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Technically Female

Posted by on March 24, 2010

Editors Note: In honor of Ada Lovelace day, we have asked core MongoDB developer Kristina Chodorow to be our guest blogger today—and she came through in fine style.

One Friday when I was young and foolish (last year) I committed some code changes, tested nothing, and went home for the weekend. When I got in on Monday, I saw that my coworker had sent out an email to everyone that said “Kristina, you broke the build, you wacky redhead!”

On top of being embarrassed about breaking the build, I was also furious about being called a “wacky redhead” in front of the whole company. Would he call our coworker John a “wacky blonde” or Sam a “wacky brunette”? I’m taking a wild guess at no.

I’m certain that he did not mean anything bad, he just thought it sounded funny (which it does). It’s like the XKCD cartoon about segfaults feeling like waking up with a jerk: when someone talks to me like this, it feels like a segfault.

Almost all of the “sexism” I run into is unintentional and well-meaning, but it’s annoying. Would you tell Larry Wall he was “cute”? Would you send Linus Torvalds a rose (@}–>–) for fixing a bug? Would you ask Joshua Bloch “Are you a busy boy today?”

Before you say something, think, “Would I say this to a guy?” Please, talk to us like we’re programmers, not like we’re women.

I told my coworker that I didn’t like what he said and he understood and apologized. That made me feel better and, as far as I was concerned, closed the matter. Which was when my boss pulled my coworker aside and told him what he had done was inappropriate. Justice ended up being swift and a bit excessive, but everyone lived happily ever after.

Marco is the keeper of keys and Chief Garbage Collector at Blue Parabola. He can be found on Twitter as @mtabini.
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And if you think Kristina’s blog post was entertaining and informative, you should check out her article in the March 2010 issue of php|architect on how to utilize Mongo, PHP, and a good storyline to turn your website into a truly addicting game. Plus, you will get to meet Rodney ‘AKA’ Buddleclog and other interesting characters.

For the record, I would have said those things too if they broke the build.


Been Through the Gender Wars on
March 25th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Maybe you would have preferred “you stupid dolt” or “you incompetent excuse for a human” instead? This is sexist in the same way as opening a door for a woman — not because she cannot do it herself, but because it’s a nice thing to do. The genders are different — we’re built differently and we think differently and mostly we are attracted to each other for those differences. We celebrate those differences in many ways, some of which include being deferential to each other in some ways. Men say “nicer” things to women than they would to each other. They say “you wacky redhead” instead of “you moronic twit.” Women similarly show deference to men in stereotypical ways, as well. Intelligent people recognize it as complimentary, or deferential, or flattery. Hardcases, like the writer, find every flaw and demand inhuman neutral tone in every word and action. May you someday have the wisdom to know better.

Been Through the Gender Wars on
March 25th, 2010 at 1:57 pm

P.S. Realize that “dolt” and “twit” were watered down from what men say to men to avoid affronting the moderators of this website and to readers of varying ages and maturity. What men actually say to men is much coarser and insulting.

Advisor on Successful Work and Love on
March 26th, 2010 at 10:14 am

I was a Professor of Psychology who taught classes in interpersonal communication skills and relationships. I was also a psychotherapist and business consultant. I think that this article offers clarity and perspective to people who want to be successful in the areas of work and love. Whether in a business setting or a relationship, the successful person keeps their communications respectful as well as informative.

What is the effect of a putdown, even when subtle or done with humor? It usually raises defenses, creates anger and humiliation, and inhibits clear, effective communication. On the other hand, a message that communicates genuine respect has a powerful, positive effect – it opens the gates to more flow of information, ideas, and creativity. This kind of communication leads to breakthroughs in work and growth in one’s personal life.

I think that it is notable that the comment writer that addressed people as “stupid dolt” and “moronic twit” used the name of “Been through the Gender Wars.” Given his approach to relationships, I’m sure they were “wars” for him and the other people involved.

Thank you to Kristina for this article that shows such insight.

Ironic how “Advisor” blindly assumes that “Been Through the Gender Wars” is male, when really the comment could be read either way.

With respect to breaking the build, I prefer the gender-neutral “WTF?”.

I second Nate with the gender neutral “WTF”. But as to s/been through the gender wars/dumbass yes I’d rather my coworkers say to me whatever it is they’d say to a guy because I did f’in break the build. I didn’t start programming cause I thought ‘hey I want to be in a male dominated profession cause I want to be the Belle of the ball’ you moron we’re not dating .. It’s fricken work.

He wouldn’t have called them wacky {haircolor}, but would he have called them wacky {something-or-other}, or made some other humorous comment specific to some trait of that person? I’d like to assume yes, but I don’t know these people.

Being an “African-American” programmer myself, I like to think I kind of relate to female programmers in that way. When I was at NYU – we were the same year by the way(!) – the number of girls each class would start out with was low to begin with, but by the end of the semester enough dropped the class or changed majors to usually leave only two. In contrast, two was usually the number of black people in these classes period. While I’m sure noone will ever have the nerve to comment on my work in a way that involves my race – even if humorous and perceived as innocuous – I always thought that the problem women had in this field (among many others) was just a general doubting of their ability. I can see how being called a wacky redhead could be annoying, but at least it wasn’t worse like one of the other commentors suggested or a “see what happens when girls program” behind your back.

While I would totally ping a male coworker with “are you a busy boy today” or send Linus Torvalds a rose, I am sure what you are referring to is more of a general problem of male/female work relations that happens in any job where the two work together, and not so much a programmer specific one.

As a relevant aside, I think the lack of female programmers (and black ones for that matter) is a completely systematic one, especially when you consider how much of a communicatory job programming has become. Agile sprints, design patterns, wikis, bug trackers – it’s all in the aid of easing communications – something that women tend to be better at than men, so it’s just surprising to me that there aren’t more, or even a majority. The anti-social stereotype of the “overweight code monkey” just hasn’t been the case for so long.

[…] Kristina Chodorow is the lead developer on the MongoDB project and a member of the php|architect blogger squad. Among other great posts, she wrote this year’s Ada Lovelace Day post for php|architect, “Technically Female“. […]

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