Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is Porn Better Than Tech?

Here is a ringing endorsement of a profession:
While it's true that paying my tuition at Duke was my initial motivation for entering the porn industry, I've grown to appreciate the empowerment opportunities that sex work has provided me. In porn, I can speak openly about my experiences without fear of punishment, work in a safe and professional environment and play a vital role in the creative process.

It is one of many articles written by "Belle Knox". Belle Knox is the stage name of a woman famous for being outed as a porn star by other students at Duke University. Of course, outing porn stars or sex workers is not an ethical thing to do - no question about that.

Knox deserves credit for rather eloquently explaining her opinion and backing it up with facts. It is true there are no fixes to be found in the "Swedish model"/"Nordic model". There is much evidence that points to legalization and regulation as being the most rational way forward. This is especially true as a true ban is unworkable.

Knox's choice of work during her college years also provokes healthy debate about student debt and the coercive nature of meeting financial armageddon without being certain of lucrative full time employment in the near future.

Most interestingly, commentary about Knox is the best example of why people today find feminism so confusing. The juxtaposition of Knox's statements and other self-identified feminists on the subject of pornography is already the basis of heated disagreement. When we add what feminism has to say about women at the workplace in general, the situation becomes rather incomprehensible.

The inarguable truth is that feminism is not a monolith that controls use of the f-word. Applying the "feminist" label does not tell one anything about any specific view of pornography's role in society. And to be certain, pornography is not a one-film-fits-all scenario. Many people would find a lot of Knox's work quite troubling. Put quite lightly, Knox may feel empowered but the character she plays does not always communicate a sense of control and enthusiasm.

That work is deemed empowering is not sufficient to protect the role for this purpose. It may be empowering to run a drug cartel, operate a casino or to lead a decent sized cult. More adequate arguments in favor of pornography and sex work is the positive effects of what the effort generates.

Sex workers will continue to describe their work as fulfilling as any other - as they must deal with an onslaught of social conservative criticism. The critics of sex work tirelessly promote the assumption that everyone in the industry is psychologically broken and being exploited in ways unique to sex work. One side imagines a world where sex work is no worse than a number of other professions, the other believes it is forever doomed to be victimizing the vulnerable.

With this backdrop, we have the mystery of why women are not a larger part of the tech industry - engineering and computer science standing out as the most unbalanced.

While tech is excluding, porn is empowering. Tech is toxic, porn is crushing Victorian taboos. Tech is patriarchy, porn is a creative process. Conferences are triggering, cabarets are sex positive.

Everything from sex work to burqas is said by some to be a form of expression. Women will wrestle sex work from pimps and seize the one true progressive Islam from conservative clerics - all the population at large need to do is stop the phobias and listen to women. At the same time, certain simple b-words are creating massive barriers that are keeping womenfolk from the business world.

It's definitely not the same groups tackling all these subjects at once. Each form of self-branded feminism is being especially vocal about the women's issue they care about. Sex work will not stop being undeservedly lauded and tech will not stop being unfairly smeared until certain related goals are met.

Is porn better than tech? Given that a lot of things that may be deemed pornographic drives a lot of adoption in "tech" services and startups, internet companies find themselves "broken" due to butts, and the influence porn already has on devices and formats, it is probably the wrong question.

Perhaps the tech industry is already the pornography business.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Take the kid gloves off

Women + careers = not where it needs to be.

But not necessarily for the reasons one may believe - or intuitively suspect.

Harvard Business Review published an article titled "Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women".

The article is a bit all over the place - but the subject matter is complicated and it's not a crime to overcommunicate.

Some interesting snippets:

Even for HBS women who are currently out of the workforce to care for children, “opting out” is not an accurate description of their experience. Our survey data and other research suggest that when high-achieving, highly educated professional women leave their jobs after becoming mothers, only a small number do so because they prefer to devote themselves exclusively to motherhood; the vast majority leave reluctantly and as a last resort, because they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with dim prospects for advancement. The message that they are no longer considered “players” is communicated in various, sometimes subtle ways: They may have been stigmatized for taking advantage of flex options or reduced schedules, passed over for high-profile assignments, or removed from projects they once led. One alumna, now in her late fifties, recalled, “I left my first job after being ‘mommy-tracked’ when I came back from maternity leave.”
More than half the men in Generation X and the Baby Boom said that when they left HBS, they expected that their careers would take priority over their spouses’ or partners’. The vast majority (83%) of the graduates in these generations reported being married, and because we don’t have reliable data on sexual orientation, we assume that their partners are of the opposite sex. Thus we call this expectation “traditional,” to denote an arrangement whereby the man’s career takes precedence over the woman’s. Notably, this expectation was less prevalent among men of color than among white men. Forty-eight percent of the former—compared with 39% of white men—anticipated that their spouses’ careers would be of equal importance. Meanwhile, the vast majority of women across racial groups and generations anticipated that their careers would rank equally with those of their partners. (Only 7% of Gen X and 3% of Baby Boom women, and even fewer of their male counterparts, expected that the woman’s career would take priority over the man’s—an arrangement we call “progressive.”)
Most graduates went on to lead fairly traditional lives on this score. Close to three-quarters of Gen X and Baby Boom men reported that their careers had indeed taken precedence—more than had originally expected this arrangement. Meanwhile, many women’s expectations for career equality were disappointed. Though majorities of Gen X and Baby Boom women reported that they were in egalitarian or progressive partnerships, the remainder found that their careers took lower priority. That figure—40%—is almost double the proportion who left HBS expecting a traditional arrangement. This outcome varied significantly among racial groups, with black women being the least likely to end up with a partner whose career took precedence.
Ultimately, more-traditional arrangements did win out. Healthy majorities of Gen X and Baby Boom women took responsibility for most of the child care in their families. Even higher percentages of Gen X and Baby Boom men reported having spouses who did so. Black men and women were the least likely to have a traditional arrangement; their numbers were lower by roughly 15 to 20 percentage points.

