An Open Letter to Shanley

This post is a response to Shanley’s “An Open Letter to Women in Technology”, which was published Monday and to my surprise was chosen as an editors’ pick.

I am tired.

I am tired of frequently being the only woman in the room, of being treated like a girl before a fellow coder, and of having my gender discussed as if it could qualify or disqualify me for a job. I’m tired of being bribed with ‘women-in-technology’ dinners and token positions, and of being perpetually amazed at just how many women question their own ability to code.

But I am also tired of name calling and vitriolic finger pointing. I am tired of rhetoric that means nothing, that turns people away rather than includes them. I am tired of a fight for equality that uses phrases like “white male terrorist regime,” that looks to enfranchise one group by demonizing another. I am tired of attributing the problems of gender in tech to an amorphous “them” who hate women.

Show me the anti-feminist propaganda so we can dissect it together. Expose to me and the rest of the world what conference is tacitly condoning rape. Tell me, please, against exactly whom we are fighting.

We are not fighting against all men. That is a war we cannot win, and should not want to. There are men in this industry who think women should not be in tech, who demean women and perpetuate a disgusting culture. But although these men may have a powerful internet presence, they do not define the majority of tech culture—and it is unproductive and isolating to center our discussion around them. In offices and classrooms across the country, on blogs across the internet, there is a silent majority of men (and women, for that matter) who are embarrassed by hate speech against women, but feel ambivalent about creating a culture of equality.

It is this ambivalence we need to fight. The sometimes insensitive person who silently assumes that a “feminine” personality has bearing on your code. Who assumes that what you wear and how you speak influences how you think. Who assumes that coming late to the game means you are worse at the game. These are the assumptions that perpetuate a culture that make women disproportionally question their own abilities to code, their right to demand equal pay, and early on minimizes their interest in an exciting, lucrative, and intellectually stimulating career path.

But blaming “them” does not change this culture. Blaming “them” isolates rather than educates the very people who make up the culture. Blaming “them” makes it easy for people of all genders to dismiss feminist claims, to separate themselves from two un-relatable sides and to overlook their own tacit involvement.

Shanley, I agree with you in many ways. We need transparency and access to salary information; we need to explore lobbying and change the way we talk about STEM education; we need to “speak up every. fucking. time”; and we desperately need to teach girls how to code, and how to love code. We need to challenge ourselves to work as role models for other women, and allow ourselves to be both females and developers, without being boxed in by either one. We need to break down the boys’ club and the “mancaves” without needing to wear lipstick—but allowing ourselves to wear lipstick just the same.

But in order to do this, we will need to turn our culture on its head—and we cannot do that by isolating half of the population.We need both men and women to think critically about their role in perpetuating a broken culture, and be willing to tear apart the mold confining what a coder looks like. There is a lot to be angry about, and it is important to be angry, but it is also necessary to engage people—men and women—with respect.

Women can’t be the only ones fighting the war.