Updated: Damned if you do....

I'm the first to admit that I've grossly neglected my blog, partially 'cause I've covered most of our "moving story" by now and partially cause my friends "nobody cares about that" or "that's putting way too much of yourself out there" remind me to not post things that are a bit deeper in meaning. Recent events, however, have made it obvious that it's time to ignore all that and put it out there, regardless of the consequences.

I first got involved in IT 13 years ago and it didn't take long to get the point that being different - not a guy - wasn't exactly making me stand out in a positive way.  The jokes and conversations in those man-caves (i.e. IT support rooms) were either about gaming or chicks, neither of which I could contribute to much. 
Whether unintentionally or not, I would minimize my gender by the way I dressed, acted and talked as it was much easier to fit in that way. In a weird way, being overweight and insecure at the time actually helped the situation as it allowed appearance to not be a factor whenever talks of "guess which hot chick is wearing a thong today!" came up and with time, I became fully assimilated to simply "being one of the guys".  

Fast forward a few years after a series of events allowed me to find a glimpse of who I was and my physical appearance started changing, and so did the way I was treated by the guys I worked with.  While I was still just acting and talking like "one of the guys", all of a sudden, my crass jokes were perceived differently and more than once I'd end up in very uncomfortable situations because of being completely unaware of the effects of my words and appearance. I actually hated my gender and fought being perceived as female for a long time.  

Turns out you can't be smart AND one of the guys AND attractive at the same time.
If I get offended because of something degrading said to me, I am a "no fun feminist that doesn't know how to take a joke".
If I joke along with the guys at a conference then I get told "oh, so you're the booth babe for _____ company?"
Lord forbid I should actually flirt with someone, cause then I surely asked for whatever I got, right?

So where do you go from there? 

It's been a long journey and I'm far from impervious to stupid comments, but right after moving to Anguilla, I gained the ability to hear my inner voices,  which allowed me to finally make peace with who I am - a woman.
I still turn into  a sobbing blob of  "I hate being a woman" whenever I get told how I "get around", and I still watch my behaviour and choice of words around guys, but I've come a LONG way.

Turns out trying to minimize your gender in the way you look or act is a fairly standard thing, which I discovered after many conversations with other women in male dominated fields.  And you might have guessed that this post isn't really about "just" me but rather about the effect those stereotype comments have and the lack of diversity that creates in turn.

How often do you have to watch what you say, how you act or look in order to not lose technical credibility?

Update:
Several people have pinged me privately asking about the incident that prompted this. Some are claiming to know the backstory while others are apologizing because they believe it was something they said.  I am hence feeling compelled to say that this post was not written based on any one incident, one comment, one anything, but rather on my experience as a whole and watching others deal with the same issues.  It was meant to raise awareness on both sides of the fence and the timing felt right.  Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.....

 

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  • 8/8/2009 3:38 PM Debbie wrote:
    I can relate to your post. Over the years to fit in, I have dressed in suits or uniforms, avoiding girlie cloths. I was married at 20 so I haven't been part of the dating game for a long time. To cope I became "big sister" or maybe "den mother" to the guys. When the talk got rough, I would leave the room or try to ignore it and act like I didn't hear it. But there have also been times when it got too crude and I had to say I wasn't going to tolerate it. I'm not sure if it hurt my career or not. I do know as I've grown older I no longer care and my attitude has changed. I'm no longer striving to climb the corporate ladder. I just want to do a good job.

    I am perfectly happy having a job close to home that allows me to spend more time with my family. I also stopped hiding my faith and speak up or leave the area if activities going on around me don't make me comfortable. I no longer have two separate lives, one for work and the other at home.

    Now, my focus is on living my life so that I don't have any regrets. I am enjoying my family and darling new grandson.


    Debbie
    Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 3:40 PM Rob McDonagh wrote:
    You know what I think about this topic. The fact that this post had to be written is appalling. But it definitely DID have to be written.

    Some people need to grow up. Others (myself included) need to step up and make it crystal clear that this BS won't *ever* be acceptable.

