Clarity and action in Trump’s shadow

Fuck Trump

I woke up on the ninth of November to a living nightmare. US voters demonstrated how scared they are of powerful women, as well as the values I hold dear: difference, change, diversity, multiplicity, and inclusion.

I spent the first 48 hours after the election with the feeling of heavy grief, like a loved one had died. I could distract myself for awhile, but then the pain and the fear crept in. The reminder that the curtain had closed on an opportunity, a certain future will not be possible, and that many communities faced imminent violence crept in hit me in the gut again and again. Not just a threat: I traveled to UPenn to speak at a conference of black collegians for work on Friday the tenth, only to arrive an find that black freshmen had been the target of a cyber attack that threatened death by lynching. I learned that the dorm room of three Jewish women students at the New School, my alma mater, had been vandalized with nazi symbols. The nightmare was real.

After those days the fog of grief lifted and I found an oddly calm sense of clarity. I felt something inside me click into place. The feeling was familiar, like muscle memory from the Bush years. There is no ambiguity to the politics of the moment. Grieve, analyze, question, research, organize, share, protest, donate, speak out, actively practice solidarity, create radical art, and build and participate in communities that reflect a vision of a more inclusive, diverse, and peaceful future.

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I’ve had a fire inside all week. I know how to do this. I make my living by bringing people together and helping to create inclusive spaces to connect with and learn from others. I’ve had years of experience by this point organizing, buckling down, planning, and executing on ideas and I realized that these “soft skills” are often undervalued in our tech and data driven society are exactly the ones i need to use to survive and resist over the next years (and throughout my life). I’ve based my life and my career around building communities that are oriented towards diversity, inclusivity, learning, connecting, and social justice. Now it’s time to use those skills more directly.

The amazing Grace Lee Boggs, who passed away in 2015, said, “We need to do what I call visionary organizing. Recognize hat in every crises people do not respond like a school of fish. Some people become immobilized… and some people begin to find solutions. And visionary organizers look at those people, recognize them and encourage them, and they become the leaders of the future.” This quote is from an interview with her in the newest issue of Got a Girl Crush (which is great post-election reading, by the way). She spent the majority of her 100 year life working for social justice, from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements onward. Reading this interview reminded me of the many ways there are to resist, political protest and organizing being a part, but that we need to have vision and support each other in expansive, innovative, and visionary fashion over the next four years.

I set up recurring donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I organized transportation for me and a few friends to the January 21 “Million Woman March” in Washington DC. I applied to volunteer at local organizations that support immigrant families, to do clinic escorting, to commute with neighbors who don’t feel safe doing so, to help out at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. I called my representatives and plan to do so weekly. I invited friends over night of reflection and action planning.

Then I realized, these are all things I should have been doing all along. My rage and burnout from the Bush years, combined with fears about my own economic security during the recession, and the sense that “things were getting better” throughout the Obama administration, let complacency wash over me like a warm bath. This was also a numbing tub of privilege, because things have not been “getting better” for millions of people – the refugee crises in the Middle East and Europe and the continued killing of unarmed Black people by law enforcement here in the states being just two prominent examples. Of course I empathized and felt solidarity with these situations and the movements to address them, but my daily life was not heavily impacted.

I’ve been rereading Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and she reminded me, “When I think back to why I was apolitical into my mid-twenties I see that being politically engaged means having a sense of your own power–that what you do matters–and a sense of belonging, things that came to me only later and that not come to all… despair is more a kind of fatigue, a loss of faith, that can be overcome, or even an indulgence if you look at the power of being political as a privilege not granted to everyone.”

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I work on Wall Street, two doors down from the Trump building, with gold letters glinting out that hateful name at me every time I walk by. I work in the shadow of racism and white supremacy, misogyny, and capitalism run rampant. But these specters are always there, have always been operating, whether in the shadows or out in the open. It’s always been there, it’s just that  it was just that some of us like myself had the privilege to see it, and keep walking, keep living our lives as if it wasn’t staring us in the face, thinking the small acts of solidarity we did take time to create were enough. They were not.

Solnit also reminds me that the impact of activism and the arc of history are not linear. “Progress” waxes and wanes, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t keep fighting for social justice, for the environment, for a world that is understanding of difference, but that the future is full of possibility for change. She writes, “The government and media routinely discount the effect of activists, but there’s no reason we should believe them… To be effective, activists have to make strong, simple, urgent demands, at least some of the time–the kind of demands that fit on stickers and placards, the kind that can be shouted in the street by a thousand people. And they have to recognize that their victories may come as subtle, complex, slow changes instead, and count them anyway. A gift for embracing paradox is not the least of the equipment an activist should have.”

