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My positive experience as a woman in tech (verou.me)
520 points by sebkomianos on Dec 18, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 385 comments

10/10 Will read again.

The sexism debate has indeed painted a bleak picture, people so often try to show a different side of the picture but end up using the wrong words or simply adding ambiguity to the discussion, most of the time only making the matter more complicated, and worst of all, pulling us even further from a potential solution. This one showed us not only a potential solution, but also proved it's effectiveness.

Lea Verou (the author of the article) perfectly explains that even though there is undoubtedly a problem, a problem whose degree is not/can not be calculated (she also indirectly, simply by not giving it more article-time, makes us understand that the lack of statistics doesn't mean this problem doesn't exist or should not be resolved), this problem can and has already been solved, not by company policies or special rules, but simply by people treating others (women included) nicely, or as my first grade teacher taught me, by following the golden rule, treat others the way you want to be treated, and amazingly across all mindsets and ways of thinking this rule means, for anyone beginning from the wee age that they understand what those words mean, that one should be treated in a way that is free of bias, fair and rational.

I will read this article again, and I will recommend it to friends and acquaintances and family, because sexism is a problem beyond tech too (in certain industries it might be an even bigger problem). I think this article and hopefully ones like it that either exist already that I do not know of, or ones that will be written afterwards, are a great way to make us realise that all people should be treated the way that we want to be treated, and I truly believe that will be enough to fix the problem of "women in tech".

Based on discussions we have had with women in tech at https://keepwomen.com, it's not just sexism, but many women leave tech due to working conditions (low salary, no advancement), work-life balance (too much travelling, commuting), or the company environment (poor cultural "fit"). Some solutions for retaining women in tech are e.g. flexible working hours, personal development opportunities and workforce diversity.

If I'm honest, it sounds like the same issues everybody in tech faces. We're all consistently under-compensated for the value we bring to the company (sometimes because measuring the value is genuinely hard, other times because the tech industry is solely focused on making investors money), have to leave a job to advance our careers, fight the internal politics and cliques which form between departments and teams...

I would say, based on everything that I've seen and heard, that the problems you describe here are far bigger and more important than the things which usually dominate the debate. These problems are also not specific to gender: they affect most minority groups and also other wide swathes of the population (based on personality type, lifestyle, etc).

The tech industry norms have ended up favouring a very specific type of individual, and that is the fundamental problem that we need to address in order to get the genuinely diverse workforce that I believe we need. What usually frustrates me about the "sexism" debate is that it studiously avoids addressing these issues, and drowns out most attempts to focus on them.

Those are the same reasons I've heard for why we have a young age distribution in tech relative to the age distribution of the general population.

Poor industry retention seems to be a problem across the board.

How much of the industry retention problem is that the high pay scale allows for early retirement or early semi-retirement for many?

I'm in my mid-40s and could retire today if I wanted to. I don't because I really enjoy the challenge and stimulation of my work, but I could.

To the extent that's the root cause of low industry retention, I'd consider it a feature not a bug.

I was just having a conversation with my roommate about why I have trouble identifying/believing a lot of feminist propaganda. And your statement is exactly why. Even when it is not a gender issue, femnism seems to only focus on improving female standing. That's not equality.

This seems like seeing someone trying to stop genocide in the Congo, and yelling at them because they're not simultaneously trying to stop street violence in Brazil.

There are a lot of problems, they have varying magnitudes, and some people choose to focus on a particular problem. That's okay. It's frustrating how often it seems like feminists are expected to solve every problem in the world simultaneously to legitimize their attempts to solve one problem.

I think about it differently. They are alienating and fragmenting people that would otherwise be on their side by turning every issue into "this is how it affects me and since it affects me and my gender we have to fix it."

If we came together as people, regardless of gender, and demanded more rights in the work place (family leave instead of just focusing on maternity leave for example), we would have a LOT more standing to accomplish our goals.

By fragmenting the population, telling the middle class white guy it's his fault the middle class white woman doesn't have maternity leave because the boss happens to be a white male (though upperclass), you are only hurting your cause.

Hmm, what does flexible working hours, personal development opportunities and workforce diversity mean in practice? The faults are hard measurable things, but the solutions are more fuzzy and not as easy to measure. When you measure flexible hours, what is your metric for saying that someone has that? When you say dev opportunities, how do I know if I have given my employees enough of them and of what quality? What does workforce diversity mean in terms of age, gender, sex, race, and religion and what targets should I shoot for? Should my workforce match the community I am in or the nation? I think a hard goal for these would be nice to have so I know what to shoot for and be 'good' (again, a fuzzy thing itself)

Probably this has to be just be looked as simply avoiding being bad. To avoid being bad, you don't have to overcompensate; that just creates reverse biases. Just don't have a bias: for instance, don't make a decision because someone is a woman, or Asian or whatever. Any decision: hiring, awarding a raise or promotion, etc.

A discriminatory bias cannot be measured by simple proportions, like how many women work at Company X out of the total, and therefore it cannot be eliminated by something naive like a hiring quota or similar. Such a program necessarily involves making decisions based on gender, and so on and so doesn't avoid being bad.

The concept of "workforce diversity" is basically rooted in poor understanding of statistics, together with a willingness to apply a corrective discrimination. Even if half the software developers in a country are women, and there is no bias anywhere, it can still so happen that men constitute, say, 80% of the developers in some organization. Such an event has a certain nonzero probability which allows it to happen.

“Just don’t have a bias”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. The problem is that it’s very hard to know when biases are affecting your decisions. You cannot just decide to not have them. Agreed though that fighting bias with bias is not a solution. What is the solution then? I don’t know. :(

great points on the stats. BTW, re: your username; zisteau?

If the low salary and no advancement are simply due to having XX chromosomes (similarly skilled and productive males at the same organization do get paid more and advance), then she's in fact leaving due to sexism, not simply working conditions.

>work-life balance (too much travelling, commuting)

I have to take issue with this. Work/life balance is indeed a common problem in tech, with long working hours expected in many places when they make up unreasonable schedules.

However, I've never heard of traveling or commuting being big problems in tech at all. In my years as a software engineer, I only traveled a lot for a telecommute job where I had to meet with customers and also travel to the home office; outside of that I've barely traveled at all (and a good chunk of that was at a job during the dot-com boom when they were really liberal with travel funds and sent people to a lot of overpriced conferences and trade shows). For programmers, travel just isn't a big part of the job, unless you have a rare job where you need to meet with customers a lot (which is usually more of an applications engineering or sales support role).

As for commuting, that's entirely based on where you choose to live. It's probably a problem in the Bay Area, but in most other places it's no more a problem for tech workers than everyone else. Every metro area has problems with commuting: people frequently live not that close to work, due either to housing prices or because they already had a house and happened to get a job on the other side of the city or something. This isn't unique to tech jobs, except maybe the Bay Area thing because that metro area is dominated by tech jobs.

The problem with work/life balance in tech is working hours, and that's it. Tech workers are frequently expected to work too much, young males with no social lives are too often willing or able to dedicate too many hours to their jobs (thus making those who don't look bad), and as a result, people who value their free time (like, oh, women who tend to get pregnant and have children) don't do so well and get forced out.

Honestly, I'm not sure what the answer here is. Flexible working hours aren't going to help a working mother much if she's still expected to put in 12 hour days. The only answer I see is eliminating the "exempt" status for tech workers and having them be paid hourly like factory workers. This of course has its own set of problems. But it's exactly what they do for, say, nurses, who are also professional workers who are usually college educated.

I really enjoyed the article but I hope that the conclusion is that it's now possible to live in a bubble (not meant pejoratively) where you don't experience sexism.

Being able to live in that bubble is probably dependent on class, status, confidence and certain personality traits; but it is possible and that's great!

It is really important though to realize that it is a bubble and to be mindful of where it ends and what happens when you hit the edges of the bubble.

Source: Being LGBT in Amsterdam and having lived in a similar bubble for a long time but eventually having it burst.

> treat others the way you want to be treated,

You've never had a pathological arsehole for a boss?

A lot of us have. And fuck that, I'm not letting some asshole change my behavior or outlook. I'm still going to follow my beliefs, even if he violates them and makes me want to tell him to fuck off. The notion of a golden rule wasn't thought up with people who smile at me and wish me well in mind - it was designed for the pathological asshole.

I'm still studying and have never encountered obstacles set up by people with institutional power over me, so I am to a degree naive and privileged, however I was talking more about the day to day interactions that happen with a myriad of different people, mostly your peers (which apart from a few instances where it was the "bosses of tech" causing the problems, from what I remember reading the sexism usually came from the coworkers of the women). I definitely wasn't commenting on the application of the author's thoughts to all of human interaction, and didn't mean to come off that naive.

> I'm still studying and have never encountered obstacles set up by people with institutional power over me

You'll meet more obstacles set up by people with institutional power over you at school and university than you ever will in the "real world".

Maybe you should wait until you get in the industry before you start speaking authoritatively about it.

(alternatively, "you're only 15, you don't have a rep yet")

Luckily in the tech industry, employees have a lot more power than in other industries. We can just leave and get another job.

You treat them nicely while you keep your records and protect yourself as well as you can. You can say "No" nicely, and you can instigate a lawsuit without ever losing your decorum or sense of fair play.

I leave when I encounter that. Its the only viable solution when the other party in the relationship isn't reasonable.

I'd draw exactly the opposite conclusion. What matters isn't individual niceness but organization imperatives.

One thing to consider is that "Tech" encompasses a number of organization types. Organizations vary in both how large and bureaucratic they are as well as how ruthlessly competitive they are. Working at Intel years ago, I saw an organization committed to equality in the work place but with a brutal demand that everyone produce.

The worst offenders for sexism seem to be small organizations with a brutally competitive environments but not having bureaucratic restraints on bad behavior - Zillow, etc[1].

Honestly, the answer seems to be that you need more regulation and especially regulation that will hit small bad actor companies hard. The rules hardly have to be "special", just a basic demand for proper behavior and an understanding there will be serious consequences for violation.

[1] http://fortune.com/2014/12/05/zillow-discrimination-lawsuit/

> organization imperatives

That's my feeling as well. My sister has worked in tech since 1981, but it's not Silicon Valley tech. It's large company tech like IBM and Citigroup. I asked if she's ever felt discriminated against and she said never. The closest she's come is working for a company that had a bit of a military culture because most of the senior leadership were ex-military. But even there she never felt discriminated against for being a woman per se.

> but simply by people treating others (women included) nicely, or as my first grade teacher taught me, by following the golden rule, treat others the way you want to be treated,

So, no more "ladies first" and gentleman treatment for women?

The golden rule requires you to be courteous regardless of gender. For instance, when you reach the door first, hold it open for the others, regardless of their gender.

No, it doesn't. It says "If you would want them to hold the door open for you were the places switched, then hold the door open." Of course if I don't really care about it, then I'm free not to bother. If I would rather someone confronted me when my code is shit, rather than letting it slide, then that is how I treat everyone else too.

There is a strong argument to say the golden rule is really saying "treat others the way society tells you to" and some contend it should simply be "treat others the way they want to be treated".

Of course at that point you've lost the simplicity of the original phrase and the primary teaching implement of self interest.

Not to mention, at some point there are limits to the extent I am going to pander to someones wishes in how they want to be treated. I respect your right to self-identify as an attack helicopter, but I'm not going to bow my head as I approach to avoid your rotor blades.

More like no more gentlemanly treatment just because they're a woman. A real gentleman will be gentlemanly to everyone.

The golden rule applies to everyone regardless of gender. Think of it like how you would speak to your mother or father (assuming one has a healthy, respectful relationship of course).

If you speak to a female colleague, is it something you can say to your own mother and be taken as appropriate? Same for if it were a male colleague, are the words appropriate to say to your own father?

If the answer is "No" then don't say it, I wish more companies would enforce this in their culture.

I've run into childish inappropriateness more than anything, phrases not indented to harass, but are extremely disrespectful, not funny, and easily taken the wrong way.

An example: 5 of us, one of them a female, were chatting in a breakroom when a male colleague joked about using a "fleshlight" to relieve stress (I am leaving out details to keep this short). He was straight out of college and didn't have much professional experience. The female in the group became visibly uncomfortable and left. Since the conversation was more about to know our colleague's hobbies outside of work, it was an incredibly awkward turn to the conversation. "Pfff, what's with HER?" the offending person asks as the female walks off, not knowing what he did, so another male in the group asked him if he talks to his mom "like that" about his fleshlight habit, it wasn't until then that he realized he was being inappropriate and he then apologized to everyone. He also sought out the female who left the conversation to apologize to her directly. He learned his lesson, but I've seen examples on BOTH sides of inappropriate talk that can alienate a person who's gender is in the minority of the group.

I like this anecdote because it contains a non-sexist but inappropriate statement. It also shows that there are at least two possible mindsets:

* I talk to my coworkers like they are my mother

and your colleague's

* I talk to my coworkers like they are my friends

The fact that the statement was non-sexist hints at the problem being the second mindset; as for me, I make sure not to say sexist (and racist and so on) things to anyone but I am okay with talking about sex and other personal-jovial matters with my actual friends.

The "mother" analogy still has some flaws, though -- for instance, you can talk to your mother about financial, health-related and personal troubles, whereas your coworkers will feel uneasy with such information. Another thing is politics -- I try to politely argue against my mother's political views (say anti-immigration), but I think doing so in the workplace is a very bad idea.

