Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself in a series of (mostly unrelated) events that all drilled into this same themes from different angles:  Women. Technology. Sexism. Sexual tension. Sexuality. Sexual privilege. Sexualization. Sexual harassment. Feminism. Power. Reaction. Anger.

The tech industry is a male-dominated field, and it doesn’t have a lot of social infrastructure in place for dealing with its sexual transgressions.  To add insult to injury, we’re stuck with woefully inadequate language to describe what’s happening in general terms.  The phrase “women in the tech industry” doesn’t refer to a unified group of people with common opinions and experiences.  Instead it describes a scattering of individuals who are, far too often, trying to get a job done as the only woman in a room.  They face sex-related challenges in professional situations on their own, and they’ve found their own ways of walking through them.

As a young woman in the tech industry who’s still just trying to figure out the rules to the game, I have to admit I’m a little pissed off about how much in-fighting, criticism, and judgment I see women dishing out to each other on the subject of sexism, sexual harassment, and other concepts that start with sex.  Forgive me for sounding naive and idealistic here, but it seems like our energy would be better spent respecting the differences of our individual paths over such a rocky terrain, and throwing each other a rope when needed.

As a gender-bending queer, I’ve always felt like mainstream representations of “women’s issues” included a lot of things I didn’t identify with, relate to, or experience in my daily life.  On the same token, I fight my own unique list of social battles that many “mainstream women” (which is a bullshit notion in itself) don’t have to deal with.  Our paths are different.

Except when they’re not.

Every single person on this planet can look at any large group of people and say, with plenty of evidence, “I’m one of them.”  That same person, looking at the same group of people, can also say with just as much truth and proof, “They’re not like me.”

And when we’re talking about sex -ism/-uality/-ualization/-ual harassment, what we’re talking about is a big fat knot that has no right answers, and we all have to find our own paths through it.

I’d like to walk through it with the support, thoughts, ideas, respect, and understanding of the women around me.

(p.s. Just dawned on me: stuff about sexual harassment in the tech industry is usually about office politics.  I’d just like to say that I work with the best, most respectful team on earth, and that area in my life is just fine.)

jiffy lube (by Joe Dunckley) http://flickr.com/photos/steinsky/193395157/I’ll strategize it, architect it, and design it.  I’ll help market it.  I’ll direct the team that’s assembling it.  I’ll even tweak the engine and apply the paint job if we’re short on staff.  But if doing all this also makes me responsible for changing its oil every three thousand miles and providing roadside assistance when it has a flat tire, then suddenly I stop being good at my job.

Websites are like cars. I’ve used the metaphor and I’ve heard it from others as well.  Even the prices are comparable — do you want a $500 clunker?  Something that’s either reliable or sexy (but probably not both) for $5000?  Or are you putting down 25 grand for your new baby?

We’ve got website mass-manufacturers. Website mom-and-pop mechanics.  Website fuel (hosting?).  We sell services that make your website stand out in a crowd.  We even give them vanity plates with the special character “.com” on them, and hand out free bling for your sidebars.  Let’s keep going with this.

Where are the Jiffy Lubes?  Where are the reliable, bonded, high-profile, maintenance shops that you can feel confident handing your hosting passwords to every six months or so for a good, honest, and slightly-overpriced assessment of how things look under the hood?  They should be able to upgrade things like WordPress, edit that homepage content you only care to change every once in awhile, advise you about any larger issues, apply some Spam Guard, and send you on your way before dinnertime.

And while we’re at it, where are the website loans for new businesses?  And where is the website insurance against hacking, hosting failure, and freeway Digg collisions?  How can you upgrade the sound system that is your website copy?  Where can you get all that bird shit washed off your outside user-generated content surface?  Where can you have your server space vacuumed?  How are you supposed to know when it’s time to get your timing belt replaced? Where are you supposed to go to do that?  And how can we hold mechanics reliable for doing what we ask without ripping us off?  (I suppose that last problem still hasn’t been solved with cars, so maybe I’m asking too much.)

Rusty Car Storage (by Dave_7) http://flickr.com/photos/daveseven/2522577075/I hate watching people’s transmissions die after driving 100,000 miles without a tuneup.  And I’m even less fond of being handed that panicked problem while I’m right in the middle of designing a beautiful new car.   But I don’t blame them for it — they don’t have much of a choice.  The resources aren’t out there on the side of the road, reminding them to come in for a checkup.  Where’s the freaking Jiffy Lube?

If it’s getting to the point where “married couple” is just another way of saying, “two-website household,” it’s time to scale the industry to address the needs of consumers.  Too many people assume that whoever built a website is going to be responsible for it forever — even if there’s no maintenance retainer plan in the contract.  And true, we — as web developers — created that assumption because we wanted to hold on to our clients.  But how many unloved, unmaintained websites are out there now, rusting and creating an eye sore on someone’s front yard because “maintenance” was an assumption instead of a plan?  Drop your pride and get real for a second.  You’re not happy about it but you don’t want to do the work to fix the situation, do you.

