling like a feminine person myself, I want to perturb the antifemine culture, and maybe I can do so by presenting feminine signifiers.
posted by idiopath at 1:43 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


"How do geeks dress? Well, they dress like men. So, there you go, problem solved."

Not so fast. If a guy overall seems like he spends a lot of time or money on his appearance (or both), he seems less geeky. We would probably judge him to be an exec or at least working in Sales and Marketing.

If you seem like you put a lot into your appearance, you're more likely to be judged as belonging to a profession where appearances matter more.

The same is true for women, but oddly with a much lower bar than men. That's part of the sexism at play. Society inherently sends the message to women that they must put more effort into their appearances, which doesn't help. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

And yes, lots of geeks are also just sexist in that they expect women to be less technical.

Can we also talk about the fact that if you're a man who puts a lot of work into his appearance, people tend to think you're gay?
posted by habeebtc at 1:44 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


After some pondering I think I'll will express my geekiness and become a female programmer that works in outfits like this.
posted by Jalliah at 1:45 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can we also talk about the fact that if you're a man who puts a lot of work into his appearance, people tend to think you're gay?

That might have relevance somewhere other than an article about a woman talking about how women are sidelined by men.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:47 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Er, pls insert 'more' between 'have' and 'relevance'
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:49 PM on March 12, 2015


""Booth Babe"-That's a pretty nasty comment, right there.

I hadn't thought about it much. There are modeling firms that staff booths for conventions here in Atlanta. The girls assemble about 30 minutes before the hall opens and there they learn which booth they're assigned and what their duties are.

Not sure "booth babe" is nasty. It might be dismissive to whatever else they do, but really their job is to gorgeously attract booth visitors, get the visitors' badges scanned for the email list, and pass out free stuff and brochures.
posted by surplus at 1:50 PM on March 12, 2015


Not so fast. If a guy overall seems like he spends a lot of time or money on his appearance (or both), he seems less geeky. We would probably judge him to be an exec or at least working in Sales and Marketing.

Sources? I know an awwwwwwful lot of SDEs who go to work in a dress shirt and khakis.

Can we also talk about the fact that if you're a man who puts a lot of work into his appearance, people tend to think you're gay?

Feel free to make a post about that issue if you're interested in discussing it. I'm not interested in sidelining this conversation about women's problems with being taken seriously in the technical field with yet another discussion about how hard it is for men.
posted by KathrynT at 1:51 PM on March 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


So this is interesting. Because it's kind of slow at work today - I'm mostly babysitting to make sure nothing catches fire - I did an image search for "software engineer" at three stock photo agencies.

With the search refined to "people" and "just photos":

Getty
Shutterstock
and...iStock. (For iStock, I also ticked "iStock-only images" because I think they're owned by Getty now.) The difference is kind of astonishing to me.
posted by rtha at 1:52 PM on March 12, 2015


As a long time professional programmer who has worked in Boston, NYC, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, I have to say the idea that there is a consistent way to visually identify programmers is pretty laughable. I've worked with programmers who were better dressed than anyone in the marketing department and so many talented people into so many different things with so many senses of style that I couldn't begin to do anyone justice. I suppose the way this makes me feel is but a grim shadow of how so many things make so many women feel every day, but I just find the notion that you can tell if a someone is competent by looking at them abhorrent. To top it off, it's massively hypocritical coming as it so often does from the same people who will happily talk your ear off about how much of a meritocracy the valley really is. If you believe in this stuff, you are just wrong.

Whenever I get a chance, I take advantage of my own privilege to point out other people doing things like this. I am astonishingly, inexplicably, luckily at a point where I can pretty much just say what I want, so I do. If you are also lucky enough to be in a position to do so, I hope you do the same.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:52 PM on March 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


[One comment deleted. habeebtc, to be clear: the thing about how men's sexuality is perceived is really neither here nor there, as far as feminine women being dismissed in tech, so I'm officially asking you not to pursue that derail.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:54 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


You've almost convinced me that I should start wearing skirts to teach in, so that I can model being a female mathematician who wears skirts (as opposed to my usual jeans-and-a-shirt dress code). On the other hand, it's cold, and jeans are easy...and I missed out on the "how to put on makeup" classes as a kid.

(I'm almost tempted to start watching youtube makeup videos with my daughter, who really wants to wear makeup, and I'm like, well, pretty sure eye shadow doesn't go under the eye...)
posted by leahwrenn at 2:02 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Sources? I know an awwwwwwful lot of SDEs who go to work in a dress shirt and khakis."

