How Public Opinion About Women in Tech Has Changed Me

“The desires, wants, and thinking of the majority of the people — or the collective opinion of the people of a society or state on an issue or problem — is called public opinion.” — Wikipedia

When I started this blog years ago (just kidding, I started it on Saturday) I had no idea what to write about. I discussed this apprehension with one of my closest friends. He told me that the obvious subject I have to bring to the table is the fact that I am a Woman in Tech. More specifically, I am a UNIX Systems Administrator at a very large company.

These sort of things are current in demand and viral in many ways. Just be careful. Public opinion on this can come down very, very hard.

Since Saturday, I have been contemplating the idea of public opinion and the impact it may or may not have on me and my actions. I’ve never been one to give much thought to what others think. I wear what I want. I eat what I want. I say what I want. I more or less do what I want. This is not to say I’m insensitive (which I definitely have the capacity to be) it is only to say that I don’t really care about opinions of my menial actions and/or opinions. The state of things lately, however, seem to correlate to a sudden silence in my mind and articulation of how I feel or what I think. There is a vast amount of public opinion floating around about women, gender, societal norms, media, politics, money, resources, conflict, etc. These topics that come up on my Facebook and Apple News feeds seem so divisive. Perhaps I’ve mentally fork bombed and have little to no resources left to process these topics. Perhaps I’ve learned something as part of the bigger picture.

“Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute.” — Josh Billings

Silence and stillness are new to me. Because these things are new and not congruent with the behavior of those around me, I’ve assumed this is a bad thing. Over the last few days, I’ve realized that there is so much more to hear and perceive than there is for me to say. I no longer talk about politics. My opinion and thoughts will not change the extremism that I sense around me. I don’t generally debate or discuss religion anymore. I prefer to validate what my friends have to say about it than to interject what I think or feel when asked. I no longer engage in the best practices debates around the office. There’s more than one way to skin a cat in the *nix world and I’m not the Linux god that exists to tell you how to do what you need to and exactly which keystrokes to take. As an extrovert, this. is. so. weird. People have commented (as always). “Don’t be so upbeat, Hannah!” Obviously, this is a very thick sarcastic comment about my failure as of late to amp up over things that may matter in general, but do not require debate or opinion.

In my silence, I have learned that devastating events or things that are not in the best interest of the masses affect us all. Whether we pick up on it or not, we are all emotionally effected. That’s easy to see now that I’ve stepped out of the ring of needing to air my opinions to feel heard. I’ve noticed more often than not, when one person who is part of a group is having a super shitty time, we all have a little bit of a bad day without understanding why. (Empathy as a topic can be discussed at a later time.)

One thing that stands out above all is that when I DO choose to engage in the conversation, what I have to say is more clear and concise. People who I’ve never thought as giving a fuck what I have to say seem to hear me. Why? I theorize that a vast reduction in how much noise I generate has led to a more solid platform to speak. My friends may care whether or not my flip flops are comfortable, but not everyone does. They don’t need me to pollute their mental space with my opinions about my flip flops when they’re averse to bare feet and otherwise would not have noticed. This metaphor is not magical nor do I think it fully illustrates my point.

I’ve learned the principles of silence and how it can have a positive impact in yoga. We learn as a group to pay attention to what is on our own mat and not to begin to self-judge by comparing ourselves to another be it positive or negative. Essentially, we mind our own damn business and focus on the intention we’ve set for ourselves prior to our lesson. To me, this ties to public opinion. When you are learning and growing in a practice, does it matter what other people think about your practice?

It shouldn’t. That said and back to my scattered point: While negative feedback hurts, okay. I’m writing not so anonymously on the internet because I miss flexing my writing muscles which helps me to organize and process my thoughts and feelings. When we write, it is less of a conversation or debate and more of a monologue. People who may benefit from my experiences or want some nice toilet reading have the option as to whether or not they want to ingest my internal ramblings. When public opinion on the public internet about a publicly shared blog comes down hard, it’s clear that someone chose to fixate on the information and attempt to sway others to trash the person who is sharing.

I see so many popular topics regarding the tech world right now. I don’t often see media regarding women who have had positive experiences in the tech world. We talk endlessly about the misogyny, the crude talk, the hostility… I’m not an exception as being part of the hostile and crude club. I found a place where my somewhat ‘hostile’ attitude is regarded as passion. I prefer that as having listened to what others have to say and how they say it, I know I’m not having a bad experience. I’m often told I’m having a bad experience. I feel as if I’m having the same experience as a lot of people I work with.

I work with predominantly introverted males. The females around are just like me (ambiverts who congregate in the bathroom and sneak cigarettes off one another). I can say, women in this industry are really hard on one another as it is statistically shown that it is more difficult for women to move up in the tech world than men. I experienced a lot of “slut shaming” when I started because the other women around assumed I had done many an unethical thing to continue to rise through the ranks. I received several emails from women that I rudely call “Welcome to Club Vagina” emails. This bothered me so much because I wasn’t trying to be different or stand out. The people who noticed that I was a woman and acted is if that meant anything... were women!

I have become silent. In my own way, I see the division increasing. I am actually slightly offended by the sporadic “As a Woman In Tech” presentations. We have an email distro just for women! We call it empowerment. If it’s supposed to be empowering, why do I find it to be exclusive?

Let your skill speak for you. Not your bits.

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