I am a Cranky, White, Male Feminist

Today, I was re-reading an linux.com article from 2014 by Leslie Hawthorne which had been reshared by the Linux Foundation Facebook account yesterday in honor of #GirlDay2017 (which I was regrettably unaware of until it was over). It wasn’t so much the specific content of the article that got me thinking, but instead the level of discourse that it “inspired” on the Facebook thread that pointed me there (I will not link to it as it is unpleasant and reflects poorly on The Linux Foundation, an organization which is in most circumstances largely benevolent).

In the article, Hawthorne describes the difficulties that she faced as a woman in getting involved in technology (including being dissuaded by her own family out of fear for her future social interactions). While in her case, she ultimately ended up involved in the open-source community (albeit through a roundabout journey), she explained the sexism that plagued this entire process, both casual and explicit.

What caught my attention (and drew my ire) was the response to this article. This included such thoughtful responses as “Come to my place baby, I’ll show you my computer” as well as completely tone-deaf assertions that if women really wanted to be involved in tech, they’d stick it out.

Seriously, what is wrong with some people? What could possibly compel you to “well, actually” a post about a person’s own personal experience? That part is bad enough, but to turn the conversation into a deeply creepy sexual innuendo is simply disgusting.

Let me be clear about something: I am a grey-haired, cis-gendered male of Eastern European descent. As Patrick Stewart famously said:


I am also the parent of two young girls, one of whom is celebrating her sixth birthday today. The fact of the timing is part of what has set me off. You see, this daughter of mine is deeply interested in technology and has been since a very early age. She’s a huge fan of Star Wars, LEGOs and point-and-click adventure games. She is going to have a very different experience from Ms. Hawthorne’s growing up, because her family is far more supportive of her interests in “nerdy” pursuits.

But still I worry. No matter how supportive her family is: Will this world be willing to accept her when she’s ready to join it? How much pressure is the world at large going to put on her to follow “traditional” female roles. (By “traditional” I basically mean the set of things that were decided on in the 1940s and 1950s and suddenly became the whole history of womanhood…)

So let me make my position perfectly clear.  I am a grey-haired, cis-gendered male of Eastern European descent. I am a feminist, an ally and a human-rights advocate. If I see bigotry, sexism, racism, ageism or any other “-ism” that isn’t humanism in my workplace, around town, on social media or in the news, I will take a stand against it, I will fight it in whatever way is in my power and I will do whatever I can to make a place for women (and any other marginalized group) in the technology world.

Also, let me be absolutely clear about something: if I am interviewing two candidates for a job (any job, at my current employer or otherwise) of similar levels of suitability, I will fall on the side of hiring the woman, ethnic minority or non-cis-gendered person over a Caucasian man. No, this is not “reverse racism” or whatever privileged BS you think it is. Simply put: this is a set of people who have had to work at least twice as hard to get to the same point as their privileged Caucasion male counterpart and I am damned sure that I’m going to hire the person with that determination.

As my last point (and I honestly considered not addressing it), I want to call out the ignorant jerks who claim, quote “Computer science isn’t a social process at all, it’s a completely logical process. People interested in comp. sci. will pursue it in spite of people, not because of it. If you value building relationships more than logical systems, then clearly computer science isn’t for you.” When you say this, you are saying that this business should only permit socially-inept males into the club. So let me use some of your “completely logical process” to counter this – and I use the term extremely liberally – argument.

In computer science, we have an expression: “garbage in, garbage out”. What it essentially means is that when you write a function or program that processes data, if you feed it bad data in, you generally get bad (or worthless… or harmful…) data back out. This is however not limited to code. It is true of any complex system, which includes social and corporate culture. If the only input you have into your system design is that of egocentric, anti-social men, then the only things you can ever produce are those things that can be thought of by egocentric, anti-social men. If you want instead to have a unique, innovative idea, then you have to be willing to listen to ideas that do not fit into the narrow worldview that is currently available to you.

Pushing people away and then making assertions that “if people were pushed away so easily, then they didn’t really belong here” is the most deplorable ego-wank I can think of. You’re simultaneously disregarding someone’s potential new idea while helping to remove all of their future contributions from the available pool while at the same time making yourself feel superior because you think you’re “stronger” than they are.

To those who are reading this and might still feel that way, let me remind you of something: chances are, you were bullied as a child (I know I was). There are two kinds of people who come away from that environment. One is the type who remembers what it was like and tries their best to shield others from similar fates. The other is the type that finds a pond where they can be the big fish and then gets their “revenge” by being a bully themselves to someone else.

If you’re one of those “big fish”, let me be clear: I intend to be an osprey.

7 thoughts on “I am a Cranky, White, Male Feminist

  1. I absolutely love this post. You’re absolutely right, and it’s even better that you’re passionate about it!

  2. Those were awful yet sadly tame comments. I’ve stopped reading LWN completely because of the vile nonsense allowed to breed there. Moderation, in the LWN editors’ shared opinion, is apparently “censorship.” (I tried and failed to convince otherwise. No, telling a femlae editor to tell me this doesn’t change a thing about its irresponsibility and negative contribution to our community’s culture.) The NY Times has a very different approach and one worth emulating as a high-class publication. OH WELL.

    I am actually surprised the Linux Foundation didn’t moderate the “come over to my house” one.

    The other comment was just stupid. That’s a programmer who implements some awful interface that shows up on coding horrors. Computer Science *is* social – computers and software are built for people to use.

    Thank you for being an ally.

  3. Hi Stephen–Thank you for your thoughts on this important topic. We agree that the comments you’re referencing don’t meet the standards described in our Code of Conduct, so have removed them. We’re working to flag and respond to these sorts of comments more rapidly and appreciate you bringing them to our attention.

    1. Yeah, I am not surprised (and as I noted in the blog, I find the Linux Foundation to be generally good about that). Mostly it acted as a catalyst for something I’ve felt like I needed to say anyway.

  4. “of similar levels of suitability […] I will fall on the side of hiring the woman, ethnic minority or non-cis-gendered person over a Caucasian man. […] this is a set of people who have had to work at least twice as hard to get to the same point”

    Would you, as an interviewer, ask all candidates about how much they struggled to get to where they are? If not, why not? That seems relevant to “suitableness.”
    If so, wouldn’t you treat those specific personal stories as having higher weight – credibility! – than your race/gender/etc.-based presumptions?

    1. When I said “suitability”, I really meant “technical suitability”, here. I generally try to avoid asking many personal questions when interviewing (beyond “What are your thoughts on open source?”). But it’s a fair question. I would tend towards not asking any question that a candidate would be likely to feel obligated to embellish or lie about, like this would.

      1. Embellishment is natural in this context – but likewise in all other interview questions. If personal struggle is a job-relevant aptitude, then ask about it unabashedly. At least it’s data, which then you can evaluate for credibility, relevance, etc.

        Another point. Posit that real or hypothetical struggle occurred in someone’s past due to obstruction. Then, you hand out special consideration/preference as recognition of this. Are you concerned that, as a consequence of that special consideration, the candidate may no longer be as “hungry” because they no longer need to struggle as much? IOW, if you value the struggle mentality, are you sure it’s a good idea to reduce the struggle?

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