I’m sitting here watching my six year old daughter play with her dolls. There were a couple of years in which she would only wear tutus. (She wore them while playing in the mud, but still she wore them). Until a couple months ago, her entire wardrobe was pink and purple (now it’s blue). I’d like to believe that these are her choices. The dolls she buys with her allowance, and the only rule we have for purchasing and wearing clothes is that they must be weather and venue appropriate. But it’s already overwhelming how much gender differentiation she is exposed to every day. I was raised in a very feminist household in Boulder. I hope that means that I have been respectful towards women and treated them as equals more often than not. (And when I’ve failed at that, I’ve felt like crap.) But having a daughter has changed something for me. Instead of seeing the world from my point of view, I see the world from her point of view, and I’m not at all happy about what I see.
I think that we are doing a pretty good job of mitigating the damage that our culture inflicts, but I’m pissed that we have to mitigate damage at all. The amount of time we have to spend on resetting expectations about body image, challenging the daily assault of “dolls are for girls, machines are for boys” advertising, and the thousand other things we experience, is a waste of time. It’s time we ought be spending building with legos (even the primary colored ones made for boys), building circuits, or, if she likes, brushing doll hair.
But I’d like to see the culture change, and it’s clear that it’s going to take a lot of work. For my part, I realize it’s not enough just to try to do the right thing myself, or to teach her how to “handle” these cultural failures. We all need to be loud and outspoken about things that aren’t ok. When we see an environment in which someone isn’t fully welcomed and respected because of their gender (or ethnicity, or sexual identity, or any other bullshit reason) we need to speak up and change it. Right then and there. We should be respectful to the offender(s), of course. People don’t change when they are defensive, but each occurrence is an opportunity for some “design thinking.” Start with some empathy: (regardless of your intent, how do you think that comment made that person feel). Then test some different behaviors and see what happens.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to be said about all of this, but for now I think I’ll leave it at this: I’m not going to be silent about it any more, and my empathy for women in tech now has the added “kick” that I see my daughter in each of them, and I’m not going to put up with any more crap. I hope that most everyone who reads this thinks the same way. So it’s not about changing what most of us believe, but just being vocal about the culture we demand in our industry. Let’s get to work.