Category Archives: Feminism

The Cost of Complacency

This is another cross post from my podcast Janie Rants. I will record this script later today and post it to that site as well.

Yesterday I, along with half of our nation, watched in growing horror as we saw the election results come in. Last year we laughed at the Republicans as they saw their establishment candidates knocked out one by one by an orange con man. We shook our heads in disbelief that any woman would vote for a man who was on tape talking about grabbing women by the pussy. He went on rants at 3:00 in the morning calling an ex-beauty queen a pig and an eating machine. Surely no one would trust this man with codes that could start a nuclear war?

I want to rewind everyone back a few weeks to October 27, 2016.

This feels like a lifetime ago, but this was when Apple announced their update to the new Retina MacBook Pro.

People like me have been waiting anxiously for an update to this line of computers. I have wanted to buy a new laptop for a while but I wanted to really max out the processor and the ram.

What did we get?

We got the same RAM. Close to the same processor. And a touch bar. Oh, and all of our ports are now gone and we have to spend an extra hundred bucks or two to buy all the dongles we need to plug our new iPhone 7s into our laptops.

A lot of people were really angry about this. Most people dismissed them because every time Apple announces something, everyone is angry. Everyone is angry that their pet thing didn’t get featured with an upgrade.

Most people who complained about the new Macbook Pro were chastised by the community. We’re told that Apple has a reason for doing what they’re doing and a lot of us didn’t like certain changes made to iOS but that after we got used to them we realized they had a purpose and Apple knew what it was doing, so we should have faith that there is a reason behind all of this too. Even if there isn’t a reason behind everything, what are you going to do about it? Apple is still the best choice even if it’s not as much better as it used to be.

I feel like those people who are telling us to stop complaining are like the establishment politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

People in the Apple community are upset. We remember ten years ago when we saw all these amazing innovations coming from Apple. I recently received a vintage blueberry iBook from someone to decorate my living room. When I saw the computer for the first time, I laughed out loud with delight. The design of the computer was like nothing I have seen in such a long time. It was different and unique. It made me smile.

Nothing Apple has produced over the last five years has made me smile.

I got an aluminum Mac Book in 2004 that was nice. It looked modern. It was well built. It had a neat track pad. It was light enough that I could carry it places. It felt like a modern machine.

When I look at every computer that has come out since that one, they’re all variations on the same tune. Same with the iPhone.

Every year the devices get thinner and more fragile. There are more bugs in the tools and the frameworks. There is less time to create innovative applications because by the time you learn the new ropes, the system changes. The changes people actually want to see never get done. But there is an assumption that people will just keep buying Apple products because we’re locked into an ecosystem and we’re obligated to do so.

I feel like this is similar to the attitude we saw from the Democratic party in regards to Hillary Clinton.

I want to say I like Hillary Clinton. I think she would have been a solid president and I am incredibly sad that she lost. I think that thirty years of gas lighting and fake scandals and constant investigations turning up nothing have tarnish her reputation and it saddens me that an orange troll can be on tape talking about grabby women by the pussy and be taken more seriously than a religious woman who has dedicated her life to public service.

That being said, this election was about change. The election in 2008 was about change too. The Great Recession hit and destroyed our economy. The Democrats rode to the White House on the shoulders of Barack Obama, the great hope of our generation. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay and to stop sending our soldiers to die in the Middle East. He promised to clean up the corruption that resulted in the Great Recession.

He didn’t do any of these things.

He passed the Affordable Care Act, which is a landmark piece of legislation. One of the only reasons I can be an independent consultant is because of the Affordable Care Act.

But no one went to jail over the corruption that caused the Great Recession. Gitmo is still up and running.

We can rightfully make the argument that Obama was hamstrung by Congress for the last six years, but the biggest reason that we wound up with the Tea Party just two years after Obama’s historic election is because people felt betrayed that he didn’t do what they thought he would do. He didn’t clean up corruption. He didn’t throw the bankers in jail. He created a giveaway to the insurance industry to allow them to have a blank check for health care. We rejected Hillary in 2008 because Obama promised us hope and change and we got more of the same.

The health insurance marketplace opened on November 1st. My health insurance went up nearly a hundred dollars a month. I saw classmates who work on family farms show that the cost of insuring their wife and child in the most bare bones package available was a thousand dollars a month with a twelve thousand dollar deductible. That’s completely bogus.

Obama continued to get advice from the same corporate people that crashed the economy in the first place. He didn’t enact the bold action people elected him for because he trusted the advice he got from the people with the same college education and background that he had. I used to think Hillary would have been different, but now I am not so sure.

There is an economics experiment called the Ultimatum Game. In this game, there are two players. One player is given ten dollars and is told that they can split it any way they want to, but the other player can either approve it or deny it. If the player approves, the money is split accordingly and each player takes their money and leaves. If the player denies it, then no one gets anything.

A common way most people split the money is to take nine dollars and offer one to the other player. If you think about this rationally, the second player should approve of this deal because it gives them a dollar they would not otherwise have. But we’re people and we don’t think rationally. We don’t think it’s fair for the first player to get nine dollars when we only get one just because they got to choose the split. They have more to lose than we do if we reject the offer and we feel better about denying the other person their nine dollars than we do about losing our one dollar.

For the last several decades the American political system has been an ultimatum game. The establishment politicians have used social issues like abortion and civil rights to try and bludgeon us into agreeing to their deal. We’re supposed to vote for Hillary to avoid a future dictated by people like Paul Ryan wanting to enact his Ayn Randian vision of America where he will destroy our safety nets and let everyone die in a state of unmitigated poverty.

People who are shocked by this are not familiar with the ultimatum game. They thought everyone would nicely go along with the status quo because the status quo is better for them than the probable hell the next four years are going to be. But they’re going to be a lot worse for us than they are for them. It’s going to be worst of all for our Muslim brothers and sisters out there.

I consistently see people earning ten dollars an hour fighting against a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage because they don’t think people working at McDonalds deserve fifteen dollars an hour when they’re only earning ten. They don’t care that they would increase their own wage by fifty percent by supporting a fifteen dollar and hour minimum wage, they just want to make sure that no one underneath them manages to get ahead of them. They want everyone to be brought down rather than being brought up.

A lot of anger and ill will right now at the Democratic party is reminiscent of a lot of the arguments I have been making about the tech industry. The party wanted Hillary because Hillary was a good culture fit. She would support their interests. They all met at the Christmas party and sent their kids to the same schools. They wanted someone they were comfortable and familiar with.

And that is exactly what everyone is angry about.

They don’t want to take their dollar while the banks get nine. They don’t like being told that they should be happy with their dollar because if Donald Trump is president then they won’t get any dollars.

Right now in the tech industry we have a massive glut of wealth that is going to a small group of people who are all in their early twenties who all went to Stanford or MIT who are all pitching the exact same shitty product that already exists in ten different forms somewhere else. Nothing innovative is happening because it’s a giant echo chamber where the same people are starting companies doing the same things and selling them off to the same other larger companies. No new ideas or people or perspectives can get in because they’re uncomfortable and we’re on the verge of a collapse because of it.

You can’t keep producing the same product over and over again that people aren’t interested in buying. You can skate by for some period of time on that apathy, but eventually a disruptive force will come and shake things up.

IBM didn’t take the PC market seriously. They didn’t think a small company like Apple could completely change the way we live our lives. Now Apple is falling into the same complacency trap that sucked up IBM and Xerox. They think everyone is locked into their ecosystem and that no one wants to buy Android phones because they’re inferior, so they aren’t listening to what we’re saying we actually want because they think we have no choice but to accept what they’re producing.

