The Nature of Privilege

Yesterday my husband and I went to a Renaissance Faire. We had a pretty nice day. We both brought ale mugs with us to go around and have various beverages. My husband didn’t partake in anything alcoholic because he had to drive.

As we were leaving the faire there was a security checkpoint to verify that no one was taking alcohol out of the faire. I was asked to show my mug, which I did. My husband was asked to stop and show his mug. He refused to stop. He kept going. The security guard thought my husband didn’t hear him so he started following him to try and stop him. My husband began running to avoid the security guard, putting me in a really awkward position of trying to defuse things with the guard to avoid having him call the police or doing something to try to detain us.

I was very angry about this afterward. My husband realized I was mad and he told me he was sorry, but he didn’t like people trying to tell him what to do and that the guy tried to grab his arm to keep him from leaving.

I am going to share with you a huge, mind blowing secret. Are you ready for it??

I don’t like being told what to do either.

In what universe does my husband think that somehow every other member of the human race has no problem being told what to do and that somehow he is special? Oh wait, that’s right. He lives a world of aggressive white male privilege.

(I want to clarify here that I am not saying every single white male fits into this mold. I am not making a broad generalization about every single man. Please do not yell at me on Twitter for being sexist.)

My husband lives in a world where he has never had to do anything he didn’t want to do.

My husband is an aggressive driver. He has regularly put me in danger while he engaged in road rage with another driver. Once we were on a street where the road narrowed to one lane. Every driver before him would let one car into the lane and everyone took turns merging. My husband decided not to follow this pattern and another car nearly collided with us on my side of the car. Afterward my husband asked me if I was mad at that guy for nearly hurting me. I wasn’t mad at that guy. I was mad at my husband for putting me in physical danger just to be aggressive and let other people know he was not going to do anything he doesn’t want to do.

He has never spent a moment in his life worrying that someone might shoot him for being aggressive on the road. He has never been troubled when he refuses to follow the same unwritten rules that everyone else abides by. He is a 6’2, relatively young, white, upper middle class male. He has never had another person use their size to physically intimidate him into doing something that he didn’t want to do.

The fact that anyone could have this entitled, privileged attitude absolutely blows my mind. I can’t imaging living in that world.

This is my world:

There is a lobbying group in town that assaults people on the street trying to coerce them into “donating” money. Every time I see one of these groups on the street my heart sinks because I always see one guy scanning the sidewalk until he sees me. He makes a beeline for me because I am small, female, and look like someone who can be overpowered into giving money to this person to make him go away and leave me alone.

I have had teachers back me into corners to better be able to look down on me while they tried to intimidate me by threatening my grades. When I was in eighth grade I had one teacher who let a bunch of students write a skit to be performed on a class trip where I had to pretend to be naked and throw myself at a popular guy who was going to cruelly blow me off and humiliate me. When I told the teacher I didn’t feel like that was appropriate, he asked me if I had a tube top or something I could wear so it would only look like I was naked in front of all of my peers rather than actually being naked. My parents had to take me to an out of state wedding when the trip was scheduled to prevent this from happening.

When I worked in retail I routinely had men try to coerce me into giving them refunds that I could not give because of various policy and legal reasons. A few guys tried aggressively flirting with me to make me give them a refund. Several guys threatened to speak to my manager to get me fired if I didn’t make them happy. The worst imposition I had in retail was when an old man came up to me, handed me two containers of sexual lubricant, and asked me which one I liked better and asked me which would be better for masturbation.

Getting out of retail didn’t mean the end of this kind of humiliation. At one of my last real jobs I had a team lead lock me in a room and yell at me for an hour because I spoke to a manager about the fact that he told me to work over a hundred hours off the clock without telling anyone and to bill them to the company while I was out of the country.

How do you explain to someone who has never been physically intimidated how upsetting it can be? At my last job at a start-up, I observed my CEO and CTO aggressively approaching women to get them to try our app. I told them that women don’t really like being approached by tall, scary, aggressive guys. They didn’t get it. They couldn’t see how uncomfortable they were making these women and they refused to try to think of a better way to approach women to use our app.

My husband has trouble understanding why it is so difficult for me to find a normal job. Programmers are in short supply! Why can’t you just walk into a company and get a job? You must be incompetent.

