Gender: Stop changing the subject!

I took a walk around a beautiful lake with my beautiful wife on a beautiful California day yesterday … and I’m still Feeling Grumpy about gender today.

Grumpy Troll pub sign

Grumpy Troll pub in Mount Horeb, by ClockFace. Via Wikipedia


A few days ago, Miriam Posner went out on a limb and posted an impassioned explanation about why exhorting women to code is not enough, in the hopes that “we can speak openly about the fact that programming knowledge is not a neutral thing, but something men will tend to have more often than women.”. And while it is great that Miriam’s post is getting a good amount of attention and comments, I find myself frustrated and grumpy that the vast majority of comments and follow-up blog posts change the damn subject!

And, no, I’m not going to link to any examples … because I’m too frustrated to hunt them all down, and because I don’t want to single anyone out (which is my nod to being at least a little bit of a Nice Person – see #3 on Miriam’s list).

I’m trying to be generous here, and assume that everyone has the best of intentions … but too many of the comments and follow on blog posts read to me as some version of the following:

  • Great post, and you are right that we need to do something about gender inequality in coding/DH … but actually coding (i.e. everything you just wrote about) isn’t so important (to me); I think this other topic I care about is more important, so I’m going to write about that.
  • You are right, there are barriers to women entering coding … and here are my brilliant suggestions for what you women-folk can do to get around the barriers.
  • Yes, there are barriers. But you can’t just tell people not to code (which is not anywhere near the vicinity of what Miriam says).

Miriam has followed up with another brilliant post: Things we share, with 4 great thoughts about how to move forward, and why the DH community might be especially well situated and equipped to “make inequities of power something else we decide to abandon”. Go read Miriam’s post, and you will see that I have added my own suggestion:

#5. Stop changing the damn subject! When a woman brings up gender and how the structural and cultural barriers to something (anything) affect her and her sisters, and you say: “Yes, you are right. But I think the real problem is this other thing I find more interesting and less uncomfortable to talk about” it is condescending, dismissive, and infuriating. Stop it! Either engage the topic or not — but don’t hijack it for your own purposes and still expect to get credit for engaging with gender.

Here’s my point: When someone in a marginalized group dares to talk about that marginalization, don’t you dare change the subject! I know it is uncomfortable, but part of being qualified to wear the mantle of the non-racist white person, or the gay-friendly straight person, or the feminist man, is the willingness to talk about the uncomfortable stuff, without changing the subject.

8 Responses to “Gender: Stop changing the subject!”


  1. 1 Chris Bourg March 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Miriam-
    As Glen so helpfully pointed out, I of course mean “angels”, not “angels”. Although I do think it is your angel on things that puts you on the side of angels.

    Like

  2. 2 jwernimont March 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I spent the whole afternoon grumpy about some of those replies. One longer form one at HASTAC in particular made me want to declare that I would only pursue “dirty” code from now on. But in the spirit of good community I keep trying to celebrate the good rather than rant about the bad (although I suspect a rant is in there somewhere). Cheers.

    Like

  3. 4 moyazb March 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Chris!!! This is epically needed and spot on! Glad to be in digital community with you!

    Like

  4. 6 miriamposner March 6, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Chris, thanks for this. It’s great. This whole thing has been gut-wrenchingly difficult and, to tell you the truth, kind of incredibly disappointing. So thank you for this, which helps.

    Like

    • 7 Chris Bourg March 6, 2012 at 8:29 am

      Miriam- You are, of course, on the side of the angles. When I called you a “closet sociologist” earlier, it was the highest compliment I could think of.

      Like


  1. 1 Things that made me smile this week … | Feral Librarian Trackback on March 9, 2012 at 11:14 am

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