Let’s imagine that another company creates a fantastic competitor to the iPhone. It could be Google. It could be some upstart we’ve never heard of. Their products are innovative and exciting. You’re not trapped in a proprietary ecosystem where you must own an underpowered Mac to write applications for this new device. You can buy cheaper and better devices that are genuinely exciting and not just more of the same.

Or pretend that there is a customer rebellion and everyone refuses to buy iPhones. Some change is made and the customer base leaves out of spite.

It might not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. People don’t like being backed into a corner and told they have no choice. It happened to other companies and it is happening to Apple. Apple can listen to the rumblings of discontent coming from its user base and make a decision to embrace the things that made it great, but I don’t think they will. It’s easier to be complacent and keep doing the things your comfortable with that have always worked before, especially when you’re surrounded by people who all think the same way you do.

One of Steve Jobs’s favorite songs was “The Times, They Are A’Changing“ by Bob Dylan. I suggest that in the wake of this election we all take a deep look at our society and we stop blaming people who have been telling us for decades that they’re angry but were ignored because we assumed they would all just go away and die. The signs were there, but we didn’t want to see them. We didn’t want to fix things that were broken because they worked good enough, and now we’re facing a reckoning.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Why Dad Jokes are Sexist and Terrible

I decided I haven’t had enough people getting pissed off at me on Twitter recently, so I want to offload a complaint that has been building in my head for the last year or so.

We have a plague and a scourge on our society. This scourge is inhibiting our ability to have meaningful communication and is destroying our souls slowly. This scourge is, of course, the Dad Joke.

Imaging This

Pretend you get called into your boss’s office. He tells you that your job has been terminated and you are to leave the building immediately.

You are blindsided. You had no idea this was coming.

You recently burned through your savings saving the family dog after it ingested a bottle of Gorilla Glue. You didn’t want your kids going to therapy in high school saying you killed the family dog, so you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for a few months.

You don’t have another job lined up. You don’t know where you can find another one or how long you’ll be unemployed.

You’re filled with dread going home. What will your wife say? How will you feed your family? What are you going to do?

You walk into the kitchen and watch your wife. With a heavy heart, you say to her, “Honey, I lost my job today.”

Your wife puts on a goofy smile and says “Well, have you tried looking in the last place you had it?!” She nudges you with her elbow and chuckles and watches you, waiting for you to laugh.

How would this make you feel??

It fills me with a blinding rage.

I have had men make Dad Jokes in response to tweets I have put on Twitter talking about suicide attempts and PTSD flashbacks. I have asked questions for which I need answers and I get a response of a fucking Dad Joke.

This leaves me with a few ways to respond:

  • I can ignore it. If I do ignore it, especially if it’s something that I need an answer for, the guy will go about his life and never actually answer the question. He’s done his duty and he will move on without actually doing what he was asked to do.
  • I can swallow my rage and go back and rephrase the question to remove whatever offending word or phrase prompted the Dad Joke. This really pisses me off because the guy knows what I was asking but he’s forcing me to ask him again anyway.
  • I can play dumb and pretend like I don’t understand that the guy is making a Dad Joke. Then they get sulky because I didn’t do the socially acceptable thing by indulgently chuckling and praising his cleverness.

Why Do We Have Dad Jokes Anyway?

I feel for men. I really do. Our horrible toxic culture places so many stupid limitation on men and what constitutes socially acceptable behavior. Men don’t cry. Men don’t show emotions besides anger. Men don’t wear nail polish. Men don’t wear dresses. Men don’t dance. A male kindergarten teacher must be a pervert. A male nurse wasn’t good enough to get into medical school to be a doctor. Our society sucks at teaching men how to know how they feel.

Men never really learn how to have meaningful conversations with other human beings. So we train them to respond with Dad Jokes. Dad Jokes are like line dancing. No one thinks that line dancing is cool, but we allow white people to do it because it’s the thing we all can do equally badly and we all just make a social contract to not make fun of one another when we’re trying to do it.

Dad Jokes are like hipster irony. It’s a deflection device to avoid showing that you give a shit about anything. Someone is talking about something that triggers uncomfortable emotional responses, guys feel the need to shield themselves from it because they honestly don’t know what the fuck they’re supposed to do to try and fix it.

We’ve socially agreed to tolerate Dad Jokes. We’ve all agreed to chuckle indulgently at a dude making a lame Dad Joke and give him a cookie and move on with our lives.

Sometimes Dad Jokes are acceptable. I just take issue with the fact that I feel forced socially to treat them with gentle good humor when they are actively obfuscating my ability to get something done or make a meaningful point.

When to Not Make a Dad Joke

Here are the times when you don’t make a Dad Joke:

  • When someone is talking about rape/murder/cancer/anything that is a horrific life event. The person just wants to be heard. Either say nothing if you’re on Twitter or if you don’t know what to say, just say “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
  • When someone is asking you for information they need to do their job. If you must make a stupid Dad Joke, then please for the love of God also answer the question rather than forcing the other person to chuckle politely and then rephrase the question.

I sincerely hope that one day we can give men more emotional freedoms to be able to express and feel emotions. I think our society will be better whenever we reach that blessed day. Until then, please do not make me feel like shit by making stupid Dad Jokes when I phrase something oddly to try and get my character count under 140 characters. Thank you.

The Cassandra Effect

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.

Halt and Catch Fire

I have a bunch of TV I keep meaning to watch that I tend to “save” because I know it’s going to be a good show and I don’t want to waste it on times when I just want junk food.

One of those shows is Halt and Catch Fire. It’s like Mad Men, only it’s set in the 80’s and it’s about the computer revolution.

I am generally attracted to anything computer related, but there tends to be a few stereotypes you encounter when dealing with technology. You wind up with things like Silicon Valley where the only female programmer you see is a girl dressed in pink whose business is “Cupcakes as a Service” who is wandering the crowd asking if anyone knows Java. You also get the main character, Cameron Howe, in HaCF who is the female super genius hacker chick who drinks and swears like a man.

Cameron is a cool girl. She lives off of pizza and orange soda while managing to weigh ninety pounds. She doesn’t wear a bra. When she gets stuck on a bug she sleeps around with people to get unstuck. She wants to name the operating system after Ada Lovelace and has people telling her she is the next Grace Hopper. She’s a manic pixie dream girl.

The second stereotype is a lot more flattering than the first stereotype. However, it is a stereotype. It is somewhat damaging. There is this idea that if you’re a girl in technology you have to follow a certain mold. You have to be cool. You have to be a nerd and play video games. You have to be attractive in a certain way. Above all else, you have to be better than everyone else. There is more scrutiny paid to you if you are a girl who is a programmer and you can’t just be a good generalist and blend in to the background. You have to be a super star. You have to be flashy.

I benefit from these stereotypes. I happen to enjoy geek culture. I am interested in hard things like OpenGL that most people don’t try or don’t make time for. I am a red headed extrovert who likes to generate attention for myself. I fit a certain mold and I benefit from the positive stereotype.

If Cameron was the only female character in HaCF, then I would not be writing about it. There is another female character in HaCF who I think is far more revolutionary than Cameron: Donna Clark.

tumblr_n7pz8huk9J1qfdofwo1_250The main hardware engineer in the show is her husband Gordon. They met while both of them were going to Berkley studying engineering. She wrote her thesis on data recovery. Donna works for Texas Instruments and is a kick ass engineer in her own right.

She is also a mom. She and Gordon have two daughters.

Donna is a character you never see on TV. She is a working mom in an intense field.