I think you get most of it, I was trying to convey that if you say something to colleagues at the workplace that is too disrespectful, sexually suggestive, vulgar or sexist to mention in front of either of your parents, it's a good common sense "warning flag" that it's probably not safe for work. I struggle with this myself, having a dark sense of humor. I hate seeing the perfect set up for a raunchy/sick punchline going to waste, but I'd also like to keep my job :)

Politics is a bit of a gray area. It's very easy to make people uncomfortable without realizing it, it's just a shitstorm waiting to happen. I try to avoid it unless I'm speaking in private with a colleague who I know extremely well.

The "like they are my mother" thing is really a bad analogy. A better one would be: "talk to coworkers like they are your grandmother" or "your aunt you only see once a year" or "your mother's female friend from church".

And the "sexism" debate was stirred by people who were only tangentially involved in Tech, like the PR person "Adria Richards". If you listen to actual women with actual Math, CS, or EE degrees, you'll hear a different story.

> And the "sexism" debate was stirred by people who were only tangentially involved in Tech, like the PR person "Adria Richards". If you listen to actual women with actual Math, CS, or EE degrees, you'll hear a different story.

As someone whose listened to actual women with Math, CS, and EE degrees (and women who are working in technical roles without degrees in those fields, as both women and men in the field do), I disagree. You'll hear a mix of stories from those women, some positive, some as bad (or worse) than those from women "tangentially involved" in tech.

OTOH, I don't think that sexism in the tech industry would fail to be a problem if it only victimized women in non- (or less-)technical roles within the industry.

It's the "actually listen to women" part that a lot of people here have problems with.

The "listen to women" part that people take issue with is being expected to assume legitimacy, and hence support any draconian policy proposed, all based on subjective testimony. Ask a certain UVA frat about that.

If you want people to listen maybe you need something better to say than ridiculous generalizations.


> Technology companies are generally considered to be some of the most sought-after employers in the world. We have an inherent “home field advantage” when it comes to recruiting the largest and richest talent pools of our most critical position: software engineers. However, despite this advantage, our data indicates that software engineering teams in tech have proportionally fewer women than several non-tech industries; namely healthcare, retail, government, education, and nonprofits. For example, a typical software engineering team in a healthcare company is likely to be 32% women, compared to 20% in technology. While these non-tech industries employ significantly fewer software engineers versus technology, their teams tend to exhibit greater gender parity.

You don't end up with 50% women in other industries with basically the same role without some sort of reason.

Right. My title is Senior Software Engineer, with the corresponding experience and salary, but since my degrees are not in one of those three fields, I'm only tangentially involved in tech. Thanks for providing such a succinct demonstration of the kind of dismissal "actual women" in the field get to hear all the time.

> since my degrees are not in one of those three fields, I'm only tangentially involved in tech

That conclusion cannot reasonably be inferred from the post you are responding to.

Are you being serious? That's exactly what's being implied. Which part of tangentially involved in tech juxtaposed with unlike women with Math, CS, or EE degrees would lead you to read that differently?

I am honestly as confused by your interpretation as you are by mine. I don't have any of those degrees, and I don't infer that Supercomputing is dismissing me as "tangentially" involved in tech. They are suggesting that Adria Richards' "Developer Evangelist" role wasn't a real technical role, which I couldn't really comment on. I don't think they are implying that ksenzee's "Senior Software Engineer" role doesn't count as a technical role.

Certainly, and your interpretation is logical. I agree the original commenter didn't necessarily mean to imply that. However, they appear to have bought into a kind of false dichotomy that gets applied to women and minorities all too often. It's a mindset where there are "fake" woman developers (or gamers, or whatever), and there are "real" woman developers, and you only get perceived as one of the "real" developers if you meet an unusually high standard. It's tiresome to be on the receiving end of it.

You just said you agree the OP didnt mean to imply it yet you're making a rather big statement about dismissal that only you seem to see. Which is just as problematic.

Look at the population of women in fields such as:law, medicine, social science, etc. and you'll see that STEM lags behind in parity. The percentage of women in computing, according to some studies, isn't much higher than it was in 1960! [2]

From my perspective as a software engineer, we work in a male-dominated field, and we've made the work culture and norms what we want them to be [1]. The few women who do end up on engineering tracks often leave, and in a lot of cases they move into engineering support roles (dev evangelist, marketing, etc.).

I think Adria Richards is a loud, exceptional example that doesn't tell the story here. The reality is, this is a very quiet, insidious problem; women are walking away from our field, or just not showing up.

I don't believe that half of the best of the best talent pool just doesn't want to do engineering like the other half. There's a reason they're disinclined, and I accept that I'm part of it -- I'd like to see it change, and I think we have a responsibility to do better. I believe that as an industry, our future suffers for it.

http://www.usnews.com/news/stem-index/articles/2015/06/29/ge... [1]

In 2013, only 26% of computing professionals were female — down considerably from 35% in 1990 and virtually the same as in 1960. While the percentage of women in engineering has risen since 1990, the progress is modest –rising from 9% in 1990 to 12% in 2013.

http://fortune.com/2015/03/26/report-the-number-of-women-ent... [2]

For law and medicine - is it because there's less sexism, or because the fields are more prestigious and therefore women who wish to be in those fields let more of it slide in the interest of retaining and advancing their career?

Why does nobody make this argument about Nursing, or Teaching, or Social Work, or Psychology, or any of the "Female dominated" fields? When men don't go into a field, they find a way to blame men for it, when women don't go into a field, they find a way to blame men for it. Don't women have any agency? Are they dumb robots that only do what men tell them? Maybe they don't WANT to be in STEM fields...

> Why does nobody make this argument about Nursing, or Teaching, or Social Work, or Psychology, or any of the "Female dominated" fields?

People make this argument about female dominated fields (particularly education and nursing, which are, or have been, areas of perceived shortages) all the time; they probably don't make it as often in tech industry focused discussion fora, for reasons of lack of relevance to the venue.

Another issue with this argument is that all of those fields are considerable less well remunerated than technology.



The average yearly income of a nurse in my country is between $3k less, and $10k more than the average salary of a software developer in my country, depending on the source.

Although the stresses are perhaps not comparable, it's important to note that a nurse working the same hours as a typical software developer could expect to earn around twice as much.

Mind you, educational requirements may be more expensive than for software developers. I'm not familiar enough to speak to that.


An average elementary school teacher in a nearby city makes about $3k less than an average software developer, with around 7 weeks paid leave. At least one female respondent in another nearby municipality recorded having 10 weeks of paid leave and full benefits. With that, I think that total compensation must be at least on-par.


Average salary of a social worker is around $15k less than that of software developers in my country. I don't know as much about social work. I suspect it's good, hard work. I hear that it's risky. Benefits packages are mostly ubiquitous though.

Of the small sample on this site, all respondents said that they were extremely satisfied with their employment as a Social worker.


Average clinical psychologist salaries are about $25k higher than average software developer salaries in my country. Likely owing to higher typical educational requirements.

Of the small sample on this site, all respondents said that they were extremely satisfied with their employment as a Clinical Psychologist.

Canada is nice.

Teachers in the US make on average $58k or so, varying from state to state quite a lot. It's about $30k less than the average software developer in the US, and if you're not very senior as a teacher you might get fired every year and rehired in fall. It's not a very secure job in many places, actually, even if you can teach math or science.

Nurses in the US make a lot more money, on par with developers, but much more physically and emotionally demanding.

People bring this up in every single thread about sexism in HN and almost every single time somebody gives them a cite to any of the several of efforts dedicated to getting dudes in those fields.

Which is meaningless without means of comparison. The fact that programs exist somewhere in the world tells us nothing about the importance placed, or resources spent, on those efforts.

Maybe if you actually worked in said industry you've have a better sense of the environment. I doubt the average nurse (male or female) knows much about how the tech industry works.

How many articles in mainstream media bemoan the lack, or treatment of, male nurses compared to IT workers?

Your comment has little to do with the comment you are responding to.

This is not a mainstream media article. It's a blog post. I doubt my cousin the insurance adjuster ever heard about it, just as I never hear stories about the insurance industry.

Way to downplay their contributions in tech just because they work in a department you don't deem as important.

There is a very basic dynamic at play here. Take away every department outside of engineering and you still have the chance to actually make technology. Take away engineering and you have literally nothing. The contributions don't need to be downplayed. Logic demonstrates the hierarchy of importance rather plainly.

This is rather funny comment made on a place like Hacker News, full of web developers who refer to themselves as "Engineers".

> It’s impossible to know, especially since they don’t know either! If you confront them on their sexism, they will deny all of it, and truly believe it. It takes a lot of introspection to see one’s internalized stereotypes. Therefore, a lot of the time, you cannot be sure if you have experienced sexist behavior, and there is no way to find out for sure, since the perpetrator doesn’t know either. There are many false positives and false negatives there.

Thousand times this.

I know that things like racism and sexism is bad and evil. But I also know that I am these things — subconsciously. Having lived in a country with a long tradition of racism and sexism, and given I've ever talked to a black person for a first time half a year ago, I know that there's no chance that I don't have these stereotypes inside on some level. Of course, I try to fight that and become a better person, and on a rational level I know exactly why these traits are evil.

But when I'm trying to explain it to someone, too often they just hear "I'm racist" or "I'm sexist" and decide that I'm a total asshole :(

>It’s impossible to know, especially since they don’t know either! If you confront them on their sexism, they will deny all of it, and truly believe it. It takes a lot of introspection to see one’s internalized stereotypes.

My entire problem with this isn't that I deny I have such stereotypes (as I know I have them), but that the people who call others out on this will seem to be the group most likely to deny having their own.

I am also racist and sexist although I'd imagine that no one realizes it.

I work hard to take individuals as I find them and not prejudge. I think the best thing to do is try to minimize the effect of your biases on your actions and keep working to eliminate them. Not sure what else one could do.

My co worker accuses other people of being "tone deaf" and then makes dick jokes. I have about a million examples of this. Of course, some of those stories are about me. :P

People are too unwilling to admit and learn from their own mistakes.

> "tone deaf" and then makes dick jokes

What does "tone deaf" mean in this context? And what's wrong with dick-jokes?

EDIT: I've poorly worded my question/point: I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with dick jokes in the workplace, but context is key. It's probably best to side on safe in that regard

I still would like to know what "tone deaf" means as I'm not understanding that term

I guess "tone deaf" is when someone doesn't understand what your tone of voice is and what that tone implies. Like if you say something sarcastic, your voice tone and body language conveys it.

Do you really think it's okay to make dick jokes in the workplace?

My female Australian boss says "dumb cunts" roughly 5x a day in reference to some 22 year old marketing "woo"-girls down the hall. I just made a comment about how my balls hang down my left pant leg. In my prior job, I'd never even bring up politics. It's almost as if people and environments are different.

It would seem more abnormal if you knew an Australian that didn't use the word cunt liberally.

I'd be more irked by the comment she made about your balls hanging down your pant leg. Sounds like sexual harassment to me, if it were me wouldn't let a boss speak to me in that fashion- male or female.

I made that comment. If it were sexual harassment, I'd treat it as sexual harassment. It's a joke, so I treat it as a joke.

I am truly sorry, I misread your post.

What about the concept of a penis is offensive exactly? No one has ever been able to give me a reason that doesn't devolve into a repetition of "you just don't talk about that" and I'm not prepared to care about that.

I generally agree, but consider that talking about a dick is not just about anatomy. If you call someone a dick, it means he's an overly aggressive asshole. If you call someone a pussy, it means he's weak. If you joke about the size of someone's dick, it means he's insecure. Etc.

THIS. There is nothing wrong with dick jokes. The only sexist thing about them is the imbalance: We need more vulva jokes too :)

Yes, although I do work in a uniquely sex-positive environment. I do believe that it heavily depends on the workplace. Some workplaces it is absolutely not OK. I'm a personality type that would rather work in an "unprofessional" environment, so I seek those out, while understanding that they may not be for everybody.

Did you mean to imply that people who like to keep their sexuality personal are not sex positive?

I'm pretty open about things, but I'm also open to the idea that people don't always appreciate sharing.

I concede I didn't really make my point clear due to poor wording. What I mean is: I don't think dick-jokes are inherently wrong for the workplace. I think context is the key. I worked at a Fortune-500 where they were absolutely not acceptable, but I tend towards places where they are acceptable.

> Did you mean to imply that people who like to keep their sexuality personal are not sex positive?

Heh, not at all. I'm a very private person when it comes to sex, but I'm also sex-positive.

Fair enough.

> I don't think dick-jokes are inherently wrong for the workplace.

It's probably about as appropriate as discussing religion or politics. It's certainly possible, but there is a lot of risk that toes will get stepped on eventually, even if nobody says they were offended.

That's why it's important to be exposed to different colors and sexes, or just people different from yourself. I have personally find myself to be much better as introspection and sympathize better with minorities once I moved to a country where I'm the minority.


Stereotyping is impossible to avoid and even healthy. Humans survive because of stereotypes. We need summary judgments to function; this is the core of translating perception into thought. The problem is when people willfully ignore signals to look past the stereotype.

If you think that every person you meet alone on the street in any city on the planet is equally dangerous or equally safe regardless of what you observe, prior to any actual violent behavior, either one day you're going to get hurt, or you're not going to visit any dangerous places.