The good news is a decent percentage of all genders come out of business school expecting to be in an equal partnership as far as careers are concerned. The bad news is that more couples end up in a "traditional" arrangement they were not planning on and that result has different impacts on the well-being of each partner.

Things need fixing. And everyone may be approaching the problem in the wrong way.

What is the typical assumption when it comes to women in the workplace?

The usual scenario plays out in many people's minds:
  1. Woman finishes degree
  2. Woman lands great job
  3. Woman has a child
  4. Woman experiences a fundamental work-life balance problem due to childcare concerns
  5. Woman decides to quit as her husband's career has eclipsed her own
  6. Woman either works only part time or is a full-time homemaker 
The "solution" to this problem is a long list of proposed accommodations. One classic example is longer maternity leave, which may only widen the wage gap. Changing schedules, childcare benefits, etc. Companies need to be more flexible, it is often said.

In reality, some evidence suggests the following scenario is what is really happening:
  1. Woman finishes degree
  2. Woman lands great job
  3. Woman has a child
  4. Woman witnesses responsibilities slowly erode at work 
  5. Colleagues shield the "working mother" from having to know what is going on
  6. Woman finds not much to speak about during annual review
  7. Woman is bored or feels undervalued
  8. Woman leaves to find other opportunities
  9. Woman may ultimately quit work altogether as other workplaces prove to be similarly dysfunctional

It is that women at the workplace are often thought to be preparing for or recovering from motherhood.

At the same time, men's time is thought to be cheap - the only thing a man is assumed to be nursing is a hangover. Tasking a man with more work is not thought to be homewrecking. Piling work on men is perhaps thought to be giving them an opportunity to display their macho work ethic while overtime for women is assumed to be killing the development of the next generation.

The remedy is to not give women more slack at the office. The solution would be to push men out of the office (literally if needed) with the expectation that they have some sacrifices to make in home as well. 

Businesses do not need "flexibility" as much as they need rigid and consistent expectations for everyone. Parental leave should be fixed lengths and be absolutely mandatory for all genders. Call it a "mandatory minimum sentence" if one so desires.

Another change to be made is to make uniform expectations based on age and family status - no more overtime based on age or whether or not one has children. Employees should feel absolutely comfortable with leaving work at a sane time with nothing more substantial to do than work through a Netflix queue. Certain groups being more likely to work nights and weekends on a project can be viewed as an impediment to productive, sustainable teamwork and employee growth.

Some of this is purely fantasy as there is little reason for companies to participate in social experiments that they cannot easily measure. Without a simple number to track and correlate to revenue, the result a lot of wishy-washy statements about a healthy "culture" that an organization could simply continue lying about. If the corporate world is good at anything, it is lying about how awesome work environments are.

The simple fix short of the ideal is to stop putting women on the "mommy track". Heap responsibilities on them. What is important is to not manage women into a protective bubble, as if they are weaklings that will quit industry at the slightest provocation. Take the kid gloves off, and all will be well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holy Halo ShirtStorm

Shirts are kind of a big deal.

At least, that's what we've learned in the past few months. For those unaware, there has been this drama raging on Twitter known as "#GamerGate". It might still be going on - stating whether #GamerGate is alive or dead in itself creates even more drama, so let's refrain from reporting status.

Now, Felicia Day. Felicia Day is a relatively famous person - a famous person that both is popular in gaming circles and self-identifies as a gamer. Naturally, Day would be asked or feel compelled to share her opinions about something that relates to gaming.

