By: Ana Marie

A Much Needed Forward

The worst part about this is, I have to write this. The best part is, it may help someone else. Please, reach out and let me know if it does. I’d love to hear any ways this benefitted someone.

I’m going to say this out loud, because I feel it’s necessary to: There’s always this lingering fear that comes with being honest and standing up for what is right because of potential harassment or blowback. The way I see it, no matter what I do, that will be the result of my actions, so I might as well put my energy into the best possible outcome for everyone.

In no way is this a “man-hating” article. This is a “Hey, wake up and smell the coffee!” article. To point out that something needs to be changed is not to say that the people responsible are evil. No, not at all. They’re simply misguided. And, that’s ok. We’re all capable of changing. It just takes some effort and a little bit of discomfort, that’s all.

With that out of the way, the following is a collection of my own lived experiences peppered with accompanying statistics, articles, and evidence that reinforce the topic of discussion.

But, I’m Not Like OTHER Girls ;)

I’ve been a woman interested in predominantly “male” activities all my life. From even my toddling years, I carried a Ninja Turtle as opposed to a Barbie, I indulged in comic books, played video games, watched anime, tinkered with computers, and wanted to play sports.

At one point, I started to “other” myself and felt that I wasn’t your “typical” woman. I was a cool woman, right? I didn’t get too this or too that, I was patient, I wasn’t picky, I let people walk all over me.

Me, circa 2006.

Every one of my subsequent relationships and jobs resulted in a series of toxic and abusive behaviors directed at me. I didn’t categorically hate other women, at the time, I just didn’t feel akin to them.

For a great deal of time, I worked as a manager at a well-known video game retailer. And, despite how much I knew, what I said, and how often I played video games, I was always typecast as some sort of fraud. It didn’t make sense. I loved video games and comic books. I went to conventions, I spent half my paycheck on games every time I got paid. It didn’t seem fair to deny me my own hobby based simply on the fact that I had internal sexual organs. Then, the little hamster in my head started running on its wheel and a light came on. I came to the conclusion that I was judging other women in the way that men were judging me. I had no right and no basis to assume I was some unicorn that was special and separate from the imaginary monolith known as womankind.

On top of that, acting that way didn’t stop me from getting harassed or sexually assault while I was at work- In fact, it made it worse.

Back then, it was easier to pretend as if I was different because I wanted to avoid the scrutiny that has plagued women since the dawn of time. I noticed that my hobbies and interests garnered positive attention, so I rejected stereotypically “feminine” activities more and more.

By the time I got into the tech industry, I was well over this line of thinking. I knew, like myself, that other women are also smart, capable, and interesting with diverse hobbies and interests. The more I became cognizant of this sort of discrimination, the more I began to realize how deep and pervasive it really is.

It wasn’t that I was not like other girls, it was that I didn’t want to face the same discrimination they did and I was afraid to embrace the idea of being a woman and the judgement that came with it.

Try This Anecdote on for Size

I’ve met some of the most amazing people since I’ve began working in this industry. It’s easy to find common ground, people with similar interests, and all that jazz. However, unfortunately, it’s just as easy to find people who think I don’t belong here or people that are just interested in making me a conquest or a trophy.

When I was first promoted to an Information Security Analyst after getting my initial technical role as a HelpDesk technician, I faced a lot of negativity. Some didn’t think I was “cut out” for the role, and accused my manager of favoritism and said that I must’ve been an “equal opportunity hire.” Obviously, none of which, was true.

I had proved a level of technical aptitude that my peers did not. I will confidently admit to that. I solved issues they couldn’t or wouldn’t take the time to solve. I spent countless hours studying troubleshooting methods, terminologies, and frameworks that applied to the role I was wanting to fulfill.

Upon receiving the offer for a promotion, I later found out that my original pay was lowered (prior to presenting me the offer) so I wouldn’t quote/unquote “Make more than the other guys” even though the role I was fulfilling was not only significantly more challenging and more demanding, but it was also, on average, just more valuable, holistically.

