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I went to the MinneBar conference Saturday and for the most part it was a worthwhile experience. It left me with a lot of thoughts and processing around what it means to be a woman in a very male dominated environment. I began to take note of the latent sexism in the room:

  • The use of "guys" to refer to the folks in the room or tech folks in general (multiple encounters)

  • "Gentleman's game" in reference to the early days of start-up funding

  • Women being added on as an after thought, eg: "All the guys in the room, oh and women too"

  • The panel for the start-up workshop being composed of 6 guys

These things may not seem like very big issues, but the tech field is so male dominated and well known as being hostile to women. For men in these situations, modifying their language slightly to use more gender neutral terms would definitely help lower the latent hostility level at events like this. Like, it's already totally apparently I'm an outsider in this situation since I'm one of 1-5 female presenting people in a room of 100 male presenting people.

I unfortunately had to take down one note of blatant sexism during the day. In a workshop about consulting versus being part of a start-up, the speaker was talking about "selling yourself." That phrasing in and of itself is pushing a line somewhat. The kicker was the picture that was part of his presentation: two pairs of fishnet covered legs with high heeled boots and the lower part of two torsos with short skirts belonging to bodies leaning into the windows of a red car. The idea was that we were supposed to think these two people were female sex workers, "selling themselves" to the john in the car. The first issue is comparing tech consulting with sex work, which when done involuntarily is a literal selling of the self rather than the selling of services. The second is making sex workers the butt of a joke in a totally dehumanizing way.

The hardest part of this 20-30 second experience was that the room erupted in cacophonous laughter that lasted even after the slide changed. I was too shocked to look around and see who was and was not laughing, but the sound indicated the majority of the room thought this was fucking hilarious. And I no longer felt safe there.

So I had been noting all these experiences throughout the day, waiting for the "She's Geeky" workshop in the last time slot to talk about the environment that women face in tech circles. Instead, I got a clusterfuck of epic proportions. After the presenter introduced herself, the first few things she said caused me to clench my jaw and stare in disbelief. The conversation was totally binary focused and people made blanket statements about gender: "women talk more flowery than men" and shit like that. It felt like the presenter had no real clue about facilitating any dialog, never mind one as hot as this. Folks were saying some really busted shit. Guys with daughters kept bringing up their daughter's interest in boys or lack thereof. On guy mansplained about how women have more white matter in their brains and some bullshit, when he was supposed to be talking about his formative geek experience. Someone equated transgender with asexuality. Someone used the term "retarded." There was lots of minimizing how hostile the tech community can be to women. All in all it was 50 minutes of pure rage for me and I honestly shut down about 10 minutes in to save my sanity. It was a total let down and I'm still trying to process what happened in that room.

Next time there is a MinneBar unconference, I think I am going to propose doing a workshop that actually deals with this shit, for all folks that deal with the hostility of the environment and people saying busted things about them. And for dudes that want to help fucking change that.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Standing in line
Several of the guys got to experience the other side of things as they found themselves waiting in line to the restroom. They laughed about it uncomfortably but understood when one of the few females attending the (un)conference started taking pictures with her mobile phone.

I agree with you, there has to be a more open and welcoming attitude to women at these conferences.
May. 25th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
What. That's just fucked.

And, hey, not for nothing, but I don't really see how having to wait in line to use the bathroom is "experiencing the other side of things." Actually, I'd call that a complete fail on trying to relate to the experiences she's talking about.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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