Day shared her thoughts in a Tumblr post "The Only Thing I Have To Say About Gamer Gate"

The post contains an interesting story:

I had a day off this weekend from shooting Supernatural, and I was walking around downtown Vancouver on Saturday, sampling all the artisan coffee I could get my throat around. At one point I saw a pair of guys walking towards me wearing gamer shirts. Black short-sleeved, one Halo and one Call of Duty.
Now in my life up until this point, that kind of outfit has meant one thing: Potential comrades. I love games, I love gaming. [...]
So seeing another gamer on the street used to be an auto-smile opportunity, or an entry into a conversation starting with, “Hey, dude! I love that game too!” [...]
But for the first time maybe in my life, on that Saturday afternoon, I walked towards that pair of gamers and I didn’t smile. I didn’t say hello. In fact, I crossed the street so I wouldn’t walk by them. Because after all the years of gamer love and inclusiveness, something had changed in me. A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that those guys and I might not be comrades after all. That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.
I went home and was totally, utterly depressed.
I have not said many public things about Gamer Gate. I have tried to leave it alone, aside from a few @ replies on Twitter that journalists have decided to use in their articles, siding me against the hashtag. Why have I remained mostly silent?
Self-protection and fear.
I have been terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline. I did one simple @ reply to one of the main victims several weeks back, and got a flood of things I simply couldn’t stand to read directed at me. I had to log offline for a few days until it went away. I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words “Gamer Gate”.
I know this entry will probably draw contempt from people in the Gamer Gate movement. Something to scorn, something to rile them up against me and everything I’ve ever made. Especially, and most hurtfully, to mock my vulnerability. I just have one thing to say to you who do that: I’m genuinely sorry you are so angry.

In short, Felicia Day states that she has been afraid of saying something about GamerGate because she's afraid of having her details published on the internet.

Allegedly the response to this Tumblr post - either from GamerGaters, stalkers, trolls or all of the above - was predictably that Day's details were published on the internet.

If there is anything the internet is good at, it's making one's worst fears come true -- especially if one outlines them in detail and then calls out a particular type of person for having a special relationship to these terrible actions.

Like calling a friend a grouch, some things can tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Clearly voiced low expectations have a habit of becoming reality.

Day's comments were not the most shortsighted however, as Chris Kluwe ran in to make this comment:

Many be wondering - who is Chris Kluwe?

Chris Kluwe is a former kicker for the Minnesota Vikings. Kluwe is a person that thinks of himself as a hero philanthropist for gay rights and social justice. However, like many other self-described "social justice" types in Minnesota, he is also fond of rape jokes. Further, when he is not calling people "window lickers", he is fat shaming.

Kluwe is literally a locker room jock that feels good as he calls people "fatso" as he thinks he has done the world a favor from refraining from calling them "faggot". Kluwe is truly a modern hero for equality and everyone apparently owes him a debt of gratitude.

Let's not overanalyze Kluwe's past statements. Let's dive into what is stupid about his current statements in regards to treatment of Felicia Day.

For context, take a moment and look at what the depths of immoral trolling can look like:

The police rolls in, under the assumption that the victim is armed and dangerous. How this situation can quickly go very wrong need not be explained. Presumably some depraved individual thinks this is a hilarious joke.

The treatment is not limited to people that are livestreaming. Apparently this sort of thing happens to celebrities quite regularly, and it is intentionally underreported as to avoid copycat crimes.

When it is so easy to spread immensely damaging false information, white knights like Chris Kluwe (or anyone) trying to make themselves a datapoint ("The trolls never touch me!") is profoundly stupid.

Getting back to shirts, it turns out that ESA's mission to a comet caused some drama when a contributor to the mission wore a shirt covered in drawings of scantily clad women. He apparently wore this shirt to feature the work of a woman friend of his. And another reason may have been that his casual friday Cannibal Corpse shirt (as featured in this YouTube video) was in the wash.

It's not clear what exactly this shirt means for women. It could be an ultimate socially liberal "sex-positive" expression of Buffy-like "strong women" seeking to break free from a stuffy and proper lab coat world. On the other hand, it could be another example of sick objectification that is keeping women out of tech.

Whatever the shirt means, Twitter has made up its mind about the wearer:

The problem, of course, is not so much the shirt itself - it is that a man, Matt Taylor, chose to wear it.

The reality is that women themselves can choose to dress in a burqa or as Barbarella and the most feminist mode of thought is to question neither decision. As an example, school dress codes are thought by some to be a form of "slut shaming":

While school dress codes are nothing new, experts in adolescent behavior warn that the current practice of enforcing them with humiliating, public punishments may be sending the wrong message to students by encouraging the objectification of young women in a hypersexualized society.

It's absolutely wrong to put girls in a neon colored hijab-of-shame for violating code. Yet it's also strange that sending a girl home for wearing a bikini to class could possibly be interpreted by some keyboard culture warrior as condoning a hypersexualized society instead of limiting one.

Others are actually saying dress codes promote a rape culture:

The superintendent of the Anglophone West School District is defending the dress code that's in place at Fredericton High School amid accusations that the policy promotes “rape culture.”
The group says the dress code promotes a rape culture by blaming female victims for attracting male aggression.

The absolutely ridiculous assumption within this is that the primary basis for a dress code is to prevent bad behavior from men. Apparently dress codes really do not have any practical purposes (long gowns tend to increase fire mortality rates) or overall social effects (women feeling less social pressure to submit to trend norms).

