Question for male allies: what was the catalyst for your "ah-ha" moment regarding sexism in tech?

webchick's picture

I've been wondering about this question recently, and thought it might be nice to just ask, and see what types of responses come in.

If you're the type of dude who calls out other dudes when they say sexist things, who supports women when they feel attacked/harrassed because of their gender in a geek setting, and/or who actively encourages women to get into technology, I'd love to know what was the thing that opened your eyes to the problem and take action?

Was it:

  • A particularly insightful/well-written blog post by someone you respect talking about the problem? (and if so, link? :))
  • A presentation at a tech conference on the topic? (and if so, link? :))
  • Witnessing a woman friend/colleague get treated like crap and making a vow to make sure that didn't happen to anyone else?
  • Getting called out by another person for saying something sexist yourself, an experience from which you learned?
  • Becoming the parent of a daughter?
  • Something else entirely?

I'd love to know.


From merlinofchaos on

webchick's picture

From merlinofchaos on Twitter:

seeing others behavior called out, not understanding why it was wrong, and examining my own behavior because of it.

I'd say just being a parent

Dave Reid's picture

I'd say just being a parent in general, not necessarily a daughter. It forced me to really think about how I think, act, and talk around people and what kind of values I want my son to have when he interacts with people: respect, kindness, decency, and forgiveness.

Senior Drupal Developer for Lullabot | | @davereid

long process

cmpalmer's picture

There was no one event, but the end of the beginning of the process for me was a panel discussion on women in technology in 2007 (and my later commitment--and failure--to set up childcare for the organization that had put the panel together). The point where I was solidly convinced that we have a big problem and that I should work harder to fight it was while doing a lot of reading about events at PyCon 2013 and reaction online to those events. During that period between 2007 and 2013 there were personal stories of abuse that multiple people close to me were willing to share with me--after having known these people for years--that really shifted my motivation. I can't share stories that aren't mine, but I can share that each story was incredibly troubling, and I am now (sadly) confident that in most gatherings of even moderate size there will be someone with a similarly troubling story. It behooves us to educate ourselves to the point where those close to us are empowered to tell their stories, and then to work together to prevent more abuse. Sitting on the sidelines is just ceding power to abusers.

From Mitchell Lee / @TheEvilDev on Twitter

webchick's picture

Personally, I push for anyone to get into technology. Boy, girl, Programming is an essential skill I think everyone should know.

From Byron Norris / @bluegriff

webchick's picture

friend said I benefit from white male privilege, finally realized what that truly meant. Accepting that, all of it became clearer

From Gunnar Lundström / @chosig

webchick's picture

comes from my parents. Sexism is bad anywhere, I call out bad behaviour anywhere. It shouldn't be accepted from anyone anywhere.

From Arlen Walker / @Arlen

webchick's picture

My pre-teen daughter won a gift cert at toys r us. 1st in the cart was a solar power kit, 2nd was an erector set. couple of decades later, she mentored the team that won Chairman's Award at last years robotics competition. I knew watching her grow up, that she was going to get her chance to make it, and if I had to knock some heads, I would. Far from perfect now, but doing the best I can.

From Claire Desbois / @Calystod (by proxy)

webchick's picture

(Edited for minor grammar corrections)

For my friends, I think discussions with different women friends they have. Many sexist guys I know don't have a true woman friend. Because they are "friends" with women if they wish have sex with them.

From Miguel Jacq / @_mig5

webchick's picture

(Edited for clarity)

[Simply ingrained as part of my upbringing to value women on the same level as men.] There is nothing specifically 'tech' about it. Not for me anyway, probably because of this point.

From Bryan Ruby / @cmsreport

webchick's picture

(Edited to join the two)

That's easy. Good father and loving mother. [And] Honestly, seeing a woman treat her boyfriend like dirt and recognizing it works both ways. Lack of respect = lack of dignity.

A process

chx's picture

It involved a number of women I respect in the Drupal community but is pivotal (and I have used this comment more than once on checking myself and others).

