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…”)

 

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Fifteen Years of Zine Making and Indulgence 12

Indulgence numbers 11 & 12 with Grow at Brooklyn Zine Fest

Indulgence numbers 11 & 12 with Grow at Brooklyn Zine Fest

When I was seventeen and ordering records through the mail from Kill Rock Stars and K Records I stumbled upon something amazing: zines, or small, self-published magazines, that were often distributed by their creators or through bedroom-based businesses called “Zine Distros.” I’ve told this story many times, but discovering these earnest publications where people from all backgrounds, but especially women close to my age, shared their stories, interests, passions, fears and experiences was nothing short of life changing. Growing up in a rural area, reading zines and writing to their creators was a lifeline to a world that was bigger than the one immediately around me.

At 17, like most teenagers, I was struggling to figure out who I would become in this world as a feminist, queer person and a writer. Making zines showed me that I could already be who I wanted to become by sharing my writing and freely expressing my identity. I started my personal zine Indulgence, inspired by an English teacher who declared, “Some would argue we are in an age of the pinnacle of self-indulgent, personal writing” (this was during the mid-1990s memoir craze, blogs were not yet in existence).

Zine fest redux!

Me and Meredith, a zinester friend from Portland, at the LA Zine Fest in February

Zines became central to my life and opened me up to a worldwide network of creative people, many of whom I am still in touch with today. Once I began making zines I felt I found my calling. I threw myself into zine publishing and zine culture, meeting zine makers all over the country and helping to start the Portland Zine Symposium in 2001 when I was taking a “gap year” between high school and college in Portland, Oregon.

My zine production has waxed and waned over the past few years, subject to time pressures placed on me by school, work and general life, but even in this world of blogs, Twitter, Instagram and so many other platforms for sharing, zines are still my preferred format for longer form, personal essays. I’ve always used zines as a venue to help navigate changes in my life and this past year has been no exception. I wrote the pieces for Indulgence #12 over the course of the fall of 2013 and polished them up this winter and got this latest issue ready for the Brooklyn Zine Fest, which took place at the end of April.

Workin' the table at the Brooklyn Zine Fest

Workin’ the table at the Brooklyn Zine Fest

Indulgence #12 explores three major themes in my life: work, love and death. Over the past year I quit my job and shifted my career from nonprofit arts administration to working with creative technology companies, walked away from a long term relationship and experienced the death of my grandmother and the shifts that created in my family dynamic. All in all, it was a year of navigating the choppy waters of adulthood, sometimes gracefully and often times with a fair amount of stress and angst. I’m proud of the essays in Indulgence #12 and think that they are some of my most focused personal writing yet. I’d love for you to pick up a copy. Like all of my zines, the cover is handmade and it is hand bound. It’s $4 with shipping for the US and $5 for the rest of the world. You can order through Shoplocket here.

Crackers the cat loves zines!

Crackers the cat loves zines!

Creating Space and Community: Riot Grrrl and Visual Art Article


Following up on a long time personal interest and involvement, I interviewed four artists: Stella Marrs, Nikki McClure, Becca Albee and Amy Yao, about their art making process and, many years later, their thoughts about how Riot Grrrl (all of whom touched or were touched by this movement in some way) related to their art making. I’m so happy how this story came together and you can check it out here on Venuszine.com. The image above is an installation by Becca Albee. Many thanks!

Book Review: Riot Grrrl

Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now! Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now! by Nadine Monem

My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Like the contributors to this book remind their readers, there is no official historian of Riot Grrrl and no one way to tell the story. While I appreciated the authors’ interest in personal voice, I felt that like so many other books that have tried to document an underground phenomenon (I’m thinking of “A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World” here), this book did not live up to its potential. I appreciated the British perspective, as I learned a lot about British bands and Grrrl culture I only had heard a little about. However, sometimes the essays were too personal. For example, one author repeatedly quoted her own writing as a source. Other chapters tended towards the long-winded sentences of an undergraduate essay. Throughout the book there were large historical gaps: writers tended to skip the years from 1995 to 2000. The story seemed to read,”There was Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear, then they broke up, Sleater-Kinney didn’t really matter, then there was Lady Fest and the Gossip, who are the ultimate Riot Grrrl band.” For me (and this is MY personal experience), the mid-to-late 1990’s and early 2000’s were a hive of Riot-Grrrl activity in the United States, including zines, Yo-Yo-A-Go-Go, the Bay Area Girl Convention, and the explosion of zine related gatherings, Rock Camp for Girls, and yes, Ladyfest. These things are barely, if at all, mentioned in the book.

Overall, the book suffered from sloppy copy editing and lack of fact checking. Zine and film names were misspelled, and typos such as “on” for “of” seemed like a rash throughout the text. It seemed like the authors of different chapters did not consult with each other or read each other’s work. As a result, the same story of Kathleen Hanna and the beginnings of Riot Grrrl were repeated throughout.

It’s true that no one book will do Riot Grrrl justice, but I had hopes that when there was an opportunity for part of the story to be told it would be done so with greater accuracy, clarity, and thus pack a greater historical and literary punch.

View all my reviews.