Another comedic consequence of this reasoning is ignoring how sexualized conforming to dress codes can be - did we somehow forget that some fetishize uniforms?

Further, men are part of the dress code equation. Somehow, it would seem that schools banning young men from wearing a macho garment perversely known as a "wife beater" is a move that may support women. Adding to the confusion are the choices made by men-only spaces that choose to regulate attire without outside input.

The result of all this drama is a lot of no-win scenarios. What kind of persuasive argument about anything may be made?

Men talking up risk in the face of "muslim garb", opponents within the church or the prospect of ISIS at the border are easily cast aside as hyperventilating conservative loons.

Meanwhile in the lets-talk-everything-out parallel universe, beautiful women are telling stories that run the gamut. We have irrational fears and behaviors, such as crossing the street to avoid the misogynist terrorist in the Halo shirt. We have extreme leaps to condescending conclusions such as the idea that pinups rendered in cotton on the chest of a previously unknown scientist is forcing women into majoring in art history - staying there until the dark day when a professor will choose to get a Matisse tattoo.  Finally, antiquated high school strict dress codes are supposedly promoting a culture of rape and victim blaming.

The humor in all this is that aside from a small core group of people, the response from most people to internet drama is a mix of impatience and bewilderment. "Social justice" and "progress" by the day looks more reactive, angry, and ill-planned.

The true mystery is somewhat of a chicken and egg dilemma. What came first, the view that internet activists are useless or the view that left politics is ineffectual? Even the youth vote may be swinging right - could the irrelevance of Twitter drama be a factor?

The discussion of shirts needs to stop. We need to talk about the real menace.

People wearing pajamas to the supermarket.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Women in tech: Woman Up!

A lot of energy is spent thinking about the problem of "women in tech". Sometimes the problem is described as "women in science", "women in math" or "women in STEM". But the problem is the same.

The problem is that women are underrepresented in the science and technology fields. Both in academia and in industry.

Gender ratio in itself is not sufficient to make the situation a problem. Gender imbalance within one sector or another is nothing new - what makes tech special? ("Tech" from now on an umbrella term for science, math, STEM, etc)

Tech is special because of what it controls. Tech obviously controls the capabilities it allows - for example, having a math background tends to make one rather decent at calculations. But tech controls a few things that are arguably more important - a great deal of money and power, and something that may accurately be described as "the future".

Let's take a look at the subject from several different perspectives.

Baby based bets

At a very young age, boys and girls are nudged into specific roles. This may occur via very direct manipulations of a child's environment - what toys they are given, what sports or other activities they are sent to on a regular basis.

Often the nudges are not so clear. It is simply the child being a witness to how each parent behaves around one another and their peers. Additionally it is responses the child receives when the child expresses interest in a particular role.

An interesting thing happens to the "macho man" roles - firefighter, astronaut, policeman, soldier, lumberjack, carpenter, etc. As the boy matures, they soon disappear as realistic options. They are not seen as serious considerations as the roles either are not a "career" or they are high risk for little pay. Life as a soldier, for example, typically never leaves the boundaries of a video game console.

In certain "bro" circles, it's quite clear how the career path for men is focused. A gigantic pay stub is in many ways preferable to a gigantic phallus, as it has more practical purposes and its existence is easily proven in a socially acceptable manner.

Do roles for women face the same social pressures?

Campus provides evidence to show how women may not be facing the same questions.

It appears where men are asked : "Where is the money in that?", women face : "How would that align with being a mother? How is this consistent with attracting a mate?"

Women make up the majority of people with bachelor's degrees, by a wide margin - 60% of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders. This is important to note, as having a degree is strongly correlated with the possibility of a career in tech fields. It isn't impossible to be the dropout that goes on to shake the foundations of the tech world, but it is not a very likely scenario.

While women need a degree for a future in tech, perhaps the problem is that too many are choosing to get "a degree". On campus there are some vocation-oriented programs that are filled with women - nursing and education come to mind - but there are just as many departments that are the embodiment of the first-world privilege of studying whatever you find mildly interesting.

Nearly all degrees are disconnected from the "real world" of accomplishing tasks for money. But it is unfortunately not the tech field that is entirely divorced from caring what major a student chooses - in fact the choice often solidifies whether or not an individual will ever enter the tech field.

The women that dismiss tech - choosing nursing, education, "a degree" - are avoiding something undesirable about the tech sector. For the purposes of this discussion, let's avoid the rabbit hole of personal preference - that is, let's assume that women aren't avoiding tech because they "simply don't enjoy it".

What are the negatives of tech?

Perhaps the "feminist" critics are correct when they say women avoid tech as it is something nearing a misogynist boy's club.

On the other hand, maybe tech is a future that is not viewed as stable. Not seen as consistent with motherhood or work-life balance. The tech track is immediately a more expensive upfront investment, both in tuition money and time, that may not pay off if the woman later finds herself merely hoping for supplementary income with reasonable hours.

The question often asked is "Why are there so few women in tech?" when instead it may be "Why are there so many women in the humanities?".

