04 August 2007

"You Know Linux? Marry Me!" Doesn't Fly

Three times so far, I've had that aimed at me. There was also the time when a man much more than twice my age asked me to dinner after a brief computer-related conversation in a book store (note that I was jailbait). It gets old, and it gets old fast. I've heard from plenty of women before about the annoyances of men at tech events who think it appropriate to have a come on be the first (or one of the first) things they say to any lady there.

So, this is for all the obnoxious straight men (and lesbians too, I suppose) at tech events: STOP IT! We don't come to these things to be hit on, I swear.

Would we prefer to be hit on for our brains instead of bodies? Yeah, I would, and I'm sure many others would too. But then, how much can you know about my brain if the first thing you said to me was a come on? So you overheard me talking to someone else. Big deal. Talk to me first. Introduce yourself. A little conversation goes a long way, trust me. I'm much more likely to say yes to a movie or dinner after a bit of conversation. Leading with a pickup line will get you an automatic "NO." Grow some tact.

So, you think you're complimenting me. OK, so you feel like this couldn't possibly rude in any way. It may surprise you, but you're wrong. First, think about why you want to compliment me. I'm a girl that's into computers. OK, that's not a good reason. Do you regularly compliment guys that are into computers just for being into computers? Probably not. Find something that is worth complimenting on its own, regardless of gender. "Hey that script you wrote to do X was really helpful" or "the research you did on Y was interesting" are examples of honest compliments regarding things worthy of being complimented. Compliments just because we're girls make us feel like the phrase "you know, for a girl" is attached. Surely you don't think "that was a nice throw, you know, for a girl" is something female ball players take as a compliment. Essentially, when you compliment me for doing something easy, I hear, added to the end of it, "but you're a girl, so that's really good. I mean, we all know I shouldn't expect you to be able to keep up with the guys on this, so your poor attempt was a nice shot. Computers are for guys, after all." Maybe you don't realize you're saying this, but take notice. Think about your "compliments" before you say them. Will I be offended by your implication that my gender means I'm useless with computers and that my skill level is high just because of my gender? Would you be offended if I said, "oh these are the best cupcakes I've ever had that a guy made"? They're not fantastic cupcakes, but then, I can't expect a man to actually know how to bake, can I? A man's cupcakes that taste like dirt are worthy of praise simply because a man made them, though perfectly worthy of ridicule if a woman made them. Please! Women can handle computers; men can bake. Don't act so shocked when it's thrust in your face, and stop holding each gender to different standards.

Now, we realize that these are mostly jokes, but jokes get old. This one got old some time last century. It might as well be "you know how to use a calculator? marry me!" You're not original. At the very least, come up with something new. If you must be unoriginal, tea or coffee to discuss $subject is fine.

Finally, it is never appropriate to hit on someone when you are supposed to be being professional. I would have thought this was common sense but it seems not. At LUG or something like that, you're being social, and if you want to ask a lady's number, fine, go ahead. If, as the most recent person was, you are representing your company, please refrain from doing so, especially if you are trying to recruit potential employees (as the person I have in mind, whose name I will not copy from his business card, was). Hitting on someone doesn't exactly give that person the best impression of your company. If recruitment tactics include come ons, what is it like inside the company? Is it full-on sexual harassment there? I consider such an approach very off-putting.

I wasn't sure whether to post this or not, but since one friend said "they're nerds, they probably don't know any better since nerds lack social skills," I thought it might turn out to be useful for some of ya ;)


Cathy at Za said...

Great post. It is nice to hear someone state it so clearly and include the unapologetic details. Nerds might need the specifics spelled out more than most & you are doing us all a service by being clear, eg "At a LUG meeting, sure; in a business conversation, NO."

I forwarded the link on to a few friends. Good stuff.s

Jack said...

While I agree with you that it is never ok to apply stereotypes to pigeon-hole any individual, I think many 'nerdy' guys are simply cruelly aware of how few women (in a larger statistical sense) are interested in the same things they are - linux for example.

It is quite arguable about why there are fewer women in tech/science than men; my guess is that it is a mixture of the current misogyny that you discussed above and of greater social pressures. However, at least for now, the fact still remains that there are many fewer women in the field. Given that, and the fact that I think most people generally are attracted to and want to date people who have similar interests who may better appreciate their talents, it is not surprising that tech/science women in particular are sought after by multiple men.

This is not to excuse unprofessional and frankly uncomfortable behavior, but is perhaps an explanation of why being a woman in the field technology does make you somewhat more in demand than your male counterparts.

Additionally, at a conference (or a LUG) I assume (perhaps wrongly) that all attendees have a level of competence that is quite high. Whenever I talk to anyone, I always respect their ability first until proven otherwise. So, I am not sure you should necessarily assume that these men are only complimenting you in a half-assed sort of way.

Anyway, I generally agree with most everything you said, and I enjoy your blogs and I hope soon there will be many more insightful and well written Linux blogs around from both men and women. I also like the Ubuntu Essentials blog that I found on here.



David Cintron said...

Oh the life of a Linux savvy girl. Must be tough, I sure don't know

flashingcurser said...

Smart, geekier than most, pretty, and uses linux? A girl like that excites us in ways that we simply don't understand.
If you would like fewer men to hit on you at conferences, teach your female friends to use linux. Bring them. Far fewer men will be interested in you. Thats not an insult, just a better ratio of women to men. I agree with the lack of professionalism rampant today, however, geeky men are not known for their social skills.

