Lea Verou is (via the New York Times) an incoming Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at M.I.T. She wrote a much-read essay on Women in Technology initiatives, which she thinks mostly do more harm than good. Near the beginning she says this:
I want to be invited for my skills as a developer and a speaker, not because I happened to be born with a vagina.
On female role models
I’m tired of being told I will be a good “role model” for other female web developers at a conference. If somebody is a good role model, they’re a good role model for everyone, regardless of gender. I never cared if my role models had dark eyes like I do, why should I care if they are the same gender? It’s equally meaningless. The whole notion that women need female role models springs from the notion that gender is this incredibly important characteristic that defines who you are. I call shenanigans on that.
Then later she says this:
I can’t say that I’ve experienced more sexism in tech than outside the industry. Quite the contrary. Engineers (yes, including male ones) are some of the most open-minded people I’ve met. It’s not our industry that has a sexism problem, our society has a sexism problem. In many cases, a lot of what we consider sexism is just pattern matching gone wrong: If you don’t meet many technical women, your brain tends to pick up the pattern. It even happens to women and I know a few who were brave enough to admit it. Instead of shaming people, it would be much more efficient to change the pattern in the first place.
The second passage is a rebuke to the first.
Yes, of course it’s not ideal to have all this god damn affirmative action and reaching out and making sure to remember to invite some women and all the rest of it. Of course it’s not. Of course it trails with it some unpleasant implications, including the whole being invited because of having the Other kind of genitalia instead of because of having the appropriate talents issue (or canard, which it usually is). Of course it does. But as she points out herself: If you don’t meet many technical women, your brain tends to pick up the pattern. Yeah, it does, and then you think and say it’s more of a guy thing, and the pattern gets that little bit more entrenched, and everybody gets even more convinced that it’s more of a guy thing, and we spiral on and on forever.
So there it is. We need to deal with that pattern matching gone wrong problem. Doing that entails weariness with being asked to be a role model and all the rest of it, but you know what? Too bad.