Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Why Women in Tech Groups Aren’t for Me Right Now

I may approach them differently when I’m ready.

Before I begin

I am a feminist. I will always identify as a feminist. An Intersectional feminist at that.

Also

I don’t disapprove with women’s groups at all. I’m grateful for the positive experiences I’ve had in the groups I took part in.

I’m grateful for the 21st century and the opportunities feminism has given us: access to education, paid menstrual leave, access to birth control, the right to seek justice, the right for women to work where ever they want if they choose to work. I have no issues with any of these.

I had opportunities thanks to the women in tech groups I took part in. I’ve met cool people whom I’m friends with to this day, I got to travel, and I got to be a mentor! I have no issues with these groups existing either.

My issue is with how the conversation on being a woman in tech happens in some of these groups.

My issue is with how the groups I was in defined womanhood and femininity. My issue is how those who run these groups define what a successful woman should look like and be like. I tried way to hard to fit these subjective descriptions that simply didn’t rely on merit alone for the sake of . I never felt like I could just simply talk about tech and learn from other women in the industry.

I’ve decided this simply wasn’t for me anymore, and a break was what I needed. I had some revelations during said break.

What it meant to be a “successful women” was still questionable

And “success” for any gender is a personal experience.

Everybody owns her own experience and her own definition of success. And when it comes to “being a woman in x industry,” as a woman, it is as simple as “anything I do in x industry.”

So I know I’m a woman. A Black one at that. I don’t need it defined for me. I don’t feel like using a hashtag either.

I know what I’m about. I know when I’ve succeeded.

We are constantly trying to challenge womanhood and what it means to “be a woman” in anything. Most of the time these tend to suggest that if a woman is not actively appeasing one group, then she must be “out of her mind.”

A woman rarely gets the opportunity to just live in herself, as herself, a fully autonomous, self-determining human being. People are entitled to their (sometimes wrong) opinions about it, and that’s cool, but that’s their opinion. Why should we care about how other women live their lives? Isn’t that what we’re fighting against?

You do you. And I’ll do me. K? K.

What it meant to be a “successful women” for many didn’t really apply to me.

It has never represented my experience, life, or anything. I could never afford dresses or make up growing up (it’s STILL expensive to look feminine), and therefore have grown up with girls and women questioning my femininity left and right.

When is there only one right way to be a woman? Let alone one that people would hire? Isn’t it about my competency?

What it meant to be a “successful women in tech” for many definitely didn’t apply to me.

I also wasn’t unsure of tech at first, not because of the gender imbalance, but because I was simply more passionate about music. I’ve been able to bridge the two together through my projects and is a big reason why I support STEAM programs. I still take time to practice and as much as I can because it’s a nice break from technology.

The stigma towards non technical activities like art, acting, dancing, and music is severe amongst some women in tech. One woman I’ve worked with in my internship told me how her oldest daughter decided to choose a career in painting instead of engineering as if she was talking about a tragic death of her beloved dog. She finished off with this:

“I could have a better job. Tech is the superior career for women don’t you think?”

Tech isn’t for everyone and doesn’t have to be. It’s okay just to consume it and appreciate it. Even if a woman is interested in working in tech, her work isn’t her life. Again, we’re fighting for women to do what they want, because they deserve to feel like they haven’t worked a day in their life too when given the change to do something they’re truly passionate about. Who care’s if it’s not tech. Focus your efforts on the women who are actually interested.

I got exhausted framing everything with my gender (and race).

I loved this moment from Sonic Boom for this very reason (Seriously when are we getting a season 3?).

In an Overwatch Discord server I’m apart of, many female members are outspoken about the fact they just want to be seen as “players”, “gamers.” It’s still discussed to this very day and most likely after this post is published.

Morgan Freeman expressed similar feelings about the conversations on race. He also had this to say in an interview with Don Lemon on CNN:

Lemon: “I know that it’s an issue, but it seems like every single day on television I’m talking about race because of the news cycle — it’s in the news and sometimes I get so tired of talking about it I wanna just go ‘this is over, can we move on?’ ”

Freeman: “And if you talk about it, it exists. It’s not like it exists and we refuse to talk about it. But making it a bigger issue than it needs to be is the problem here.”

While I have different viewpoints on the black conversation, this is how I feel about gender.

How I really feel about both the gender and racial conversations is articulated best by author and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge from her original blog post Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race (now a full novel):

“I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get this message across, while also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role of perpetuating structural racism, lest they character-assassinate me.