Even though Gordon is a main character on the show, it spends a lot of time from Donna’s perspective. While Gordon is complaining about how hard his job is, he is coming home to a hot meal that his wife made after an equally hard day at work. Except when she gets done with her job, work is not over. She keeps working after coming home. She has to care for the kids and keep her family afloat. Her parents lend her husband money and set him up with business connections to allow him to pursue his dream even though it is tearing their family apart.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

At one point in the first season, Donna has a business trip. She will be gone for one night. She leaves lasagna for the family and does everything she can to make things as easy as possible for everyone while she is gone. She comes back to find blood all over the floor, the sink completely disassembled, her children unattended, and her husband digging a giant hole in the back yard.

Compare Donna Clark to Skyler White from Breaking Bad. Even though Walter White is a murdering drug dealer, the show is designed for you to root for him. Skyler is vilified by fans of the show for being a killjoy bitch for cramping Walter’s style.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Compared to Skyler, we see a lot of what Donna has to put up with. We see her spinning plates trying to keep the family together while her husband throws the family into chaos. Gordon isn’t seen as this wunderkind genius whose every whim should be indulged and pampered. He is seen as an unstable, sometimes pathetic man who is being used by the people around him for gifts he has that he can’t control on his own.

We need more Donna Clarks on TV.

Back before everyone started playing the start-up lottery and tech became a casino, you had women who were engineers and mothers. It was a solid nine to five job. You had to be stable and reliable and it was possible for women to be mothers and engineers. That is far less tenable now.

There was a company board member I talked to at one of my previous jobs who I feel exemplifies the problems we are currently seeing in tech.

This guy was married with daughters. He also worked in the Bay area while his family lived elsewhere. He was telling me about how he only sees his family one day every week or two because he’s traveling all the time. I was upset for his wife and asked if it was hard. He told me he was used to it. I was annoyed and clarified I meant was it hard on his wife and kids. He smirked at me and said, “Well, they got used to it.”

I got the impression from this person that he figured I was doing programming as a hobby. I mentioned how one morning I made frozen pizza for breakfast and he said, “Hey, enjoy that while you can before you get married and have some kids.”

It was just assumed that I was going to get married and have a family. This was just something I was doing to keep a roof over my head until that happened.

I felt that this person saw no point in cultivating me. I think he saw doing anything to cultivate me would be a waste because I was just going to marry someone and fulfill my purpose of being a caretaker.

This attitude really fucking sucks, and not just for me.
worldPossible
I sacrificed a lot to be a programmer. I decided I wanted to be a programmer because it was something I didn’t understand and it bothered me. If I found a job that paid me to do it, cool. That was icing on the cake. I wanted to learn it and master it because I wanted to know it. I sacrificed my marriage and my mental health and my social life to push myself to get where I am right now. This isn’t some hobby that I am doing while I am waiting around to find some guy to give me children.

I would like to get married again and have a family, but I don’t want to do those things if it means I am lobotomized. I don’t want to be an effective single mom because the father of my children is never home. I don’t want to be with someone who assumes I will just give up on all of my hopes and dreams to make theirs possible.

Let’s say I found someone who would respect me for my hopes and dreams. Let’s say I find someone who wants to split the parent teacher conferences fifty fifty and will watch the kids while I go and speak at conferences. They won’t be able to do that.

Programming isn’t a job anymore. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a cult.

After people figured out that four people in a basement could create companies that are worth ten billion dollars, suddenly tech became a cult. You don’t just have a job, you are working on something that will change the world. You are expected to dedicate body and soul to this grand and noble scheme that will result in millions of dollars for other people.

It’s not okay for you to tell your boss that you are leaving in the middle of the afternoon to take your child to the doctor. You can’t say that you don’t want to fly to China for two weeks because you want to be home to tuck your kids into bed.

hacf-s1-kerry-bishe-QA-120One reason everyone wants young guys as programmers is because they don’t care about this stuff yet. People say it’s because they are more up to date with the technology or that they are prodigies or whatever else, but it’s all bullshit. It’s about finding the most exploitable people you can to get as much out of them as you can until they break.

It’s just assumed that you either will never get married or if you do that your wife will make this life possible. Your wife will watch your children while you are gone 300 days out of the year. If you are a woman and you have kids, people will assume that you are going to be the one to care for them and you’re not cultivated because you’re not going to be okay with being gone 300 days out of the year.

This system sucks. It sucks for everyone. It sucks for the women who don’t have opportunity because everyone assumes you are on the mommy track. It sucks for guys that they spend most of their lives working to support a family they never get to see. This system only benefits sociopaths.

As long as mothers are invisible, then no one has to bother thinking about how fucking broken this system is. Everyone goes along with it and won’t question it because they’re afraid of being cut off from it or seen as a trouble maker.

Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”, was notorious for refusing to sell out. He never licensed Calvin and Hobbes. No one had little stuffed Hobbes dolls next to their Dogbert dolls in their cubicle. No one has mugs with Calvin on them. He didn’t care about making a bunch of money. He didn’t care about being famous or being a public figure. He wanted to do the work that fulfilled his soul. He had an amazing quote about how he chooses to live his life:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Take the trouble.
halt-and-catch-fire-episode-103-pre-980x551

Why Codes of Conduct Are Bullshit

For the last few years I have been watching people go back and forth about Codes of Conduct at conferences. I never really paid that much attention to them because I honestly didn’t care about them one way or another. I figured this would eventually go away, but it hasn’t.

There are a number of reasons I hate Codes of Conduct that I hoped I would never have to write about. I hoped that this would just go away or some other brave soul would address these issues and they would spoken about, but since it doesn’t look like that is the case, I am going to address the various elephants in the room no one wants to talk about.

Codes of Conduct are a Distraction

We are in the month of October, which, among other things, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I also think Breast Cancer Awareness is bullshit.

All those little pink yogurt tops that people collect at work and all the braless days don’t do a fucking thing to actually help cure breast cancer or help survivors of breast cancer.

Everyone is pretty aware of breast cancer and the dangers associated with it. I have the nice breast cancer pink Kitchenaid mixer and had my first mammogram when I found a cyst in my breast the week after I filed for divorce.

People are acting like CoC are some magical talisman that will suddenly make people behave. It’s like they picture Douchebag McBro sitting at his computer looking at a conference without a Code of Conduct saying, “All right! I can go rape at this conference!” You might as well hand out a rabbit’s foot to every conference goer.

All of this talk about making sure the wording is exactly right on your CoC is talking that we are not doing about addressing the underlying issues that make conferences unsafe.

Doesn’t Address the Way Assault Actually Happens

We have a collective fairy tale we tell ourselves about how rape and assault work. Pure virginal girl gets attacked in the bushes on her way home from Bible study by a stranger who attacks her. If something does not fit neatly within that narrative, it tends to get called into question.

Fact: Most assaults happen from people that you know well.

Let’s explore this scenario.

You are a woman have been going to conferences for five years. There is a cute, funny guy that you are friends with that you have seen a couple of times a year for the last three years. You’re both married, but you’re always happy to see him because he is your friend.

Suddenly, one day, after all these years, your friend starts touching you. You look around and you realize that you are alone with this person.

Your first thought is, “Fuck, why is this happening now?”

Your second thought is, “Fuck, how do I short circuit this situation to avoid losing my friend?”

Fact: Women are trained not to give a firm no.

Story time: When I was in fifth grade one of my male classmates would go around at lunch and ask people if they were done with their food because he was always hungry. After he asked all of us, he would ask everyone else in the lunch room, including first and second graders. After he did this for a week, the principal sat him down and said that he was terrorizing the little kids who were afraid to say no to this big fifth grade boy asking for their food, so they gave it to him because they were afraid he would beat them up. He genuinely didn’t think about it that way. He didn’t think about how his age and size would intimidate little kids and he felt bad because it wasn’t his intention to be a bully.

