An online friend of mine once said this about a sexism incident at a conference:
“If I had been there, ZERO chance I would’ve sat idly by and let someone treat you like that”
I like to believe that I have the same policy: If I am there when some casual sexism occurs, I will call it out.
It turns out that this is untrue.
I have witnessed a number of incidents of sexism at conferences that I’ve been to recently and I want to talk about one particular situation that occurred.
Around lunchtime at a recent conference, I was with a group of developer friends that included one woman. A man joined our group and made a joke to the woman along the lines of asking if she was here with her boyfriend. I understand that they are friends and that he was being ironic and humorous and certainly meant no personal insult. She responded with a cutting remark and that was that.
Except that wasn’t that.
I did not speak out.
It was just a joke. It worked by demeaning women in my industry. I should have said something, especially as I was in the company of friends. The fact that I didn’t speak up is unacceptable because jokes like this are actively harmful by contributing to the background tolerance of discrimination against women.
I am ashamed that I didn’t speak up. I let my friends and myself down and and I apologise to everyone in our community for not doing my bit when I had the chance.
On Saturday, I took my son to one of his extracurricular activity sessions. Afterwards, my son and I were talking with his coach about the rest of our weekend and how I’d be helping him with the electrical bits of building his new Tamiya Hornet remote controlled car. The coach commented that he would like to do the same sort of things with his future grandchildren and hoped that he wouldn’t get a granddaughter.
Maybe it was because my son was there and I’m trying to help teach him about these things, or maybe it was because of the incidents that I’d witnessed recently at conferences, but this time, I spoke up.
I talked about my friend who took an Arduino and some coloured LEDs to create a fuzzy clock where the colour of LEDs indicates the time to the nearest hour. I’m fully intending to copy her project as it would be especially useful to me at night when I’m not wearing my glasses. We then talked a little about how a granddaughter could certainly be interested in building and running remote control cars!
I want to help reduce sexism in this world. More than one recent conference incident has reminded me that I have a long long way to go, but maybe there’s some hope for me yet.
Even though I regularly fail, sometimes I succeed and I won’t let my failures stop me from getting it right next time.