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate the annoyance of inappropriate attention. You have to remember that all geeks would love to have someone to share their love of technology with. Women that list shopping and shoes as their sole interests will generally not provide the mental stimulation required.

Even with the modern improved image of the geek we still face incredible odds in finding a partner with similar interests.

All of a sudden the lottery odds don't seem so bad!

Elfed Dowler-Jones said...


You certainly are in a predicament: In my favourite forum, there are now 102 members, and guess what, they're all women!! I bet you're just sick of hearing that one eh! :)

Q: Why do (almost) all graphics cards boxes and advertising have artwork of women dressed in any inversion of "suzzies" and "basques" that could possibly be imagined: Even ones made out of metal, even robots wearing them!!??

I think you see the extent of the problem.

Keep computing, and more importantly....keep being a woman!!

All the best! :)

ed-j = Resident Novice @


eumel said...

great post, i agree from the bottom of my female heart! why is it, that we (females ;) ) get an awkard look, when we talk about pc's, linux and such?
the LUG-meeting i attended in my hometown was the first and the last, i felt so displaced and oh, those looks! noone said anything bad, but the way they looked at me was like "what the heck is she doing here, does she even know, what a shell is?"
i'll be watching out for your posts! :-)

Anonymous said...

Nice post, thank you! And as always, the comments include the same old tired excuses for poor behavior- "aw, they're just nerdy guys! We can't possibly expect them to know any better!" Hey folks, get a clue- manners and courtesy are easy to learn, a lot easier than advanced programming or other stereotype Nerd Pastimes. There are all kinds of books, classes, and oh yeah- actual human women telling you how we like to be treated. Listening to actual human women is your best bet, because there are individual differences. But of course that's wasted, because men don't listen to women, right? :P

Oh, and as to why there are fewer women in tech, and drastically fewer on FOSS- the answers are all around you, but again that would require the impossible task of listening to women.

Carla Schroder, grumpy 50-year old who is very tired of hearing the same dumb excuses over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over

Alejo said...

You are a girl. Because of that, you have special skills that some of us lack: taste and common sense.

For me, the common sense is the most uncommon of all senses.

So yeah, nice post indeed. All i hope is that more people (without any gender distinction) be as open as you are about what they feel. Specially here, in this side of the planet.

Cheers =)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I absolutely love what you have written here. Marry me?


Here's a different perspective, and mind you I consider myself a feminist.You ladies have an advantage that you take for granted so often, and I'll just come out and say it, your sexuality. I know that when I attend social or business functions I feel the need to be witty, intelligent, and charming in all my interactions because frankly I can come off sort of creepy. It's tough to compete with a competent woman, especially when your fat, hairy, and don't smell as good.

Some advice from a male perspective: What type of reaction do you give these "poor social skilled nerds" when they attempt their goofy pick ups? Do you even let them know your offended? Often times women take the socially moral high road as opposed to being perceived as rude. It may be a good idea to respond with a sarcastic joke about how that's such a clever line and then tell them that it's a little off-putting and rude. That's how I respond to rude comments, Right away & off the cuff, but with humor to soften the blow.

Keep the good stuff coming,

ps Carla, I love your work as well. Read tons of your stuff. Think your brilliant. I have an idea, why don't we all three move to Utah?


Karl L. Gechlik said...

Let me start by saying great post! Then let me follow up by saying I work with several women in the IT industry 2 of them are Linux Chicks by their own definitions.

I guess we are a little older and settled into our respective jobs and they have earned the industry's respect. When you are dealing with kids or youngin's they are of course not mature - not even close.

So take it with a grain of salt and know that you can make it to the top of your industry regardless of sex, color, creed or association. Its all about talent and skills (with a helping of politics and networking).

Keep up the great work. Keep posting and keep telling them geeks to go to hell. Or you could always try hitting on them. Everyone know nerds are scared of girls who want to talk to them :)

Go Get Em Mackenzie!

AskTheAdmin.Com Doesn't Discriminate Against The Fairer Sex :)

Jeffrey said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Feel free to append "...for a teenager", but I think you're wise far beyond your years. I worked in a public library for 9 years (one of 5 males out of 65 staff) before moving into IT, so there's some overlap in that experience perhaps. Best wishes with the CS major - w

Anonymous said...

I read the whole article, thought it through, and even if it doesn't fly, I'd still try it just because girls who have interest in computer are so freaken rare.

-CPE college student, CalPoly.

blogger said...

You read too much into a comment on a web page. Don't take such things seriously. What you are actually saying is you like to pickem' not be picked' - most women are like that. but of course if a guy 3 times your age ask you out and he happens to be a dead ringer for Harrison Ford, hum, I wonder... oh forget it, i don't understand women. What a long post about nothin, and man I do hate blogger - took me 3 minutes to find/see the comment link.

Mackenzie said...

It's both offline and online, but regardless of which, it's still inappropriate.

Helen McCall said...

Hello Maco,

#Ubuntu-Women pointed me at this just at the right time. ;-)

I just worte on the channel:

I am still amazed by the attitude of some men towards women in the OpenSource community!
On the OpenShot project where you will find me as the No.2 contributor (see https://launchpad.net/openshot/+topcontributors) we have been having comments like the following:
"In my experience 'human beings' (once again women included) are much more open to try out a new application if it looks appealing than if it looks old or cluttered or unfinished."
I was not aware that we only had conditional inclusion in the Human Race!

I wrote it because some silly sod kept making this specific "inclusion" and I couldn't bring myself to the point of mentioning it until someone anonymous made an angry comment to him.

Best wishes, Helen (wildnfree)