I no longer work on projects where the “designer” and the “programmer” are the same person.  I find that — even if someone can do both — their work will be much better if they only have to do one.  Having two separate bodies engaged in that arm-wrestling match makes for a better website.  And a less crazy team.  Even though I used to try to do both of them myself.

I’m adding maintenance to the pile now.  I don’t think the manufacturers should be the maintainers.  I think it’s a conflict of interest, a disservice to the consumer, and a white lie that’s tainted with an extra layer of fear and pride.

It’s time for the Jiffy Lubes to start popping up on the suburban street corners of the Internet.  We’re ready now.  And please, do it well.

photo credits: “jiffy lube” by joe dunckley and “rusty car storage” by dave_7 — thanks, guys!

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It’s Father’s Day. Again. This happens every year, and my dad’s been dead for the last ten of them. The holiday always sneaks up on me and forces me into a dilemma. Do I want to…

a) Focus on my father, grieve his death, honor the impact he had on my life, cry, throw things, resent him, laugh, smile, pray — whatever my relationship with him is asking of me right now, or

b) Pretend the holiday’s not happening. Work, sleep, hang out with people who could also care less about the holiday, go about business as usual, or

c) Focus on my other fathers. My step-father, my grandfathers, my uncles, and all of the masculine mentors who have carried and guided me, even when I believed I was dadless?

I lie, though — it’s not really a dilemma. I’m going to do all of the above. I always do.

In a moment of introspection or self-pity, I’ll collapse into the fetal position, hug my knees, and remember what it was like to have a living father, and what a privilege it was to be able to argue with him incessantly and blame him for everything. What a gift it was to walk through his five-year illness as an adolescent. How much I value the way those years stripped away so many illusions and forced me to face so many fears. How much I miss him sometimes. How much I wish I could know what would have changed as both of us continued to grow up. (And has it really been ten years?!)

But I won’t stay there long. I’ll have work to do. A big project is launching (I’ll tell you about it on Monday), and I’ll be up all night making sure it survives. I’ve got an acupuncture appointment. A body to revive and a brain to rest. I’ve got blogging to do, for chrissake. Twittering. Phone calls. I don’t have time for Father’s Day, thankyouverymuch.

But I’ll call my step-father — a strong, quiet man who brought stability into my life without placing any demands, expectations, or judgments on me. A man who’s so consistent and sane that I often forget to be grateful for him. A man who healed a huge part of my life just by showing up. I’ll find the words to thank him for that. Somehow. Hopefully. It’s a hard task. If not this year, then next year.

And my dad’s father. The grandfather who put his hand on my shoulder at my dad’s funeral and said, “I want you to know that I’ll be your father now. Anything you need, you just ask. I’m here.” And he’s kept his word. I won’t even start to tell you how present he’s been for me, and how much we’ve both fought through our own prejudices (him being a staunch conservative and me being a wild liberal) to love each other, because I’ll start crying.

Too late.

Then there’s my dad’s younger brother. The uncle who has stepped up to be just as much a father to me as anyone else. The confidence, the pep talks, the advice, the rib-cracking hugs, the jokes, the morning pancakes, the unquestioned aero-bed to crash on. When I say “I’m going home for Christmas,” I usually mean I’m going to his house. That’s just become how it is.

There’s more. I have a lot of uncles, and one of them is reading this blog (Hi Roger!). And grandfathers — for the longest time I had three of them, and I just lost the first one last year. The tall strong deaf carpenter who spoke with his hands and his smile. We didn’t know each other the way I get to know most people, but he gave me piggyback rides long after I grew into my 5’10” body, and he caught dinner for me in his lake.

And all the men I’ve worked under, who held up a mirror to me, told me I was strong, and challenged me to hold my ground. Aaron. Stephen. Dax. Terry. Hugh. Wayne. Daniel. Patrick. David. Alain. Dave. Chris. Mark. Thank you.

There’s more. There’s a lot more. There are some very special ones that I don’t even want to allude to here because I’m still afraid to admit how much I’ve needed them. Maybe I’ll find a way to thank them secretly. Somehow. Hopefully.

Maybe next year.

