does feminism have a place in tech?
If we have a 'top women in tech' list, shouldn't we have a 'top men in tech' list too? So joked a panel moderator.
Isn't that equal? Sure. Absolutely. I say go for it.
Incensed? So was a great majority of the audience at the Girls in Tech chapter launch in London last Friday. A female audience member raised her hand and said that it was an inappropriate joke because joking about privilege only condones it.
The conference organisers quickly said that they had no opinion on the matter beyond that men were as welcome at Girls in Tech events as women, indeed they were encouraged, and that they supported equality for both genders.*
I thought back to a dinner table discussion at Thinking Digital a few days before in which a fellow delegate and diner said that he hadn't even noticed that half the speakers were female.
I think the woman in the audience was wrong, we should have a 'top men in tech' list. Let me tell you why:
These incidents typify, for me, two things: the difference between British and American feminism, and the hang-up with real gender equity.
As an American woman educated at a women's college in the United States, who advocates women's only education especially at the secondary or tertiary levels for every young woman, I have missed the feminist (if you want, post-feminist) discourse of my college years (where feminism for me includes race and gender discourse, LGBT issues, and social justice). I find British feminism to be lackluster and subdued, mostly focused on issues like rape and domestic violence -- which isn't to demean these very serious problems-- I'm just saying I'm used to something broader, more direct and overt.
It's not that British women and various communities aren't having these same discussions, they are. Just not as loudly -- which is a cultural difference, which is fine. But sometimes I wonder at this lack of volume, if it's the cause of a strong counter-current seemingly that the best feminism is not noticing difference, rather than acknowledging it.
I found what I was looking for, oddly in the almost subterranean 'men's work' movement in the UK when I rang up a young man named Alex Linsley and was consequently given the sternest examination I've ever had for a press-pass in my life (and I've been to UN conferences, too)!
(please pause, and look through it, then finish reading this post, and go back and read the article in full)
I learned more from the men that day about feminism -- meaning race, class, and gender-- than I had in my four years at Simmons College studying a broad and inclusive discourse of feminism (in the sense that every course has course work related to race, class, and gender as standard).
What I learned that day is the affect that feminism has had on men, something that leads me to question whether men still retain privilege in Western culture, and even if the answer to gender equity is more feminism.
I believe gender equity will only be achieved with a full circling of gender movements: a men's movement.
What I learned that day is this:
When you think of 'men' in 'media' what are the prevalent stereotypes that you see? men as idiots, liars, actors in violence, a bumbling comical figure. Mostly, they are juxatopsed with a smart, poised, successful woman. What affect has that had on young men?
When you think of rituals in society, those that are broadly acceptable and celebrated, what do you think of? weddings, engagements, giving birth, in US culture Prom.
and how are they marketed as experiences? how much money and how many years have now dictated that women 18-35 control the marketplace, the household spending, and the ad dollars. Even loans are now marketed at women.
Women have more privilege, relatively speaking than we have ever had before.
But all without addressing men.
The point is simply this: we, as women have been allowed to have a cross-societal discourse about what it means to be a modern woman. Men have not had that opportunity since feminism and equality became mainstream.
What does it mean to be a man in modern society? What expectations are there/should there be?
These are the questions 'men's work' seeks to answer. But sadly, men doing this good work can't be heard.
One of the reasons Mr Linsley and his co-organiser Marc Quinn were reluctant to let me attend and write the article was that (unbeknownest to me), Linsley had had quite a time with starting his men's group at Oxford. It drew negative attention from the national press and women accused him of being anti-feminist and 'macho' without bothering to listen to what Linsley was really saying.
What the men told me that day is that the discussion they'd like to have at a national level is usually shouted down by women and misunderstood by men. Since that article I have attended the National Men's Conference and remained friends with a lot of the men I met that day. The men that run networking websites know that men are listening though they aren't engaging. They told me that they feel like their movement is underground and it has to remain quiet in order for it to spread amongst men because they fear backlash.
But their work goes unacknowledged. Much like gender difference is discouraged from being acknowledged.
Observationally, a huge difference between Britain and America in terms of social justice is Americans' willingness to engage in quota systems and affirmative action, in that way explicitly and willingly acknowledging difference in a way that the British do no. Indeed, I get the distinct impression having lived here for almost four years that affirmative action is definitely a negative here.
What's curious to me about half the scientists, techies, and geek speakers at Thinking Digital being female is that the man behind the event, Herb Kim, is an American expat. (Mr Kim declined to comment as to whether this ratio was on purpose.)
I would say that the 'men's work' movement in the US is quite a bit louder than the one in the UK, though definitely not mainstream.
I will leave you with a question: is explicitly acknowledging difference important to achieving true gender equity? Can that be used / should that be used to fully achieve gender equity if the 'final frontier' in that fight is a men's movement?
I believe that you can't address one side of an issue without the other. Are we avoiding the right question?
And it gets even more interesting if we acknowledge gender difference and think about the future of tech -- if men are indeed biologically more suited to maths and engineering (aside from changing societal stereotypes, which can be used to over come the issues, and we believe that digital culture literacy rewires our brains, possibly to making up for biological differences). But that's another post.
*I will omit a discussion of the problem of the use of the word 'Girls' here.