Talking about the patriarchy tends to have a slightly terrifying effect.
April 13, 2015 9:30 AM   Subscribe

The Women I Pretend to Be, by novelist and game writer Naomi Alderman (previously):
No one in tech has ever been as sexist toward me as teachers and rabbis before I was 12 years old. But I've come to notice more and more how working within the particular masculine sexism of the tech industry has nudged the way I present myself, just a little. I've noticed how, very slowly, I've started to acquiesce into playing roles that get assigned to me. I've noticed how I disappear behind these masks.

What follows is not a horror story. It's a series of moments.
posted by divined by radio (28 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
The truth is, none of us is OK, not really. The best, most dear, most thoughtful and engaged and open and feminist men in my life have occasionally come out with some statement that’s made me gasp. Then again, so have almost all the women.

QFT
posted by chavenet at 9:39 AM on April 13, 2015 [25 favorites]


"In fact, though, being One of the Boys haunts me more in shame than in success. I can’t do it very well, and I feel guilty about all the ways I fail at it."

/me nods and nods and nods yes. very much so knowing exactly what this feels like a thousand little ways.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:49 AM on April 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also previously here. She's one of us now!
posted by almostmanda at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's weird because I grew up in a loner nerd environment where nerds cultivated a few close friendships but largely didn't go for obsessive peer groups with rules for getting approval and credibility. Why aren't more nerds cool like me, refusing to be "one of the guys" and always trying to be a bitchin' (d'oh, there I go) iconoclast who isn't "one of" anybody? I think I lucked out by "solving" the feminine mystique that might make other independent nerds glom together. I just feel bad about "one of the guys" because the large number of geeks or nerds or whatever you wish to call it who fill the ranks of IT weren't "one of the guys" for most of their lives and they should continue that rather than setting up a Guydom at first opportunity
posted by aydeejones at 10:07 AM on April 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


(By "solve" the feminine mystique I just mean "conduct myself properly such that I was able to find my future wife quite early in my adulthood" vs seething and hating women for not liking nice guys)
posted by aydeejones at 10:08 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a committed feminist. I have also literally actually benefitted from being in a good-old-boys-club (referred to as "the brotherhood"). My family's welfare has directly benefitted from this explicitly patriarchal arrangement.

I was admitted into this exclusive group because of my skills and my achievements...but I wouldn't even have been looked at for inclusion --regardless of my talents-- if I wasn't also male*, straight, and possessing the "right" cultural markers.

I'm ashamed to admit that, but I'm not about to eschew it either. I keep telling myself I can change it from the inside out...but that may just be a way to keep to cognitive dissonance at bay.

And this is why change takes so long.

*to be fair I've heard rumors that a female colleague is strongly being considered as part of the group now...but only because she's so undeniably badass that it transcends all previous biases. Baby steps, I guess?
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:12 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I absolutely loathe the trend to what is coded as "masculine traits" in technology work. It's such a simple, narrow-minded beefheaded way of doing things that irritates me endlessly. When I see women doing it I want to cry. Technology firms reward those who fight, go to battle, win the war, overcome the competition, be the winner, show the loser, delivered an ass kicking, kicked ass, self scarificed, "did what it took" and god dammit I am sick of it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:33 AM on April 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


Betray "the brotherhood" whatever way you can, as often as you can and as thoroughly as you can, as soon as you are self sufficient enough to survive without it. If you are not self-sufficient enough to survive without it, begin by becoming self-sufficient.

Context: I look like tech industry and live in a place where looking like tech industry means that people assume you're a low-level member of the ruling class. I have benefited from this repeatedly in ways both large and small. Feeling guilty about this is useless; becoming self-sufficient enough to win back enough freedom to ratfuck the motherfuckers who assume I'm one of them seems at least an iota more practical.

Note: this may just be a story I tell myself to keep from sinking into total despair.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:37 AM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


In the end you become what you hate if you stay in the technology biz too long.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:49 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


If pointing out the number of male and female characters is equal is "strident," then it's worse than I feared. (Mentally locking and loading for entry into the industry).

Great article, and a big warm welcome to Metafilter to Naomi!
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:56 AM on April 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


"Tech" is just a word that people use to convince themselves (or that their employers use to convince them) that they don't actually work in and for corporate America. But it is, and it has all of the same problems.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:24 AM on April 13, 2015 [23 favorites]


Beethoven's Sith: If pointing out the number of male and female characters is equal is "strident," then it's worse than I feared.

