Career Programming WISE women in computer science

Emotional Women Have Context

Credit: flickr / decor8 holly

Do you remember the thing at Pycon, earlier this year? I’m not going to write specifically what, because I don’t want to linkbait. But if you are on Twitter and follow any technical women… I’m sure you saw it.

It seemed like in the end, the consensus on the Internet (which I do not agree with), was that “oh, that guy made a social faux-pas, educate and forgive”, but “that woman was not 100% her best self a situation she found hostile, burn at the stake”. I use the word hostile there, deliberately.

And how many of us are our best selves in a hostile situation? I’ve been watching a lot of Covert Affairs (Amazon) lately, and her ability to keep calm when there is a gun to her head has given me an answer. It’s a special kind of person, like the kind of person who could be a spy. James Bond had a lonely life. Emotions are what make us human, and what bring us together – even if they also drive us apart. Not having them, well, that has it’s own downsides.

I found the tweeting of a photo a little tacky. But later I was at a conference and a speaker made a dumb and gendered remark… I was tempted to add a photo and a twitter handle to the snark I tweeted. I didn’t. But I understood better why someone might think that was their best option.

The thing about actions, and situations, that have historically been gendered, is that they disproportionately effect women. Because they come with context.

One of the things I envy about my (technical) male friends, is their ability to just shrug off someone else’s attitude without letting it affect them. They say, “That guy is just an idiot. Ignore him.” One of my friends recently told me about how he was impressed by someone, and he described their behaviour and I thought, “wow, I would find that stressful” – because it would come across to me as though he didn’t value my knowledge, or judgement. And that has context.

One thing that really pushes my buttons, is feeling patronised. A medical student interrupting me and clarifying when I’m explaining cloud computing and software as a service? Yeah, that’ll make me mad. When a high-school boy interrupted me, spoke over me, to answer the question I was helping someone with… and he was wrong.

And you could just find that funny, right? I told my mom, and she was so confused, she had to clarify. “A high-school student? Patronised you? About programming?”

Yes. Yes he did. And I was so annoyed.

And here’s the context. I spent my four years of CS at University feeling like I wasn’t good enough, and my goal was to survive and then go work in something tangentially related. And there were so many reasons for that (Unlocking the Clubhouse covers most of them). But here’s a big one – guys on my course, they would be patronising, superior. I was worrying I didn’t belong, and the way they looked at me and interacted with me… that re-enforced the idea that they didn’t, either.

I’ve got the advice, multiple times, that you need to forget the context. Essentially treat each new micro-aggression as the first.

But studies show, that women drop out of the industry at a much higher rate than men. On days when I feel like there is a clock ticking over my head, I wonder if the reason why they go, is there is too much context, and if that will be true for me, as well.