~jpetazzo/“I am a feminist, but…”

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TL,DR: we all have different perceptions and experiences. Just because you’re fine with a picture, book, movie, etc., doesn’t mean that everybody will accept it equally well. Even if you are the nicest person in the world. Let’s accept it, and be aware of each other’s sensitivities.

What am I talking about?

A recent CommitStrip Episode describes two guys and a girl watching an episode of the TV show Mr Robot. This TV show has the reputation of being technically accurate in many ways, which makes it popular among people who know how modern technology actually works. (Those people can often be frustrated by the considerable suspension of disbelief required to watch most movies where computers, networks, and other technology artifacts are a central point of the plot. Anyway!)

The first image just shows the three characters on a couch, watching the show. By looking at it, I was already afraid of what would be coming next. And I was right: they watch the show, with an avalanche of technical words: DDOS! Rootkits! Boot sequence! And the two guys are totally into the story, but the girl doesn’t get it.

I think that’s sexist, and I’m not OK with it.

Why would that be sexist?

It’s conveying the stereotype that women are “not technical,” that they are not interested by computers, and when there is a “geeky” TV show they won’t “get it.”

There is indeed a serious problem in the tech industry: there are much more men than women, and the unbalance becomes even worse when you focus on engineering positions. Some people naively think that this is because men are better than women in tech roles, but it’s simply not true. Every day,. we use inventions and concepts created or pioneered by women.

Also, things are getting worse: the percentage of women in tech is decreasing, which seems to indicate that we’re doing something horribly wrong, causing many women to leave this industry.

There are multiple causes, but sexism in the tech industry is one of them. Sexism isn’t always obvious objectification of women or crass harrassment. It’s also all the little things.

One of the things we do wrong is to perpetuate the stereotype that women don’t understand computers, and that when a bunch of dudes will talk about technology, the token woman will be the one who doesn’t understand.

“But I don’t find that offensive! And I’m a feminist/a woman!”

Good for you! But other people think differently. Not a few; a lot, in fact. Because we all have different perceptions. Maybe you are a woman, working in tech, and you are lucky enough to be respected by your peers, have never been asked if you were a recruiter at a conference, have never received rape and death threats on IRC and in your emails. Good!

But some (unfortunately, many) women in our industry have a very different experience.

In July 2015, I gave a short talk about the future of the Cloud, and one thing I said at the end was (short version), “And I hope that in the future of the Cloud, tech will be a nicer industry for women.” After that talk, some women in the audience asked me, “Hey, is it true, that horrible stuff you were describing? Harrassment, death threats, etc.? It never happened to me!” But a considerably larger number of women thanked me for talking about this, and some of them shared their stories. That’s sad, and this has to stop.

What’s the responsibility of a web comic there?

It’s a shared responsibility for all of us. Collectively, we have to make tech welcoming for women. We have to call out people when they make a stupid Mother’s day joke, or when they publish a book that will convey the idea that girls need boys to fix their computers.

Put it differently: if some day I have a daughter, and if she’s interested into computers, I don’t want her to look at this sexist shit and unconsciously get the message that only boys understand technology, and that she should go back to play with her dolls. I want her to look up at some of the badass women out there who are amzing role models and pursue that path if she wants to, rather than getting the feeling that she’s not welcome in this boy’s club.

Further readings

This work by Jérôme Petazzoni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.