It isn’t about that. The same attitude that my husband has when he runs past the security guard is the attitude that my teacher, manager, and lobbyist have. They feel like they have the right to force me to do something I can’t or don’t want to do, and their privilege to abuse me is indirectly imposing on my husband’s privilege to have a wife who can go to work and earn a decent salary without fear of being exploited, abused, or being inappropriately fired and having my professional reputation annihilated. Everything we do affects everyone else. His privilege is indirectly hurting him through me, but he can’t see it that way because it is hurting him rather than helping him.

Privilege is the ability to feel you have the absolute right to never feel imposed upon by anyone. Privilege is being able to piss someone off because you can and to have absolutely no worries that this person will come after you and cause you physical violence or endanger your livelihood.

I know that I am a relatively privileged person myself. I got to take a few years off from work to go back to school. I get to do a lot of things that most people don’t by nature of being a white, educated, middle class female. I don’t want to give up my privilege, but I never forget that I only get to do what I do because a lot of other people do not. I appreciate my privilege and I try not to abuse it or assume that others haven’t done what I did because I “did it all on my own”. A lot of other people and societal forces converged to let me do what I do and I never forget that.

The security guard at the faire didn’t try to detain us or call the police. However, I had to deal with an angry, aggressive man that I didn’t want to or have to because my husband chose to force me to do the thing he didn’t want to do. He’s right, he lives in a world where he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do without fear of being shot, attacked, or harassed. I just wish that he cared enough about me to not force me into a situation where I have to be afraid of being attacked or hurt in his place. To be fair, he also probably wishes I cared enough about him to get off my ass and get a normal job like everyone else does instead of delving into esoteric technology and writing. Hey, maybe I am the one who is privileged.

Code of Conduct

So today there has been some controversy on Twitter about 360|iDev’s Code of Conduct.

I honestly do not understand what the controversy is here. They are clearly stating that they want a diverse conference where everyone will be respected.

Here is my perspective on things.

I am a female programmer. I got into programming later in life. I originally studied video and audio production. I was young and foolish and thought I could succeed purely through sheer force of will. I would say I was about 30 when I really began to learn enough programming to make a go of it. At the last job I had I was not only the only woman, I was also the oldest person by a decade. I also have some health issues that make it impossible to work more than 40 hours a week.

Between being a woman, being older, not having a dozen years of experience, and having health issues, I feel very vulnerable in a community that fetishized boys barely old enough to drink who have been coding for fun since they were ten.

I have been extraordinarily privileged to be given the opportunity to speak at conferences on something that isn’t feminism. 360|iDev will be the fifth conference I have spoken at this year. I am speaking about Apple’s new 3D graphics programming framework.

People like Jim Remsik, Dave Klein, and John Wilker are all throwing me a lifeline to give me the chance to establish myself as a professional and maybe have a career.

I worry sometimes that I only get these opportunities because of “male guilt”. I am very concerned with being seen as someone who only gets to speak because they want more women. I have worked tirelessly to try to prove my cred by tackling difficult programming topics that frighten most people away. I am worried sick about not having a great talk to present at 360|iDev because my reach exceeds my grasp.

Even if I make an idiot of myself, at least I was given the chance. That’s all I ask for. I am being given a time and a place and what I do with it is up to me. A lot of people won’t even do that and I am eternally grateful for being given the chance to do what I can and make what I can of it. I am also grateful for the chance to meet the other people who are speaking and attending. In a world where connections are everything, the connections I have made at my conferences have been absolutely invaluable.

I have absolutely no idea what in the Code of Conduct created this fuss. I do know that I submitted a talk to a conference I could not afford to attend and that the organizers are not only giving me a chance to speak about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, they are also financially making it possible for me to go.

Talk is cheap. If you care so much about getting more women in technology, hire more women. Be willing to train them when they don’t have 5-10 years of experience. Mentor someone. Do something that actually costs you time or money. 360|iDev did. Don’t just go on Twitter and be a douche.

Why I am Not at WWDC

Seeing a lot of the normal “Why are there no women at WWDC??” posts that tend to come out this time of year. I want to offer my very limited perspective on why I am not at WWDC.

I did not enter to win the WWDC Golden Ticket lottery because I could not afford to go. It isn’t just the cost of the ticket. It is also the flight and the cost of the hotel. I estimate going to WWDC costs about five grand.

Five grand is a lot of money. That is a Mac Pro or a vacation to Europe.

There are a lot of people who go out there who do not have WWDC tickets who still paid between three and five grand to just be out there and talk to their peers.