This is why some men who assault women don’t understand that what they did was assault.

Let’s go back to our scenario. I am 5’4. Most of the men at my conferences are over six feet tall. If you’re alone with a man who is a foot taller than you are, you are in danger.

Over the years, most women are socially trained to give a soft no. We grow up inundated with stories about nice guys asking out girls who laugh at them and treat them cruelly. We don’t want to be a bitch. More recently, we see stories posted to Facebook about ten-year-old boys shooting girls who won’t give them their toys. If you were born a woman, there is a constant cloud of potential violence that follows you everywhere you go.

When I go to conferences I have to sit at the end of the table or near a door because I am constantly figuring out exit strategies. I have trouble being on planes because of the number of people I am trapped with. I started paying extra to sit near the front of the plane and get off first because being surrounded by people with no ability to escape triggers panic attacks.

The person doing this is your friend and you think that you can find a way to shut this down where you don’t get assaulted either physically or sexually. So you try to put them off by saying it’s late and you’re tired or you have a headache.

The guy does not hear no. He hears, “Oh, she’s tired, that means that we can go back up to her room. She has a headache. I have some aspirin in my room. I can fix this.”

When the guy does not hear the soft no, or they start pressuring you into going with them, bad things start to happen.

I have PTSD. I was raped in college by a guy who talked his way into my dorm room. When we get to this point in the scenario, I shut down. My brain cannot deal with defending itself from an assault, so I basically withdraw into myself. Sometimes I black out because my brain will not allow me to record what has happened.

When I get assaulted, I don’t scream or kick. I shut down. I lose control of my body and go into shock. I don’t report my assaults because I know that the person assaulting me probably does not understand that they are assaulting me. They are waiting for a firm no. They don’t listen for a soft no or an enthusiastic yes. They start touching me, I shut down, they don’t hear no, so they assume that what they are doing is okay. Sometimes I don’t remember things after a certain point and that I can’t be used as a reliable witness about what happened.

I know within our narrative I am not doing my part. I am supposed to say no before the guy rapes me in order for it to “count.” But that isn’t how most women behave when they are being assaulted. We are afraid, we are disappointed that someone we trusted is doing this to us, and we are paralyzed because we do not know what to do.

It makes me angry when someone puts me in this situation. It is not fair. It rips out a piece of my soul every time this happens.

Which brings me to my next problem with Codes of Conduct.

No Talk of Personal Responsibility

I feel like the people in charge of the current tech feminist bullhorn are adopting the “Pedestrians and Bicyclist” form of personal safety and responsibility.

I live in Madison, WI. We have a university here where the students who walk and ride bike will walk into oncoming traffic without looking. Sometimes they will purposely look away from oncoming traffic and trust that the cars coming will respect their right of way and not run them over.

You cannot put your personal safety in the hands of other people.

In the case of the students, they don’t think about a driver that is distracted by their phone or their toddler in the back seat. They don’t take into consideration the crazy cab driver I had once who saw a student pull this and floored it and aimed the car at him.

Codes of Conduct talk about expected behavior. If you don’t behave the way you’re supposed to, you get kicked out. Seems fair, except it doesn’t address the damage done to the person being assaulted.

My understanding is that this recent push for Codes of Conduct are because of this incident.

In this incident, the person was assaulted in public. A bystander stepped in to break it up. The man lost his job. This is the best possible outcome that you can get from an assault.

Justine still is damaged by what happened.

It’s like the pedestrians and the car. Yes, you might have the right of way, but if someone is distracted and hits you, it doesn’t matter if they go to jail and feel guilty for the rest of their life, you are still damaged by their action.

Any conversation about safety at conferences must talk about what we can do to keep ourselves safe. No one fucking talks about this. Everyone wants to yell at men and tell them that everything they do could possibly be considered assault instead of talking to women about how to create our own safety net.

I want to see conversations where women exchange phone numbers to keep one another safe. I want to see women making their own network of people where you can all look out for one another. Girls do this in college when they go out, why aren’t we talking about doing this as adults?

The reason is that members of our community think we shouldn’t have to. They are not concerned about keeping women safe, they’re concerned with controlling the conversation and having this as a weapon to wield against anyone who isn’t completely on board with their cause.

Which brings my last point.

Shuts Down Open Communication

I recently read an article that says that boys going to college don’t know what rape is. I can believe this.

It is very difficult to give black and white, clear definitions about what assault looks like. I have tried to by explaining things from my own perspective and to give men an idea what to look out for. The fact that we aren’t having open conversations about this shit is one reason that it keeps happening.

Most men that I know are good guys who want to do the right thing. They don’t know how to do that. They are basically being told that everything they do could be seen as assault, so don’t do anything.

This leads to an environment where genuine predators can get sympathy for being rapists because everyone is secretly terrified that they will be falsely accused of rape.

There are very clear things people can do to make sure they are not assaulting someone. It’s not romantic, but ask if you can someone. If you’re a guy that I like and you ask if it’s okay to touch me, I will respect you for it. Quit following the “ask forgiveness rather than seek permission” shit. Also, if you are married and you’re trying to have an affair with me, I am judging you.

Alternatives to Code of Conduct

I was asked by Gem Barrett yesterday what I would suggest as an alternative to Code of Conduct. At that point I really didn’t know how to answer. I don’t think we should offload the responsibility of keeping ourselves safe to another person. I do not think there is much a conference organizer can do in the middle of the night if one of their attendees is being a dick. I can guarantee you that no conference organizer wants an assault to happen at their conference.

This is what I am going to do.

At every conference I go to, I am going to find all the women and any men that I trust and I will give them my number. I want to organize a support structure for the women attending the conference where they have at least one person they can reach out to if they don’t feel safe. If you go out, go with a buddy. Stick to your buddy. Both of you leave or neither of you leave. Call someone to make sure they got back to their room okay.

If you’re at a conference and you find someone who doesn’t have a support structure yet, be their friend. Introduce them to other people. Look out for them. I have yet to attend any conference where there was not at least one other woman. Stick together. Support one another. This should not be the responsibility of the conference organizer. It’s our skin in the game. We have the most to lose. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we are safe.

I am also saying on here that I will answer any questions that anyone might have about anything I have written here. I think people are too afraid to get information that they need and I would rather be asked than have someone live in perpetual fear that everything they are doing is wrong.

I love this community. One reason I joined this community was because people were tolerant of beginners. If I didn’t understand something, I could ask without anyone making me feel bad for not knowing something. This has been a friendly, supportive community and I want to see it continue to be so.

I am fucking sick and tired of seeing people argue about semantics on a form rather than having meaningful discussions about keeping our community safe for everyone. If this is going to devolve into a community where everyone is afraid of voicing their own opinion if it doesn’t correlate to whatever the loudest person in the room is, then I don’t want to be a member of this community anymore.

Thank you.

NSScotland Absence

Hi. I announced a year ago that I was going to be speaking at NSScotland. I had been invited to speak while I was still a student, but I was broke and couldn’t afford to go. I was incredibly sad about it and was really looking forward to going this year.

I have written on here about how I went through a divorce this year. I lost all the equity in my house and lost any savings I thought I had. I basically started out from zero this year. Honestly, it was terrifying. I have never paid my own bills or done a budget before. Having no buffer and not being certain that I would live within my means terrified the crap out of me. When we filed for divorce, we were $30,000 in debt. I was going to have less than half the money available to me to pay more expenses and I was honestly terrified.

