I recently got back to Providence from DjangoCon 2011 in Portland, OR, and really enjoyed myself. I got to meet tons of interesting people and learn tons of interesting things. I had never been to a convention/conference before, and I can’t wait to go to my next one. However, going to DjangoCon also solidified some of the thoughts I’ve been having about the treatment of women in the tech industry. An unorganised collection of thoughts follows.
I read mostly Python/Django blogs, and I’ve been reading about the general push for more women in Python for a while now. I certainly have no problem with the idea of having a more gender-balanced distribution of developers, but I’ve always been somewhat dubious about the idea that partitioning a community will promote universal respect.
Saying that women need to be with other women to learn, you should teach your women friends to code, women need a welcoming and encouraging environment so that they’re not put off by code – sentiments like that are, frankly, insulting. To me, they imply that women are too weak to deal with the things that men can, and that they need to be coddled in order to be interested by the same things as men.
If women and men are to be equally represented, and the goal is to find women in technology wholly unremarkable, how does specifically promoting women programmers enforce that ideal? Having technology groups, classes, parties that are exclusively (or even primarily) for women reinforces the perception that women programmers are special.
I also take issue for the reasoning behind the call for all women to get involved or get their peers involved. This presumes that people, and particularly women, define themselves by their gender. I happen to be female, but I am a programmer first. I do not really pay attention to the gender of my friends or fellow programmers, and nor do I want to.
During the first day’s lunch at DjangoCon, Steve Holden was handing out free O’Reilly e-books. Two of them went to people who had answered trivia questions correctly (thus “earning” them), two went to Django core developers (which isn’t something attained lightly), and one went to a PyLady… for being a woman. Additionally, while watching real-time feedback on Twitter and IRC, I noticed that female speakers tended to get much more praise and much less criticism for their talks than their male counterparts.
How does this promote equal standards for women and men? A woman can get a prize for simply having the right body parts, but men have to work for it. It seems to me that women are expected to achieve less, and praised more often for what they do achieve. This sets a different, easier standard for women. It seems almost like people think that holding women to the same standard as men will scare them off, which is contrary to the whole intention of equality.
I do believe that societal expectations of women influence their decisions and interests, but patronising them by sending the message that they need a special group/classes/standards to get into technology certainly doesn’t subvert those expectations. Perhaps they’d stop being so remarkable if they were treated as less remarkable?
N.B. I was reluctant to write this post because I get the sense that this subject is “holy” in the Python community and contrary opinions will not be tolerated , but I hope that an alternative perspective will be useful. Also, I don’t have any problem with PyLadies or any other group or individual – people are entitled to associate with whomever they like. My issue is with the community having an attitude that I believe to be ironically harmful to women.
 Not that much of an issue, since I can ignore people’s advocacy and they should be free to advocate whatever they want, but the sentiment seemed related to this post.
 I don’t blame Steve Holden, he just seemed to be reflecting the attitude of the community in general.
 This is an admittedly unscientific observation.
 When I made an offhand (humorous) comment in the DjangoCon IRC channel about being glad about the lack of women in the conference so I wouldn’t have to deal with a smelly restroom, people did not react well.