Change begins at home

The effects of my gender posts recently are starting to thread their way around, slowly but slow change is usually the most lasting change.

Julia Lerman posts on an article with the deplorable title “Why can’t women keep up with men in high tech”. Julia writes:

t’s more like this – most agree that in our programming world – at work, user groups, etc, there are about 10% women. Go to PDC or TechEd and that percentage of women drops to about 5-7%. Then look at the top layer of our own (conference speakers, authors, etc and that percentage drops to maybe 1-2%. Those are the numbers that are driving the question. Why aren’t there also 10% up there?

I checked the speakers list at ApacheCon being attended by so many faces we know and know and know. Of the 50+ speakers, two are women. Just two. There were a couple of photos of of guys with long hair that got my hopes up a bit, but it was a false alarm. However, I wasn’t surprised by this – women have traditionally steered clear of open source technology.

I also had a long and terrific email from a relatively new blogger, Ingrid Jones, who blogs at blogspot under the name, Me and Ophelia. Ingrid pointed out to me a London Times article about the use of rape as a weapon in the Bosnian war:

A week ago this newspaper carried a harrowing account of the children born to the tens of thousands of Bosnian women who were subject to what the United Nations later described as mass genocidal rape by their mainly Serbian captors. The report, in the Magazine, recounted how these women, perhaps numbering as many as 50,000, were held prisoner for months and raped repeatedly, often several times a day. Most, unsurprisingly, suffered permanent psychological scars. When children resulted from these brutal and unholy unions, most were abandoned at birth. They are the permanent legacy of a bloody and vicious civil war. Those guilty of these appalling war crimes, meanwhile, have gone unpunished. Today, some even hold public office.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a paid subscription wall. Does anyone have access to the material for Christine Toomey’s article A Cradle of Humanity that isn’t behind a paywall?

Update: Ingrid sent me a copy of the article in an email, of which I pulled the following excerpt:

“This will do little, however, for women such as Sahela, 46, now so frail she looks more like a woman in her late sixties. In the picture that she treasures of her handsome teenage son slouched smiling beside her on a sofa, she is totally unrecognisable. A few months after the picture was taken in 1992, Sahela’s 15-year-old son was beheaded in front of her as he begged Serb soldiers not to drag his mother away. After ordering Sahela to bury his body on the spot, the soldiers then raped her in her own home and did so again repeatedly after that in a rape camp, where she and other women were kept tied to beds. Sahela recalls how one young woman she describes as a noted beauty managed to break free from her captors and, crying out for her mother, killed herself by hurling herself through a closed upper-floor window to end the continuing torture.”

Finally, Liz at wrote a post clarifying the purpose of the blog in response to several people, including Anne of ‘purse lip square jaw’ who wrote:

Personally, I self-identify as feminist and was most marked by my riot-grrl phase (this also points to my age and girlhood inspirations). But I also like this Rebecca West quote: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” All of which is to say that I am interested in women’s experiences, and am happy to read more women’s voices on technology.

Given my firm conviction that there is no-such-thing as (the essential) WOMAN, I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t recognise myself – and all sorts of other women – in this weblog. What I mean is that, despite the explicit claim to represent many voices, I don’t see much difference on this site. In other words, the site content strikes me as pretty straight, white and upper-middle class.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. I am going to treasure this quote for some time to come.

Among other things, Liz wrote:

At the moment, I think one of the best things we’ve done is collect the list of names “misbehaving elsewhere” in our sidebar. It’s a wonderful retort to the “where are the women?” question. It’s an affirmation of the number of articulate women in the tech sphere. And it’s an incredible jumping-off point for seeing a range of women’s voices.

I wrote in a couple of comments:

As for the blogroll: I would still rather discover women’s voices because people link to their writing, rather than them showing up on a blogroll. There’s no harm in the blogroll – it is a positive thing – but that won’t generate change. As you’ve said, though, that’s not what you’re trying to do with this weblog, and isn’t a task you’ve asked for. You want to highlight women’s contributions, and that’s cool. Perhaps all of us should focus on that.

I agree with both Elizabeth and weez about pointing to the women on the right more and less to major publications and stories. These _are_ the women in technology – most of the other stories are about things and places far too distanct for most of us.

Then, we who read these stories should follow suit. This becomes a spark, a flicker of flame that allows Women’s Writing to grow beyond the shadows cast by far too many men linking in and among themselves.

Doc Searls, in response to the article It’s a little too cozy in the Blogosphere wrote:

This isn’t high school here. We don’t have to suck up to the popular kids, or try to be like them. If we want our blogs valued, if we want Google juice, we only have to try to say something worthwhile – meaning worth a link. It’s not a lot more complicated than that. Just a lot harder to understand than a popularity contest.

It is more complicated than that in this weblogging environment where Women’s Writing is concerned. But I cannot do much about what other people do – I can only control what occurs in this space, and therefore gently point you to these fine folk and write “Listen: they have something to say”.

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