Monday was the first day of Europython, and the first keynote was by Ola Sendecka & Ola Sitarska, the founders of Django Girls. They gave a wonderful talk leading us through their journey in creating the Django Girls tutorial, its viral-like spread in introducing over 1600 women worldwide to Python programming, leading to a Django Girls Foundation with a paid employee, and their plans to expand the tutorial to a book, Yay Python!. This was all illustrated with an incredibly charming squirrel-centred parable, hand-drawn by Sendecka. The two Olas are clearly a formidable team.
And yet. I had no less than three conversations with men later that day who told me they thought it was a great idea to encourage more women in Python, but…wasn’t it encouraging stereotypes? Was it good that Django Girls was so, well, girly?
There may be a well-meaning concern about avoiding stereotypes, but I wonder if there also wasn’t some underlying discomfort, about seeing something encouraging people in their field that didn’t speak to them. Could programming really look like this? Maybe it felt a bit like being a squirrel surrounded by badgers, in fact.
So firstly. Certainly pink can be a lazy shorthand for marketing to women. But anyone who watches the Olas’ keynote can be in no doubt that they have poured endless effort into their work. Their enthusiasm and attitude infuses every aspect of the tutorials. There’s no way it could be equated with a cynical marketing ploy.
Certainly pink things, sparkles and curly fonts have a reputation as being associated with girls. Here’s a question to blow your mind: is there anything bad about them, besides the fact that they are associated with girls?
Compulsory femininity, where girls and women are expected to act and look a certain way, is bad, yes. But femininity itself is not inherently weak, or silly, or frivolous, or bad.
Monospace white-on-black command-line aesthetic is a stylistic choice. It’s one that is relatively unmarked in our community. Glittery pastels is a different aesthetic. They are both perfectly valid ways to invite someone to be a programmer. And they will appeal to different audiences.
Most reasonable people these days would agree that demeaning or dismissing someone solely because she is female is socially unacceptable. However, demeaning or dismissing people for expressing feminine qualities is often condoned and even encouraged. Indeed, much of the sexism faced by women today targets their femininity (or assumed femininity) rather than their femaleness.
Demeaning feminine qualities is the flip side of androcentrism. Androcentrism is a society-wide pattern that celebrates masculine or male-associated traits, whatever the gender of the person with these traits. It’s part of the reason why women who succeed in male dominated fields are lauded, why those fields themselves are often overpaid. It’s how we find ourselves being the Cool Girl, who is Not Like Other Girls, an honorary guy.
It’s not a coincidence that people in our community rarely attend with a feminine presentation, for example, wearing dresses. Fitting in – looking like we belong – currently requires pants and a t-shirt. Wearing a dress is a lightning rod for double-takes, stares, condescension, being doubted, not being taken seriously.
To be explicit, this doesn’t mean that all women currently in tech are longing to femme it up. Many women are perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans. But implicitly expecting women to conform to that uniform is just as much a problem as expecting feminine attire. The problem is the lack of freedom to present and participate as our authentic selves.
Read these personal accounts and believe that this is how feminine women in tech get treated. They’re both hugely insightful.
- Coding Like a Girl (2015) by Sailor Mercury
- Hyper Mode: How to Be Visibly Femme in the Games Industry (2014) by Maddy Myers
(Then maybe read Julia Serano’s piece again and think about the connections to these two stories – seriously, these three pages are dense with concepts to absorb.)
Like Ola Sendecka, Sailor Mercury is a talented illustrator, as can be seen in her article. She ran a Kickstarter campaign to create her Bubblesort Zines (which you can now buy!). The overwhelming success of her Kickstarter (it reached its goal in 4 hours and eventually raised over US$60,000) speaks to an excitement and hunger for this style of work.
Inviting women into tech isn’t worth much if they have to leave their personality at the door to be accepted. Being supportive of diversity doesn’t mean much if you expect to look around and see things look basically the same. The existence of Django Girls does not compel all Pythonista women to femininity, but it does offer and even celebrate it as an option. If it’s not for you, so what? Take your discomfort as a starting point to figure out what you can do to make your community more welcoming for feminine people. Embrace femininity: Take a feminine person seriously today.
PS. If you’re still stuck back at “isn’t something only for girls (REVERSE) SEXIST?” – Read the FAQ.