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This page is a collection of first-hand accounts by women of their Lived experience of being female in geek communities.
Please use your discretion about whether to quote a story in full, or provide excerpts. I'm generally providing excerpts for standalone articles/blog posts, and quoting in full (or nearly so) when the story comes from a comment or email. In either place, provide links to the original.
Anonymous account of RMS and the Open Source community Edit
Hi, I'm a technically-proficient woman who was interested from a young age in building a career in the free software industry. My interest is still there, but I've since abandoned the idea of it as a career move and switched to network security (where I work with both free and non-free software). I grew up wanting to design and write operating systems that did cool stuff and that everyone could use and share.
Then I got involved in the local "scene" and was driven off by the rampant dismissal of female programmers and blatant, unapologetic sexism shown to me by BOTH the men and women in the industry and hobby. Being constantly objectified and treated as second-rate simply because I had breasts instead of a beard wore me down and I eventually abandoned all of the projects I was involved in to focus on security. Going to an RMS talk in the early 90s and meeting with him in person was among the worst of my experienced - I was fifteen, still obviously underage, and skipping gym class to hear him speak at a professional conference (that I'd snuck into). He actually pointed to me in the back and proclaimed, into the mic, "A GIRL!" causing the audience to turn and look. Mortifying. Then he proceeded to gesture toward me every time he referred to "EMACS Virgins." (I cannot believe that he is still doing the same talk 10+ years later.) I was young and terrified of calling out someone that I'd previously idolized.
The sexism on display in his talks and in these comments are the precise reason as to why there aren't many women in free software to speak up, and the awkward gender ratio and propensity for male nerds to shout down any opposition makes it even more difficult to do so.
velvet winter on Geek Feminism @ metafilter Edit
In this comment to a thread on "Geek Feminism", velvet winter wrote:
I, too, have been attracted to fellow nerds as far back as I can remember.
As a kid, I thought this nerd affinity would be my ticket into a world where I could just be myself - and maybe, just maybe, eventually date a geek boy who didn't mind it when I beat him at Space Invaders, would gladly spend Friday nights in the library with me, and would become completely convinced that a geek girl like me was a much better match for him than that cheerleader he'd been after.
I had, shall we say, very limited success. A few scenes from my past:
1976: Fourth grade. Enormous crush on a nerd boy in my class. He and I both love math and are the fastest kids in the class at completing our timed multiplication tables. Eventually he stops hanging out with me because I sometimes beat him in the math drills. I am crushed.
1984: High school. Computer Club meeting. (All five of us attend, four guys and me). I am VP. Our guest speaker arrives. I greet him and introduce myself. He tells me to "smile!" A few minutes later, he asks the boys what projects they've been working on lately.
1992: My first D&D game. The guy sitting next to me leans over and asks if my character wears chainmail underwear. Every time I inch away from him ever so slightly, he inches closer again. I grow increasingly uncomfortable. A few minutes later, after I ask him politely to cut it out, he says with mock indignation, "Quit yer squawkin', I'm just stalkin'." Everyone chuckles. Soon afterward, I stop playing D&D.
1995: My boyfriend makes a big deal of the fact that he's attracted to me because of my mind. He geeks out with me over Star Trek, board games, libraries, Commodore 64 games, philosophy, microbiology, calculus, you name it. Glorious geek girl bliss. Then, over time, I realize that - geek camaraderie notwithstanding - somehow I always seem to end up making coffee, doing all the cleaning, and getting the groceries while he plays games. We discuss it. Nothing changes. We break up.
1996: Feeling frisky (and lonely). Browsing alt.sex.wanted on Usenet on a Saturday night, wondering anew why it's always so hard for me to find a date if there really are so many geek guys out there who want to get laid. On a whim, I compose a reply to a post titled "Are there ANY GIRLS on this thing!!!!!!!!" I explain carefully that there are, in fact, women like me out there who are interested in having sex with fellow geeks...but that they're sometimes a little skittish until they know they'll be safe with you and that you aren't expecting them to look like supermodels, so a slightly more subtle approach might work better. A few hours later I get private e-mail with one line asking about my age, hair color and bra size.
1998: Web design software training program. My first Photoshop class. The instructor thinks it's a hoot to refer to the "hand" icon as "the Packwood tool." The other students laugh every time. I do not.
1999: Linux user group meeting. I walk in, excited because I have just finished reading Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Quickly I become hyper-aware of the fact that I'm the only woman there. I spend an hour fidgeting awkwardly and trying to think of something to say. It has to be the perfect mixture of witty, thought-provoking, technically savvy, and impressive; otherwise, I fear, these guys won't take me seriously. I end up commenting on the fact that there aren't many women there. Everyone laughs. I decide to stick to Linux forums, where I can hide behind a non-gendered username.
2009: It's Friday night. I'm on Metafilter, making a post about geek feminists.
A conversation at GCDSEdit
In response to the controversy surrounding RMS's behaviour at GCDS, Ara Pulido describes a conversation with another attendee (who was, in essence, a stranger) on her blog:
Related reading Edit
- The sickening grunch by Dorothea Salo