Let’s hope that, no let’s ensure, that this is the last stand of white supremacy. That the republicans are dragging out all these old trolls of republican thought past because they are scared. That their vision of an ultra-capitalism, ultra-nationalist, ultra-white, ultra-macho US narrow, limited, and on the wrong side of history. I know that the future belongs to those of us who believe in equity, social justice, inclusivity, and environmental health. That expansive vision is so much larger and so much more beautiful.

I hope that you will join me to agitate, educate, and organize to bring it to life. And if you are on that path too, I hope I can join you.

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Finding myself in Aurora Lady’s punk feminist world

Aurora Lady's shirt in Queens

When I first met LA-based artist, illustrator, writer, stylist, schemer and dreamer Aurora Lady I knew we would be friends for a long time. I loved her artistic vision, her bold illustrations, her passion for truth telling, and her penchant for feminist community building. When she told me she was coming out with a line of t-shirts I was thrilled, why would I want to wear anything else?

What I really love about Aurora’s work, whether it’s a t-shirt, a painting or photo shoot, is that she creates a whole alternate reality full of realized girl crushes, and powerful, glamorous, gnarly ladies. I was excited to talk to Aurora more about her t-shirt line and the inspiration behind it, so I interviewed her for the awesome blog Weird Sister .

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I just got one of her newest shirts, which proclaims “I nearly lost myself.” I loved the simple design and elegant handwriting. I had a tough winter, but managed to find myself again as spring arrived. I’m happy to say I feel more grounded, hopeful and powerful than ever. It’s also a testament that this is the first time EVER I have dared to wear a crop top (no, I did not even wear them the first time around in the 1990s).

Unisphere feminism

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When I placed my order for the shirt I wrote a note to Aurora that read like a confessional: I was afraid to wear the shirt, even though I loved the look. I felt self-conscious because I’m a curvy lady, and usually I pick clothes to hide, not showoff, my midriff. Aurora reassured me and told me that she too, felt like that, but the shirt enabled her to claim her power and feel more comfortable with herself.

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So I took a cue from her book and wore my shirt with a high-waisted pencil skirt and my favorite Stan Smith Adidas, a perfect outfit for exploring the post-industrial wilds of Brooklyn and celebrating the punk rock history of Queens at the Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum (up through July 31, 2016).

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Embracing yourself, expressing who you are, not giving a damn about who might judge you. That’s the punk rock spirit.

The spinsters are coming! And they’re feminists!

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Nicole Georges’ knuckle tattoo. Photo by Shayla Hason.

I was raised with the imperative that I build a life for myself. What was a life? I could decide, but my family made it clear to me that my education and establishing a career the were the bedrock of anything I wanted to achieve. When I was in my teens and twenties my mother encouraged me not to focus on marriage or prioritize romance over understanding myself and creating a foundation for my life. “It’s the time for you to explore,” she said. And explore I did.

I finished college, traveled to France, launched a career as a museum educator, went to grad school for public administration, shifted my career to focus on creative business, shifted my career again to focus on tech, played in bands, spoke at SxSW several times, became fluent in French, wrote a book, moved in with a boyfriend and then a few years later broke up with him and started living alone, went to a lot of therapy, built a freelance writing portfolio, and overall became more grounded in myself and understood who I was as my mother instructed. And in my late 20s and early 30s I went to weddings. A lot of them. When I was 31 I attended eight weddings in one year, so many that I adopted a wedding uniform and started to treat traveling to weddings like going on a business trip.

So here I am solidly in my mid-30s wondering “Why ‘it’ hasn’t happened to me,” like it did for all those friends who got married. By “it” of course I mean finding that big love for my big life.

Some days I feel a sense of echoing, lonely isolation that verges on physical pain.

Kate Bolick captures exactly what I feel in her excellent book Spinster when she describes a meltdown she had at the McDowell Colony , “This, I thought, is what it means to be alone. You are solid, intact, and then, without warning, a hinge unlatches, the chimney flue swings open, the infinite freezing black night rushes in, and there is nothing to do but grope in the cold to get things right again.”

I know the right person in my life won’t make the reality of that freezing night go away, but my heart so hopes to find that someone with whom I can face it together, who will give me an extra push of encouragement and warmth, and who will help be an insulation against the subzero windchill of life.

