Anti-Skeu is Still Tail Wagging

Navel GazingI originally was going to put a picture of my own navel here, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that to ya. This pic is, according to wikipedia, the official representation of the human navel. So there you go. Okay, now look back over here.

Why a navel? Because I just stumbled upon yet another anti-skeuomorphic article by a designer. (Argh!) And if there was ever a fit of navel gazing in the design community, it is this one. The funny sad thing is that even when we try to not gaze (as this fella is), we do it.

This article is so paradoxical. It says it is not anti-skeu, but the bulk of the article is critiquing just that. And in its critique of skeuomorphism, it makes the same mistakes it is critiquing. It dances around and even says some good things, but then falls into the same trap that those who use skeuomorphism as a way to show off do.

Great experiences are the sum of multiple factors. Any one thing being off can ruin the overall effect. Content and context, focus and environment: they’re inseparable and necessary parts of the whole experience.

Software experiences aren’t just software; they’re also about the device. Alan Kay was right: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” We can’t literally do that, but we can accept that the hardware is part of the user’s context when using our software. The two exist in symbiosis, to create the user’s context.

The first paragraph is spot on. The second one rapidly falls off the cliff. Hardware and software by no means “create the user’s context.” The user’s context is a function of many other things, such as physical environment, mental state, personal history/experiences, current desires, other people they are engaged with, time of day, and so on. But that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is there seems to be an underlying mentality here that is problematic, one that does lip service to the human experience with designed things while fetishizing the designed things themselves–in this case software (and/or hardware together). When the designer’s focus is still the object–the thing we are designing, whether that is software or  something physical–then we still have a case of tail wagging.

When it comes to a question of tail wagging, it is no different to expend your designer expertise and effort to create a thing that is “true” to its medium than it is to expend that expertise and energy to create a thing that mimics something in a different medium. Both are subject to the same navel-gazing dangers because both are fundamentally focused on designing a thing according to some designer-appreciated principle. If in the past designers looked down on each other because a design wasn’t skeuomorphic, today they look down on each other if a design isn’t minimalist. You can just as easily show off how properly minimalist your design is as you can how skeu it is. In both cases, the focus is on things and designers’ pride in having designed those things.

Who bloody cares if a designed thing is “true” to its medium if the people it is designed for don’t like it or have a hard time engaging with it. It’s one thing to say that you want people to be immersed and not think about the thing, but then if you turn around and just talk about making the thing “true,” you’re still missing the point. People don’t want a chromeless photo browser–they want the experience of remembering what the photos call to mind. People don’t want a flat, clean calendar–they want to situate themselves in time and keep track of things in relation to it. People don’t really even want photos or calendars–the things–they are simply a means to an end.

“Content over chrome” is missing the mark. “Being true to your medium” is missing the mark. It’s all designer fetishes and fads. The only reason there is good in them is inasmuch as they, incidentally, cause the designer to better evoke the experiences that people want. You might say that’s the whole point of minimalism, but I say that 1) you can evoke those experiences with or without minimalism, 2) sometimes you can even do it better, and 3) why obscure the real goal with a goal focused on the things? It’s just as simple to ask yourself “does this chrome distract from the experience I intend to evoke for the people I am designing for in such and such a context?” as it is to ask “is this design ‘true’?” And the first question is actually more to the point and doesn’t put the focus on adhering to principles that may or may not incidentally answer the first question, which again, is really the question you should be asking.

If a design that looks like a paper book and imitates turning paper pages evokes an experience that people want–it is a good design. If it surprises and delights people, even better! Who effing cares if it is skeuomorphic or minimalist or whatever other fad, trend, or school of design it is? If that’s what you’re worried about, you’re doing it wrong.

As someone who is something of a freak in the Design community, maybe I find it easier to see it from an outsider’s perspective. One thing that I was surprised by was the tendency to embrace fads and trends. “That’s so 2004” is a valid criticism for many designers. One year big rounded jelly bean buttons are in. The next year straight edges with reflections are all the rage. Now “flat” is in and with that is “anti-skeu.” I get it; the need for novel stimulation is a built into the human psyche, as is group belonging and the desire to feel superior to others (i.e., to feel valuable).

