Just Shelley

Honor be not proud

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I watched the movie A Few Good Men tonight. If you haven’t seen it, it features Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore in a story about the Marine Corps, murder, and, ultimately, the question of honor. Honor and the Corps. Honor and service to one’s country. Honor and pride.

Honor. What is the true nature of honor? Honor is not based on blind service to God or country. Nor is it based on pride; if anything, pride is the antithesis of honor. Instead, honor is based on knowing, deep down inside oneself, what is fundamentally right and following that rightness, regardless of the consequences. That is honor.

I inherited much from my father besides my name. I inherited his Celtic coloring as well as his Celtic temper. We’re both tall, though age has reduced his frame so that we now see eye to eye. He has a sweet tooth and so do I, and we both consider it a rare treat to indulge our love for fine pastry with a really good cup of tea (loose good quality tea, pre-heated china pot, boiling, not hot water). He’ll be 92 years old next week, and I can only hope that I inherit his longevity, though I am not so sure I would want to pay the price he has paid to live as long as he has.

I inherited one other thing from my father: his sense of honor. Sometimes unbending, frequently unyielding and unforgiving, but always there, deep down inside. At times I’m not sure if its a blessing or a curse.

Yesterday as I watched discussions unfold about the issue of “girlism”, I was so impressed by the many different responses in my comments and elsewhere. Steve provided a wonderful discussion about ‘new’ feminism meeting old within his class. Dorothea continued the discussion, adding her own important points, which are reflected and refined at Baldur, and enriched by Tom. Ruzz also joins the discussion:real power has nothing to do with sex.

I was disappointed, though, with my own writing. It didn’t convey why I reacted so strongly. It left the impression that the discussion was about gender equality, when it wasn’t. At least, not for me. Or that the discussion was about feminism and stereotypes, and, on reflection, I realized that wasn’t why I was so unhappy. Tonight I finally realized why I was so deeply bothered about this “girlism” — it was a question of honor.

We’ve long known that sex sells, which is why ads always feature beautiful women and studly men. I don’t fight this because I see the world of marketing to be an artificial one; one that lives over there but not in my neighborhood. But when people matter of factly discuss women using sex — flirting, winking, tight clothes — as a way to get power, I cringe, not because I know this behavior doesn’t exist, but because I know that some people will see this behavior in one woman and generalize it to other women. Other women such as myself.

Regardless of how much I want to change the world, burn a trail, get power, I cannot do so at the cost of ‘honor’. Even something as trivial as a wink, standing too close to a man, or a little “harmless” dissembling is using my sexuality to deliberately manipulate a man at work in order to achieve a professional goal. This is so foreign to me that my reaction is a physical stiffening of my arms, pushing away that which I find to be anathema.

Using sexuality would be a declaration that I have no ability to get power from this man regardless of what I do, therefore I’m going to yield to his superior position; the she-wolf baring her belly, breasts, and neck to the alpha male. You say it’s just a harmless wink, a little cleavage — what’s the harm? I say the harm is that I achieved the power based on something other than my ability, and at the cost of always being the she-wolf with neck bared.

Am I too serious? Too rigid and foolish? Out of step with modern times? Most likely all of the above. And don’t forget inflexible and unyielding, too. Tempermental. And tall.

Honor. Honor and gender. Honor and vocation. Honor to one’s country. Honor to one’s friends. Honor and truth. I have a feeling that ‘honor’ is something that will be lost and found and then lost again in the next few years. Particularly when we consider that sometimes honor, and the lack thereof, is based as much on silence and inaction, as it is on voice and action.

I’ve been told I take all this too seriously. Sometimes I do. I really do.


Congratulations to the Blog Sisters

The Blog Sisters generally, and Elaine and Jeneane, specifically, have been featured in a new New York Times article on weblogging, It’s a Man’s World (Isn’t it). The article focuses on weblogging and the perceptions that men tend to dominate weblogging, especially since most prominant webloggers are men.

From the article:

If that is the case, the Venus-Mars divide has made its way into Blogville. Women want to talk about their personal lives. Men want to talk about anything but. So far the people who have received the most publicity (often courtesy of male journalists) appear to be the latter.

Though this sounds stereotypical, the author, Lisa Guernsey, does go on to say that this view is changing. She provides a new perspective, though the subject is, as we know, not a new one. If there is a lack in it, it’s that there are prominant female ‘warbloggers’ such as Meryl Yourish and others that should have been featured. Additionally, for an article about skewing of weblogging to men, the author tends to fall into this trap herself. And I would have wished for more emphasis on women in technology, politics, literature, and other interests rather than knitting, cooking, and personal journals.

Still, very nice to see the subject being addressed. And nice to see Jeneane, Jenna, and new kitten in the accompanying photo.

Congratulations to Jeneane, Elaine, and Blog Sisters.


Close, very close

Down to my last few pennies, literally, and half a book to rewrite before my next advance when fortune smiles on the Very Worried: I just got a gig that should last at least a couple of months.