I know.

Here is my personal experience with the fringes of this issue over a lifetime of watching it play out before my eyes...

If a female is attracted to the guy, things he says or does are considered "cute", "flirtatious", and/or "interesting".

If not, the same actions are often considered "creepy", "jerkish", and yes even "sexist".

I think its just human nature to perceive things in this way, and since women grow up in such a vastly different, sexually charged environment (I'm watching it happen with my 13 year old daughter right now) as guys do, it is, of course, impossible for me to understand all the nuance.

Just my anecdotal thoughts on it...btw it is good to see this woman make an attempt to address the issue.

What you say about 'if the female is attracted' is incredibly wrong, and I can speak from personal experience (as a guy). It's NOT about attraction, its about being, well, creepy. I didn't find this out till I started hitting the gym more and gay men started hitting on me more often (I'm straight and happily married for the record, so it's not about me being attracted or not). Here's what I learned:

If the guy is direct and has a positive attitude I say no but I take it as a compliment. It's like a feather in my cap (someone thinks I look good!). If the guy is being weird and indirect about it that gets creepy (and sometimes a little scary). The difference is that the positive guy usually takes the hint if I'm not interested. If they don't take the hint they BECOME creepy. The creepy guy is either so indirect that there's no clear way to give a hint, or just refuses to take the hint at all.

As I said before, since I'm straight this isn't about whether I'm attracted to the person or not. It's about someone acting in a way that feels creepy or not. It's about whether boundaries are being crossed. Finally, I'll end by saying that you can be hit on by a good looking person in a creepy way, and flirted with by an ugly person in a very positive way. It's all about attitude.

You didn't actually cubano's point. You're straight so you weren't attracted to any of the guys who approached you. cubano was saying it would be different if you were approached by a woman you were interested in. Perhaps the indirectness would seem coy instead of creepy.

Then again, maybe not, but I'm not sure how to objectively measure this phenomenon. People are fickle and attractiveness is sort of a squishy concept. The confusion in this is the underpinning of certain subgenres of romantic comedy like Bridget Jones's Diary and Pride and Prejudice.

Besides, a lot of people are creepy when approaching members of the opposite sex because nobody cares to coach them on how to do it properly. And nobody cares to help them figure out the 'who's, 'where's, 'when's, and 'how's of approaching prospective partners.

You've got a point. I'm sure being physically attracted to someone enhances or diminishes the effect of their actual approach. Additionally, attractive people are more confident, and confident people tend to not behave in as many creepy behaviors.

That being said, the underlying theme of cubano's comment was blaming women for (shockingly) responding positively to flirty men who they find attractive, and responding negatively to flirty men who don't stop even after it's clear that the women just aren't into them. The subtext of cubano's comment was that it wasn't the guy's fault for being creepy, after all that was only because the woman wasn't attracted to him! He acted just the same! These guys think that you can evaluate the behavior independent of the context, which is of course ludicrous.

I think you're jumping to some conclusions there.

Most "creepy" men are socially awkward and can't do anything about it, or at least they haven't been able to do anything about it yet. To villainize them out of hand isn't helpful either. Some of them undoubtedly have social disorders, so coming down on them seems unfair as well. Maybe there are some people that are creepy on purpose, but I suspect that is a very small number of incidents.

People have a responsibility to learn how to respectfully approach potential partners, but the rules on that are vague and there's no authoritative resource on what they are. But there's absolutely a bottom line, that we should aspire to make sure everyone feels safe and respected.

But, on the flip side of the coin, people have some responsibility in learning how to learn how to reject someone clearly but respectfully. Walking to the other side of the room and talking to your friends about the creepy guy is literally the stuff of other peoples' nightmares.

I have to say, I've met a number of socially awkward guys who flirt in a cute way, and a number of socially smooth guys who are super creepy. And some people are creepy on purpose -- negging, pushing boundaries, looking for the weak one in the herd or the woman who can't say no because of her own internal algorithms. They are often not socially awkward, either.

I think Captain Awkward and Dr. Nerdlove have done some excellent writing on how not to be creepy when approaching someone.

Going back to the point of the article, the poster says she hasn't had many bad experiences in tech and so she continues with confidence. She wants to show these good experiences to encourage others. This is a good idea. When it comes to rejecting people, for instance, women hear so many stories or have so many experiences of men taking rejection very badly that they often feel they must reject indirectly to preserve their comfort or safety. http://thoughtcatalog.com/christine-stockton/2014/12/bitches...

I get the sentiment of the thoughtcatalog link you posted, but aren't those exchanges either an extension of people taking advantage of either the relative anonymity provided by the internet/social media or private text conversations where no one else will likely ever read the messages?

I have never seen a guy get turned down by a woman in the real world and disparage her in such a way. Not at the bar, not anywhere else. The exchange is often over as quickly as it started. Any guy who responds to rejection in such a way and using such mediums of communication is spineless. I've come to see the terms "b---h" and "a--hole" in a dating context as words people use to describe others who won't give them the time of day.

At any rate, I think with dating today, people who are uninterested tend to just cut off all contact. It sucks to have somebody just ignore you, but they if they weren't an absolute "yes" to dating you or going on a date, then what's the point?

I have never seen a guy get turned down by a woman in the real world

You may not have, but it happens. I have read support threads where women talk about being punched in the face for rejecting a guy in a bar. I'm sure if you talk to a bouncer at any popular nightclub they'll give you loads of stories of women being assaulted by creepy dudes.

It is true that it is easiest to provide transcripts of written conversations.

How are you going to see such disparagement in the "real world" though? First, the women are all already using indirect rejection to head that off, or wearing fake rings or saying, "Sorry, my boyfriend wouldn't like that" whether a boyfriend exists or not, or giving out a fake phone number. Those are all standard tactics for a soft let-down designed to avoid conflict.

Second, how would you hear about it? Usually a guy who responds poorly doesn't flip a table, he just says, Well yeah you're ugly anyway, or something like that. Why would you hear that? Are you sitting so close that you'd hear the whole conversation? These are generally not loud conversations, and most women are shrinking in their seats trying to de-escalate and just make it/him go away. No one wants to cause a scene.

For an authoritative and peer-reviewed source (/s) check out the reddit accounts here: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskWomen/comments/20xdni/what_is_th... Most of these reactions are things a nearby guy wouldn't ever notice.

I think we agree more than we disagree! I agree with you that a lot of them are simply awkward. I'm trying not to make them into villains, and I apologize for striking a somewhat harsh tone. I think that is deeply unfair as well!

Conversations like this are important because, as you say there's no authoritative resource on the topic. If we don't talk about how to act people will continue to walk around clueless.

That being said, if someone's boundaries are being crossed it incredibly unfair to say "he isn't doing it on purpose, he just doesn't know better". It still sucks to the person who's on the receiving end of that, they deserve fair treatment just as much. Unfortunately justice in that sort of situation is going to leave someone hurt, and it's better that the hurt person be the person breaking the social contract.

Walking to the other side of the room and talking to your friends about the creepy guy is literally the stuff of other peoples' nightmares.

Unfortunately, some people never leave high school.

I don't think that's what cubano was implying. Nobody would blame women for responding positively or negatively to attractive or unattractive men - that's just taste, and it's completely natural.

However, it's become acceptable and fashionable to shame unattractive men as "creepy" - that is unacceptable to me (unless the person is actually creepy, e.g. a stalker etc.), and women (and whoever else is doing it) are to blame.

Edit: We can compare being "creepy" with being "a slut". It's OK to not be attracted to women (or people) who are "sluts" - you're entitled to whatever taste or compatibility criteria you want in a partner. But it's definitely not OK to shame women for being sluts.

"You didn't actually cubano's point. You're straight so you weren't attracted to any of the guys who approached you. cubano was saying it would be different if you were approached by a woman you were interested in. Perhaps the indirectness would seem coy instead of creepy."

Maybe the women that cubano observed were not attracted to any of the guys that cubano saw approach them either? Maybe they weren't attracted to them because they were actually creepy?

I have never seen a woman treat a friendly guy who approached her as creepy just because the guy wasn't "attractive" to her, unless that guy was only being "friendly" in his own mind and actually acting very sleazy.

> If a female is attracted to the guy, things he says or does are considered "cute", "flirtatious", and/or "interesting".

> If not, the same actions are often considered "creepy", "jerkish", and yes even "sexist".

In my experience, the exact same thing is true with the sexes switched: behaviour which I find attractive in a woman I find attractive is awful in a woman I don't find attractive.

I think this is probably a universal constant: we all appreciate it when someone we'd like to get closer to gets closer to us, and we all are at the very best neutral when someone we don't wish to get closer to, moves closer in.

It's not even sexual: who hasn't experienced the phenomenon of the bore at a party who just. won't. go. away?

On the other other side of the coin, as I know myself to be physically unattractive and boring, if anyone approaches me at all, that's automatically suspicious behavior, whether I find their appearance to be pleasing or not. If an attractive person approaches me, that's a honeypot for sure. Or a crazy. Maybe so drunk that a trip to the hospital might be warranted. Perhaps they're soliciting donations for charity. Possibly someone triple-dog dared them to talk to me. I immediately wonder what the ulterior motive is.

That makes it easy to not be sexist. The probability of any sort of romantic relationship with any given stranger is effectively zero, therefore it doesn't matter what they are.

And I try not to inflict myself on others at parties. Or on the party venue. Or anywhere in public, really. If you think it's hard talking to an ugly bore, it's far worse being one. We can tell that you want us to go away. We're not oblivious to the repellent body language. We just have to ignore it sometimes, because otherwise we'd never get to talk to anybody.

Sorry for being creepy, or jerky, or whatever. From the lips of Lord Farquaad, we know that it's already rude enough being alive when no one wants you. So thanks for being polite enough to not just look disgusted and walk away when we start talking. Because that's a thing that actually happens.

I disagree. Most men if approached by an awkward unattractive woman at a bar will at least be polite and have a normal conversation even if they're not interested. Whereas women will often outright ignore or even act hostile towards an awkward unattractive man trying to strike a conversation.

Men are expected to treat women courteously, whereas women aren't held to the same standard. A woman can treat a man like a disposable garbage bag and it doesn't have the same stigma as a man doing the same to a woman.

Most men if approached by an awkward unattractive woman

No, it's just that the distributions for attractiveness are different between women[0] and men[1]. Women rate 80% of guys as worse-looking than "medium attractiveness". Men, on the other hand, rate women on a much more normalized curve.

[0]. http://cdn.okcimg.com/blog/your_looks_and_inbox/Male-Messagi...

[1]. http://cdn.okcimg.com/blog/your_looks_and_inbox/Female-Messa...

Citation needed. Your assertion is completely baseless. Even in the event where it was in fact true, altering your behavior towards the person based on your expectation of what they might do based on statistics is the very mode of sexism.

> Citation needed. Your assertion is completely baseless.

If it was baseless, then I wouldn't be bringing it up.

I can't count how many times me or a friend has said "hi" to a girl at a bar/club only to be flat out ignored and even treated hostilely and told to "fuck off" (or something of that vein). On the other hand, I've never witnessed a female friend of mine being treated like that for saying hi to a stranger.

I realize that anecdotes are just anecdotes. But I'm sure you can find YouTube videos of what I'm talking about.

> altering your behavior towards the person based on your expectation of what they might do based on statistics is the very mode of sexism


Can you unwrap that a bit...

> A woman can treat a man like a disposable garbage bag

I always hear people bring this up and I've never actually seen it unless the guy is overly aggressive (i.e. grabbing her ass). And if the guy is awkward women treat him with pity, not hostility.

Just a heads up about flirting. The same thing could be said the other way around. The fact alone that a guy is flirting is not the reason it might be considered creepy or jerkish. It's the fact that they do it anyway when the woman is _visibly_ uncomfortable / trying to be alone / not interested or worse, when they keep flirting even after hearing a solid no. If a woman did that, you'd say to the very least that she's annoying. It's called _unwanted_ attention for a reason.

> _visibly_ uncomfortable / trying to be alone / not interested or worse, when they keep flirting even after hearing a solid no.

I think this tends to be compounded by 2 things:

1) A lot of guys, especially engineer-types, just don't get the signals, even if they are obvious.

2) A lot of women still play "hard to get" and a lot of guys like that. It's a hard game for some people to play.

I absolutely agree with you though

I feel like I've seen similar things, but I would phrase it differently.

It seems like--on average, not as a a rule--women find men who are more socially adept to be more attractive. This is measured partly in how a man hits on a woman.

If a man doesn't quite meet the bar of "socially adept" or "smooth", he can be creepy. This is one type of not-smooth, with other types including awkward and clumsy. These are not mutually exclusive, nor are they the same.

The tragedy to me is that the awkward and clumsy guys are pitied--they don't know any better. The creepy guy tends to be looked upon with disdain, as if he should know better.

My experience is different. This meme gets repeated a lot on the internet, but it jars with the stories I hear from my friends.

Yes, someone not attractive is more likely to be considered creepy - but that's correlation, not causation. Being creepy is extremely unattractive!

An example, which is by no means an outlier: A friend of mine met a man. The man is very attractive, in the particular way that the woman in this story likes, and they had some key common interests. She was extremely attracted to him in short order.