I gave up a few trips this year to give myself some breathing room. I was told by a lot of people to go to Alt Conf when I didn’t get a ticket to WWDC, but I really couldn’t justify taking my buffer and spending it on that trip. I also couldn’t justify spending the money on Scotland, so I tearfully had to tell Alan that I couldn’t make it this year. He was very understanding.

I have been very troubled over many of the things I have heard about NSScotland over the last few months. I was at a conference where a friend of mine told me that Alan had gotten into a huge fight with Cate Huston over her attending NSScotland and had behaved rather badly.

This took me by surprise. I have not met Alan in person, but I have known him for two years and have not seen him behave this way. This friend of mine is very involved in the feminist tech community, which I am not, so I wasn’t certain what was going on. I didn’t defend Alan at that point because I felt it was necessary to hear all the sides of a story before I pass judgement.

I met Cate Huston at 360iDev. We spoke briefly. She mentioned not going to a conference because of a Code of Conduct issue. Having spoken to both Alan a friend of mine, I asked if she was speaking about NSScotland.

She became very hostile towards me and snarled at me, “How do you know about that?! I only told three people about that and one of them certainly wasn’t you!” I panicked a little and mentioned my friend who talked to me about it a few months earlier. She again snarled at me that she didn’t know this person. I was honestly a little frightened. This was, at this point, common knowledge among people in the iOS community and having someone act like I had hacked their email or read their diary was a little unsettling.

I thought all of this would die down, but it hasn’t. So I am going to defend Alan.

Running a Conference

Running a conference is a pain in the ass. People do not make money off of conferences. Conferences are a service that people do in order for our community to be an awesome place to be.

I have met a lot of amazing people at conferences and been able to maintain relationships that I otherwise would not because I get to see people a few times a year at a common gathering place.

I have become friends with people who run conferences and their selflessness always astonishes me. These are wonderful people who deserve to be treated with respect who are working to make the community a better place.

I really try to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt because of the work they do and the impact it has had on me personally.

I honestly do not give a shit about Codes of Conduct.

I attended one conference with a Code of Conduct where one of the keynote speakers made sexist remarks and insulted everyone in the audience. I live-tweeted what was going on and rather than taking my concerns seriously, the organizer pressured me into removing them rather than listening to the fact that he had hired someone to come and insult the people at his conference. I will never go to this conference again. I understand that he was under a lot of pressure, but the way he behaved was atrocious.

I know that Alan sometimes makes comments that could be considered inappropriate. I know that he knows that. We speak a lot and he is always worried about offending me. I am an adult and if he says something that crosses a line, I tell him. I have an inappropriate sense of humor and I don’t want people walking on eggshells around me worrying about offending me. If something offends me, I will tell you. If you don’t do it again, we’re good.

I only have problems when someone tries to exert control over me to manipulate me into doing something I don’t want to do. That is what happened and the previously mentioned conference, which is why I will never go back there.

I tried to get Alan to come on my podcast, but he won’t speak publicly about what happened. If Alan was a woman, this would elicit outrage and whoever was causing the issue would have a hoard of people spamming their Twitter feed yelling at them. I don’t think it’s okay for this to happen to Alan because he is a man. Bullying is bullying and it makes me angry that a member of our community doesn’t feel comfortable talking about what is happening with them.

I want people to lay off of Alan. He has been nothing but supportive of me since before I was anyone. He sent me a copy of “Smalltalk Design Patterns” by Kent Beck when I said I wanted to be a better programmer. He was very disappointed that more women couldn’t speak at his conference. I think he’s trying to make the community better for women and I am deeply disappointed that this is happening to him. He’s one of the good guys. I support him. I hope that this blows over and that his reputation isn’t irreparably damaged by this, but I don’t hold out hope on that front. I am saddened that this is happening in a community that I love and I hope that it can be cleared up and resolved without anyone being the bad guy.

I do not want to make this sound like a hit piece on Cate. I do not know her well and I do not want this to come off as me attacking her. I know that she has gone through things I have not. I can see a scenario where the two of them misunderstood one another and things escalated in a way neither of them would like. I am not saying that either of them are wrong, I simply think this is a situation that has grown out of control because no one has been willing to say anything about it.

I know this will probably earn me some angry responses, but I don’t give a shit. I will speak my mind. I am sorry if my opinion is different than yours, but it is my right to say what I think. I have become somewhat prominent in the community recently and I feel I have a responsibility to use that visibility to make this a better community for everyone. Making Alan’s life miserable doesn’t make things better for women.

Newton’s Third Law

Summer 2008

“Janie, you know everyone hates you here, right?”

I looked up. The boy who said this to me was sitting in the middle of the recording studio. The room went silent. All my classmates immediately stopped talking and their heads swiveled around to look at me.

I gazed at the boy. I barely knew him. I only knew his name because he missed the first week of class because his lung collapsed and he was in the emergency room. I don’t think I’d exchanged one word with him in my entire life.

Everyone’s eyes darted back and forth between me and the boy. A few people cleared out of the middle of the room. There was going to be a fight.

Janie at 13

As long as I can remember, I identified myself as a feminist. If my teacher picked a group of people with more boys than girls, I would accuse them of being sexist. I wanted to be the first woman president. I was angry because I knew I was out of step with my peers and I knew they didn’t respect me. I wanted them to respect me.

Like the good 80’s child that I am, I decided I wanted to learn karate. I wanted to learn how to be physically powerful because I wanted to go through life without worrying about losing in a fight to anyone.

My small town in rural Wisconsin did not have a karate dojo. We had an Aikido dojo. Aikido, for those who don’t know, is purely self-defensive. We didn’t learn fancy punches and kicks. We didn’t learn to flip people over. Instead, we learned how to deflect physical attacks. We learned how to direct an opponent’s energy away from us.

I thought this was bullshit.

This was stupid to wait around for someone to punch you and then to just move their arm away. What was the point of that? If someone had the audacity to come after you, they deserved to be punished. They should have their ass kicked.

I stuck with Aikido for about a year until I started attending a Catholic school out of town and I didn’t have time to keep going. Honestly, I didn’t see the point. It takes forever to advance in the belt system and you don’t learn how to beat the crap out of people, so why bother?

Sensei

My sensei, Mark Uttech, passed away recently. He fought cancer for a year and lost his battle. He was a kind, good-hearted soul. He always had a mischievous energy about him. I can’t imagine what he was like as a young man because he had an old soul. He was peaceful and accepting of everyone. He encouraged not only non-violence, but non-combativeness.

I intended to go back to the dojo back in 2013. I attended one or two classes, but this was around the time my marriage was falling apart and I had dedicated myself to programming. I deeply regret not being able to learn from him during this time.

Janie at 26

At some point when I was 26 I just got sick of being angry. I had been fighting people my whole life and none of it made any difference. I was tired of battling everyone I knew. I was tired of being pissed off and carrying around my anger. Anger is heavy. Anger is expensive. It takes energy to hate. Everything I did was ineffective. The battles I fought with people left me scarred and did nothing to affect any kind of positive change.

I began to discover Zen Buddhism. I found that I had made a logical fallacy in regards to my interactions with others.

I thought that any time I saw what I perceived to be injustice, it was my duty to go and fight over it. Not every slight needs to be fought over. Not everything is a slippery slope on our way to the Nazis taking away the Socialists. If you make an issue over everything, then really egregious behavior loses its context.

Actions and Reactions

I thought if someone did something I thought was wrong or they challenged me, that it required me to fight them. It’s Newton’s Third Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you punch a wall with your fist, one of you must break. If you use enough force and commitment, the wall breaks. If you falter, your fist breaks. There is no other way.