Purely first hand experience, based on my own perceptions, which admittedly have their own bias (nobody is without bias). I've worked in a lot of offices, as I spent a few years on the road consulting.

You do notice a bit that the folks in sales and marketing dress nicer than the technical folks. Not always, of course. But often enough that you notice it. Even when you have the geeks that dress in a shirt and khakis, frequently enough there's qualitative differences in how the non-technical folks dress. Maybe nicer shoes, a nicer watch or a nicer car (or: insert thing here), but you get the impression that they are spending more money on appearances.

I am not saying there's no sexism at play (obviously there is, and it's bad, and we should do something about it). There are other factors at play as well that factor into people's assessment of your technicality, is all I am saying.

That is why I initially mentioned a single ounce of something else at play, out of a full sixteen ounces in a pound.

I don't mean to derail the outrage here, I just find it hard to swallow that society at large is 100% sexist as opposed to even as much as 70-80%.
posted by habeebtc at 2:15 PM on March 12, 2015


I'm a female CTO. It's rare that people question my technical skills because usually they only bother to ask my husband what he does for a living, and then the conversation moves on.
posted by nev at 2:15 PM on March 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


I just find it hard to swallow that society at large is 100% sexist as opposed to even as much as 70-80%

I think this is a weird way to characterize the linked essay, and I don't see a good reason to go on at length about how there may be some small influence from other factors. Sure. Consider that claim accepted.

Now back to discussing the overwhelmingly larger influence on this phenomenon, and maybe what tech people/spaces could do about it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:20 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


You do notice a bit that the folks in sales and marketing dress nicer than the technical folks. Not always, of course. But often enough that you notice it. Even when you have the geeks that dress in a shirt and khakis, frequently enough there's qualitative differences in how the non-technical folks dress.

OK, now explain why a woman in a dress is marked as "not-geek" but a man in a dress shirt and khakis isn't.
posted by KathrynT at 2:21 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


OK, now explain why a woman in a dress is marked as "not-geek" but a man in a dress shirt and khakis isn't.

The simple answer is that she's a woman. At least, that's how it always seems to me.
posted by qcubed at 2:26 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


If people were trying to say "it's not sexist because men's clothing also functions as a signaling device" then that's silly, but I doubt you'll find that logic on metafilter.

You have got to be kidding me. How in any way is that logic different from graymouser's argument? Which has centered around "but men's clothing is also a signaling device" and "but men get pushback too when they don't dress like the in-group" and "well, PROBABLY there's some sexism maybe in what counts as in-group" this entire conversation.
posted by sciatrix at 2:26 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


How in any way is that logic different from graymouser's argument?

I was not talking about men's clothing except in one specific example where someone else brought it up
posted by graymouser at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2015


Right, but you sure spent a lot of time centering the discussion about how it's not femininity that labels women as "out-group" but rather formality. Which does a lot of eliding of the fact that this actually is a problem that disproportionately impacts women in science and tech.
posted by sciatrix at 2:35 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can we also talk about how men in the tech industry talk about hiring female developers? "In my last office, there were three women." "One came in for an on-site but then we lost her to [company]." "I've met good female developers, but they're hard to find." THEY'RE PEOPLE NOT MOUNTAIN LIONS TO BE TAGGED AND CAPTURED

It made me super uncomfortable because I've only heard men talk like this. And I've never heard a man say this stuff in front of an actual (real life omg!) female developer.
posted by I made this account so Matt could have a $5 beer at 2:37 PM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


sciatrix, I believe you are confusing me with someone else; I was not arguing at all about formality. I was trying to bring up the subcultural aspects of this that seemed to be getting mixed up with the straight-up sexism, but that appears to be a lost cause at this point.
posted by graymouser at 2:38 PM on March 12, 2015


It's not a "lost cause," it's just wrong. You can't separate out the subcultural aspects from the straight-up sexism, because so much of the subculture is straight-up sexist.
posted by KathrynT at 2:40 PM on March 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


(Though I do think it's good on the whole that companies are trying to hire female devs because they acknowledge at some level that the industry is sexist. That effort should be lauded, but I wish it weren't done so clumsily.)
posted by I made this account so Matt could have a $5 beer at 2:40 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You're right, habeebtc, that there's a sort of inverted dress code in many technical fields, where the sloppier or more unusually dressed someone is, the more likely it is that they're some kind of brilliant technologist, and that people in sales and marketing tend to have stricter dress codes. I read a blog post by some guy once who sat next to (nattily dressed, 60-something) Nicholas Negroponte on an airplane and was in the process of patronizing him about some technical subject when he realized who he was talking to.

