Tag Archives: compulsory femininity

Guest Post: Men, if Django Girls makes you uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing

This is a guest post by Brianna Laugher, a software developer who appreciates significant whitespace. She tweets fleetingly at @pfctdayelise. It is cross-posted at her Tumblr.

Monday was the first day of Europython, and the first keynote was by Ola Sendecka & Ola Sitarska, the founders of Django Girls. They gave a wonderful talk leading us through their journey in creating the Django Girls tutorial, its viral-like spread in introducing over 1600 women worldwide to Python programming, leading to a Django Girls Foundation with a paid employee, and their plans to expand the tutorial to a book, Yay Python!. This was all illustrated with an incredibly charming squirrel-centred parable, hand-drawn by Sendecka. The two Olas are clearly a formidable team.

And yet. I had no less than three conversations with men later that day who told me they thought it was a great idea to encourage more women in Python, but…wasn’t it encouraging stereotypes? Was it good that Django Girls was so, well, girly?

There may be a well-meaning concern about avoiding stereotypes, but I wonder if there also wasn’t some underlying discomfort, about seeing something encouraging people in their field that didn’t speak to them. Could programming really look like this? Maybe it felt a bit like being a squirrel surrounded by badgers, in fact.

colored illustration of one squirrel, alone, among three badgers who are conversing with each other

one squirrel among three badgers, by Ola Sendecka, from slide 12 of
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone. Take This: The Power of Community
slides from EuroPython 2015 keynote

So firstly. Certainly pink can be a lazy shorthand for marketing to women. But anyone who watches the Olas’ keynote can be in no doubt that they have poured endless effort into their work. Their enthusiasm and attitude infuses every aspect of the tutorials. There’s no way it could be equated with a cynical marketing ploy.

Certainly pink things, sparkles and curly fonts have a reputation as being associated with girls. Here’s a question to blow your mind: is there anything bad about them, besides the fact that they are associated with girls?

Compulsory femininity, where girls and women are expected to act and look a certain way, is bad, yes. But femininity itself is not inherently weak, or silly, or frivolous, or bad.

Monospace white-on-black command-line aesthetic is a stylistic choice. It’s one that is relatively unmarked in our community. Glittery pastels is a different aesthetic. They are both perfectly valid ways to invite someone to be a programmer. And they will appeal to different audiences.

Julia Serano writes:

Most reasonable people these days would agree that demeaning or dismissing someone solely because she is female is socially unacceptable. However, demeaning or dismissing people for expressing feminine qualities is often condoned and even encouraged. Indeed, much of the sexism faced by women today targets their femininity (or assumed femininity) rather than their femaleness.

Demeaning feminine qualities is the flip side of androcentrism. Androcentrism is a society-wide pattern that celebrates masculine or male-associated traits, whatever the gender of the person with these traits. It’s part of the reason why women who succeed in male dominated fields are lauded, why those fields themselves are often overpaid. It’s how we find ourselves being the Cool Girl, who is Not Like Other Girls, an honorary guy.

It’s not a coincidence that people in our community rarely attend with a feminine presentation, for example, wearing dresses. Fitting in – looking like we belong – currently requires pants and a t-shirt. Wearing a dress is a lightning rod for double-takes, stares, condescension, being doubted, not being taken seriously.

To be explicit, this doesn’t mean that all women currently in tech are longing to femme it up. Many women are perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans. But implicitly expecting women to conform to that uniform is just as much a problem as expecting feminine attire. The problem is the lack of freedom to present and participate as our authentic selves.

Read these personal accounts and believe that this is how feminine women in tech get treated. They’re both hugely insightful.

(Then maybe read Julia Serano’s piece again and think about the connections to these two stories – seriously, these three pages are dense with concepts to absorb.)

photo of an instant camera, lip gloss, a zine marked 'Secret Messages' featuring two cats conversing, nail polish, and an object shaped like a strawberry ice cream cone, on a white shag carpet

Secret Messages zine by Sailor Mercury, surrounded by other symbols of femininity

Like Ola Sendecka, Sailor Mercury is a talented illustrator, as can be seen in her article. She ran a Kickstarter campaign to create her Bubblesort Zines (which you can now buy!). The overwhelming success of her Kickstarter (it reached its goal in 4 hours and eventually raised over US$60,000) speaks to an excitement and hunger for this style of work.

