Jacinta Reid is a solo mother to three awesome daughters. She is also a sci-fi enthusiast, multi-blogger, re-enactor, open source acolyte, pedant, illustrator, and impending IT professional. Jacinta is about to complete a bachelors degree in Information Technology with a large side of maths and a particular fascination for artificial intelligence. She is finding the transition from carer to a career in IT to be challenging, but amply stimulating and rewarding.
Discussions about geek feminist issues seem to inevitably attract comments suggesting that the issue is a problem for men as well as for women. The recent Geek Feminism post “self-confidence tricks” attracted some such comments. The commenters do not appear to be deliberately derailing discussion, but to be genuinely missing the point: that low self-confidence is an issue for for women in IT specifically because they are women, not men. Or, more precisely, because as women, their confidence is depressed by the subtle (or not so subtle) sexism in technology industries.
I believe that the matter of women’s self-confidence is a specifically feminist issue in the field of IT because women are so often overlooked and undervalued. Women in tech swim in an ocean of stereotypes and misconceptions: that the real hard core IT work is done by males. That women in an IT related space must be in an administrative role or someoneâ€™s girlfriend.
That perception is, to a large extent, both the cause and effect of women being a bit of a novelty in technology environments. Without effort to counter those self-perpetuating myths, women will continue to be excluded, to be viewed as less capable and to be led to feel less worthy, thus channelled out of the “hard core” of IT.
So for every time a woman gets a startled look when she tells someone that she works in IT; for every time a customer asks the female hardware tech/salesperson if they can speak to a â€œrealâ€ expert; for every automatic assumption that a female IT worker must be in a support role, for every time a man is promoted over her, gets to go to the conference instead of her, is valued above her; for each instance of subtle, nearly invisible discrimination that it would be â€œunreasonableâ€ for her to react strongly to, for each joke, for each leer, for each exchange about her sex life; for being assessed using different metrics than her male counterparts; for every one of those demeaning, dispiriting instances that male staff do not have to face, there has to be a counterbalance.
Without a way to counter the corrosive effect of sexism in IT culture, women in technology may lack the self-confidence to put their hand up for that awesome opportunity, or apply for that great role, to tell that workmate that their sexist behaviour is inappropriate, or even to persevere and work through that stubborn, hopeless coding problem just *one more time* — and solve it at last.
Self-confidence is a geek feminist issue because immersion in pervasive, sometimes overt, sometimes near subliminal sex discrimination erodes confidence in a unique way that men cannot experience. Certainly, male geeks can suffer low self-confidence, but it will not be because they are undervalued in their profession because of their sex. Women can suffer low self esteem for nearly every reason that men can, *and* because they are undervalued because of their sex.
Yes, nearly everyone has a set of challenges that they face that not all other people face. Individuals develop techniques to cope with the impact of the specific things that affect them, and they compare strategies and support others who share the same kinds of problems. For such exchanges to be interrupted by objections from members of the dominant group, people who do not experience the problem under discussion, that their tangentially related issues are at least as important seems, unfortunately, to be par for the course.
I do not know how to prevent those belittling and dismissive comments from happening. But I do know that women geeks have developed ways to preserve self-confidence despite the particular challenges of working in male dominated geeky environments, and that it is right and proper that geek feminists share their experiences and offer advice and support to each other. And I can confidently state that it is okay for our discussions about us, to be about us.