Okay, here’s the plan:

Everyone in the Bay Area who’s paying attention right now, please do the following (even if you’re in a monogamous relationship)…

  1. Go to CrazyBlindDate.com.
  2. Walk through the SF Bay Area site wizard (it doesn’t ask for any personal info until the end)
  3. Make yourself available for Sunday, Monday, and/or Tuesday nights (the more the better).
  4. Make your territory as broad as you feel comfortable with, but at least include San Francisco’s Mission District (you can get there. i know you can).
  5. Make yourself available for all ages and genders with no other restrictions (come on! you can deal with this! okay, specify gender IF YOU MUST).
  6. Use the “Intention” box to be honest about the fact that you’re just doing this for fun and to meet new people. (You should probably mention that monogamous relationship of yours, too.)
  7. Finish the wizard, sit back, and see who it sets you up with (you can always say “no”).
  8. Show up (even if it seems really really weird. You’re totally allowed to bail after 20 minutes).
  9. Twitter an update about your date every time you or your date goes to the restroom (keeping in mind that your date might see those tweets).

You’ve got nothing to lose except your pride, and that’s really not worth keeping anyway. Ready? Go.

The other thing that came up in my conversations with Emma today was ego and its relationship to creativity and public presence. Basically, when my inflated ego is running the show, my work kinda sucks. But when I can skirt under its radar and stay decently humble, I can do wonderful things.

I got hit in the head with this fact about five years ago when I was living on the East Coast and calling myself a “poet.” I was performing frequently, winning slams (competitions), influencing local arts culture, and being told daily how amazing I was. My ego inflated to the size of a rhinoceros, and then — almost immediately — something horrible happened: I stopped writing poetry for three years.

It was the kind of writer’s block that I’ve heard referred to as Superstar Syndrome: I felt like I couldn’t top my own work. I had become so invested in the identity of being impressive that I lost all willingness to make mistakes. It felt safer to create nothing than to risk creating something less-than-awesome.

Fast forward to now, where I’m slowly inching my toes back into the poetry pool (the water’s nice!), and playing around in Social Media sandbox. I’m aware that I’m mumbling into a megaphone with all these fancy tools, toys, and words, and that I don’t get to control the outcomes. Occasionally I get hit with an ego bomb that catches me completely off guard, and I’m reminded to check in with my intentions.

Encouragement is helpful and I usually need some kind of validation, but I also have to constantly work to find a safe balance in my self-image. It’s not something I can just “fix” — it’s constant maintenance. It’s spiritual grounding. It’s remembering that we’re all equal. It’s remembering that when other people give me attention, it’s not about me; it’s about them.

But oooh…. look at all my shiny twitter followers… Look! I must be awesome!

Down, girl. Sit. Stay.

As the conversation with Emma today dug deeper, I remembered a process someone explained to me a year ago around working through resentments. It goes something like this:

  1. Who am I resentful at and why?
  2. What does this affect in my life?
  3. Am I willing to try to show this person the same tolerance, pity, and patience that I’d give a sick friend?
  4. What’s my part in this situation? How did I add to it?
  5. Have I been telling myself that I’m right and they’re wrong? (Yes…)
  6. Am I using this sense of superiority to gain self-esteem or power? (*sigh* okay, yes….)
  7. Am I doing this because I’m afraid that the “regular” me is not enough? (i don’t want to admit this, but, yeah, sure, okay, that’s one way of looking at it…)
  8. They didn’t act right. What values could they have been acting with instead?
  9. How can I work on strengthening those values in my own life?
  10. I’m grateful that I have this obstacle to practice on.

Questions #8 and #9 go together and require a lot of thoughtfulness, honesty, and humility (which I can tap into if I paid attention during #4-#7). If I can find an overlap between What They Suck At and What I Probably Oughta Work On, I’ve hit on where I need to put my focus. Then something magical happens (or I need to lather, rinse, repeat), and the resentment starts to fade away.

Try it sometime. Let me know how it works for you.

Emma and SarahI have a lot I want to talk about tonight, so I’m gonna break it up into a few posts.

I spent the day hanging out with Emma McCreary, who was in town for a few days from Portland. She and I have had parallel keep-an-eye-on-each-other lives since we first did business together five years ago, and we’ve managed to become close friends almost entirely through blogging. We only met in person for the first time last month, so it’s extra exciting that I got to hang out with her again today. It also didn’t surprise me that — in between art-climbing adventures and ultrathick milkshakes — we skipped the small talk and went straight to philosophical discussions about how we interact with the world.

Emma studies Non-Violent Communication (and other happiness-inducing practices), and has picked up some helpful ways of explaining how we humans deal with stuff. Here were some of the nuggets I stole from our conversation (mostly for my own memory, but you can eavesdrop):

  • Letting your body fully experience difficult emotions is the easiest way to clear them away.
  • Being in a relationship is like looking into a Fun House mirror. You think you’re looking at someone else, but you’re really looking at yourself.
  • We usually try to get all of our needs met with one strategy. We’re better off if we try to get each need met with lots of strategies.
  • If you need to say “no” to someone, start by telling them what you’re saying “yes” to, and they’ll be able to hear the “no” much better.
  • When someone compliments you, they’re usually letting you know you helped fill one of their needs.

Good nuggets. Thank you, Emma.