Recent articles I have read all seem to have one thing in common: they are about single women in their 30s and 40s. Given the frequency in which these articles come out lately I start to feel like single women in their 30s and 40s in the United States are part of some kind of pandemic.

However, glancing at the titles and focuses of these articles tells their readers something important: single women (even in their 30s and 40s) are anything but monolithic. Just a sample from my own very biased selection: Where’s My Wife Already; The High Price of Being Single in America; Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, Poor Women Can’t; All the Single Ladies (Kate Bolick’s 2011 piece that inspired her book contract for Spinster); the Dear Sugar podcast series about looking for the one…

Of course I gathered a lot of these articles from personal interest and the fact that many people (across the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation) in my social networks who are sharing them are also single people in their 30s and 40s (and hence the Internet information echo chamber). Really though, nothing makes me feel like my personal angst is insignificant than realizing I am part of a larger demographic trend.

Overall, what I’ve gleaned from all the more self-reflexive toned articles is this: to feel lonely is to be human, so don’t beat yourself up about it; finding love is about luck not work; and focus on creating a “big life” for yourself and to be “that [person] you want to marry” (to paraphrase Glory Steinem and make the phrase gender non-specific). Well enough.

What I don’t hear these podcasts and articles take on is how to truly navigate the profound sense of isolation, exhaustion, anxiety and self-doubt that comes with being single. It’s a huge emotional, and physical effort, to pull myself through the world. Some days I kick myself for ever expecting, or hoping, I would have a fellow traveler along the way to make things a little easier.

Sara Eckel’s excellent book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You Are Still Single has helped me be kinder to myself and to push away well-meaning but ultimately damaging advice about how “He didn’t deserve you,” “You need to focus on grounding yourself and the right one will come ,” “You need to envision what you want,” “Have you tried online dating?” “You need to meditate/go to yoga” and all the versions of these ad nauseam. Her writing has been a source of strength for me when things get dark.

Maris Kreizman puts a finer, more irreverent point on the terrible advice given to single women in her recent “Unlove Me: I Found Love Because I Got Lucky, Not Because I Changed Myself.” I hope reading this will refute any inclination to tell me, or any other single person, cliche and tepid pieces of advice and chase away the notion that coupled people somehow have it “figured out.” My favorite bit, about the advice to “date like it’s your job,” “Do you have a job that inspires you and brings you joy? Then delight in how wonderful your career is and enjoy it. Do you find your job to be tedious or dead-end or soul-crushing? Then why would you want to take on a whole other job that feels exactly as miserable? One terrible job is more than enough.”

Kate Bolick’s Spinster, an excellent part-memoir, part-literary history, in which she reclaims great “spinsters” and independent women throughout history has also served as a touch point for me as a navigate the road ahead. I enjoyed how she adopted women like activist and author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, New Yorker essayist Maeve Brennan, and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay as her personal guides to help her build a full life as a single woman in her now 40s. Of course reclaiming the idea of “Spinster” has long been a central idea among my group of friends. My friend Nicole got it tattooed across her knuckles in her early 20s. My best friend (and roommate for 7 years) LJ and I made plans to live together again when we were “old spinsters” at the end of our lives.

Many of these articles focus on heterosexual, white, middle-class, educated women, which more-or-less pegs me too. I am one of those who never wanted to have my own children (I’m open to raising children with someone, maybe, but that’s another issue), so the tenure of moral panic around single motherhood and the biological clock frankly bores me. In addition, I’ve noticed the rah rah empowering articles about having and raising kids on one’s own by choice are targeted at wealthy, mostly white, women. There’s a whole other problematic moral panic around children of color raised by single mothers, as is well documented and outside the scope of this particular blog piece.

Speaking of privilege, in so many ways I feel ridiculous writing about this – from the outside I have the definition of that “big life” all these authors encourage as a way to counter feelings of isolation and loneliness. I hold a meaningful job that pays me fairly; a “room of my own” in an apartment of my own to write and build a life the way I envision it; a strong group of friends that I’ve cultivated over the years with whom I take trips, spend holidays, take about all the things large and small; time and desire to travel; the curiosity to meet new people and seek new experiences; and a creative practice I imperfectly nurture despite the stress of city and work life. I also have feminist thought and practice to keep me humble, reflective, and clear eyed.

I feel lucky. And grateful. On good days I feel grounded. But I can’t cover up the fact that I am fucking sad.