Then he did something creepy. Bam, not attractive anymore. There was no immunity conferred by the other attractive qualities - being creepy was unattractive enough that he was no longer considered attractive.

It is a rather sad fact that many... "socially less capable" people can be a bit oblivious of how their actions seem to other people, and the dividing line between flirty and creepy. Without the necessary skills to tell the difference, it does appear that this distinction is arbitrary, or predicated on other variables (e.g. visual attractiveness).

There seems to be a large divergence between women's spoken preferences and observed preferences. It's like my very sympathetic female friend who says she would date a short guy, while she never has. My sister says plenty of women like asian men, while she has only dated white men. Women roundly ridicule men's shirtless photos on dating sites, except OkCupid showed that these photos attract women very effectively: http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-4-big-myths-of-profile.... Even Brene Brown discovered that while women spoke of their desire for a sensitive, vulnerable man, in reality they were actually repulsed by it: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-some-women-repulsed-by-male-vu.... I could go on. I think there's some toxic puritanism that makes women feel compelled to act as the "fairer," more virtuous and less carnal gender. But the data show that women want big, strong, virile men to lean on to this day.

It's not a rule, just a general guideline. I don't think people are arguing that nothing an attractive person does can be construed as creepy; rather, some things that would be unacceptable as an unattractive person can be acceptable as an attractive one.

I agree with this, this happened to me quite a few times

I'd say you're absolutely correct. I laugh when I see feminist friends of mine who complain about "creepy" guys approaching them at coffee shops and days later they'll talk about how they hate being single and want to meet someone.

Those are not mutually exclusive things though, presumably they want to be approached by non-creepy guys (ie ones they happen to like, by whatever measure).

I guess this is just how the human mating game goes. We try to make some things make sense intellectually even though there's probably deeper subconscious and chemical messaging going on.

It would be nice if they were a bit more honest and switched creepy/non-creepy with unattractive/attractive.

Humanity would be more nice if everyone would be more honest :)

Everyone has a bunch of biases they're more or (mostly) less aware of, thus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictably_Irrational

I'll be honest I'm usually in a coffee shop to study and read and think to myself or with a friend. I'd be creeped out if a total stranger got in my space to flirt with me out of nowhere. Some people need to have time to mentally prepare for certain types of social interaction.

I'm the same way with you, but that's also why I don't go to coffee shops to study/think. I'm simplifying and assuming a lot here, but: Why would you go out to a place like that for "alone time"?

I kind of like the background noise for some reason. It wouldn't surprise me if our brains evolved to be most relaxedness and free from other worries when surrounded by other humans, making it a good setting for doing some studying or whatever.

I can see that. I personally prefer music, but I've definitely heard of people turning on the tv for "background chatter" when they live alone.

My point is though: By putting yourself in a public setting, you are more likely to be approached. I don't want to say "asking to be approached", but I'm not sure how else to articulate my thought |:)

I wouldn't be shocked if a stranger approached me in a coffee-shop. I would be if they approached me in my home!

Here's the thing, I shouldn't expect to be met with other people's rudeness. That's not my fault. They are the ones that are rude. The exact attitude you're displaying is exactly what you are struggling to avoid saying.

I'm not shocked if a stranger approaches me; I consider them unable to recognize the social situation and they are being rude. I also grew up in the city, where the socially polite thing to do in most public situations is to leave people alone.

I go to coffee shops because I like the laid back atmosphere of many of them. I also like the smell of coffee and people watching.

"Creepy" is shorthand, which most men are at a disadvantage in understanding on account of not having spent a lifetime analyzing men as potential mates. (And now you know why the "gay friend" trope exists: as a bridge between the worlds.) In this case, "creepy" probably has a lot to do with anyone dense enough to try a cold sell in a coffee shop being unlikely in the extreme to make a worthwhile partner even if humored.

It's creepy when it's someone undesirable.

Yes, interactions with other human beings have different personal (to the counterparty) and often social acceptability (as well as, often, moral and/or legal status) based on context, including, especially, whether they are welcome by the other person. The difference between rape and consensual sex is a fairly extreme, obvious, and readily recognizable example, but, while the intensity and severity varies, its common across pretty much the whole range of human interactions.

Failing to recognize this and act accordingly is the essence of objectification.

I agree. And any guy can be "creepy". It doesn't matter how attractive he might be to other females. It is just how the mating game works.

Men should learn not to pursue office relationships. They are almost always a bad idea. Don't shit where you eat.

> Men should learn not to pursue office relationships.

Of all the cases I know of office relationships (and I know a LOT) the man have been pursuing and being pursued roughly 50/50. I have not found observable differences in the ability of both sexes to be horny and able to get into a big mess in the workplace.

In other words, the difference between "creepy" and "adorable" exists entirely within the mind of the person receiving the attention.

I wonder if the perceived potential threat is also a factor. I'm male and on the tall-ish side so it would take a lot for someone to approach me and for me to perceive them as "creepy" instead of maybe just awkward or odd.

> If a female is attracted to the guy, things he says or does are considered "cute", "flirtatious", and/or "interesting".

This is NOT a female thing but a human thing where the perceptions of your interlocutor affect or cloud considerably your interpretation of his/her talk. So, when a word is said that under normal circumstances would be interpreted as neutral or good, the other party of the conversation could interpret it based on a lot of factors such as mood, feelings, prejudices, subconscious content etc and all of this complicates the communication process.

Yes, this is what happens. Also it seems to me that many women have have the habit of interpreting a larger than realistic percentage of interactions as 'flirtatious'.

In other words some of the interactions that were deemed as 'flirty' or even 'creepy-flirty' would be seen as perfectly normal and gender neutral if they were presented as IRC transcripts in a scientific study.. I suspect they would not be picked out as 'flirty' by the study group who was tailing the logs.

my personal belief is that the vast majority of these horror stories are simply the behavior of the huge number of socially awkward and unattractive men in our industry. they go through life pretty much offending everyone, until they learn social skills and mature a bit.

i've been on the receiving end of it because of my ethnic background.

> "when no positive stories get out, the overall picture painted is bleak, which could scare even more women away."

In a world where there is so much bad press and news, it is nice to read something from the other side. Refreshing and encouraging.

> "Ironically, one of the very few times I have experienced any sexism in the industry was when a dude was trying to be nice to me."

I'm not sure how ironic this is. It seems to be setting up a straw man of sexist behaviour being the domain of moustache-twirling villians, rather than something that often perfectly normal men and women inflict on each other and experience unwanted outcomes of because of their culture and the structures of the society they grew up in.

I think the point is that deliberately trying to accommodate women can result in being more sexist. Which is pretty ironic.

I'm not a woman, but if I were one, I think I'd be pretty irritated if I was given special privileges or encouragement over male peers to "help me succeed" or something. That seems condescending and unfair.

Being transgender gives you an interesting view on tech things. It feels like deadlines and other things are less hardly enforced for me and there is an overall greater sense of leeway than I feel like I would have otherwise had if I was still "in the closet". It feels like it is subconscious on their part, but it is at least convenient.

It also shows up in interviews surprisingly.

I understand what you're saying, but it is a bit more complicated than that. Affirmative action is about leveling an unlevel playing field by giving preferential treatment to those who are on the lower side of the playing field, even if they're "less qualified" than those on the higher end of the field. Yes, when viewed on the micro scale without a picture of the whole field, it may seem "unfair," but that's precisely the point; to raise up those who have been treated unfairly in other arenas. In addition, there is value simply in having viewpoints outside of those you might otherwise receive by valuing people solely on whatever objective "merits" you might be evaluating them on.

It is a tricky and difficult subject, I would not be quick to dismiss either argument.

It is certainly a difficult subject. I understand the good intentions of affirmative action, but I think they cause more harm than good in the long run. To be passed up for a position due to your gender or race, or for a company to hire someone with lower technical qualifications than they'd normally accept due to gender or race, creates a lot of resentment and cultural issues. This isn't just negative opinions at the microscale; it creates a large-scale perception that certain companies or industries are giving preferential treatment, even at the expense of their own productivity and cohesion. Already I see a lot of people complaining about this on various websites, though it's probably overexaggerated a bit given that diversity quotas aren't that popular with US companies relative to many European countries (yet).

Even worse, it also might encourage more division and more prejudice towards those minority groups. If a company gives preferential treatment to hiring women, then what are many coworkers going to inevitably think when a woman makes a mistake or something? "You only got hired here because you're a woman." And in that case, they actually have some empirical backing for that assumption. I don't belong to a minority group, but I feel like the anxiety of other people wondering or believing I only (or primarily) got into a certain place because of my gender or race, and not my qualifications, would be very uncomfortable and demotivating. Some people may already think that even when it's plainly not true, but a lot more people will think it if it starts becoming more true more often. Not to mention, on top of that, fear that maybe I'm not that great and my gender/race really was a major factor in my hiring decision. Talk about imposter syndrome.

Also, just on a more general ethical note: People in certain groups have indeed been treated very unfairly for centuries, but flipping the table feels kind of "eye for an eye".

Of course unconscious biases are a major problem and will probably be impossible to get rid of or ignore during a hiring process, but I think blind hiring procedures (no name, gender, age, etc. listed on resume or during the first stages of initial online interviews) are an all around better option. I think if organizations work hard enough, they can eliminate a lot of these issues in the pipeline. If, hypothetically, an equal number of male and female candidates make it through the blind stages, but many more men make it through the following stages, they can look at it and quickly determine if they have a problem that needs addressing.

> It is a tricky and difficult subject, I would not be quick to dismiss either argument.

It's especially tricky because the pro-affirmative-action perspective relies on affirmative action actually working. To the extent that it works, the original case for the special treatment weakens. To the extent that it doesn't work, then affirmative action is some sort of token sacrifice, not a way to actually help people. There's an inherent tension in there that most affirmative action proponents aren't really comfortable with.

My old manager did this kind of shit to female coworkers all the time. He'd insist they put "earmuffs" on if he was going to say something he thought was too dirty/inappropriate/whatever. He was a sexist piece of garbage anyway, but he didn't see how condescending and annoying it was for the women.

He did the same thing to female sales reps - insisted we give them extra help above and beyond what he'd want us to do for men. Very glad I got out of retail hell.

Made even more ironic by all the 'feminists' that use sexism as an excuse for special treatment.

> something that often perfectly normal men and women inflict on each other and experience unwanted outcomes of because of their culture and the structures of the society they grew up in

This is ideology, it's not a given that everybody thinks the same as you on this point.

That's just a definition of the term, how is it ideological? You can use the definition without believing it exists.

It's a remarkably broad definition.

Keep in mind that the situation she recalls, the one with the guy that apologizes to her for cussing, is perhaps not the sort of sexism you would want to try and get rid of.

The way I see it, this coming from a early 20s male (read, shall we say, constantly aware of the opposing sex), is that that attempt to be polite to a woman has nothing to do with her being a woman in tech, but simply being a woman in a social situation.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's pretty normal for a guy/girl to alter his/her behaviour when in a social situation with a member of sex he/she's interested in. Eveb uf the situation in question is supposed to be 100% platonic and/or work related. There is a limit, of course, to how far we can/should excuse this behaviour in people. But I don't think it's fair to stomp on people when they behave different within limits.

Because you _are_ a woman, and it _does_ make a difference, but obviously not in the sense that you'd be any more/less competent because of your gender.

Women really, really, don't want to be treated the way men treat each other when they get together without external sources of censure. Trust me on that.

A lot of men really really don't want to be treated like that either.

also lots of women seem pretty comfortable in blokeish social settings.

There's lot of women who are more comfortable socializing with men and have hobbies or think about topics that might have once been considered "tom-boyish" that aren't considered so now (thankfully) and they can find a lot of common ground to converse with men.

I'm not totally sure what you are talking about, but I don't think I want to be treated like that either. (I'm male)

Trust me on that.

Nah, you need much better evidence than that --esp. for such a sweeping claim.

> Keep in mind that the situation she recalls, the one with the guy that apologizes to her for cussing, is perhaps not the sort of sexism you would want to try and get rid of.

IME, I would respectfully disagree. I'm not a woman, and I'm sure you can find some for which this is true and some for which it is untrue, but....

My perception is that women want to be "one of the guys" just as much as guys do. If you want to censor yourself around "polite company", by all means, I think there's nothing wrong with that. But if you want to censor yourself because there's a woman around, that's still sexism, although a more polite, accepted form of sexism.

I consider it "impolite" (to put it politely) to treat adult women like they're children, so to me this is absolutely a kind of sexism we should get rid of.

>I would rather not call out sexist behavior ten times, than wrongly accuse someone of it once.

Story time!

An admin at work complimented me for having a cute girlfriend. Two of the younger women claimed that objectified women. On the other extreme, the CEO made jokes in the hallway about having sex with other people's wives, but no one ever complained.

Sexism from management is too often ignored. I suspect people rather nitpick minor issues with peers and subordinates then tackle real problems against people in power.

Some people command respect, others get respect without asking because they deserve it, some are ignored one way or the other, being kind of neutral persons, and some get disrespect for a lot of little things they are not aware of, and some get outright scorn because they deserve it and know it. This has nothing to with gender.

As a male, I've always tried to be someone who deserved respect. My first impression of Lea Verou is that she deserves respect and possibly something in her bearing gives off the impression that she commands it (that last part is pure speculation to make my point.)

