Grace Hopper keynote “Camaraderie & Cross Gender Collaboration”

Dear Lazyweb,

How many sexist fallacies can you list in one comment on this talk description? You may link to Feminism 101 to save on typing.

Background: Tomorrow morning is the first keynote speech of the Grace Hopper 2010 conference, “Camaraderie & Cross Gender Collaboration“, by Duy-Loan T. Le, a senior fellow at Texas Instruments.


My male colleagues laughed a good laugh with me. Then one gentleman, let’s just call him Mr. Jones, said rather matter-of-factly, “I have never thought of you as a woman!” I laughed and replied, “That is one of the best compliments I have ever received in my professional life!”


What played out in that room that day demonstrates, in my opinion, an ultimate requirement one must have in order to be part of a group: camaraderie! If we women can appreciate how important camaraderie is when working with men – and our part in fostering it – the good old boys’ network becomes a lot less exclusive and less of a barrier.

Read the full text of the keynote description here: Full text | one page PDF | full program PDF [large]

Update: The actual talk had very little to do with the talk description (whew!).

23 thoughts on “Grace Hopper keynote “Camaraderie & Cross Gender Collaboration”

  1. Melissa

    Oh my.

    It’s like she’s blissfully and gleefully demonstrating the description of “honorary guy” that cavlec used to have.

  2. Liz Henry

    It really jumps out at me that the guy saying “I never think of you as a woman” is not complimenting, he is threatening. To say that means that thinking of somone as a woman would be negative. The subtext of threat is to remind Le (who apparently takes it to heart) that “being like a woman” would mean she gets kicked out of the club.

    That negativity or that “woman”-ness could be many things in his mind or Le’s — any one of many negative stereotypes of women, such as the one Le mentions; solidarity with other women; feminism in general; some kind of femminess or sexuality component to the workplace relationship; or simply *ever complaining about sexist behavior or admitting the existence of sexism*. So, by buying into any or all of those concepts, Le is undermining other women’s right to exist, to demand fair treatment or justice for ill treatment. It is internalized sexism, an acceptance of misogyny, directed at other women.

    There are so many other things that I want to point out about her statement! Maybe in another comment later tonight!

    I’m happy that she has a great career and that she’s so badass. Obviously she is. But it makes me sad she would so egregiously step into that “honorary guy” spot while laughing and putting other women down. And then that her younger colleagues would express dismay and hurt – and that she’d speak out not just personally to them to invalidate their experience but use them as a counterexample at a conference that is in theory about women supporting other women.

    I am left wondering how the Grace Hopper organizers felt about this talk when it was submitted for publication in the conference booklet?

  3. Liz Henry

    The other thing that immediately comes to my mind on reading Le’s talk: It doesn’t matter how high up you go as an “honorary man” accepted into the old boy’s club. The weapons of misogyny can still be so easily turned against women.

  4. Eileen Gunn

    I don’t think Le understood the dynamic that was going on. Here’s what it looks like to me:
    (1) Le said something that Jones disagreed with.
    (2) Jones said something to take issue.
    (3) Le laughed and wallpapered over it, saying she always gets her way.
    (4) Jones said something sarcastic.
    (5) Le made another joke about it.
    (6) The other guys laughed nervously.
    (7) One of the other guys warned Jones off, in a non-confrontational way.
    (8) All the men laughed nervously.

    Clearly the other guys respected her technical competence enough to come to her defense. And Le avoided saying she was annoyed or appearing annoyed.

    In big companies like TI, it’s still 1970.

    1. vaurora Post author

      I don’t think Le understood the actual dynamc either. We won’t actually know until we get relable interviews from the men involved. However, Occam’s razor suggestions that, whatever was going on, every person in the room knew exactly what gender Le was and that knowledge frequently factored in to the way the interacted with her. In a totally gender-neutral way, of course, as long as “gender neutral” means “the way guys do it.”