But at the same time, there is a lot of sexism baked into the system and our perceptions. And I think a lot of people have been guilty of unconsciously perpetuating it. I am a woman, and I know I've made faulty assumptions about women in the past myself. I don't hate women, and I never have. I've just internalized the messages, too, that tech people look a certain way, and that way just happens to be male-coded.

And that's why the specific phenomenon is really worth examining and getting out into the open, so we can all bust ourselves when we do it and learn from our mistakes.

So there are plenty of different semiotic signals that might send the message that someone is a 'geek,' but I'm having a hard time thinking of one that isn't either male or neutral coded. Something that signals both [geek|nerd] and female? Maybe cat eye glasses? I don't know. I'm old, so maybe there is something I don't know about.

I generally do dress in a gender neutral way, sometimes edging a fair way into masculine coded, and it is a strong personal preference, but I couldn't honestly say that my preferences weren't shaped by some internalized misogyny I picked up from living in a misogynistic culture all my life.

(I do try to lady myself up in some visible way most of the time, though. So I'll wear some jewelry or lipstick or paint my nails or slap on a big old fruit hat on my way out the door.)
posted by ernielundquist at 2:46 PM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


About the tweet. If Tomas Sancio really "read the whole article," past tense ("I make sure that I read the article to see if she raised the point of role models. Since she didn't, I replied"), how did he miss that Casey Johnston actually did address the issue of "female tech role models" on page two of the article she wrote: Then there's the question of leadership roles. Both Facebook and Google reported a significantly lower proportion of women in leadership roles than in other positions.

Mansplainer extraordinaire. Perfect example.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


So there are plenty of different semiotic signals that might send the message that someone is a 'geek,' but I'm having a hard time thinking of one that isn't either male or neutral coded. Something that signals both [geek|nerd] and female? Maybe cat eye glasses? I don't know. I'm old, so maybe there is something I don't know about.

In my experience? Long, unstyled and unstraightened hair worn down is a surprisingly good geeky woman cue. At least, in my generation it always has been. Also good are canvas purses with nerdy buttons set into them or, conversely, leather purses with hand-tooled designs (usually from Etsy or similar). Nerd shirts, obviously, but that's unisex. That said, both of those are things that are related to the kinds of "masculine" nerd coding we've been talking about--signaling that you put less overt effort into your appearance, or with the purse thing looking for unique accessories that send a personal signal about your tastes. Geeky earrings and jewelry also read to me as quintessentially 'geek' and 'female,' as do the aforementioned TARDIS dresses (although those are not something I see at professional meetings).

I will say that those are things I associate with female geeks, not necessarily things I associate with femme women. And they aren't actually things I necessarily associate with tech workers or with STEM workers in general. The most coding-competent, mathematically adept person in my year, for example, is a black woman who has the most impeccable fashion sense in the department--she's always in black and white with occasional red accents, nearly always in a neat, sharp dress, and very femme in the way she dresses. In a department of scruffy ecologists, she stands out like a magpie among a bunch of pigeons. And frankly, I respect the hell out of her for it. She catches a lot of comments about it, some positive but mostly teasing, and I've occasionally gotten the sense that they drive her nuts. Either way, I admire the hell out of her.
posted by sciatrix at 2:58 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


pemberkins: I totally wear heels and clomp around our department (Ecology & Evolution) on days when I am feeling defiant. Fuck 'em.

As long as they're closed toed.
posted by maryr at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, the point I wanted to make and forgot to--in some of our fields, "STEM" is not the same thing as "geek." I am a geek, and I dress in a lot of ways that signal that (nerd shirts and jeans mostly), tempered with the bit where I'm also a fairly masculine-presenting sort of lady. I was also until recently the only geek, in the cultural sense, in said lab. Recently, another grad student who is a geek and signals this about as strongly as I do (albeit differently to me) joined us, and while it's nice to have someone around who gets my Hitchhiker's references I do rather value the extended reminder that "scientific and technically proficient" is not the same thing as "geeky" or necessarily Internet-oriented in quite the same way I am.

I'm also probably the most culturally geeky person in my grad cohort of eighteen, and my first lab in undergrad was full of people who were very much not geeks. This had zero effect on the technical prowess of the people I know, which makes total sense to me--after all, what on earth does a penchant for science fiction or a yearning to go back to Dragon*Con have to do with your ability to do science? It's not like everyone I meet in my field is a geek, but enough people are emphatically not that I sometimes wonder how tech people get away with making the geek-culture assumptions they do.