Inviting women into tech isn’t worth much if they have to leave their personality at the door to be accepted. Being supportive of diversity doesn’t mean much if you expect to look around and see things look basically the same. The existence of Django Girls does not compel all Pythonista women to femininity, but it does offer and even celebrate it as an option. If it’s not for you, so what? Take your discomfort as a starting point to figure out what you can do to make your community more welcoming for feminine people. Embrace femininity: Take a feminine person seriously today.

PS. If you’re still stuck back at “isn’t something only for girls (REVERSE) SEXIST?” – Read the FAQ.

Hiking boots on sand

Makeup, mobility and choice: the things you don’t have to do

Cross-posted from my personal blog, originally titled “The Kind of Feminist I Am”.

I don’t use makeup. I put lotion on my skin and balm on my lips if they feel uncomfortably dry, if you want to call that cosmetic. If someone wants to film me then they’ll have to find some powders or whatever that suit my skin tone, because I don’t have any. I don’t shave my legs. I don’t own “heels.” I think a few of my shoes may have, like, a quarter-inch rise in the heel compared to the toe. I usually keep my hair so short that combs barely affect anything; if bangs start existing, an old headband keeps them out of my eyes. A barber shears my head every few months.

Also: I’m still not on Facebook. That’s right, I’m an online community manager, have been for two years, and I can get along fine without Facebook. I don’t eat red meat, and rarely have sustainable fish or organic free-range poultry. “Vegetarian” is basically right. I don’t imbibe massmedia about the visual appearance of famous people. I didn’t watch most of the Matrix or Lord of the Rings movies, and I don’t read TechCrunch or Gawker or that ycombinator news site.

I post this as part of the project to normalize diversity. If you think “everyone” is on Facebook, well, no, because I’m not. If you think every woman shaves her legs, no, I don’t. I am a successful person who has given influential speeches and mentored others, and I don’t have to do any of these things, so you don’t either. It’s all of a piece.

Caitlin Moran recently wrote a very good feminist book, How To Be a Woman. She discusses some sexist expectations (that women should wear uncomfortable shoes and epilate ourselves all over and so on). It’s unpaid labor and it’s nonsense and I say to hell with it. Some sexist expectations still get in my way. For instance, men interrupt me more often than they interrupt other men. And if I run a meeting efficiently, I’m less likely (compared to a man) to get thought of as a “strong leader,” and more likely to get thought of as a “bitch.” It’s annoying enough to have to spend any thought on avoiding that crap, so I skip all the other, more optional crap as much as possible.

It saves big chunks of time and money to omit “oh but everyone does it” junk. It’s pretty easy for me to just go with my own inertia — I never started wearing makeup, wearing pointy heels, or using Facebook, or smoking pot. I tried out leg-shaving and longish hair and earring-wearing and tens-of-thousands-of-people conferences, and they just don’t deliver ROI for me, so I stopped.

I know not everyone can just say “screw it” and walk away from this crap with no consequences. Intersectionality exists. Thank all goodness that I can dismiss as much of the crap as I can.

Mobility’s one part of that privilege. I move around a lot and have had a bunch of jobs, and sometimes that’s annoying, but a cool thing about it is that I’m not as stuck with one small consistent group of authority figures who might be jerks about my choices or reinventions. I can be blithe about other people disapproving of my choices, because I have a great job, certifications of a good education, a sensible spouse, a lucrative career, reasonably good health, and various convenient privileges. It also helps to be a bit socially oblivious, and specifically to have a tough time making out soft voices in crowds; if anyone’s gossiping about me in whispers, I won’t hear it! It’s great! (For me.)

So this is one reason why I’m in favor of good government-sponsored education and healthcare that levels the playing field for everyone, and reproductive rights, and easy border-crossings, and public transit. I love mobility. I love the means by which people can get away from their old selves and the people who thought they knew them. I love the fact that I get to choose whether I care about my high school classmates. (Make your own Facebook-related joke here!)

