A Failed Goal

Near the beginning of this year, I published a piece called “Ada Lovelace Day Is Not Enough“. In it, I noted that only 8.69% of my 2010 posts had been marked with the “gender” tag, and it would be nice to increase that percentage. (But it was still an improvement over 2009’s 4.76%.) I said:

So I may be improving… but I’ve still got a way to go. If you’re another man in tech reading this, I tell you what: I’ll work on improving myself, and the tech field as a whole, if you’ll do the same.

It’s now the end of 2011. Looking back over my blog activity this year, I see 24 posts, with only two tagged “gender”. That marks a slight drop to 8.33%. What happened?

I’ve had one in the works for months now. (Maybe more than one; there’s more than enough material.) I started it back in the summer, when I heard about the death threats against Naomi Dunford. In quick succession, before I could marshal my thoughts and words enough, there was the incident where the atheist/skeptic community blew up over SkepChick’s very polite advice on not acting like a scary creep (including Richard Dawkins blatantly showing his ass in a way that also showed off his monumental privilege and the ignorance it’s brought him), followed by the call for a stop to misogynist trolling and the associated #MenCallMeThings hashtag on Twitter. (Yes, it’s still going, and yes, it’s still worth reading if you want to see what women put up with online.)

So, frankly… I just couldn’t keep up.

Because I don’t just want to write two or three opinionated paragraphs about these sorts of things. I want to be able to back up what I say. I know that when people try to call out the sexism (or homophobia, or racism) in the tech world, and point out the privilege and the irrational biases that a lot of these (straight, white) guys take for granted, the reactions are not exactly kind. So if I want to say, “Men in tech are mistreating women, and this needs to stop,” I need to have a shit-ton of evidence to back up the first half of the sentence.

That’s why, in my September, 2010 post “Blame the Men Who Are Behaving Badly“, I threw in one list that had nearly a dozen links to news items and blog posts and other items around the web, showing that the problem of sexism in the tech industry really is rampant. Pandemic, even. And then I followed that list up with four more links in the next three paragraphs.

I figured that if I got any comments to the effect of, “It’s just a few bad apples,” or “People are just whining about nothing,” I could ask what they thought of the content of said links… and probably make it clear that the questioner hadn’t actually bothered to read the supporting material.

But that bunch of links represented a substantial time outlay, in terms of going out and doing research. And finding the ones that supported my point the best (yes, there were probably four or five times as many pages that I clicked into, read for a bit, and decided it wasn’t quite a clear enough example).

And also: There was the time outlay to recover psychologically from all that muckraking. Because this research isn’t like researching, say, product recommendations for a good pair of wireless headphones, or the relative merits of two different books on Medieval calligraphy. Instead, it’s a deep dive into some really disgusting, asshole behavior. It’s shining a light into the dark crevices of the IT and FOSS worlds — and I don’t like what I see there. I don’t like knowing that it’s happening in my chosen professional field. I don’t like wondering if anyone thinks that, just because I’m male, I might condone — or worse, ever participate in! — any of this bullshit.

And I don’t like feeling that other members of my very own species are this venal, this pathetic, this detestable.

So after an hour of this kind of research, I’m beat for three or four hours. It’s a losing battle, time-wise.

And I know that any woman in tech — or any woman who even wants to play a multiplayer game online — has to deal with this shit every goddamn day. They don’t get to put it down and walk away like I do. I am in awe of their strength of character, even as I’m sickened by the fact that they’ve had to develop it.

I do what I can. I wrote: “I don’t like knowing that it’s happening in my chosen professional field.” Well, that’s why I keep writing and speaking out, in the hope that some day, it won’t happen any more. I wrote: “I don’t like wondering if anyone thinks that, just because I’m male, I might condone… any of this bullshit.” And that’s another reason why I speak up: Not just so people know where I stand, but also so that I can be an example… and maybe let some other folks know they’re not alone in wanting equality, and in deploring the behavior that keeps us from having it.

I do what I can. But “what I can” has not been enough, not yet.

Two minor oddities I should point out:

First off: I wrote an Ada Lovelace Day post about Amy Hoy. That entry was not tagged “gender” — because, honestly, it had nothing to do with gender in any social or political way. It was about Amy Hoy, and her achievements, and how she rocks in areas from coding to teaching to writing.

But my later Ada Lovelace Day post about Skud was gender-tagged — because Skud’s accomplishments include having started the Geek Feminism wiki, and having been a major fighter in the Google+ NymWars (which include a definite portion of unexamined male privilege on the part of the Google execs setting the policy). So gender was an integral part of that write-up.

The second oddity is: Once I post this, it will bring my numbers to 25, with three of them tagged “gender”. That raises my percentage to 12% — above the 10% bar I set for myself.

But I’m not giving myself any props for this; it’s a last-minute, kind of half-assed post. It isn’t even substantive content; it’s more of an apologia for why I haven’t written anything better, combined with some complaining about how research is hard, but doubly so on psychologically-fraught topics like people’s inhumanity to each other.

So I’m not excusing myself. I’m not letting myself off the hook. Look again at the title of this post.

Maybe I can do better next year.

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