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Hidden gender - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Hidden gender
My post about intelligent writing for women seems to have started a bit of an argument; apologies to those whose comments I haven't answered as a result.

This afternoon some student wants to interview me about "geek culture" and "the IT profession", for his research. He says "I am especially willing to interview you to find out why IT is still a male dominated territory". Hmmm. I'm keen to find out:

- what he defines as "the IT profession"
- the extent to which it is still "a male dominated territory"
- whether he's asking men about the gender balance in IT, too

I fear it will be too much of a digression to start going on at him about the idea of geek as a gender.

FWIW I don't feel that I'm not a woman, or not female, just that gender really isn't the most important filter for my personal or professional interactions with other people -- geekiness (for want of a better word), literateness, and (now I come to think about it) age all feel like much stronger factors. (Of course, that's when you pull the false-consciousness card out of your hat, and say "ah, there seems no gender because it is all gender! And AS A WOMAN you can't be expected to see clearly that your femaleness informs everything you do at a subconscious level". The only winning move [and I'm not talking about fluttering my eyelashes here] is not to play.)

Lots of other half-formed thoughts, the clearest of which is "why on earth did I say I'd talk to this chap in the first place", which isn't very helpful. :-/

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Comments
redbird From: redbird Date: March 26th, 2008 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
In addition to "are you asking men about the gender balance?" I'd suggest asking him "why don't you ask the instructors and hiring managers, and put out a call asking to talk to women who dropped out of IT courses or changed careers away from IT after only a few years?" If he's serious, that'll be a useful course of investigation. If not, it might be worth seeing his reaction.
j4 From: j4 Date: March 26th, 2008 11:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I suspect that's outside the focus of his homework assignment project, but yes, all good points. And asking him awkward questions will do him good in the long run! ;->
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: March 26th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but you know where that leads. The Dark Side

My Homework Project Thesis on Why Women Don't Work in IT

It's because they ask so many bloody awkward questions. End of.
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: March 26th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
gender really isn't the most important filter for my personal or professional interactions

Ah! Thank you, that's a great explanation. (FWIW, I'm sorry, I wasn't saying gender *should* be most important, but only that it was one more thing that can *sometimes* be relevant, although you might disagree with even that.)
barnacle From: barnacle Date: March 26th, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Point him at I Blame The Patriarchy and watch his head explode. Unfortunately at the moment her top post is about how excited she is that she's discovered the dullest blog in the world, but wait a few days and it'll be about the patriarchy again.
sbp From: sbp Date: March 26th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
And AS A WOMAN you can't be expected to see clearly that your femaleness informs everything you do at a subconscious level

Funny, some feminists I live with know might well substitute WOMAN/femaleness for MAN/maleness in that statement.
j4 From: j4 Date: March 26th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
As an equal-opps awkwardbugger I think that's just as bad!
sbp From: sbp Date: March 26th, 2008 01:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do you think his research is just going to be watching the box set of the I.T. Crowd?
julietk From: julietk Date: March 26th, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't the issue not so much whether gender is a filter for *your* interactions with others, as whether gender is a filter for their interactions with you/others (both men & women)?

I should note here that I do think that there's a bunch of gender-based expectations/beliefs/cognitive structures/etc that aren't necessarily conscious. The extent to which any particular individual holds any particular set of those does of course vary.

Layering of filters can also mean that you wind up at the stage of "Well, of course *you're* not like [group stereotype], because *you're* [other group/group stereotype]". Which may be fine for the individual being spoken to, but isn't great for A. N. Other member of [group stereotype] who still has a set of the speaker's expectations/beliefs to overcome. e.g. I know of women who've been at tech conferences & had men speak to them explicitly stating the assumption that they were there with a boyfriend. There's a fair chance those men also knew women of whom they wouldn't have made that assumption; but that's not much help for the one they're speaking to at that point.
j4 From: j4 Date: March 26th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't the issue not so much whether gender is a filter for *your* interactions with others, as whether gender is a filter for their interactions with you/others (both men & women)?

Bit of both, innit. If I'm not using gender as a primary filter, it's much less likely that I'm going to think "this is because I is female" -- and that surely influences the way I deal with other people, and the way they deal with me.

I do think that there's a bunch of gender-based expectations/beliefs/cognitive structures/etc that aren't necessarily conscious

I'm not arguing with that; but I also think there's a bunch of things that people do/think/believe that are conscious, which they can change/influence. That people can consciously override subconscious expectations/beliefs/etc, that they can decide how to treat other people rather than just letting the animal instincts take over.
julietk From: julietk Date: March 27th, 2008 10:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely, people's interactions with each other are informed by the way the other person is reacting (aggression is a really good example of this). But I don't think that one can necessarily get past existing preconceptions/structures on the other person's part just by doing that; certainly not in the short term.

That people can consciously override subconscious expectations/beliefs/etc, that they can decide how to treat other people rather than just letting the animal instincts take over.

Yes - and I certainly don't think that "it's subconscious" or any such argument is a get-out clause. I'm all too painfully aware that I carry a bunch of my own preconceptions and stereotypes around, and that I don't always catch myself at it; but when I do I do try to bash them on the head a bit.

It's tough though because one of the ways in which humans make sense of a large and complicated world is by using stereotypes (both for their own reactions and when categorising input) and creating structures for people and situations. That process is going on below conscious level, so almost inevitably any work on fixing it has to happen after the fact. Which is difficult. A surprisingly large amount of behaviour is stereotyped (which is why habits are so hard to break - it's going on below the volitional level to at least some extent), and that includes interactions with others.

It's still not a get-out clause, though.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: March 26th, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm not playing either

but I was interested by a geekery article which quotes someone I ought to know more about who says: don't laugh at the user: she's your wife.

Frankly, the next male or female who tells me I'm not alive to/aware of the unconscious gendering of my reactions or of other people's is going to get a thoroughly feminine smack in the chops, powered by my massive upper body strength which was gained by scrubbing pots and pans and dead-lifting weights over many years, such as 17 heavy items of luggage and a sleeping two-and-a-half year old. Oh, and my (completed, viva'd, and passed) doctoral thesis...

I like your humanity. you keep it up.
darcydodo From: darcydodo Date: March 26th, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can I also just point to linley's book on women and science: Who's Afraid of Marie Curie? (And you might point him at the book, too, since you obviously wouldn't be able to get it and read it before this afternoon. 'Course, I suppose this afternoon has already happened for you.)
cleanskies From: cleanskies Date: March 26th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've said initial yeses to people about interviews and then without explaination changed that to a "no" when I've seen what questions they'll be asking. Just saying.
jvvw From: jvvw Date: March 26th, 2008 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Social scientists do expect to be asked by subjects about their research methodology and the like so if you're not sure do ask even if you have already agreed to take part.

Though I ought to warn you that a social scientist was telling me recently that the reaction to a call for participation in a study was far more interesting than the results of the study itself and was wondering if she could ethically publish about it (it was related to a specific disability - the people they contacted didn't realise that the researcher also had the disability in question and presumed that she'd automatically be trying to portray it in a stereotyped fashion).

I don't think that hearing the opinions of women who work in IT about the male-domination of the industry is by itself a red flag (I'd personally find it extremely hard to argue that it's not male-dominated and it's not an unreasonable area to research), though the rest of the e-mail (which I obviously haven't seen) and the fact that he hasn't explained more about the context of the research better might raise warning bells.
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