Who is going to challenge the legion of women making arguably unfeminist choices?

It's a clash of feminisms - is it less feminist to challenge the choices of a young woman or less feminist to choose to avoid a high powered career track in the first place?

Those in the business of blasting tech as a misogynist marsh would say that we need not be too bothered with nudging women into tech is the real crisis is that they drop out of the sector in later life. The usual suspects are to blame - in short, women are lonely figures within tech that simply do not receive the support that men take for granted.

To some extent this must be true, but at some point the idea that someone spends over a decade to eventually be undone by gender politics is to deny that women are unique.

A woman in her late thirties, having put in a massive amount of time and energy into creating a few new humans, may have the "problem" of having a mediocre career in comparison to her husband. The idea that at this crossroads in her life the sexual harassment simply becomes too much to handle is an insult both genders from several different perspectives.

Leaving tech at this moment is not questioned. Unless, of course, you're a man. Despite some leaps forward, a dad relaxed about his career is still an endangered species. For as much as women lack an understanding support network in tech, men lack one if they choose a role in the home.

Yet the departure of the woman from the tech industry nonetheless becomes another datapoint in the sea of bogus statistics that drown any sort of critical thinking on this subject. A symptom of a conclusion everyone has already arrived at. Tech is "toxic".

Some people have it worse, and this matters

It is quite simple to derail discussions by stating "others have it worse".

It often comes up in discussions about feminism. It is quite clear that the concerns of women in wealthy nations are not as life and death as the challenges faced by women living in developing countries. A woman living in relative comfort in a "progressive" city with a complaint about treatment in the workplace can be trolled by a comparison to the daily life of a woman living in an extremely conservative culture.

Sometimes the comparison has some merit as many people are guilty of exaggerating the crimes of their neighbors - especially when discussing events flippantly shared online. However many times the comparison is merely a distraction from the topic.

In the case of women in tech, the wider context of women's career choices is fair game. It is not a derailment to consider what women are choosing if not tech and what the workplace looks like outside the tech sector. If women think tech is a bad fit, what do they find is a better fit?

To be clear, the workplace is a terrible place.

Consider the workday of a nurse working with a critical ill patient that chooses to verbally abuse her. Imagine staffing a retail outlet completely alone and facing the risk of being violently assaulted for the cash in the register. (Trigger warning: Very upsetting content, no matter who you are)

The jobs many women find themselves in. Waitress, Barista, Bartender, Chef. Lawyer, Paralegal. Receptionist, Office Admin, Analyst, Trader, Realtor, Saleswoman.

It's a lot of roles that do not sound like a cakewalk, and we have not even started listing the roles people often assume to be especially problematic. Think singing, modelling, stripping - and so on.

In this world, someone has the cojones to write a miles-long essay about how women do not join the tech sector for fear of the suffocating misogyny. Can this be serious?

Behavior more condescending to women than believing they crumble when challenged by a few "brogrammers" is witnessed when the brogrammers themselves wholeheartedly throw their weight behind this patriarchal mollycoddling.

The avalanche of concern typically begins when a woman voices an opinion about the tech industry. Say, for example, what jokes are appropriate in a conference setting. Men of all kinds will line up to get their ally cookie and defend what is now the "feminist" opinion against a backlash of "misogynist" criticism.

In a sense, the "true feminist" opinion is voiced first by the woman that is hurt the most.

It's not feminism. It's not critical thinking. It's just defeatist identity politics. It's victimhood.

The missing link for those that cast tech as sexist is documentation of a considerable population of homo sapiens that chose to leave tech to find a similar role elsewhere to escape the "toxic" environment. Real comparables are hard to come by.

Choosing to become a stay-at-home mother, self-employed writer, painter, musician is not necessarily an indictment of the tech sector. It definitely says something about work at modern corporations, but there is little to say specifically about science and engineering.

Someone needs to leave engineering at Oracle to join a similar corporate behemoth in another sector - for example, a bank, an insurance company, a retail giant. Also sufficient would be someone dropping from their startup to be a middle manager in the tourism industry. A position that is not conceivably one's "dream" or a widely appreciated trek through life would be an apples-to-apples comparison of how women are actually treated in the workplace.

Until that day, it may be assumed that many valid criticisms of tech are often broadly applicable - which means things are actually worse than they may seem when criticism is wound up within a community of bloggers focused in their own business.

This does not excuse tech, but it changes how we may communicate tech to youth thinking about investing a good part of a decade for just the chance to be gainfully employed in a tech job.

Instead of giving the young women the idea that working in tech will make them a warrior princess fighting the old boys club, tell them that they will rarely have to deal with any random sexist customer - people in retail or business have to deal with that.

A long standing icon of women in the workplace has been "Rosie the Riveter". Rosie is an image burned into our consciousness like any other example of war propaganda, but the appeal of Rosie goes beyond simple wartime patriotism.