My understanding is that a lot of people who go to WWDC work for companies that pay those expenses.

I don’t work for a company. I used to, but that company did not really value sending people to conferences, so I doubt they would have paid to send me even if I were still there.

I took two years off to go back to school to learn programming. I am now in the rocky process of trying to establish myself as a professional.

I have some health issues that prevent me from being able to work all those crazy hours that are expected of you if you work at the kinds of innovative start-ups that want to do cutting edge iOS technology or have enough money to send people to go play with the new toys.

Replace health issues with family issues and you will see the problem a large number of women have trying to get to something like WWDC. Even if you can afford to send yourself, you are still leaving your children/family for a week to go run yourself ragged.

For better or worse, women are still the primary caregivers of children. My conference excursions are becoming longer and farther away and it is causing an issue between my husband and I. He doesn’t think it is fair that I am going off on these trips without him and expecting him to subsidize the costs associated with them. Even though I am a speaker and many of the costs get taken care of, there are always some costs that we wind up paying.

There are two easy things that Apple could do to get more women at WWDC:

  • Set aside 100-200 tickets for women in technology. Either set it up as a lottery or have women apply using an essay or something. Try to pick people who are doing interesting things and not just the token woman board member at Zynga.
  • Do something to help ameliorate the cost. Waive the cost of the ticket. Set up a roommate system so that if you want to spilt the cost of a room with another woman you can do that to save money. Each time I have gone to CocoaConf Chicago I have ridden down and roomed with a woman I met when I picked them up to go to Chicago and both woman became very good friends.

I will probably never work for Apple. I can’t afford to move out there and I can’t work the number of hours expected of an Apple engineer. I probably won’t ever get to go to WWDC. I think it is disappointing because I would love to go to all of the OpenGL and Core Audio labs and sessions that I hear are a ghost town because no one cares about them. I am working within the constraints that I am given and doing the best I can.

Apple could make bringing women to WWDC a priority. They think bringing students to WWDC is a priority and the set aside 150 tickets for students. If they wanted more women there, they would do that for them too.

But then again, they would also set aside tickets for a lot of the prominent iOS companies that got shut out of the WWDC lottery. They probably had 100,000 people enter into a lottery for 5,000 tickets. They could double or triple the cost of a ticket and still sell out every year. They had nearly 400,000 people download their Swift programming guide within a day of it being announced/released.

Apple is going to do fine without people like me. I can throw a hissy fit about them not including me, or I can just accept the fact that I am in the same boat as a lot of other people and do the best I can with what I have.

I am not going to have the same career as everyone else. That doesn’t make what I do any less relevant than working at Facebook or trying to create a social photo sharing start-up. I don’t think I have to measure myself based on what other people use for measures of success.

To quote a famous philosopher:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Just because I am not at WWDC does not mean I don’t exist or that I am not a developer. We’re out there. It might take a while, but you will see more of us. I am not quitting.

Delia Derbyshire

Anyone who talks to me knows that I am obsessed with Delia Derbyshire. She was the recording engineer who recorded the original “Doctor Who” theme. The “Doctor Who” theme is a landmark piece of electronic music. The amount of work that went into designing the sound in that theme was tremendous. Derbyshire was a genius and was able to push that medium in a way that most people would not have had the tenacity and genius to accomplish.

Delia Derbyshire

Delia Derbyshire in 1965.

During her life she never got credit for the work she did on that piece of music.

The composer, Ron Grainer, wanted to give her credit for the work she did on the piece. He wanted her to be credited as a co-composer for bringing the piece to life. The leader of the Radiophonic Workshop (whose name I can’t presently locate) refused to allow Delia to be credited for her work. He said that the group was a collective and that no one person should be singled out for their contributions.

Over the years Delia has been given credit for the work she did. The first time I heard her name was in the documentary “The Alchemists of Sound.” If you look on the Wikipedia page for the theme Delia is given credit for her creation. Her name is very closely associated with the theme online. Her works have been rediscovered and some day we may be able to hear what she worked on later in her life. Sadly she passed away in 2001 so she never got to see the renewed interest in the work that she did.

However, she was never named in the “Doctor Who” credits for her work. The credits were always “Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.”

Until today.

Today was the 50th anniversary of the first airing of “Doctor Who”. The show opened with the original theme from 1963. In the end credits Delia Derbyshire is named and given credit for the work she did.

