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Public shaming of men March 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
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I’ve been reading the stories about Adria Richards…and reading, with abject horror, the comments on those stories.

The primary thing that irritated me were the comments saying that she shouldn’t have posted the pictures to Twitter.  She should, in their opinion, have simply told them to knock it off.

Obviously these commenters have no idea what they’re asking.  One of my first experiences where this occurred was in a college cafeteria.  I was sitting with another woman and two men, both of whom were loudly ogling the women in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (ETA: it was actually the swimsuit issue).  The other woman asked them to stop.  They ignored her and kept on.  She repeated her request, and they glared at her before telling her that if she didn’t like it, she could go somewhere else…and then returned to their activity.  When she got up angrily and left, there was loud muttering about what a bitch she was.

In the twenty years since this happened, I have never seen such requests, either from me or other women, have any positive outcome.  In fact, they’re almost entirely replicas of the above conversation.  Occasionally, there’s the, “Can’t you take a joke?” line thrown in, as well.  And in the twenty years since this happened, I have encountered many such opportunities to try this tactic.

It doesn’t work.

My observation is that men who are stupid enough to think it’s okay to behave this way in public, especially in a professional setting, are also too stupid to realize that it’s sexist and that they should quit, even when told directly.  Somehow it’s okay to make jokes at a tech conference that you’d never make in front of your mother.  (There’s a bit of scientific evidence to back this up.)  If you honestly think just telling them to stop actually worked, all of them would have stopped making comments like that a long time ago.  There’s a website devoted to dealing with the issue, which would be unnecessary if just telling people to stop actually worked.

The only time I’ve seen any different outcome is when I did something similar to Adria: I publicly shamed the offender on the biggest soapbox I could find.  You see, in the twenty years I’ve been dealing with behavior head on, I have learned that men won’t listen to me on the topic of sexist behavior as they ascertain that women aren’t good evaluators in this realm.  Instead, if you want them to stop sexist behavior, you need to get other men to tell them to stop.  In my situation, it actually worked.  While I would like to think that the man making offensive comments suddenly saw the error of his ways, I think the reason he really apologized (albeit with a defensive remark at the end) was because other men and some women piled on and said it was out of line.  I’m incredibly appreciative of all of those people, too.

It’s depressing, however, to find that there so many more out there who feel like Adria just needs to get a thicker skin or are clueless to the fact that making sexist remarks go away isn’t a simple feat.  To me, this is a very clear sign that sexism in tech is still as much a problem as it was two decades ago.

(If, after reading all this you’re still frustrated, then cheer yourself up by reading this wonderful parody about how women should remember their place in science.)

Stereotypes are good because they’re true February 3, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
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A couple weeks ago, I was talking with someone who mentioned an email about stereotypes of women.  He apparently thought it was funny, and I made the quip that I hadn’t seen it because obviously no one would be stupid enough to send something like that to me.  There was some effort at defending the email, but I said that stereotypes aren’t defensible because they cause you to judge all people who fall into a particular category the same way rather than viewing them as unique individuals who may or may not resemble the stereotype.

In particular, I talked about my experience when I first started going to college.  A frequently overheard comment my first year or two of college is that, “Women are only accepted here because of affirmative action.”  Dummy me, I started to believe it.

It was a couple years later when I realized it was bunk.  I was working on a website for the women’s center, and I was asked to put up statistics that compared female and male admitted students.  It turned out that the stats came from my particular class, and one of the things that I was putting up was a comparison between SAT scores of the two groups.  I found it interesting that there was only about a 10-point difference between men and women. What really got me was when I found out that my SAT scores were actually higher than the average male SAT scores.  I was livid.  I’d been told for so long that I had only been admitted because of my uterus that I would’ve never believed it.  That meant that my SAT scores were better than more than half the men in my cohort.

Going back to the conversation, I became even more irritated when someone else jumped into the conversation, making the assertion that stereotypes are just fine.  Apparently, in this person’s world, the people they misjudge are apparently acceptable casualties because “most of the time,” it’s true.

Sadly, I doubt this person would understand how their judgments impact other people.  In fact, I think they’d be especially reluctant to agree with this article about how stereotypes are bad even when they’re good.

I admit to having caught myself assuming stereotypes of people.  It’s something that I have to work on constantly.  It’s disappointing, however, that there are still people who think stereotypes are a reasonable approach to human interaction.

Typical woman November 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
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I was ribbing a coworker at a meeting, and his response could more or less be summed up with, “Typical woman.”  I was completely expecting him to say that, and I laughed when he did.  However, one of the other people in the meeting was obviously very uncomfortable with the exchange and quickly changed the topic, redirecting us back to our original focus.

After this exchange, I was somewhat troubled because I started wondering if I had some sort of double standard: in this scenario, my coworker was obviously kidding and I know that he doesn’t really believe that.  (At least, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t.  We have a very good professional relationship.)  On the other hand, I know that if certain people did it, it would probably offend me as it would just cement my view that they have issues with women.

This left me wondering when, if ever, sexist humor is appropriate.  Is it alright as long as the woman or women present aren’t offended, or ought there be a more universally applied standard?  I know some people who feel it is never okay to make jokes like that.  Or should it be situation dependent?

Men are clueless July 13, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineerblogs.org, engineering, societal commentary.
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I wrote up a post over at EngineerBlogs yesterday called Dating Advice for Women Engineers.  (Yeah, I forgot to post a link here…)  After I wrote it up and posted it, I reread it and realized that maybe a better title should’ve been something like “A Woman’s Guide to Dating Male Engineers”.  And then I worried that I was going to get ragged on for making male engineers sound stupid or clueless.  Fortunately, there have been no such responses, which is good because while some may assume that was the implication, that would be a false assumption.