I've noticed a lot of complainers of either gender aren't getting respect for the little things they are not very conscious of (and this is another reason for the disrespect - little self-awareness,) things like being late, doing sloppy work, gossiping, being greedy or careless with common resources, making inappropriate comments, and so on. I'm not saying there isn't gender discrimination, but I feel there are other factors that should be considered as well.

Glad to hear the positive side of this. I can't say I've encountered any negative behavior in the course of my career that I would consider sexism.

I typically avoid crude humor and innuendo in the workplace because it's impossible to know who is going to get offended. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if I was more even more cautious around women lest something be construed as harassment.

There are definitely good experiences. I think the problem is when management pretends they did not hear something. I remember another female colleague (absent at the meeting) being referred to as a 'chick' and the other men laughing it off. It was a very bad experience. Being the only woman in the room, I did not speak up but I wish I did.

Sometimes management needs to be tactfully reminded that they have the power to correct these things, but they need to be made aware and it needs to be done tactfully. I can see how you regretted not speaking up in front of a majority who seemed to bless the bad behavior by indulging in it, but if it happens again you may want to speak to your supervisor in private.

We hired a new guy who needed some education from the management on how NOT to speak to female colleagues on the team. He was assigned to some projects with a female colleague of equal position and pay, and he spoke to and treated her like a subordinate although she was not. He was doing this unwittingly and meant no true harm, but it was very insulting. This was likely another case of a youngster who didn't have much experience working with women on a team. It was brought to the management and they spoke with this new guy and his behavior changed immediately, he's now much easier to work with all around and everyone is happy about it. But if no one spoke to the management about the behavior, it would have gone on unchecked and probably escalated.

I've since moved. That was one of the many boys club vibe I got there!

Blackstone's formulation for those who didn't bother to click through:

>"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"

Wise to keep this in mind if you wish to be justice-conscious.

Given 11 people who each have a 90.9% chance of having significantly harmed a child and the option to release all or jail all, how many would be for releasing all of them? I find that most people don't follow Blackstone's formulation in practice. Maybe if it was 1 guilty person, but not 10.

It depends on how accurately describe the punishment you are meting out, and very much on the words you use. Given 11 people who you suspect 90.9% chance of having significantly harmed a child and the option to let them live free until you're absolutely certain they are guilty or lock them all in cages to be repeatedly beaten and raped for years at a time without being sure first, which would you pick?

Release them all. Innocent until proven guilty.

>how many would be for releasing all of them?

I'm not sure; haven't made a survey. Probably most. It doesn't matter in any case.

This is one narrative in an overall spectrum of experiences. Important not to sidebar someone's very real experience or assume every "woman in tech" goes through the same thing, so I welcome the introduction of a new perspective that runs against the grain a bit. I wonder if this was prompted by a well-intentioned friend asking "what it's like to be a female in tech these days"? This is a question I get frequently and I'm just sort of at a loss as to what to say -- I see a lot of problems with the lack of diversity especially at the senior leadership level and have been through my fair share of negative experiences, but I've also been fortunate to have insane mentors -- male and female (well, if I'm keeping score, more male than female) -- to help me progress, learn, develop. For me, and maybe this is fraught with its own issues, I've always just sought to prove myself, demonstrate my value by working hard, and earn respect that way. Few people -- male or female -- can hold you in poor esteem if you constantly work to be an ethical, industrious team-player.

> Stories like mine should become the norm, not the exception.

We don't know if that is not the case already. The echo chamber is powerful and viral.

A great post, thank you!

I had the pleasure of attending one of her talks at a conference and she was one of the more entertaining, engaged, and articulate speakers there.

Glad to have come across her work again here!

She had me until the very end, with the anecdote about the guy apologizing for swearing in front of her.

I would apologize if I said "fuck" near my country's president, or even the president of my small-ish company. Both of whom are male. It's a sign of respect. In the context of women, I see it in a similar light to holding the door open for a lady. It isn't me assuming she's too weak to open a door, it's just a common courtesy.

I'm genuinely sorry that the author was offended by the guy apologizing for saying "fuck" near her. I can't speak for him, and perhaps he was a total douchebag. But perhaps he was aware that on average men can be more crude than women, and in a professional (male-dominated, numerically speaking!) setting like that one, it's prudent to avoid language that could make people feel uncomfortable.

You're missing this important point:

> His effort to be courteous made me feel that I was different, the odd one out, the one we must be careful around and treat like a fragile flower.

We should respect all our colleagues equally regardless of the type of sexual organs they happen to be equipped with (and regardless of other irrelevant characteristics). Singling out one group over others for additional "respect" is what makes them feel different and out of place.

In the setting of this anecdote her role was not that of a "lady", but that of an "engineer".

Why can't she be treated as both simultaneously? Why does treatment as an "engineer" require the abolition of her "lady" role? Are the two roles not compatible?

I personally thing it is more sexist to try and deny gender differences than simply recognise them and deal with people respectfully. I find the implication that the only way to not be sexist is to treat everyone as gender neutral disturbing.

Why is it generally okay to swear in front of men but generally not okay to swear in front of women? That's a pretty sexist, and condescending, point of view.

Sure, there are gender differences. But I don't think "genetic vulnerability to profanity" is one of them.

This feminist wiki says, "Any form of 'fuck' that assumes penetration is a bad thing for the receptive partner" is misogynist[1]. So I guess something like "Yeah, they really fucked us over on that one." could have been what he said, and it would be misogynistic and thus makes sense to be something that shouldn't be said around women especially. The next step is to eliminate saying it around men too, because misogyny hurts us all.

Yes, I'm being half-sarcastic here. It seems like if you want to question this definition of misogyny, you have to concede that every such thing, like casual uses of the terms "trigger" and "microagression", is suspect. Why is "fuck" so acceptable to say around women that they feel left out when you try to abstain, but saying "forking" and "dongle" was a mini sexual assault that one time?

[1] http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Guide_for_foul-mouthed_fe...

That seems like a bit of a strawman and overgeneralization. I personally think offense over "fuck", "fork", or "dongle" is absurd (beyond typical professionalism/politeness standards), but this is one branch of feminism finding "fuck" offensive, and in the "dongle" incident, one single woman who found it offensive at the time. Obviously not all women find these things offensive. Not all people (women or otherwise) use or advocate for the modern-tumblr definitions of "microaggression" or "trigger", either.

You're acting like the article you linked is some sort of rulebook all women in technology abide by.

I'm surprised my comment was actually somewhat popular, so it may well have been interpreted differently than I meant. I was intending to sarcastically take the position that one feminist website is a rulebook for everyone, because that's how people seriously act all the time. The woman in the dongle fiasco believed that because she was offended, everyone should be, and the conference organizers apparently agreed. She had plenty of supporters -- was it really just "one single woman"? Maybe it's a bad example, because as the situation evolved she was being attacked (and in response, supported) more as a woman than as a professional maintaining certain standards. But I do believe a substantial chunk supported her position itself, a complaint primarily about sexism.

On the other hand, the OP herself is in the gray (for now at least) for saying dick jokes are fine and the only sexism there is the lack of vulva jokes.[1]

The fact that there is no rulebook was exactly my point. For every person wanting to analyze whether your anatomical/sexual reference is offensive to someone, there is someone else feeling singled out that you would take that care before saying it in front of them. I don't want to throw up my hands and give up, just point out that people act like the answers are easy but it's actually very complex. There's little consensus on proper behavior on these small scales, and both sides have tribal and exclusionary behaviors.

Behavior of today's college students, in the US at least, suggests the Tumblr generation is growing and therefore a sizable contingent of people really will increasingly apply these standards to everyone else.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10760819 (you have to go up to parent to see the grayness, and I'm assuming it's the OP because she claimed so in another comment and has a sufficiently-aged account with the same name as the website)

You remind me of a time when one of my colleagues made a somewhat ribald comment, and my other colleague - the only woman in the room (whom, by the way, we treated in the way the author would have approved: as one of us) - reminded him that there was a lady present.

I still keep in touch with her, so I'll be sure to pass on the message that she's both sexist and condescending.

I can't really respond to this without knowing the actual content of the comment, and the context.

But if it was literally him saying something like "what the fuck" or whatever, then yes, I think she was not being reasonable. If she were to say "I don't like that kind of language", that's fine, but to suggest ladies don't like that kind of language is a big overgeneralization on her part.

I'm guessing it was a different kind of comment, though, given "ribald". In which case it's not just an issue of profanity anymore, and so her reaction may have been perfectly justified.

I think it was a sexual comment, or it may have been a gesture. It was a long time ago now, so I can't really remember.

As far as I'm concerned, her reaction was justified whatever the context. If she'd had a different reaction, that would have been fine too. It's not reasonable to tell someone that they aren't entitled to a reaction.

In my experience, with my friends, male friends are much more likely to swear than female. So it's reasonable to assume they would also be more accepting of other people swearing, and generalize this assumption to other people.

That's fair; I can see why you'd have that viewpoint, in that case. In my own experience, my male and female friends all swear with about equal frequency. I've never noticed a trend like that myself. It might be area- and culture-dependent to some degree, maybe? I live on the US east coast.

Yes, very likely. Or language-dependent, as well - in English, "fuck" can very conveniently be placed almost everywhere, and has (IMO) lost a lot of its charge... In Sloveinan, many swear-words carry much stronger emphasis.

> That's a pretty sexist, and condescending, point of view.

Have you lived in the South before? Men are raised that it's a sign of respect to be on their best behaviors around ladies. Shouldn't this count as cultural diversity and be respected?

No, because it is cis-gendered, heteronormative white culture. They don't get a seat at the table to discuss grievances and microaggressions. They're all descendants of brutish, evil plantation slave-owners who should pay for the crimes of people gone to worm-food before they were so much as a twinkle in their father's eye.


I realize I need some neologisms.

You are going to have to make an argument on what the gender difference is that would result in it being considered appropriate to cuss in front of males but inappropriate in front of females.

Apparently the two roles aren't perceived as compatible by whoever felt the need to apologize to a fellow engineer for saying something that no engineer would be upset to hear, or for that matter at all unlikely to say. If he has to choose, as apparently he does, between thinking of her as an engineer and thinking of her as a lady, then I'd suggest that the role she's earned should trump the one to which she was born.

I don't see that "likes to swear or have people swear nearby" is an essential or generally accepted component of the role of "engineer".

Your statement is actually extremely sexist, I'm not sure if you realise that. "The role she's earned should trump the one to which she was born" - so being a "lady" is somehow an "inferior role" that can be trumped by the superior, earned role of "being an engineer"?

It really doesn't seem that hard to me. A person can be all sorts of genders and various fluid things in between male and female, and you accept that and treat them as such - with respect for all those roles, without assuming one to be superior to the other. On top of that, they might take on a bunch of other roles. Those roles don't obliterate the nature of who they are. "I'm no longer a woman, I'm now an engineer" implies that the two roles are exclusionary, that one is superior, to the other, etc.

How about: "I'm a woman and I'm an engineer. They're both part of my identity."

Caveat: I live in the UK. We don't have quite the levels of rampant sexism y'all seem to have in the states (or at least I haven't observed it). Or racism, for that matter. Seems a bit more civilised over here, based on the stories I read about the US. People are people. They're black, white, rainbow-striped, whatever. They're people and people are awesome and worthy of all the love in the universe, whatever their gender, skin colour, profession, etc.

> so being a "lady" is somehow an "inferior role" that can be trumped by the superior, earned role of "being an engineer"?

Not at all. As an accurate reading of my earlier comment would make obvious, I'm well aware they are not incompatible in the slightest. But for someone who doesn't understand that, and has therefore to choose one or the other as a basis for dealing with another person, "engineer" would seem to be preferable, and I've yet to run across the engineer, in a room full of engineers, to whom an apology for swearing is necessary.

The remainder of your exceptionalism I'll let pass without comment, save to note that of course nothing says "civilized" like days of unsuppressed looting and rioting in the capital city. Yes, you're clearly doing something right there.

Yes. We are different and there is nothing wrong with that. Hell, we might even have different skill-sets, meaning that for a given task, a certain sex might be a better choice than another... still not a problem.

And you missed the point of the GP poster. The GP would have apologized for this to anyone he didn't know well. Why would it be GP's fault for "making" someone feel "out of place" by treating them with a certain respect that has nothing to do with any personal characteristics? Her role wasn't "lady" or "engineer", it was "person I don't an F-bomb-level rapport with."

At least that's the main point of GP's post. What the guy in the story was thinking is debatable I guess, but I don't see much point since we can't know.

My interpretation of the GP's comment was that he believes the man in the article was simply treating the author with the same common courtesy he treats all women with. My parents' generation used to call this "being a gentleman".

Speaking of my parents, my mother brought me up to always be a gentleman around ladies, which included things like not using bad language. This was quickly drilled out of me when I entered the real world.

Dave Chappelle has an amusing stand-up routine about this subject called "Chivalry is dead, and women killed it"

He treats all women with a common courtesy... and all men with that same courtesy.

