Sunday, September 24, 2017

There is No Feminist Cabal

From the 23-Sep-2017 New York Times:

One of those who said there had been a change is James Altizer, an engineer at the chip maker Nvidia. Mr. Altizer, 52, said he had realized a few years ago that feminists in Silicon Valley had formed a cabal whose goal was to subjugate men. At the time, he said, he was one of the few with that view.

Now Mr. Altizer said he was less alone. "There’s quite a few people going through that in Silicon Valley right now," he said. "It’s exploding. It’s mostly young men, younger than me."

I want to share some experiences, as another white male in Tech for a similar number of years as Mr. Altizer.

A while ago I made a conscious effort to follow more women in Tech on Twitter, to deliberately maintain a ratio of ~50% in those I follow. I wanted to try for more perspective than that provided by my own vantage point in the industry, where the gender ratio is definitely not 50%. It has been illuminating... and often painful. Intermixed with happy and proud events in life and work is the constant level of sexism which women experience. Sometimes it is blatant and vile: intimidation, physical threats. More often it is a grinding, ever present disrespect from men. It is so commonplace that it becomes completely expected, often mentioned in an offhand way. This doesn’t mean it is a minor thing, it means that it never stops, isn’t possible to avoid, and ceases to be surprising.

You likely won’t hear this in person, from women you work with. That doesn’t mean women you work with are experiencing something different. It doesn’t mean that their career and work environment are free of sexism and discrimination. It means that talking about it in person is asking them to relive those events, sometimes extraordinarily painful events. It means it is vastly more difficult to relate horrible experiences in person, in conversation. It is understandable to not want to talk about it.

Yet one thing I haven’t seen, not even a hint of, is the existence of a powerful group of women who are organizing to oppress men. I’ve seen no evidence of any kind of backlash against men in Tech. Jokes about a Cabal started circulating after the NYT story was published. This was irony, not confirmation.

We’re hearing more about sexism in Tech, far more than we did even a year ago. I think, I hope, that is because we are in the early stages of the extinction burst. When a behavior which was formerly rewarded no longer is, that behavior will begin to decline... except for a final gasp, a final burst, in trying to turn back the clock. The process of acknowledging the disparities in Tech has been ongoing for many years, slowly. It has reached a point where the industry is starting to respond, if only a little. That the response may grow stronger will feel like a threat, like a backlash against males. It really isn't. It is about disparity, and doing something to rectify that long-present disparity.

I’m posting this because it is unfair to expect people in disadvantaged groups to carry the entire burden of correcting the disadvantage. In Tech the advantaged group is males, and as I happen to be a male in Tech, that means me. I have not been nearly enough a part of the solution. That needs to change.

Males in Tech have almost certainly witnessed aggressions: a woman being spoken over, or not being invited to a meeting she should be, or not receiving sufficient credit for her work. One thing learned from following women in tech is that no matter how much we think we understand, the aggressions they go through happen orders of magnitude more frequently than we think. For every occurrence we know of there are ten more, a hundred more, a thousand more, which we don’t see and don't grasp the frequency of because we are not female.

We, males in Tech, need to speak out. We need to speak out frequently and firmly. So I am. My voice isn’t powerful, but power can be achieved in numbers too. I’m adding my voice to the multitude. You should too; not just as a blog post, speak out when you see the grinding aggression happening.