Note: I should probably point out that in the following piece, I will follow the Danish tendency to not use peoples’ titles. For people not living in Denmark, this might seem disrespectful, and if it is perceived as such, I apologize, but the habit of not doing so is too ingrained in me, for me to start doing so now.
I was considering calling this piece “through the looking glass”, but that would have connotations of weirdness which I found inappropriate, since what I wanted to was to indicate that I had experienced the “other side” of the divide for once.
What divide you ask?
The gender divide. The gender divide in technology to be more specific.
People who have followed my other blog and twitter stream are probably aware that I am an out-and-open feminist, and that I regularly criticize my field (programming and IT consulting) for how women are marginalized, e.g. by the male dominance when speakers are picked for conferences.
This year I participated in such a conference; the GOTO conference in Aarhus, Denmark (the conference was formerly known as JAOO). Here the lineup of speakers was also heavily tilting towards men, but it is one of the conferences which actively tries to get female speakers, and they had managed to get some really great ones, including Linda Rising, Rebecca Parsons, and Telle Whitney.
Telle Whitney held a talk on women in IT, and all three of them participated in a meeting with the Ada Aarhus group, which was held after the talks on the second day of the conference.
I went to the talk, and participated in the Ada Aarhus meeting, and both of these things introduced me to the concept of being the outsider. Something which I understood, or at least thought I did, yet which I hadn’t really experienced before. I cant say I enjoyed the experience, but it was certainly enlightening, and it forced me to re-evaluate what I thought I understood on this subject.
Before going into how this happened, I want to back away a bit, and give a brief introduction to myself and that part of my background which is relevant.
First of all, as the sidebar says, I am a Danish IT consultant in my thirties. For those interested in the details, I am a .NET consultant, working mostly with large financial or public systems.
What the sidebar doesn’t mention, but which many people know, is that while I am Danish, I am also Australian. My mother was Australian, and while I grew up in Denmark, my childhood was a mixture of cultures - not only Danish and Australian, but also several others, since my childhood friends were also mostly of mixed backgrounds as well (though all with Western backgrounds).
This upbringing has left me unable to entirely relate to a typical Danish upbringing.
It is the small things that usually trips me up - the children's’ stories and songs that I haven’t heard, and the ones that I grew up with instead (would you believe that most Danish children don’t grow up with neither The Wizard of Oz nor Snugglepot and Cuddlepie?) - but it is also the inability of many to look beyond the borders, and think globally. The distrust of foreign things and multi-culturalism that people hold, thinking that anything foreign must be dangerous or less good.
This means that I am the outsider in some cases. But given that fact that I’ve grown up in Denmark not entirely so, and since I look Danish, I can always act in ways which allows me to fit in.
Going back to the woman in IT talk, Whitney talked about what companies and individuals could do to ensure women could advance in IT. A subject I feel strongly about. Yet when listening to the talk, I kept feeling that I was left out - that Whitney wasn’t talking neither to nor about me. The reason was that I am not in a position to make company decisions, and that the individuals that Whitney was talking to, about what they could do, was the women. Not the men. All the recommendations didn’t relate to me and daily life.
You know why? Because it wasn’t about me!
I knew this at an intellectual level. Yet I hadn’t realized the full impact until I experienced being left out. It bothered me more than I thought it would. My privilege kicked in, and I felt a bit of resentment at the gut level, while knowing fully well that this was how it ought to be, at the intellectual level.
If this was how I felt during a 50 minute talk, how must it not be for people who experience it day in and day out? E.g. women whose wishes and needs are ignored or LGBT people who live in a heteronormative society.
I cannot in any way pretend that I can relate to how they feel. But I can say that I understand it a little better now.
The Asa Aarhus group meeting, where both Linda Rising and Rebecca Parsons gave brilliant talks, just strengthening my understanding of this, and my realization of how little I can relate to how it would feel to experience this every day.
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