Wednesday, October 01, 2014

This is what sexism looks like

[Note to readers: sick and tired of it all, I am going to report these "incidents" publicly because I just can't hack it anymore.]

I was in a meeting yesterday about RDF and application profiles, in which I made some comments, and was told by the co-chair: "we don't have time for that now", and the meeting went on.

Today, a man who was not in the meeting but who listened to the audio sent an email that said:
"I agree with Karen, if I correctly understood her point, that this is "dangerous territory".  On the call, that discussion was postponed for a later date, but I look forward to having that discussion as soon as possible because I think it is fundamental."
And he went on to talk about the issue, how important it is, and at one point referred to it as "The requirement is that a constraint language not replace (or "hijack") the original semantics of properties used in the data."

The co-chair (I am the other co-chair, although reconsidering, as you may imagine) replied:
"The requirement of not hijacking existing formal specification languages for expressing constraints that rely on different semantics has not been raised yet."
"Has not been raised?!" The email quoting me stated that I had raised it the very day before. But an important issue is "not raised" until a man brings it up. This in spite of the fact that the email quoting me made it clear that my statement during the meeting had indeed raised this issue.

Later, this co-chair posted a link to a W3C document in an email to me (on list) and stated:
"I'm going on holidays so won't have time to explain you, but I could, in theory (I've been trained to understand that formal stuff, a while ago)"
That is so f*cking condescending. This happened after I quoted from W3C documents to support my argument, and I believe I had a good point.

So, in case you haven't experienced it, or haven't recognized it happening around you, this is what sexism looks like. It looks like dismissing what women say, but taking the same argument seriously if a man says it, and it looks like purposely demeaning a woman by suggesting that she can't understand things without the help of a man.

I can't tell you how many times I have been subjected to this kind of behavior, and I'm sure that some of you know how weary I am of not being treated as an equal no matter how equal I really am.

Quiet no more, friends. Quiet no more.

(I want to thank everyone who has given me support and acknowledgment, either publicly or privately. It makes a huge difference.) 

Some links about "'Splaining"


Anonymous said...

Karen I have read your blog, and now I understand our private discussion.

On the 'not previously raised': as said in a later mail, when we have a requirement system such as the one we have, to me something has not been raised until it's recorded in the system. The fact that it's a man or a woman doesn't count. Others had approved the issue orally during the call or even by email, and that includes men, no? Note that I wrote my sentence refusing the 'raised' status in the face of a man who had just 'raised' the issue too. It's about someone pushing a button in the system. That's my way of trying to keep track of things, especially when they are important. Yes it's rigid.

On the timing issue, yes I was blunt, and this is something I still would do. If I had not done it, we would have been even more late in the call, and we wouldn't have discussed an important item. Failing on progressing on it wouldn't have been good for the group before an important milestone. And really unfair for the group members who have put a lot of work in it and are always given a late slot in the agenda - my fault certainly. I apologize for not making it clearer during the call. I just realized too late, how little time we had left. Call it bad chairing, but not sexism.

By the way I remind clearly that you were already expressing such complains about women and technology at the times of RDF shapes discussion. Have I expressed any doubt about the relevance of what you could tell that group then? I could have tried if I didn't trust you, as you were at the time introducing our work to come, and and I don't remember you've said something shameful in the latter days...

Actually I could also point at all other instances where I have bossed others, in the group or elsewhere. I can imagine I was not diplomat expressed my unhappiness about a male group member having ignored the changed example I had sent. Was it sexist?

Also wondering, what would you have said, if I was the one writing some sentences from the email you wrote pointing to your work and rectifying what another member of the group has written? For me it is justified, and actually quite well done. But the recipient may feel a bit bossed. As I felt bossed when you dismissed my references to work that I believe to be important for the community, mentioning they were very old (thus hinting that I don't recognize that the field may have evolved since then).

Coming back to my case: I also made a comment about another member of the group being able to understand some hard-to-understand requirements after coming back to them a second time. I guess one could interpret that as being condescending as well. And sexist because she's a woman. Do you really think it was?

I am sorry this mail is very long and confused. In fact what you have written hurts me, probably as much as what I've said hurt you in a way I was far from imagining. I know you will probably think 'poor thing' but well that's just the way I feel.

Your co-chair, hoping to remain so. For all kind of reasons including the one that usually make you stand up and write posts like this when something is wrong. And I reckon some things are wrong with my style. But I believe it's not the one you are complaining about.

Karen Coyle said...

I stand by what I have said.

Laura Krier said...

I have absolutely experienced what you're describing here, and I'm sure every woman who reads this post has experienced it, too. I've also experienced the men in question try to defend themselves instead of acknowledging how their behavior comes across and how it makes women feel. Privilege in action.

Aruki Sumaho said...

Stay strong, Karen. Obviously this co-chair of yours is a real piece of work.
(Anyone who's ever heard the term "man-splaining" and wondered what it is: Anonymous' comment is a primo example.)

Anonymous said...

So what if the conversation was advanced after someone who happened to be male restated what you said? How do you know it was because of your gender differences, and not some other differences? Like race, for example. Maybe the guy is actually racist, not sexist. My point is, the argument you've made here is pretty thin and you should be careful about making serious accusations.

Karen Coyle said...

Dear anonymous - If claiming that someone is biased is "too serious an allegation" to ever be made, then women, people of color, and minorities should never speak out.

I refuse that argument -- for a number of reasons, but in great part because you think you can tell me what I can say about my own experience. You cannot. I will continue to speak out. I have a voice.

p.s. You would make your case more strongly if it weren't done anonymously.

Diane Hillmann said...

Karen, I read that exchange on the list and had the same reaction you did. The comments by 'anonymous' seem to assert that if he didn't mean it to be sexist, then it can't be. Hmmm, where have we heard that before? I think there are a few other '-isms' mixed in here, including ageism, the arrogance of those with advanced degrees towards those who don't have them (and whose degrees were awarded in the dark ages, see ageism), etc.

And really, if I had a nickel for every time I'd been accused of being 'bossy', I'd be a rich woman by now. So, of course, would you be ... :)


Karen Coyle said...

Addendum: To all who say that women should "go through channels" rather than speaking out publicly, this organization does not have channels, (and no CoC) but I did reach out both before and after this post to senior members. The responses that I got were (paraphrased):
1) "I don't see it, so I have nothing to say"
2) "You went too far"
3) "You've hurt his feelings" (he's now the "victim" - but no one has even asked about my feelings)
4) "You just have to figure out what to do to fix it."

I have a bit of work to finish, then, hasta la vista.

Unknown said...

I think that this was very well said.

It is the "smaller cuts" like this that others not being relegated to the unheard don't see or acknowledge that make this an insidious problem.

I love it how the guy is now a victim.

An exhausting constant issue, this. And it's not up to women to fix. Though not sure the solution.

Young Lady Metadata Maker said...

Thank you for being brave, open, and honest about your experience of sexism in our techie corner of the library profession.

This recently happened to me too. I serve on a committee with mostly women, but it's chaired by a man. Our ideas where completely ignored and even chided as unnecessary, until we hired a outside (male) consultant who recommended the same ideas! Then they were supported by the (male) chair.

This is how institutional cultural sexism works. It's so ingrained in our society to not hear or see women as equal voices that our ideas are dismissed. We're still fighting sexism even in this profession that is dominated by women. And don't even get me started on how our profession is mostly comprised of women, men still earn more and are more likely to be at the top.