Being fashionable is certainly a valid consideration to have–all other things being equal in terms of designing for people and their contexts, you might as well be fashionable to boot. But if you’re going to adopt minimalism, at least do it for the right reasons (i.e., not because it is fashionable to be anti-skeu), and don’t get so caught up in it that you lose sight of what really makes a design best–that it fits what the people you are designing for want and/or need.

I’m My Own Worst Enemy

I Can Code

I’m something of a freak, though certainly not unique, in that I started my career in software as a developer and am now far more on the Design/UX side of things. Not only that, but I was one of those untrained/uneducated ones with no CS degree that jumped on the dot-com-bubble wagon to break into the industry. For years, I worked my way up through the ranks, learning on the job mostly with the smattering of self study here, conference/training there.

So it was only natural to me, when given the opportunity, to jump on the UX bandwagon several years ago. Again, I find myself a foreigner with no formal Design or HCI or library science or psychology education (but hey, I did take Psych 101 in college!). But I’ve done a good bit of self study, here and there under the mentorship of “real” UX pros (ya know, the ones with the PhDs and MAs and such). I now have several years of experience under my belt, and I had something of a unique opportunity working on Indigo Studio, an interaction design and prototyping tool, to really research and study the discipline/practice/field of UX and Design. That opportunity has given me a lot of exposure and insights into UX/Design that I know I wouldn’t  otherwise have.

UX for Devs ManifestoAlong the way, I’ve been (and still am) an advocate for developers spending time and effort learning about and practicing, when necessary, UX principles, techniques, and processes. This is because today, still, the vast majority of software being built does not involve UX professionals, or if it does, their role is often minimized and marginalized (they have to fight for their lives, or at least for good UX). In the end, devs, being the ones who build the stuff, have dramatically more influence in most cases over the actual UX of software. This is not going to change anytime soon. Maybe not ever. It’s reality. Deal with it.

And yet! And yet, despite my position advocating for devs “doing UX” and despite my bad example as a dev turned UX guy, I have learned enough in these many years to know that designers are indeed a different sort of animal. They think differently about problems than devs–significantly so. They employ different approaches when tackling issues. Heck, there’s a whole thing called “design thinking” that has sprung up around this notion. And not only that, just like every other professional, professional designers learn and hone their expertise over years as they practice. It really is a profession, a discipline, a field of expertise.

And that brings me to the image at the top of this post. (This is an actual shirt I made at one of the T-shirt sites.) It’s funny on a superficial level, and on the level that people can remember actually writing BASIC programs like that. But the underlying thing is–does being able to write lines of code really mean “I can code!”? Does that put me on the same level as an experienced and (possibly) formally educated developer?

That’s patently and obviously absurd–being able to perform one (or even some) of the basic functional activities involved in a profession does not make one a professional in that discipline. Do people who can give themselves shots claim to be doctors? Do people who represent themselves in court for a traffic citation claim to be lawyers? Does being able to shoot a firearm make me a policeman? Obviously not! I can install GFCI outlets like nobody’s business, but I hardly consider myself an electrician.

And yet this is precisely the attitude taken by those who dabble in Design. Being able to sketch UI ideas on a whiteboard doesn’t make someone a UX professional, but you’d never know that by the way people are eager to second guess and criticize professionally designed UIs or by the way they clearly think that their opinion on a UX design is as weighty as a seasoned UX design veteran.

This is particularly troublesome when dealing with what I’ll call “design smell” (lifting the concept of “code smell” from the dev world). Sometimes–often–an experienced designer can consider a design and immediately tell there is something off about it. Sure, there are heuristics, and principles, and testing, and metrics, and so on that can give definition and language to talk about the bad smell, but not always, certainly not always to everybody’s satisfaction.

Maybe they subconsciously recognize things about it that are just asking to go wrong, based on their distilled knowledge, skills, and experience. Or maybe they had more exposure to what went into a particular design–so what is being considered is something they already explored or something conflicting with their sense of propriety for the problem at hand in the context it is in. The bottom line is, maybe the designer can explain it in a way that resonates convincingly with others and maybe not. But sometimes you just gotta defer to their judgment and rely on their expertise. 

