Diversity RDF Technology

Outside even among the outsiders

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Warning: Big time rant. Male/Female thing. Read at own risk.

Being a woman trying to find a place among the techie guys isn’t easy, particularly since the areas of technology of interest to me rarely have other women participants. Don’t have to believe me, take a look at the RSS-Dev group, the RDF interest groups, most of the W3C working groups and so on.

Sometimes the group participation has been good. I’m rather partial to the RDF working group because in the newsgroups, they always worked with me. However, in a lot of groups, particularly the RSS-Dev group, I am for the most part ignored. That’s not a lot of fun. It seems no matter what I do, I don’t have the respect of a lot of the players. Not all players — there’s good people here abouts that never ‘held’ me being a woman against me.

(Me not laying down a 100+ lines of code a day they might hold against me, but not being a woman. And I can live with this.)

The seemingly winless battle for respect over the last few years probably accounts for over 50% of my recent burnout. I’m not sure if any of you understand what its like not being sure if the reason you’re ignored in most of these groups is because you’re a woman, or an idiot. I guess I would prefer to think it was because I’m a woman. I seem to do okay on my jobs, and I’ve had some pretty tough technical jobs. But you just don’t know, and it eats at you. All the time. Takes your confidence and just tears it apart.

After I returned from my last trip, I felt renewed and ready to take on challenges again, especially after coming back to be met with the generosity of so many of you, helping me keep this weblog and my sites going. I started my work again with RDF, which I really do love. In particular, I started participating on Internet-related groups again — something I’m more than a bit wary of.

When things got bad at one email group I took the moderator up on his request to start another group, and started Bloggers Unlimited, and it grew. It’s now at 7698 members.

The conversations started out pretty good. There was a quiet time in the middle, but for most part, consistent discussion. It’s a bit too techy for the audience at times, but manageable.

However, I began to notice a distinctive behavior pattern with this group. There was a very strong dominant male presence, which I know left me feeling pushed out of most of the conversations. When the group fell silent for a few days, and then started up again, another member, a male member, was given credit for rejuvenating the group; and here is me, taking quiet pride in thinking I was the one that had sparked it back to life.

What was worse is that most of the comments I made were ignored. I began to feel invisible. The same old feeling of inadequacy. We had some crankiness among the male members a bit early on, but it smoothed out, and the group went back on track. Again, I hoped I helped on this and I suppose this is a nurturing female type of thing, but I didn’t want to be the nurturing female in this one act play.

I started questioning myelf: Is it just me? Am I asking dumb questions?

I decided to get another party’s opinion, and asked Liz today if she noticed this. Was I being paranoid? Did I have a valid concern? She responded with this posting after first giving me heads up and asking if I wanted to respond instead. I declined. Liz wrote:


Here’s how the story goes, so far as I can see:

a) Shelley posts an interesting query about the semantic web
b) A discussion begins, with posts from a number of people with interesting ideas
c) Shelley responds with questions and ideas, at the same time that predictable people begin posting predictable rants about predictable topics (RSS, for example. OPML. what constitutes an ad hominem attack. yada, yada, yada.)
d) Shelley’s points are essentially ignored in favor of the same-old-same-old peacocking and posturing among the boys.
e) Shelley gets mad.
f) Shelley gets noticed only because she got mad.
g) People like me unsubscribe because the signal-to-noise ratio is getting worse by the second, and they’d rather read blogs than wade through cross-posts and arguments.


I was somewhat relieved to feel vindicated in my read of the group responses, because Liz is not one to call out sexism, either lightly or easily.

On the other hand, though, I was more than a little discouraged to see her comment about me getting mad, because I’ve taken such care on the list not to be mad, to stay calm, even when baited. And I have been baited. Not just in the list but in emails.

Why won’t I take such and such down? Why won’t I hold such and such to task? Well, if I want to be walked on, that’s my problem.

When Liz talked in her posting about rather reading Jeneane and Halley’s comments, I know that she’s making a point about being among people that appreciate each other. And I understand this. However, the impact on me is that I feel left out among both the men and the women. That I have no place with either group.

So where does this leave me?

Most likely bowing out on the groups, though I’m continuing my RDF work here in my weblog, with just my readers who are interested. I most likely will not get involved in any of these groups in the future. I am disappointed at the guys in the list (not all, just some) who seem to have little regard for what I say (and I still have to live with that old worry, now, whether it’s because I’m a woman, or because I’m making stupid comments.)

But I’m also disappointed at the women in the group. Why didn’t they speak out? Why did I have to speak out, alone? Do they know how hard it is to be the only woman talking in these groups?

Where were they when I needed them?

I have some very bad stuff going on in my life now, which I’m not going to talk about here because its deeply personal and, respectfully, lovingly, none of your business. But I don’t have the energy to fight these battles now. I may not ever again in the future.

I’m not walking away from the tech again. I am enjoying my interaction with those who are interested in the RDF Poetry Finder. It may not be sexy lines of code, at least not yet; but this could be the first weblog-based group participation in a project that involves both technical and non-technical people, and it’s a really fun project. At least, I hope so.

When we’re finished, we’ll be able to offer it as a search engine implementation to sites such as Plagiarist and other literature, writing, and poetry related sites. Perhaps even the Guttenberg project. It’s a difference. A small difference, but a difference.

It’s not changing the face of the Web, or even of Google — but it’s a start. It may not be sexy, but it’s doable. I guess when it is up and running, and we can all look back and bask in the glow of our efforts, then that question I have about my worth in technology will be answered. Because it’s not going to get answered in email forums where the women stay silent, and the jerks dominate.

I will say this, though: social software is never going to fly if there isn’t some way to control the peacocks, as Liz called them, and the peahens don’t stop standing in the shadows.


I hope that the participants in the RDF Poetry Finder are not put off by this posting. Believe me when I say this wasn’t written lightly, and I’m aware it will make people uncomfortable. But it was something I had to say. And, note: I am also aware that I could be wrong in my interpretation — touchy I might be, but at least I try to be honest with myself.

Well, I think.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email