Recently there was a thread on the Google Summer of Code students’ list discussing gender dynamics in open source, but more broadly, interactions between those of different genders (mainly the discussion was simplified to be a discussion of sexes, which I think demonstrates the lack of understanding of the difference between gender and sex. But I suppose that’s a blog post for another day).
It was noted that many of the women on the list have blog addresses and other details that quickly self-identify the authors as female. There was discussion about whether this is a good thing or not, and the possible reasons behind it.
Here is what I wrote:
I think what you mention about yourself shows the world what you think about yourself, and what you consider yourself.
If first and foremost you associate your identity with being female (or male) or straight (or not)… then I guess that’s your prerogative.
But I, for one, am not /just/ an Asian male. I’m not just a Computer Science student. I’m not just a coder. I’m not just an Engineering student. I’m not just 20-years old. I’m not just a blogger. I’m not just an Open Source contributor. I’m not just an advocate of strange and often unpopular ideas.
I am a human being, with many dimensions. And I don’t try to simplify it by putting myself in a box and categorizing myself as anything.
I think that the key is just to understand everyone for who they are, and part of that is being somewhat ambiguous. As Leslie [Hawthorne] somewhat alluded to, it’s about managing people’s preconceptions about you.
I do not actively try to hide that I am male, or that I am Asian (you might guess that from my last name). There are all sorts of preconceptions people might have about things, and there are lots of -isms we should seek to avoid. (I’m Asian – maybe that means I’m a bad driver, and that I can’t pronounce Rs. I’m male – maybe I’m violent. I’m in Computer Science, presumably that means I play Dungeons & Dragons with my classmates on the weekends. I’m in Engineering, maybe that means I’m sexist.)
The reality is: none of these things should matter, nor should they define you.
Just be yourself. You show to the world what you consider relevant about yourself.
And for what it’s worth, I found out the other day that someone I respect and admire in the open source community is a teenager. Somewhere around 15 years old. It’s impressive, really. I look up to him, because he’s a really smart guy. But that wasn’t something he brought up right away; his nickname wasn’t “smartdude15” or anything
like that. That’s the magic of open source, and the Internet — I judged him purely on his knowledge. And once I did find out, I thought to myself… Wow, would I have thought the same thing of him if I knew his age right away? Would I have even given him a chance, or would I just dismiss everything he said as something an immature teenager might say?
I think along with sexism there are tons of other issues to worry about, like racism (consider how difficult it is in some cultures, and even in Western culture, to be really accepted if you are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, two-spirited, asexual, intersex…) In fact, being gay was considered a disease until relatively recently.
I’m glad for all the progress women have made in the past several decades. Not everyone has reached a point where they are accepted in mainstream society, and not everyone feels comfortable announcing certain details about themselves.
If *all* you are is a woman in a male-dominated world, then I feel sorry for you. I truly, truly do. Because none of the women I respect and admire are that. They are, first, talented Engineers, Scientists and Programmers, who are only incidentally female. Being female isn’t something that really identifies them any more than the colour of their skin, hair or eyes. No, no, they are talented, and that is, in the end, all I care about, and that is one reason I am grateful for Open Source — because you oftentimes don’t meet the people you are working with all the time in real life, so you cannot judge them on anything other than their ability.