Did you misread the bit about "holding the door open for a lady"? Hint: the reason he does so is not because of her gender, has nothing to do with "being a gentleman" or anything else your parents taught you that you're dragging into this thread before anyone else did. The reason I know is because he calls it a "common courtesy" in a "similar light" to his position on being respectful with your language regardless of the gender of your listeners, and disavows one sexist justification for holding the door for women specifically. He probably brought up the door thing because some people have the idea that women are offended by having a man hold a door for them, precisely because it used to be chivalrous. And a counter-meme is that few real women are like that, so who knows, but this swearing anecdote seems a point in favor of the first idea. Did you see that he used the word "lady" and your chivalry detectors flared up and refuse to take anything else he says at face value? Was the comment edited after your reply? I was there around that time and it seems unlikely.

Since I had to dig a bit to justify it above, I can understand how you've misinterpreted it. The comment may have been sloppily written, or has a certain subtle sense of humor/sarcasm/analogy, or maybe even trolling by appearing sexist but being technically not.. but if you read it carefully and maybe a bit charitably I really believe it means pretty much the opposite of what you thought.

You probably still hold back on some "bad language" to men and women you don't know well, or you wouldn't call it "bad language." That was the main point.

I wasn't trying to attack the OP. I was offering my interpretation of his comment along with the opinion that maybe being chivalrous doesn't make him a bad person. It might just be that he was brought up to believe that it's socially unacceptable not to be chivalrous.

GP here. The correct interpretation of my comment is that it was complete bullshit, judging by the downvotes it received. Hope that clears everything up.

> it's prudent to avoid language that could make people feel uncomfortable.

The weird thing is not that he apologized (that's reasonable), the weird thing is that he apologized /to her/ (and not to the group as a whole).

What if the reason she was "singled out" was actually that she was the only person the swearer didn't know well enough to feel OK about swearing around? Or was the only one he considered to be in earshot? Or she was just the closest and he felt he should make some gesture because he regretted it, but it wasn't bad enough to personally apologize to every last person?

I guess the author's impression trumps ours (and only the swearer's honest account of his thoughts could trump hers), but she didn't really address those, so I have some doubts on whether it's as clear-cut as you say.

Nope. There were many people around, and it was clear that he didn’t know all of them. There were people he didn't know just as close as I was. He apologized only to me, nobody else.

Thanks for the clarification. If you don't mind sharing more and if you remember, what was the exact usage of the word? It seems like some of them could be construed as sexist, as I referred to in another comment. So maybe that was why he was apologizing. I assume you didn't think it was sexist (or you would have said so), but maybe he was concerned it could be interpreted that way.

(If that's the case, he shouldn't have said it regardless of who was around, but once he said it, apologizing with some amount of sincerity would be better than not apologizing.)

It's been years but I think it was just exclamation. Like "oh, fuck!".

I didn't get the impression that she was offended by the guy who apologized for saying "fuck" near her. I think it just made her feel more self-conscious.

You totally missed the point on this part. She wasn't actually offended, it was the one thing that made her feel different from the rest, which was the closest thing to feeling sexism. Had she been offended, she would have not written this article imo.

My company has a culture in which we all swear like pirates. This makes this whole question moot. Even the softly spoken polite types end up sounding like they were raised in the gutter by the end of week two.

Additionally, swearing is a social signal that typically bonds people, as it's a "we can say these things together" type affair.

We swear in front of and with clients (not all - there are some where we know it would be a lead balloon). We talk like human fucking beings. Folks tend to find this refreshing, and it results in a more relaxed atmosphere, and more relaxed interpersonal and client relationships.

Franky, if someone is offended by my language, then I see that as strictly their problem, and I won't apologise for it.

Would you seriously hold a door open for a woman, but not a man? That's ... weird.

Some dudes get really testy about having doors opened for them (which is all the more reason to do it).

Indeed; I always slam the door on them as they approach, as a sign of respect.

> I would apologize if I said "fuck" near my country's president

I'd be pretty pleased if I managed to hold down a conversation with any of our political 'leaders' that didn't involve a good many expletives.

Now we just need a "neutral experience as a woman in tech" piece and we'll have discussed the full spectrum of this topic.

I didn't read the article. When someone has a positive experience in tech "as a woman", that is the norm. I don't subscribe to that being noteworthy, regardless of the campaigns insisting otherwise.

maybe some stories about nasty manipulative women in tech should be shared. Or not. Bad vibes and all, who needs bad vibes. I worked with a backstabbing IT exec woman in a previous job. Piece of work she was... Won't go into it of course but sometimes people just suck. Male or female.

The danger is that poor performance can be insulated by the distraction of over sensitivity to the "women in tech" issue that's memed at campaign levels.

>"It takes a lot of introspection to see one’s internalized stereotypes."

I think she hit spot on with this - But that bit was directed at men, when the reality is that it goes both ways.

The problem is that it's a cycle hard to break from - it's not just men being sexist, it's women being unconsciously sexist towards themselves because they grew up in a sexist environment.

That's why you need to raise awareness, to make men AND women more aware of their thoughts and actions which they did not know were a result of sexism. Gotta break the pattern.

It was absolutely NOT directed just at men. We all have internalized stereotypes and biases.

That came out wrong. I was referring to the whole paragraph, which contains examples of men being sexist, rather than that quote.

Personally I've only ever witnessed sexism at play in larger companies, startup culture by it's nature I think is anti-sexist, the highly competitive market for employees combined with the sense of "who gives a shit about genders, we gotta get this thing fixed NOW" kind of makes it a defacto meritocracy.

Not to say that it can't happen in startups of course, just saying in the Perfect World, a startup culture would eliminate it before it even had a chance to take foothold.

Biases come into play even when judging supposedly objective things like technical merit. In a startup environment where every new hire has a huge impact on the outcome of the company, the subconsciously perceived 'safe bet' will always be to favor the person who talks and acts the most like a young Zuckerberg.

Must be a privilege of startups who have an ample amount of applicants to sift through. When you're in an area with a smaller tech industry, you need be a little more flexible to whats available.

I think the reason the overall picture painted of women in tech is bleak because the typical experience of being a woman in the tech industry is bleak. Women are scared away from tech by their experience in tech, not by tech's reputation, so I'm not surprised there aren't more Lea's out there.

Women who quit the tech industry (56%) do so at a significantly higher rate than they do in science (47%) and engineering (39%) ("HBR Research Report: The Athena Factor:Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology" -- and I'll add that the report is good about addressing why childcare and the heavy workloads don't entirely account for the quit rate.)

Quit rates in the industry shouldn't be higher than other STEM industries. Even if you grant a pipeline problem, in which case sharing positive stories about women in tech improves the situation, once women are involved, positive stories can't impact how they are treated. The quit rate suggests it's a worse situation for women than in similar industries.

One commenter here suggests Lea's case shows nothing needs to change, which is odd, since Lea doesn't say that. It's also odd that this commenter suggests rule changes addressing inadequacies ought to be characterized as "special rules" -- special changes to fundamentally sound policy -- instead of "better policy" -- fundamental changes to flawed policies, policies demonstrated to be flawed by their unfair and differential impact on women.

Nonetheless, it is great Lea has had a positive experience. I am glad she shared it.

What is "engineering": just mechanical, civil and such? If I'm designing part of the circuit board for a tablet, is that "tech industry" or "engineering"?

> It takes a lot of introspection to see one’s internalized stereotypes. Therefore, a lot of the time, you cannot be sure if you have experienced sexist behavior, and there is no way to find out for sure, since the perpetrator doesn’t know either.

I had the thought today that the sexism debate is actually a war, but it's not a war fought by humans against other humans. It's fought by groups of neurons against other groups of neurons, our conscious minds are just pawns.

Many times, those groups of neurons war inside the same person's brain. Biological warfare is fierce.

Thank you for writing this, this was a much needed post that sheds light on the other side of the story that you never hear about.

thank you

Don't see why this was flagged. It us a well known fact that a lot of women thrive in tech.

I've said this to many times already but I've been told by women how much they enjoy working with men because we are so straightforward.

Edit: that said, didn't vote at all on this one, but flagged to death? No.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10758571 and marked it off-topic.

(Some users have flagged that comment while others have vouched for it. It is currently not flagged.)

>Don't see why this was flagged Because some people would rather silence people who disagree with their opinions rather than debate them or just learn to live ignore them if it's too hard.

It's not about disagreement. The poster put "scare quotes" around sexism, implying that the issue does not even exist or is worth discussing.

That's not an "opinion" it's an implicit way of saying that everyone talking about it is kind of dumb for even bringing it up.

EDIT: OH WOW, I HAVE BEEN DOWNVOTED. Which is not something I normally care about since I post quite controversial things anyway. But downvoted by the same people complaining about being "unfairly downvoted by others"? The hypocrisy of you.

It is about one specific incident where a very privileged woman cost two normal developers their jobs because she took offense from a conversation she was not part of.

Yes, "she cost them their jobs". That's a "valid interpretation" of the story.


I did not downvote you. Maybe I should, but I tend to reserve that for special cases.

That said I and a few others here are downvoted for no apparent reason as well and personally I don't care to much about it except they never care to tell why. That is annoying.

I've noticed that any time a debate of this sort comes up, and someone states a strong view supporting either side, the other side will start downvoting them. That's usually counteracted by their own side upvoting them back up.

It happens to everyone, so it annoys me when I see people complaining about it in every HN thread that has divided opinions on some social justice movement or whatever.

There's no "Please explain why you've chosen to up/down vote" pop up on HN, so no one really owes anyone an explanation for it either. That's just how things are.

Good, now that everything seems to have calmed down just think how it would have felt if instead of a celebrity feminist taking offense at pycon there was a conservative Christian that made reported two developers ultimately causing them to lose their jobs.

Would that be different?

How about we take it a step forward and say "woman caused two developers to be fired"?

Or even better.

"A person at a tech conference caused two developers to be fired".

That way we can judge the situation within its own context, rather than letting our own affiliations or views bias us.

By the way, it's against the guidelines to talk about being downvoted, that will explain further flagging of your post.

Replying here cos I can't reply to your other comment.

Either I have been so bad at communicating my point that it came out as garbled nonsense or you've confused me with someone else.

I am all for people being able to downvote whoever they want without needing to explain themselves. The only reason I mentioned being downvoted at all - by 1 guy, I think - was to point out that the same people complaining that they are being "unfairly downvoted for having controversial opinions" have no qualms about downvoting people with opposing views. Which, in my eyes, is hypocritical.


You should know that on HN you're speaking with the voice of the platform. You have a right to your own voice; they have a right not to give you theirs.

Usually though, the rationale for "downvoting" (really flagging) is that somebody is being unreasonably negative. I think it's rare that a well-researched non-disparaging comment is flagged more than a couple times.

We have all said things on HN that have been flagged, we all know it feels bad. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be moderation.

Am I the only one who thinks "sexism" is overrated? It's misinterpreted by so many and I'm not sure I understand what it means most of the time. I think humans are prejudice about so many things that it's hard to keep track and "give a name" to every single prejudice. Obviously "sex" does set us apart much more strongly than, say, race, or probably any other thing, so I really find it normal that there are stereotypes and prejudices about "sex" specifically.

Obviously there's a problem if your stereotype, whichever it may be, becomes offensive and disrespectful. But I mean -- " I noticed for the first time that day that I was the only woman in the room. His effort to be courteous made me feel that I was different, the odd one out" -- there's no way you can label this "sexist". It's just a dude who probably thinks a girl is cute and is therefore a little awkward around said person.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that labels can mean different things to different people and I really hate using them to express my specific situation.

I agree, pretty much our every interaction is full of biases. Not only that, but "bias" is just what we call wrong guesses! We go through life assigning likelihoods to things, because it's useful to know that a stove is more likely than a kitchen counter to burn you (even if it's not on), a road is more likely to require caution than a pavement, men are more likely to be able to lift heavy weights than women, etc.

I still haven't been able to pin down what bias is, but I'd say preliminarily, "adhering to the initial judgement for someone even after getting evidence to the contrary". I can't rationally discount that X group of people is more likely to do Y (it would be irrational to claim that all groups of people have exactly the same statistical properties), but if you think that a specific person does Y just because you think their group does Y, even after you've seen that they don't, then you're biased.

Exactly. Sexism is not identical to misogynism. Where the latter is about being nasty, sexism is believing something about somebody solely based on their gender.

So if I assume you don't like pizza and football because you're female, so instead buy you frozen yoghurt, I'm being sexist even if it's with the nicest of intentions.

We're all human and we all make mistakes, but sometimes people blow those mistakes out of all proportion. We just need more understanding and patience on both sides of the fence.

Is it sexism to make assumptions that are probabilistically correct?

Consider the following procedure:

1) For a woman I don't know, I buy her frozen yogurt. 2) For a man I don't know, I buy him pizza.

Now suppose my stereotypes are actually accurate - i.e., P(likes froyo > pizza|woman) > 0.5 and P(likes pizza > froyo | man) > 0.5. This procedure, based purely on stereotypes, will make everyone happier than flipping a coin. It's actually the best possible way to allocate pizza and frozen yogurt if the only information I have is gender.

Are you really saying that to not be sexist, I need to ignore information and make worse decisions?

(My supposition that stereotypes are accurate has actually been studied: http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jussim/unbearable%20accuracy%20o... )

> Is it sexism to make assumptions that are probabilistically correct?

Judging people based on group membership rather than individually on axis that are not essentially tied (even if they are correlated with) that group membership is prejudice; prejudiced based on sex is sexism. So, yes, making probabilistic assumptions based on sex and acting on them is, in many cases, sexism.

