Friday, September 18, 2015

The REAL issues women in tech face

Recently I read an article that talks about the myths that need to be debunked about women in tech.  They are five of them and they are things like “you have to work alone” and “you work with nerds.”   Women 2.0 put it out, which is normally a good resource for women in the tech world.

This time however, I scrunched up my face and asked, “How is this specific to women?”  It isn’t.  If you are going to write an article called women in tech myths, perhaps you should start with items that are SPECIFIC to women and that men do not have to face.  What this article does instead is debunk stereotypes about tech, not about women. None of the items listed are about women, except maybe the first one.  It reads “you have to be a math whiz.”  This one is includes women as stereotypical Barbies who spout “Math class is hard,” but it also includes a subtle racial stereotype.  And I can do is sigh at the many different levels of wrong in this.

My favorite item on the list is that you “work with nerds,” after which the article proceeds to argue that engineers were wildly diverse. And interesting. 

Um, yeah. 

Like most populations comprised of people, there are the uber nerds, the people who are so into whatever that there is nothing else, and then there is everyone else.  This one is definitely NOT about gender.  I know plenty of women who are uber nerds in this profession.  I love working with them.

I admit and am the first one to argue that there is a dearth of women in tech, but the problems that women face in tech are things like 1). Not being taken seriously.  (Yes, still). 2) The Brogrammer culture which can look a lot like rape culture, 3) being stereotyped as a people person because I am “a girl and they are more social” (hunh?)  4) not having enough mentors who are my same gender and finally, 5) what to wear (No, seriously.  It’s like this: a tee shirt and I am trying to be one of the boys, but anything fashionable and I am trying to be Nina Garcia.  I have to be both conservative AND edgy.  YOU try it).  Men have none of these issues.

Granted, the most important is number 2, which is a larger systemic issue and is a rant for another time.  This is followed quickly by 1 and 4, which are career killers.  Finally 3 and 5 happen on a daily basis but are not only specific to tech. The “what to wear?” question is a women in business question, and is aimed at those of use who missed the junior high training of lip gloss, shiny hair and eyebrows.  We were reading instead.  Or wearing black embellished with skulls.  The point is, we did not fall into traditional forms of femininity and this is one of the reasons why we are in tech.

The point of all of this is that false feminism exists all around us, even in tech, where women are arguing stereotypes that are not women’s issues.  Maybe this is the point. Tech needs women’s voices to actually address women’s issues.  When we make a post that seems to be about women, but isn't, it is s form of removing power form the real issues. This, to me, is so not okay, and does nothing to further the argument that women belong in tech.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A well mannered dilemma

I know I am a white girl.  I know that to others and to society I have a lot more privilege than I really have.  And I know that this is not my call, or my fault or anything I had anything to do with.  I know all of this.  And because I know this, I work really hard to disseminate my privilege whenever and wherever possible, appropriately, and sometimes even inappropriately.  I am not Lady Bountiful.  I am just a blue-eyed Southern chick who grew up in two really great small towns, poorer than some, not as much as others.
So when friends of mine who are of a different background (and there are a lot of those), say something weird, (and it happens a lot), I simply accept their cultural differences as they accept mine.  Mostly these are just quirks and we all have those. (I introduce everybody to everybody, more than once, just in case, and I have been known to call people a coon dog).
Sometimes, though, what they say about their own social group shocks me.  My friends who are Jewish will make jokes about the Holocaust.  My Hispanic friends make a bean joke, and so on.  They see it as being at ease with their heritage.  I often walk away feeling run over.  I call it getting Chappelle’d.
What Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and even Jeff Foxworthy don’t seem to understand is that when you make a racist joke, it is still a racist joke even when you are a member of the group being made fun of.  But when you are not, it is a double whammy.  Especially when you come from a culture or a family, like mine, whose core cultural values is to make other people comfortable, as often as possible.   And when you are in my home, doubly so.
Here is the dissonance for me:  If I laugh at the joke, and they are often very funny, then I am a racist, because I am NOT a member of that racial or social group.  And if I do not laugh, then I am rude.  To a guest.  In my home.
This is, to me, JUST as horrible.
I have plenty of friends from many different cultures who have a similar cultural value.  To make a guest welcome is above all, the height of graciousness.  I have seen this in my Armenian friends, my Indian friends, my Latino friends and so, so many others.  Thus, I cannot for one minute imagine that these friend were raised to go into another person’s house and do or say something that makes the host feel uncomfortable, or place them in dissonance.
And yet it happens all the time, this phenomenon.  Maybe I am just too sensitive.  I hate it when people suffer.  I hate the casual reference to catastrophic suffering. I know that often humor defangs the severity of a situation, and maybe I should just lighten up.
I have thought about this a lot.  Even when Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle are on television, I still can’t bring myself to laugh wholeheartedly no matter how funny the joke is. Maybe it is just a privileged guilt that I feel, the white girls burden.  I cannot find a way to disseminate the argument except to politely pull people aside and explain that hate is hate, even when it is self-hatred disguised as humor.  And this is SO self-righteous and goody goody, and often provokes a defensive discomfort that I do not want in the other person, so many times I don’t.
I have wrestled with this since I entered college and discovered the idea of privilege.  I cannot find a solution and wonder if it just my White Girl cross to bear.  I am opening it up.  What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2015

The curious promise of limited time.

to honor as Carrie Newcomer says, “
The curious promise of limited time.”