Except there is.

Just because someone insults you doesn’t mean you have to fight them. I am saying this a person who has been privileged enough not to be doxxed online or forced to flee my home, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Aikido is about redirecting violent energy in a way that renders it harmless. Rather than having a zero-sum game, where either the fist or the wall must break, you can take that energy and direct it in a way that hurts no one.

I know, you think if someone throws a punch at you, it’s your obligation to make sure they never hit you again. If you redirect their fist away from you and neither of you is harmed, they will just keep coming after you. Let them. Keep redirecting their energy and eventually they will stop. They tired themselves out and they don’t get the satisfaction of breaking your face. You don’t stoke their anger by provoking them back by causing them pain. They will grow tired of trying to hurt you and they will leave you alone.

I didn’t have the patience to understand this when I was younger. I was angry and I wanted to set the world on fire. I wanted to burn people. I thought that backing down from a fight made me weak or cowardly. I didn’t realize that it was braver to look an assailant in the face and to decide that you would not let them hurt you or themselves. There is more than one way to win. Winning means you walk away without harm, not that you beat your opponent.

Be the Change You Want To See In The World

I have been asked why I go to conferences. They are a lot of work and they are quite tiring. Why do I go?

I am trying to bring an energy to our community that I would like to see more of. I want everyone to love and accept one another. I want everyone to have an understanding and an empathy about where someone else is coming from.

I spent half of my life learning how to make people feel like shit. Then I spent the other half learning how to make people feel good. Making someone feel good about themselves feels better than destroying someone. It takes more care and effort to build someone up than it does to tear them down.

I want to show everyone that you can be successful without being an asshole. I have contributed a lot of negative energy to the world and I would like to show people that there is another way. There is forgiveness. There is self acceptance. There is understanding. There is peace.

Epilogue

Everyone watched us with baited breath. What would I do? Would I deny it? Would I cry? Would I appeal to them to prove that he was wrong? What would I do?

I smiled at him and said, “I know.”

He looked like I punched him in the face. He looked stunned. He shook his head and cocked it at me, thinking he must have misunderstood me. “You know?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And you don’t care?”

“No, not really.”

He stared at me. Of all the reactions he was expecting, this wasn’t one of them. He didn’t know what to do.

“Well, I just thought you should know that we all hate you.”

Everyone was disappointed. They were looking forward to a fight. They went back to what they were doing. I went back to reading my book. It’s like nothing happened.

As everyone went back about their business, I smiled to myself. I had won.

Why I Hate “Up”

Look! If you look quick you'll see my life fly by!

Look! If you look quick you’ll see my life fly by!

This morning I was reading this piece by John Scalzi. There are a lot of people angry about the last episode of Game of Thrones that seems to have a rape scene in it that serves no narrative purpose. As opposed to all the other rape scenes that somehow serve narrative purpose. Bygones…

For years I have been telling people, mostly men, that I hate “Up”. I am angry that the only female character in the whole movie dies within the first ten minutes. I am met with looks of disgust from these guys who all tell me that I obviously missed the point of the movie.

My annoyance has been rattling around my head for many years, but I was never really able to articulate the exact words as to why it pissed me off so badly. This quote from Scalzi’s piece really helped to crystalize in my brain why I hate Up:

I can’t specifically remember what the story idea was, but I vaguely recall it being some sort Silence of the Lambs-esque thriller, in which an investigator and a serial killer matched wits, you know, as they do. And at some point, I dragged the investigator’s wife into the story, because, as I was, like, 24 years old and didn’t know a whole hell of a lot, I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator, and a good plot development for the book, for the serial killer to basically rape and torture the wife.

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Women in Refrigerators

The idea of the wife/girlfriend/mother being attacked by the villain is not a new observation. There is an entire trope around it.

When you have something as blatant as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character being beheaded in “Seven”, it’s obvious that the character serves absolutely no purpose other than to be red shirted. No one makes the argument that her character was somehow a vital and important catalytic character in the movie when I am pretty sure she gets more screen time than Ellie does in “Up”.

I would like to argue that Ellie is not simply a woman in a refrigerator. She is part of a more pervasive trend that I have noticed in story telling where you still have flat female characters, but that somehow they have some holy purpose in that their existence saves the hero in some form or fashion, even if they can’t save themselves.

Coughing, Radiant, and Disposable

The next iteration of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the idea of the consumptive heroine. You have literal consumptive heroines like Nicole Kidman’s character in “Moulin Rouge” and Jessica Brown Findlay’s character in “Winter’s Tale”. This trope also bleeds over into any other instance where you have a female character dying of some kind of incurable disease whose death is used to enlighten the main character.

EllieDyingAgain, many of these films are very poorly done, so you don’t get a lot of people defending Jessica Brown Findlay’s death in either “Winter’s Tale” or “Downton Abbey.” Her deaths are more symbolic of something other than who she was as a person. In Downton it was to remind people that childbirth is treacherous and that her dad is a backwards asshole who won’t listen to the wise advice of a man of modern medicine. Her death services Lord Grantham’s character development rather than her own and acts as an After School Special about the dangers of preeclampsia.

Ellie doesn’t just die. She dies in the first ten minutes of the movie. When I looked up the film they didn’t even list the voice actress who played her at the beginning. She literally has no voice. The vast majority of her time on the screen is part of a musical montage where you see her lose her baby, get sick, and die.

Ellie for all intents and purposes dies in the cold open. If Up was an episode of CSI she would be the body they find at the beginning before the obligatory opening credits sequence blasting a song by The Who. No one would argue that the body at the beginning of the episode is the most important character in the show, yet so many people I talk to argue about how important Ellie is and how it could be argued that the movie is actually about her.

Again, this is getting closer to the heart of the issue, but it still doesn’t quite explain why “Up” bothers me so much.

Thanks for the Adventure, Now Go Have One of Your Own

This clip is what bothers me.

Here is my book of all the things I won't get to do! Huzzah!

Here is my book of all the things I won’t get to do! Huzzah!

I have already mentioned that Ellie loses her baby and eventually dies. She wanted to travel the world. She never gets to go on any adventures. This isn’t uncommon. When I was a kid I wanted to be the first female president. I know at least two people who went to college and studied rocket science because they wanted to be astronauts but never made it into space. Most people don’t wind up living the life they plan to lead. Sometimes the things we do today didn’t exist when we were children. There were no cell phones when I was a kid. The possibility of doing this didn’t even exist when I was trying to figure to what I wanted to be when I grew up. We all grow up and most of us wind up doing something different than what we thought.

It bothers me that somehow, we are supposed to have our heartstrings tugged by the fact that Ellie is satisfied with her “adventure” of being married to Carl for the last fifty years. There is nothing wrong with that. What bugs me to no end is that somehow, we’re not supposed to think that he should feel the same way.

“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”

So marriage was enough of an adventure for Ellie, but it isn’t good enough for Carl?

So much of pop culture revolves around the male midlife crisis. For an example, let’s look at the movie “American Beauty.”

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

The main character, played by Kevin Spacey, lives a meaningless existence. He is trapped in a sexless marriage with an anal retentive shrew who makes it clear to him that he has disappointed her. He works a dreary job that he hates where he gets no respect. Then he meets an underaged girl who gives his life meaning. He realizes he shouldn’t have settled for this dreary, miserable life. He buys a sports car, gets fired from his job, then goes to work at a fast food place so he can be stoned all day.

There are no stories about middle aged women who wake up one day and realize that they’re trapped in a marriage with a family they don’t want. That privilege is reserved only for men. Women are supposed to smile and nurture and never convey that they miss their lost youth when anything was possible. A guy can say he wishes he’d never had children but a woman who says so is a sociopath.