> ) For a woman I don't know, I buy her frozen yogurt. 2) For a man I don't know, I buy him pizza.

If you want to get people food that they want, you can just ask them. (And, in any case, context is probably more important than sex: IME, women are more likely to prefer pizza to froyo for a meal, and men are more likely to prefer froyo to pizza for a dessert; there're are very few contexts where "pizza" and "froyo" are comparable alternatives where sex would be the prime differentiator on how people would respond to them -- and elevating sex above more relevant decision criteria is a pretty strong indication of sexism.)

yummyfajitas is using the Pizza and Froyo examples from the post they're replying to. I don't think it is fair to grill them on the technicalities of those specific examples.

I wasn't grilling yummyfajitas over the choice of examples, I was supporting the point made in the post they were responding to (and rejected in their post) regarding the example.

> Is it sexism to make assumptions that are probabilistically correct?

Yes it's sexist, because assuming something about somebody based purely on their gender is precisely what sexism is. However, sometimes, in the face of limited data and limited resources to gather more data, being sexist might be the best possible course of action.

The problem with the stereotypes of gender is that you are dealing with huge numbers of people. Even if a well-conducted survey reveals that 99.9% of women prefer frozen yoghurt to pizza, then there's still around 3.5 million women in the world that prefer pizza to frozen yoghurt.

So the best possible way to decide whether to buy pizza or frozen yoghurt for a woman is to ask her. However, if you had to make a snap decision then, yes, you should go with the statistically more likely option and if you get it wrong then she should understand why you did it.

> ...assuming something about somebody based purely on their gender is precisely what sexism is.

I'm going to challenge that definition. There are absolutely biological difference between men and women. When I offer to help a young woman carry her suitcase up stairs, am I being sexist because I assume she would appreciate the help?

The definition of sexism needs to have room for some reality or the definition is useless or even harmful.

Well, think about whether you'd help a young man or leave him in the lurch, and think about whether you'd help if the woman in question is 6'1" and 190 pounds of muscle, handling the suitcase quite easily. Agreed that the definition needs to have some room for reality.

It may be a little old-school (which itself might be code for something else nefarious), but I will almost always stop for a woman [or the elderly] with a broken down car or flat tire on the side of the road (and have often doubled back from an exit a few miles down the road, then past the exit behind me, then returned if I couldn't safely stop as I initially passed). I will virtually never stop for a male in the same situation. (I have done so only when it's been dangerously cold out and in a fairly rural area.)

It comes up a couple times per year; more than half end in "I'm OK, AAA is on the way", the next most common is me changing a tire for them, and the rarest of all (nowadays) is them borrowing my phone to call for help.

If that's sexism, it's a type of sexism that I have no intention of stopping nor apologizing for.

That is pretty clearly sexism. You don't have to apologize for it; people will just think you're an asshole.

Given the rampant assholism in the world, I have to be unconcerned with those people who believe I'm an asshole for doing this.

Just to give you a hint: How would you feel if you didn't know how to help yourself with something, and someone refused to help you because(!) you happen to be male? You might not have realised it, but that's in essence what you said, and that's at least one reason why people have been telling you that that behaviour is sexist. It's not about you helping women, it's about you deciding who to help based on their gender.

I'm not confused. I just don't agree that it makes me an asshole. I know it's differential behavior based on gender. That's why I thought it was interesting and on-topic to share.

For me, it's a safety issue. I'm pretty certain that I'm going to be able to handle 99.99% of encounters with roadside females (or elderly). I've gotten into an altercation with a roadside male I stopped to help in high school (who was likely high when he ran his car off the road).

I don't view it as particularly different from someone choosing to donate money or time to support the NAACP or NOW. Maybe donating to those organizations is racist and sexist, respectively? (Pedantically, it is, but I don't view those actions as negative or "asshole" either.)

> For me, it's a safety issue. I'm pretty certain that I'm going to be able to handle 99.99% of encounters with roadside females (or elderly). I've gotten into an altercation with a roadside male I stopped to help in high school (who was likely high when he ran his car off the road).

Well, the question is: Do you decide based on physical strength/behaviour of the individual or based on gender? Sexism is when you ignore the individual's characteristics and instead decide how to interact with them based on some supposed characteristic of the gender that they belong to. If you simply decide based on how strong or high the individual is (or appears to be), independently of their gender, and that then happens to correlate with their gender, that's not sexism--if you avoid helping a male despite them appearing completely non-threatening/-intimidating/whatever (and that's how I understood what you wrote--after all, there is nothing "old school" about avoiding situations that seem risky, is there?), then that is sexism.

I'm approaching the car at 30-70 mph from an oblique angle and trying to determine both the car and occupant status and whether I can safely get over and stop. I also wasn't expecting the situation, because I was out going about my business.

I admit that if the car was occupied by 6 elderly females, each with a pistol in one hand, a grenade in the other, and a deranged look in their eyes, that I wouldn't stop, but realistically, I'm making the call on occupant likely threat level to me primarily on gender and age, as if they're in the car, I can only see their shoulders and head.

In a good Samaritan situation like this, I have to be right every single time. One (more) mistake, and I can end up in a really bad spot and that's just not worth it to me or my family. For most false positive cases (where I drive past someone who posed no threat [which of course is most people on the side of the road]), they're going to get help inside of an hour or two from the police or AAA anyway.

It's worth noting that the Good Samaritan stopped for a man, and it's likely the Samaritan was running a real risk of an ambush and mugging. We're all free to choose not to stop, which is the premise of the story, but the point of the story is that stopping is the right thing to do.

Though for people who aren't Christians, it's just a convenient metaphor.

What percentage of drivers stop to help? I would wager it's well under 1%.

I also suspect that some people who judge me negatively for my selective stopping have never in their life stopped to help a fellow motorist of any gender.

Whether or not they understand Bayes, some groups of people are more concerned about what their posteriors will become proportional to whether they choose pizza and/or froyo.

In those cases, despite your information being generally probabilistically correct for your goal, the worst decision could be giving them something that they'll eat (and enjoy) or want to eat but can't. You're predicting for what to bring on a first encounter, and the best answer could be to bring nothing until you have better information.

It's not always possible to gather better information - sometimes all we have is base rates. Furthermore, even when we do have other information, combining other information with base rates yields a superior result.

If you don't agree, by all means write down a distribution and an objective function, and show me decision process that is better than the Bayes optimal decision rule.

(Hint: you can't. http://www.ee.columbia.edu/~vittorio/BayesProof.pdf Or for a simple example illustrating why, consider the first 20 slides of this presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/webanalisten/chris-stuccio-data-sc... )

Please, buy chocolate. Froyo is demeaning.

I know you're just doing your normal schtick of incorrectly assuming that everyone else is stupid (obviously no one, including blowski, thinks "to not be sexist, you need to ignore information and make worse decisions"), but this time you have accidentally stumbled on an interesting point. I know you don't care one way or another, but for the sake of other readers, I'd like to point it out(and BTW, your specific example (taken from blowski) isn't really sexist as I don't quite see how it keeps women away from power, but that's beside the point):

> I need to ignore information and make worse decisions?

Ignoring information and making worse decisions are two different things. Or, more precisely, by not ignoring some statistical data you are ignoring other pieces of information, such as our understanding of social dynamics. Ignoring yesterday's information about the train's arrival time would only lead to a much better decision making if you want to get to the train on time and you know that the train runs on a different schedule on weekends and yesterday was a Sunday. A piece of data is mostly useless (and even misleading) if you don't know what model it samples. Statistical data on human behavior is usually very bad information because history shows us that preferences change all the time (except for obvious things, like that people want power and are afraid of death). In fact, if women preference for frozen yogurt over pizza stayed constant throughout the ages it would be the exception rather than the rule.

If you base your decision only on statistical information of the kind you describe, you're creating a conservative feedback loop. We now know that people's assumptions about others' behavior may affect the other's behavior, and so behaving in accordance with past behavior (because that's what most of your information is really about) simply perpetuates the current condition.

The information you shouldn't ignore is the deeper information that comes from the actual study of social dynamics. That information tells us that changing your behavior to not conform to past behavior would (and constantly does) change society's future state. This is where social dynamics diverge from physics and the train schedule. We can decide to affect them (not necessarily determine them, because it's very hard to predict the behavior of such a complex system, but our actions definitely change the dynamics; we know this for a fact).

The only question is, which way do you want to direct society: do you want to keep it as it is for as long as possible, or change it according to your values?

I guess the conclusion to yummyfajitas' scenario then is to not give a woman frozen yogurt or pizza, but broccoli or spinach instead.

The conclusion is to try to study about society before trying to make unfounded assumptions such as "as in the past" = "greatest happiness".

I'll ignore your ad-hominem and your strange attempts to change the topic to your uncommon definition of sexism (as opposed to the original definition used by blowski, Pauline Leet, Caroline Bird, and everyone else here).

You are correct that it is possible that by giving people snacks they prefer, I'm affecting their future preferences in some way.

So what? All actions might possibly influence people's future preferences in some (probably unpredictable) manner. Why would I trade actual predictable present-day happiness for unpredictable changes in future behavior that might theoretically be somewhat better?

(If you disagree with me that influence on future preferences is unpredictable, and think you can predict social dynamics better than random chance, offer me a basket of bets at favorable odds.)

> your uncommon definition of sexism

My definition of sexism really is the common academic definition (although by "definition" I mean "definition plus corollaries", but it's a good enough approximation for people unfamiliar with research).

> Why would I trade actual predictable present-day happiness for unpredictable changes in future behavior that might theoretically be somewhat better?

Why wouldn't you? The question of what you should do is a philosophical question (perhaps the ultimate philosophical question) and depends largely on your values. I am not trying to dictate what you should or shouldn't do, simply show that your "optimal" decisions are not neutral ones based on "data" but ultimately a result of your assumptions and your (valued) goals. Achieving similar power distribution between men and women is a value of mine and it may not be yours, but you cannot justify your actions by anything other than another value.

> If you disagree with me that influence on future preferences is unpredictable, and think you can predict social dynamics better than random chance, offer me a basket of bets at favorable odds.

Well, my views of social dynamics are a result of years of study. I cannot say that my predictions are better than random because historians don't even try to make predictions (and I wouldn't dare call myself a historian), but we do know one thing for a fact: social action does indeed create social change. When it comes to complex systems, a familiarity with the dynamics does not translate to good predictions -- I'm sorry, but that's a direct result of the math. Non-linear, multivariate differential equations are very hard to predict (and we don't even have the right coefficients). But I know enough to recognize terrible reasoning that ignores what we do know, and denies its own assumptions.

I think I was pretty clear that my goal was to "make everyone happier". Obviously if you want to maximize paperclips you'll come to different conclusions.

I can't figure out what point you are trying to make. Best I can tell is that we should stop talking about bias against people due to gender and talk about your preferred topics instead?

Achieving similar power distribution between men and women is a value of mine...

It's an irrelevant one, however, since you can't actually predict whether any action will change this distribution.

As for your "years of study" that result in no testable predictions, I'm sorry for you. Perhaps it might have been a better use of time to spend a semester studying complex systems instead. I think I know what you are trying to claim (positive liapunov exponent + error m in measurement of x(0) -> error m e^Lt in prediction of x(t)), but the nonexistence of good predictions does not follow this - it merely changes the character of the predictions. Typically the predictions concern probability distributions on x, regions exhibiting certain behavior, phase transitions, etc.

While I could simply argue by authority, based on getting a Ph.D. in nonlinear multivariate differential equations, I'm making claims that can actually be intellectually defended. So feel free to exhibit some actual math and I'll carefully illustrate why you are wrong.

> I think I was pretty clear that my goal was to "make everyone happier"

How does your behavior achieve your goal, then? How do you know what would make people happy if all of your information about what makes them happy is snapshots of the past? Maybe a better study of the model would yield that the best way to make people happy is to offer them the exact opposite of what they had in the past? I don't understand how you can draw conclusions from data without understanding the model the data is a snapshot of.

> It's an irrelevant one, however, since you can't actually predict whether any action will change this distribution.

I didn't say that. I said that we can't predict with certainty and we're not trying to make predictions at all, but we do know from history that political and social action does work. That's how women were allowed to vote, go to universities, and become doctors and lawyers.

> that result in no testable predictions, I'm sorry for you

As I have spent even more years studying mathematics, I can tell you that neither subject was a waste of time, testable predictions or no. I feel sorry for you if testable predictions are the only measure of worth you know, but I hope that you are at least aware that much of the progress humankind has made wasn't due to any scientifically-predictable actions (and some of it was).

Nevertheless, I never said I can't make any testable predictions, only that we can't predict the course of history.

> Perhaps it might have been a better use of time to spend a semester studying complex systems instead.

Well, I did both.

> but the nonexistence of good predictions does not follow this - it merely changes the character of the predictions.

Really? If your measurement time (of initial conditions) significantly exceeds the time the predicted trajectory is within usable error, then yes -- nonexistence of predictions does follow. That doesn't mean, however, that we've seen that societies where social action was taken changed faster than those that didn't have social action. If nonlinear equations is your field then you know that, sadly, sometimes we are reduced to making qualitative predictions only.

No one disputes the necessity of models. Why do you think I did?

I didn't say that. I said that we can't predict with certainty...