My Ivory TowerNow don’t mistake me. I’m not suggesting the all powerful designer dictating from on high, but judging from a very common theme amongst designers–complaining how everybody thinks they’re designers–I think it is safe to say we are squarely on the other end of that particular spectrum, especially in software. People–particularly those who consider themselves smart and talented (and maybe are)–naturally assume that if something doesn’t make sense/resonate with them, then it must be wrong.

And yet, when those same people think about it in terms of their own expertise (or maybe other expertises they have less of a clue about), they obviously can see that people should respect their expertise and defer to them. Something is broken here. What I’m suggesting is that those who work with designers need to keep this in mind and move the needle further to the respecting designer expertise side of the spectrum.

The fact that I have made this transition from dev to UX pro makes me my own worst enemy in this argument, though. What folks may not think about is that this multiyear, full-time professional journey has really warped my thinking. I may not yet (or ever) be in the same mindset as a formally educated, “untainted” designer, but I have had a lot of time and opportunities that have changed my thinking and given me a lot more Design knowledge and experience to draw on than I had before I started this journey.

And despite that, I maintain what I consider to be a healthy seed of doubt as to my own tendencies when it comes to tackling problems and designing solutions using, shall we say, a pure/disciplined Design approach. And if I still do that after years of practice, self-study, and mentoring, maybe folks who lack pretty much any background in UX should doubt their own design skills and defer to experienced designers?

LOL. Who am I kidding?!? Everyone’s a designer, right?

My Job is Bigger Than Your Job

Superhero Me!I’ve been in software for a while now. I started out on the dev side of things, and within that are the folks who like to use the term “architect” to connote how they have the “big” view of things. There were those who advocated for the “architect” role to be more and more involved in business, move up the chain, etc. Because of course, they are uniquely suited to help the business achieve their goals.

Now I’ve been in “UX” for a while. And there are those who like to use the title “architect” there as well. And yes, there are those who advocate for UX/Design to move up the business chain. Because of course, designers are uniquely suited to help the business achieve their goals. UX is everything of course. (That is a truism as far as I’m concerned.)

I’ve also interacted with folks on the branding side. They may not use the term “architect,” but they do have this sort of “brand is everything” kind of mentality, and of course, they also are uniquely suited to help businesses achieve their goals.

So I had to chuckle today when I read in this article about the “website architect” role that “goes beyond — or rather encompasses — the user interface, user experience, and information architecture of the site” and “needs to have a solid understanding of usability, in-depth knowledge of web development tools, online marketing technologies, and everything else involved in the construction and maintenance of a website.” Okay, so now “website architecture” is everything, and doubtless this role is also uniquely suited to help businesses achieve their goals.

Anybody see a trend?

The funny thing is, to an extent, they’re all right. Considered from certain vantage points, they all are uniquely suited. Any good CEO would want to leverage that unique special sauce from each one.

On the other hand, they can’t all be “everything.” They can’t all “encompass” each other. That aspect of it seems to be simply power grabbing–my discipline, my job, my title is “bigger” than yours. It encompasses yours. It is more important than yours.  (And thus I should have more say in/control over what gets done.)

There was a time in my life when I was enchanted with the term “software architect.” I admit. I used it. But I have become increasingly disenchanted with it, as I see more and more people grabbing at the “architect” title and crafting a role with it, more or less as a way to say, “my job is bigger than yours, more important, more encompassing, and thus what I think/say is more valuable to the business.”  Now if someone tells me they’re an architect, I sorta cringe.

Everybody needs to just slow down and take a breather. How about we each acknowledge each others’ distinct special sauces and work together to make better stuff? We need mutual respect. We don’t need to imagine that our expertise supersedes and encompasses others’ expertise in order to be valuable and meaningfully contribute. Of course, the saving grace here is that in the end, it is the business itself that is in charge, and a good leader of business will do just that–get surrounded by folks with expertise in all these areas, encourage cross-discipline teamwork, and help ensure that everybody is moving along towards the same shared vision to achieve their goals.