Now if I can absorb all the new RDF changes into the book fairly quickly and get the advance, for the first time in almost a year I won’t be worried about money.

You’ll have to excuse me if for the next few days I turn into a blithering idiot from the relief.

Environment Political

Clean sweep cleans forests

The first environmental impact from November’s Clean Sweep is the Bush Administration’s proposal to:

… give managers of the nation’s 155 national forests greater leeway to approve logging and commercial activities with less examination of potential environmental damages.

Regional managers are easily influenced by timber interests, who tend to have as much interest in the good of the environment as the, um, oil people do. In addition, this new proposal removes many of the required environmental impact checks, and decreases visibility of the decisions being made about the public’s forests.

Have you hugged a tree today? Better do it quick, because that thing is toothpicks on the hoof.

Diversity Technology

Women in computing

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In the comments attached to the Girlism post, an Assistant Professor of Computer Technology, Dr. Elizabeth Lane Lawley mentioned effort at Carnegie-Mellon to understand why there is such a large discrepancy based on gender in the computer sciences. I found a web site devote to this project and have been spending some time reading publications associated with the work.

The publications have been a revelation, not because I don’t know first hand what they’re discussing, but because I’m reading someone articulating my experiences. For the first time, I don’t feel alone in many of my own observations about the field, and my own position within it.

For instance, one publication, Undergraduate Women in Computer Science: Experience, Motivation, and Culture mentioned that women had significantly less experience with computers prior to attending college then men. However, what was surprising was that this lack of prior experience didn’t impact on their ability to do the work in the classes:

“Despite this difference in how students evaluate themselves, there is a gap between women’s perceived ability and their actual performance. Despite their modest estimates of their own standing in the class, three out of the seven first-year students made the Dean’s List (which turned out to be about the top third of the class) in the first semester, and six of the seven women made a B or A average for the first year.”

I was a law student when I started college. The philosophy teacher that taught my logic class strongly recommended I try a computing class so, for grins and giggles, I signed up for a VMS Basic programming class. My only experience with computers prior was through issues of Popular Science (borrowed from a neighbor), filling in the computer worksheets for an insurance company when I was an underwriter, and handling the strange data entry machine at the real estate company I worked at as a secretary.

However, after the first week in the class, I switched over to computer science and never looked back. Matching the results of the women in the study, I ended up a Dean’s Scholar, ranking 3rd in a graduating class of 27 students. And this was with me being a double major, studying Psychology at the same time.

According to the paper, female students were made aware of their experiential differences from the male students, and this undermined their confidence, generating feelings of self-doubt, isolation, and inadequacy. This, in spite of women performing as well or better than the men.

Now there are some major differences between when I went to college and the experiences of the women in the reports. Perhaps because the field of computer science (as separate from engineering) was relatively new, and personal computers were quite rare, many of the men in the class had as little prior experience as the women. In addition, the professors came from a diverse background: math, philosopy, and english literature in addition to engineering. This mix helped diffuse the typical arrogance associated with engineering, which I think made the environment much less competitive than current computer science environments.

Whatever the reason, I know the environment at my school was supportive and free of gender bias or differentiation. I only know now how lucky I was then. Still, my luck was to run out once I hit the ‘real world’.

Women students were faced with male students saying, “you’re a computer science student, you should know this” quite frequently, enhancing feelings of inadequacy and isolation. The reports mention how women’s isolation in the field continues into the workplace, it not being uncommon to have a man say something along the lines of “You have a degree in computer science. You should know this.”

I have had this happen to me not once, but several times, and each time my own self confidence erodes, and I become increasingly defensive. Yet, I’ve never once not been able to keep up with, or exceed, the production of the men I work with.

This does beg the question: why do men say something such as “you should know this”? This is really nothing more than a non-productive putdown. Perhaps women should be taught to say in response, “Because I learned other things you don’t know, dickhead.”

The report and others also highlighted a significant difference between women and men in how each views computing in their lives. To sum it up: Women program for purpose, men program just to program. There is a great deal of conjecture that believes this goes all the way back to our earliest years and our use of tools, or not.

For myself, when I was a girl scout years ago, we were taught how to cook and how to sew; boys were taught wood working and mechanics. This continued into school, with girls getting Home Ec and boys getting Woodshop. Girls worked with pots and pans to make a meal, or a sewing machine to make a dress. Boys worked with a variety of tools and gadgets, making a variety of different things, some practical, some not.

Now, I am assuming that times they have changed. Still, according to the reports at the C-M site, boys are more likely to spend time tweaking around on the computer then girls, while girls are more likely to spend time making something on the computer. Boys want to figure out why something works as it does, girls just want to make it work.

Is this difference a product of our genes? Is there a ‘tweak’ gene that boys have and girls don’t? Or is the fact that little girls are raised to be producers, and boys are raised to be innovators?

So many good questions raised. I can’t tell you how much I recommend that you all read these reports, regardless of your field. And my deepest and most sincere gratitude to Liz for pointing these out.