“Stop talking about gender equality because [it’s] way off-topic”

25 Feb

Here’s the blog post headline a friend sent me: “attempts were made to calmly discuss feminism and sexism in tech on a large public mailing list dominated by men” (http://lillielillie.tumblr.com/post/30441512927/attempts-were-made-to-calmly-discuss-feminism-and)

Notice your gut response and your expectations of what this post will entail.

Now see if anything that happened in this particular group seems familiar…

The catalyst for this discussion was someone posting a workshop opportunity with discounted tuition for women.

According to blogger lillielillie, here is the fallout of that post:

  • “A man wonders aloud (we’ll call him Wondering Man) why we even need to worry about racial or gender diversity, since the dev shops he’s worked in are highly meritocratic and the numbers of women in tech are proportional to the numbers of girls in his high school advanced math classes.”
  • “A feminist man writes a very kind email explaining why Wondering Man should educate himself and that Wondering Man’s arguments have been disproven about a bajillion times.”
  • “Wondering Man freaks out toward Feminist Man and hilariously confirms every stereotype about men who don’t understand that the patriarchy harms them too.”
  • “People trying to talk Wondering Man down from the ledge.”
  • “A woman saying she is leaving the group in disgust.”
  • “A lot of name calling and general ill-will.”
  • “Some people saying things to the effect of ‘Stop talking about gender equality because this is a Ruby list and this is way off-topic’.”
  • And then when, coincidentally (?) someone posts about a women and transgender coding group, another member of the list posts back, “Do you know of any men-only workshops I can attend? I know that there is a majority of men, but is there one a person could go to that’s exclusively for men?”

Any of this sound familiar? Maybe a little too familiar?

I, for one, have been here before, and I don’t even know what SF Ruby Meetup is.

This conversation is so familiar. And constant. It makes me feel tired. It makes me wonder if we’ll ever get to the point of not only “calmly discussing feminism and sexism in tech,” but doing something about sexism and making inclusive strides towards equity.

To that aspirational end, I would advise considering, when you find yourself beginning or fully in the middle of one of these conversations:

  • What’s more important to you: being right or being effective? I know, I know: both. But let’s just say you have to choose one. Let that lead your strategy.
  • Try not to noun people. Stereotypes will pop up in your head, and, of course, stereotypes come from experience. However, when you treat someone like a stereotype (Wondering Man, Feminist Man and Angry Man), odds are good they can tell. And they’re not gonna be happy with you. This is not a critique of lillielillie or the folks on the mailing list. I understand she’s just writing on her blog, and we don’t have the actual transcript of the conversation. I’m speaking in general, and also suggesting that when we think of someone as a stereotype, we don’t actually have to say it in order for them to feel what we think about them.
  • Try “yes, and…” thinking and speech. I find it helpful to stop myself when I’m about to say “(no) but,” and ask myself: Is this really a “but”? Could it be a “yes, and”? And sometimes when I’ve already said “but,” I stop, go back and start over with “yes, and…” Works wonders. Because it’s not just words. It’s a belief in inclusion that helps me shift from a heels dug in stance to an aikido flow. It’s especially challenging, helpful and transformative for me, when confronted with someone who thinks equity is “way off-topic,” to sympathize with their perspective, even if I will never, ever really get it. Because equity isn’t about us all thinking and being alike: it’s about a diverse us being able to thrive with our different perspectives, privileges and challenges.

** Thanks to my friend and tech guru JL for the link. And I encourage you all to read the full post by lillielillie. She makes some great points about the group as well as her own decision to leave it.

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