She’s Geeky

That’s the name of a series of conferences,  the most recent of which just concluded in Mountain View, Calif.

The site describes the intended audience:

She’s Geeky events are neutral, face-to-face gathering spaces for women who like to geek out. Attendees include women involved in all aspects of technology, including those who like to use geeky tools, not just coders, programmers and engineers. You don’t even have to be from the computer industry. You just have to be a woman who identifies as a geek.

I read about this event in a post by Amy Gahran, who blogs for the Poynter Institute. She was planning to attend, and she cited it as an example of the kind of activity that journalists should be participating in more often, as a way of breaking out of their “insular, self-referential” culture.

Not a bad idea, although many newsroom managers are quite allergic to the idea of their reporters and editors getting deeply involved with community affairs. However, what struck me about her description of the desirable aspects of this particular convention was this, under the heading “Female culture” (emphasis mine):

Most tech conferences are a heavily male playground. This affects not only the topics covered and event structure, but the tone of interaction. In my experience, conferences that are primarily oriented toward women in a given field tend to be more welcoming and less cliquish or hierarchical than at events where male culture predominates. This means that even male journalists who are newcomers to tech culture might get more out of an event like She’s Geeky than an uber-geekboy rave like Gnomedex (which is fun, but maybe not for your first stop).

Perhaps her experience with conferences for women is more extensive than mine, because I do not join separatist organizations or routinely attend separatist events (“You just have to be a woman . . .”). But I did attend one once, and a less welcoming and more cliquish environment is hard to imagine.

In 1996, I was invited to join a panel discussion on the California Civil Rights Initiative, then on the ballot in that state, which was part of the program at the fall conference of the Journalism and Women Symposium held that year in Napa, Calif.

“Come for the weekend,” they said, so I did.

I didn’t belong there. At the mix-and-mingle introductory wine tasting, in the interims between talks, it was clear that one was expected to establish her right to be there by bashing (the absent) males.  So wonderful, I’d hear, to be free of masculine domination and hierarchy. And who are you?

Well. in the belief that every good garden party  deserves a skunk, I started telling them how discomforting I found it to be among people who despised half of humanity, or, at least were willing to say they did in order to establish their credentials with the other half.

Actually I thought it was like being at a Klan rally, but I think I didn’t go quite so far as to say so.

The panel discussion was an Experience. The two of us who had been invited to support the initiative, which bans racial (and gender) preferences in government policy were hissed from the audience. That’s female solidarity, yes. Some woman (an affirmative action token professor at Berkeley) spoke at length from the audience about Cal’s admission policies, but didn’t know what they were. One of the two pro-discrimination panelists snidely implied that I and anyone else who supported CCRI were allies of David Duke. I pointed out that it was her side who had paid David Duke to come to California to speak in favor of CCRI (a good idea may be supported for bad reasons). She miffed that she didn’t deserve to suffer personal attacks.

Hey lady, you started it.

In contrast,  my experience with largely male professional events has been just as largely positive. Leave aside the fact that I was a college math professor for a while, and ran a small printing company, and then worked as an editorial writer (all male-dominated jobs), and just look at BlogNashville, 2005.

I signed up, because it sounded like fun and I’d get to meet lots of people I knew only online. Bill Hobbs, who organized it, invited me to be on a panel, and that was a hoot. True, the attendees skewed white, male and young. But they didn’t care.

Mark Tapscott, then at the Heritage Foundation, had a car and generously offered to ferry me and my walker around.  We were joined by Robin Burk — ooh. She is a touch-the-hem-of-her-garment someone. She helped build Darpanet. She knew Adm. Grace Murray Hopper. You know, computer bug.

Anyway, Mark’s car was later joined by La Shawn Barber. When we all got out together, three females, two old, one black, we were trampling stereotypes underfoot with every step we took. And everybody thought it was cool, if they noticed at all.

Not noticing at all seems to me to be the ideal we should aim at.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
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