What's not to like about Rosie's role? Independence, clear definition of success, building tangible goods, fair compensation, a critically important product and a work environment absolutely free of politics. Now, all these assumptions can be said to be the product of a vivid imagination (a lot of wartime jobs were not so rosy)  -- it is simply what most reasonable people would hope for Rosie.

"Rosie the Riveter" is a role that was always an unrealistic fantasy for the vast majority of women -- the key question is, what is our ideal picture of a rewarding and respectful career inclusive of women? What role today is closest to building that goal?

In the big picture, tech is not perfect -- but given certain criteria, say a Bechdel-like test for the workplace, it may win.

Ban the humanities

Issues concerned with women in tech need data. Numbers can easily demonstrate a gender gap. The gender gap within tech fields is largely contained within engineering and computer science. It turns out that women are not even close to equal representation within computer science classes.

... in the United States.

Yes, it also turns out that all analyses of this gender gap are incredibly narrow and focused on western nations. The fact is that women are generally winning education in developed nations. Women easily make up over half of the population enrolled in colleges and universities at any given time in several countries. And this has been the case for decades.

On any campus today, it may be accurate to suggest that there is perhaps one faculty that is not majority women. There are many theories as to the causes of this crisis - one is that the eighties was a decade worse than we previously imagined.

More interesting is that there is an entire world of data waiting to be explored and explained. If rich countries are keeping women from tech, how awful must all the unenlightened nations be when judged by this measure? It must be a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions - there must be a charity dinner organized for this as soon as possible. Right?

In this case, the intuition of many would be wrong. Women make up 70% of science and engineering students in Iran . India also has a higher percentage of women in engineering than the United States. Pakistan has low enrollment of women in engineering, however women make up 80% of medical students - completely inverting the gender ratio in that discipline in a few short years.  Such a figure is unmatched in the United States, where women do not make up even half of applicants to medical school. Compared to gender ratios in science in many countries, the United States and the UK lose out to countries like Turkey and Estonia.

The data indicates that something may be wonderfully warped in the wild wild west. Women are thought to have more money and freedom to do what they want. How could they find tech less accessible?

Perhaps the problem is not actually accessibility - it could be that the problem is choice. It may be no coincidence that in many countries that crush the United States in women's engagement in technology schools also have limited options in the arts and humanities.

It's a straightforward explanation - as hard as it is to be an earning novelist, polemicist, actress or poet, it must be doubly so when not supported by having a language as popular as English as a first language and some generational wealth in the bank. One does not absolutely need wealthy western societies to function as consumers of one's foray into the free expression of singing, dancing, acting and writing, but it definitely does not hurt.

Tech grants people globally transferable skills. Tech is also desired by even the most retrograde cultures and governments. Strangely enough, there are places that allow some women to study engineering but prohibit them from driving themselves to class.

It is the kindest explanation to Americans, typically number #1 in everything, as to why they are not miles ahead in the metric of gender ratio in tech related degree programs. It is also the easiest to explain to individuals, as to suggest to a person that the reason that they are in their career path is that they were manipulated out of the tech sector by being a puppet to patriarchy is not a great way to make friends.

It even may be a demonstration of what some might brand a "white privilege". In that it is ultimately a privilege to have the ability to spend money and several years of one's life studying only the most abstract and individually focused subjects.

The reason that people dislike this explanation of the "women in tech problem" is that it is assumed that this gives the status quo a free pass and that there is not anything gendered in our approach to life paths. The message of many is that men like engineering, women like the arts - and everyone should do what they enjoy, right? So be it.

However if women are finding other things to do on campus, we can wonder why men are not similarly distracted. Colleges and universities should probably not be places where one group of people find sacrificial study while another finds lucrative vocations. It is simply false to assume that university is made up of rational actors following their passions. University is a mass of young people making crucial decisions based on incomplete information about roles, the world at large and even what their desires and skills are.

There is not a simple fix, especially when it's a debate when even suggesting how how broken things are. But it is also not clear that we must be in a constant state of despair about where we are at today.

 Kicking out the meritocracy of creeps

While tech may be better than most, it is clear that tech does need to change.

Among all the criticisms of tech coming from feminist and "feminist" sources, probably the strangest one to digest is the criticism of a "meritocracy". It just also happens to be the best critique, as it wonderfully illustrates some of the reasons tech can be an awful profession or field of study.

As one example of the "meritocracy" discussion, consider when a company named GitHub created a rug with the subtitle "United Meritocracy Of GitHub". First reading of anyone with a problem with such a statement may be - what exactly could be the problem with a meritocracy?

The problem is not the idealized dream of a meritocracy. The problem is plainly that many men (and women) believe they already exist in one or are on the cusp of creating one. Tech is littered with people that think their academic and professional success is an objective measure of their value as a person.

If they are not smart, how did they get an Ivy League education? If they are not productive, why are they paid so much? And so on, the reasoning goes.

It is difficult to accurately describe the soul-killing process that is working with a small army of entitled special snowflakes that believe that the world would be better if only more people would submit to their leadership in study, design and development.

