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Being a Man in Tech


Or, trying to be a better man in tech

Notes prompted in part by the scale of inequality offline and abuse online, most specifically against women in technology. I have no illusion that my writing at this personal site has impact, influence, but it’s important to me to write some of this down and toss a small rock in an already-swirling rapid.

  • My race and gender do not complicate my position in my job and the cultural things I spend my time doing, but gender and other statuses profoundly shape the experience of others. Having listened to and read those experiences, I am more aware of my charmed life as a White Guy in Tech, conscientious about the opportunities I might help make real or unintentionally block and why it matters that I try to help: because diversity where I work makes that work better, and because it helps to improve — perhaps by an incremental margin but a difference all the same, if successful — the lives of people facing structural and deeply-entrenched inequality. This by itself is an outcome that I value.
  • My own experience is richer for having a broader perspective on those of others.
    • I am better for it, and I’m trying to say that in a way that sounds as least selfish as possible: having a broader perspective is enriching, not limiting; it is not zero sum, it does not “take away” what is special about me or my life, and it makes more room for others.
    • I acknowledge that I am lucky in many ways that so many others are not: I have a good job, one that I like and which is rewarding; I have a home and supportive family; stability; safety. When I do something online (or in the office, for that matter) that activity is not marked by my race and gender the way it is for many.
    • Just as I want to be able to express myself, so should I help those around me. This is restricted in environments marked by marginalization, where we are uneasy being open and expressive.
  • I wrestle with staying out of the way vs joining some conversations because I recognize that these spaces are fraught with co-optation, risk, and safety concerns – emotional and physical.

    • Flickering the Gaslight by Gersande La Fleche shows how high the stakes are. Posting here is one way to engage without claiming space in one of those ongoing conversations. Lily Benson has written a good primer on how to engage.
    • Justice Points ep# 93, “We’re Already Here” and Episode #38 of Less than or Equal (with Kahlief Adams) have powerful conversations about allies and privilege.
    • Leigh Alexander has a guide to being helpful
    • And I remind myself that whatever solidary benefit to me of participating (“being an ally”) is not the point.
    • Having spent a lot of time getting advanced degrees in a field in which structural inequality is a core tenet underlaid with decades of quantitative findings, the facts of this inequality are something I have long understood. Yet I am still struck when I see it enacted by men so viciously mocking the difficulties of women in technology and culture, so quick to use violent imagery and ugly slurs against those who are outspoken and visible.
    • This is also one reason the “everybody is awful on the internet” argument is so tremendously hollow. This gets trotted out frequently in defense of awful online treatment of women (and all marginalized groups). At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus takes apart this “notion that everyone gets threatened in gaming”:

    We cannot conflate targeted harassment of a woman (or all women) with general incivility in online discourse because not only are the bases not the same, but the impacts, too, are vastly different. In other words, we’re not talking about hurt feelings or trash talk here. We’re talking about pervasive, damaging behaviors that can impact an entire culture, and behaviors we rarely address or speak about honestly.

    • Another often-used justification is that all people in geek culture feel abused, marginalized and left out. Not only does this reflect an obvious and staggering lack of empathy (justifying being abusive and awful by claiming to have at one point felt bad yourself), but it’s a weird historical artifact at a time when gaming and once-niche entertainment are multi-billion-dollar industries, and STEM training/jobs are sucking all the air out of most other kinds of education and work. Geeks are inheriting the world, gang, and it’s high time that those of us who had a hard time in school because we were interested in video games|comics|programming|computers understand that so did most everybody else, albeit for different reasons, and so many have it so much worse.
    • I have stinging memories of not feeling like I belong,1 and I am fortunate to have found a community of like-minded BBS nerds (men and women) at a key point in my growing up.
    • Yet: However difficult my experience, it critically is fundamentally different from that of someone truly marginalized by institutional sexism, racism, or other discriminations.
    • I think about things that I can do to change this space positively. I can be conscientious about making opportunities and including voices. I have some opportunity to do that where I work, and I try to do so, conscientious that my impact is greater among those I know than in a twitter conversation. Meanwhile I keep listening, though I know that’s not enough. I’m taking seriously the admonition from that Justice Points episode about amplifying good rather than boosting the conflict.

Better voices

In addition to the links noted above, here are a few starting points for more, from people who are better at this than I, and a couple of recent points of research and culture war intersections that are illustrative of what’s going on.

  • Isometric: This post started out being called “How Isometric Made Me a Better Person” but that seemed too naval-gazing even for a blog post. I got to know Steve Lubitz and Brianna Wu casually back when we all hung out on App.net, and have had a great time as well as learned a lot from everybody on the show. It’s a gateway to a lot more than games; this post and the voices on these issues that I have found stem in large part from listening to it.
  • The Cool Gamer Girlfriend and Permission to Try by Maddy Myers (and a related conversation on Isometric #50)
  • Model View Culture is producing a lot of sharp work on these topics from a bunch of points of view: disability, hacker culture, feminism, race, more.
  • Shanley’s My Statement is a scary illustration of just how bad it can be.
    • It is only one of many, many such stories, from all industries.
  • Not Your Mama’s Gamer, a collective of authors behind such things as the #yesIplay tag and a ton of interesting writing (making super podcast, too).
  • How conservatives took over sci-fi’s most prestigious award, a glimpse into the current culture war that’s particularly emblematic of how regressive and fundamentally politically conservative so much of these attacks are.
  • The 5 Biases Pushing Women Out of STEM, because it’s not as simple as a “pipeline problem.”
  • How Hollywood Keeps out Women, because it’s not as simple as a “tech industry problem.”
  • Mel Chua, On the diversity-readiness of STEM environments: “But I have always wondered what I might have grown up into, if I had learned STEM in an environment that was ready for me — without me having to fix it first.”

  1. Hell, I still struggle with this, but I’m mature enough to know I’m not the only one. [return]