(Also, on preview: I wear sparkly flip-flops sometimes around my Ecology/Evolution department. Nuts to close toed shoes; I want to avoid the tyranny of socks. Of course, the majority of my work is computational right now, but it's not like I'm the only one.)
posted by sciatrix at 3:10 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Damn you and your LN2 free days.)
posted by maryr at 3:15 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a bit sad to see her disparage her own accomplishments:

programmed since age 8 ... received undergrad and grad degrees from MIT ... machine learning algorithms for ASIMO.

I don’t think that any of these things make me a better programmer.

I don't get it on account of practice, education and experience being ways to get better at things.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everybody is all "dress for the job you have" and I do that. It has never been enough and it's infuriating.

Ain't it the truth.
I'm a signwriter; that's a job that involves a lot of painting. I also paint houses sometimes. When I'm working, I dress like this.
And when I walk into a paint or hardware store, dressed like that, I get 'Golly! Are you actually a painter? I mean, professionally? That's so cool.' Or 'I wouldn't recommend that material to you. It's hard to apply; that's not something you can do yourself.' Or even 'Sorry, miss, we're a wholesale store. We only sell to businesses.'

It's never enough.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


>(Damn you and your LN2 free days.)

Oh oh can we talk about my discomfort with applying our lab's standards of dress to young femme students who actually have a really hard time finding pants that are long/loose enough this season? I feel like I am pushing them out of science every time, even though yeah, LN2 and BSL2 and other fun things.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


At the last place I worked, I went through two rounds of pitching a fit about company polo shirts and the fact that I was not wearing one because they fit women so badly - not to mention fat women who want their hips and arms covered, and then what they do to boobs - that they are not acceptable business clothing.

I was already in the process of interviewing for another job when we were forced to wear them for company photographs which would be attached to our emails (whether we liked it or not, felt safe doing so, or wanted to deal with the inevitable discrimination that comes with doing so).

I probably don't have to explain that the company was 25 men and 3 women.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:03 PM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, the point I wanted to make and forgot to--in some of our fields, "STEM" is not the same thing as "geek."

OMG yes, and that's another bias that's often implicitly gendered.

I'm not into science fiction or cosplay or anything like that, and never really have been, but I often found myself puzzling over how my male coworkers found so much time to pursue hobbies like that. I didn't have that kind of time. And then I realized that it was because most of them had a wife, girlfriend, or even a mom at home doing all the domestic chores. They could go home and play video games all evening because they didn't have to make dinner, do laundry, parent their children, or anything like that.

And all too often, when you see a tech company that is looking for a 'culture fit,' they're looking for that sort of thing. They're looking for the sort of free time that a lot of women don't have, because of that second shift domestic work.

So if we're reading some kind of pop culture interest or sensibility into our perception of what a tech worker looks like, that is going to skew male. (And you are correct to point out that you are also going to be wrong a lot. There is actually very little correlation between those things.)
posted by ernielundquist at 4:04 PM on March 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Oh oh can we talk about my discomfort with applying our lab's standards of dress to young femme students who actually have a really hard time finding pants that are long/loose enough this season? I feel like I am pushing them out of science every time, even though yeah, LN2 and BSL2 and other fun things.

Yeah, seriously. I don't work with anything that nasty--the worst I ever do involves working with wild rodents, which is still quite enough--but I have all the sympathy for women who do and who can't find good gear to wear. Especially in hot cities, like the one I live in.

Also: can I point out that it really sucks when literally none of the PPE gear is designed to fit you properly? I am pear shaped and had a miserable time a few years ago finding the field gear my PI recommended--a long-sleeved chambray work shirt to put on and take off while working in the cloud forest. He recommended a specific brand as inexpensive and well made. Which is fine, except they don't make any well-made long-sleeved work shirts cut "for women" in that brand or in any other I could find in our city. And THAT meant that I got to choose whether I wanted my thighs and hips to resemble a stuffed sausage or whether I wanted to wear shirts with enormous shoulders and flapping armpits.

