I am a privileged, white, cis female. I am a feminist.
I think there a lot of problems related to gender and technology. I talk about them a lot with friends, but I have been afraid to write publicly about them.
Yesterday, Cassie McDaniel posted a piece about her experience with Women && Tech. If you aren’t familiar with the project, it’s a series of interviews with women about their career in technology. I’d heard about it around when she started and loved the idea. I hadn’t really followed up with it (oops) so I haven’t read the interviews.
I’d recommend you just read her full piece, but at the high level it discussed why she’d started the project, and then how her feelings have changed as a result of it. In particular, she discussed gender in tech stopped necessarily being the issue she wanted to tackle.
In my opinion, this is the sort of essay we should be encouraging people to write. She’s aware of things going on in the industry and other literature. She explicitly mentioned wanting to focus on broader inclusion issues. It’s not a perfect essay. But it’s about her personal experience, and I think that’s important.
After she posted it, there was a pretty substantial Twitter backlash from the set of tech feminists I follow on Twitter. In case you want to see some of the dialog, please check out posts by @shanley, @ashedryden, @juliepagnano, and @deluxevixens. These are all people I respect. You should probably follow them. They’re quick to share what’s going on in the “gender in tech” world. They have very solid backgrounds in considering these issues. I respect them all very much. Their critiques of the piece are valid.
So to recap quickly: Someone I respect from the tech community, did a project trying to try to help and learn about women in technology, wrote about her personal experience with it, and as a result was critiqued (angrily) by a lot of people I respect for their opinions and activism.
That’s exactly what I’m afraid of happening if I try to write about my experiences with gender and technology. I’m concerned that I’ll do it wrong and lose the respect of a community I believe very much in.
I completely believe in everyone’s right to express thoughts and emotions however they’d like. I don’t want to tone police. I don’t think if the people I respect yelled at me they’d be wrong.
But that doesn’t change that I hate being yelled at, especially by people who’s opinions I respect. For me, being yelled at by people I respect is much more upsetting than backlash from people I don’t know or care about. (Yes, I do understand all the things that have had to go right for me for me to feel that way.)
Sara Chipps publicly pointed out to Shanley that she might be scaring people (you can see pieces of that dialog), and the response was”that’s not true” or “that’s how people silence feminism” or “that’s an imaginary problem.”
I wouldn’t be writing this at all if Sara hadn’t publicly pointed this issue out. It’s not an imaginary problem, because there’s at least me, sitting here, being intimidated. But I haven’t been writing because I’ve been afraid of being told that I don’t help or even hinder (!) something I care about a lot. I If I feel this way, I’m willing to guess at least a few more people do, too.
When very few people write, it’s scary to go out on the limb and be the one who gets critiqued. When everyone shares their experiences, we’ll learn more more. Plus it’s less scary to be critiqued when others you respect are also being critiqued.
So here’s my commitment: I’m going to start sharing more of my gender and tech experiences. I hope people critique me when I’m wrong. I want to learn. I hope you join me.
(TL;DR In case this wasn’t abundantly clear from this essay, I do not think that Shanley or anyone else needs to change just because I’m afraid of people yelling at me. I’m saying that there are those of us who are intimidated, and that we should get over it and write anyway.)