I looked at Gail Carmichaelâ€™s blog post, â€œQuick Thoughts on Pregnancy and Grad School,â€ and was immediately struck by how the women commenting on it were in general agreement, based on careful thought about the optimal moment to have children. It struck me by contrast with some â€œhow to be a good programmerâ€ essays Iâ€™d read lately, written by men, which emphasized the importance of discipline and concentration on programming, and eliminating all distractions from oneâ€™s life.
Itâ€™s striking me that the emphasis on monomaniacal concentration only works on an implicit assumption of privilege â€” that important matters other than programming will be handled by someone else.
I find it all too easy to lapse into such an attitude.
At the risk of asking a Feminism 101 question, whatâ€™s a better way to balance these things?
Just a note to start: I don’t think this is a feminism 101 question. Feminism 101 questions are more along the lines of “why is feminism important?” or “why does feminism care about this aspect of society?” This kind of question seems to me to be more of a “how do I live in the kyriarchy?” question, which is a different beast altogether.
I don’t have a completely thought out response to FoolishOwl’s question. It’s something that’s come up a lot in discussions of being a woman in academia and many other professions which have some of the following characteristics:
- substantial time expenditure needed to master the field;
- emphasis on it being highly preferable to do a substantial amount of legwork in the field at a certain (young) age;
- work in the field being at least believed to be benefited by sustained, uninterrupted, quiet, focussed workdays; and
- expectation of at least occasional, and often frequent, long workdays which are sustained, uninterrupted, quiet and focussed.
Some examples that spring to mind other than programming or academia include medicine, which also has the structured training requirement of very long hours, and especially mathematics where the lore about needing to do your best work before age 25 seems to have achieved particular acceptance. (I’m not inside mathematics though, perhaps this is an outsider’s belief.) Academia and, I gather, medicine, both have an additional structural problem for women who want children, which is that they have a period of what is supposed to be very intense work (postdocs, fellowships, specialist training) that tend to fall right across most intending mothers’ preferred (or only possible) reproductive years.
The immediate question that FoolishOwl’s comment made me think of about programming was, how true is this? I know a lot of programmers, and being able and willing to work more than a 35â€”40 hour week (which I will note is already quite a privileged thing for someone to be able to do) is a decidedly mixed bag. For some it’s brought them further mastery. For many others, it’s brought chronic injury, ongoing mental health problems, or loss of enjoyment. Most of the better programmers I know aim to eliminate distractions from their work hours, not from their life.
Various questions for you all:
- did you have a “larval phase” in your geekdom of choice, a period of immersion at the expense of other interests? do you think having one was essential, useful, just fun, or a bit of a negative in the end?
- do you think this sort of mythos is at least partly gatekeeping, ie, not actually necessary to obtain the skills, but put in place to preserve the mystique and the status of those with the skills?
- what role has privilege played in your ability to be part of geek communities and professions?
And of course, FoolishOwl’s question: “whatâ€™s a better way to balance these things?”
Because it’s me, a note: in general I think the conversation will be most interesting if people discuss the intersection between privilege and geek careers here, or give advice from a non-traditional geek point of view. I have a feeling this kind of question will be very appealing to men commenters, because it’s not specifically about women’s lived experience. But please consider if an extensive account of your geek career will add to thoughts about the intersections before leaving one.