The Invisible Misogyny Wall

I work in corporate America. Men outnumber women at a sickeningly high ratio. I work with many very smart people. I am a woman, and I have no college degree. I am well respected by my colleagues (if seen as aggressive and *ahem* argumentative and opinionated). But they know I do my job, I do it well, and I’m reliable. Every once in a while, I’m suddenly reminded that being a woman makes me ‘different’ somehow, and I feel like I’ve caromed off an invisible force field.

I’ve been ignored/dismissed/disregarded by peolpe (primarily consultant employees of Microsoft) for the following reasons:

  • I’m female
  • I have no degree
  • I use Mac
  • I like linux
  • I’m outspoken
  • I wear pants
  • I don’t wear makeup
  • I don’t drive (no longer true)
  • I’m a lesbian (rare that I TELL a consultant this)
  • I read comic books
  • I play role playing games (which I’m told means I’m slutty apparently)

And yes. I have been told, to my face, every single one of those things.

I spend most of my life in happy ignorance that being any of those things matters to my competence. My office celebrates me as the ‘new kind of programer.’ The kind who gets dirty and solves problems with common sense, learning needed code as he or she goes. Basically, they like me because I’m smart and quick. So when I run into the person who says ‘You don’t need to be in this meeting because it’s technical’ …. I feel like I’m slapped.

My job is technical. My job is code deployment automation over 20 different code architectures and thousands of servers, from SunOS to Solaris, to Windows. I handle programs from Java JRE and MQ to .NET and even old DOS shell scripts. No one in my department is better with DOS than I am. In fact, I’d be willing to bet I can do more with a command line than most people at my office, and I’m comfortable with it. What I don’t know, I know how to look up, quickly, and I love learning new ways to do things better.

Making it worse for me is that I was raised by a dad who never once told me I was limited by gender. Once I read an Archie comic where Betty said ‘Name one thing a male baseball player can do that a female one can’t.’ and Reggie replied ‘A shaving commercial.’ I remember looking at that and saying ‘Gee, haven’t they heard of shaving legs?’ My dad laughed. I can think of a hundred times my dad said I was smart enough to do something, clever enough, skilled enough, talented enough (or in one memorable case, NOT talented enough). He was always honest and cared about me and taught me to be a gentleman.

Even in my youth, I knew he meant that a gentleman was polite to everyone. You hold doors open for everyone, you compliment everyone, you respect everyone. And yeah, he did teach me how to treat a lady, but he taught me how to treat a man similarly. Guess which lessons stuck? In my family, your gender was only a limiting factor in … You know, I can’t think of a damn thing where my gender limited me. Maybe in bathing suits or clothes that are specifically female (bras, unless you need a manziere). But that wasn’t limiting. After all, I didn’t need a jock strap.

So when I have these days, like today, where I bounce off that wall of ‘Oh, wow, my boobs make people treat me differently’ I have the urge to wear a low-cut shirt and then blind them with my innate brilliance. And no, humility is not one of my flaws. Yet another mark against me. Like a fish, I don’t think of the water around me. I’m used to being respected for my skills and not my looks. When someone treats me like a ‘woman’ and that’s different, suddenly my water’s gone and I’m gasping for breath at the insanity of it all.

Treat me like a human. With respect for my skills (either displayed or cited). Don’t judge the super made up woman as a non-technical idiot, and don’t judge the tomboy/fella girly pants wearing nerd as just a woman. We are, all of us, male and female and everything in-between, far more complex than you think we are. Be a damn humanist. Treat me, treat us, like people.

6 responses

  1. Call me stupid, but, you are a girl? 😮

  2. Okay, seems like you are. I’m sorry for that comment. 🙁

    For some stupid, weird reason, I always thought you were male. Maybe it has to do with the fact that from where I come, Mike is almost always the name of a boy. Also maybe because someone gushing over Jorja Fox is almost always a male.

    Also, a girl geek! Wow! 🙂

    1. Ipstenu Avatar

      I don’t … Gush over Jorja, and for what it’s worth, the vast majority of people who visit my Jorja site are women.

      My name IS a mans name, in every language except for Japanese. Yet another reason people get confused. A lot.

  3. I can really relate to this post. Like you, my mom and dad never raised me to believe that I was limited by my gender and it really took high school for me to even start to experience base gender discrimination for the first time. Ironically, it was in computer programming (where I was the only girl and also one of the best students in the class) and that experience is largely why I studied film and not computer science in college. It didn’t quell my interest in computers or programming, it just showed me that it wasn’t something I wanted to do as a full-time job.

    Misogyny is a weird thing. I learned at my very first job (where I worked at the local video game store at the mall, the first female that store ever hired) that I would have to work twice as hard and put out results that were better than anyone else’s in order to prove my worth, simply because of my gender. Once people got to see I knew my shit, fine, but to get to that point, I have to work way harder, be smarter, sharper, more aggressive and perform better for them to take me seriously.

    That’s something that hasn’t changed in the last 11 years, and it’s something I find sad — even if it is something I’ve come to expect and grudgingly accept. In the tech industry (even the tech publishing industry), the fact that I’m attractive only makes it worse. Because not only do I have to overcome the stigma of being a woman, I have to overcome the stigma of not looking like what they expect. Because I always think of myself as the smart girl first and the pretty girl second (if at all), like you, I always feel a bit suffocated and gasping for air when I realize that my looks are either why I’ve been given an opportunity or why I’m not being taken seriously.

    Thanks for writing this.

    1. Ipstenu Avatar

      To some extent, it has changed in the last decade. With the trashing of the economy, people are more results oriented. If you can’t do your shit, or make it hard for the others to do theirs, you’re out. So … Nothing like a crisis to level the playing field.

      Of course, the flip side is that people are assier about other people ‘taking’ their jobs.

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