Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sexism (Women in I.T. Part 3)

Okay - so we need to expand the scope of the discussion. The thing that kicked off my comments was a  "Women in I.T. breakfast" at NetHui. it was appropriate at the time. Probably not so much anymore.

I was at "EduCamp Auckland" - an unconference for educators with a technology focus. Last year at NetHui I met someone who I've seen around since. It turns out we've got all sorts of connections (people that we both know).

I pointed out my blog (she asked me what I thought of NetHui). While I think it's the most valuable conference I go to (or have been to), I do think they kind of let themselves down a little this year. If it's a budget thing, then I have to ask about the projects they're helping to fund and their value in comparison to NetHui (i.e. If the World Internet Project seems to be a rather sad plaything for researchers and Computers in Homes only has a 15% success rate, then perhaps it's worthwhile looking at the benefits of those projects in comparison to the benefits of NetHui and allocating funds accordingly). Of course, the benefits of NetHui aren't really measurable (there's another blog post just in that sentence.... I'll get around to it I'm sure).

But that's besides the point. She went to the blog and saw the "Women in I.T." heading and asked me what that was about. I let her know that I was.... irritated at the fact that males were turned away from the Women in I.T. breakfast. That the event felt exclusive.

We got into a rather loud discussion - we had to stop to explain what we were talking about to the people around us. Some of the things she said have got me thinking. For example, "if males had been allowed to attend they would have been trying to come up with the solution rather than allowing women to discuss the issue".

And it occurred to me - that's exactly what I've done (that and the fact that our discussion got a little loud proved her point). I am part of the solution. If I notice the things around me, I can point out that the woman at the back of the room has had her arm up for the last 5 minutes while X Y and Z guys have just interrupted. If I find myself in an uncomfortable position, I can air my discomfort and let the person/people around me know that I consider what they've just said or their attitude as inappropriate.

I would like to think that if enough of those guys (I think they're in the majourity) who saw this sort of thing as horribly inappropriate did the same, that the situation would get a whole lot better. There we go... I've found the solution!

I'm going to play devil's advocate here.

I don't normally see race. When I moved down to Christchurch, racism became a problem. Before getting jabbed in the jaw by a skinhead, I had cause to look around me and realise that there were very few people of colour within a crowd. This had me thinking about reverse racism. A kind of reaction to perceived racism. Basically a belief that a crowd of white people HAD to be racist by virtue of being white - "Why aren't you coloured?!?". Further down the rabbit hole, I realised that even those things I was perceiving as racist were a reaction to not quite knowing the limits. I remember this one incident where I was in the kitchen making dinner when my flatmate's best friend's little boy ran into the kitchen, ran into me, looked up, saw my face and had this look as if this were the first coloured man he'd ever seen.

How would you react in his position?

And at NetHui, I had a few awkward moments. I had asked a woman if I could buy her a drink who indicated her boyfriend and said "I've got a boyfriend". That's nice... I wasn't actually interested. I felt awkward around her the following day.

We deal with the perception of things. It doesn't matter what happened or my intentions. The perception is so much more important. Ever said something in all innocence (I went out for dinner one night where 3 of us decided to share dishes - 2 of us had already decided to share. One of them then said "Great! Let's make this a threesome". She'd not meant it in THAT way) and realised it was completely the wrong thing to say?

This does happen and probably more frequently than we think. I think a lot of this comes down to the relationship with that person. i.e. if I gave someone an egg poacher, it could be taken in one of two ways - as a thoughtful gift (assuming that the person in question had mentioned an egg poacher), or as a bit of a slight i.e. "Cook me some eggs". Intention is contextual.

So it's not enough for males to do their part and step up when they're feeling uncomfortable. There's also an important element around coping mechanisms involved. I could be bitter and twisted about the bits of racism I've had throughout my life. Or I could learn to examine each case and decide whether it was in the context in which I perceived it in. In one case, I'm thinking "auto-eroticator" (I've so got to trademark that word!). In the other case, I'm thinking "Give 'em the benefit of the doubt".

Of course, I'm still doing what males are accused of doing - looking for solutions. Is this discussion productive? (Please let this be a discussion...)

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