It’s Time to Grow Up

Evolution of Man to IT

As commentary on the latest brouhaha in IT over sexism has gotten the notice of the New Yorker, it strikes me how we’re at an interesting point in the IT industry. It has become axiomatic that (high) technology is everywhere these days. It is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and increasingly invisible (both of which are good things in my book). So it seems to me that the adolescent, socially incapable stereotype of the computer nerd can no longer be safely hidden away in the basement. As technology becomes more and more a part of the social fabric, so do those who make that fabric capable. We are no longer the inconspicuous mice protruding in on the reality of the greater world.

As such, it is becoming increasingly important for us to grow out of our adolescence. Many of us have been told that we are “smart” (because we understand and work with technology). We have been told in stories many times that all those popular, socially capable kids who picked on us during our school years will be sorry, not because we are a threat as such, but because we will, through our intellectual pursuits in practical and productive sciences, be the ones making the big bucks. We are Bill Gates. We are Steve Jobs. We are Steve “The Woz” Wozniak, to name a few of the geek-turned-billionaire heroes.

Part of that narrative is that we can be successful without needing to adhere to normal social rules. We don’t have to strive to be popular, friendly, or even socially conversant at all, because we can still be successful without that, and goshdarnit, we are smarter than all of those popular people anyways! “Idiots! Gah!”

So, many tech heads relish that narrative, because it reinforces what we value about ourselves (that we are so much smarter than everyone else), while freeing us from all that troublesome behaving like civilized people in a civilized society–stuff we were never good at anyways, as was pointed out to us painfully while growing up.

And embracing that narrative has mostly worked, for a time. Yes, some of us have to play nice in the highly regulated corporate bubbles we work in, but in as much as we can isolate ourselves from all that, we do. And often, the “business” wants to isolate us, too. After all, they don’t want us to embarrass them in front of customers. At least most of us in corporate environments have to learn some basics on how to play nice, or we won’t survive. It may gall us, but we swallow it for practical reasons.

On the other hand, as far as the stereotype goes, the open source community has more factors going against it, especially certain strains of ideology within it. It collects anti-establishment mindsets together and gives them a sense of camaraderie when otherwise most would be loners, socially speaking. The internet has made it possible to more or less live in something like a virtual world (more or less literally depending on the person). These mostly online communities are a major echo chamber where members are safely isolated from the rest of the world. They don’t even have to learn to pretend to play nice in a corporate environment, and so it is no surprise that most of the public snafus about sexism show up at conferences loaded with these types, and not in the more corporate/commercial conferences run by the big companies. Plus, it doesn’t help that they are mostly young, and mostly single.

But as I said before, this bullshit has to stop. It is interesting, some of the comments I got in response to that post. One person said he didn’t see what all the fuss is about–there are laws against sexism in the workplace, as if that settles it, and completely ignoring all the evidence to the contrary that these laws do not in fact settle it. This is a cultural issue. And more to the point, when there is a culture in which anti-establishment bias is a major undercurrent, such laws are largely irrelevant. And this is what we’re seeing here–the IT culture, the IT narrative is perpetuating sexism, in forms that have been driven out of other sector’s work cultures for decades.

I can’t tell you the number of passing comments I’ve heard over the years–and this mostly amongst the corporate and indie consultant IT crowd, the ones who should know better–that insinuate or right out claim that women are just not suited to IT work, that they don’t have the brain for it, that they aren’t smart enough for it. Wow. Just wow. Talk about a throwback. I mean, nobody ever said that about women in other industries either, right? Somehow IT is special, right?

I tell you, guys, as a relatively successful person who has been in IT for a good long while, this is simpleminded, naive, utter hogwash. It is nonsense. It is a heinous lie. It is begging the question to the nth degree. The stupidity of the reasoning is so obvious: 1) There are very few women in IT. 2) Therefore, women are not capable in IT.  This is not a rational argument. It is bald-faced, bigoted prejudice. It’s made worse because the actual (usually unsaid) reasoning for guys who think along these lines is the reverse: 1) Women are not as smart as men. 2) Therefore, women don’t belong in IT, and oh look, they aren’t much. (Thus confirming my prejudice.)

