Looking to the past

It’s an oft-voiced suggestion that rather than looking at the bad things that happen in our communities, we should focus on the good things. There’s a number of highly successful geek women already – should we not be concentrating on encouraging more of them, rather than scaring people away with tales of thoughtlessness, discrimination and outright abuse?

Let’s draw an analogy. One day, a $20 charge appears on your credit card. You didn’t make it. You report it to your credit card company, who assure you that they take fraud seriously and then do nothing. A few days later, another $20 charge. Your credit card company tells you that such events are rare, unrepresentative of the general credit card experience and continue to do nothing. A week afterwards, another charge. This time your credit card company describes how they’re planning on implementing a brand new anti-fraud system, but that this is unrelated to any events that may currently be occuring and will give no details as to when it’s going to be rolled out. And proceed to ignore any further reports you make about fraudulant transactions.

Would you stay with this company? Or would you take your business somewhere else?

The problem with the “Let’s look to the future rather than spending too much time getting stuck in the present” argument is that it assures people that things will get better without providing a roadmap for getting there. It does nothing to validate their concerns or make them feel wanted within a community. It assumes either that people will stick with a community that doesn’t respond to their complaints, or that it’s possible to construct a community that’s welcome to an assortment of genders, ethnicities and lifestyles without any of those people being represented in the first place.

Ignoring people’s concerns is an excellent way to drive them away from your community. Doing so because of a potential future that’s probably conditional on you having those people in your community is short sighted and self defeating. Ignoring the present doesn’t benefit the future. It benefits the status quo.

8 thoughts on “Looking to the past

  1. Daedala

    It also assumes that the problems are in the past.

    The past appears to start about ten minutes from now, and it keeps rolling forward.

  2. rho

    It reminds me a lot of this scene from The Lion King.

    Rafiki hits Simba on the head with his stick

    Simba: What was that for?
    Rafiki: It doesn’t matter! It’s in the past!

  3. Melissa

    Meh, surely this hindsight thing of which you speak is just downright useless. It’s not like it could ever have provided valuable lessons to prevent one getting thoroughly annihilated or anything like that. It’s not like world powers have ever mistakenly disregarded lessons from hindsight to their detriment. Right?

  4. Lesley

    Well said but it doesn’t go deep enough! It’s too short an article.
    There is still massive resistance within society to change especially change where women are treated equally to their male counterparts.

    The Guardian reported today that female doctors are generally paid about £15000 less than their male counterparts.

    Despite legislation to the contrary, the existing incumbents of one of the major employers in the UK appears to be blatantly discriminating against professional women. Once you take up a career in a male dominated environment and become a professional in that environment you can be hooked into an abusive discriminatory system that discourages you from pursuing equality in salary and career expectations on the basis it is unprofessional. Any women subject to such environments who actually takes up the banner of equal consideration has to accept they will lose their career.

    Until we observe that and start to make inroads into dealing with that problem, women are very infrequently going to come forward and deal with the problem in isolated cases. I think it would be good to have a place where not only successful women are highlighted but also the problems encountered by women who protest against their treatment in the professional work environment, what the procedures are; the steps the women had to take to protect themselves, their careers and their families plus their perception of it before, during and after the experience of the abuse and the complaint/litigation procedure.

    I don’t wish to exclude non-professional women from this debate. I have the view that professional women may be more open to abuse because there might be an implied vocational element i.e. a calling to go into a specific area of working life e.g. hospital doctor, engineer, and I believe it is more likely for abuse to exist because of the difficulty in speaking out against intrinsic abusive behaviours and cultures within an organisation or industry wide within a vocation.

    Hope this all makes sense !

  5. James Westby

    There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now

    Eugene O’Neill

  6. Beth

    My only issue with the “let’s focus on the problems” thing is when it alienates, well, me. When people talk about how there are “no” women in computing, I get frustrated because I’m right here, along with a surprising number of other women. Many of whom don’t get the profile or publicity, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there doing the work. I grew up around the Silicon Valley and I remember meeting women working at PARC place and elsewhere; they were my role models.

    I want to talk about the reality of women in computing right now. The challenges, but also the successes. The frustrations, but also the history that we have always been here and we will be here. The camaraderie, support and achievements women are responsible for. My hope is that young girls can see computer science as a profession with problems, but one worth fighting for.

    Even looking at the past doesn’t have to be a bleak event.

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