“But!” my darling friends and family say listing off my qualities, “You are smart, educated, motivated, positive [hah! Have they talked to me for more than five minutes?], friendly, healthy (except you do eat a lot of pizza), generous, a great conversationalist, an interesting person, with your own apartment…”

Sometimes I think this is perhaps exactly it: I have focused on building solid life of my own because I had to and because I wanted to. I didn’t want to obsess over marriage or finding a partner, but believed that the right partner and I would find each other if I followed my own path. Reflecting on all of this, and the outpouring of thought around single, adult women, I begin to more deeply understand sexism’s subtle perniciousness.

I think that still, in 2016, smart, well grounded women, outspoken with their own lives and careers are still intimidating to heterosexual men. Sexism (and so many other isms) still dictate our most intimate and supposedly personal choices. Especially when our culture, economy, and government policies rewards couple hood at every turn. I would like to see a cultural and policy shift around couples: stop rewarding coupling with lower tax rates, health care, and cultural attitudes that they are somehow more “evolved” and the social bedrock of our society would be a nice first step, but I didn’t set out to write a policy white paper here.

I’ve been in a few terrible relationships, made questionable choices, and learned from them. I have pushed myself to recognize my and my partners’ mistakes and shortcomings and extract myself from toxic situations, which has made me stronger and more decisive. I know when something isn’t working and when a relationship is damaging to me. I am thankful every day I live the life of my choosing instead of having to deal with the chaos, loneliness and darkness that a bad relationship brings. I’ve also dated some wonderful people who have become amazing friends. I’m oddly reverent of the calm clarity that has come with heartbreak.

However, I’m a person who wants to give and share and always imagined I’d find a partner to share with. I’ve staked my life on building community, through punk shows and zine conferences, feminist art and DIY business, tech and creative entrepreneurship. I’ve spend my waking and working hours facilitating and laying the groundwork for people to make meaningful connections that will enrich their business, creative and personal lives. And here I am, a cliche of a single career woman.

I knew that being a feminist and an outspoken woman wouldn’t endear me to many men, but those weren’t the kind of men I wanted to be with anyway. I don’t regret my choices and I certainly can’t and won’t change who I am. There’s no quick solution to the daily grind of loneliness, which sometimes feels so sharp it catches and pricks my lungs like inhaling icy air on a cold January day.

Once when spilling out these woes to my friend A., also an accomplished single lady in her 30s, she pointed out, “Nothing I can say right now and nothing you can do will make you have a boyfriend.” She’s right.

And here’s the thing: I’m not asking you to do anything.

I’m a doer and when it come to matters of the heart there is nothing to do. At the end of the day, after I’ve read all the memoirs, digested all the statistics, listened to all the advice podcasts, reflected on my privilege, identified my feminist icons, pushed myself to build my career, spent time with the friends who sustain me, gotten out there to meet new people and try new things, traveled to rad paces, made time to tell my family I love them, and focused on my own self-care I just can’t help but feel it doesn’t add up to enough to fill what is in my heart.

Where are the women in tech? Right here. And they’re organized and taking over.

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Illustrated notes from my talk at ELA Conf

“Not just to find your voice, but helping the woman next to you find hers,” said the organizers of the first ever ELA Conf during their opening remarks. ELA stands for “Empowerment, Leadership, Action” and it was organized by members of Girl Develop It! in Philadelphia this past weekend. This is the prevailing ethos that I have encountered ever since I timidly stepped into my first New York Tech Women meetup over two years ago. Back then I had the vague notion that I wanted to to shift from working in arts nonprofits to working in tech, but only knew about four people actually in the tech field. I felt like such an impostor walking into that first meetup, not knowing anyone. I thought, “No one is going to want to talk with me, I’m just in the arts.” The reaction was quite the opposite. I was welcomed with open arms and people commented that my arts experience was “cool.”

Two years later and I’m speaking at my first tech focused conference (not including SxSW, which I spoke at in 2014 just before I officially started working at a startup). While I’ve done extensive public speaking to artists, creative entrepreneurs and the handmade/craft community, since shifting to tech I’ve done very little speaking that isn’t directly tied to pitching my company. This fall I decided it was time to change that. I was excited about ELA Conf because it was not only offering women a platform to share their knowledge, but teach and encourage each other.

In short, ELA Conf was awesome.

Keynote speaker Saron Yitbarek, the founder of the Code Newbie podcast, talked about the importance of “punching your feelings in the face” when it came to fear around negotiating and asking for more. She reminded us that “Find your your power is a long and uncomfortable journey.” After years of education, work, negotiation, learning not to be afraid of negotiation or conflict (I’m still working on this), and pushing myself towards new opportunities, I can attest that, indeed, honing the ability to stand up for myself and trust that I am worth standing up for has been a long road.