I can’t express how happy it made me to see her name in the credits. There are women in history who get posthumous credit from history for the work they did, like Rosalind Franklin getting credit for the contributions she gave towards the discovery of the double helix. That is great that she and others have gotten recognition from the online community for the work they did, but it really makes me happy that the BBC was able to just once put Delia Derbyshire’s name in the credits where it should have been fifty years ago. This is a time to remember the people who made “Doctor Who” what it is and the fact that they did that was incredibly awesome.

Because it Also Needs to Be Said

Yesterday I got immersed in a conversation on about this incident. A female designer working for a Ruby shop in Ohio was sexually assaulted while drunk at a conference by her boss.

This is causing a lot of discussion about whether or not we have a community of “brogrammers” who feel this behavior is appropriate. I have spoken to several female developers who have had it with the community and are planning to leave because of the experiences they have had.

I want to add my two cents in here.

I have no doubt that this woman was assaulted. I have been assaulted many times (I prefer not to get into the details at this point) and the way she describes her feelings and why she behaved the way she did is consistent with every story I have heard from a real assault victim.

Now, I want to point out that a lot of people did the right thing in this situation. A co-worker noticed that things had gotten out of control and came over to diffuse the situation. Justine reported the behavior. The HR department determined that what happened was inappropriate and they let go of the person who did so.


Most assaults that happen are not done by people in public. Had this assault happened in a more private place where others didn’t observe it, I would like to think that the business still would have done the right thing, but the odds are it would have been easier to ignore.

I have been to a half dozen conferences over the last year. I am actually going to another one next week in Boston. I am traveling by train by myself. I have never made a trip by myself before. After hearing these stories it does cross my mind that I am vulnerable. I enjoy going to the bar after the conference and chatting with my fellow attendees. I know that the possibility exists that someone might drug my drink and I would wake up in a room other than my own. I don’t think that is very likely, but I think about it.

I was at a conference in June where there was a lot of alcohol. The party moved to a weird old building on campus in Madison where I and people I had met a few hours ago wandered around drunk after coming in from the rain. I had an amazing time that night, but I knew there was always the chance that something could have happened to me.

I think my risk of being attacked is small enough that I do the things I was to do with my life. I accept that the possibility exists that someone might try to do something to me. I make sure to only spend time around people that do not make me uncomfortable. If someone starts to make me uncomfortable, I leave that situation.

At my last conference, Madison Ruby, I had a person attach himself to me at the end of the conference. After knowing him for all of an hour he acted like he owned me. When I tried to leave him to be around other people he came over and told me that I had “really shitty body language” because he couldn’t read why I had left him.

A friend and classmate noticed this douchebag’s behavior and asked me if I needed help. I said yes, I did. So any time this guy tried to be near me my friend would pointedly insert himself between the two of us. When the guy would be verbally possessive of me my friend would interject himself in the conversation and mess up the guy’s game.

I think what he did was awesome. It really does not take very much to support another person who is being made to feel uncomfortable and do things to make them feel safer. Everyone should do this.

The takeaway I want to interject here is that I feel being a woman who is in programming, engineering, name-male-dominated-field here, is like being a character in a horror movie. Everyone has that thought of watching the blond virgin wandering into the dark alley and you yell at the screen “Don’t go in there!! It isn’t safe!”

No one is (or should be) saying that the woman being murdered by the serial killer in the dark alley had it coming for doing something stupid. No one should say it’s okay for the killer to kill anyone for making a really dumb choice. Even if you put the onus on the serial killer for being 100% in the wrong, the blond is dead.

With Justine, she got about the best result that anyone can hope for when reporting an assault. That didn’t change the fact that she was permanently damaged from the experience.

You need to be more careful.

I wish I did not live in a world where I have to say that, but I do. Don’t close yourself off to every person at any conference, job, or whatever. But do listen to your gut and monitor your relationships to make sure things do not go too far.

Long before this reached the assault stage Justine could have left. She could have said things were too intense and she could have gone home. She tried to stick it out and show it didn’t bother her. That was a mistake.

Again, I am not saying that I think she deserved this or that she is wrong. I am simply stating that bad situations have inertia. They will continue to get bad until an outside force acts upon it to make it stop. If you nip them in the bud early then things are less likely to escalate.

You have control over your body and what happens to you. You do not need to cede your right to control your body to anyone that you do not want. You can leave. You can scream. You have choices. These choices get more and more limited the longer you wait. If something makes you uncomfortable, leave. You will not get anything out of trying to stick out a bad situation.