It bothers me that the writers of “Up” basically just made Ellie a plot device. She’s a consumptive heroine. She leads a perfect, blameless life where she is simply happy to have lived then died to teach Carl how to live.

How much more compelling would Up have been if Carl had been the one to die? Watching Ellie learning how to live after losing Carl would have been just as, if not more, compelling as watching Carl go on his adventure. Would the writer have been brave enough to have Carl leave the message to Ellie thanking her for the adventure? Do we assume that women have lower hopes and expectations for their lives than men do?

We're holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can't show any more than this.

We’re holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can’t show any more than this.

Pixar generally makes great movies, but I feel like they really drop the ball on thinking about female characters. We finally got a movie around a female character and we wound up with Brave, which figures that if you give a girl a bow and arrow you don’t have to give her any personality. There is no reason that every main character in most of their movies has to be male. It’s just the default.

I am very excited for “Inside Out”, the next movie that Pixar is coming out with. It is the movie I have been waiting for Pixar to do. The movie takes place inside the mind of a tweenaged girl who is going through life changes. The main emotional character is played by Amy Pohler. This movie could have had either a male or a female main character and they picked a girl. I am hopeful that this film will start to make up for all the lazy female characterizations over the last twenty years.

Death Handled Well

There is a right way to handle death as a piece of character development. The best example of this that I can point to is from the pilot of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

In DS9, Benjamin Sisco’s wife Jennifer isn’t killed as a catalyst to either hurt or save Benjamin. Her death is tragic. She is killed by an anonymous enemy that destroys thousands of people. She is also killed in the first few minutes of the episode, but her death differs in some key ways.

She isn’t some inspiration to Benjamin about how important life is and to catalyze a moment of self actualization. Benjamin is a husk of a man after he loses her. He raises their son alone while he tries to cope with the trauma of losing her. Her death doesn’t inspire him. Her death arrests him. The entire episode is about showing how he can’t move on from the moment he loses her.

I can’t find a clip of this scene, but it’s brilliant and I strongly recommend watching the whole episode just for this scene. Here’s a transcript of what is said:

SISKO: What is the point of bringing me back again to this?
JAKE: We do not bring you here.
JENNIFER: You bring us here.
TACTICAL: You exist here.
SISKO: Then give me the power to lead you somewhere else. Anywhere else.
OPAKA: We cannot give you what you deny yourself. Look for solutions from within, Commander.
SISKO: I was ready to die with her.
TACTICAL: Die? What is this?
JENNIFER: The termination of their linear existence.
(and she puts her hand on his cheek)
TACTICAL: We’ve got to go now, sir.
SISKO 2: Damn it, we just can’t leave her here. Oh, no!
SISKO: I never left this ship.
JENNIFER: You exist here.
SISKO: I exist here. I don’t know if you can understand. I see her like this every time I close my eyes. In the darkness, in the blink of an eye, I see her like this.
JENNIFER: None of your past experiences helped prepare you for this consequence.
SISKO: And I have never figured out how to live without her.
JENNIFER: So you choose to exist here. It is not linear.
SISKO: No. It’s not linear.
(and he finally starts to grieve properly)

We’re not meant to think of Jennifer as a fully fleshed out character. She is a plot device whose specter looms over the whole episode. Benjamin is stuck and can’t move on from her death. The inability to move on from a tragedy is a powerful story that all too many of us can identify with that is rarely explored in media.

Now just make sure you don't go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

Now just make sure you don’t go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

The difference between Jennifer and Ellie is that we are supposed to somehow feel that Ellie is a main character who had a fully fleshed out life and existence. Even though she dies in the first ten minutes, we’re meant to think that somehow because she considered her life an adventure it makes up for the fact that she conveniently disappears ten minutes in so we don’t have to worry about her pesky emotional wants and needs.

I guess I also think it’s different because I feel like Ellie was tortured before she died. She didn’t get to live out her dreams. She lost her baby. She got sick and died. She had this miserable series of misfortunes and at the end we’re supposed to feel like it’s okay because she says she had a great adventure.

I am okay with Jennifer not being a fully formed character in DS9. No one is making the argument that she is. Sisco is the only captain on Star Trek who married and had a family. Showing the story of an African-American single dad is a story we basically never see. I am not going to quibble about Jennifer getting the short straw on this because it opens up another, richer story vein. Avery Brooks shows more naked grief in this clip than Carl does in the whole movie. Any time we can show any man, let alone an African-American one, cry from grief without being shamed for not manning up is okay by me. We need more of this.

Bringing it Back Around

So what was it about John Scalzi’s piece that really crystalized these thoughts for me?

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Someone who came up with the story for Up decided that killing Ellie would be an interesting character note. Her character was made to be this perfect woman that any man would love to be with. Her purpose was to make Carl happy and to have no agency of her own. Someone thought that having her die would be an interesting story note for Carl. There were no other female characters in the whole movie except for Kevin, who is assumed to be male for most of the movie.

All the men who come up to me and tell me that I obviously didn’t understand what the movie was about are coming from this perspective. They put themselves in Carl’s shoes and think about how happy they would have been to have had a perfect girl save them and be with them for fifty years and think that the life they led together was enough.

Me, I saw this movie when I was unemployed and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Seeing this woman who was very much like me give up on everything she wanted to give up and die chilled me to the core.

I did not want that to happen to me.

I did not want to lower my expectations to the point where I would give up on ever doing anything with my life. I have fought for over five years to try and make something of myself because I knew that I would not be happy having the life that Ellie led. I dare say most women would not be happy leading that life. Some men want to believe that women don’t have any aspirations beyond getting married and having a family because it absolves them of any responsibility for situations they are unhappy about. It allows us to think that somehow men and women want different things. Men want to be free and have adventures. Women want to settle down and nest. Somehow it’s not possible for both men and women to want the same things.

I think that we are limiting ourselves by writing off the other gender as unknowable and stereotypical. Not all women want to have children and not all men want to be perpetually single. If you go through life without trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you will miss a lot of the things that make life amazing. You might accidentally answer a personal ad from your wife because you never thought she might like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.

up-pixar

The “Grey’s Anatomy” Stigma

This morning I attended a keynote that prompted a rather lengthy Twitter rant that I feel I must explain further.

How these two survived for ten years is beyond me

How these two survived for ten years is beyond me

The speaker asked the audience who watched “Grey’s Anatomy”. I, for the record, do watch “Grey’s Anatomy”, but there was no fucking way I was raising my hand to admit it. Apparently no one else was willing to do so either.

The speaker said, “Oh, this joke isn’t going to work at all! Usually when I am on the coasts a whole bunch of guys throw their hands in the air and I say to them, ‘Hey, you’re watching a GIRL’S show!”

I tweeted my displeasure at this remark and the conference organizer very kindly asked me to speak with him later about why this offended me.

I have been percolating on this for a few hours, and I have a better explanation about why this bugs me.

I am not going to argue that “Grey’s Anatomy” is a great show. It is an overwrought melodrama whose characters should probably have all died many years ago. I watch it because when I have been breaking my brain all day trying to understand how a GPU works and how to program what goes on my screen, I don’t give a fuck. I just want something on that I don’t have to think about and “Grey’s Anatomy” fits that bill very well. I also appreciate the fact that it has a multi-racial cast and that the primary relationship in the show up until now was the relationship between Meredith and Christina. The dearth of programming on TV showing female issues and friendships is appalling and I applaud someone for actually talking about it.

It was the worst of times. No best of times for these two.

It was the worst of times. No best of times for these two.

