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I am not a "woman blogger"

Lacebra

I am "one who blogs" (among many other things). I happen to be a woman. But I am NOT a blogHer, and my male co-author is not a blogHim.

I write code. But I am NOT a programmHer.

I write tech books. But I am NOT a writeHer.

I ride horses. But I am NOT a rideHer. (sounds vaguely sexual... never mind)

I am NOT a skiHer or a skateboardHer or a runHer.

I work on ecological causes, but I am NOT an enviHERmental activist.

And I am NOT typing this on my computeHer (even if it is, I must say, a sexy-yet-adorable black MacBook)

These are my passions, but they reflect the part of me that is about horses, running, skiing, skating, the environment, writing, or creating. If I relabel them to reflect my gender, I believe both (my gender and the labeled thing) are diminished by the "Her" qualifier.

This is just my opinion, and I'm not an expert on women's issues or gender studies or sociology.
But I know quite a lot about being a woman in technology.

And while I cannot speak for all (or even most) women in tech, I am tired of others speaking for ME. And in the recent coverage of the BlogHer conference, I've seen some disturbing sweeping statements that lump all bloggers-who-happen-to-be-women together as the "Women Bloggers", with detailed descriptions of what's it like to be one of "us".
(Ironically, many of those descriptions--even among those who were there--are wildly different and contradictory, sometimes bitterly so.)

[Key disclaimer: it's only a small subset of women from the conference--and reporters writing about it--who've been making the claims. Most of the women who attended--including the smart, savvy, founders--understand, appreciate, and welcome the diversity of the women who make up the BlogHer community. I know and admire many of them.]

I'm tired of being told things about myself that sound as foreign to me as they might to a space alien. I am tired of others describing what it's like to BE me. I'm tired of being told what others think of me. And I'm especially tired of being told how naive I am, and of having my accomplishments diminished by women who insist that to have visibility as a "Woman Blogger" I must have done something, um, special. And by "special", I mean... sucking up, kissing up, or otherwise catering to the "male establishment that's oh so determined to keep me "invisible."

All of you reading this are a proof that--for me--this is absurd. If you're here, I'm most definitely not invisible.

And as for blaming men for our problems, oh if ONLY I had the luxury of believing that when I've failed at work, it was because of my breasts. But when your default assumption is that you probably have nobody to blame but yourself, you're forced to look very hard at yourself. Does this mean I refuse to ever consider the possibility that I was a victim of gender discrimination or at least unconscious gender bias? No. It's always possible, although less often and less signifcantly than in many other domains. (Ask my female firefighter friend... yikes)

I heard several people--male and female--wonder if the small percentage of men at BlogHer would now understand what it's like to be a woman at a technology conference, but I believe this is not a fair comparison. O'Reilly's eTech is not HeTech. Those men aren't there as codeHims. They aren't celebrating their manhood. They are there as programmers. Humans who write code.

I want to be treated, as Maura says in this post "like a person. Not a woman or a man or a space alien."

The tagline I've used on and off over the past 15 years to indicate how lucky I feel about being in a profession (and in a country) where gender is not nearly as important today as it once was (and yes, I'm extremely grateful for all those who fought to make this happen):

"The compiler doesn't care if the person who forgot the curly brace is wearing a black lace bra."

Yes, I realize that the compiler is not the whole story... and that while the compiler is gender-blind, the context in which you're asked to write that code is loaded with interpersonal issues. Still...
I love being a woman. I love wearing a lace bra. And I love writing code. Personally, I'm delighted at how well these can work together. And my big wish is that more women--especially younger women--will discover the same thing.

I'd also like to suggest two other posts by people who are as confused as I am by this:

Brian Ford's What's the Goal of BlogHer post (lots of good comments).

Mike Sansone's Where the women bloggers are.

Posted by Kathy on August 2, 2006 | Permalink

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» Passionate Users from /sys/adm/log by Joe O'Brien
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Comments

These kinds of argumentative posts like yours and like Brian's and Mike's make todays blogosphere the positively diverse community we all want it to be. Here here to all bloggers!

Posted by: Ivan Brezak Brkan | Aug 2, 2006 5:54:17 PM

I'm not a BlogHER either. I'm proud to be a girlgeek, but it isn't the primary identifier I'm looking to advertise about the information I publish. That being said, there are many other smart, savvy women who do publish work where their gender is a primary filter on what they write. I don't see why those types of bloggers shouldn't get together and celebrate what they have in common. They are welcome to attempt to speak for all women, and I'm more than able to ignore what they say (:

As well, the world is welcome to see me as a person or as a girl, I happen to be both. I would be surprised to know that anyone chose to read my material because I was female, but hey, whatever turns their crank, I say.