This is a cross post to the

klausi's picture

This is a cross post to the "ah-ha moment regarding sexism in tech" discussion on

I have never been devalued because of my gender, that's why I was long blind to sexism and feminism. I thought this topic has been solved since 1920 when women were allowed to vote in Austria.

Then I went to the university (computer science, TU Vienna) and came to the students' union. Some sexist incident happened (a professor told a sexist joke or something) and we discussed it. I was pretty new in the group and expected an exchange of opinions how the professor could have really meant it or explanations why this was not sexist at all. Instead, the whole group (men+ and women+) fully acknowledged that this was a sexist incident and merely discussed how it was sexist and what could be done about it. I was stumped - this was so different that I actually had to listen to their well-worded points. I refrained from adding my usual "mansplaining" (applying flawed logic that makes the victim or the victim's reaction invisible) which happens in most other groups when discussing sexism, because I felt the peer pressure of a group that will not accept such derailment. Many people of that group became friends and I explored structural sexism, the patriarchy and feminist resources with their help.

So I realized a couple of things:
* Sexism today is real and I take part in sexist behaviour, although I don't want to and might not be aware of it.
* If I'm called out on sexism I immediately acknowledge that and apologize, even if I don't understand it. Then I try to think and reflect about it. Most of the time there is nothing meaningful left to say, so I resist the urge to defend myself with mansplaining.
* I want women+ to be treated equally, so I'm a feminist. Just saying that out loud helps to identify oneself with the cause. It changed my point of view and my "objectivity", you realize that when you suddenly agree with women+ more often in discussions about gender or sexism.

I wondered whether sexism that devalues men exists on the internet, so there is the Sexismus soup to collect sexism-related stuff. Surprise, surprise: sexism against men virtually does not not exist on the internet.

A recent example of fine mansplaining is codinghorror's "What can men do?" which seems to be plagiarized from Shanley's "What can men do?", which is far superior.

P.S.: + => hi there transgender people, the "+" is for you!
P.P.S: There is still a lot to do to combat sexism at TU Vienna.

Cross-posted from my blog:

From Paul Souders ‏/ @axoplasm

webchick's picture

no aha moment, just a steady realization that I talk too much, listen too little.

From David Smith / ‏@Catfish_Man

webchick's picture

going for a walk at night with female friends and getting "this is nice, I wish we could do this". Not tech-specific though.

From Martin Pilkington ‏/ @pilky

webchick's picture

There wasn't an aha moment, it was more a constant wearing down from all angles. Was also part of a larger mental shift to being able to accept being wrong and change my viewpoint. Though none of that would have happened without women I know and respect talking about how it has affected them.

From Eric Broska / ‏@ericbroska

webchick's picture

there’s no “ah-ha”: we’re just equal, no matter the gender, age, race or whatever.
We’re all people (^^,)

Recognizing self interest

kay_v's picture

My logic as a kid trying to sort through gender norms was probably very flawed, but it has stayed with me. In short: other kids beat me because I wasn't masculine enough. I walked and dressed 'like a queer,' and my interests made me a geek. My father berated me and hit me. I think his self image suffered because I wasn't a jock. My older sister was a tomboy, and the same gender posse (neighborhood kids and my father) also tortured her ceaselessly for not fitting her role.

Neither she nor I escaped sexism, as much as our mother stood up for us. I believe no one escapes it, not as kids or as adults, not the chromosomally xx or the xy. When faced with sexism against women in Drupal, I speak out with a sense of self interest. It will take a focused effort to dismantle the bizarre importance attached to gender in tech.

As for the thing that confirmed sexism is as pervasive in the Drupal community (or in tech) as it was in my junior highschool, I'd say it was seeing a DrupalChix event listed at Chicago DrupalCon. That simple title painted the picture of a group of people defying the sense they were unwelcome.

