Or “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….”
Nice Girl (warning: this blog contains NSFW matters, as you can likely tell from the URL) has penned a post about her experience at OSCON this year and last, and I’m really glad she brought her experiences to the fore. I’ve been watching the women and tech and women in FOSS debate rage for awhile now, and I’m so pleased someone has brought the spotlight around to a concept that I’ll call “My Feminism Isn’t Good Enough for You.”
I’ve heard from women in the FOSS community have been told that they are “traitors to the feminist cause” for wearing pink. Or that they ought not to have changed their last name upon getting married. Or that they were doing all women a disservice at FOSS conferences by wearing provocative clothing.
I think provocative clothing is in the eye of the beholder, but on the one occasion that I’ve observed this behavior personally rather than hearing about it through the grapevine, said provocative clothing consisted of spiky heels, a skirt that cut off at the knee, a professional top with a lower neckline and a suit jacket. I didn’t think it was provocative, and I was raised in a no skirts above the knee and preferably not above the ankle household. Again, eye of the beholder.
I also hate pink. However, dear sisters in FOSS and beyond, if you want to rock the pink, I celebrate you. Go for it. Enjoy it. I will enjoy your enjoyment of it, just not partake.
Here’s my take on feminism – all people, women included, are allowed to make choices for themselves and are not prevented from doing the things they’d like to do due to sexism or other forms of discrimination or harassment. Period. That simple. Telling women to lie about how they ended up at a conference is unacceptable, telling them how to dress is unacceptable, etc. All one does by telling folks how they ought to act for the good of feminism or the good of women in tech is simply buying in to the same crap that demands that one woman somehow represent all women, because we are not to be regarded as individuals, with individual choices and individual responsibility for the consequences of those choices. If someone chooses to dismiss you because you’re wearing “sexy” clothes at a conference, so be it. Your choice to do so, your responsibility to accept that some people will think less of you for doing so, and your choice to measure your desire to dress a certain way against potentially negative outcomes.
Until we live in a world where we don’t judge people over superfluous matters or have their judgement affected by socialized and personal biases – and that time is a long way off, my friends – can we all just agree that we’re adults and that folks can live with the consequences of their actions.
And if you send me something pink as a gift, you’re off my non-existent Christmas card list.
You’re not free unless you’re free to wear pink.
How easy for him to tell whether someone is free or not. Men are so free to say these things without any sign of reflections.
I now have an urge to send you incredibly ridiculous things just to see how you react. 😉
Do it! 😉
Hey lets not forget the sparkles!
@ Russ: Agreed, I just don’t want to do it.
@ Terri: Moar angry birds!
@ Silona: I enjoy sparkles. I’ll wear those right along with you.
Women attempting to shame other women for showing up with their boyfriend, taking their husband’s name, wearing stuff that is pink or provocative (or both!) is a real problem. Like a 50 Shades of Andrea Dworkin problem. But, I don’t think the vast majority of self-proclaimed feminists engage in that kind of behavior.
The thing is that there’s nothing to stop people from behaving poorly and calling themselves feminists. We can no more police who calls themselves a “feminist” than we can dictate who gets to say they’re “punk” — and we shouldn’t try. I’d personally like to see a massive spectrum of different kinds of feminists in the world, working together when it makes sense (perhaps we could all agree on equal pay for equal work?) and parting ways when it doesn’t.
@ Deb: Beautifully articulated. Thank you, my dear.
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And for those who may have missed it, here’s my response to Nice Girl’s post as left on her post, including my many typos….
Hello Nice Girl,
Excellent post! I have a few things to say, some of which you may disagree with, but I want to open by saying I support you and thank you for bringing the “my feminism isn’t good enough” debate to the floor.
First and foremost, I am *appalled* that someone told you to lie and not say that you were at OSCON 2011 with your boyfriend. If it wasn’t for my ex-boyfriend, the sys admin, asking me to change songs on the music player one evening, I might still have no idea what open source is – when I saw this strange looking foot thingy on his screen saver I was like “um, what the heck is this” … “That’s GNOME.” … “What’s GNOME?” …. queue explanation of GNOME and FOSS. Had I not had that intro, I likely would never have found the EFF, Creative Commons or the host of other resources that eventually led to me being well-versed enough to be hired into a junior role in Google’s Open Source Programs Office. The rest, as they say, is history.
