The assumpution behind that question is that women could not be a developer.
To give racist equivalents, it's as if in the USA, imagine you came into the room and there was a latino man there "Are you the new cleaner?"; or in UK, imagine one was introduced to a new eastern european member of staff, "Are you the new cleaner?". These questions are motivated by racist assumptions, and this OP's examples are motivated by sexist assumption.
In those situations the assumptions may, or may not, originate from core racist/sexist beliefs. You need to be careful going around labelling people like that just because they made an assumption.
For better or worse it's just a fact that at the moment a girl working in a software shop is more likely to be a graphic designer than a coder. If I was in a rush looking for the new freelance designer one morning and walked up to an unfamiliar girl sat at a Mac Pro and asked her "Are you the new designer", I'm not being sexist, I'm just making an assumption based on the data I have. Designers and coders, whether male or female, both look the same: they're likely to be intelligent, smart and trendy looking and sat at a workstation.
Now, if in a similar situation I walked up to an intelligent, smart and trendy looking Indian freelancer sat at a MacBook and asked "Are you the new cleaner?", then that's totally different and inexcusable. I had enough data there not to make any assumptions, and it would betray racist core beliefs.
See the difference? Of course every situation is different, but I think the OP's example in this case was weak. We don't need everyone walking around on egg shells, paranoid that people are judging their every stated assumption against some kind of uber harsh politically correct scale.
it's just a fact that at the moment a girl working in a software shop is more likely to be a graphic designer than a coder
Yes, it is accurate to say that "statistically a new female hire in an IT shop is likely to be a designer, not a coder". It is factually accurate to say that, but is it right and moral and nice to say it?
Words can affect people, and set tone and expectations. Is it right for all us men to presume, unless shown otherwise, that the new female hire is not a coder? Will this help or hurt our industry? Every little teeny thing (like presuming this (which is a teeny thing)) can be detrimental and can build up. "Death by a thousand cuts", "Straw that broke the camel's back", our society recognises that sometimes lots of little things can be Too Much™ sometimes.
Would software/the company/society be a better place if we didn't vocalise these presumptions about women, especially if it reinforces negative stereotypes about them?
After all, we all know the mistakes that can come when a female starts getting bigger and we ask "Are you pregnant?". Manners say to be careful here, let's apply some manners, rather than fetishising statically accurate deductions, to presuming women aren't coders.
I think that the point the guy is trying to make is that there is nothing sexist about this. If I saw a new guy at work with a beard, jumbo sized cup of coffee, glasses sitting in front of a dual monitor setup, I would assume that he is a programmer. Does that make me sexist against men? Or prejudiced against people with beards or coffee drinkers?
There's an old saying which appears to have been lost somewhere along the way:
"Offense can only be taken"
Live by it and you will never be offended. It is not the job of everybody around you to constantly walk on eggshells just to keep you happy. You are not at the center of the universe, after all.
There is a difference between "everybody should walk on eggshells" and "there should be standards". It's not black or white, "eggshells" or "f* you I can say what I want", there is (millions of) middle ground(s). HN has rules and guidelines about how to reply to people ( http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html ). Does that mean "everyone has to walk on eggshells around here"? No, there are rules, but it's not mad. Hence the existence of rules does not mean "everyone has to walk on eggshells".
Actually, yes, people do have to walk on eggshells around here. I am walking on eggshells right now for I can not express myself freely in a forum like this without suffering from social manipulation (downvoting, hellbanning). And this is while adhering to practices such as "no personal insults". In a place like this, you get banned for disagreeing, let alone speaking in an "unapproved" way. This place is hardly an example of civility.
I agree that there is a middle ground - when someone's quality of life is seriously suffering because, for example, someone is shouting abuse at them all day then something must be done. However, taking serious offence at people's ignorant opinions or ways of expression is unwise and in itself ignorant.
I'm anticipating prejudice so I shall address it pre-emptively - I am, in fact, a minority. In many places on this planet, I risk serious injury just for being what I am. People have expressed extremely ignorant opinions about the group I fall under in workplaces. I initially took offence upon hearing what I heard but then I moved past that stage and accepted that one cannot understand something they haven't dealt with directly. They were not trying to be mean, they merely did not understand because of their limited experience. How can I take offence when this is the case?