It never crosses such neanderthals’ minds that maybe there are other factors at play here. Because the other things at play are social factors, which are, as a rule, foreign and incomprehensible to them. When society portrays IT professionals as 1) mostly male and 2) mostly socially inept, how is that an attractive role for women to aspire to? Especially when the women who are in IT are also typically portrayed as unattractive and socially inept as well?

Further, guys in our society can and do have their mediocre to poor looks and lack of social skills fairly easily overlooked. This is far less so for women because of many factors, not the least of which is that, especially in IT, socially inept males are in positions of authority and positioned to do the hiring most of the time. The bar is de facto higher for women because not only do they have to show–more so than their male counterparts–that they are capable (in order to counteract the prejudice mentioned above), they also have to fight against these males’ judging them by their looks, which doesn’t even come into the equation when they are hiring men. Maybe their looks work in their favor, maybe not, but in a supposed meritocracy, it shouldn’t come into the picture at all, and in any case, it is simply unjust.

Of course, these men in IT never experience this, so they can’t relate, and due to their extraordinarily low aptitude for empathy, they outright deny such factors exist and instead blindly assert that women just don’t measure up. As I said–hogwash. And this is just the basic entry level for women. As a rule, they have to 1) go against society’s expectations to aspire to IT jobs, 2) break into it despite the prejudices against them, and 3) struggle harder to receive equal treatment and respect (and all that entails, pay being just one of the factors).  “Nah.. they’re not in IT just because they can’t hack it.”  Riiiight…

In the (figuratively) smoke-filled rooms of the men’s only club of IT, women are treated as something odd. If they are perceived to not be attractive, they are again perceived to be less intelligent by these men and openly mocked amongst their peers. If the women who break into IT are perceived as attractive, then you get all the adolescent foolishness we have seen perpetrated in the public spats, and more. The women who speak up tell us that this kind of brutish, rutting behavior is not unusual; it is rather the norm.

Maybe the behavior only openly happens away from the regulated corporate environments (i.e., away from where such men cower in fear from legal reprisals and/or the loss of a job), so that’s why we see it more at conferences, mailing lists, anonymous comments on blogs, etc. Yet it remains that there is tons of evidence like this to show that such behavior is not rare, isolated, or unusual. So there’s no reason to doubt it when women say they experience it. It is nothing less than a hostile professional environment–yet another reason women are dissuaded from entering IT and continuing on with it, much less putting themselves out there in public ways to become special targets of these puerile brutes.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of mature men in IT as well, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with. And there are certainly degrees of this. I am not condemning all guys in IT by any means; just the ones whose behavior is reflected in what I am writing about, the ones who cause and perpetuate all this garbage.

Remarkably, even some otherwise enlightened guys I know still insist that it is somehow the women who are at fault, because they dress so provocatively, or whatever. I am loth to touch that with a ten-foot pole, but I’ll dip my toe in. Yes, we guys (especially in our habitual, hypersexualized popular culture) are easily stimulated by the female form. It’s just a physiological fact. No two ways around it. On the other hand, we don’t have to act on that stimulation. We restrain all sorts of biological impulses for the good of civilization, our own good, and the good of those we care about, if for no other higher reasons. We can help it; we can be “the bigger person” in this matter. We need to be the bigger person, in fact.

As another example, many guys will often talk about the need to get more good-looking women into the workplace. And yet when the women show up on the scene, the guys readily make salacious comments behind their backs (again, in the regulated environments, this behavior must be hidden). Some of this is normal and natural, but it is plainly counterproductive to the goal–treating women as sexual objects is no way to make them feel welcome, equal, nor respected, so why should they hang around? Yet another reason for them to not be prevalent in IT that has nothing to do with their intellectual capacity for the job…

Now I don’t think every flippant comment must be loudly condemned. Even for guys who try to be sensitive to this issue, things will slip out; it is hard to work against the culture, but that doesn’t mean the extreme opposite is therefore the way. It doesn’t mean that mindlessly perpetuating an adolescent professional atmosphere is okay; it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to be better. Women don’t need to be treated with kid gloves–they are adults and should be treated that way. The problem is, though, if you don’t have much in the way of social skills, you won’t readily see the subtle cues that women give when they are uncomfortable about these things. And even if you do have social skills, it is a well-known fact that, for men, women are a mystery. So it’s better to be more sensitive on this point than to assume that a little backslapping and jovial winking will make sexual objectification all okay. And given our poor track record in IT, we have extra reason to try to make up ground on this point.