Recently we switched to lab coats in our animal rooms rather than the enormous, disposable scrubs we'd all shared previously. I thought about it, decided I would murder someone if I had to wear a long lab coat with the "standard unisex" (aka dude-cut) designs that were all we had available at the lab store, and ordered one online that said it was specifically cut for women of my size. I don't think I realized how much the lack of effective, fitting gear designed for my body had been bothering me until it got here and I put it on. It was SO AMAZING and I basically bounced around the lab skipping and wearing the lab coat to all kinds of ridiculous places (including several hours at my desk) because it felt so wonderful to finally get to be wearing lab gear that goddamn fit.
posted by sciatrix at 4:06 PM on March 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


"And it was then, that I realized that continuing to wearing dresses just for myself was a totally valid way to say a big FUCK YOU to the patriarchy."
No one can tell what another person's motivation for choosing a garment. Could be expressing femininity, could be laundry day. Intentions don't matter, only results. If wear a dress fucks with the patriarchy, fine, but if you think you're wearing a dress ironically or sarcastically, I doubt anyone can tell just by looking.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:12 PM on March 12, 2015


If I had the option, I'd wear the hell out of a dress to work.
posted by mikurski at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2015


It's a bit sad to see her disparage her own accomplishments:
programmed since age 8 ... received undergrad and grad degrees from MIT ... machine learning algorithms for ASIMO.

I don’t think that any of these things make me a better programmer.

That's because bigshot degrees and academic success don't have an automatic correlation to skill as a developer. In my experience, it tends to be an inverse correlation.

She's good enough to know it's about what you've done as a developer, not what you did at school before you became a developer.
posted by sideshow at 4:45 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think we can all agree that a dress is more formal (generally) than jeans and a T-shirt.

Just to nth this, yes, on my casual days when I want to be comfy and not give a fig, I wear a dress. A casual dress.

If wear a dress fucks with the patriarchy, fine, but if you think you're wearing a dress ironically or sarcastically, I doubt anyone can tell just by looking.

I think there are a lot of ways to signal that what you're wearing, including a dress, is ironic. I've seen it done! In fact a lot of modern fashion is about making the feminine more sarcastic/sly. Some people might not be attuned to that, but it's definitely not impossible. (e.g., a female acquaintance of mine who has anarchist neck tattoos and also likes to wear head-to-toe pink and/or ruffles. Pretty obviously a statement.)

It's a bit sad to see her disparage her own accomplishments

I think she's just heading off at the pass the comments that she's both "bragging" or that she doesn't actually have the cred and she's secretly a shit programmer.

She's good enough to know it's about what you've done as a developer, not what you did at school before you became a developer.

Exactly.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not into science fiction or cosplay or anything like that, and never really have been, but I often found myself puzzling over how my male coworkers found so much time to pursue hobbies like that. I didn't have that kind of time. And then I realized that it was because most of them had a wife, girlfriend, or even a mom at home doing all the domestic chores. They could go home and play video games all evening because they didn't have to make dinner, do laundry, parent their children, or anything like that.

I completely agree. Plus the fact that women have to work twice as hard/act twice as serious to be taken seriously, and there you have it-- much less free time and much less comfort "wasting" time on "frivolous" hobbies.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:55 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another example of this problem: Everyone assumed this guy could code because he looked like he could.
posted by ignignokt at 5:02 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Working in Seattle, as a programmer for an internet software company based in the Bay Area, I know quite a lot of male programmers who tend to dress "up" in various ways from hipster to preppy, rather than the "standard" jeans and sneakers uniform. I'm talking everything from designer jeans and button-downs to waxed mustaches and tweed waistcoats. And no, they don't get talked down to the same way that women in dresses do.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:08 PM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think wearing a skirt would have hindered my career in the earlier stages. Now I could probably wear a dress and be fine. Luckily for me I don't really like skirts so it never cramped my style.

I find that the women I work with tend to be dismissed at first when they encounter new people. It usually takes a couple of meetings for their experience and the respect they command to sink in. Conferences are especially worse, because you don't have your team to back you up, introduce you or even just those little deferrals to you in conversation because they respect you.

I find that many of the worst developers I work with are also the sloppiest dressers. I think its because they believe the hype so that if they appear sloppy that means they're too brilliant to worry about clothes. Really, they're just trying to playing a role and pump up their egos. These sorts are often unclean and smelly as well. Some of the really skilled people I work with do dress poorly but they're generally pretty clean.
posted by captaincrouton at 5:39 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


apropos: some demographics broken down by gender
posted by idiopath at 5:46 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The most coding-competent, mathematically adept person in my year, for example, is a black woman who has the most impeccable fashion sense in the department--she's always in black and white with occasional red accents, nearly always in a neat, sharp dress, and very femme in the way she dresses.