Tracy Osborn, author of Hello Web App and founder of Wedding Lovely, captured a sentiment that I learned the hard way in my career, which is “Don’t wait until you are miserable [in a job] to inform yourself [about what other people at your company or in your industry are making and how much you are worth].” Every speaker was super on point. A panel of female founders talking real talk about how difficult it is to raise money as a woman and how they learned not to undervalue themselves and their businesses. I loved the femme power of Adrienne Lowe, who talked about being your authentic self in your tech talk and in tech, which for her means baking cookies and wearing her best dress.

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More great notes from my talk at ELA Conf

This conference resonated with me on a deeper level. Earlier in the fall I was lucky enough to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing with my company. The Grace Hopper conference is a valuable asset to the tech industry, but aside from meeting the most bad ass game developer ever, Brianna Wu, I found the conference was interesting professionally and from an industry standpoint, but fell flat on a personal level. For me, it’s grassroots conferences like ELA Conf where women working in tech can cut through the corporate hype and forge real connections. ELA Conf I got to get over being star struck and got to forge meaningful relationships with other women in my field. There was also a push to broaden what “women in tech” means, which I felt especially grateful for. As someone who does not work as a developer I do find it interesting that, as Gloria Bell said on a panel about redefining women in tech, “Men who work in tech in non-tech roles still consider themselves ‘in tech.” Many women consider themselves ‘tech adjacent.'” I am completely 100% guilty of perpetuating this disparity and feeling like “the other woman in tech” and I promise that after this weekend I no longer will be.

We met Brianna Wu!

Brianna Wu, my colleagues and I at the Grace Hopper Conference

And what did I talk about? Concrete, tactical steps for leveraging your passion project, whether that’s contributing to open source or making beef jerky or writing, to sustainably enhance your career and help you grow and follow (and feel good about) your own, unique path. This is the path I followed to shoehorn myself into community management and marketing roles in the tech industry and I admit that even though I’ve spoken extensively I felt nervous and asked myself “What do I possibly have to share that has not already been shared?” To my delight, I was welcomed and participants found my talk useful AND hilarious. Amazing. If you are curious, here are my (minimal) slides.

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Corinne, of Girl Develop It! bought a copy of my book, Grow

What this conference really showed me was the power of the personal story and how many women in tech, who come from very diverse backgrounds, also have a lot of common ground, from determination and grit to break into and stay in this field, to learning the hard way how to speak up and value themselves. And for me, I feel like this is exactly why I wanted to be a part of this community and exactly what I hoped to find. A surprising side benefit was that many women came up to me after my talk and told me they were also working in the arts and had similar frustrations about lack of opportunities and the glass ceilings they had encountered there.

While the larger tech world, just like the larger world, is hardly a feminist utopia, it’s awesome to find a pocket of people who have your back and you can have theirs. That’s what motivates me to keep pushing myself forward and learning and growing in my career. It really reinforced my idea that community is power and when you talk frankly about issues and take steps together to be critical and develop strategies to address them things can, will, and must change.

In addition, my whole tech experience has been working with awesome, smart and powerful women. I know this is not the reality in many companies and teams, but if I’ve seen anything at both ELA Conf and Grace Hopper (and the many women in tech and diversity in tech meetups and workshops I’ve been to and sponsored and supported this fall) it’s that if your company feels it lacks gender and racial diversity it is simply not looking hard enough or working hard enough to address cultural issues that keep people from joining or staying. There’s really no excuses. I feel that if the current tech culture doesn’t change it will simply be surpassed. Move over, mainstream, we are awesome, we are organized, and we are the current and future powerhouses of this industry.

And what’s awesome mean anyway? In the words of Chanelle Henry, who gave the closing remarks, “Being awesome is being your authentic self.”

Mad Men, Women at Work and What (Hasn’t) Changed

I’m a casual watcher of Mad Men, and like most viewers, I’ve been drawn into the show’s compelling style, human drama, and a look at a bygone world of advertising on Madison Avenue where people openly smoked, drank hard liquor and let sexist and racist comments fly at work. As modern viewers, we can watch the show and wince uncomfortably and laugh because it’s not really like that any more, right? But for me, a big part of watching Mad Men is actually to see how much remains the same. Time and time again we see that bygone era really isn’t so bygone.

