The Gender Issue

There have been some extremely thought provoking posts (see bottom of post for references to them) recently about the gender imbalance in technology related areas – whether those areas are jobs, conferences, workshops, etc. While the points that many of the women bloggers have made are quite valid (and certainly worth a read – as are all of the comments), these debates have made me think about the issue from an entirely different perspective – namely how sometimes we women (not all of us by any means) allow ourselves to be under-represented. I am a woman who works in a technical field – yet prefers to keep a very low profile. I would no more volunteer to speak about a technical topic (regardless of my expertise or lack thereof) than I would ask for a raise. Without a doubt, I am extremely quiet, intensely introverted and shy in groups of people that I do not know – even more so if the majority of the people are male. I like to think that I am not quite as quiet as I was in my younger years – that I have become a much stronger and more confident person. However, I still prefer to be in the background – away from the public debate – away from confrontation.

In college, a professor of mine (who was getting a masters in psychology at the time) once told me that I was a repressed female who subverted my intelligence because of my upbringing in both a family that was headed by a dominant male who did not prize intelligent females and a male-dominated society. He told me this because I could not tell the him that I deserved a good grade in his class and because I would deliberately not speak out in class. While this is a very formulaic assessment that has many flaws, there is some truth to it. I have to say that my father is incredibly supportive of me and encourages me to be more assertive. He would be heartbroken and angry that someone thought this to be true of him. In no way was it his intention to make me subvert myself for anyone. However, he is the person that our family life revolved around – to whom we all deferred. He was the breadwinner and my mother was the stay at home Mom (why this role is undervalued in our society is WAY beyond my comprehension). With this upbringing (and my own personality), I learned to do anything to avoid confrontation. I learned not to speak out too often because people don’t like know-it-alls and they treat you different if they think you are smarter than they are. And I learned that I don’t want to compete with people (especially men) because they often take losing very badly (this is a broad generalization – there are certainly plenty of women who don’t like to lose too).

The point of all of this introspection is that I would no more offer to be a part of technology group or speak about a topic or do anything that would put myself out there. I’m pretty confident about myself in terms of my work in library systems. I am very good at my job. However, the recent discussions in the library world of blogs has really made me take a hard look at myself and the ways in which I allow or even encourage myself (and all women) to remain in the background. I need to speak out more often about things that are important, participate more in conversations about which I have something to offer and become a stronger voice. I have been content to defer to others, to make excuses for behavior that demeans women and to allow things to happen, without dissent, that I didn’t totally agree with. I have to say a big thank you to all of the women who have been telling their stories, discussing this issue and opening up this debate – and making me think about where I stand on this issue – and where I should stand.

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One Response to The Gender Issue

  1. […] So much like Meredith, I find myself conflicted by the issue of gender and sexism. This was what I was trying to express is my post, The Gender Issue. I think that Meredith expresses the confusion better – and I find it comforting to know that other women find it difficult to deal with this issue too. Meanwhile, I’m trying to be better – to not let sexist behavior slide – to speak out against unfair and unjust behavior, but it is a hard thing to do. […]

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