    You're a wonderful, brave, strong woman. I'm thrilled to have you as a friend, and if my daughter grows up to be half the woman you are, I'll be very proud of her. Sorry to embarrass you (undoubtedly), but since the haters are so vocal, I think the rest of us should be as well.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/9/2009 12:44 PM francie wrote:
      Yeah, ok, completely embarrassed and flattered and (clearly) speechless.
      Wow!
      Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 5:04 PM Nathan T. Freeman wrote:
    Francie, if you're hearing inner voices, maybe it's time to seek treatment.

    Hope serve up a big pile of pwnership to whoever is making you feel up against the wall. And serve it cold.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/8/2009 6:20 PM francie wrote:
      Lol, I re-added the link to that "inner voices" blog posting, so that statement might make more sense now.

      Revenge isn't my style and I only like serving ceviche cold, but instead, I wanted to let the "good guys" know what it feels like on this side.

      By the way, your "sounds like somebody needs to get laid" private comment was hilarious and a perfect way to illustrate thatw there is more than one set of "rules of engagement" for those I know and trust, versus those I don't.
      This is a complex subject and if you had made that comment publicly, I sure as shit hope that others would have jumped on your crass ass

      (luv ya)
      Reply to this
      1. 8/8/2009 6:28 PM Nathan T. Freeman wrote:
        Note to readers, that was one in a list of completely inappropriate responses that I sent to Francie. My personal favorite was...

        "UR a GIRL!??!?! OMG!!!!11!!1oneone1!sin(90)1!!

        R U hot?"
        Reply to this
        1. 8/8/2009 9:32 PM Rob McDonagh wrote:
          Not having seen the others, I guess I could be wrong. But I have to say, that one *would* be tough to top. Nice touch with the sin[sic](90)...
          Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 5:22 PM Marie Scott wrote:
    I've been working in IT in more than 20 years. I struggled for years to gain credibility without being labeled as difficult or "bitchy" because I was technically more able than many of my male counterparts. I have been passed over for promotions because I "was not the head of a household." Well duh...does that make me any less deserving of a raise...versus a man who can't do the job? It was a very difficult climb. And frustrating on a personal level as there is a fine line in finding your own comfort zone with your femininity. Whereas men can be assertive and aggressive in the workplace and women cannot as those are still seen as derogatory traits. And even after 20 years, I would have to say that there have been few changes. Sigh.

    I recently had the opportunity to hear Bill Cosby speak to an auditorium full of college students. One of his messages was about the use of the word "bitch" in a lot of popular culture and music. He pointed out that the word "bastard" needed to be used more frequently. He also pointed out that he was where he is today due to many strong women including his sixth grade teacher who took personal and career risks to teach inner city children in Philadelphia.


    I have chosen to tap into the wisdom of strong talented women who have gone before me – my great grandmothers and grandmothers. I feel that I must stand up to any challenge facing me and take advantage of any opportunity.

    And despite how men may label me – I can be attractive, talented, witty, charming, and smart as a whip all at the same time. So hear me roar! And Francie in your case…”I’m not the ‘booth babe’…I’m the woman running the whole conference thank you very much.”
    Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 5:52 PM francie wrote:
    Debbie and Marie and most other women I know have a similar story to tell and part of why I wrote this was to let others know that they're not alone.

    The only way change happens though, is to make people aware, give them the ability to spot the behaviour as it happens, so it can then be changed. That's why I initially wrote a letter to the 632Crew (a bunch of guys and two women) to let them know WHY it was such a big deal to spend an evening at IamLUG being able to say anything, without worrying about how I would be perceived the next day.

    Not being on guard because I was with people I trusted was HUGE and I am THRILLED that all that has morphed into several guys pinging me offline, vowing to NOT let demeaning comments from others go and to call them out on the spot.
    Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 5:52 PM Andrew Pollack wrote:
    Francie - I suspect you could easily get agreement from most of the female firefighters I know. It's clearly a fine line.