Now, I didn’t discover this until a year and a half in, after an executive quit and finally had the courage to tell me about it. Seething and angry, I began to look for other opportunities.

Eventually, I was sniped by a vendor I’d worked with for some time, and I’ve been working there since.

I love what I do and the company I work for, but it even comes with its own set of problems. Within my first week, I attended a local conference, and when I gave out my business cards, a slew of emails came in only to ask if I was single.

In the beginning, I noticed that engineers were always described as “he” and, sometimes, when I would join a meeting or enter a room someone would say, “Oh, there’s a girl here now,” and everyone would become uncharacteristically quiet.

Now that more people know who I am, that happens far less than it used to, but it took a period of time to almost force people to become acclimated with the fact that I exist. For the most part, my coworkers are incredibly supportive of me, it’s usually the customers that say degrading things or take issue with me being a woman.

Last year a coworker said to me, “This job must be so much easier when you’re a woman. People just hand you things when you’re female.” To which, I couldn’t help but laugh at.

I replied, “You’re never just handed something when it comes to people like that. They always expect something in return.”

He evaded, “So, flirt a little? What’s so bad about that? What’s it going to hurt?”

“My integrity, for one,” I responded while taking a drink of water, “And, two, I’ve yet to meet a guy that doesn’t go ballistic when he’s rejected or feels like he’s been lied to or led on. On top of that, you’re suggesting I let people sexually harass me and for me to just lean into it to get ahead. That’s not the incredible opportunity you’re making it out to be. If anything, you’re just reinforcing the fact that men see women as objects they can manipulate and control, even at work. That’s basically a form of quid pro quo.”

Marginalization, it’s Not Something You Spread on Toast

Throughout life, most of us have probably been told, “The best things don’t come easy.” But, what about those who do have the best things? And what if they did come easy?

Sure, ease is relative to some facet. Although, something that cannot be denied, even though some do try (and boy, oh, boy, DO THEY TRY) is that there are more hurdles for certain demographics of people than there are for others. Namely, marginalized people.

So, what does it mean to be marginalized?

By definition, to be “in margin” refers to one not being of central importance and/or being a borderline occupant of a society, culture, or group. A margin suggests the existence of a normal, accepted, or predominant identity. Meaning, a central or “privileged” group of individuals make up the majority and hold most of the power.

Many balk at the term “privileged”, but it’s not something people say to be dismissive of someone else’s issues. To be called privileged in these types of conversations does not mean you’ve never struggled, it simply means you haven’t struggled strictly because of your gender, skin tone, sexual orientation, and etc. whereas others have.

Most issues that touch on marginalization are systemic and a result of recurring implicit biases. These two things go hand and hand and skip merrily through a field of tulips together, while those who unknowingly invoke them, while simultaneously arguing their existence, are none the wiser. Implicit biases are usually unconscious or ingrained stereotypes that create a preference (or aversion) to particular individuals.

For example, on social media, I’ve encountered many presumably cis gendered, straight white men that insist on women being biologically inferior to men, therefor, less logical and less capable of performing well or having interest in STEM careers.

Here are a few responses I’ve seen in the wild when men were asked, “Why are there so few women in tech?”:

If you’re anything like me, you’re especially puzzled by the last two answers. (Those were plucked from LinkedIn as opposed to Facebook adhering to the same topic.)

In any case- As a consensus, when men were posed with this question, they assumed women must be unequal to them or flawed in some way. Which, has no truth, bearing, or scientific evidence thereof.

Another common argument I see is similar to the one citing how women aren’t in professions like coal mining. Women do work in mining, but face the same discriminatory challenges I’m about to cover in the latter portion of this article. Many superstitions exist in relevance to women and mining, typically suggesting that having women in mining is bad luck, for instance. It’s a commonly held belief that women aren’t physically capable of achieving success in manual labor or combat-related positions. So, to answer your question, Joe Gardina, it’s for the many of the same reasons I’m about to delve into.

