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.

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

  1. miss counting

    re: the “it’s dangerous to go alone” keynote — I searched around for video of the presentation but couldn’t find one. Does anybody know of one? Would love to watch the talk!

  2. MadGastronomer

    Or we can be uncomfortable with it because we’ve suffered from compulsory femininity and it reminds us too much of that and we’re sick of being inundated with pink and frills. We can hate pink and frills not because we hate girly things because girly is coded as negative by the patriarchy, but because we are sick of being told that we have to like those things.

    I know there’s a a great movement to radically reclaim femininity as a positive, and that’s awesome, and sometimes I choose that for myself. But I also get really sick of being told that that means I must find frilly pink aesthetics to be good, that I should consider that positive, because that’s necessarily the opposite of forcing women to fit in to the default masculine culture. It isn’t. It’s one option for fighting it, and frankly I don’t find it a particularly positive one.

    There are ways to reclaim femininity as positive without doing that. And actually, for the most part, I found the It’s Dangerous to Go Alone slides did that (the hearts were off-putting). The Django Girls slides, on the other hand, with pink title slides and pink filters on photos, I found extremely off-putting.

    If it makes men uncomfortable, then maybe that’s a good thing. But if it makes women uncomfortable through associations with compulsory femininity, then that’s not. Some women love it, but if it’s shutting out some of the already-marginalized people it’s supposed to be aimed at, then maybe it’s not actually accomplishing its goal.

    The title of this post really gets under my skin, because it says “you”. Rereading the piece, I find that the discomfort it’s actually referencing is that of men, not of women, who I think probably make up most of the readership at GF. Maybe it should be retitled? It seems to be addressing people other than most of the regular readers here.

    1. brainwane

      Hi, MadGastronomer. Thanks for your nuanced point.

      I’m the regular GF blogger who posted Ms. Laugher’s guest post. I agree that the “you” of “if Django Girls makes you uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing” (and I’m glad of the “maybe!”) is primarily the general “you” of the geek community (which is more the audience of the original blog post as posted on her personal blog) rather than the audience that regularly reads GF.

      But I’m ok with a GF post or its title sometimes having a rhetorical stance that isn’t mainly for regular GF readers, e.g., “I take it we aren’t cute enough for you?”, “I feel like you are trying to tell me something”, “Cosplay is fine, girl, as long as you cosplay for me.”, and so on. I figure GF is about us talking to ourselves and us talking to the rest of the world as well. Sometimes we say that explicitly in the title, e.g., “Dear male allies: your sexism looks a bit like my racism”, “Motorola Droid: why don’t you want my business?”, and “Dear Geekdoms: We’re not your decoration”. And that kind of explicit addressing might particularly help in this case.

      I’ve gotten Ms. Laugher’s permission to change the title of this post per your comment; I’ve prepended “Men, ” to the start of the title, to clarify who the “you” is. Thank you for the suggestion, Ms. Laugher! And MadGastronomer, thank you for reading, for commenting, and for your suggestion.

    2. pfctdayelise

      Hi. Thanks for your comment. Yes, when I wrote this I was definitely thinking of addressing the men at the conference, rather than the regular GF readership.

      For me, the lack of, or decreased, expectations of femininity is definitely part of the appeal of working in tech. I suspect I am not alone in that. My first reaction to DG was also “oh, this is not for me”. But on reflection I thought, why would it be — the existing aesthetic already suited me. Reading the pieces by Sailor Mercury and Maddy Myers made me realise how rubbish it must be to face a choice of suppressing your preferred presentation, or being extra doubted and gatekeepered. I think an initiative like DG can send a really strong signal that it’s normal and OK to participate with a feminine appearance.

      I didn’t mention here PyLadies ( http://www.pyladies.com/ ). That is an org with its own distinct style which has a much subtler feminine styling. The fact that both exist (as well as more generic beginner friendly initiatives to all genders) make me not too worried about DG becoming a defacto compulsory femininity thing.

      1. MadGastronomer

        It’s not that I think that DG is enforcing compulsory femininity, it’s that it’s repeating as aesthetic that I dislike because of compulsory femininity. I see it and I go, “Eww, those frilly dresses my grandparents wanted me to put on and act like a little lady.” I just want to be clear about that.

        I’m still sinking my teeth into Ruby and Rails and SQL. Python is something I’ll be getting into eventually, and indeed I might pick up the Yay Python! book, because it looks like it might be far enough over on the side I like, and because yes, I would totally like to support these cool people. I think it’s awesome that Django Girls exists, and maybe one of these days I’ll go to one.

        Thanks for listening and responding.

  3. Pingback: Unabashedly Embracing Lady Stuff | Good Morning

  4. lauredhel

    I confess to still being confused, having gone over and poked around the Django Girls site – is it aimed at girls or at women or both?

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