Feminism and tech: an overdue and welcome manifesto

Alan writes, "A group of nine women involved in the tech industry have posted a manifesto listing some of the awful sexist things that have happened in tech during the past few months. The women frame this as a simple statement: 'we really just want to work on what we love.' But the reality of the industry and the societies in which we do our tech work make this far from simple."

Some of us identified as feminists before we came to this industry. Some of us only began to understand the relevance of feminism as we sought to understand what’s been happening to us. Some of us felt that we didn't need the programs and events geared specifically towards women— until the bad stuff started happening to us. We thought they did more harm than help by calling attention to our gender, and we wondered what others were complaining about. It was hard to see until we suffered also.

Others, still, speak very much of feminist ideals and action but are afraid to identify with the word ‘feminist’ because they fear alienation from their peers, both in work and also in their social lives.

Feminism is not a dirty word. Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, and that we want to be treated as equals. Don’t let someone else pretend otherwise out of their own misguided notions.

The last thing we want is for people reading this to be put on the defensive. What we want most is for people to read and understand what death by a thousand cuts feels like, and then understand why we feel sad and angry at the tech industry. We also want you to understand that more still needs to be done.

The last few weeks have been very difficult for women in tech (Thanks, Alan!)

(Image: </patriarchy>, Gaelx, CC-BY-SA)

Notable Replies

  1. I work in the tech industry, and I fully support anyone who wants to participate in this industry. However, this post really just sounds like pointless whining. I'm not suggesting sexist behavior might not be a problem -- but this post does a terrible job of demonstrating it.

    To look at their list of bad things that have happened this week:

    1) A throughout and fair investigation found that no sexual harassment occurred. The link goes to great lengths to describe how fair the investigation was (and it sounds like legitimately was fair) and that no evidence was found supporting the sexism claims. So, is this post suggesting that there is no way the woman could be wrong and we must assume a thorough, independent investigation is part of a conspiracy to mistreat women? Blind support of all accusations of misdeeds is a terrible way to gather more support.

    2) A CEO being fired for acting violently. This is a good thing, not a bad thing, right? In any case, the violence was towards his girlfriend/prostitute (not my judgement, just paraphrasing), which is certainly bad, but doesn't really speak about women in the tech industry.

    3) People wanting to see a video like this isn't sexist -- I can promise you the reaction would have been the same if the victim had been male. This is not a sexist or feminist issue, at all. This is people wanting to see a video... of course they don't care about consent, viewers never do. This is NOT about exploiting a woman.

    4) Yeah, codebabes.com is sexist and tacky. But I can assure you, anyone who "learns" coding through a site like that will be woefully unprepared for a real tech industry job. This site doesn't really represent professional techies at all. Furthermore, anyone can put any site they want on the internet, and if this site leads people to believe the internet is sexist... well, they must be very new to the internet.

    5) "Some men made statements that made us feel unwelcome in the tech industry." Yeah, me too. Many people in the tech industry are very poor at social interaction. With all people. They make awkward, inappropriate comments to women. They also make awkward, inappropriate commands to men. Yes, this applies to women in the tech industry as much as men (which is to say, some of them, not all). I could write a blog post about the mean, weird, awkward and offensive things co-workers (both sexes) have said to me (male) over the years, but why would I?

  2. Wow, that was fast. It took only one post for the apologists to come in and start de-legitimizing their gripes and twisting the narrative so that now we're talking about how badly they're presenting the issue rather than about the issue itself.

    Demonstrating ably, I think, one of the symptoms of the issue at hand: "Let me explain (mansplain?) how to critique the patriarchy!" is not a solution, it's part of the problem.

  3. ::slowclap::

    Adding at the end that you're male is...superfluous.

  4. That is precisely what you're doing.

    If you do think sexist behavior is a problem and you think these authors used weak points to illustrate the problem, I'd challenge you to show some better examples. What would you write in their shoes? How would you demonstrate it in a not-terrible way?

  5. Who are you to tell women experiencing sexism that what they perceive as sexism is not sexism? What experience do you have of being a woman in tech?

    If you already know that rampant sexism is a problem, then there's no reason to quibble with the precise list of five examples. You can think of others. You know their point is legit. You don't need this particular evidence, you've got plenty of others. Trying to tell them that these specific instances aren't what they claim they are isn't helpful. It's not improving their argument, it's just patronizing.  If you agree that sexism is a problem, then you don't need these five instances to be persuaded.

    You, however, aren't an authority on the issue. These women believe these examples are instances of sexism in the industry, and you cannot possibly be a greater expert on the topic than they are, so you don't have any real standing to dispute their experience, here. As a man, you have to let the experts with years of experience in the topic speak to their own knowledge, and accept what they have to say as better-researched than you could hope to be. You don't want to be like that guy who doesn't believe in climate change because it got cold yesterday, right? So stop being the weatherman that doubted the scientist.

    Take that attention to detail you displayed and put it to use in support of the cause you agree with rather than trying to break it down. These five examples don't do it for you? Okay, find some that do, and post them as supporting evidence. If you don't work with sexists (hard to believe, but whatever), then find an apologist, someone who writes off these concerns, and give them a list of links that proves they're full of bullshit.

    Because coming in and saying "That's a poor supporting argument!" isn't helping make a better one, it's just helping the people who want to write it off. Maybe it is a poor supporting argument (I don't think that it is, myself), then make a better one. One that's harder to write off.

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