Ohmigosh, totally felt my pulse quickening at that anecdote. It's absolutely "strident" if the power holders deem it to be. Honestly, something like that can make you lose the job, not be invited to the table, marginalized and denied voice. Happens every day. Right now, it feels political to not buy the pink thing for my daughter. It feels political to buy her a toy T-rex and name it "Tina." T-rexs are females, too! These things should not feel "strident" but somehow.... I applaud Naomi for the way she handled that situation, though. That's some serious leveling up.
posted by amanda at 11:34 AM on April 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


The "strident" anecdote makes sense because you can use data to filter gender bias out of the Product , but filtering it out of the Process...that's a much tougher fight because the bias is implemented from the C level all the way down and replicated 10 thousand times over across the contingent. So I see it as as a fabric that appears to be impenetrable armor, but it can still be indirectly influenced over a long scale of time. I refuse to "fight" it because those terms have been set by the fabric itself and there is no way I can win by assuming it as my own, wearing it or seeking protection from it. It is alien to my being.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:54 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This piece is really, really, really good.
"I’ll tell you a secret: I’m sexist, too. When I write Zombies, Run! I routinely find that I’ve put in more male characters than female. Even me. Even with all that I think about this stuff. Then I count the women (because the only way to pick up on this is to count) and I gender flip some of the male characters and make them women. And then—and this is the kicker—when I read back over those newly-female characters, even though I was the one who made them, even though I know I just did a little “turn the outie into an innie” on them, even despite that, I judge the female characters more harshly. The clever science professor suddenly reads as fussy and petulant when she’s female. The badass James Bond–type dude reads as a bitch when she’s a woman. Even to me. That’s what we’re working with here."
posted by amanda at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2015 [45 favorites]


If pointing out the number of male and female characters is equal is "strident,"

I'm guessing it's the coming-prepared-with-display-chart-to-counter-expected-sexist-response that she was fearing would be read as "strident." When you actually conjure that up as a lived experience that would feel potentially very confrontational.

Nicely done piece.
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I’ve finally come to realize this simple fact: Sexism is not a quality of individuals, it is a quality of the society we live in. It exists in every cultural product, in every grouping, in every brain in our culture.

Yes, exactly.
I have been all of these women too.

She missed one persona that I call 'the mascot.' I was younger then, the only woman graduate student in a group full of men. Mostly they ignored me, but occasionally the prof would call on me and I'd try to say something intelligent and they'd all look at me like 'isn't she cute' and then the conversation would go on as though I had not spoken. We'd all go out to dinner after some talk and they'd be courtly and polite and open the door for me and all that jazz and they looked at me like I was a talking bunny rabbit. "Aww, that's sweet! But I can't understand a word she's saying."
posted by tuesdayschild at 1:00 PM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am the Adrian referred to in this excellent piece. Naomi's recollection of our conversation about men vs. women in Perplex City is correct, and I remember feeling pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. But that's how you learn, and the game and the story was better for having a proper balance of sexes. We have worked together on many, many projects since then, including Zombies, Run!, so the moral here is that if you do point out these things to your colleagues and bosses, there's a good chance they'll react well and things will get better.
posted by adrianhon at 1:08 PM on April 13, 2015 [48 favorites]


YES. If I may say: Adrian has been one of the most stalwart allies I've ever known or heard of over the years that followed that moment. Every writer should have a producer to work with who understands these issues as well as he does, and thinks about them so much. And I wish I'd put that in the piece!

God knows I needed to have my consciousness raised at a certain point in my life - no one grows up in our culture a fully formed feminist without some intervention ;-). So I guess the lesson is: it's worth doing, because with the right people you really only have to mention it once.

On another point: I think I missed one out too. The Cyrano De Bergerac, who I have also been at certain points in my life - the woman feeding the clever lines to the bloke out front. Maybe I should do a followup with some more of these ;-).
posted by naomialderman at 1:15 PM on April 13, 2015 [44 favorites]


This is great. Great great great. I recognize that palpable sense of relief people express when you finally, finally slide into a role that they hold for people like you. You can almost hear the click as you lock into place. I haven't experienced this in terms of female gender (being a cisgendered guy, that is) and there are 1001 flavours of oppression, but her account really resonates with what I've experienced around brown/latino identity, sexuality, body shape, employment, etc...
posted by LMGM at 2:27 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Tech" is just a word that people use to convince themselves (or that their employers use to convince them) that they don't actually work in and for corporate America. But it is, and it has all of the same problems.

