If you are unfamiliar with the events at PyCon there are many articles to read (How “dongle” jokes got two people fired). There are “just the facts” articles (somewhere), lots of opinions, and many more tertiary reactions to the situation. Mine is the last. I wasn’t there, I won’t pass judgement. This is my, not so eloquent, reaction to what I have read.
Let me say up front that I have had plenty of moments working in the tech field that make me want to tell a guy to grow up. I’ve also had plenty of times where the guys were all drooling over me awkwardly (and other girls were pretty upset with me for being a tech geek). I play video games (not much lately because I have to prioritize). I even played Halo for a bit. I nearly punched a guy because he killed my character once actually. The four guys I was playing with also had some girls that were not pleased that I was ruining their fun by destroying their unspoken rule that girls don’t play video games. I’ve had a boyfriend’s mom yell at him for letting me do technical work with him during a vacation (not my mother in-law). Coworkers asked me repeatedly when I was going to get a tatoo on my ass (literally). There are a lot of instances where I’ve been “one of the guys” with less than favorable results. Like my dad pointed out, I learned at an early point in my career to be resilient to all the crap.
Another good example that seems very relevant to this incident is when a fellow programmer said something incredibly inappropriate to me. I could have lashed out at him and publicly shamed him right off the bat. Instead I direct messaged him and called him on it. He said it was an accident (as I had expected given the circumstances) and he apologized. I’ve told the story a couple times since, but always in the context that it was an accident (and in a confidential setting). He still makes “that’s what she said” jokes to this day, but usually at times that make no sense at all. Really, it was an accident that his TWSS joke actually fit for once and made light of me in a sexual manner. It was just a horrible coincidence. Could it be better? Sure, but it could be a lot worse too. This same guy took me to the ER one day when I needed someone to help me and his wife is a great friend of mine too. I never felt inconsequential because we had the conversation about what his intention was when he said it.
I really can’t complain too much. For as many examples of being treated poorly, I can share examples of being treated exemplary. Being “one of the guys” means they have your back no matter what happens.
I really appreciate all the articles popping up last week supporting women in IT in general. Many men are really shining through this event. Yet, I want to add one piece to the conversation that I haven’t read anywhere so far. According to reports, the woman was upset because the dongle jokes were somehow the problem preventing young girls from entering a science field. I actually disagree with this. Sure, the stereotype doesn’t help. Sure, feeling like the odd person out doesn’t help. And sure, I’ve shared plenty of examples of reasons some would consider to stay away from tech. All of those require you to have thought of wanting to be in a science field in the first place though and I don’t think many females are getting that far even. The problem goes far beyond developer culture into the homes of every household in America (perhaps beyond). It’s the princess society problem where we continually teach young girls that they need to dream of being a princess some day. Providing them with no role models in science/tech fields. Boys, in addition to all the violent super hero obsessions, are encouraged to be astronauts, doctors, building engineers, and any number of other STEM careers. Girls are encouraged to model Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, and Ariel. They flock to it and how are we to deny them this? I don’t have girls, so I can’t say exactly how I would do things differently as a parent of young girls, but I know we collectively have to do better.
I have to do better for my boys too. Some parents still tell their boys, “you’re not going to let a girl be braver than you, are you?” Don’t get me started. This is just unacceptable.
Dongle jokes and all the other locker room humor, as another article so aptly named it, are what cause some of the sparse women to leave the developer environment. But it is not the root problem of a lack of women in IT.