Facepalm: person clutching their face

Wednesday Geek Woman: unnamed complainant at JavaOne

This is a guest post by Laura James, an engineer based in Cambridge UK, and the founder of Makespace, a non-profit building a community workshop where you’ll be able to build or fix almost anything. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

This year, I’m going with a topical woman in technology from the lovely DevChix community. I’m not sure if she’d want to be named; but she stood up and asked for an apology after a male speaker made a sexist joke at a major tech conference (JavaOne) recently. She also made sure the organisers heard about it, and they apologised and will follow up with the speaker’s company.  But in some quarters she’s been criticised for making men in the audience uncomfortable – but she’s still an inspiration.

It’s depressing that these things are still happening (and that the joke reportedly got a good laugh). But raising awareness helps others understand that such incidents are offputting to women in technology The lovely ladies at GeekFeminism provide great resources – they too should be celebrated today.

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7 thoughts on “Wednesday Geek Woman: unnamed complainant at JavaOne

    1. Lindsey Kuper

      Indeed. (Here’s the link, for folks who don’t know what’s being discussed.) The first couple of sentences of Adam Bien’s first point are “I really apologize – it never was meant negatively. IMHO: (Java) programming is the most creative job you can get – even more creative than (e.g. Photoshop) design.” The part about “the most creative job” is a complete non sequitur — whether or not Java programming is creative work is irrelevant here. And he keeps piling on the long-winded, irrelevant comments — it adds insult to injury.

  1. geekgirl

    The joke wasn’t actually funny. Although there have been some pretty sexy Alien women presented in sci-fi: so Adam missed a great opportunity to combine the misunderstood alien visitors and women in one go. Perhaps a sexy female alien that could eat him, if anyone is handy with illustrations? Having been involved and observed the gender debate in IT for more than 20 years I find it suprising that we gurls don;t start making jokes of the absurd narrative and over complicated jargon men use to explain technology. It’s really quite self-evident that most techno-geek-speak can be diluted into a vernacular most people “men and women” can understand without becoming overly complex. The big issue I find is that a lot of men who work in IT think they are ‘fucking brilliant’: and that somehow their arcane and hermetic vocabulary / lexicon makes them belong to some hallowed elite that only other ‘genuises’ can enter. In fact these men need sympathy — as they seem to have some warped concept that tech-talk is the one thing that precludes women from understanding IT. In fact, more emphasis should be put on explaining technical jargon so it doesn’t exclude or demoralise. There’s a lot more to tech than the jargon anyway, a lot of people just do and don;t talk about it, so their ability to communicate while it’s a good skill to have when dealing with clients or working in the industry: shouldn’t actually undermine the plethora of people, many women who apply skills each and every day in tech.
    *hugs* geekgirl

    1. George Griffin

      Being an owner of a Y-chromosome, I only just recently discovered that sexism was such a massive problem in the tech community. I love this field more than pretty much anything else in my life, and anything that would drive people away or make them uncomfortable saddens me deeply. But I do have one question, what is particularly sexist about jargon? I suppose that overuse of jargon is a bit elitist, but I fail what gender has to do with it.

  2. oldfeminist

    One of the barriers to women entering technical fields is that they often didn’t get to talk with a dad, uncle, older brothers, or mentors about technology, so even if they understand technology intuitively or are capable of understanding, they don’t have the vocabulary.

    It’s often made into a joke that women use phrases like “jiggle the red thingy in and out” instead of “reseat the flux capacitor,” but if no one told them what it’s called, they’re stuck, and often silenced or embarrassed, by that ignorance.

  3. Mark Dinstuhl

    Wait – so this guy made a slight against women in programming? Does he not realize the historic contributions made by women like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper? This is one of the *best* examples of Dunning-Kruger in action that I have ever seen.

    New catch phrase for trying to “dumb something down” – “explain it to a JavaOne presenter”.

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