Furthermore, this advice is bad form for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the importance of trust and reputation in the open source community. What were you supposed to do once you’d gotten more enmeshed in the community when talking about your start? Keep lying? Finally fess up and say you learned about it from your partner? If I were in a situation where you later admitted you’d been fibbing to keep up appearances, I’d wonder if that was a gentle misstep or if I should trust you less. I’d also wonder if that meant you thought I should be ashamed of how how I got my start in FOSS. Neither outcome is conducive to your success nor us having a productive, reputation based dialogue. Not OK.
On the question of what is appropriate garb at conferences …. This one is tough. Fundamentally, I believe no one ought to tell you what to do or what to wear. If you like to dress “sexy,” more power to you. However, I do encourage you to consider this question – do you want to make a point or do you want to win?
To make it clear what I mean by this – I feel most comfortable in geek t-shirts and jeans. However, I’m now in my mid-30s and that garb no longer cuts the mustard in professional environments, particularly if I’m meeting with execs. I *should* have the right to wear exactly what I please – and I do – but I’m not necessarily supporting my desired outcome – my ability to persuade my audience – if I’m not dressed in the manner they expect.
I’d like to make the point that my aptitude has got fsk all to do with what I am wearing, but I want to win – persuade my audience – that much more. If this means I need to wear slacks and a pretty blouse instead of some other garb, so be it. That’s what I am going to do.
At conferences, I’d assume “winning” for you means networking, finding people to help you with your projects and finding people who’d like your help with their projects. Given that the debate around women and tech can become quite volatile at times, being conservative in your sense of dress may be helpful to you in your quest. Yes, it sucks, but some people aren’t going to like to see you at a conference wearing “sexy” clothes, and those people may be future collaborators or employers, none of whom would likely give two hoots about your sense of dress outside of the conference. In fact, they would likely not give two hoots about your sense of dress at the conference if they already knew you, but they don’t. You’re there to meet new people, right?
I don’t mean to pretend that this issue is not complex. At OSCON this year, I had a very good friend (engineer and former co-worker) come up to me and tell me how healthy I looked and how moving to Oregon must have been so good for me since I “look[ed] so different and ….[was] wearing a dress.” I’ve lost about 90 pounds since he saw me last, so yes I looked different. But the second most obvious sign that I am happy and healthy? I’d adopted traditional female garb. Ugh. This person is kind, woman positive and someone I’d have no qualms about sharing drinks or a meal with, but he basically reinforced the notion that women need to look like women to be well received. Sigh. Really?
Let’s not even get into the fact that if I show up at conference not dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, I am automatically the stupid marketing chick. Sigh. Really?
Yours in damned if you do, damned if you don’t-ness,
The mistake here is that the comments to women are all still in terms of men’s perception. Dressing a certain way or now because of how a man might perceive it. Changing a last name or not because of how it relates to a man.
Fundamentally, the community needs to see all members of the community as individual participants, not as participants-in-terms-of-other-people. Getting there is hard and the path is unclear. There’s so much to unlearn before we get to start learning, and it always seems that the new things we learn are subtly wrong in horrible horrible ways.
… and if I send you something pink, it’ll be a heart. In formaldehyde. Or brains. I don’t think courage is pink.
@ Jeff: Amen to all of the above, except the brains or heart in formaldehyde. I’m trying to get rid of unneeded possessions. To your other point, I definitely find all this difficult because our dialogue is framed in terms of patriarchy – either an acceptance of it or a reaction against it. I’d love for us to see each other only as individuals, but that time is a long way off. Fortunately, I think most of us are moving toward that goal, whichever path we choose to take in getting there. And how are you?
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Ok, so after reading most of comments and Leslie answer on her blog, I might have a few things to say. (and yes, I will use my boring Tarzan English at both blogs )
1.- I don’t consider myself a feminist because for me, just calling yourself from “any” group creates automatically that line that women are trying to dissolve. If you want people to consider yourself an equal, then you have to be an equal since the beginning.
2.- If you don’t care what men think about how you dress, then why do you care about what women think? me?, I don’t dress sexy, sometimes I wear pink, I take “nice” selfies but yet, people pay attention to what I say because in the minute they start looking at my boobs, I stop them asking if they came to talk about technology or to a dating service. If you don’t stop this and just let people “enjoy the view”, then you, as women (general message, to all of us) have nothing to complain about.
3.- If you want to criticize someone by the way they look, either because they look like a stripper or a Gothic vampire hunter, then you should look into the mirror first, maybe you are part of one of those groups that you dislike so much.
4.- A lot of women use their image (yes boobs) to get attention, same way a lot of men use their muscles (yes money) to get attention as well… This is never, ever gonna change because is human nature. This happens at tech, medical school, engineer, artist, blah blah blah… So get over it and focus your attention in things that are more important.