Here’s the thing I’ve come to understand: many males, but particularly male engineers, aren’t clueless.  I know that may come as a surprise to some.  The reality is that I think engineers expect people to just be direct.  And frankly, I really appreciate that.  I like being able to just say what I think to my husband and not try to couch everything in terms that won’t injure his ego.  And I know that if he says something critical, it’s not that he’s saying he doesn’t like me or anything, he just is making a point about something.  It’s a lot easier for us to separate our personal feelings and feelings about outside issues.  We can argue passionately about stuff we do at work, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I like him as a person.

I’ve never been good at the whole ‘dropping hints’ thing.  That’s probably a good thing because I have also observed that a lot of guys think that when you say something doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t.  Being subtle and dropping hints have never been terribly effective means of communicating what you want, despite the fact I see people doing it all the time.  When I do see someone trying it, I seem to pick it up sometimes, but I usually roll my eyes and think, “Just spit it out already!”

Anyway, the point of this was that I think people ought to just be more direct.  Tactful is also appreciated and ought to be used liberally…but not to the point where it obfuscates your message.  And if someone doesn’t get what you’re saying (especially if it’s a guy), it may be because he’s clueless, but it’s also worthwhile to see how clearly you’re communicating.


A letter to the editors May 9, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, feminism, societal commentary.
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This weekend, I saw a letter to the editors that was basically a “women should be kept in their place” sort of deal with a twist.  Apparently when women don’t stay barefoot in the kitchen, they are becoming tools to evil men in the world who are attempting to overthrow the traditional family.

When I get irritated with these things, sometimes I will sit down and write out a letter to burn off steam.  Usually, I don’t send these letters out, but this time I did.  And here it is, if you care to read it.  I realize it will not do anything to sway the original letter writer, but it sure made me feel better.

Why are the women so good? January 21, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, feminism, teaching.
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I’d been thinking about writing this post last semester.  However, it slipped my mind until some trollish comments showed up on EngineerBlogs today.  I think that Chris, Gears and Katie gave the troll a good smackdown, but one comment bothers me:

few women are capable of handling these kind of demanding environment.

I’ve heard this before (pretty much since I started as an undergrad).  However, after teaching my class last semester, I have to wonder what the hell these people are talking about.

I had 90 students last semester, 5 of whom were women.  All five of those women were easily in the top 25% of the class and were more likely in the top 10% of the class.  They were the students who repeatedly handed in assignments on time and seldom (if ever) had to redo any of them.  I will say that none of them chose to do the programming – but that is likely because they had turned in all the optional assignments required for an A before the matlab assignments were given.

If anything, what I saw was puzzling to me.  The women seemed the most prepared to meet the demands of a college class, were able to communicate well both in written and verbal form (and one of them was a non-native English speaker), and contributed well and frequently to the class.  It was almost strange how they were on top of things when the majority of their male classmates were struggling.

I’ve heard it argued that the women most likely to be in engineering are generally those who are in the top of their classes.  Women who may be good at math but not outright brilliant will be swayed to go into other careers.  From what I could see, this was true.

If you listen to trolls on the internet, you get the impression that women are incompetent engineers, however.  The women in my class were some of the most competent and motivated students, but I admit that they were more passive than the male students, which I still think leads the male students (and probably later on, male professors) to believe that the female students don’t know anything.  But it’s interesting to hear this comments after witnessing the exact opposite of what everybody “knows to be true”.  I can only think that people who make these comments are really overestimating their own abilities or wrongly judging what it takes to be a good engineer.  Maybe both.

IEEE, you rock November 3, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, older son, societal commentary, younger son.
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In amidst the paper writing frenzy of the past week, I wasn’t paying close attention to email.  When I started sorting through my box, however, I came across this gem from Susan Hassler, the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Spectrum:

Dear Members and Readers,

Please accept our sincere apologies for the headline in today’s Tech Alert: “With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program.” The actual title of the article is “The Making of Arduino.”

I’m an IEEE member, and a mom, and the headline was inexcusable, a lazy, sexist cliché that should have never seen the light of day. Today we are instituting an additional headline review process that will apply to all future Tech Alerts so that such insipid and offensive headlines never find their way into your in-box.

Spectrum’s insistence on editorial excellence applies to all its products, including e-mail alerts. Thank you for bringing this error to our attention. If you have any additional comments or recommendations, do not hesitate to contact me or other members of the editorial staff.

Running around some forums, however, I was surprised at the comments implying there was nothing wrong with the link title.


I admit that I saw the title and didn’t think much about it.  I was sort of in a mailbox deleting frenzy as I’m getting close to 1000 messages and barely keeping up.  When I read this, though, it hit me what I’d missed.

My mom is an accountant and has been an early adopter on many types of software, especially those particular to her industry.  Maybe she can’t program an arduino now, but she sure could if she wanted to.  She’s very technically competent, especially for a non-engineer.  So yes, I don’t like that it perpetuates this stereotype that women, especially mothers are not technically competent.

And I think I would flip if my kids saw this, or worse yet, agreed with it.  I am extremely proud of my older son for seeing through stereotypes, especially when it comes to women.  Unfortunately, my younger son is still very susceptible to these types of social messages, and this is the type of thing I don’t want coming in front of him.  We already have enough struggles with simple things like, “Pink is a girl color.”  I don’t want someone telling him that his mother is too stupid to program something (because, frankly, I’m not).  In fact, I’ve made a point to help him with fixing and making things so that he doesn’t get the idea that ‘dads fix things and moms cook’.

Anyway, kudos to the IEEE for calling this out and making a point that this sort of thing is uncool.  Getting rid of a lot of these thoughtless implications would really help to make the profession more friendly to women.

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