How Talking About Sexism in the Tech Industry Led to My Giant Head on The View

by | July 28, 2014
filed under Feminism

Photo of The View discussing this storyOver at Rabble, I’ve written something fairly coherent and measured that attempts to illuminate why the conversation I overheard last week is important. Main point: sexism in the tech-sector (and pretty much all other facets of life) exists, no matter how many times you try and wave a giant foam finger to the contrary.

But, for all the nicely linked stats and reports that I’ve provided in the Rabble piece, I want to delve more deeply into my lived experience, the published errors, and the rape threats that I’ve since received. 

I wanted some new bras, and this isn’t something one should do on an empty stomach. Because: bra shopping. With my 5 year old and his dad along for the ride, I stopped at a mall-hinged restaurant for a snack. As I helped my little boy cut up his pizza, when I overheard someone next to me talking about new hires. When he started to specifically address the demographic of ‘young women’ and how because of their perceived tendency to have babies his department wouldn’t be recruiting them, I leaned in (insert Sandberg joke here).

I listened. My eyebrows went up and down with incredulity. I caught the eye of my co-parent. He took over pizza slicing, which let me turn the conversation over to twitter. Yes. I shared what I heard. They were not yelling, but they were not whispering. The conversation they were having was being done without shame, or concern of being overheard. And as a mother, as a woman interested in tech, as a woman who designs and programs websites, as a human: what they were saying bothered me.

Many reporters have pushed me to admit that what I was doing was wrong: eavesdropping on what has been flagged as a private conversation, and then committing the most heinous crime of sharing it with others. I will defend my decision to tweet what I overheard: Twitter is an example of ‘group conversation’. It is a mode of technology that amplifies what we naturally do as humans: have conversations. I use Twitter prolifically. Exhibiting the not so unusual personality traits of loving conversation, but not always loving people, I feel most at home on Twitter. I share ideas, I have built friendships, I offer support, and I engage in genuine debate (I also fling trolls into the white static of ‘blocked’ when they come at me – as they do).

I do not regret live-tweeting my experience.

That said, I did not conceive for a moment that my handful of tweets would climax in my giant head hanging monstrously over the hosts of The View. I didn’t expect to be contacted by CBC, or called by Think Progress. I didn’t think that I would have people from all around the world confirming these overheard sexist remarks as practices that they experience on a daily basis.

I am extremely happy that this conversation is happening. I am impressed that outlets like the CBC and Rabble are interested in talking about the larger implications of these sexist attitudes in the workplace (like: how their conversation assumes men don’t parent and that all women want to have children). I am pleased as punch that maybe the tech-industry is having to put their codes of conduct where their money is, and actually make like they care.

What I am less keen on is having been misrepresented in the media. I am not a software developer. I develop websites and design them: on the side. I am an editor and manager of a small press in Toronto, Canada. I write stuff and I parent a small person. I am a feminist. I do not have a Masters degree in computer science, though I do have one in English Literature. I have never been to Australia, so it’s unlikely that I actually live there. And please, I am not a racist. Nor am I a ‘reverse racist’ (this term has no real life equivalent, by the way. ) My pointing out that the people at the table were white emphasized the privilege that these folks very likely experience, and how much of a power disparity there is between an affluent white male manager and any new hire.

I also hope that I am never, ever raped by the Duke Lacrosse team, though, sadly, rape threats appear to be a consequence of pointing out that some sexism is happening (when, hi!!!, it’s happening around us all the time). Additionally, I am do not practice misandry, I really kind of love the men in my life. I also want to point out that my feminism is not one that excludes the narrative and stories of men and masculinites. I welcome allies, and feminists that identify as men into my view of feminism.

Over the last six days, there have been a number of examples of both men and women demonstrating the status quo of sexism and misogyny. One woman suggested that if women didn’t like the ‘mommy track’ they were put on then they should allow companies to ask about family plans during interviews. Ummmm. No. That’s called discrimination. Another man pointed out in a facebook message he sent me (really? you take the time to find my personal facebook page?) that there is no such thing as sexism; that women having babies is a very real problem for companies and I should just go back to taking better care of my son. There has been a lot of mansplaining. Oh, so much. A lot of pushy, ‘well, listen to me, I am a guy in tech and I know that you are wrong and ohhhhhh you’ve hurt my feelings’ going on.

I don’t really care if I am hurting your feelings, or making you look at the ugly reality that there are a lot of people who still get up in the morning, put their pants on, and take their misogyny to work with them. A lot. Just like there are a lot of people who take their racism, abelism, and classism into work with them. They are usually the same people that start flipping out and calling me a feminazi when I talk about the wage gap that is backed up by, you know, math.

I didn’t court this. I didn’t plan this. I wanted some bras and some food – both of which I got, thank you for asking. And although it is great that this story was talked about for a few seconds in the grand scheme of media, the real-life implications of sexism in the tech sector will keep happening.

Originally posted at Syndications on the Rights of Women. Re-posted with the author’s permission.

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