Recently the website Levo League, which is focused on career inspiration and advice for Gen Y women, published an article “9 Career Lessons from the Women of Mad Men” and, thanks to the click bait-ish nature of the title, I found myself drawn in. The article starts off well enough, with good, standard issue advice about asking for more, doing what makes you happy and not just what’s expected of you, and mentoring young women at the office. However, it soon verges into territory that made a more than a few feminist alarm bells sound in my head. The author of the article suggested that valuable career lessons for ambitious young women include, “Learn to play with the boys” (“Keep up and play nice” “plus men are fun!”) and “Dress for success” (“Stop dressing like a girl and start dressing like a woman”). I’m the first person to tell you that fashion communicates a lot about you and it’s important to dress in a way that makes you feel powerful, but I also feel that that is an individual choice. Also, would anyone ever encourage young men who are looking to strive and achieve in their career to “Play nice with the girls?” I don’t think so.

As much as I could spend this blog entry discussing just how problematic these pieces of advice are, this article points to a larger cultural phenomenon: sexism at work is still rampant for women. I touched on this in my last entry about the “feminine bias” in tech just being another way to say that tech is sexist. Mad Men’s run has also corresponded with the years I’ve been seriously focusing on and developing my career. While it’s true that overall women are a greater part of the workforce and that say overtly that women shouldn’t be educated and be in leadership roles is taboo, but the subtle and not-so-subtle sexist attitudes remain.

When I posted my piece about the “Feminine Bias in Tech is Sexism” on Facbeook my network responded that they saw the same thing happen in their workplaces, regardless of industry – and the industries represented by commenters included PR, finance, law, fashion, as well as tech. Sharon wrote, “I feel like every woman who’s been smart and successful and present feminine AND just don’t care about pandering to men would totally relate. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve come if you still get a door slammed in your face at certain levels of power. HAPPENS EVERYDAY.” Aileen wrote, “I work at a fashion company designing graphics for little girls’ clothes. Even though this company is 90% women and makes products geared towards future grown up women, men are ultimately in charge and address us as ‘ladies’ in a condescending way. Makes me sick.”

Two years ago I decided to leave my career in arts administration largely because of these kinds of sexist attitudes. Besides the low salaries throughout the industry, after nearly 8 years working in museums and a respected national artists services organization, I saw again and again that men remained in the top (and top paid) roles despite the accomplishments, credentials, and results of the women working around them, who often made up the majority of the organization’s staff. I would often look around the office at the artists services organization I worked at, surrounded by smart women with Master’s Degrees, years of professional accomplishments, and robust artistic practices, who were doing the hard, daily work of providing the services and delivering the programs that made up the organization’s mission. The office was organized as an open plan, with low cubicle walls, but with offices reserved for all male directors. As I typed away at emails and answered the phone fielding artists’ requests for funding, I thought, “I feel like I’m living in an episode of Mad Man”

I wrote an Op-Ed for the website Artsfwd, more deeply investigating the phenomenon of the glass ceiling in arts leadership and asking what it will take to move past it, and ultimately decided to recalibrate my career to work an industry that, despite its reputation for bad brohavior and ping pong games, is (in theory) less rigid, more innovative, and holds some promise of change. Not to mention better salaries.

I’ve heard other young women I work with claim there is “no glass ceiling in tech.” I think anyone who claims this is willfully closing their eyes. I felt first hand that as I consciously pushed my career forward I hit against it hard. I worked for nearly a decade to carefully gain experience at work, taking on projects and spearheading initiatives, creating results, and documenting them. I built my skills through extracurricular activities (blogging on arts policy, speaking at conferences like SxSW, mentoring younger professionals, working on freelance projects to build my network), getting a master’s degree in Public Administration to round out my skill set, and constantly excelling at work and talking about it in my performance reviews, only to see men around me be promoted while I remained at the bottom of middle management, just above entry level. While all of these things were important to my career (and my life) in the longer term, I saw women around me act similarly to me (and follow the advice we had been told about being assertive professionals) and encounter the same barriers.

In tech I work in a “non technical” role as a Marketing and Community Manager, though there’s a whole lot of science and quantitative skill that goes into marketing. So often women in positions like mine feel their accomplishments are minimized and diminished, in favor of their “technical” (often male) colleague’s achievements. Danielle wrote an awesome piece about this, describing women in these roles as the “other” women in tech. The dichotomy of how technical versus non-technical roles are valued is another discussion, but this is also about how women, working a technical job or not, are treated professionally.