Exit, voice, and loyalty. Forking. For adults, the most fundamental freedom is the freedom to leave, to vote with your feet.

But right near that is the freedom to walk around in public without having to slather paint or a smile on your face. If you want to, cool! Performing femininity, like playing the guitar, ought to be a choice.


I feel Pretty, Oh So Pre-AAAAh It’s in my EYE!

I don’t wear make-up. When I was a baby, my mother made me be a clown for Halloween and when she washed the makeup away, I had a horrible rash. I guess I was allergic to the face paint and since then I have told people I am allergic to makeup. I wore some make-up in middle/school; but I didn’t wear it in college, I didn’t wear it when I was working in industry, and I don’t wear it now in grad school. My mother has never worn make-up, so never gave me instruction on how to apply it. The couple times friends have convinced me to let them put some on me, I thought I looked ridiculous. Twice in the last six months my hair gal has asked to “touch up” my make-up after she finished my hair. Either she thinks I need help, she can’t tell I’m not wearing any, or she gets a bonus if I buy makeup.

Do you hate me yet? Well prepare yourself. I think that makeup is a waste of my time. (Note, I didn’t say makeup is a waste of YOUR time). I think that most people I know who wear makeup look fine. When I meet people who love makeup and wear a lot I think the same thing I think when I meet a person who spends a lot of time making scrapbooks or watching Saw movies, “That is neat, I am glad you like that, and I would never do it.” It just isn’t for me. I hate the way it feels. I hate being afraid to touch my face and makeup seems to require putting a lot of stuff really close to my eye. (I don’t wear contacts because YOU SHOULD NOT PUT STUFF IN YOUR EYE!)

There are women I know that are successful and spend a lot of time on makeup and I think that they are amazing and I that am rather lazy. I do think that society forces women to focus on a lot of stuff before they can focus on stuff that men get to focus on right away and in a very real way this puts women at a disadvantage. Mitchell and Webb think so too. The biggest examples are the second shift and the pink economy. Requiring women to do something that doesn’t really add value to their lives and costs them money and time seems wrong.

Jezebel had an article about whether makeup is a choice. The author doesn’t think it is a choice. Many commenters replied with “I know, it’s not fair.” or “Sure it is a choice, I don’t wear makeup.” or “I love makeup!” A few months ago the president of our student section of Society of Women Engineers suggested that for one of our events we have a makeup tutorial. I said that in many industries makeup is a requirement for women and that we should not encourage that to be the case in engineering. She is a lovely girl who wears makeup and she looked at me like I was nuts.

I know that there is an opinion that makeup is a little like brushing your teeth but I would like to disagree. Teeth brushing, or some type of dental hygiene, is just that, hygiene. It is about cleanliness. Makeup, is the very opposite of that. It is stuff you literally have to wash off, with chemicals sometimes (near your EYES!).

Honestly, it is probably inevitable that makeup will become a requirement at some point in my life, either because it already is and my relative youth has just been giving me a pass or because we are on a societal march towards mandatory effort towards pretty for women. Or maybe it already is mandatory and I have lost jobs, friends, or relationships because of my laziness stubbornness. If, at anytime, a person takes me aside and says, in a concerned tone, “You would really look so much better with just a little bit of makeup,” I will respond (to someone I like) “Thanks but I just don’t like it;” or, to a non-makeup wearer, “So would you.” or, to a makeup wearer, “It doesn’t seem to be working for you.” Because, really, someone just called me ugly and, even if it is true, it is still rude.

So here is my plea to the pro-makeup people. Keep loving it, or stop, whatever you want. If someone asks for your help, give it to them like the tactful person you are. If you ever think “Wow, she could use some makeup!” keep that thought to yourself. If you encounter someone being judged for not wearing makeup, remember that appearance is not the same thing as hygiene and should not be the defining characteristic of a person’s skill, character or personality. And please, try not to get anything in your eyes, because I care about your eyes too.