New Years Day I awoke with a bright promise upon my lips and in my heart.  I wrote down the things I hope to accomplish in the coming few months. Among them was to begin visiting people I have not seen in a decade or more.  Some are very close geographically and it is silly that I have not seen them.  It is time for me stop being such a hermit, and tell the people that I love that I do.  My mothers best friend, Pat, told me after she died that she was never really sure how my mother felt about her.  It broke my heart, because I knew how much my mother cared for her.  But my mother, as loving as she was, could not seem to express her feelings in this; she was too introverted and too unwilling to inconvenience anyone.  The ones who lost were the people she loved, and I cannot let that be that fate of those I love. 
In September I had made a few tentative plans with a friend to visit my hometown in March. Kim grew up down the street from me.  She had grown a up girl with a hearty laugh who loved pranks, nicknames and sports (Peppermint Patty) who loved large and wanted to be friends with everyone.  She was the first girl into the then all-male dominated Little League as well as a cheerleader, soccer player, and very very popular in High School.  She grew into a woman who coached her children’s sports teams, loved her husband and knew everyone in town, probably having had a drink with most of us at one point or another and my favorite person to celebrate with back home.  Every small town has one. 
She bought her mother’s house and raised some beautiful children.  When her mother died. I was unable to make the service for Gretchen, a woman who had welcomed me into her home many many times in my life, but sent flowers writing the familiar address in my sleep with silent tears. Gretchen and I had spoken Spanish with each other.  She was from Nicaragua and my father from Argentina.  I felt the closeness of outsiders with her.
            During our phone call, Kim was excited that I was coming to stay for a few days and had started to talk about holding a Bar B Que, worrying a bit that March would be too cold.  Then she laughed in her hearty way and said, “Well, we will just have to have fire pits and jackets on. And lots of alcohol.”  I smiled at the other end of the phone and chuckled to myself.  Such a Kim thing to say.
            At the time, I remember thinking I was lucky to have grown up on our street.  Her best friend, Wendy, lived next door to me and we had about twenty other kids on our street who all played and fought together, including about nine in our class alone.  There were another eleven or so in classes within two years of us.  It was a pretty great street with lots to do and lots of amazing people.  It was a street that everyone should have grown up on, with late night games of all sorts of things. We had to be in when the street lights came on, and happily went to bed, stinking of child, soap, and evening.
            My plans were in my head as I opened Facebook.  So my heart stopped when I saw Wendy’s post.  It was a picture I remember clearly, of the two of them, aged 13 or 14.  I think it was taken in a photo booth at the county fair.  They are both so beautiful and so young, the promise of them shining out their happy faces.  Kim is leaning in and laughing, with Wendy a blond contrast looking straight forward and relaxed with her best friend at her side, waiting for whatever was to come.  It is who they grew up to be.  There was an RIP next to it.
            My heart turned into liquid nitrogen and froze. When I took a breath, it shattered.  Cold tears began to river down my face and drip into my lap as I frantically typed Kim’s name into the Facebook search engine.  A small piece of me wanted it to be a prank: a silly stupid thoughtlessly hurtful horrifying prank.   But the rest of me knew it was true.
 I read the tribute her husband left, and another a small piece of me broke away to grieve in the silent private place where my mother also lives.  Kim was one of the witnesses to my life, and she is no longer able to laugh with me over how stupid we were. She is no longer able to hug me fiercely or tell me to stop being such a nerd.  She is no longer able to drunkenly make silly fun of my childhood nickname, singing it, as no one else could,
            And then I though of Wendy and what was left of my heart fell away.  I messaged her immediately and asked her how she was.  The answer came a few hours later, and I worried about her the whole time.  She was just so sad.  A lifelong friendship was no longer, and she is twice, thrice, a thousand times more shattered than I.
            I have been in tears off an on since then, remembering random things and going through some old photos.  Kim had plans and wanted to do more things, and yet she lived more in her short life than most people do in long lives.  She certainly loved more.  I know that for sure as she knew how to love since we were 7, when we met.  Not a mean bone in her body and automatic friends with everyone, I am sure it stumped her when I wanted to stay in and read sometimes.
She taught me a lot about both love and how to live.
            When I stop and think about Kim in the calm moments, I realize she is still teaching me.  I only have so much time.  It is curious this promise of limited time.  It makes me more determined to accomplish my dreams. When we finally grow up to realize we are not child prodigies and the time we have left may be shorter than the time we have lived, we begin to live the way Kim did, out loud.  We take the chances, smile at strangers and begin to cross things off our bucket list.  We become friends with people we share history with and take trips to see them.   I have signed up for Swing Dancing lessons, a pottery class, made tentative plans to hit the Outer Banks, and scheduled lunch with a friend from long ago, all just yesterday.  As Kim leaves us, her mark remains.  She may not have known what Carpe Diem meant, but she certainly did seize the day, month, year, lifetime.  I was lucky enough to sing with her, dance with her, dream with her, and above all, laugh with her.  
I know how now, Kim. Thank you.