As women I think it’s important to believe and act as if there is no limits to what we can achieve and to push back against anyone and any systems that would limit us. But we have to go further. We can’t just act for ourselves alone, but have to think about how to break this glass ceiling together, whether we work in “technical” or “nontechnical” positions – we’re all here to contribute to building a successful company right? #talkpay on Twitter did a lot to make more transparent how tech and other industries pay and Lauren Voswinkel’s manifesto around it brought the discussion of equality in pay front and center for May Day. This conversation was genuinely “disruptive” in a industry that prides itself on that overused trope. What would be more disruptive would be to see companies that structure themselves in a way that acknowledges and fights historic inequality.

It’s no surprise to those of us who pay attention that the Tech industry, and our culture as a whole, still has a long way to go towards equality. I think what makes a show like Mad Men so smart is that it is not only a exquisitely well researched period piece, but it actually sheds light on how subtle and not-so-subtle sexism still operates today. We wince and laugh at moments where women are routinely shut out and put down in the office environment because it’s still true.

So as you watch this last season, ask yourself, “How is this still true? And how can I help to change it?”

The Feminine Bias in Tech is Sexism

Sweetie Belle, my first new My Little Pony since circa 1989, joins the desk club

Somewhere in all of these memes lies a “woman in tech”

The other day I witnessed a conversation on Twitter where a woman who is a programmer commented on an admittedly girly and light hearted photo I had posted that I was unaware that there was a “feminine bias” in tech. The Tweeter quoted this excellent blog post exploring how the author, a programmer, is taken less seriously at tech conferences and in the tech world because she is feminine presenting than if she were masculine and androgynous presenting. For about two seconds I sat there in a huff and then fired off a note to my empathetic, techie, feminist, feminine coworker, “I think that nothing will help overcome the feminine bias in tech more than more feminine people in tech.”

A long time ago, back in the Riot Grrrl days when I was a teenager, I decided that glamor, femininity and fashion were powerful and could be tools that I could use to communicate my power to the world. Being both feminine and powerful was a way to reclaim power that is taken from women just because they are women. I decided that even if the world was not accustomed to reading feminine presenting people as “powerful” in ways that went beyond manipulative or overly sexual, I knew I was powerful and the world would just have to deal with me seriously, whether I was wearing a dress or jeans. Or a feather boa for that matter (though now my fashion choices tend towards Everlane basics, but I digress).

It's been awhile, but here's some awkward fashion documentation

Just another portrait of a woman in tech

Time out for two seconds: First of all, I don’t think “feminine presenting” needs to necessarily correspond with gender or sex. I am a feminine presenting person who also has a woman’s body and is very comfortable in that (this blog is called Killerfemme, after all), but who also understands that being a cis gendered person, as well as white and middle class, gives me a lot of privilege for how I can move through the world. Okay, that said, let’s continue.

To complain there is a “feminine bias” in tech and then to propose that the solution is to discourage women and anyone else who feels comfortable presenting as feminine from doing so is ridiculous. To propose that a way to reclaim power in a certain field where masculine presenting people are dominant is to play down one’s own femininity is gender policing and, quite frankly,sexism. Depending who the feminine presenting person is, it could also be homophobia or transphobia, and all of this certainly enforces a gender binary and the idea that somehow “masculinity” is more powerful than “femininity.”

If women are going to cut each other down for how they express themselves through clothes, makeup (or lack thereof), hair, shoes, attitude, and voice that’s just reinforcing the sexist cattiness that is expected of women. Solidarity does not mean silence, complicity, or bitchy critique. It means an honest dialogue and supporting people how they feel comfortable expressing themselves and their gender, no matter where on the spectrum that expression falls. In addition, if you are threatened by my skirts and heels, or dirty Converse and tech company t-shirt, I encourage you to examine your own perceptions of what a “woman in tech” “should be.”

The author of the Coding Like a Girl blog post, who goes by Sailor Mercury online (and makes some pretty bad ass zines, btw), discussed how her (male) partners assumed she was wearing dresses and makeup simply to please them. She wrote, “I was wearing them for me. And it was then, that I realized that continuing to wearing dresses just for myself was a totally valid way to say a big FUCK YOU to the patriarchy.” Right on, my sentiments exactly.

In so many ways this conversation so closely mirrors conversations I’ve witnessed and been a part of about “women in rock.” These conversations go on endlessly about how us ladies playing rock’n’roll are supposed  present to be powerful, cool, tough, and be taken seriously as musicians and it just sounds tired at this point. It does matter – do men in bands have to sit around and think carefully about what they will wear on stage so people will understand they are actually there to play music? Unless they specifically performing a certain kind of gender or character, probably not. Do men working in tech think all the time about what to wear to interviews or presentations so they will be taken seriously?

