October 20, 2008

Things that put me in a bad mood

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:37 pm by carolynresearch

A howto on how to encourage women in Linux appeared in my newsfeed this morning, on Hacker News (it’s an old posting, I’m just behind). Of course, the first comment called it bull, and the next one said something about how men and women just like different things. But nobody admitted to being one of those guys who makes up a list of what kind of women each linux distro is, or even just comments on the appearance of every woman present at a user group meeting. Hell, nobody even admitted to being one of those guys who assumes every woman present is just someone’s girlfriend or wife.

I saw the title of the link, and knew what was coming. It always seems to be like this. There is a certain minority of men in computing or engineering who reflexively attack any analysis about why women might be underrepresented in their field, or evidence that men and women have equal capability therein. They insist that women have no interest or ability in this field, and that there is no problem. Any woman who dabbles and leaves, or who isn’t perfectly skilled, is evidence that they’re right about women. Any woman who is passionate or skilled is evidence that the environment is just fine.

To cheer myself up with a laugh, the next thing I looked at was the daily WTF. Today’s story was about a programmer obsessing about a female programmer, by naming everything in his code after her. But the scene setting text described this programmer as something attractive and unattainable that tormented the programming team, and the comments called for pictures, or insisted attractive female programmers were a myth.

It’s all just a joke, I’m sure. But I’ve reached a point in my life where it just isn’t funny to me. I browse through blogs, popular journals, and open source forums and mailing lists looking for ideas about what kind of research would be useful and interesting to the development community. When I run into this sort of thing, my first thought is that I don’t want to be part of that kind of development community. I have every intention of staying in computer science, but at those moments, I know why a lot of women leave.



  1. bb said,

    As a male programmer, I always find it somewhat embarrassing (I guess is the feeling) whenever the inevitable comments are posted to a thread mentioning female programmers.

    I don’t like that part of my community either.

  2. Yeah, it’s really frustrating, and I don’t know what to do about it — other than not tolerate it when I am in a position to do something about it. I guess I could put myself in a position to do something about it more often.

  3. Ouch. I am ashamed of my gender.

  4. Internet Roadkill on Information Superhighway said,

    At least this is the advantage of being a female sysadmin — I can always look at the luser dead in the eye and/or use my chilliest friendly voice to say “What was your user account?”


  5. Lee Colling said,

    Well first off I really hope you don’t think that one mindless person’s comment reflects the views of the entire community. At the same time this is not intended to discredit your point as it is all too common and needs to be addressed. If you want to address the problem, leaving the community is not the way to do it. All I think that does is empowers those who make the comments. The way to beat them is to not listen to them and if they continue then make the administration of the community aware of it and hopefully they will take action on your behalf. Like bb said and I agree: I don’t like that part of my community either.

  6. Rickard said,

    I am a male developer,
    I just want to say that I feel the same. It makes me sad, angry and embarrassed of being a man when I see things like that. Where are not all like that, but those who are tend to be loud with their thoughts and the rest .. well we are cowards.

  7. I don’t know what to say, but I just want to say that, as a guy who is self-admittedly hopeless with women, and like any other place in which the male gender dominates, “dealing” with women is a horrifying tightrope walk. I read all too much about women in FOSS feeling alienated by too much of this or too little of that. I just don’t know what to do. It’s not malicious. You really have to help us.


  8. If you let the minority of socially inept males in an engineering related field get you down, they win. It saddens me (and apparently not just me: http://jameswestby.net/weblog/tech/06-ups-and-downs.html) that you feel like this.

    The open source community is not completely full of jerks. Yes, I am being serious. You might ask Valerie Henson her recipe to success. Not only is she a Linux kernel programmer now working for redhat, she is an especially talented one. If at first you don’t succeed…

  9. Bell said,

    I program, but only for the use of GIS, geocomputing, and online animations (flash web maps, see: http://www.mtrainierincidents.com still in production 🙂 . It is frustrating, not only in the world of programming, but also in the world of science. This often leads to me wanting to work on solo projects, because I cannot stand to be patronized. It is especially frustrating when men cannot take instruction from a female, even though they are completely stuck on a problem. Again, why I prefer solo projects oftentimes.

    That being said, there are a lot of cool men in my field as well. But I’ve been around long enough now to know that my next move is to own my own company. One last thing! I think it’s very telling when a project is presented with the developer as anonymous, and then when it is known it was me (or another woman) the surprises…. that is either a) gratifying, or b) annoying, or c) both.

    Okay. thanks!

  10. robscott2007 said,

    Its not that surprising given that much of this dialogue takes place over the net, where the ordinary rules of what one can and cannot say are – at the very least – a little gray. Generally, those with the most repugnant views are the ones who shout them the loudest, however, and this is not how everyone feels!

  11. I enjoyed your information, thanks for sharing it.

  12. Bongo said,


    You complain some men attack any analysis about gender imbalance in IT, and then attack the same men for being surprised that women can do the same work…
    This (according to some – yourself included, by the sounds) demonstrates why such gender imbalance exists – yet it’s a bit of a catch 22. The more people complain about any imbalance and insist it exists, the more people will deny it does and do nothing about.

    Clearly I’m one of these men that defends gender imbalance to the death:
    Personally, I think a Gender imbalance in a field that has only recently lost some of its’ sexist attitudes is natural – if people are hired on their ability to do a particular job then (assuming men and women truly are equally capable) you would expect 50% of new hires to be men and 50% women. This would only balance gender over considerable time (suppose {figures made up} that there are 1,000,000 IT workers, and that 1000 new are hired every year, while about 700 retire/leave. After 10 years, 7,000 men have left the industry, 5,000 women have entered and 5,000 men have entered. This means that there are now 1,003,000 IT employees, of which 5,000 are women – Despite perfectly balanced hiring processes.)
    Are people really that stupid that they think gender balance would occur the second that gender equality is accepted?
    I frequently hear the same argument about “but there are far fewer women in management positions”…Exactly the same thing – because the industry has only recently acknowledged gender equality, many of the women (who someday may make great managers) haven’t yet gained the experience of their peers….

    Any claim that there is Gender inequality because there is an observed Gender imbalance is simply drivel made up by people who have no ability to think something through before opening their trap.

    Nonetheless, congratualtions, you make my top 9 list of things that put me in a bad mood.

    Grow up!! It’s attitudes like your’s that stop people succeeding in the world – it is easier to find an excuse why someone else is to blame for all your misfortunes.

  13. […] Things that put me in a bad mood A howto on how to encourage women in Linux appeared in my newsfeed this morning, on Hacker News (it’s an old […] […]

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