Grading within academic and corporate structures does very little to nullify or blunt the impact of jerks within tech. Explaining to a jerk that they are mediocre is a nearly impossible task - as the jerk truly believes any scheme that would rank them lower than anyone else as flawed and beneath them.

Adding to the problem is the legion of "creatives" that think they have god-mode superpowers within the modern economy. Being in high demand means they do not need to ask the government to provide them any labor protections - in fact, any structure resembling a labor union is immediately derided as curtailing all the innovation they are about to rain on the world.

Beyond disdain for government oversight of consumer and labor relations (Uber is the current poster child manifestation of this hatred) is the idea that one is uniquely able to make a go of it on one's own at any time if one so desires. The concept of a "startup" is so infectious that it may not be an exaggeration to say that the majority of young engineers and programmers believe their garage to be a key part of their Plan B if working a normal job within a suffocating corporate bureaucracy is at all unsatisfying. Bureaucracy in this context can be interpreted as an environment in which verbal or written interaction with other human beings using full sentences is a requirement for project success.

The dream is naturally to become the spirit child of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. A picture of success like any other, except this time even more edgy and authentic!

The plan is often about as good of an investment of time as forming a rock band with one's best friends and hoping a few Metallica covers recorded in a dimly lit basement will the the first of an incredible sequence of events that climax with millions of fans and cash beyond imagination.

It is important to remember that every field, despite all assumptions and appearances of rationality, is populated by a large number of people with their heads firmly up their own rear end. A larger cranium often only means the individual in this condition is in a less treatable state.

While Supplies Last

The comedy of women in tech is how the battle for territory might be a victory in a lost war. The question is about how tech, our society, and our economy will evolve and what we think success would look like.

When it comes to data concerning gender and jobs, it can be assumed that we're looking for the right things in the wrong numbers. The mistake is made continually.

Right now, it's all but taken for granted that tech will see growth. It's booming. For people under 40 years of age, it may be hard to imagine tech going anywhere but up, up and away. And in some way, it must.

The larger problem is that the next generation may be set up to fail - gender ratio in tech be damned. Programming might be tomorrow's typing - a skill learned to be barely functional in a ho-hum low-pay job. What is thought of as technical roles can be expected to change drastically - today's judgment of what is exiled a "technical" skill is going to be thought of as painfully shortsighted. The idea that youth had to explicitly opt-in to learn specific things instead of the subject being a compulsory part of high school is going to sound absurd.

Which part of the tech pie belongs to women does not matter when the pie is defined arbitrarily and the failure is one of absolute numbers. For example, if half the men in computer science classes decided to drop out right this second, it may appear to be a win for economic justice and gender equality. If it's true to say that we need to push more youth through tech, we should be concerned with the proportion of youth overall that choose the tech track. Pushing this number up may push the "equality" metrics down in the near term, but it would be a pitifully irrelevant concern when held in view of the big picture.

Illustrated more bluntly, what are men doing if not tech? Sitting on their couch and hoping for a resurgence of American manufacturing? Getting shot at in Syria? Dealing drugs to supplement income? Living as crazy survivalists in remote areas and fantasizing about the next economic collapse? One would hope that these people would be instead upsetting a gender balance in engineering.

Another problem is the question of value and debt. The United States is arguably selling its youth a completely bogus investments - four year degrees funded by non-dischargeable loans. Buying a house in the lousiest part of Florida may be more educational and profitable than many choices within academic institutions today.

Finally, what may result is that the tech may find some way to fail. The Apollo Program did not make us all rocket scientists, Detroit did not make us all machinists and mechanical engineers, the explosion of finance did not make us all day traders. Similarly, Silicon Valley's charm may wear off quite rapidly as it reaches a natural ceiling, leaving us to wonder how to cut and paste critiques of tech into the next workplace drama.

Ultimately women are smart enough to be champions of technology. Improving early education and being straight with all youth about options and expected results - especially results related to money and lifestyle - can only end in success. Honesty will build motivation. Filling out half-baked surveys that tells an inordinate number of students they are destined to be astronauts or playwrights is a tragic and damaging waste of time.

We have the ability to encourage involvement in tech from all people, without condescending hypotheses of why specific groups are doing something else followed by a train of anecdotes.

Raise expectations, delete excuses.

Women have got this.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Driscoll Deflection

People tend to play the same games.

Mark Driscoll is a familiar name among liberal feminists in the United States. Driscoll is/was the leader of Mars Hill Church, one of those hip-but-also-surprisingly-conservative megachurches.

Driscoll is a champion of putting his foot in his mouth, the latest find in the treasure hunt of ridiculous statements he has made is saying that women were a kind of "penis home" in a forum a decade back.

This obviously clashes with contemporary feminist thought, which regards women as a type of penis garage.

