No Violet, We're ALL a bunch of Socially Awkward Dorks

Jason and Violet discuss the science of "Mansplaining" and the challenges for women interacting in monocultures such as Apple software development.

Jason Perlow: So basically, in the guys vs. girls part of your WWDC 2011 article "No Innovation" are you saying we're ALL a bunch of socially awkward dorks?

Violet Blue: No, not at all. No one seems to be seeing the GLARING section in my article categorically stating that the two incidents were exceptions, not rules. Notice that I defend the men who are not dorks/dicks, and I'm stating that there are a lot of them. I met and hung out with some of the coolest men currently in my life at WWDC. It renewed my faith in men – especially geeky ones -- in more ways than I expected. Most socially awkward dorks are hot: that’s why I wrote a primer on how to flirt with geeks.

The whole monoculture situation is a set-up for sexual profiling. Most men I talked to at WWDC acknowledged this so openly and frequently that I pointed out their discomfort in my article. They were complaining because it made them feel like something wasn’t right.

The guy who ridiculed me for having an Android phone totally didn’t get why it might have been fine to do that to “one of the guys” – at a party full of guys. Obviously it wasn't because I am a girl; that was clear in my article. But ridiculing the only minority, gender or otherwise… You’re creating an awkward, hurtful and embarrassing situation for someone who is already the odd man out. So much for thinking different.

What I'm saying is that Jobs has crafted a tolerable atmosphere for a few loud and assumptive dicks to make the minorities in attendance uncomfortable enough to keep us from participating, and this they miss reaping the benefits of our different perspectives.

JP: I think it would be possible for you to have the same exact experience at Google I/O, or a O'Reilly Conference, or a LinuxWorld, etc. That this has nothing to do with Apple or WWDC -- it's more along the lines of the fact that most 30 and under men working in the tech industry, particularly in a conference environment when they are letting their hair down have no idea how to interact with women, either in a social setting or in a professional one.

VB: Well, I don’t prefer to assume the guy I’m talking to is going to be inappropriate. One of my strongest beliefs is that assumption is the prison in which our opportunities are convicted, and lost.

I've been to all of those conferences (except LW) in various capacities, and I have to disagree with you. Some are better, and some are worse. By being treated “better” I mean being treated like an equal, no matter your gender, color or sexual orientation.

The fact is, women still get paid less, and the cost of attending WWDC is out of the range for most female entrepreneurs so there will always be less women than men at WWDC.

I did a main stage presentation at ETech ‘08 and all hallways, sessions and parties were totally mixed, and the socially awkward people were warmly welcomed. But then again, Brady Forrest, the organizer, worked very hard to create exactly that kind of open culture. And out of it came things like Faces Of Innovation, etc.

JP: There's another facet to this which is probably important, is that there is probably a tendency for most women to be in "Shields Up" mode when dealing with men in the tech industry, particularly if they are techies themselves. Essentially, you're expecting most of the time to be dealing with socially inept Klingons who have no idea how to interact with women, you are in "guard" mode. It doesn't put us on a particularly good footing from day 1.

VB: Absolutely. But a lot of us, even in guard mode, are socially awkward dorkettes, too. The thing is, I'm getting harshly criticized for not behaving the way I was supposed to. I am apparently supposed to "tell the men how their behavior was inappropriate." No thanks. I think we women have done enough of that. And we see how well that’s worked out.

Treat me as an inferior, and then expect me to correct your thinking? I am a businesswoman. I am not going to automatically give up more value than I am being offered in return.

Think about “Bottle Rocket Boy.” He assumed what I was and it was not an equal. Would a guy walk up to two other guys and ask, “So, what are you two boys doing here?”

After the No Innovation article went up, I got a nice email from the Daring Fireball t-shirt guy from Bottle Rocket – the company passed the article around, he said they were adding ‘mansplaining’ to their lexicon, and thanked me for the laughs. I responded thanking him for reaching out. He also acknowledged that based on what he’s seen in male behavior toward women at conferences, he wasn’t surprised the interaction went the wrong way. Shields up, indeed.

I agree - most women are in guard mode. Every day we get on a bus, or when a taxi driver drops us off at our homes and asks for our phone numbers. Guard mode *is* being female, and it sucks. We do it against each other, though, a lot of the time, sadly.

JP: In essence I believe most of the fault of this or the burden of resolving this situation has to lie on the men to stop acting like jackasses. Maybe they need to have sensitivity training or something at each of these conferences and give away free iPods or something to get them to sit through the presentation.

VB: Interesting idea. But no one would go. I think that the hornet's nest I kicked with this article will certainly make conversations happen, will bring out the assholes (which will be revealing), and make dudes think twice about who – or what – they think that chick is they're about to chat up.

There’s no magic button to solve this issue. As with the counseling work I do, I have a sex-positive, harm-reduction approach to it. Meaning, there’s no shame in sexualizing or being sexy, and some people are always going to behave badly, so we need to acknowledge both and do what we can to reduce the negative impact (of the inappropriate behavior) on communities we care about.

JP: I do have to ask though, why did you go into that party pretending to be a model?

VB: I didn't go into it pretending to be a model, at all – that’s the kicker. When other people asked what company I was representing, I said CBSi/ZDNet (even though I was invited as a VIP by Ars Technica solely as myself). Those guys approached us after we'd done a circuit around the party being talked to by journos, the party’s hosts, and notable personalities who were hugging/regarding us as old friends, photographing us and treated as bloggers/devs, and talk about our first, exciting app.

That's why I was speechless when I was asked what “you girls” were doing at the party. The irony in my PA’s reponse is that Juliette and I are also models, and she does most of her work in LA.

JP: Why not just say you and your employee were programmers and tech bloggers? I mean it's kinda like entrapment. Were you wanting to see a specific outcome?

VB: I didn’t initiate the conversation “as a bimbo.” I did not try to persuade them that I was a bimbo. I didn’t induce them to do anything they weren’t already doing.

I kept the story short for the article, but I did tell them my real name, and asked them real questions. I provided opportunities in which the conversation could have recovered. So, I just let them lead with their assumptions.

CORRECTION: My PA (Juliette) reminds me that Bottle Rocket Boy's first line to us was actually, "How did you two girls get in here?"

I stopped it when I felt it had gone too far, and excused us. Afterward, Wil Shipley regaled us with his "worst pick-up lines said to girls" and it was all lulz. I got teased for not mentioning the really NICE guys we got drunk with afterward, and WWDC was certainly packed with smart, funny, nice guys.

But lastly - I'm tired of having to gently teach men how to behave. TBA, it's just not my f*cking job anymore. That's what SlutWalk is trying to do, I think.

JP: Maybe they should just put up warning posters at the parties "WARNING: There are people with vaginas in the vicinity with working Cerebral Cortexes skilled in Object-Oriented Programming Languages. Do not assume bimbos."

VB: Is there an app for th... Oh, never mind.

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