IT Pilgrimage

A Journey From IT to Freedom

Challenging Gender Order Response

Posted by IT Pilgrim on July 2, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from the original article, Challenging Gender Order over at Defending Pandora:

What is really interesting about this cultural gender switching is that it is based on economics and hierarchy, rather than personal gender choice. In Transparent, Cris Beam explores the ways in which transsexuals are physically one sex, but internally identify with the opposite gender. Beam also mentions some cultures, including Thai and Native American cultures, that allow for a “third gender” of transsexuals. But what separates these instances from the Albanian “sworn virgins” is that in Albania, a woman who has become a man is completely severed from sexual activity. These women have chosen to become men, not because of internal feelings or sexual attraction to women, but because it gave them standing within their villages.

I was surprised at how much this article affected me. You see, as a woman in IT, I have to face the reality of skewed gender roles every day. It seems that recently this idea has come up that a woman is either masquerading as a male, or playing the sex kitten. Well, what if you are not really either one. Society seems geared towards making you choose, but I refuse to choose. What if you are not attractive enough to be the sex kitten, or don’t want to be locked into either role?

In some ways, it would be easier to just be able to pick one and get it over with. Seeing all the comments people made about Hilary Clinton was just disgusting. Why is she both at one railed at for being a woman, and people having concerns over whether a woman can be capable of being a president, much less legally attain the job, while at the same time say that she is not feminine enough? I don’t understand the duality of it all.

Perhaps as a society we have not yet moved past the ways we judged people in the past, by color, race, or sex. Or perhaps we now judge more harshly when people do not fit into the narrow little roles we have created for each other. I have seen the same thing don’t to men, they are either ridiculed for being too feminine or seen as stupid for being too masculine. Its kind of like we cant win no matter what we are.

This is mostly likely, at least in part a bit of backlash from the women’s rights movements, and the more recent attempt to make men toe the line as metrosexuals.

When I read the story about Albanian women choosing to be men, I thought about how severe a choice that is, and I have to wonder if they ever regret it. But at the same time, I have to wonder if some of our choices, while less permanent, are just as painful.

For example, to fit in with the IT guys, I really have two choices; try to pretend I am not female, and hide it as best I can, or try to force the men to accept a woman among their ranks. Over the years, I have tried both to varying levels of success and I have found that I have to adapt my strategy to the group.

Strategy One:
The strategy of pretending I am not female is definitely the path of least resistance, since I have never worked in a group that I have a female co-worker or boss. Its fairly easy to do, just dress it shapeless clothes just like the guys wear, do not wear heels, makeup or jewelry, and keep your hair tied sharply back. After a while they will begin to forget. Learn to speak intelligently about football and cars or motorcycles. Don’t ever ask for help to lift or move something.

Strategy Two:
Trying to get the guys to accept you as you are can be an uphill battle. In truth, it depends more than anything of the makeup of your group. It depends of the age of the group rather heavily. Rather ironically, I found it easier to gain acceptance in an older group rather than a younger one, perhaps because they don’t feel threatened.

As you can see, there are problems with both strategies, neither one is perfect, and you have to be prepared to accept and live with your choices. I think in the end, its about not wanting to be treated as special, or worse, are less than other around you. I have experienced some of both. Ladies, we own some responsibility for this ourselves, its not the men’s fault. I believe it comes from wanting to be special, and that makes the men feel like they have to walk on eggshells around us. I think its time to accept responsibility for the situation we have caused for ourselves and start building resolutions rather than blame. I am just curious to see if anyone else will weigh in here.

Photo by dcflamenco via flickr.


4 Responses to “Challenging Gender Order Response”

  1. defendingpandora said

    Thank you for sharing your first-hand perspective on this issue. I’m always puzzled as to why men are “threatened” by women; I would think that as competitive people, they would want smart women on their team to create the best product/land the most accounts/make the most money.

    I’d be interested to know if your co-workers are men with wives, and if so, how they treat their spouses. I think a lot can be determined about a man’s attitude towards women by how their treat their significant others.

  2. IT Pilgrim said

    I too am puzzled by why they behave they way they do. About half are married and the other half are not. I find that those that don’t like having women around treat their spouses like they are some sort of lesser being. I think that might be why the older men tend to be more accepting, they have grown out of that. Just a theory …

  3. Jemimah Ruhala said

    Hello. I’ve never even heard of another female sysadmin in my age group so I am very excited to find your blog.

    I’m a Unix admin and I have to say I’ve never had any problem with sexism at all from my male coworkers. I wonder if it’s platform specific? I have more trouble relating to women than men. In my experience, most Unix people don’t care if you’re man, woman, klingon, or whatever as long as you can think logically. It might be a personality-type thing too. I tend to be a bit oblivious sometimes and it’s quite possible that I wouldn’t even notice subtler forms of sexism.

    There is this concept of an IT “pecking order” that can be very alienating to all but the most thick-skinned/independent women. This is especially noticeable with guys in their teens and twenties. Many people who choose IT careers have their self-worth heavily tied to their perceived intelligence and competence, so there can be a lot of ego-related posturing while the pecking order is established. It can be difficult when the people that should be mentoring you, are more likely to just tell you that your are an idiot, and hand you the manual. This isn’t really sexist though, it’s usually equal-opportunity hostility. Personally, I kind of thrive in environments where people expect me to fail, because for some reason I find that intensely motivating. I think a lot of women leave IT because of it though.

    I’d love to hear your personal anecdotes on this topic.

  4. IT Pilgrim said

    @Jemimah, So true, though I have to say, Unix admins are a bit of a different breed anyway. Soooooo true about the age too, I find they either grow out of it, or get worse. I assume then, that you also love it when someone tells you that you can’t do something? I take it as a challenge.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: