26 March 2013 8:07 PM (sexuality | sex | sexism | programming | compilers)
Greetings, dear readers. Today's article is not about compilers, but about the people that write and run them. Like me, and like you.
I write a lot about programming here because it's interesting to me and it makes me happy, but that's not the extent of my desires as a human. Among all the things, and perhaps even foremost among them, is the desire to live in a more beautiful world: a world of making and sharing, of nature abloom, and of people too: a world, in short, full of life.
Part of that life is sexual, and how wonderfully, playfully, rightfully so. But the world as a whole would be better if we kept sexuality out of programming and other male-dominated pursuits.
The reason for this is that sexuality (for example, in the form of sexual jokes) among a group of men creates a kind of "boy's club" atmosphere in which people that aren't in the straight male majority feel uncomfortable. A "boy's club" has a virtual "no girls or queers allowed" sign on it. It's just not a comfortable place to be, for non-club-members.
Of course, sometimes being uncomfortable is good. But being uncomfortable because of your gender is not one of those cases. And even, it must be said, sometime it goes beyond discomfort to danger -- conferences that women do not attend for fear of groping; things that women cannot say for fear of rape threats. There is no hyperbole here. It is an astonishing, indignation-provoking injustice.
How did it get this bad?
As usual, through small steps. One of the first is widespread toleration of unrelated sexuality in male-dominated fields: boy's clubs. So I think that we all -- and especially men, and especially people with respect within a community -- should actively discourage any of these factors that lead to "boy's clubs". A joke that "I'd fork that project" is not OK. It would be fine if it were just a lame joke; but it's not fine because it's part of this whole "boy's club" thing.
Incidentally, there is a name for the structural tendency to favor one gender over another in a group that isn't "boy's club", and it is "sexism". Sometimes people dismiss sexism in programming because, you know, "show me the code", but this misses the broader picture. I personally have profited immensely from the personal connections I have made at the many conferences that I have attended. I've even put up with some "boy's club" jokes on the same level as "fork-that-repo". I think a woman would find it more difficult to make some of these connections, and so would not end up producing the patches I do.
So, friends, if you are with me in recognizing this structural injustice called sexism, a stain upon our community of compiler hackers and users, I think this is an occasion in which imperative programming is acceptable and even appropriate. Learn to recognize "boy's clubs" and work constructively against them. Sex and tech is usually a bad idea, so point this out when you see it -- especially if you are a man -- and support others who do the same.