Not accepting sexism directed at women is to everyone's benefit. Eventually we may just have individuals in tech (as opposed to men, women, transgender in tech). And if we do that, given the strong influence tech now has on mainstream culture, we'll sap some of the vast energy devoted to shaping manly men and womanly women. I barely dare ask whether it's possible our success could lessen the threat of violence people face over notions of gender. In the meantime, we all get a far better work environment if we lose the sexism and unconditionally welcome talent.

When I read this, it was my

richardlampitt's picture

When I read this particular comment, it was my moment of enlightenment:

Men, give it a full read.

[just pretend this is the most epic signature you have ever seen]

From eli_t / ‏@eli_t

webchick's picture

saw a male speaker openly mock a female delegate's breasts over lunch whilst male delegates around laughed like hyenas.

From Awkward Dad™ / ‏@gregtarnoff

webchick's picture

seeing friends that were uncomfortable. As well as having a daughter.

From Bill Fitzgerald / ‏@funnymonkey

webchick's picture

Great question. For me, there's never a single aha moment. I get this wrong, all the time. And I don't think I'll ever be done examining my privilege. As a straight, white, middle class male, I get a lot. That's easy to overlook when I'm in the middle of it. But yeah - I try and check my privilege, and to speak up when I see something that feels wrong. It also helps to remember that my perspective/opinion is never worth more than someone else's lived experience.

Thanks for bringing these over -

bonobo's picture

And I'm sorry I didn't do it myself.

I wrote this back in 2010 - this was definitely one of the points where I felt I needed to speak up:

Seeing the concept of 'booth

Mile23's picture

Seeing the concept of 'booth babes' actually work at MacWorld 2003.

As an aside: I went to this session over the weekend, and the speaker linked to the following, which I've been struggling to absorb:

What I've been struggling

adhoc's picture

What I've been struggling with, is how to help folks get into IT who see themselves as outsiders. I'm a white male than therefore must be "out to exploit them". It goes both ways. Folks on both sides of "the divide" need to have some level of trust to work effectively together.

From Steve S / ‏@SteveSyfuhs

webchick's picture

great question! I think it was getting called out for making inappropriate jokes that I thought were harmless, and over time recognizing my point of view wasn't that of everyone else and also realizing that my understanding of the issue is still fairly limited

From Kevin Althaus ‏@Kevin_Althaus

webchick's picture

Didn't realize I was supposed to have one. Everyone has a brain; it's what that person does with it that matters, not their gender

From Michael Babker / ‏@mbabker

webchick's picture

The minute I started, not because of anything in the tech industry, but being involved with the US military where it's just as bad

From Mor10 / ‏@mor10

webchick's picture

Simple: I was raised in a country where feminism is built into the social fabric and affirmative action is legislated. I didn't realize my attitudes toward equality were unusual until I got involved in tech and got called out for being a feminist.

From Matthew Nuzum / ‏@newz2000

webchick's picture

getting “corrected” when I made a foolishly naïve suggestion on how to make an open source project more inclusive. I found out its more challenging than it seems.

From JOsh Beauregard ‏@sanguisdev

webchick's picture

I'm [from] Northampton MA, the culture there seems to have ingrained in me that there is "prejudice everywhere". there was no Ah-ha.

From nikhil trivedi ‏@nikhiltri

webchick's picture

I’ve had a series of a-ha moments that have developed my feminist perspective over time. The most impactful being when I was 19, someone I love shared with me they were a survivor of rape. When I read what happened at PyCon, I realized how clueless I was about what’s happening in my own tech communities. I committed to support the work people are doing to make conferences and meetups safer for all people.

from Phil Thibault ‏@torvos

webchick's picture

I never really had the moment, my mother was a programmer and I knew to treat and support everyone equally

Working in IT over the last

adhoc's picture

Working in IT over the last twenty years I've worked with plenty of talented ladies; programmers, sysadmins, managers. Was rather recently I'd seen harrasment in action in my workplace. I called out my boss for inappropriate behavior with one of the ladies in my workplace, he then went on to harrass me when she left. Before that it seemed to be a lack of personal skills of both parties. Before it seemed to be to be that folks let this stuff happen to them.