  5. imayer

    I agree the first paragraph of the selection is text book conforming to masculinity in order to be included in predominantly male subcultures. …Aaaand I’m not really sure how that got into the program sans editing :( .

    But her conclusion, and I mention this because part of it is included in the blurb posted above, doesn’t set off my feminist-dar at all. In fact, I think it addresses a sexist fallacy that is constantly championed by techie feminists. There is a prevalent assumption that the primary barrier to more women being in tech is a lack of techie female mentors. (And yes, I know there are media implications to not seeing women at the top of tech corporations, but Le is talking about personal development). And the proposition that having more female tech mentors will fix ‘the women problem in technology’ relies on an assumption that women can or should relate only to other women, and couldn’t network with or look up to males because men and women are just soooo different. That assumption sets gender as *the* primary component of identity (this is common in mainstream culture as well).

    Le clearly hasn’t found her inner feminist yet, but I can sympathize with some of her sentiment. I wouldn’t want to be thought of “as a man” or “as a woman” – I really just want to be thought of as myself.

    1. Restructure!

      In fact, I think it addresses a sexist fallacy that is constantly championed by techie feminists. There is a prevalent assumption that the primary barrier to more women being in tech is a lack of techie female mentors.

      I’m not sure that techie feminists assume that is “the primary barrier”.

      Le clearly hasn’t found her inner feminist yet, but I can sympathize with some of her sentiment. I wouldn’t want to be thought of “as a man” or “as a woman” – I really just want to be thought of as myself.

      Yet Le is the one who first brought up her womanhood with, “Women are always right and women always get their way!”, probably in response to some dynamic in the debate that reminded her of her womanhood.

      Her point behind the talk description just doesn’t make sense. She champions “camaraderie!” when she’s working with men, but when young female engineers felt insulted or wondered what the heck she was thinking, suddenly all of them were in the wrong and need to be made into an example. I don’t think she should agree them just because they are women, but it’s ironic for her to be talking about sisterhood informing camaraderie, while not applying camaraderie to sisterhood (apparently, ‘camaraderie’ is the gender-neutral-but-implicitly-male analogue of sisterhood).

  6. Alan Bell

    “I have never thought of you as a $label!” only really works if the next sentence is “I just think of you as my friend.” Although that said, not to think of a woman as a woman seems more than a little strange to me.

      1. lala

        It’s confusing because it can mean two different things.

        “I never thought of you as a woman” could mean “I don’t really care what your gender is because it’s irrelevant to me,” or it could mean “I think of you as an honorary guy.” If it means the latter, it’s offensive. If it means the former, it could be offensive or it could be perfectly nice depending on the context.

        1. Aquaeri

          So if your first option is a possibility in the real world, why do men never tell other men “I never think of you as a man?”

    1. Meg

      I’ve gotten this enough I have a standard reply: “Then you need to think about what you think a woman is.”

      When men say that, or “I didn’t know women like you existed,” or any of the other variations, what they seem to usually mean is, “I didn’t think I could respect a woman as a peer; I thought women were from Venus! I only ever talk to them in the hopes of getting laid!” And the sooner I can smack that attitude down, the better. Hopefully I can make life a little bit easier for the women they will meet in the future.

  7. jaysee

    As a marginal aside, articles like this is why I really enjoy this blog (although I’m only new to it) and other techy/geek feminism blogs online.

    I think that too often women (singular) are happy to trade in their gender to “fit in with the guys” throwing women (generally) under a bus (metaphorically speaking). When I worked in a computer store where I was essentially the only female, it was easy to joke about the guys being “girls” or telling them to “man up” when they were weak or jest that they were “whipped” by their girlfriends while I quietly commended myself for being let into the boys club. I’m sure that in their minds I became the female who enabled their appalling sexism because, well, if *she’s* ok with it then it’s fine.

