I’m a Geek… Being a Girl is Incidental

I’m currently up to my eyeballs in a web development project that seems determines to act like the Blob – growing and growing with no end in sight – and while researching service providers of various sorts I came across an article that struck a nerve. 

For me the nerve is an old one, and one that has occasional flare-ups. Like my carpal tunnel, it usually doesn’t bother me, but when it does all I want is for the irritation to stop. In this case the irritation is about gender bias in IT.

Now, before I say anything else I need to declare something:

I am not a woman’s libber!

While I was growing up my mom was about as radical a feminist as you could be without being a separatist lesbian. Over and over again the mantra was, “Men are bad, men are bad, and everything wrong in the world is because of the evils of patriarchy.” I was inundated with a constant, vitriolic barrage of anti-male propaganda declaring how I would never be able to do this, that, or the other thing because these awful, horrible, sexist pigs (aka men) would never allow me to achieve my personal potential. But no matter how well formed the arguments, no matter how adamant the declarations, the whole premise didn’t sit with me. I just didn’t buy it.

As I grew older I discovered (to my mother’s amazement and confusion) that everything I really enjoyed doing fell into male-dominated fields: astronomy, aviation, computer science, photography, just to name a few. Invariably I would show up for a class, club meeting or training session, and if there was some initial reaction from the guys, some sense that they doubted my intentions, I ignored it. I was there to do the things they were doing, and I like to do things to the best of my abilities. Being female is secondary, just like having brown hair.

Time and time again I discovered an amazing fact: if being female wasn’t an issue for me it wasn’t an issue for the guys, or if it was it didn’t last long. It couldn’t because I was more focused on becoming a good pilot/coder/photographer/astronomer/whatever than I was on being a “girl” in the boys club. This isn’t to say that the boys are unaware of me being female. Unfortunately, my cleavage is such that the fact is nigh unto unignorable. But because my personal focus is on being a person first and a woman later, the stigma of being female can’t survive for long. I don’t give it anything to eat, drink or breathe.

The article that prompted this particular rant was written by a lady named Whitney Hess, and in her blog post I Am Not A Woman Blogger I heard my own frustration clearly echoed.  I think my favorite part of her article is when she says:

My point is: look at all the men who encouraged me along the way. I can say with absolute certainty and sincerity that not one of them ever told me that they expected I’d be a successful woman _______ someday. They just said I’d be successful. No qualifier.

What a beautiful idea! No qualifiers. I’m not a girl geek – I’m a geek. I’m not a lady astronomer – I’m an astronomer. I’m not a woman photographer, woman pilot or woman writer. I’m a photographer, pilot and writer, a geek and an astronomer who happens to be female, too. But for me the female part is the least important part of that statement. Like I said, it is incidental, a characteristic dictated by a chance combination of chromosomes.

Wouldn’t it be nice if more people could look past these incidentals, too? Instead of being qualified humans, or hyphenated people, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just BE…? Think about what the world would be like if we treated things like gender and skin color and political parties as incidentals rather than limiting each other based on these secondary issues. Think about what we could accomplish…

I don’t know about you, but it sounds awfully good to me…


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