I just wish I had the confidence to do more before. Many of the conferences I've been to in the last five years make a point of inclusiveness and diversity. This helped alot. Seeing other folks you respect step in certinaly helps to give confidence to my quiet inner geek. I call it out where ever I see it now.

Hope that helps.

Accident of Circumstances

Mixologic's picture

My aHa came from content spillover - where as a dev, you end up actually reading some of the content the client is posting to their site.

I started working on (feminist response to pop culture) a few years ago (they're a drupal site), and prior to that I was a bucket full of 'logical mansplaining'. Tone policing, concern trolling, derailing, demanding to be educated - those were all the norm for me until I was exposed to all the content they have there.

It's really been eye opening, and I definitely still have a long way to go before I feel like Im truly an ally, but the first step for me has been to stop personally causing harm first. Been reading a lot of the stuff on as well.

Before Drupalcon last year, a

koppie's picture

Before Drupalcon last year, a prominent female Drupal dev (I can't remember who) commented on the pervasive sexism and harassment she experiences at every Drupalcon, all the way up to inappropriate touching. I had always assumed that an enlightened community like ours would be above such things. Realizing that's not the case was a splash of cold water for me.

Now we have a female intern and I've made an effort to never let her gender be part of the professional relationship. Our workplace is filled with women in both technical and non-technical roles. But beyond that, I'm not sure what I, as a white man, can do.

Women at Drupalcon

joyseeker's picture

I appreciate reading all the comments made here, but this one about Drupalcon I'd like to answer directly. Austin is coming up. Some of the women attendees are integrated into the community and feel comfortable, and I love seeing that! (Webchick, you rock!) But there's some of us women, who maybe work on our own, or choose (or are forced) not to join a company/shop or are newer to Drupal, who aren't integrated in the community. Perhaps in Austin, men, draw women into your group discussions -- and don't talk about mundane things like how nice the city is, talk Drupal. Mostly, all I saw were groups of guys talking Drupal outside the session rooms in Portland last year, and many, many women alone and just uncomfortably waiting for the next session. Guys, if you're sitting next to a woman in a session, talk Drupal with her. Just treat us women as colleagues who are as comfortable with tech as you are, not as a set of physical or age or "differentness" critieria.

And women, it's also up to you to approach the guys, too. At last year's LA Drupal camp, a guy made a comment that related to a Drupal topic I was working through, and I made a point of talking with him after the session to discuss various options on making it function well. It was amazing, positive and so helpful. Yes, perhaps it was just because the guy I approached was open to the discussion, but I learned how to approach someone comfortably, and it's a skill I'll use again and again.

Thanks so much, all!

webchick's picture

Really appreciate your answers to this question. I find we do a lot of speculation about this but it's nice to have some (small, non-scientific) data behind it. :)

Here is my summary of the overall trends as I read them (sorry that I'm grossly simplifying in some cases for the sake of conciseness):

  • For some subset of men, equality is effectively part of their "core DNA." They were raised in an environment (e.g. the family or country they were raised in) where equality was valued, so there was no "ah-ha" moment for them at all. They innately understand sexism and privilege and things like this exist and that they need to be fought against, so they just do that, because it's all they've ever known to do about such things.
  • For another subset of men, the issue doesn't really get highlighted for them until they are personally touched by it in some way. This can be by having a child and thinking about the broader values that they want to install in their young one, having a personal anecdote about sexism shared by a woman friend/colleague, or being on the receiving end of discrimination themselves, which enables them to then empathize with others who are also in that situation.
  • For still others, it gets brought to their attention sort of third-hand, often through a major kerfuffle around a particularly egregious example of sexism. They see someone else getting called out and wonder what on earth that's about, then look into it and learn and try and better themselves.

I find this breakdown interesting, and hope it might be useful in formulating strategies for how to bring "the other 50%" of people affected by sexism around.