Throwback Thursday: My Two Answers to Everything

Going through our archives, we came across this great post from September 10, 2013,“My Two Answers to Everything” that we wanted to share with you in case you missed it the first time around. 

I was going to write about item analysis today but all of the tweets and posts on sexism in the technology field distracted me. So, here are my comments on that and then I’m going back to work.

1. I think sexism is cowardice and bullying.

Having coached and competed in combat sports for 43 years, I can tell you that pretty much all bullies are cowards because by definition, it means picking on someone weaker, less powerful than you. (There are some bullies who are just hateful to everyone but they are the minority.) In my life, I’ve been exposed to very few of the type of explicit sexist comments and attacks I see mentioned. One reason, I am sure, is that anyone who has met me for more than five minutes realizes that if they grabbed me, I’d be very likely to break their nose. Yes, you may be bigger than me, but I cheat. It wouldn’t be beyond me to pick up the glass on the conference table and smash it in your face. I don’t say that in a threatening way but as a fact. There are reasons I prefer not  to divulge behind it. The one time a man did come up behind me and run his hand up my leg, I turned around, picked him up and threw him into a wall. It wasn’t a feminist statement, it was a reflex. If you were a man and another man came up behind you, slid his hands between your legs and grabbed your crotch, what would your reflex be? It depends where you grew up and how. In some neighborhoods, you might turn around and punch him in the face. In others, you’d turn around and yell at him, maybe shove him, ask him what the hell he thought he was doing.

Now I’m old and people aren’t as inclined to grab me, which is fine by me.

I’m not particularly nice and never have been. A few years ago, I was at a judo practice, with a visiting team of Japanese male high school students and a group of male and female players from California. After practice, it was announced that the group was going to Hooters. The girls made excuses why they had other things to do after practice. I went up to the father who had announced this – a very nice man, who I like and saw regularly since his son and my daughter trained together, and said,

“Are you kidding me? We go on all of the time about how there aren’t enough girls in judo and now you’re taking the kids to Hooters?”

Let me end this by saying, we ended up going to a different place and the girls went also. I read a letter someone wrote to her daughter’s teacher in a computer programming class, and I had the same reaction. I can guarantee you, and my daughters will back me up, that the very first time an incident of sexism happened to one of my children, I would be in that classroom and ask the teacher, in front of the students, if necessary,

“Are you kidding me?”

I cannot say that it would never happen again, nor even never happen again to my daughters. Many times, growing up, they were mortified by my unwillingness to “go along”. As adults, and even teenagers, though, they have learned to stand up for themselves, all four of them. I can guarantee you that teacher would have taken a hell of a lot closer look at what was going on in his class, for all he might have gone to the teachers’ lounge and ranted about what a bitch I am. So, yes, that is one of my answers to everything – be a complete bitch when it’s called for. If I had been at Tech Crunch, I would have stood up and shouted,

“Are you kidding me?”

2. Success is the best revenge

While I haven’t experienced a lot of explicit sexism and discrimination,  I think there has been plenty that was implicit, from my graduate school days when the professor would forget and address our classes (95% male) as “Gentlemen” to not getting as many job offers as my classmates, nor at as high a salary. The latter is a combination of things, though. I don’t come from a wealthy family, had no connections, had no idea how to dress or talk to make the executive types feel at ease (I definitely did not “fit in”), and, as we have already established, I’m not that nice of a person. More implicit discrimination has been the lack of encouragement and subtle discouragement of taking advanced math classes, programming classes. I had a friend when I was young who was Asian-American male, and he used to laugh about how our bosses and colleagues automatically assumed that he knew the answers to programming questions, that he knew a particular language. Being a good guy, he was also embarrassed by it. The truth is, he knew some languages better than I did and vice versa. Since our offices were side by side and we had lunch together a lot with groups of co-workers (he was dating my friend), it was easy for both of us to see the great discrepancy in the assumptions made about us, how often people asked me, but not him, “But did you actually ever have a course in multivariate statistics?”  Answer: Yes. Several, in fact, addressing different types.

It is irritating to know that many people perceive me as as inferior and continually having to prove myself, to continually get asked about my degrees, credentials, “but have you ever …” , as they go through an increasingly long list of attempts to disqualify me. Yes, I had  that class. Yes, I have written software for large organizations. Yes, some of it is for end users. Yes, I have a Ph.D. Yes, I have published in academic journals. No, I don’t have a degree in computer science — when they finally get to one, there is an almost perceptible sigh of relief, as my questioner condescendingly explains, “Well, you see, the reason that you  did not get selected for X is that you don’t have a degree in computer science … ”  Never mind that half of the men accepted didn’t either.

It is irritating and it is not fair. My solution is just to go back to work and succeed in spite of it. I don’t go to events sponsored by organizations like TechCrunch because it’s pretty clear they aren’t interested in me, so I put my efforts in directions like the Small Business Innovation Research awards, or Kickstarter, where the focus is more on the product than the producer.

Now that I’ve vented, I’m going back to work.

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