Back when I was a sixteen-year-old high school student, I had a boy behaving in ways that made me very uncomfortable. Any time he saw me in the hallway he would flinch in pain. He started telling everyone in the school that I was the Queen of Darkness and Evil and been sent by Satan to tempt him.
I was a teenager and I had absolutely no idea how to deal with this behavior. The year previously one of my teachers saw another student harassing me and reported it to the vice principal and this person was dealt with immediately. I felt like I could trust the vice principal, who had told me if I ever experienced anything like this ever again that I should go to him and he would take care of if.
So I did. A meeting was called between me and this other student. The vice principal came in and gave me a warm look. Then he saw that the student I was reporting was an honor student and all the warmth drained from his face. He grew very cold and rigid.
He informed me, in front of my abuser, that he did not take spurious reports seriously and that any other reports of harassment about this individual would be ignored. This gave him carte blanche to make my life miserable.
I have gaps in my memory of my sophomore year of high school because of the stress from this situation. I was misdiagnosed with a learning disability and eventually bipolar disorder all because this authority figure did not believe me when I told him I was being abused. This moment had an impact on my educational and eventual professional career because I went from being an honor student myself to getting D’s and F’s.
This was not an isolated incident.
I have encountered a version of this so many time over the course of my life that it is driving me crazy and I can’t take it anymore.
I have had situations where I have known a group of people for years, then I will notice someone starting to sabotage me. It’s always someone who is either in a position of authority or someone who has been there longer than I have. Either I will directly see them having conversations with authority figures above them or I will just see the evidence of it.
People I have known who used to be friendly will immediately grow cold and distant. There will be conversations in the halls that will stop the second I come into view. They will turn around to avoid passing me in the hall. Eventually they get angry and hostile.
Then it’s always a matter of time before I am asked to leave. The clock starts ticking and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it because no one will talk to me directly about it. I have gotten good at recognizing the signs so that I can set up an exit strategy, which is usually fine with the people I am among because they don’t want me there anyway.
I feel like I am trapped in a video game where there is a level I can never beat. I see it over and over again and it makes me angry that there is nothing I can do. It’s a nightmare I never get to wake up from. I feel like maybe this time I will disable the bomb before it goes off and it never happens.
It is incredibly difficult to get men to understand that this is happening because it doesn’t happen to them. Being a man gives you a degree of credibility that you do not have as a woman.
No matter how progressive or aware you are of sexism, I have not had one man believe me when I tell him about this happening.
I get good natured, “Now, now, you’re being paranoid. You’re seeing malice where none exists. It’s probably a misunderstanding.” A man they have never met get the benefit of the doubt over a woman they have known for years, and THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS!!!
Being a woman means you are always in a position where you have to prove yourself and your version of reality. I have had two separate professional instances where I have worked with men who were making incredibly bad design decisions for the code architecture because they fundamentally did not understand what was happening under the hood. I have presented a carefully constructed technical walkthrough of what these decisions would do and why they cause bugs and crash apps, and the response I have gotten was always “Well, I am just doing what Apple wants me to.”
Guess whose side gets taken. Hint: Not mine.
You are not allowed to make any mistakes. I talk to guys who tell me they made a mistake they thought for sure would get them fired but that they were allowed to fix it and everything was fine. This never happens to me.
I still don’t know the reason why I was fired from my first programming job. I know I got a call right before dinner on a Saturday night telling me that everything I did was terrible and that when the CTO looked at my code he felt like I grabbed him by the hair and punched him in the balls. He would not tell me what the problem was. I lingered there for a few days while they consulted with a lawyer to see if I could sue them. The only changes that I saw to the project I was doing before I was let go was that someone changed the color, which would have taken me all of ten minutes to do. I don’t know if they saw an earlier version of the project, which was a train wreck, because they refused to speak to me about what the issue was. They had been primed by the guy I worked with to think I was incompetent and after they got confirmation of it they looked for any excuse to get rid of me.
People talk about gossip like it’s the weapon of mean girls in junior high. It’s not. It’s the weapon of men.
We place so much pressure on developers to be “the best.” Everyone has to be an 10x engineer. Everyone has to be a code ninja. This has created an incredibly hostile environment where a lot of people feel there is a zero sum game. Having a better developer than you on your team means they are taking away something of yours and you must get rid of them. Women are especially susceptible to this because we have to prove our credibility and it’s not just a given like it is for everyone else. This works so effectively because people are already predisposed to thinking we’re not as good to begin with.
I have also been on projects where I could see an iceberg coming a mile away. I try my best to establish that something bad is going to happen and that things need to be fixed. I try to cover my ass because I know that a problem is coming and I don’t want to be blamed for it when no one does anything about it. They don’t do anything about it, then I get yelled at for not alerting them to the problem earlier even thought that is all I have been doing for months. It’s instantly forgotten or it was never remembered or taken seriously because it came from me.
This makes it difficult for women to establish a base of trust and credibility to be able to rise through the ranks of a company. There are a lot of jobs where I would not make myself a manager because I know that no one on the team will do what I tell them. I have basically given up on that career path because I know it will be filled with failure and disappointment.
I would like to start a product company in the next three to five years, but I know that if I want to do that I need to find a male co-founder to talk to people for me because if I want to have any chance of success I need to work with a man who will give me a degree of credibility that I will never get on my own. I need to find someone who will respect and believe me and back me up when I tell him something. Fat chance of that happening.
When we talk about sexism in tech, we talk about women being asked if they’re designers at conferences. We talk about women being asked to get coffee because someone assumes they are the secretary or just because they’re the woman so they should be the one to fetch coffee and take notes.
We need to have a conversation about this bullying and gas lighting behavior. All it takes is one person on a team to drive great developers away. If you have a team of 20 people and 19 of them are great but you have one foul ball, that one does so much more damage than you can see. All this person has to do is tell a few people that someone is incompetent, who tell other people that too, and before too long everyone on that team “knows” that someone is shitty developer. This is how social crap works. Having a team mostly comprised of men means that most of the time they don’t understand this because they have not been forced to figure out the rules of the game to master basic survival skills the way that women have been forced to.
I am angry. I am tired of this happening over and over again. I find it absurd that I am trusted to write a book on a topic and flown all over to talk about technology but that the second I have a disagreement with a man on my team that I instantly have no credibility. This fucking sucks and I don’t want to take it anymore.