Contrary to comments above, when women answered, the same sentiments echoed through the halls of comment sections:

“The sexism and harassment keep me from wanting to join.”
“It's a boy's club.”
“There's so much gatekeeping.”
“Women aren't taken seriously.”
“Women are too outnumbered.”
“The overwhelming lack of encouragement for girls to pursue STEM careers is the problem.”

This indicates that the majority of women acknowledge that the barriers of entry or the challenges they face lie solely in social hindrances. Frequently, when women cite these reasons, I see men respond with the argument of, “Then, nursing must be sexist, too, because it’s predominantly made of women.”

I’m going to derail for a second and address this argument because it, quite literally, comes up every single time this subject comes up on any social media post.

Nursing is pigeonholed as a “female-oriented” career. Women do not prevent men from entering nursing. In fact, women, in general, do not make fun of, disparage, or harass men for wanting to be nurses. Other men do. Nurses have been classified as “caregivers” which is a social expectation placed on women by men, therein creating the false notion that strictly women are suited for the role.

The other argument that just irks me is the “We’re just wired differently” stance. Gender genuinely has no bearing on whether or not someone is more logical or emotional. Moreover, these “biological” arguments from men don’t hold water. Many of those tired arguments originate from a large swath of outdated sexist rhetoric.

The main reasons women don't pursue or stay in STEM-related roles is because of the prevalent discrimination, harassment, lack of support, and lack of encouragement.

A History of Oppression

Why it’s wrong (and sexist) to cite biology as an argument for women seeking STEM careers

The view that women are inferior to men have taken many different forms throughout history. And, no matter how many times these arguments and statements are debunked, they seem to survive like cockroaches in the apocalypse of modern sexism.

If we jump on our way-back time machine, we can get a high-level overview of how women have been perceived throughout history and draw a straight line to the arguments that still remain to this day.

During the mid 1500’s, prosecutions for the crime of witchcraft were bestowed upon many individuals during the counter-reformation. An estimated 50,000 people were burned at the stake, and roughly, 80% or more were women. Most of the accused were punished for showing an aptitude toward something or wanting to have a voice in their community. This acted as a way to further subjugate and oppress women who spoke out or wanted to be seen as equivalent to their male counterparts. Studies suggest that the majority of the accused committed no crimes and there was no evidence of “witchcraft” to speak of.

In 1879, Gustave Le Bon wrote that “even in the most intelligent races” there “are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than in the most developed male minds.” This was a statement based on the pseudo-science of phrenology, the study of intellect in relation to the size and shape of the skull. Let it be said twice that phrenology has no validity and no place in the field of scientific relevancy.

As time went on, the damage of phrenology and the consequences thereof continued throughout the medical and science community coincided with the diagnosis of hysteria. Originally, hysteria was categorized as a condition of a woman with a “wandering womb” that caused them to “emotionally act out.” By the 19th century and forward, it was said that hysteria in women was because of a neurological deficiency.

Often, when women were seen as hysterical or “too emotional”, it would result in a lobotomy. Indisputably, women were the most common recipients of lobotomies as a means to “cure” their supposed and incredibly disproportionate (and definitively make-believe) ailments. To combat this, many women were subjected to the torture of having a literal piece of their brain removed, or had holes drilled into their heads to “release emotion.”

You might be thinking, “This sounds like something that happened during the Middle Ages.”

If so, you’re sorely mistaken.

In all, more than 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States, mostly between 1949 and 1952, respectively.

More substantial evidence of women getting the short end of the stick in regards to science and biology is evident in the lack of research surrounding women's health, which results in a cloud of mystery for female-specific ailments such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, menstruation-related diseases, and so on. Medicine has, and always has been catered to white men, while it vastly ignores marginalized people. The quality of medical care for women and people of color is profoundly different and lacking in comparison.

These issues aren't just solely medical, I was merely appealing to the biological argument as a starting point. Women have always been disadvantaged economically, politically, socially, and so on.

Even though women gained the right to vote in 1920, they still wouldn’t see a more equitable future until around the 1970’s, known as the “second wave” of feminism. Even with that, many laws and social perceptions of women still remained poor, uneven, or outright unfair. It wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape against women was considered illegal in the United States, just to note some supporting evidence.

Women have had to battle these issues and prove their aptitude, relevancy, and equality time and time again. It’s been a non-stop uphill battle. Nothing was ever granted automatically; Everything had to be fought for and earned, and that is a large contributing factor that denotes the aforementioned marginalization against women. The same is true for people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, among other populations.

(If you’re interested in reviewing additional cornerstones, check out this article.)

How the Tech Industry Pushed Women Out

Don’t forget: The first programmers were actually women

Yeah, it's kinda like that...

Believe it or not, technology and computing used to be seen as “women’s work.” It was mundane, repetitive, and required computational skills. Such jobs were not considered “high status” or valuable, which, at the time, meant they were categorized as “female-oriented” by proxy.

When programming and technology-adjacent positions became more popular and more synonymous with science, women were quickly pushed out of the field. By the 1960’s, two psychologists ran studies in an attempt to figure out what characteristics “make a good programmer.” The only striking characteristic they discovered was that, in men, it was often seen that “successful” male programmers were anti-social. A “disinterest in people” became the argumentative cornerstone to determining what it means to be technical. Notably, there was no real correlation or causation to prove these claims. This inference was strictly based on a vocational interest survey that sampled 1,400 engineers, of which, more than 1,200 were men. That said, women only made up somewhere between 5-7% of that survey, leaving their voices largely left out of the equation.

In 1968 analyst, Richard Brannon, at the annual technical meeting of the ACM said that the typical programmer was, “excessively independent . . . often egocentric, slightly neurotic, and he borders upon a limited schizophrenia. The incidence of beards, sandals, and other symptoms of rugged individualism or nonconformity are notably greater among this demographic group."

Interestingly enough, combined with the ideal image of what someone that works in technology should be, discrimination against women began to become more prevalent in the field and methods of hiring were drastically changed. Clubs formed strictly to exclude women, job descriptions evolved to use male-specific language, and arguments formed labeling women as “incapable” of the jobs they had been doing (and doing well) since the inception of careers in technology.

Throughout the 1980’s, computers and video games were marketed as gender-specific interests for boys and men, despite their origins and the interest women had in them. These trends continue to this day.

The Harrowing Statistics of the Tech Industry

In the United States, women make up close to 50.4% of the workforce, as of 2020.

Overall, sexual harassment and discrimination plague women in every industry. In 2018, a national survey revealed that 81% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. Matching this theory, the EEOC designates, on average, around 70-80% of women in the workforce face sexual harassment or discrimination of some sort and are not likely to report or take action due to fear of retaliation.

In the field of technology, women encompass only 26% of technical roles, despite making up half of the overall workforce. As stated above, the reasoning is a mixture of societal barriers, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the prevalence of discrimination, lack of encouragement, among other takeaways. Many technical organizations report the male to female ratio as 5:1. –For every 5 men, there tends to be 1 woman in a similar role, if at all.

These women, a clear minority, suffer a great deal of sexism and harassment, as you might imagine. According to Pew Research, 73% of Americans agree that discrimination against women is a problem in tech, and reflecting that majority, 50% of women said they’ve directly experienced gender discrimination while working in tech, and a whopping 75% admitted to being sexually harassed in the form of sexual comments, inappropriate touching, or attempts at unsolicited sexual advances.

In lieu of these numbers, a great deal of men claim to feel villainized and inadvertently blame diversity for the issues, as opposed to the issues themselves. Almost half of the male population were alarmingly ambivalent when confronted about gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Many see their sexual harassment and disparaging comments as complimentary.

Newsflash! Sexual harassment is never a compliment!

And, no, women aren’t being “too sensitive.” You’re just being aggressive or creepy if you’re becoming flustered by this revelation. It’s not as confusing as many try to make it out to be.

A general rule to consider: If you wouldn’t say it to your male coworker, you probably shouldn’t say it to your female coworker either.

I also allude to the age-old adage: “If you wouldn’t say it in front of your mom, don’t say it at work.”

