tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Here's a comment I wrote on a locked post by a friend discussing frustration (as a non-programmer) about being in conversations about programming where people talking about code weren't really making an effort to be understandable. I thought it was worth posting elsewhere.


I can sympathize with this because even though I've been programming for 17 years, I *still* get that "it might as well be Russian" (or Japanese in my case... I know a bit of Russian) feeling quite often when listening to people talk about code... and often, people I feel like I should be able to understand, like my immediate co-workers, or people at conferences (that are dedicated to the small, specialized area I used to focus on). I think part of it has to do with my difficulty processing speech (I can handle small talk just fine, but combine speech processing with any sort of difficult/complicated/abstract *content* and my brain falls over and dies), part of it is anxiety caused by impostor syndrome that ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy (when I can't understand something because I'm devoting too much effort to being worried that I won't understand it), and part of it is that CS and software are just so ridiculously specialized that even confident people with good communication skills just can't understand what each other are talking about if their specialties are different.

But believe it or not, I do know the feeling of alienation that comes from being in one of those conversations... and as with you, I hardly ever get it with any other conversation topic, even ones I know much less about than CS (well, maybe once in a while with physics or math, but most physics and math conversations I'm in on these days are people bullshitting and I'm well aware of that, so...)

Anyway, I'm not sure what the point of this comment is -- I don't think that my lack of confidence in my area of expertise should magically erase your lack of ease talking about an area you have no expertise in -- so I'm not sure what my conclusion is. One is that Bay Area tech culture can be really exclusive (when certain kinds of knowledge are used as a proxy for having had certain life experiences and *not* having had to deal with certain kinds of problems; I didn't have a computer when I was 5 and sometimes I feel like if I did, I'd be able to keep up with my peers). And another is that, well, often geeks just have a really hard time talking (or thinking?) about anything non-technical, and that's a flaw on their part, because part of being polite is to talk about things that won't exclude your conversational partners. I get the feeling people who sell insurance don't talk about it all night while hanging out at the pub. Why can't geeks extend others a similar courtesy? (And I think that also relates to my first point: privilege is *not* having to accommodate other people socially, and if you learned to talk about something besides code you might actually end up including people you'd prefer to exclude.)

ETA: I just came across this post on "technical entitlement", which overlaps with some of what I'm saying but says it more clearly.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've been reading Carolyn Heilbrun's _Reinventing Womanhood_. I have the seeds of a post or an essay germinating in my head about geek-as-third-gender[*], genderqueerness (especially in female-assigned people), and how that does or doesn't relate to the idea of successful women aspiring to be "honorary men" as Heilbrun argues against, and to feminism and/or the rejection thereof. It still all comes down to the need to make gender both matter and not matter at the same time. To the apparent contradiction between saying, "fuck it, your labels don't apply to me, and I refuse to attach any of them to myself" and the idea of accepting the label of "woman" and living your life as an example of what being a woman can mean. To do either of those seems to be giving more credence to the concepts of "man" and "woman" than they deserve -- but that's what it means to live in a man's world. So, sometime, I will write something better-thought-out on this point.

[*] is worth noting because it's an essay that I and many other people in my circle have enjoyed, yet it seems somehow quite revealing that it's titled "The Anti-Girl Manifesto" -- why is it so frequent that when somebody writes something rejecting gender, it's always the trappings of the female gender that get attacked far more harshly? The author writes, "I'm not a woman, I'm a geek;" yet why does it seem so natural for a woman to write that when it would seem almost unnecessary for a man to declare, "I'm not a man, I'm a geek"? It's not that no one would ever say such a thing, but there doesn't seem to be anything contradictory in our discourse about being a man and a geek. I mean, duh. So when you say, "I'm not a woman, I'm a geek," is this a daring statement of individuality, or does it just reveal you've bought into the same poisonous stereotypes we all have, that you've bought the idea that you can't be a woman and a geek? When I say that I don't identify as a woman or a man because I don't feel like either one, am I just buying into the idea that man is default and woman is special-case? If I were exactly the same as I am now, with the same mind except with convex instead of concave bits (ignoring that I'd have lived a different life if I'd been born with them), would I feel the same need to repudiate my assigned gender? Or would I just take it as a given that I was a person first and a man later, because all men grow up with the privilege of being able to take it for granted that they are a person first, whereas a woman has to spend her life proving it?

To put it another way, there's something really quite broken about the fact that if you call a man a "lady", you're cruising for a bruising (unless he's gay or has an unusually good sense of humor), but if you call a woman a "gentleman", she's supposed to take it as a compliment.

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

March 2017

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