    I hope I’m not being presumptuous but I think articles like this show that we’re all responsible: every time women (or men, for that matter) talk about feminism like the goal is for women to be allowed into the male world then feminism loses a little bit. The goal is equality.

    I’ve managed to stop my teenage habit of referring to bad/lame things as “so gay” or stupid things as “retarded” but I’m still working on not calling weak things “girly”. It’s a tough habit to break but I’d never say either of the first two in front of a respected senior colleague and really, the third is no different.

  8. Anonecon

    Imagine Mr. Jones telling a male colleague, “I’ve never seen you as a man”. In my part of the world those would be fighting words.

  9. Alison


    I would like to say this is surprising, but from the Grace Hopper conference? Not so much. I went in 2008, and the sexist s*** from other attendants made it a very infuriating experience. (Everything from bashing men collectively to bashing feminine women.)

    On the plus side, this particular article does make for a great Feminism 101 educational tool. I showed it to my partner and initially he did not recognize why I was frustrated by it. Explaining the default-male assumption of Le and the VPs, the complete dismissal of the opinions of women, and a change yourself to get ahead message was actually very helpful for him (minus the “Am I bad person for assuming everyone is a man?”).

    (Am I the only person that thinks “camaraderie” was used to get around using the intended “brotherhood?”)

  10. Kimberly Blessing

    Duy-Loan gave a most inspiring speech this morning at GHC. I wish the post author and commenters could have attended — in part, to question her statement, but mostly because I think their interpretation would be quite different after hearing her speak. Please check the GHC blog, wiki, and twitter feeds and I think you’ll understand.

    1. vaurora Post author

      Hi Kimberly,

      I am at the conference, and I did hear Duy-Loan Le speak. Would you agree with me that her talk did not have much in common with the talk description?

      I believe that the talk description, in and of itself, reinforced sexist thoughts and ideas and had a negative effect on its readers. The context is especially surprising; I am used to seeing these ideas expressed on, say, Slashdot or 4chan.

        1. vaurora Post author

          I understand your reaction being different than mine. Certainly, the talk description describes multiple reactions to the original anecdote.

          I understand the suggestion to ask the author about the statement. However, it is difficult to get time with the keynote speaker of a conference with ~2000 attendees. As well, any private discussion I have will not serve the other readers of this statement. If you have the opportunity to speak with her about the topic, I look forward to your perspective.

    2. Alison

      Is this ( an accurate summary in your opinion?

      I agree that, from the summary, it isn’t entirely as sexist as the submitted abstract. But, I would like to know if these Japanese men changed their opinion about women on the whole or if they only changed their minds about her.

      Experience tells me its the latter. And I am tired of being a privileged person’s “very special lesson,” so her message of helping others past their prejudices doesn’t resonate with me.

      … And, can we all agree using ableist language and appropriating disability as a metaphor for language barriers isn’t okay? (I don’t know if Li or the blogger is at fault, but its frustrating.)

      1. Restructure!

        Here is another summary of Le’s speech. It has the phrase “deaf and mute”.

        This part angers me:

        Q: How do you get over stereotypes?
        A: I cannot control what happens in the workplace or elsewhere but I can control what I do. Once we had two hire candidates neck to neck and we were deciding on which one to hire. A high up manager said we will hire “this” person. I asked how did you decide that? And he replied that that person is Vietnamese just like Dui-Loan and look at how much she has accomplished so he must be good too. That’s how you deal with stereotypes.

        So if a manager hires a person of a certain ethnicity and that person happens to be incompetent, then next time a different person who happens to be of the same ethnicity applies for a job, then they can say, “We tried that last time, and it didn’t work out.”? Or if it’s a woman, and the woman happens to be incompetent, then they are justified in not hiring any more women? Basically, all individuals of minority groups have to be perfect or else they are responsible for the discrimination of other members of their group, while white men can be evaluated as individuals. That’s not how you deal with stereotypes. That’s condoning stereotyping.

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