    There's a hidden challenge for women in IT at the top though. When IT execs have to pick from their people for promotion to their own ranks, without being purposely gender biased, they do take into account who they're comfortable working long hours under stress with. The challenges inherent in this relationship can really work against women.

    I know that no matter how much effort I make to treat the women I work with no differently then the men, the very idea of it is a lie. There's a whole layer of relationship management and care that just isn't present when I'm working with men, but is when I'm working with women. I spend 100 times more time thinking about how anything I say that isn't specifically technical will be perceived. I consider it my responsibility to not let this impact any choices I make or opinions I hold, but the truth is that's a never ending work in progress -- not a perfect and comfortable set of actions that's always predictable.
    Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 6:59 PM Roy Rumaner wrote:
    In the two and a half days we were in St Louis, I found you to be not only beautiful and smart but also able to be one of the gang (not the boys as there were other women in the group). You are an amazing person whom I was in awe of. Awe because of your life story of moving from Switzerland to Texas and then to a tiny little place I have very little knowledge of and also of your knowledge of all things Notes. It takes a lot of something to make a move that puts you so far away from "civilization" especially after living in Texas.

    It is a shame that some (ignorant) members of my sex make you feel that you had to write that post. I hope that I in no way made you feel that way and hope I never do.

    And by the way, as far as you being a booth babe, a company would have to be stupid not to ask if you would be willing to promote them. Not for your body but for your knowledge which is something to be very proud of. You are a tribute to our profession and if I can ever help you in any way, I hope you do not hesitate to ask.

    I look forward to seeing you at Lotusphere in 2010.
    Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 8:22 PM Bob Balaban wrote:
    Francie, this description is RIGHT ON. This is why the whole "feminist" movement started, and (obviously) it hasn't taken root everywhere that we need it to, though in fairness, things are better than they used to be for some people, some places.

    Stay with it, stay strong, and do NOT be afraid to speak out. Silence hides too many crimes to be ok.
    Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 8:29 PM Andrew Pollack wrote:
    Now that I understand the back story here a bit, let me just say that neither of my respected friends is going to have any trouble living down the comments of tool like that.

    Just become someone makes an ass of themselves by applying stupid prejudices while desperately trying to fit in (#fail on that one boys) doesn't mean your actions need to be called into self doubt.

    Now THERE is a difference between men and women. By making comments, this person is proving they're an ass. It shouldn't cause you to even think for a second that you're own behavior is wrong.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/9/2009 12:42 PM francie wrote:
      Not sure what backstory you heard but this post was not written based on one event, one comment, one anything, it's been accumulating over time.
      Just thought I'd put that out there since I've gotten several apologies from guys who thought this was about them.
      Reply to this
  • 8/8/2009 9:16 PM Susan Bulloch wrote:
    Hmm - I don't know the backstory here, and I don't think I need to, but I can approach this from a somewhat different angle. First, I walk into a room with 'feminist' (among other things) all but stamped on my forehead. Also, I'm not nearly the looker that Francie and some others are, but after a 14 year career in Engineering and now and additional 15 in IT, I've seen plenty of what you're talking about. I've taken the angle that Marie did, but always working hard to be the smartest one in the room to gain credibility. I also look more like people expect a technical female is expected by some to look like. But still, there aren't enough of us in IT.

    One of the greatest delights I have tho is watching a 'hot chick' walk into a meeting or a conference or a sales presentation and wow-ing the almost always male crowd with technical excellence. I've been in several situations like this - and I love watching it.

    Andrew is onto something and any really good diversity training will make you realize it in yourself - we are all more comfortable with our own kind. Promotions tend to go along the demographic of the people making the decision. I personally want to work with the best, and have been fortunate in recent years to do that.

    All that said, prejudice ends when the majority stops the twits in their midst. It will take the Nathans, Andrews, Roys and Robs and the other guys stepping up and speaking out when the girls aren't around. Sounds like the guys commenting here are a good bunch to start.
    Reply to this

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