If not more.
posted by brand-gnu at 2:47 PM on April 13, 2015


The Cyrano De Bergerac, who I have also been at certain points in my life - the woman feeding the clever lines to the bloke out front.

Yup, this.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:14 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


The best, most dear, most thoughtful and engaged and open and feminist men in my life have occasionally come out with some statement that’s made me gasp. Then again, so have almost all the women.

It's almost as though all the peoples of earth weren't punched out of the same sheet of cardboard!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:20 PM on April 13, 2015


Sorta related but from another angle. Made me relate it anyways.

I'm dealing with this weird, sorta reverse, mirror sexism about tech at work right now, related to some new software systems we're bringing in. So reading this just irks me in the sense that I feel like I(we) can't win.

It involves me training people on their parts of the new system. In discussing the change and approaches with people my boss keeps talking about certain people potentially having problems, easing them into it and in two cases wanting to develop ridiculous work arounds in case they can't figure it out. These need other people to add to their work load and will make our system even more inefficient then it is rather then more efficient.

I realized at the end of last week that all of the work around and easing into it talk is 100% about the men involved. The work arounds all involved the women, taking on the extra work to compensate. There has been no talk of easing them in. It's just expected that they'll learn not only their part but others. I really had to sit back and think on whether the concerns had to do with the specific capabilities of the people or if there is something else going on. I did not want it to be something else but I really do think it is.

It bothered me all weekend and today I diplomatically brought it up. My boss really didn't know what to make of it. I made a person who never shuts up speechless. I really had my 'strident' persona mask on and flat out refused to plan for one particular work around that would end up doubling the work load of the (women) in our ordering office because 'if the guys in the warehouse and maintenance can't get their shit together enough to learn a damn inventory system that the company needs then maybe they need to be replaced.' (I know they'll be fine. ) I told my boss that I teach, I mentor, I coach and I don't coddle.

Why has there been no talk of easing in and taking it slow with regards to the two women that work in these departments? The whole thing has been a serious 'wtf' experience for me when I realized just how gender based the talk has been.

Some days I really just don't get this world.
posted by Jalliah at 4:13 PM on April 13, 2015 [27 favorites]


I found that first anecdote to be more harrowing than any of the ZR! missions, and I once ran into fucking traffic to get away from a pursuing zombie horde. Intentionally.
posted by Etrigan at 8:15 PM on April 13, 2015


> the moral here is that if you do point out these things to your colleagues and bosses, there's a good chance they'll react well and things will get better.

...sometimes. It's worth it for the sometimeses. I wish it happened as frequently as the doubling-downs.
posted by desuetude at 9:31 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is fantastic, thank you.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:04 PM on April 13, 2015


Is there a name for being "one of the good ones" when a guy rants about how all women are evil-slut-gold-diggers, because that was one of my least favorite roles, and the other guy in the room was actively surprised I wasn't ok with listening to someone slag on women. I've had the same experience several times - guys insulting women to me and then becoming surprised or angry when I identify with the women and not them. I don't know what to call it, but it sucks.

(Since it's a dynamic with women, would the inverse - being the woman when another woman rants about how evil men are and says we should be lesbians together - still count? It's homophobic certainly, but I was never sure it was sexist.)

There should also be one for when you become the Princess in the Tower and the guy starts acting weirdly and pedastaling you. Like that *snap* moment when you realize they don't see you at all. Hasn't happened often, but I'm totally not a fan of it.

And what about the women who get demonized hugely and attacked by an endless Zerg Rush? I feel like they should be remembered, too. They certainly aren't Mother Brain, or Tiamat, or any of a thousand Boss Enemies, but there's a way in which women get transformed into that in some cases.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:16 PM on April 13, 2015


Indeed:
The clever science professor suddenly reads as fussy and petulant when she’s female. The badass James Bond–type dude reads as a bitch when she’s a woman. Even to me. That’s what we’re working with here.
Previously: Bitch in Business
posted by Little Dawn at 5:21 PM on April 14, 2015


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