What I am going to argue is that none of those reasons were given as to why someone should be ridiculed for liking “Grey’s Anatomy.” The reason for ridicule is because it was made for girls. Not even women, girls.

Our society has a very negative response to anything that has been tainted by being liked by girls. Certain professions, like programming and film editing, used to be primarily occupied by women because they were seen as being like either a secretary or a seamstress respectively. It has only been since those professions have been masculinized that they receive large paychecks and the respect that come along with them.

There was a “Friends” episode where Ross is ridiculed for wanting to listen to Kenny G and take a bath. The criticism: We’re old, we’re not WOMEN. Women is a dirty word.

In spite of the fact that so far this looks like yet another feminist rant (which I absolutely fucking hate to write, by the way), I am not speaking for women right now. I am speaking for men.

Men have a very narrowly defined scheme of acceptable behaviors. Men are not supposed to cry. Men are not supposed to hug other men or have platonic physical interactions. Men are not supposed to wear pink. Men are not supposed to like anime.

My co-author, Chris Adamson, made a joke on App.net once about men’s fashion. He said he goes to Eddie Bauer and buys five identical shirts in different colors, then goes to JC Pennys and buys five pairs of cargo pants and he is set for a decade.

This breaks my heart.

Eddie Izzard sums up our problems in a nice neat statement, God bless him.

Eddie Izzard sums up our problems in a nice neat statement, God bless him.

I like to express myself through what I wear. The idea that I would be constrained to wearing one kind of thing for the rest of my life or else be considered socially deviant crushes my soul.

I know that Chris is somewhat open about his love of cartoons, but I know that it took him a very long time to feel comfortable sharing that love because men are not supposed to like cartoons. I am proud of the fact that he is willing to be open about that love because there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking Madoka Magica, or Tanto Cuore, or anything else. I am super stoked by the fact that so many men are into “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” and are willing to be brave enough to say, “Yeah, I like MLP. So what? Fuck you.”

Don't think! Don't get tired! Don't be human!

Don’t think! Don’t get tired! Don’t be human!

I think it is absolutely shitty that our society punishes men for displaying any characteristics that could possibly be tainted by femininity. In the recent anime, “Wake up, Girls!” the drill sergeant guy yelling at the little girls “Don’t rest! Don’t complain! Don’t think!”

Watching that, you feel terrible that these poor girls are being treated this way. In reality, this is the way we treat our boys. Real boys don’t cry or play with dolls. Real boys fight and play various contact sports.

Crushing little boys and making them feel ashamed for what they like and who they are is toxic to our society. We need to stop doing this.

So yeah, I didn’t raise my hand when he asked who watches “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was embarrassed. Now I wish I had. I am not going to be ashamed of liking what I like.

“Grey’s Anatomy” is a girl show. It’s about relationships, compassion, emotional and professional struggle, and just trying to get through life with as little emotional damage as possible. If more men were allowed the same thoughts we would all be a lot happier.

Friendship is magic.

Friendship is magic.

My Life in Stitches

So I have an embarrassing thing about myself I want to confess. I have an incredibly terrible and subversive hobby. I have been living in fear of people finding out about it and judging me. Here goes…

One of my favorite hobbies is cross stitching.

At the point, you might be wondering why I think this is some subversive thing to confess to. I will tell you why.

I have been cross stitching since I was seven. Pretty much my whole life I have been lead to believe this is something I should be embarrassed about.

My collection of projects finished but not framed over the last six years.

My collection of projects finished but not framed over the last six years.

My father would continually tell me that I should stop my cross stitching hobby and take it back up again after I retire. Looking at how tiny all the holes and the patterns are, I am highly skeptical that this is a good course of action.

I would bring my cross stitching to school to do during study halls and I would be constantly ridiculed by my classmates for doing it. So, like a good teenaged girl, I caved to peer pressure and hid my hobby away.

When I got married I had several very large and complex pieces that I worked years on framed. My husband wouldn’t let me hang them in the house for several years because he hated them. I still have a multitude of projects that I have finished and thrown into a bag that is slowly getting larger and larger over the years.

I have always felt like I was a weird, socially aberrant person because I have had a fascination with filling in little boxes with color and making a pattern out of them. I hide my carefully organized and structured projects in metal lunch boxes and pray that no one asks me what is inside.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Over the weekend I attended CocoaConf Columbus. Our first keynote speaker was Mark Dalrymple. During his excellent keynote, he talked about people embracing their hobbies. One of the hobbies he threw out was cross stitching. This threw me for a loop. Cross stitching has fallen out of favor over the last ten years. Also, this was a tech conference! People don’t talk about sewing at a tech conference!

I have painfully learned over the years that tech people are not supposed to cross stitch. Back when I was less experienced, I would go to interviews and be asked what I did for hobbies. I would say I cross stitch and there would be an immediate reaction on the face of the interviewer. I could tell that they mentally determined that I was not a tech savvy person.

There is this stereotype that women who cross stitch (and it is mostly women) are usually stay at home mothers or elementary school teachers. I am a British history buff and one very painful memory I have was reading about an attempted coup of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was an accomplished needleworker. When she was locked up in the tower, one of her captors sneered at her that she would have plenty of time for her needlepoint now. Society see needlework as something inherently tainted. People who enjoy doing needlework can’t possibly be fit to do anything important like run a country. Leave that to the other people who are more able to take on that responsibility.

You don’t see a lot of tech people talking about their cross stitching projects. Hell, knitting is much more socially acceptable than cross stitch! That might be because a lot of men do it, but that is a topic for another time.

Dragon project requiring over 50 threads, including metallics and beads.

Dragon project requiring over 50 threads, including metallics and beads.

Cross stitching is a far more concentration heavy task than knitting is. Cross stitching, specifically counted cross stitch, requires a tremendous amount of organizational skills. I regularly complete projects that include fifty different shades of thread and can include over a hundred symbols that contain some combination of those colors. You learn very quickly to get organized or you give up. Over the years I have learned to organize my thread to prevent it from tangling or becoming confused.

Counted cross stitch also requires you to look at a symbol on a grid, translate that symbol into a color, and render it onto a fixed rectangular surface of squares. Does this sound at all familiar? It is very similar to the process that takes place on the computer to render an image, except instead of bits I am using thread. I have been a human fragment shader for 25 years.

Do it yourself Doctor Who lunch box sewing kit! *Not guaranteed to be bigger on the inside.

Do it yourself Doctor Who lunch box sewing kit! *Not guaranteed to be bigger on the inside.

Every skill that makes me a good programmer is a skill I learned from counted cross stitch. I learned to be patient while working on a very large project that takes several years. To give an idea of scale, the dragon picture in this post is a project that I draped over my 15-inch Mac Book Pro and the edges spill over the sides by several inches. I learned how to mentally break down the project into manageable parts so that I did not get overwhelmed and confused. I learned how to organize my space and my tools to optimize my time. I learned to “debug” my designs because no matter how hard you concentrate, you will make mistakes. If you just keep following the pattern like a robot, your design won’t render properly.

This weekend was the first time I brought a counted cross stitch project to a conference and worked on it while listening to a session. I find that I can focus far better while cross stitching than I can while I have a computer in front of me because I get so focused on the screen that I tune out what is being said. I have been told it is rude to cross stitch in class or at conferences even though it is not considered rude to chat on Twitter.

I want to thank Mark D. for giving me the courage to write this post. I am tired of feeling ashamed of a hobby that has been a large part of my life for 25 years that has given me all the tools I need to continue to do what I want to do. I hope that one day people won’t be judged on their hobbies or how they decide to spend their free time, because often those are the things that shape us into the people we are.