Frankly, this is one of the most difficult subjects for me to broach. I think I’ve wanted to be blissfully ignorant of this topic because inside my sphere of influence this isn’t an issue. Sadly, I was wrong to assume that since this isn’t part of my world that this doesn’t affect others. Several posts lead me to write about gender inequality in the creative and technology fields and how we can possibly change this attitude.

The Illumination

The first post I came across was from Nixie Pixel. Nixie is a blogger and reviewer of open source technology and video games. I came across her videos on how to get up and running with Ubuntu and watched several of her reviews of other open source technologies. She’s a very smart woman who knows her stuff. When I came across her video “I’d Rather Vlog Naked” at first, I didn’t know what to think. The title threw me off. I listened to her talk about her experiences she had at her first open source convention and I was honestly shocked. She had men telling her that she had no pull in this community and that she didn’t belong there. Why? Because she’s an attractive woman with her own opinions and can speak knowledgeably on topics about technology. Their comments, she gathered, came from the fact that she happens to embrace her sexuality. Nixie posed for the Girls of Geek Calendar in 2012 to raise money for breast cancer awareness. She got flak for doing that for some people in the open source community. Here’s a woman who not only knows what the CLI is, but actually enjoys using it. Her video detailing her experience left me disappointed on a lot of different levels.

Next, I came across a post on Paging Dr. Nerdlove called “Ending Sexual Harassment in Geek Culture”. The post discusses Janelle Asselin, a comic book industry pro, and her ordeal with threats of rape due to her criticism over a cover of Teen Titans. Yes, I said threats of rape. I read through this prodigious post and felt an array of emotions, from shock to seething anger to utter confusion. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I read in regards to how some women in creative professions face these threats daily online and in the physical world. My disappointment was growing. Not only were individuals in the open source community sexist, but geek culture as well, and the level of violence was disturbing.

Then there is the issue of Julie Horvath and her accusations of sexism and harassment by one the co-founders (and his wife) at Github. Ms. Horvath was instrumental in starting the Github Passion Projects and other programs to help empower and enable women to go into technology. This issue is still ongoing in the media now and it’s getting a lot of attention. The issue of gender gap in the world of computer programming has been well documented online. Reading through these posts I saw the gamut of issues that women face; objectification, harassment, exclusion, bias, arrogance, superiority and violence.

I felt like my heart had sunk to the floor. As a designer/developer and all around nerdy guy I couldn’t understand why this kind of attitude was still prevalent. How do we change the culture for the better? How do we make things more inclusive of women, and not just women, but for everyone who is interested in participating? I mean, it’s 2014…shouldn’t we be past this already? Sadly, I was wrong.

Change Starts With You

I believe the best way to enact change is to start with yourself. Every year, I participate in student portfolio reviews; I see a lot of young women who want to go into creative fields. Some want to go into graphic design; others are interested illustration, development, or video editing. I give my critiques and offer any advice that might be helpful, as well as any specific resources like a JavaScript library I found or an interview online that expands upon what this student would like to know. I always give my business card to the student and tell them to give me a call if they would like to talk about anything in more detail, usually stuff related to how to apply for an agency or in-house design jobs or more complicated topics like the basics of taxes for freelancers or should designers know how to code front end languages. I do this with every student, regardless of his or her sex. For me, your sex doesn’t matter, I just want to see you do good work and have success at it.

This goes well beyond wanting to see students succeed. In my professional and personal life, all are treated with the same level of respect. Luckily, I know and work with a lot of people who feel the same way as I do. For us, the “man’s world of design”, the culture of the “brogrammer” and elitist male nerdom is all a bunch of crap. We don’t hold any notions that women are any different than men when it comes to design thinking, technology and geek culture. We rather enjoy different perspectives because it makes for great conversation and more thought provoking ideas. We don’t abide anyone who treats men or women differently based on their own self-assumed superiority. I think we can all agree that a lot of men and women can be intolerable bigots and that gender typically isn’t part of the issue, it’s just their personalities. If gender is an issue, they are even more base than previously assumed. For me personally, these are the individuals that need to be ostracized.

Is this is the right way to do enact change? I can’t say for certain. My hope is that through my own actions others will recognize that change starts inward first then grows outward.

The Future

I’m not going to say that the creative industries need more women for the sake of it needing more women. The creative industries need more critical thinkers, and gender should not be a deciding factor in critical thinking. I feel that as our respective industries grow, more women will join in to help shape that future. There are a lot of women I look up to in my field and gender plays no part in it. I look at designers like Tina Roth Eisenberg, Jessica Hische, Debbie Millman, Paula Scher and Margo Chase, who challenge me to think critically to pursue solutions that are meaningful. There are women like Nixie Pixel, Sarah Gooding, Lisa Sabin-Wilson who literally helps me daily on finding and using the right tools and implementations for WordPress, coding in general and technology. Lastly, the illustrators, Tara McPherson, Rebecca Guay, Virginia Poltrack, Liz Danforth; these women inspire and remind me that just because something is, doesn’t mean it can’t be something else. One thing all of these women have in common? They are all critical thinkers.

As for the future, basically I want that concept that was portrayed in Star Trek. The enlightened society that has moved past biases and prejudices and continuously grows for its own betterment. The strong women of Star Trek exist today; we just need elements of society to catch up.

My Ethos

When I was younger, I played drums in a hardcore band called From Their Eyes. This was around the time when there was resurgence in that scene. I grew up listening to bands that made music about equality, justice, and freedom. The post-hardcore, punk rock, and metal scenes were viewed as extreme by the mainstream, but many of the bands I listened to espoused equality in their message, usually through the shared feelings of heartache, injustice, and rage; feelings we all have faced. I took their messages to heart.

I see parallels between women in the creative industry as I see with women in music, specifically the traditionally male dominated realm of metal. One of my favorite parts of Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is the section on women in metal where there are several interviews from metal legends like Girl School, Doro Pesch, and Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy. Similar to technology and creative fields, the world of heavy metal music was very much a male dominated scene with women on the periphery, but as more women defied gender bias and proved that they were no different from men and they weren’t going anywhere, there was a paradigm shift. Ultimately, the inclusion of women in metal enriched the genre. Is sexism and objectification completely eradicated in metal? No, by no means, but those attitudes aren’t tolerated well by the majority of fans.

This post was tough for me to write. I struggled with whether or not should I even talk about this issue; whether or not am I qualified to talk about this and if I ever have been a hypocrite. All of this was swirled in my head as I wrote this. This issue is a social one that happens to be in the areas of professional interest to me. I wish I could offer up more solutions to issue, but I can only start with my own actions. It’s in my nature to try to fix things and better situations better for everyone, but this isn’t a subject that I tackle by myself or try to propose a grand, bold plan of revolution. I’m just a big guy who likes to make to creative solutions and who believes in fair opportunities. That’s it. I want to see good work. I want to see the exciting possibilities for the future. I want to see anyone who wants to help create that future get their chance.

 

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April 26, 2014

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