June 11, 2005

Article 265, In which Andrea admits she’s a sexist and then goes to Alaska

A million thanks to John Oxton for following up with his thoughts on the issues I brought up in my rant last week. I didn’t expect him to pick it up, and in retrospect I wish I had been more clear about what I was saying. This post tries to clarify those points, and to respond to some of the ideas raised by John’s post.

A reaction to some of the comments

First off, my choice of title was inflammatory. JohnO said: Exaggeration, a great way of making a point. Agreed. This is a habit of mine, and my husband has asked me a zillion times to stop doing it. Of course, John countered with an equally exaggerated title which was much more clever than mine. Sometimes the desire to be witty and come up with interesting titles backfires. Secondly, there were some who questioned my motives. Simon said:

I genuinely believe that the people who raise these issues are doing it not for the sake of others, but to raise their own profile as a caring little people’s champion.

In my case, this is not true. When I am shamelessly promoting myself, I tend to let everyone know, as I did here. I find promoting myself extremely embarrassing, and for that reason tend to be upfront about it. And I have a feeling I’m not alone among women in this. My post was a (clearly labeled) rant inspired out of frustration. Third, the quit whining and do something argument. Harry Jones said (at the end of a very interesting comment):

Suppose that CSSVault was in fact an old boy’s club and was actively preventing women or ethnic minorities from showing their work. What is stopping you from a) ceasing to use the site b) publicising that its a sexist/racist site c) building your own site?

Good idea. How about if I do my own thing and try to improve the situation on the existing sites? Also, I don’t think there is anything active or malicious going on. More about this below. John’s main point, and a point that was brought up a lot in the comments, was that the online reality is mirroring or an extention of the offline reality. I completely agree. I also completely agree with the idea stated elegantly by goodwitch:

i believe that the web standards community is focused on talent, abilities and quality results. i see them as an inclusive, delightfully rebellious band of technologists working towards universal access.

Exactly. I really truly believe that everyone’s intentions in the web standards community are good. In a way, that’s why I bother to bring up these issues— I know that folks I respect like John Oxton (and Malarkey who I called upon in the original article) are going to sincerely listen and do what they can to address any issues that they perceive. I am infinitely grateful to be a part of this community. I’m going to gloss over them here, but Ben, Hans, Kev, and especially Kathy made great comments.

Where I was coming from in my original post

My favorite part of John’s post is this:

My point being, I guess, that like it or not, consciously or unconsciously we are all susceptible to some conditioning imposed on us by our individual societys and the media at large. Our opinions may well be shaped by our own judgment but are also formed based on the information we are given. What effect then if that information is subtly sexist and/or racist in some way?

This really hit home for me, because when it comes to web design, I am a sexist. I prefer designs made by women. I don’t know what it is about them, some kind of more organic quality or something, but I find myself constantly drawn to designs that don’t quite fit the typical good web design” model, and when I examine them further I often find that they were done by women. There was a lot of talk in John’s comments about how this is the web and you can’t tell the gender or race of a person. This is true, but I can tell what I like, and what I like tends to be done by women. This, I’m sure, is a result of the conditioning imposed upon me by my society. I can analyze a design objectively and tell what works and what doesn’t work about it, but when is comes down to aesthetics a lot of designs out there that get a lot of recognition leave me wanting something else. I must assume that the same is true of men. They are conditioned to have different aesthetic tastes than women, and they are drawn to designs that embody those tastes. And the tastes of both men and women are heavily influenced by culture, race, and nationality. So, by not having a balance of gender on a judging panel for designs, the WSA, StyleGala, etc are potentially missing out on some designs that girls would love but that don’t strike a chord with boys. I tend to believe that anyone who submits their work to one of these places has a good grasp of the underlying code, and that what gets a site highlighted is that little something extra— that little something extra that is not objective, and for which the evaluation is heavily influenced by the conditioning of one’s gender, culture, race, and nationality. This is an oversimplification, but I hope it clarifies my point.

On that note, I’m out of here

I am leaving in a couple of days for a much needed vacation to Alaska, where I will not have access to the interweb. This is a deliberate choice— I really need to experience some life outside of this box. I promise to bring back many photos, a renewed vigor, and a better attitude. I will be be back around the 23rd of June. I have never been to Alaska before, and I can’t relate my excitement. I am hoping to have to remove the snowy owl from my list of animals, which would mean that I have seen one in it’s natural habitat. Wish me luck.

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OK, now I’m really gone I’m flying out for Alaska tomorrow morning, and it can’t come fast enough. It’s really, really disturbing to me how hard it has become to rip myself