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Lived experience

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The term lived experience is used to describe the first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group. When women talk about what it's like to be female in a predominantly male geek community, they are describing their lived experiences.

People often discount accounts of lived experience, saying:

  • "I never saw that happen."
  • "I know a person in that group and she says it didn't happen to her."
  • "Logically, that shouldn't happen (and so it doesn't)."
  • "Anecdotes are not data."

The FLOSSPOLS survey on gender in Open Source Software shows a good example of the disparity of perception between women's lived experience and men's impressions:

"In our survey almost all female participants have observed or experienced discriminatory behaviour against themselves or other women in the general F/LOSS community, but only 1/5 of all men reported to have perceived discriminatory behaviour against women. Also within their projects more than half of the women observed or experienced discriminative behaviour against women, but only about one out of ten men had the same perception."

To summarise: ~80% of women had observed or experienced discrimination against women in their field, but only ~20% of men had noticed it.

There are many reasons a man might not notice or identify discrimination against women going on in his field.

  • He is not present while the incident is taking place, especially if someone is taking care to avoid behaving badly in the presence of other witnesses.
  • He has not been trained/has not retained training to identify discrimination.
  • He accepts it as the way the field works, not as discrimination.
  • He notices it as isolated incidents caused by innocent activities being misinterpreted or a few bad apples, not as a systemic problem.
  • He believes that only people with ill intent can possibly be guilty of discrimination.
  • He thinks the incidents are not serious and women should lighten up.

What to do about it Edit

Women and people of other non-majority genders need to share their lived experiences. Men need to listen, and not discount them. It is rare for people to make things up. Men, especially men in the field where these experiences have taken place, should think about why they have not noticed their colleagues going through these experiences.

Suggested reading: Check my what? On privilege and what to do about it. (shrub.com)

Examples of lived experience Edit

See Experiences for examples of women's first-hand accounts of their experiences in geek communities.

See also Edit

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