Your post was excellent, thanks!

Posted by: Pam | Aug 2, 2006 6:24:39 PM

Thank you.

Posted by: scotchneat | Aug 2, 2006 6:41:56 PM

And I can't help but remember (and laugh) about that email I got condemning me for liking HFJ because it was demeaning to women... And that I wouldn't understand it, because I was a guy...

:)

Posted by: Duffbert | Aug 2, 2006 6:46:48 PM

A-freaking-men.

Posted by: Melle | Aug 2, 2006 6:47:59 PM

Excellent post! I couldn't agree more, and I love your tagline.

Posted by: Ben Langhinrichs | Aug 2, 2006 6:53:14 PM

Pam: well said!! Yes, I too am proud to be a "girlgeek" (and of course, there's much debate on whether the word "girl" is acceptable in this context, but I happen to like it). And I agree, if someone chooses to read this blog (or my books) because I'm a woman, that's wonderful. I also agree that I think that the BlogHer serves an important purpose--it allows people (who happen to be women) who share a common passion--women's issues (parenting, gender bias, etc.)--can come together. And I believe that for most of the women who attended and are part of that community, this IS one of the key passions.

Duffbert: Oh My God. I had completely forgotten about that! But sheesh, when I look at the tone of this post I just wrote here, I reckon I'm still a little subconsciously bitter ; )

The people who got me to "back away from the window" on that were you and Dori Smith -- Dori said something like, "It's a frickin' programming book, not a social statement." But boy oh boy was that one a surprise I didn't expect.

Melle, Ben: cheers : )

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Aug 2, 2006 6:59:30 PM

Yay go Kathy! Hey where did she go, is she invisible! =). Just Kidding =]

Posted by: Allan Barger | Aug 2, 2006 7:09:38 PM

"If you're here, I'm most definitely not invisible."

No, but you're a mere 5 shots of tequilher away.

- Dan

Posted by: Daniel Berger | Aug 2, 2006 7:11:02 PM

Thanks for this post. For something as gender neutral as blogging I've always thought it seemed kind of awkward. Or perhaps blogging isn't gender neutral?

But for something like a Women in Engineering club at a university, it seems more fitting. But I wonder why we never hear about Men In Nursing clubs?

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 2, 2006 7:48:32 PM

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this issue. I very much agree. As a programmer who happens to be a young female, I have to admit, however, that it feels GREAT to hang around other female programmers, where I get a break from constantly feeling like an oddity :). Even though it's true that gender has become much less important in this country, it's still wildly noticable when you're the 2% at a tech event representing 50% of humankind. I hope this will change and I think it will...

Posted by: Vic | Aug 2, 2006 8:26:30 PM

hehehe

Posted by: dg | Aug 2, 2006 8:28:43 PM

Kathy,

You're not the only one. You gotta read this post (http://www.lasadh.com/archives/2006/07/i_hate_mommy_bl.htm). Man...what did you women do out there?!!

In any case, hey I have something for you to write about. As entrepreneurs we should create passionate users because it isn't only about them...but it's about us. Trust me, each time I hear back from a passionate user of LinknSurf (www.linknsurf.com), it fires up my passion to do better things with it. You'll find me requesting that you write about it on my blog too.

Harsh

Posted by: Harsh Dhundia | Aug 2, 2006 10:03:45 PM

According to the site ( http://blogher.org/about-blogher ), the actual mission of Blogher:

"What is BlogHer's mission?: BlogHer's mission is to create opportunities for women bloggers to pursue exposure, education, and community."

All three of those seem fairly straightforward.

As someone who was AT the conference, it's also very interesting that it seems a fair amount of the comments above are from self-professed "girlgeeks." Although the conference, obviously, has some tech underpinnings, it really wasn't a "tech" conference, per se. It was, Kathy, to your point, much more a "people" conference. The diversity in the room was fantastic...from nearly every dimension, it was, ironically, perhaps the most *diverse* conference I've ever attended, when looked at on the dimensions of interests, and race, and socio-economic class, and identity. (Even moreso than SXSW, which previously held that distinction in my mind.)