We have more to do than cut each other down and debate about what is the “appropriate” presentation – let’s take an honest look at all our own biases and get on with the real work here – eradicating sexism and injustice from the tech industry and from culture as a whole.

For extra inspiration, here’s a little Riot Grrrl snippet that reminded me that the feminine is powerful if we claim it as such…

(just substitute “girls who write” with “girls who code” for lyrics this song and you’ll get the picture… and maybe we’ll say “We are turning curly brackets into knives…”)

 

Beyond the Aesthetics of Progress

Reflecting on the events in and in response to Ferguson, Missouri I wrote this on Facebook, “So if you want to know how I really feel: I was talking tonight about how despite my radicalism I had this naive idea that culture would “progress” and politics would have to follow. But now I feel like we’ve only “progressed” aesthetically, sort of, and really what we are left with is a legacy (and current practice) of slavery, colonialism and extreme racism (as well as sexism and many other ugly things). But because of those aesthetics of progress those who call out injustice are often shut down and made to feel crazy and like they are “subjective.”

benetton_handcuffs1

With so many trolls and often unproductive exchanges I’m reluctant to talk about politics online, but I thought more about this idea of the “aesthetics of progress” and wanted to write a little more about that. In the past ten years I feel lucky to see some kind of “progress” on a political front in the United States – gay marriage is legal in the majority of states, Barak Obama is President,  Sheryl Sanberg and Beyonce feminism is part of the norm, we see big pop culture movies with strong female heroines… and these things are powerful and some of them have a profound impact on peoples’ lives, but at the same time there’s been so many disturbing things happening that it can make all of this supposed “progress” look a bit wan.

A friend who commented on my Facebook page commented, “I agree that we mask our shit much better than we used to, but I also think that we are digging at deeper and deeper psychological levels of hatred. 300 years ago the murder of an unarmed black teen in would have barely caused an eyelash to bat, now it’s world news.” And while I completely agree, I have to ask, at what price this perspective and slow progress?

In our progressive society we see brute racism such in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown, the erosion of a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will have children (or even have access to health care and birth control), violent backlash to feminist critiques of tech and gamer culture (or event the suggestion of the important of diversity) that we’ve seen in gamer gate, the erosion of job security and the middle class at the benefit of the super wealthy… and the those are just the examples I could think about off the top of my head.

I know that addressing injustice is uneven, but this is more about political stagnation and back tracking on political gains, a culture that is hostile to all those who are not white, rich and male under the guise of diversity and empowerment, United Colors of Benetton style. I feel we are living out the specific legacy of George W. Bush’s policies and culture, as well as the influence of groups like the Tea Party – conservatism, restriction on women’s right and belief in trickle down economics – combined with a sense of entitlement and a willingness to ignore connections between issues and events.

There’s nothing new to this, but I’m realizing that what I want is not just aesthetics of progress, but an end to what bell hooks called in her more politically pointed earlier writing the “white, supremacist, capitalist, [heteronormative] patriarchy.” I realize I sound like the late 1990s cultural studies student that I am, but there’s real truth and power in remembering that oppressions act together. It may sound strange to bring up Ferguson, MO and “Gamergate” in one short post, the point is that what we are witnessing is a violent crack down on “difference” and a society that is becoming more and more closed and hostile, while spewing rhetoric of progress and greater equality.

I find myself returning to James Baldwin, one of my favorite writers, not necessarily for answers and hope, because he wrote of the same cultural forces and histories 60 years ago, but for a reminder to keep analyzing, keep going deeper into the histories and prejudices that drive these events, and to keep fighting and taking care of ourselves and nurturing the vision for a society we truly want to see. And so I’ll leave you with a (long) quote from Baldwin:

“The idea of white supremacy rests simply on the fact that white men are the creators of civilization (the present civilization, which is the one that matters; all precious civilizations are simply “contributions” to our own) and are therefore civilizations guardians and defenders. Thus it was impossible for Americans to accept the black man as one of themselves, for to do so was to jeopardize their status as white men. But not so to accept him was to deny his human reality, his human weight and complexity, and the strain of denying the overwhelming undeniable forced Americans into rationalizations so fantastic that the approached the pathological.”

And finally, “I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

– James Baldwin, from Notes of a Native Son