Conversely, the prospect of homophobia is often an equalizer to men that tend to be predisposed to harassing women.

Ironic, isn't it?

As a straight man, if the idea of a gay man saying the very same to you makes you uncomfortable- it’s incredibly likely it makes the woman you’re targeting uncomfortable as well.

Note: I do not condone homophobia in any way, shape, or form. This suggestion merely resonates with heterosexual men as they often have a fear of homosexual men coming on to them, which is another, yet similar, issue of discrimination. It’s become apparent to me that one of the things that these men fear most is being attributed to, or treated like the women they subjugate.

“It’s HER Fault for Being Here in the First Place!”

Wouldja baleevit?

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone try to blame a woman for her own discrimination or harassment, I would be driving a much nicer vehicle than the one I have now, that’s for sure.

This practice is known as “victim blaming.”

Victim blaming is when the victim in a scenario is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. This is a type of prejudice that places the onus and responsibility on the wrong party, causing the problem to perpetuate because the cause is never addressed.

Sadly, I have heard someone say, “If women weren’t working, we wouldn’t even have these problems. It’s their fault for leaving the house. It’s a man’s world, they just live in it.”

To adopt that sort of world view is not only incredibly limiting and bigoted, but it’s also referred to as a logical fallacy to assume that a person that’s routinely discriminated against is to blame for the transgressions against them. The associated fallacies include a combination of the just world fallacy and the false cause, or false equivalence fallacy.

Based on my research, I’ve summarized victim blamers to fall into 1 of 3 categories, when boiled down to brass tacks.

  1. Someone that blames the victim does so to separate themselves from the problem and assume that they’re better or more capable than the person they’re laying blame on. This way, they feel like it isn’t possible for something like that to happen to them.
  2. Someone that blames the victim does so to defend the perpetrator or disparage the victim. They may feel guilty by proxy or wish to normalize the behavior of the perpetrator because they may have done something similar or relate to the perpetrator in some way.
  3. Someone that blames the victim does so because they don’t understand the situation or the details surrounding the situation to make an educated inference.

I get it, it can be really hard to see things for what they are. When I was younger, admittedly, I said and did a lot of racist things, without knowing or realizing it. I had very few black friends as a child and, where I was from, it was normal to be racist. I had to look back at an earlier version of myself and cringe as I untangled those thoughts, feelings, and actions from once past. When I was a teenager, I felt that it made more sense that black people were just being divisive by calling everything racist. But the reality of the situation was, those things were racist, I just didn’t have the proper understanding or background to come to terms with it. I didn’t want to be the bad guy, but at one point and time, I was.

Similarly, still to this day, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism are more normal, than acceptance. It’s getting better, but that’s the unfortunate truth.

How Can This be Addressed and How Many Stamps Do I Need to Lick?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re either a woman, femme, enby, or non-male representing person that commiserates heavily with everything I’ve said, OR you’re a man that is genuinely interested in educating yourself on this topic and want to do your best to help.

Either way, here’s what we can do:

· Believe women and marginalized groups.

· Amplify their voices.

· Take complaints of discrimination, harassment, and assault seriously.

· Don’t blame the victim or place the onus on the person being harassed.

· Don't deflect or take it personally when marginalized people want change.

· Stand up against injustices when you see them happen.

· Understand that making accommodations isn’t reverse sexism.

· Take the phrase “equal opportunity” seriously.

· Fight for practices that are inclusive.

· Promote diversity and the value it brings to the workplace.

· Change your language to be more accepting of others.

· Continue to educate yourself.

And, hell, share this article if you need to. That’s what it’s here for. The only way we can keep this kind of thing from continuing is to talk about it and actively work to stop it. Us marginalized people can’t do this alone. We need your help. Plus, it’s not the sole responsibility of women to solve sexism. Sexism hurts everyone and shouldn’t be as much of a problem as it is, but here we are.

We're all in this together, let's make it a great place for everyone to thrive.

All in all, thank you for reading and I hope this means something to you.