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Created April 27, 2012 12:19
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Apology to Women Programmers.
Today I gave a keynote at ACCU in Oxford. In the midst of it I made two (count them) two statements that I should have known better than to make. I was describing the late '70s, and the way we felt about the C language at the time. My slide said something like: "C was for real men." Emily Bache, whom I know and hold in high regard, spoke up and said "What about women?". And I said something like: "We didn't allow women in those days." It was a dumb crack, and should either not have been said, or should have been followed up with a statement to the effect that that was wrong headed.
The second mistake I made was while describing Cobol. I mentioned Adm. Grace Hopper. I said something like "May she rest in peace." I don't know that any of the words were actually demeaning, but the tone was not as respectful as it should have been to an Admiral in the United State Navy, and one who was so instrumental in our industry; despite what I feel about Cobol.
I am a 59 year old programmer who was brought up in a male dominated industry, operating in a male dominated society. To my regret, old habits and attitudes, that I thought were long dead and conquered, pop up from time to time. I am very appreciative that Emily pulled me aside after the talk and pointed them out to me. The _last_ thing I want to do is discourage women from becoming programmers.
So, if you see me making a mistake like this, you yell out and stop me. Or catch me afterwards. Or write me a note. And don't let any of my peers get away with it either.
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pzol commented May 6, 2012

@polotek @jbrains there are a lot of strong opinions on this topic, as a non-native English speaker I feel being a little bit in a handicapped position, as I have learned the words 'should' have a totally different gravity than in other languages I know.

Anyway, I will try to state my point of view more clearly - I would appreciate people wanting more women in tech to pro-actively support the women near them to get more confident about themselves, their abilities, a great initiative worthwhile supporting is for instance
One of the girls was doing a presentation at the Railsberry conference recently, and because of the friendly way she did it, there were no negative reactions at all.

In my opinion, if you are convinced, that you have to stand up for what you believe, the right way to do that is, to do it in a non-violent and pro-active way - word and action-wise. Pushing back people will make them more violent, helping them understand, might win you an ally.

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jbrains commented May 6, 2012

@polotek, I too think we mostly agree. I feel like you have tried to understand me, and I appreciate that. I still find some of your conclusions troubling; in particular, I think you have characterised what I've written a bit unfairly.

Telling people what to do is not the same as giving advice. I'm not against giving advice, but I have found people more willing to consider my advice when I have framed it less as a directive and more as sharing what I would do in the same situation -- or better, what I have done in similar situations in the past, and how that worked out for me. Thus, my advice to Piotr. I have studied how to give better advice and give advice better over the past decade, and I took an opportunity to share a little of that with Piotr.

Ultimately, your choice is your choice. Telling you that you're wrong tends to work less well than alternative ways of disagreeing. That's my experience. Others may differ. I'm open to hear stories of people who get good results from directing people's behavior.

Regarding my analogy, you are not correcting it, since it's not wrong; it seems you've missed it. Some projects do finish early. When managers pretend that that's impossible, they marginalise the people who have delivered projects early. That's the point of the joke. I think you did that when you characterised people of privilege as either ignorant or struggling. What about those who have genuinely worked hard and got past most of the struggling? Have you decided that it's literally impossible for me to have accepted my privilege and to be consistently aware of it in my dealing with other people? Your words suggest to me that you have decided that, and I daresay that attitude is fundamentally the same as any other discriminatory attitude. I find that advising someone to stop a negative behavior using another version of that negative behavior doesn't work very well.

One last point, and I'll repeat it one last time: I did not say that it was all right to discriminate. I empathised with Piotr, but expressly did not support his conclusion. I know that some people will always find a way to interpret empathy as agreement. I can't control that, and I choose not to let that stop me from empathising, because a world with less empathy is less of the world in which I want to live.

I have decided not to add more to this discussion, because I've reached the point where I'm merely repeating myself. That tells me that this discussion as gone as far as it can go for me. I walk away with a useful reminder of just how sensitive this issue is, how it can blind people, and why I need to remain ever vigilant about how people perceive my attitude towards my privilege. That's enough for me.

Peace, everyone. Unsubscribed.

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Thanks. This is a classy apology and it's appreciated.

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except not

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