The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

On Geeks and Privilege

So yeah, another tech conference, more problems with racism and sexism. BritRuby has been cancelled. (And yes, I’m as startled as you are that it’s a Jezebel article that gives the best run-down of the issues. You can also read here, but please, for the love of bunnies and sanity, don’t read the comments.)

You may at this point be idly wondering, “Why should I, weighing everything up here, bother giving a fuck?” Because the otherwise pointless fuckuporama produced this: Geeks and Privilege.

The reason we’re seeing such vicious anti-equality bullshit in the geek community over the BritRuby situation and other conference type stuff is because the very existence of societal inequalities (against women, racial minorities, gender/sexual minorities) threatens the whole idea that hackers got where they are because they are super-fucking-smart.

That piece is a really good run-down of unacknowledged privilege in the geek community. What I want to add to it is basically, “Because Intersectionality.”

Intersectionality is a long word, but not a difficult concept, at all. One day I might strip it back to its bare bones for Public Address, but here I’m going to assume people have a grasp of it.

One of the reasons that geek men are resistant to having their privilege pointed out to them is that they perceive themselves as outsiders. Not so much for geeks my son’s age, but for my cohort, people who were interested in (or, more accurately, obsessed with) science and computers and role-playing were not the Cool Kids. Part of the whole Freaks and Geeks stereotype is being the socially-awkward outcast. Hardly the recipients of social privilege in the adolescent hierarchy.

So like Pakeha women and gay men, if you’ve been on the receiving end of social bigotry and put-downs and people making life hard for you, it’s much harder to recognise that not only do you have privilege over other people you’re not aware of, but you might actually be exercising it against them.

And no, privilege is not luck. Finding ten bucks on the ground is luck. Having a family with money is privilege.

I don’t feel guilty about being a man but I do realise that it has certain benefits that women don’t get and certain opportunities I get that women have to fight much harder for. This doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. But denying that this is the case in order to preserve my illusions makes me an ignorant person.

Now, I’ve seen conference organisers, and other people too, try very hard to find willing female voices, and fail. But they’re not pretending that diversity and privilege aren’t problems. These guys really were. And, y’know, fuck those guys. Don’t be those guys.

4 responses to “On Geeks and Privilege

  1. Fentex November 23, 2012 at 9:25 am

    On and off I’ve been seeing people talking about the backlash against women who asked for civility at conferences and not to be constantly hit on or groped.

    I think the suggestion that …

    “existence of societal inequalities (against women, racial minorities, gender/sexual minorities) threatens the whole idea that hackers got where they are because they are super-fucking-smart.”

    …is nonsense.

    It’s much simpler and has more to do with insecurity than superiority.

    I think it’s insecure men and boys without practice and skill in socialising with women reacting as a pre-emptive strategy to avoid being sidelined for their inadequacies by asserting a dominance through authority rather than, as they would hate to admit and fear, failing to be considered equal through their absent merits.

    • Emma November 23, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Fentex, this is a comment posted on my Facebook link to this, by one of my many, many male geek friends:

      I still feel kind of annoyed that it took me so long to “get” the idea of privilege – and the fact that I can’t just choose to opt out of it if I decide I don’t want it.

      Geek men absolutely do need to make an _active_ effort to do better and promote better standards of behaviour in their peers: the status quo is simply not good enough.

      Those men who feel threatened by women and are jerks because of it exist, yeah. As do men who are simply socially awkward around women because they’ve gone to a single-sex school and their hobbies are very male dominated and they’re just not used to mixing with women. And then there are the many geek men who have close female friends and partners, who are lovely people but who can still have blind spots – like my own partner, who is a programmer.

  2. tallulahspankhead November 23, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I think it’s insecure men and boys without practice and skill in socialising with women reacting as a pre-emptive strategy to avoid being sidelined for their inadequacies by asserting a dominance through authority rather than, as they would hate to admit and fear, failing to be considered equal through their absent merits.

    Yeah, so, see that bit in the post, where it says “So like Pakeha women and gay men, if you’ve been on the receiving end of social bigotry and put-downs and people making life hard for you…”? You realise you just did that, right?

    Not all geeky men are slobbering idiots who get cartoon eyes on springs every time they see an attractive woman. A good number of them are perfectly socially competent men. Who are still failing to recognise women’s voices within their particular society.

    The same as every time this debate rages in the atheist community, or in some academic discipline, this is about the systemic failure to include women, or any other group that doesn’t include white men. Because women’s voices aren’t valued, and because they’d have to work a tiny bit harder to find a hacker of colour. And yes, the organisers spectacularly flounced, but that doesn’t make them socially awkward man-children who can’t handle teh gurlz.

    And saying that’s the problem, ignores the fact that they can behave this way *because* the world encourages their privilege.

    • Msconduct November 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      Thank you for this. As a woman in tech myself that was exactly my reaction as well. There are plenty of men in IT who don’t fit the socially awkward stereotype. And even if there are some of those, so what? It’s not a golden ticket out of accountability.

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