The intersectionality of race and gender, and how to dress accordingly, is complex.

Also: can I point out that it really sucks when literally none of the PPE gear is designed to fit you properly?

I don't work in a lab, but I do a lot of field work with ecologists, biologists, hydrologists, etc, and it was immediately obvious when I started that almost all field gear is designed to fit men who are about 5' 8" to maybe 6' 1" and of average build. Taller, shorter, fatter, or more muscular means that you are going to look uncomfortable and ridiculous in the gear, and if you are a woman you are pretty much hosed. Sometimes it's "just" a discomfort issue (which is bad enough and contributes to people not staying in the field) but sometimes it is a safety issue and that's a lot worse.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:47 PM on March 12, 2015


I suspect a new third class of obnoxious behavior. Something along the lines of being treated like either a mascot or meat.

Oh, so the same as being a woman the rest of the time, then. Sorry I suggested it. My apologies.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:11 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am so grateful for my genderqueer colleague who wears whatever the fuck clothing and uses whatever the fuck bathroom they feel like. (And is a damn good programmer.)
posted by the_blizz at 9:28 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


erall seems like he spends a lot of time or money on his appearance (or both), he seems less geeky. We would probably judge him to be an exec or at least working in Sales and Marketing.

For the most part, this is untrue unless you're showing up in a full suit and tie at a software company. What people perceive as "programmer" for men runs the gamut from jeans and tech tshirt (the startup guy or sysadmin) to khakis and polo shirt (the enterprise software developer) to slacks and tweed blazer (the old school research lab worker).

A programmer who's a well dressed man gets tagged as "well dressed, hip programmer." Whereas there's no female analog along the lines of "stylish femme programmer."
posted by deanc at 7:50 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


"web designer", back in the day at least.
posted by maryr at 8:12 AM on March 13, 2015


I've worked with programmers who have the gamut of clothing styles. The stereotypical "geek" style is really only a small subset. Although the young ones with the geeky style are more likely to want to REWRITE EVERYTHING NOW IN NODE.JS BECAUSE OH WHO KNOWS IT'S COOL THIS WEEK. I keed.

More seriously, I am a man and the percentages of female programmers I've seen in my workplaces pretty much match those in idiopath's link, with lots of variation. Best is probably a job with 30+ developers where it was maybe 40% women and the current head of development is a woman. Worst is my current job where our 5 devs are all guys. I think that sort of happened by accident though and it's a tiny sample size. I will say that my boss used a staffing agency for candidates during our last hire and they sent over maybe 2 women out of like 20+ people. I don't know if that meant the pool of female devs was low, or if the agency had its own bias. Next time I'm in charge of hiring I will make a concerted effort to be more inclusive. A more diverse workplace tends to be a better workplace for lots of reasons.

Also the conference assumption thing is a drag, but is sort of orthogonal to the workplace issue, right? Like if I hire a woman to be team lead over the existing male devs, how does everyone react to that? Does she get the right amount of respect? Guessing which people in a crowd are sales vs. execs vs. programmers is a kind of profiling that even the least prejudiced people probably do without even meaning to. My woman programmer friends see a guy in a suit and think "sales guy" even though it might be "tech genius". The article's advice to start out assuming people are experts is good, but it takes mental training I think.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:32 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


freecellwizard was "keeding," but just in case someone gets the idea from that that Node is a thing for young bros, the Node community is remarkably good about respecting and trying to empower women and trans folks and people of color. One of the community's leaders, Isaac Schleuter (the Node project lead until last year), is an especially strong advocate of the non-privileged.

Half of NPM, the package registry that has played a big part in Node's usefulness, is staffed by women.

There was a dust-up over gender-neutral phrasing in the documentation for one of Node's underlying layers. It was unfortunate that a request for gender-neutral phrasing became controversial, but it was resolved in favor of not biasing the documentation toward men.

The community is all about no assholes and the moderation in the IRC channel is accordingly firm. The conferences all have codes of conduct, and the NodeSchool events, which are reputed to be very friendly, encourage the use of codes of conduct and the creation of a safe, welcoming atmosphere for everyone.

I feel this may extended to JavaScript events in general, though, I can't be sure. I do know that I went to an outdoor JS meetup this summer in which anyone who walked by got to check out the talks and ask questions. Some homeless guy sitting next to me got eight or so slices of free pizza, which was awesome.

tl;dr Node is not a bro thing, come check it out whoever you are, ask for help!
posted by ignignokt at 5:37 PM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


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