This is a guest post by Cate. Cate has a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh but escaped from graduate school to be a Software Engineer at Google. She used to be an international hobo, teaching programming in the US and in Shanghai, training in martial arts in China, qualifying as a ski instructor in Canada, and aimlessly wondering around Europe. For now, she lives in Kitchener/Waterloo, Canada. She was the Instigator of Awesome at Awesome Ottawa, and is a co-conspirator for Awesome Foundation KW. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, Accidentally in Code.
On the one hand, I’m delighted that Geeks are now pretty cool, and that all kinds of people who wouldn’t have before used it as a descriptor for themselves proudly own it.
On the other, my friends and I were discussing this “WAG” culture that has come as a result, and something we were terming “the girlfriend”.
Usage: “Oh X? She’s not a techie, she’s a girlfriend“.
Meaning: A woman near tech, by virtue of the fact she’s dating a techie.
Here’s what bothers me. A woman being celebrated as a “techie” when the actual “techie” work is being done by someone else (note, this does not necessarily have to be her boyfriend, we’ve just observed that to often be the case). If her boyfriend was into football, there’d be a similar role for her – coming up with “strategy”, promoting the team, whatever, but here’s the difference – no-one would be calling her a “female footballer”.
It’s frustrating to me and my friends, because we need more women in technology as role models. But we want those role models to promote being a geek not dating a geek! Geek culture is transmissible, but ML is not, it turns out, an STD.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of dating geeks, and glad that geeks are having an easier time finding dates. But we want to inspire women to stay up late at night learning how to code their own idea, not just to ride on the talent of someone else. Can we not describe someone who’s little more than a lead user as a “developer”? Can we be clear about the distinction between commenting on technology, and actually building things?
There’s a role for the girlfriend, for the lead user, for the commenter, but I think it’s a supporting one. I think we need to be clear who does what. People organizing talks and panels don’t always understand the difference, or that a woman who can’t actually write a line of code has little credibility presenting on that topic to a crowd of people who do.
Anyway, next time you see a girlfriend being lauded rather than a genuine tech woman, call it out. Suggest a better role model, or be that yourself. Explain the difference.
I know it’s hard. Every awesome technical woman I know is completely overcommitted. Maybe we’re not standing in the spotlight because we’re actually getting shit done. However the alternative is we have the story of what it means to be a tech woman told by the girlfriend, or another woman near tech, instead.
Sorry girlfriend, you’re not a geek. You can totally be one of us though, we’d love you to join us; but it does take some work to earn it.