Stay safe. Be vigilant. Help others who look like they are in distress. Have a buddy to watch your back.

Gamer Gurl at Open Mic

Last night I went to watch my sister-in-law perform at our local open mic night. She killed, but that isn’t the point of this post.

The fourth person to perform was a girl who looks kind of like Claudia from Warehouse 13. She gets up and tells everyone that she is a true nerd and “enjoys playing role playing board games.”

I start working up some righteous nerd rage. No gamer in their right mind would say that! There are RPGs, there are German-style board games, there are MMORPGs, but not “role playing board games”.

So I start going off on about this person cooping my identity for lazy humor and pretending to be a member of a culture that she doesn’t understand. I was slightly tipsy so I hope I made semi-coherent arguments.

I wake up this morning and I realize that I really missed the punchline on this (no pun intended). While I was eviscerating this person on ADN, the rest of her bit was complaining about how the boys she was playing these games with wouldn’t look at her boobs. She complained about how she really likes sex and how no one would just push the game off the table and take her then and there.

I play board games. The idea of someone, for any reason, sweeping my $100 copy of Agricola onto the floor for any reason horrifies me. I highly doubt any real gamers of any gender in the audience would approve of this occurring.

This truly disturbs me. We have a bad enough time where almost every single female character in a video game acts as a prize for the protagonist with no wants or agency of their own. We don’t need someone who has never actually participated in our community to validate to the people in it that women are empty headed mannequins who want nothing more than to be taken violently by victorious nerds as their prize for being awesome.

When I play games or go to a conference I want to be treated with respect. I don’t consider it a mark of respect to have men checking out my boobs. I don’t want the men that I play games with to see me as their prize for completing the game. I just want to be a person who also happens to enjoy the same things as a lot of other people who happen to be men.

I also think it is lazy humor to make fun of a common stereotype. Hey look, there are boys playing games! They must be nerds who are terrified of talking to women! There are so many jokes to be done about that! No. There might be, but someone with enough of a brain to not get on stage and complain about lack of harassment will be the one to make them, not you.



Barbara Gordon

Today on I noticed that a lot of people were changing their avatars to super hero characters. I thought it looked like fun, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do the same.

I got called out by another user for following the hive mind and doing the same thing everyone else was doing.

There is a certain amount of validity to this point, but I had a few really good reasons for picking the avatar I chose.

I chose Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon. For those who are not in the know, Barbara Gordon was the first Batgirl. Her father is Commissioner Gordon. In 1988 The Joker came to Commissioner Gordon’s house and shot

Barbara Gordon Shot

The Joker shoot Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke.

Barbara, not because he knew her secret identity, but to send a message to her father. She did not die, but she was paralyzed from the waist down. She was confined to a wheelchair.

She did not want to give up on her calling of being a crime fighter, so she learned computer programming. She became a super hacker and put together a female team of super heroes called The Birds of Prey.

I am a red-headed woman programmer. I admire her tenacity in not allowing that event to prevent her from doing what she wanted to do. She worked around her constraints and did not let a setback keep her from kicking butt.

I am a very literary person. My handle and my blog are named after a character from Alice Through the Looking Glass. I believe that characters from literature can speak to our better natures. They can allow us to walk in another person’s shoes and see qualities in them that we would like to have in ourselves.

This speaks to the dearth of female characters in popular culture. We get enthralled with characters in various medias and we like to see characters that represent ourselves. When women go to a movie and only see women as girlfriends or mothers, it is very discouraging. We want to see smart, brave, capable women. We want to see people who look and think like us. Men get to, why can’t we??

Barbara Gordon Chair

Just because she can’t walk doesn’t mean she can’t defend herself!

Whoopi Goldberg spoke about the pivotal moment in her childhood when she saw Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek and ran around the house screaming, “Mom! There is a black woman on the TV and she isn’t a maid!” Nichols said that she was planning to leave the show when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told her what an inspiration she was to the black community.

There is every flavor of white man on movies and TV. We have handsome charismatic people (James Bond), slacker stoner guys who inexplicably have hot girlfriends (Seth Rogan), violent anti-heroes who murder people and do bad things (Walter White). You name it, it exists. Why are these stories more important or identifiable than ours are?

You can argue that stories are flaky or unimportant, but they are vital to the formation of identity. By refusing to have more characters like Barbara Gordon in mainstream media we are saying that those people’s perspective doesn’t matter. That is tragic.