Bad jokes aside, Mark Driscoll finally decided to call it quits: [emphasis added]

October 14, 2014
Michael Van Skaik
Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability 
Mars Hill Church
Dear Michael:
By God’s grace I have pastored Mars Hill Church for 18 years. Today, also by God’s grace, and with the full support of my wife Grace, I resign my position as a pastor and elder of Mars Hill. I do so with profound sadness, but also with complete peace.
On August 24th I announced to our Mars Hill family of churches that I had requested a leave of absence from the pulpit and the office for a minimum of six weeks while a committee of elders conducted a formal review of charges made against me by various people in recent times. Last week our Board of Overseers met for an extended period of time with Grace and me, thereby concluding the formal review of charges against me. I want to thank you for assuring Grace and me that last Saturday that I had not disqualified myself from ministry.
You have shared with us that this committee spent more than 1,000 hours reviewing documents and interviewing some of those who had presented charges against me. You have also shared with me that many of those making charges against me declined to meet with you or participate in the review process at all. Consequently, those conducting the review of charges against me began to interview people who had not even been a party to the charges.
I readily acknowledge I am an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many things I have confessed and repented of, privately and publicly, as you are well aware. Specifically, I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit. As I shared with our church in August, “God has broken me many times in recent years by showing me where I have fallen short, and while my journey, at age 43, is far from over, I believe He has brought me a long way from some days I am not very proud of, and is making me more like Him every day.”
Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry. Other issues, such as aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context, and I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission to lead people to a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
That is why, after seeking the face and will of God, and seeking godly counsel from men and women across the country, we have concluded it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church we helped launch in 1996. I will gladly work with you in the coming days on any details related to our separation.
Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill. Grace and I pledge our full support in this process and will join you in praying for God’s best for this, His church, in the days and years ahead. Grace and I would also covet your prayers for us as we seek God’s will for the next chapter of our lives. Therefore, consider this written notice of my voluntary termination of employment.
Finally, it would be my hope to convey to the wonderful members of the Mars Hill family how deeply my family and I love them, thank them, and point them to their Senior Pastor Jesus Christ who has always been only good to us.
Pastor Mark Driscoll

Apparently more than a few church employees thought Driscoll was toxic, abrasive and divisive. What Driscoll brought to the church was bad press and bad blood.

But pay attention how he views himself upon his departure - it seems his greatest mistake is pride, anger, and "domineering spirit". It would not appear that he is wrong about much of anything. Instead, his mistake is that he cares too much.

The climax of Driscoll's self-pity party is his mention of feeling "physically unsafe" and concerns for his family. Driscoll is playing the very same violin that his liberal critics play when things get crazy. "Unnamed mean people want to hurt me!"

The man that earlier complained about a "pussified nation" is running the same weak willed, scared child nonsense that Tumblr wimp culture feeds on. He's dealt with some first world workplace drama and came out the other end acting like he knows what true danger looks like.

The first opportunity Driscoll had to speak since the resignation drama, the pity party continued:

(The man sitting beside Driscoll is apparently Steven Furtick, who is also in contention for winning the award for slimiest pastor in America)

In just a few minutes, Driscoll lays out an elaborate tale of oppression. Many aspects of his story are quite unbelievable - for example, the concept that a media organization would bother to spend money to put birds in the air in order to flush Driscoll out of his house. It would be a fantastically strange event, given that successful creepy publishers such as TMZ manage to keep tabs on numerous celebrity families without finding it necessary to maintain fleet of Apache helicopters to get the scoop.

Predictability, Driscoll puts focus on the family. The night terrors his son experiences are apparently the fault of the harassment Driscoll's family is facing. This may be true. What also may be true is having a preacher man father that is convinced that his family is a key part of some epic battle of good versus evil, a divine test of faith, and so on, does not really create an environment of healthy emotional development.

Of course, Driscoll's critics are not going to feel bad for his situation for a second.

It is important to remember that Driscoll's critics are not simply diehard anti-religionists eager to watch his church collapse. Driscoll's name is held in such contempt is that contemporary Christian activists use his name as an insult. The people that are the most upset with Mark are former fans and colleagues.

Maybe if Driscoll was a regular contributor to a "liberal" blog, there would be a blizzard of pearl clutching about Driscoll's personal security.

It's quite clear that many people see Driscoll for what he is - a man that is skilled at telling a story anyone not born yesterday is very familiar with. Given a minute on stage, Driscoll does what any good "progressive" activist would do. Suck as much sympathy out of the audience as possible.

Driscoll's church is currently in the process of disbanding and there is already a fight over money. Misappropriation of funds during the implosion is plainly wrong. The crime is however boring in comparison to the loss witnessed when a cult of personality so inflated finally pops. The departure of Driscoll revealed the church to be empty, lacking community and unsustainable. Doomed to fail.

One can hope that Driscoll is now inert. The tale of the wolf in a preacher's clothing is old news. It's amazing that the formula still works as much as it does.

The larger threat may now be the preachers without gods. Personalities that can easily avoid packaging their emotional manipulations in the language of piety. Megalomaniacs that do not need to back up their anecdotes with quotes of scripture or deference to a divine power. A religion of nothing more than feelings, identity and guilt - branded as social "progress" or "justice".

Driscoll might be done, but the con is not over.