I disagree, I think this is sexist -> just as if I knew that I lived in an area where a certain race commits more crime, it would be racist of me to cross the street if I saw a person of that race coming. If you assume a woman in your office is a secretary or a designer rather than a coder, that is a sexist assumption regardless of your fine knowledge of statistics.
just as if I knew that I lived in an area where a certain race commits more crime, it would be racist of me to cross the street if I saw a person of that race coming
Suppose through a sequence of unfortunate events you find yourself needing to walk through a bad section of town. You have your choice of two roads. Down one road you see a group of 5 young men of a race that commits crimes significantly higher than average. Down the other road there's a group of 5 middle-aged women of a race that commits crimes less than average. Is it acceptable to be racist, sexist, and ageist in this scenario?
> You need to be careful going around labelling people like that just because they made an assumption.
1) Actually, I think you want to be a lot more careful about labelling people as "must be X" because of their gender than about labelling them as "made a sexist comment" because they maybe made a sexist comment. It is actually still worse to be a victim of sexism than to be called a sexist.
2) Having core sexist beliefs isn't a prerequisite for making a sexist comment. You can have a momentary sexist thought without consciously believing that women are inferior to men or anything like that - in fact, momentary sexist thoughts are almost inevitable if you're in a culture where sexism is pervasive, no matter who you are. Moreover, a comment can be sexist even if it is made with completely innocent intentions, if it predictably has the effect of (re)enforcing hierarchical gender roles. Sexism is not an ideology, it's a social structure.
You can do "s/sexism/racism/g" for all of the above as well.
It is actually still worse to be a victim of sexism than to be called a sexist.
Having core sexist beliefs isn't a prerequisite for making a sexist comment.
Exactly, many people think "I'm not a sexist" and then say lots of things, presuming then that everything they say cannot be sexist. I take care to say "sexist talk/action". Tends to get people's backs up less.
You can do "s/sexism/racism/g" for all of the above as well.
Exactly. I've made this same post several times, only doing a bare minimum of s/race/sex/g
Maybe I am too young, work at a too small company, or has too much academia in me, but I have a hard time imagine myself ever trying to guess people work based on gender or skin color. It would be like trying to guess peoples future by looking into their hands.
The only person I would suggest being a cleaner, is one with a white apron, a big logo, with large visible name tag, and carrying a mop. That assumption is based on clothing standards at fast food stores, and its still a rather crude assumption.
To give racist equivalents, it's as if in the USA, imagine you came into the room and there was a latino man there "Are you the new cleaner?"; or in UK, imagine one was introduced to a new eastern european member of staff, "Are you the new cleaner?".
In this case, there are other cues that a person can use.
e.g. if the person's wearing a cleaners' uniform, it's not racist to ask them that. If they are wearing a suit, it's at a minimum socially clueless, and at worst bigoted to ask them that.
But the comment does not say "you must not be a developer". If the context had included a "the guy in front of me, also a new hire, was greeted as "so...you the new developer", then yes we would have something that might be sexism here.
But we do not have that kind of context. We only have a assumed intention on what the person meant by it. If we do such assumptions, we assume bad faith.
It could be that they hired a new web developer, also called web designers by many, or designers as short. If a back-end or sysadmin meet someone who is working on the front end, or even on a API structure, its fully plausible to call them "designers", be them male, female, or alien.
Simply put, the comment without any additional context to vilify the speaker, is not sexism. With some context, it might be, but in many others, it is not. Assuming good faith is to default at those context that do not mean sexism.
Hang on, that's a little unfair. If you work in an office, and you know they have hired one person, and that is a cleaner / designer, walking unto the new face in the office and saying hi you must be the new cleaner / designer is not a prejudicial assumption. Especially if they are sitting in front of Blender / a mop.
No-one mentioned "seeing an eastern european with a mop". To expand on my analogy, if you met an eastern european/etc. at the company Christmas party, asking "so are you a cleaner?" is presuming negative stereotypes based on race/ethnicity.
My point is that implicit in your statement is the claim that programmers are superior to designers. I think this belief is both more commonly held and voiced on HN and itself worse than the stereotype that women are more likely to be designers; one is a statement of superiority of a group of people and the other is (without the first assumption) a nonjudgemental statistically reasonable assumption.
Is it really a negative stereotype that women and men are equally capable but that a woman is more likely to be interested in an equally respectable artistic career over a technical one?
It seems that people on HN hold this developer superiority belief so strongly that if someone asks "are you a designer?" they think that is actually an offensive statement. How dare you think I am a plebe designer and not a developer god that I am?