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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shut Up and Fix Me a Turkey Pot Pie

Just after the Super Bowl, I read an article from Slate.com titled "Danica Patrick, Shut Up and Drive." It's all about how Danica Patrick, hugely successful Indy racer, is throwing women under the bus for being in some kind of sexist commercials for GoDaddy.com. 
I'll grant that the commercials are in pretty damn poor taste - I mean, poor enough taste that I'm not embedding or linking to one, which is saying something considering the things I have embedded or linked to. I don't really fall into the camp of feminists who thinks that using sex to sell stuff is harmful to women, but that's not what this post is about.
This post is about the a comment that the article author makes about how especially offensive all this is in light of how sexist the technology industry is already.
Uh, it is? I would think I'd have noticed this rampant sexism, considering I work in the technology industry.
I've been working at the same company quite a while now, and I've never seen anything indicating that there's some kind of anti-woman conspiracy. Nobody calling me doll-face in the halls, no boss demanding I fetch his coffee. I mean, sometimes I feel like people don't take me seriously, but I think that's less because I'm a woman and more because of my Hello Kitty fetish and the fact that I have an uncanny knack for relating every conversation back to comic books. For instance, there have been a certain number of conversations that went something like:

  • ProgrammerWell, the customers are tired of the current user interface, but we don't want to just jump in with something flashy and new at the risk of giving them something the like even less.
  • Me: Like when Marvel replaced Dazzler the disco super-hero with Jubilee, who was pretty much the same character only an Asian teenager with even lamer powers and was more annoying than Jar Jar Binks?
  • Programmer: That's nice, doll-face. Why don't you freshen up my coffee?
Kidding aside, I'm well aware that the experience of one woman in one office is in no way a reflection of the industry as a whole. My experiences in this industry do give me cause to believe, however, that sexism in my industry is pretty rare, maybe rarer than in most other industries. The thing is, the fundamental building block of technology is logic. You don't create a computer program by intuition or personal prejudices; you create it by plugging variables into equations. It seems to me, furthermore, that most programmers apply the same thinking to everything they do, including hiring and interacting with coworkers. 
Gender discrimination isn't logical; on top of which, the process of hiring someone or evaluating them once they're already an employee is not particularly subjective. Somebody reads the resumes, decides which candidates best fit our requirements, and chooses the best qualified for interviews. From there, it's bubble tests and simulations; objective demonstrations of abilities. Nobody's going to say, "Well, this person scored higher than everybody else on all the tests, but she's a woman and we certainly don't want her getting her cooties all over us, so out she goes.
It's easy to see why someone might think that the industry's sexist, based on the ratio of men to women at tech firms. I mean, I have never seen any evidence in my 7 years at my company that the woman who hires the programmers has some anti-woman agenda, yet there's still never a line for the ladies' room, if you know what I mean. That there are so few women working in the field probably has a lot to do with the fact that only about 10% of people earning computer science degrees use the ladies' room.
So is it the colleges that are sexist? I suppose there might be some sexism in computer science programs (although I've never known a geek to complain about being in the same room with a woman who isn't his mom), but that can't account for such a huge disparity. 
So where does this imbalance come from? No idea. Maybe parents or kindergarten teachers or guidance counselors or TV or McDonald's Happy Meals. But where it doesn't come from is some kind of widespread institutionalized sexism. 
In fact, I've seen very little evidence, in the 9,000 industries in which I've dabbled, of widespread institutionalized sexism. And while I'm sure it exists somewhere, while I'm sure there are more than a few bosses out there calling their female employees "doll-face" and still more who subtly discriminate against said dolls, I just don't think it's as rampant or intentional as so many feminists want to believe.
The wage gap, the glass ceiling? Those are due at least in part to the fact that many women choose to put family before career, and there is nothing wrong with that. I appreciate the hell out of feminist fore-mothers who helped secure for me the right to choose to work and be independent and all of that, but I also know that there's nothing on earth wrong with a woman choosing to be barefoot and pregnant if that's what makes her happy, you know?
I'm in no way saying that gender discrimination doesn't exist (although I am saying that the discrimination cuts both ways a lot more significantly than a lot of feminists seem to think). I still think perfect equality is a ways off; and I do know that women are treated horribly in certain subsets of American culture and even more horribly in other countries. But I really think we've got to let go of the victim mentality that makes us think that the fact that there are more boy programmers than girl programmers, for instance, means that the technology industry hates women. I think we're wasting time tilting and windmills when the real giants are elsewhere.

Also, does anybody else think telling Danica Patrick to shut up and drive is a little, I don't know, sexist? Not in any way I can lay my finger on, it's just, I don't know, slightly more offensive than hot chicks doing inappropriate things.

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