“So I’m no longer talking to white people about race. I don’t have a huge amount of power to change the way the world works, but I can set boundaries. I can halt the entitlement they feel towards me and I’ll start that by stopping the conversation. The balance is too far swung in their favour. Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo. I’m not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to. If there’s something like a media or conference appearance that means that someone might hear what I’m saying and feel less alone, then I’ll participate. But I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and, frankly, don’t deserve it.

Same here, with feminism too.

When I was in university, one of my professors encouraged me to join women groups on and off campus simply because it would look amazing on my resume, and would help me build connections to get my foot in those industrial doors since “it would be difficult for [me] to do it on my own.” She’s not wrong there. At the time I didn’t see any issues with it so I joined almost all of them.

Every time I mentioned not thinking about my experience in terms of being a woman, I was always told it’s an important thing to think about, which may help some, but it may not help others. For me it shifts the focus from the actual work that makes me qualified to be in any tech space, and I feel like I pigeon hole myself further into being a minority.

Sometimes at events when I discuss my experiences “as a black woman” with white woman, the conversation turned towards a direction where these women would put themselves on the same level as me.

So I stopped having these conversations. I only want to be known for my work like any successful white male in this industry. I know I’m different. I know I will have different experiences because of what’s in between my legs and the color of my skin. I also know that I will always claim my space and laugh at the next person who believes I’m whatever outrageous stereotype women or of of black woman. My family over the years have told me that I have to be even more exceptional to be on a level playing field, and that’s what I’ll continue to do for myself.

I became insecure and lost sight of my goals

When my first semester of senior year ended I kept getting denials left and right from companies. What my professor was saying about these groups lingered in my head, so I couldn’t waste any opportunities here.

I still made myself more agreeable to what people were saying in hopes they found me personable enough to work for their company. Unfortunately this meant I allowed people to compare me to some of the other members in an uncomfortable manor, make remarks about university choices like the usual “Have you considered (insert university that is supposedly much better than my own here),” and make comments about a career in game development.

I didn’t feel comfortable talking to staff members about my issues I’ve had because I felt it was my word against some prominent members. It came to the point where I handled things in an unhealthy manor. After I took responsibility for how I handled myself and for not asking for help fixing these situations properly I was able to rebuild my self esteem through my own projects. I’ve excepted that it’s entirely up to my own efforts to become the person I want to hire, so I started there.

Once I became secure, I continued to achieve my personal and professional goals on my own.

And asked for help when I needed it.

I didn’t have to talk about being happy when I was doing what made me happy. I felt happy doing my own work and learning as much as I can everyday.

The conversations in the women in tech groups I used to be in were rarely about technology. It was always about being a woman who happened to be in technology — strong women, powerful women, women who can do anything they put their mind to.

Meanwhile I’m over here like “Yeah! Right on! So how about all this cool tech?”

I am well aware that people might see me and feel I’m overstepping my boundaries in certain spaces, but if I know I’m just as qualified (or even more) as the next white man, I’m not moving.

I continued to work on projects that I could talk about for hours to anyone, and it even feels like I haven’t worked a day in my life.

We each have our own path to greatness, and that’s okay.

Sometimes people guilt trip each other with shit like, “you wouldn’t even have that job if it weren’t for women before you.” And like don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful. But that doesn’t make us beholden to them.

There have also been women who have contributed remarkable things to humanity through science, art, music, fashion, the list goes on.

Even so, we shouldn’t be placed with the expectation to carry the torch for all of their efforts. We should be expected to follow our passions with pluck and candor like these women did.

You don’t owe anyone your allegiance on basis of being a woman, especially if their definition of feminism and womanhood don’t honor your own, or consider what you go through as a woman of color if you identify as one. Allegiance to anything should come naturally if you feel it’s best for your goals and/or will truly help someone else. As long as you’re approaching things with an open mind and doing good honest work, there’s no real wrong way to be a woman in tech and a feminist.

Women’s groups have their merits. At this time they might not be for me, and I’m okay with that. As long as I’m accomplishing my personal goals, I’m okay. Inspiring another black girl or woman to go after her goals is icing on the cake.

If you choose to take part in women in tech groups, by all means go for it! They have plenty to offer. Just don’t lose sight of yourself and your goals throughout the process, don’t be afraid to stand up for them, and always do what’s best for your mental health. Maybe with these new found revelations maybe I will go back and approach things differently. Who knows. For now, I’ll keep doing me.

I’ll finish this off with my favorite quote from Roxane Gay as I continue to go forth on my own path:

“No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I am full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

If there are any girls or women reading this interested in game development, new media arts, or wants to play a few matches of Overwatch I’d be down to chat. I’ve learned a lot through my approach to tech and would be happy to share.