Actually you said "I cannot say that my predictions are better than random". Either your predictions convey information (i.e., posterior(world state|prediction) != posterior(world state)) or they doesn't. If they don't, they are useless for prediction since E[utility|choice] cannot vary.

If they do, you can make the basket of predictions I asked for and behave better than random chance.

Really? If your measurement time (of initial conditions) significantly exceeds the time the predicted trajectory is within usable error, then yes -- nonexistence of predictions does follow.

The nonexistence of stable predictions of x(t) does indeed follow. Again, there are a huge number of quantitative predictions which can be made. For example, many systems with positive liapunov exponent allow claims like "a particle's long term distribution will behave like a sample from the distribution f(x) dx" or "a particle with energy < E_0 will travel a distance L only with probability < A exp(-BL)."

> Why do you think I did?

Because you said that ignoring people's past preference leads to sub-optimal decisions and implied that the best decision is merely to reflect past actions. You can't possibly make that claim unless you have a model that states that people's preferences don't change. That would be a very wrong model, though, because we know that they change and we know what may change them.

> Actually you said "I cannot say that my predictions are better than random".

By that I meant predictions of the course of history. I can say with high certainty that social movements often achieve their goals, and without them, those goals arrive much, much later. In particular, the feminist movement (on all its forms) has had tremendous success since the middle of the nineteenth century, and there is little reason to believe that the trend will stop. OTOH, the resistance to change has also taken a familiar path (while historians don't try to predict the future, they do recognize certain patterns) of an unofficial glass ceiling, then appeals to "nature" and "science", a better past and the tyranny of the reformer against a sieged hegemony. All of these are very familiar to us.

> a particle's long term distribution will behave like a sample from the distribution f(x) dx

Sure, we could theoretically make that claim, but we wouldn't be able to verify it because our measurement time exceeds the duration of any reasonable error of the prediction.

Listen, I went into history after studying math (yes, including non-linear equations), with delusions of being the first to come up with a dynamical model of society's behavior (with "power" of course, being a central quantity). But then I learned history and realized how unattainable that goal is. Maybe one day, if we have near instantaneous means of measurements. Otherwise, coming up with a model out of grossly inaccurate measurements made at different times -- and far too few of them (there are so many variables, so many forces, including forces of nature, namely a lot of external energy) -- all mediated by narrators, makes it impossible. We can say that "social movements that grow large enough tend to work", but putting that into any formula won't make the prediction any more accurate. I still have a dream of a semi-accurate model of how power flows in society, but it will require much better measurements.

BTW, if all our models are no better than random, the basis for relying on past behavior as a predictor of future happiness is no less shaky than any other. In that case, we'd have no reason to believe that ignoring past data would lead to any worse decisions than any other assumption.

>So if I assume you don't like pizza and football because you're female, so instead buy you frozen yoghurt, I'm being sexist even if it's with the nicest of intentions.

If I'm buying my young niece a toy, and see two otherwise equal toys except one is blue and one is pink, is it sexist to choose the pink one? I have to make a choice, there is no non-colored toy.

I only think it crosses into sexism if my niece told me she likes blue better and I still pick a pink one or if there is some reason that the pink option is objectively worse (say if I was buying her a Bumblebee transformer, picking the pink one instead of the yellow one would qualify because the yellow one is the canonical color).

So, this is an interesting example because people are throwing Bayes around, and yet when asked what their favourite color is, the most popular answer for women is blue.

And yet, their favourite color is associated with men.

I wonder what could possibly have caused this divergence from making decisions on a factual basis when everyone here is so focused on using statistics?


> If I'm buying my young niece a toy, and see two otherwise equal toys except one is blue and one is pink, is it sexist to choose the pink one?

It would be sexist if you bought the pink one thinking "She's a girl, she'll prefer pink to blue" because you would be assuming something based solely on her gender.

The best course of action might be to ask her "Do you want the blue one or the pink one?". But maybe you couldn't, and so you used your knowledge of your niece and of little girls in general, and you go with the pink one.

Sometimes we have no choice but to use our stereotypes, but whenever possible we should get more data rather than just making assumptions.

>It would be sexist if you bought the pink one thinking "She's a girl, she'll prefer pink to blue" because you would be assuming something based solely on her gender.

What if I think "she is a girl, which means that, given I do not know her preference, she is more likely to prefer pink to blue"?

Is using averages sexist/racist/*ist?

Would it be genderist to assume someone who displays all the signs of a guy is a guy?

The logic of averages works like this:

  Girls are more likely to prefer pink than blue.
  My niece is a girl. 
  Therefore she is more likely to prefer pink.
So it seems to stand. However, my niece is also Italian, and Italians are more likely to prefer blue to pink. She is also vegetarian and vegetarians are more likely to prefer green to either blue or pink. (I'm making all these stats up in case that wasn't obvious). So which colour toy should I buy for my niece?

Humans are complex. They can't be reduced to simple 'this one or that one' probabilities based on a single factor.

> If I'm buying my young niece a toy, and see two otherwise equal toys except one is blue and one is pink, is it sexist to choose the pink one? I have to make a choice, there is no non-colored toy.

This is where knowing how these associations came into being could also help you and also help educate others (including your young niece). Several decades ago, the colors promoted were blue for girls and pink for boys. Today people would be surprised to know this, but what's important is realizing that this was all created by a group of people saying "this color is what is appropriate for this gender because...(prejudices)", which basically sounds ridiculous.

Here's an excerpt from an article [0] on Jezebel (I found it by searching for "girls blue boys pink"):

> From Smithsonian.com:

> Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said, "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

> In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.


Here's an excerpt from a similar article [1] from BBC that explains that there are no gender specific differences in babies/kids and that in adults blue is the most preferred by men and women:

> Various studies have looked at colour preferences in different age groups. In the US most have found that babies and toddlers, whether male or female, are attracted to primary colours such as red and blue. Pink doesn’t feature high on the list, although it is more popular than brown and grey. Some studies of this age group have found blue is favoured, others red, but they rarely find any gender difference.

> In 2007, research conducted at Newcastle University in the UK asked adults for their favourite colour. Did most of the women choose pink, or even red? No. The colour which came out top, for both men and women, was blue.

[0]: http://jezebel.com/5790638/the-history-of-pink-for-girls-blu...

[1]: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141117-the-pink-vs-blue-ge...

>This is where knowing how these associations came into being could also help you and also help educate others (including your young niece). Several decades ago, the colors promoted were blue for girls and pink for boys.

I'm fully aware this use to be the case. I'm not saying there is some biological reason that the average girl today will prefer pink to blue, only that, as for now, they do, and as such and given no other knowledge of my niece, I should pick the pink one.

I also think I use way too many commas.

What confuses me about your statement is that several commenters have provided evidence from studies that on average the girl will prefer blue, and yet you're insisting she'll prefer pink. I don't get it.

> So if I assume you don't like pizza and football because you're female, so instead buy you frozen yoghurt, I'm being sexist

I don't think so (if anyone thinks I'm wrong, I'd like to hear your thoughts).

I think to be sexist, it must be (1) based on gender and (2) assume something _disparaging_ about the individual.

Getting them yoghurt might get you laughed at for being silly, but it doesn't seem sexist to me. Assuming they might need some additional explanation of the algorithm you're discussing because they are female (or male) is sexist.


I disagree, I don't think you have to think something disparaging. I think often acts of sexism are not intentional and are deeply engrained in us. Here is an example that happened to me last night. I walked into a small startup pitch event, approached a group of older men and said hi. They barely reacted to me. Not 30 seconds later a man of my age (who I happen to know) walks in and this group of men all turned and shook his hand. To be clear they did not previously know each other. I don't for a second think that any of these men saw me and thought to themselves "She's a woman, I'm not going to bother saying hello or introducing myself" I just think that on instinct they saw a man and decided to introduce themselves. This happens all the time to women. I can't count the number of times men have skipped over shaking my hand. It's a small thing, it's more than likely not intentional, but it is a bit sexist. Sexism isn't always a big evil act, it can be a lot of small things that add up to make it harder for women to succeed.

> (2) assume something _disparaging_ about the individual.

The problem is that "disparaging" is in the eye of the beholder. What you think of as silly might be really offensive to another person. What was harmless 30 years ago - say, pinching a female colleague's bum - could today be considered beyond the pale.

It's better not to assume anything about anybody unless necessary. I'm sure you've been in a situation where somebody has assumed something about you, and it can be really annoying.

If you'd allow me to rephrase, "It's better to treat people as individuals first and part of a demographic second."

Sexism is not stereotypes or personal feelings or attitudes (although those can by misogynistic). The academic (and consistent) definition of sexism is a property of a society where one of the sexes has less power than the other, and the mechanism by which that imbalance of power is perpetuated.

Of course, sexism occurs because of internalized biases that are very hard counter unless people actually seek them out, and try to change the ones that cause an imbalance of power. Because those biases are internalized and widespread, it is very hard to find someone who isn't sexist. Being sexist doesn't imply blame, just like you couldn't blame someone three hundred years ago for not washing their hands and spreading disease, because they didn't know that diseases are caused by microbes. Just as observing disease-causing microbes requires study -- and in particular, distinguishing between disease-causing microbes and harmless or even helpful microbes -- so too does noticing sexism, and learning to distinguish it from harmless forms of non-uniform behavior towards others. But in both cases, the harm caused is real, and it is our duty to learn its mechanism and do our best to fight it.

No. I'm sick of this game. You clarification of the definition isn't clarification. It's unnecessary linguistic prescriptivism.

If you want to talk about the type of sexism also often refereed to as "institutional sexism" then that's fine. If you want to call it just "sexism" thats fine too (but puts an unnecessary complication on the reader). But "sexism" is an overloaded term whether you want it to be or not. Just like I can't say "Bi-monthly now and forever forward only means every other month, and never means twice a month," you can't just wave away the regular-prejudice definition of sexism just because you want to.

Also, this "academic definition" meme is bullshit. Academic writing is about clarity and making sure the reader understands the author's meaning. So, if at the beginning of the paper the author clarifies when they use "foo" they only mean one of the 3 possible definitions of foo, that's just good writing. But if they say "definition 2 of foo isn't actually foo, it's just bar. For any and all uses of foo, including outside this paper" they're a hack.

> If you want to talk about the type of sexism also often refereed to as "institutional sexism"

But I was not talking about institutional sexism. Sexism can be individual (and often is), but unlike misogyny it does not imply disdain towards women; simply behavior (that can feel neutral or even positive) that results in increasing the imbalance of power.

> But "sexism" is an overloaded term whether you want it to be or not.

OK, but it also a term that was coined by a feminist professor fifty years ago and considered a well-accepted academic term regardless of its colloquial meaning(s).

> Academic writing is about clarity and making sure the reader understands the author's meaning.

Academics seem to understand that writing just fine. You can't claim that physicists' definition of energy is unclear merely because it is also used colloquially to mean other things, and you can't expect an academic to clarify what they mean by "sexism" just as you can't expect them to explain what they mean by "energy", because those are well-established, commonly used academic terms. If you find them confusing, you can either learn the relevant subject or choose not to.

Unlike energy, the word sexism started with its academic definition and was only later overloaded (due to confusion) by laymen, rather than the other way around.

> But if they say "definition 2 of foo isn't actually foo, it's just bar. For any and all uses of foo, including outside this paper" they're a hack.

I didn't say that. I just clarified the original and academic definition of the term, because it is the colloquial term that causes confusion. The academic term is quite clear. Do with it as you like. You're obviously very angry about something.

The term was defined by Pauline Leet in 1965. She defined it as:

"...both of them [racism and sexism] are making decisions and coming to conclusions about someone’s value by referring to factors which are in both cases irrelevant."

(This is in the context of a poetry group, so "value" most likely refers to ability to create good poetry.)

The first time it appeared in print (by Caroline Bird) it was defined as:

"Sexism is judging people by their sex when sex doesn't matter."


If you think this is wrong, by all means cite some sources and update wikipedia.

It may be the case that academic usage has shifted, but lay usage has not.

You can't claim that physicists' definition of energy is unclear merely because it is also used colloquially to mean other things

No, but I also don't see lab scientists bustle when they're in a conversation where it's used colloquially.

You should hear militant (physical/philosophical) materialists react to the use of the word "energy" in a yoga class. ;)

I didn't bustle. A commenter expressed confusion about the meaning of the term, and I provided the common academic definition. Others are welcome to list the full range of colloquial uses.

I would, however, note that a physicist would bustle if someone tried to use the word energy with a different meaning when trying to understand a physical process. In this case, the only way to understand what it is that feminists want when it comes to sexism, is to understand what we mean when we use the word, which is also its academic meaning. For example, if you think feminists are against sexism (which we are), but also understand sexism to mean "treating men and women differently", then you'd be completely confused as to our goals. Perhaps you'd think that our goal is to erase the differences between the sexes. That would indeed be a silly goal, and you may be right in getting angry that intelligent people think such rubbish. While in fact, our goal is very clear: correct the gross imbalance of power between the sexes. To achieve that, we seek to uncover the mechanism which perpetuates it, which we call sexism. Thankfully, the academic community has been studying sexism for a few decades, and we now know a thing or two about it.

No reason to be angry. In fact, if you understood what feminists mean when we say sexism (which hopefully you now do), I think you'd be far less angry.

There is also those who see vulgarity as a form of Sexism/racism.

It only helps alienating people if you brand anything as sexism.


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