Lastly, as I said in my previous post on sexism in IT, this culture change has to come from the inside. It is ultimately about maturing past puberty. It’s about becoming men and treating women with respect. It is about encouraging others to do likewise. That’s a good first step.

We also have to recognize and admit the problem exists. The idea that ours is an industry of pure meritocracy where women get fair and equal treatment is a fairy tale. Certainly, we do appreciate good work on its merits (however arbitrary and subjective our criteria may be), but it is just sheer ignorance and wishful thinking to pretend that is all you need to succeed and thrive in our industry, even for men, much less for women who face all these other obstacles.

Society is changing. Tech is becoming more ubiquitous. Pretending we live in some kind of social bubble where it is safe (much less morally acceptable) to denigrate women on the basis that they are women is not going to fly. If nothing else, the industry needs more good people, regardless of their private bits. Keeping it nearly all male is just not tenable, nor is it good.

I am no advocate for some kind of formal, enforced affirmative action for women. I am certainly no advocate for more laws and regulations on the matter. On the contrary, I am an advocate for all of us to work towards changing this unacceptable culture in whatever way we can–each of us, as a mature, responsible adult, can make a positive impact. I am an advocate for us to not hide behind corporate regulations as if they suffice to address the problem. I am an advocate for doing what is right, regardless of whether or not there are consequences for you personally if you don’t.

It’s really quite simple: It’s time to grow up. It’s time for us to lose the backwards culture and the stereotype. If you’re truly good at what you do, you have nothing to worry about.


P.S. In commenting on this, one of my female friends who works in IT had this advice to offer: “Bottom line: If you wouldn’t talk that way around your wife, daughters, or own mother, DON’T talk that way with your chick coworkers.”  Good, wise, and practical advice. Thanks!

Let’s Be Real Men, Guys in IT

I just ran across this post on the sexism/harassment that women face in IT (and elsewhere, of course): We deserve better than this | ashe dryden. Not long back, I ran across a similar one from Iris Classon: Shhh… Harassment. Not a Problem? And on that post, a commenter linked over to this Geek Feminism Wiki – Timeline of incidents page. Apparently, the shocking experiences of these women are not uncommon, though being a man, I have been relatively shielded from that fact. So kudos to the brave women who are speaking out about it and raising awareness.

They are right–women do deserve to be treated better.

Allow me to not put too fine a point on it:

This bullshit has to stop.

Boys, it’s time to grow up and stop acting like puerile pubescent pervs. Look, I’m as red-blooded as it gets. I appreciate the female form as much as the next guy and am susceptible to the same brain-numbing physiological reactions our biology so generously bestows upon us in the presence of the finer sex. But that’s just it–we’re not talking about female forms; we are talking about actual females. Real women. Real people.

Those boobs in front of you? Yeah, they are actually attached to a person. Yep–those legs and that hot ass, too. I don’t care how much she is or is not putting on obvious display; the irreducible fact remains: women are not objects for us to sexually gratify ourselves with. (Yes, even the ones who for whatever reason offer their bodies as such objects.) They are persons. They have hopes, plans, dreams–just like you do. They eat, sleep, burp, sweat, smell, work, play, fart, and crap–just like you do. And they want and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity–just like you do. They are equal members of the human race with equal innate human dignity. Period.

Still, our biology and our culture works against us, trying to prevent us from keeping this simple, obvious truth in mind. So we have to actively work to do so. One thing that may help most guys to put this into perspective is: just imagine your mom. She is about as far as you can get from being a sexual object to you, but I guarantee, she has been for some man. How would you feel if someone was sexually objectifying or harassing your mom? Got that feeling in your head? Good. Hold on to it. Now, see that woman right there? Treat her like you’d want your mom to be treated.

And please, don’t get all smart ass about this. There are exceptions and weirdos, but in most cases, this should work. You can substitue your grandma if that works better for ya. I know most guys are well-practiced at imagining women–this way you get to exercise your imagination about them in a different and far more beneficial way.