As soon as we realize that women aren’t that different than men when we refer to “how many things we are able/willing to do to attract attention to us”, as soon we will move on from this completely pointless arguments (from both sides). If you like to look sexy, why do you give a damn about what people have to say? if you like to dress like a dude at events or if you enjoy talking about how easy if to compile a kernel while you do your makeup… why do WE give a damn about what people has to say?
Now, who the hell am I? I’m a Latin American girl who likes computers and that yes, has been harassed not by words, but with more heavy stuff than the silly things you complain in here, but I’m not here to talk about “how awesome are my contributions” or “how hot am I” neither “how guys try to hit on me at Tech-events” – In a movement, community, job, school, $Whatever; this things simply doesn’t matter.
So for a second girls, why don’t we focus in the message we want to spread (as geeks and as women) and stop caring so much about how we look or what people think or act when they see how we look? Think about this next time you have to attend to a conference… spend more time looking and worrying about how your slides look instead waste time packing your suitcase with clothes you will wear.
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@ tatadbb: Thank you for your comments. I don’t agree with all of them – for example, I think we ought to live in a society where no one uses their boobs to get attention because the human form of either sex is not considered dirty or forbidden, hence that much more tempting – but very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
And a big old +1 to “why don’t we focus on the message we want to spread (as geeks and as women)”.
Thank you 🙂 I think that there are also some differences to consider from women that live in different regions, but in the end, each one of us holds the final action… if we don’t focus on that, then we are wasting time. Big hugs
@ tatadbb: I am sure there are many differences and that’s one of the things I love about working in FOSS – meeting people from many places and cultures, exchanging ideas and learning from one another. You’re a fellow Fedora Ambassador, right? I hope our paths will cross sooner rather than later …. until then, hugs from Portland, Oregon, USA/.
Big Spinning Hugs for you 🙂
I stat a small survey because this is a topic that for me, goes beyond how I dress and should be more discuss. I know that there are some rules that as society follow, and I’m interested on know how far we should go (either following them or breaking them) to get a proper balance that makes everyone happy.
Just a non-FLOSS random example of the questions i’m doing:
1.- If you had to go into a Red-Cross mission to the middle east, what would you wear? If you had to talk to Obama, or If you had to go to a tech event? Will you think twice or change your style for each one of this occasion?
2.- Do you think that there should exist a dressing code for geek events? (this is based on a dressing code that was asked at Latin America for Men a couple of years ago)
I personally believe that the answer “should” be *I’m gonna wear the same thing that I wear every day* – But I know that there will be a lot of people that, even if they defend the way they dress right now, would think twice this answer, and that’s exactly the meaning of my little and non professional research, I want to know where that balance could be and push enough so women in general learn how to get and defend how they look, and also how to survive to critiques. I guess at the end I’m nobody to critique how they look, but I’m a woman interested on be considered an equal.
There has been a great deal of follow up discussion on Nice Girl’s original post. I’d like to encourage folks to check out the write up @Skud published today, as it does an excellent job of summarizing why this topic is extremely challenging. She also ends with the message that I hoped to convey in this post – “It’s trite, but I’m going to ask that we remember that we’re all on the same side.”
And you can find a lengthier list of other responses linked from @terriko’s write up on the Geek Feminism blog at http://geekfeminism.org/2012/07/31/failing-at-geek-feminism/
Other posts are linked in the bottom of Terri’s write up and if I am reading it correctly the post is being updated with new links as they come in.
This misses the point lol. Your choices either undermine patriarchy or they don’t. The mantra of feminism is that the personal is political. When your “choices” actively support the cultural institutions that have made society unequal and unfair for women, your choices aren’t feminist. It doesn’t matter how freely you chose them. They aren’t feminist choices. Just like owning a slave isn’t an abolitionist choice, keeping the name of your husband or submitting to patriarchal standards of beauty isn’t a feminist choice. That’s the end of it. Call yourself feminists all you like, but don’t call your patriarchy-endorsing choices feminist. Feminism has never been about creating a judgment free society… or should we stop criticizing men because it’s their choice to objectify women, create a sexual demand for weak, submissive, and dumb women, or not have sex with women that don’t shave their legs? Y’all can’t have the cake and eat it too. Contemporary feminism is about patriarchal culture and how your choices can change it. Not about labeling everything you do as feminist.
I’d like to add my article about this matter, if you don’t mind: http://www.designbypxlgirl.com/insights/a-geek-but/ Stay strong and don’t let anyone come in your way, otherwise, heals can be a pretty good weapon!