So...an opportunity for a bunch of diverse, passionate users to get together once a year to work together to collectively pursue exposure, education, and community? Not so bad in my book.

Posted by: christopher carfi | Aug 2, 2006 11:46:47 PM

Hey Kathy,
Very interesting post. There is a much broader issue that you are addressing here... It seems everyone wants to categorize themselves with tags such as, woman blogger, or tough guy, or cat person, or coffee person, or whatever other tags they seem to know. People not only want to categorize themselves, but also want to do it to the whole damn wrold around them. In this entire self definition thing, everyone's missing a basic point: we are all humans born with a purpose to evolve and help the world around us also evolve towards perfection (regardless of gender, or sports preferences, or career preferences...).

Posted by: Parag | Aug 2, 2006 11:47:16 PM

Couldn't agree more. It's amazing that gender becomes such an all-pervading thing, getting into areas where it's simply not relevant. It's about as relevant, calling you a woman blogger, as calling you a horse-riding blogger. 99% of your posts have nothing to to with either. It's like saying I'm a motorcycling blogger. I ride a CB500 but I've never posted to my TypePad blog about it, and only rarely to my Livejournal. To apply a single label like that is to limit you by limiting people's expectations of what you're about.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Aug 3, 2006 12:57:19 AM

You da man Kathy! Sorry, had to say it. = )
It's about time someone made a little sense out of a non-sensical situation.

Posted by: Jeffrey Summers | Aug 3, 2006 2:13:20 AM

If you think posting some of your more conservative items of apparel is going to stir me to comment, you are very much mistaken Kathy.

That said, I blogged about my experience at a similar event some months ago -
http://makemarketinghistory.blogspot.com/2006/04/whats-so-special-about-women.html Now I wasn't at Blogher and don't know the tenor of the discussions, but as I say in my post I was struck by the supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere that prevailed at the 85 Broads event and, trust me, none of those women were apologists for their gender. Indeed, the average geek blogger would have been wetting himself!

Posted by: John Dodds | Aug 3, 2006 2:48:45 AM

I dare you to recall the most "stereotypical" person you ever met...someone who fit every stereotype ever conceived about the person's gender, occupation, ethnicity, social class and creed.

Can you come up with at least one...?

That's right: the stereotypical person is exceedingly rare in real life. In fact, if you met one, it would strike you as abnormal -- an abstraction come to life.
:)


Posted by: A.R.Yngve | Aug 3, 2006 3:14:16 AM

I've known one or two *male* programmers in my time who liked to wear black lace bras, but that's probably a whole other topic... :)

Posted by: Sound Idea | Aug 3, 2006 3:48:23 AM

isn't this just the old monolithic feminism vs diversity debate? i always thought celebrating diversity was one of the most important learnings from feminism. But speaking "for women bloggers" - that is surely a non starter. that is why the point above from Christopher that the audience was diverse is good. i would love to go to a conference where the community was more diverse than the norm. instead its just "clever white men". take a look at the industry analyst community. or many tech conferences. i would love so see more black people, more asians, more diversity in general. and if takes labelling the conference diversity tech or whatever then that's all to the good.

diversity say we are not all the same. i say celebrate the fact.

take vic's point too - sometimes its nice to hang our with "our own". the dynamic is different.

Posted by: James Governor | Aug 3, 2006 3:50:24 AM

I haven't even been paying attention. I've been reading this blog for months and didn't even know you were a woman until a couple of weeks ago.

The marvellous thing about text is that it doesn't express gender.

Posted by: Tom | Aug 3, 2006 4:20:00 AM

Actually, most of the communities I find myself in as a computer engineer are full of men celebrating their manhood and their position in such a manly profession which they are apparently competent at only because they are male. If you want to test this, just go up to a bunch of techies and say "Women are just as good as men at computers," and watch them start to riot. Surely you've seen this happen at least a few times.

Posted by: Manny | Aug 3, 2006 4:39:35 AM

Well. I love reading your blog because of what is written in there and the concepts presented there in a way that I can understand and not because of anything else.

I fully agree with your post.

Posted by: Balaji M | Aug 3, 2006 4:43:10 AM

Yep, like Tom says, I didn't know what gender you were for about the first three months of reading this blog. Didn't care, either.

I'm reading for the damn useful ideas and advice.

Posted by: Hugh "Nomad" Hancock | Aug 3, 2006 5:11:49 AM

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