The Guys in IT
I’ve worked in IT (loosely defined) for quite some time. I am quite aware of the dearth of females we have in these fields. I still remember a 2004 conference, a big conference, where the organizers literally took over some women’s bathrooms by placing a temporary guy sign over the girl sign–that stuck with me. Funny, if also likely annoying for the women looking for a bathroom at the conference.

I also know that engineering fields tend to attract stereotypically less socially apt guys. It’s really not just a stereotype; there’s a lot of truth in it. I suspect this only contributes to the problem, but on the same coin, there are plenty of guys who are also generally more thoughtful, or at least more willing (and able?) to reflect on serious matters like what we’re talking about here. I mean, if you’re a guy and reading this, you’re already in some small percentage of the male population that would read a blog, much less one like this.

So I know we can be better. Theoretically, assuming we all have the high IQs we think we have, we should be better than the average male population. And that’s why I’m dumbfounded when I hear stories like the ones linked above. On the other hand, I’m an armchair philosopher, and I am no stranger to the study of human nature and contemporary culture. That, coupled with the types of guys attracted to IT, lessens the shock for me.

Consider: If you don’t spend a lot of time around women. If most of your “interactions” with women are watching them in the media, and if you, as some very high percentage of our demographic does, use porn (the very definition of the objectification of women), then it’s not so surprising that some percentage of us are going to be complete boors with women.

But that’s no excuse. It may be reality. It may be how we are predisposed. But we should be better than our predispositions. And becoming so comes by doing so–through practice. Practice treating women as persons. Practice not objectifying them in your thoughts and in your talk. Don’t assume the idiotic, penis-driven stereotypes we see in the popular media are the way men have to be, much less should be. Real men are not slaves to their sex drives; they are more than it–much more. You are more than your sex drive. Act like it. Especially around women, but not only. What you think, say, and do when no women are around will inevitably bleed into how you act when they are. And they will see it–more than we males are aware of it, I have no doubt.

Things Being What They Are…
And yet, I know despite our efforts to make ourselves collectively better, the reality is that we will always have such boors with us. So here’s what I suggest. Ladies in IT, the next time you find yourself at a conference/some other event, and you run into one of these neanderthals, just come get me. I’ll put him in his place. I’ve got 330lbs of no bullshit to leverage on your behalf. (And no, I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m very happily married for almost 14 years and have five children. So no worries, I have no ulterior motives in making the offer.)

Better yet, how about we guys with a basic civility and sense of decency band together? We could form some sort of association with a public identifier we’d keep on us (pin, laptop sticker, armband, T-shirt, whatever) that says we won’t stand by and let women be objectified and harassed, and that we’ll come to the aid of women who are. This way, if a woman is out and about at, say, a conference or some other event, she can feel safer in the company of those who are members, and even ask for our help. It might also just help us to keep us honest ourselves. I’d be proud to be a part of such an organization. You?

In any case, at least if enough of us individually start practicing treating women as persons and standing up for them, maybe we can help turn the tide. If you are willing to do this, comment here. Share this post, or write your own. And just start practicing it! The women need to know they do not stand alone against the neanderthals.

P.S. I apologize in advance to the women who find my suggestion at offering physical protection somehow sexist (or anything else in this post for that matter). It’s certainly not my intent, but given that some women have expressed a lack of feeling safe or secure, it seems like one way to concretely help with that. Besides, I’m serious.

P.P.S. Guys, if a woman tells you that something you said or did was sexist, don’t argue with her if you didn’t mean it to be. You can tell her you didn’t mean it that way, and apologize. But in the end, you’re not a woman. There’s a good chance you’ll never really be able to sympathize with why it came across that way, and no amount of arguing will change her mind. It is enough to know it did come across that way. Learn from that experience.

Update 4 Feb: Wow. Another one. Good grief.

Just Say No to SexismUpdate 5 Feb: I thought I’d throw together a quick community over on G+ for guys to join in solidarity with women on this issue: Guys Against Sexism.  I hope we can come up with something concrete to carry it forward/not make it just a passing agreement. If you have other/better ideas, please do join and share.  Also, if you write your own post, that’s a good place to share it.