Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Is porn driving women away from the computer industry?

Richard Jones recently wrote, in an article about an inappropriate presentation at OSDC:

During one of the lightning talks a presenter put some porn up on the big screen. He was peripherally discussing a Perl module called Acme::Playmate (which basically looks up Playmate info on the playboy playmate directory).

We (the committee) had never thought it would be necessary to have to explicitly say that it's not OK to put up porn. Or that we'd have to actively discourage discussing a module that would clearly offend members of the audience....

There's my observations about why more women aren't in IT.

Wow.  Strong words.

Sure, including actual porn is inappropriate in a professional presentation (outside of the adult industry, of course, where it's a requirement in many professional presentations!).

However, the idea that the module shouldn't have been discussed (assuming it was relevant to the presentation, of course), is way over the top - and, in a perverse irony, highly patronizing to women!

I mean, what if somebody said, "Well, the reason there aren't more women in IT is because most of the men in IT are sloppy dressers, and women clearly find it offensive to have to be around that all day."  That would be insulting to men and women both!  The idea that a woman is going to be stopped from being a programmer merely because somebody wrote software that looks up information about female models, is as ludicrous (and denigrating to women) as the idea she'd be stopped because of IT men's fashion sense.  Certainly, there are worse things to be found on the internet than the documentation of Acme::Playmate, which makes no actual mention of nudity or porn anywhere!

And if sensitivity to porn or the mere idea of the existence of porn-related data on computers were an entry barrier for women in IT, then we should be able to test that hypothesis by finding out how many women in IT actually work in the adult industry.  After all, if the mere mention of the existence of a database of nude models during a presentation would cause women to abandon IT altogether, then surely jobs where creating such databases is a daily task and presentations are likely to routinely contain representations of actual sex as well as mere nudity, should cause women to run screaming from the room entirely.

Except, as far as I know, that doesn't happen.  The number of women working in "adult IT" doesn't strike me as being substantially different than the number working in any other IT niche -- and if anything, it might be slightly or significantly higher, if you count the entrepreneurial entertainers who run their own websites.

In fact, there are significant numbers of women-owned and operated businesses in the adult field, quite a lot of them using some kind of IT.  I should know, of course, since my wife owns and operates a lingerie and adult video/toy store (link probably not safe for work!), and she drags me along to some of the conventions.  She would also laugh at the idea that she'd turn down a good IT position simply because there was porn somehow involved!

(Side note: my wife was an IT manager and business analyst at a major ISP for a number of years -- before she quit and used her money to buy the adult store.  And she's still heavily involved in IT for the operations of the store: managing the support infrastructure for point-of-sale, inventory control, security systems, and even the mini-VPN so she can do some of her work from home.  She even designed the store's website and hacks a little PHP for it now and again.  Oh, and her store also sells Playboy-branded clothing...  to women.)

Now, my wife has been the victim of gender discrimination in other jobs, certainly.  These were non-IT jobs, however, for the most part!  The ISP was probably the most female-friendly job she had, especially when compared to say, the construction industry (which she also worked in).  She also had to deal with gender discrimination by female teachers who discouraged her from taking advanced math classes in high school.

But she would still be the first to tell you that equating the mere existence or discussion or presence of potentially-offensive material with actual harassment, just dilutes the meaning of the word, trivializing real harrassment in the process.  In addition, it patronizes and belittles women, by perpetuating the myth that they are delicate flowers who must be sheltered and protected at all costs from anything that might cause them to faint away with a case of upset sensibilities.

In other words, spreading the "women must be protected from porn" myth, simply perpetuates the patriarchal stereotype of women as unfit for the workplace, by insisting that the workplace must be made soft and delicate to accomodate them.  The feminists of the early twentieth century must surely be turning over in their graves!  Women fought hard to be treated as equals, not to be pampered and given special treatment.  In my wife's words, when I spoke with her about it yesterday evening:

"The idea that a woman needs to be protected from porn is chauvinistic.  Sure, it might be nice to have a strong man around to knock heads and protect me physically in some circumstances, but I certainly don't need a man to protect my intellect from being offended."

Sure, displaying porn in the workplace isn't right or sensible, outside the relevant industries.  But that's got nothing to do with women!  It's merely a matter of good taste and common sense.  Diversity in religious opinions regarding sexuality, as well as individual sexual preferences, means it's just plain respectful not to pin up your favorite nudes at the office or use them in a slideshow.  Not because it might "offend women", but because your coworkers might be of a different sex preference or religion than you, regardless of their gender, and because the material isn't work-related to begin with.  (Unless of course, it is.)

--PJE

P.S.  Does anybody know why it's supposed to be so gosh-darn important to have more women in IT?  I mean, does anybody in medicine practice this sort of hand-wringing about why there are so few men in the nursing profession, and what should be done about it?  Isn't this merely a matter of personal preference?  When women in the porn industry didn't like how things were being done, they set up their own businesses and conferences and competed.  Is there something that stops women in IT from doing the same?

I mean, if changing the nature of a profession to make it more gender-accommodating is such a good idea, perhaps it would be better to spend time campaigning for better pay and working conditions for male actors working in heterosexual porn.  They work longer hours for considerably less pay than their female counterparts, despite having more demanding jobs!  Clearly, something must be done so that more men can participate in this important industry, because they obviously need protection in this exploitative, female-biased business!

Now, some people will think I'm joking about what I just said, but that will serve only as a helpful illustration of their own bias.  You see, when a person thinks that trying to protect men in porn is silly, it's because deep down, they think women need more "protection" than men -- thereby demonstrating their own patriarchal sexist patronizing bullshit attitude!

Even if they happen to be a woman.

(Yes, my wife and I are saying that to be anti-porn is to be anti-woman, even if you are a woman.  But the full reasons for that position are a subject that deserves a more detailed article for another time, on a different blog.  Maybe when my wife gets around to creating her "Sex Shoppe Lady" blog, one or both of us will write something about that.)