"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

Posts tagged ‘brogrammers’

A Cautionary Tale of Bro-havior and Benign Intent

Smokey the Bear cautions readers that only they can prevent brohavior

Image mashup based on “only you…” by flickr user dreamymo

Today I have really stretched my powers of procrastination. I have voraciously read Twitter, engaged in multiple discussions on Facebook, and even *gasp* read a bunch of saved content on Instapaper (surely a sign of the apocalypse?). The problem is, I am not fooling myself. I know I have been avoiding writing this post. I feel conflicted about it even as I sit down to write it. I think I may even be procrastinating by talking about procrastination. Because the truth is, this post is uncomfortable to write.

It’s uncomfortable because I wish 100 things had gone differently. And it is uncomfortable because I am going to critique some people who I think were actually trying to be nice. But I think this cautionary tale needs to be told.

Once upon a time, there was a princessno, a kick-ass superheroine…in reality, an ordinary professional woman. This woman had worked really hard to earn a doctorate and had been really fortunate to land a tenure track position teaching and conducting research at a university. Her field has much to do with media and technology. As a result of this, the woman often finds herself in contact with people outside of the Ivory Tower of academia. And she generally thinks this is a good thing. In fact, she values opportunities to engage outside the university.

So the woman was intrigued when she received an invitation to a discussion-based event from a friendly professional contact. This contact is a smart, innovative, and friendly person, but not a career academic (let’s refer to him as “Contact” from here on out). The idea Contact was pitching the woman was that his friend, “Organizer,” chooses a topic and brings together an eclectic group of people to discuss it. The woman’s male colleague was supposed to participate, but he was going to be out of town and Contact thought she would be a good replacement. The woman was initially a bit skeptical of this event. Though she knows about the topic, it is not her primary area of expertise. And Contact actually made things a bit worse by emphasizing how “exclusive” the event was to be. The exclusivity was actually kind of antithetical to the openness and sharing the woman typically values. But Contact really seemed to want her to attend and assured her it would be rewarding. So she reluctantly agreed.

Ok, so everyone gets that it is me, right? So I can drop the third person? It’s getting to be a bit cumbersome.

Weeks passed. Though I remained somewhat hesitant, I kept my word and went to the event. I was a bit late due to traffic and was flustered when I arrived. When I walked into the room, Organizer, Contact, and the three other participants were already seated and engaged in conversation. Cue more fluster: I was the only woman. For those playing along at home, that’s 5 men, 1 woman.

Image of three pairs of sunglasses and one hat from Sesame Street's

One of these things is not like the others

I momentarily considered leaving. Instead I chose a seat and met the others. Organizer noted that the other person who was supposed to be there (also a man) could not make it. Had my male colleague not had a conflict, there would have been no women present. There was then an awkward formal-ish introduction period in which Organizer said he would introduce each participant, suggesting that he would save everyone the embarrassment of speaking about themselves. Except Organizer didn’t really know me. So he instead asked Contact to do it. It was a strange thing to be in that room, already feeling like a part of the Sesame Street game “One of these things is not like the others,” and being spoken for in a way that, though kind and complimentary, is not how I would have chosen to articulate myself. Of the other participants, Guy1 and Guy2 were local entrepreneurs. Guy3 was also a professor, though in a very different discipline. (more…)

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Is there a silver lining to brogrammer culture?

If you are unfamiliar with the term brogrammer, read Tasneem Raja’s piece at Mother Jones. Actually, read it even if you already know all about them: “Gangbang Interviews” and “Bikini Shots”: Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem | Mother Jones.

Raja’s overview of the “brogrammer,” anchored in a critique of Matt Van Horn’s SXSW talk, provides some insight into the recent rise of this term.

I’m happy to say that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a “brogrammer” in the wild. When I raised the term with my students, they seemed to ridicule and reject the idea without missing a beat. Nonetheless the term makes me uneasy. It seems that start-up or programming spaces that embrace this ethos are regressing into what Raja rightly terms “testosterone-fueled boneheadedness.” Raja frames the brogramming trend as perhaps something that hapless men without Human Resources guidance fumble into. That seems to be letting them off the hook too easily.

I would perhaps push Raja’s suggestion further and argue that the intent to foster and propagate brogrammer culture is hostile to women.  Not only is it demeaning to the women who are objectified by brogrammer tactics, it is alienating to the women who may need to share these spaces. It is hard to believe that any of these “brogrammers” could be completely clueless about the impacts of their behavior.

I suspect that the extreme hypermasculinity of the “brogrammer” is relatively scarce when they are considered as part of larger programming populations. However, the inanity and problematic gender politics of the brogrammer may also help focus attention on the often more subtle ways in which women are made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in male-dominated spaces. Raja outlines a few statistics on the issue of female programmers and the number of women heading up start ups, all of which she uses to suggest that the imbalance of women in programming and start ups is a larger problem than the brogrammer.

So while the brogrammer is a shudder-inducing term, the very thought of which makes me grind my teeth, his presence may have the potential to open up wider conversations about gender in tech spaces that tend to be male-dominated. And that is a conversation worth having. (more…)

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