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.