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Andro-centrism within tech culture

tl;dr → skip to conclusions

Lately I am really uncomfortable with techno-androcentrism. It is nothing new, but it is getting on my nuts strongly those days.

My gramma was always telling me that as a good girl I have to be cooperative and care for those that I have around, that I should think of others and not only of myself, if not, I will get trouble. To my brother nobody would put that expectations, he got never reprimanded on acting for himself. I remember that when there was the last slice of meat, it seemed "natural" that he should get it.

And I know it is not only me and my gramma, but there are many generations of females being brought up to agree and cooperate. To the contrary, my brother was brought up to succeed, to beat others and be stronger than anyone.

That was long time ago, but I know it shapes how our lives evolved. And it shapes my experience of IT.

Documenting

In multiple situations I find myself reminded that IT is a competitive, individualistic sport. Lack of documentations is definitely one of the symptoms: if you document, you can get fired and you make easier for others to replace you. Also, it could make life easier to your colleague, and so you loose the advantage you try to gain over them. It is better to race to see who is faster and more efficient... Usually it is the one who has the most privileges that translate into: education, spare time for productive tasks, etc.

Whenever I see someone that refuses (more or less overtly) to document what he does, I start to suspect lack of willingness to cooperate within the team.

Support forums and chats

Then, there is also FLOSS myth about support / users' forums and IRC channels. "Harsh" norm communication is obvious, one that males are often trained to enjoy, but many females-like-me were strongly stigmatized for using it. I was trained to say hello and first establish communication before asking for help. Meeek! Totally wrong! Doing this, at best, you will get ignored. If you want to get technical answer, you should enter IRC, swear about something, vomit your shit hiding anything related to the fact that you don't know how to resolve the issue (ha-ha, if you knew, would you have to ask?). Insulting women in general is safer than insulting other minorized groups, but it depends on context. I remember hanging around polish IRC channel on BSD : there was almost no tech talk, channel was filled with slants on wives and other women.

So there is an imposition of macho-style communication. But actually, why would I have to change my communication style to get answer on tech question?

Organization

Besides the (lack of) documentation, I witnessed andro-centric organization style within teams. At least since 1970 (Jo Freeman's essay "The Tyranny of Structurelessness") we have no more justification not to attend power structures within our organizations. We know that even though we are within 'anarchist'/'feminist'/'autonomous'/'radical'/'ethical'/'put-your-label-here' team, if we do not overtly attend the "how", we will reproduce heteropatriarchal, andro-centric culture. That means that the communication style I was trained for as a female, that is agreeing, consulting, gently expressing the preferences and taking into account other's needs... will be just useless. I attend the needs of my colleagues, ask them for their opinion and ... they usually don't. If I want to have my opinion heard, I have to repeat it so many times, and if it does not work, yell it over and over again. "Ughhh, she is bossy". Yeah, but if you listened to me just as I listen to you, I would not have to yell. You don't have to yell, because I do take your part into account. Actually, your perspective is already all around.

I was not brought up to compete with colleagues and I find it really a pain in the ass having to adapt and to hide in the corner struggling with some implementation to prove that I am stronger and then to show off that I found out things others don't know. It is so boring for me. For me the unix principle of not having to invent twice the same wheel is important. I prefer to ask a friend: 'hey, have you done that before?' or to share what I find out. Cooperative culture for me is when each of us does their part, read their man pages and try to tame the machine, but can talk openly on what they are doing. Just sharing, as easy as it sounds.

This not communicating / agreeing on decisions often leads to doing "the normal thing", and often is accompanied by "this is only a technical decision". Well, no. What seems "normal" is usually representation of dominant values, that is andro-centric. Skipping communication is perpetuating this norm. And of course, nobody sees anything wrong... As Harding and Norberg frame it : "Dominant groups are especially poorly equipped to identify oppressive features of their own beliefs and practices". So when someone refuses to discuss and agree on how things are done, s/he refuses to make effort to find the middle ground comfortable for all the participants.

Well, to ignore others when you have the norm on your side this is a strategically good move.

Conclusions

All I say is similarly enacted by all genders, just as patriarchy virtually runs in our veins. The difference is that it affects negatively mostly minority groups.

So if you are wondering how to work through your privilege, start attending seriously preferences that sound to your ear as extraneous. If there is some alterity it means that there is also, somewhere very close, a Norm. Discover what this Norm is. Do you identify with it? Always? Who would not feel comfortable with it? How would you feel being at their place?

Also, please take into account that it is relatively easy to convince others to solutions aligned with the Norm. But it takes a lot of effort to show how to cover other values. It is like a rut on the road - it takes effort to get out of it. And people that do not feel reflected in the Norm, they have to take up this effort over and over again. By letting yourself hear their voices you can make the world a bit more wonderful. By seeing the Norm as just one option among many and stepping down from its "neutrality" and "universality" satus you may give back some more space for others that they were deprived from. And even, you could learn a new way of doing things that could be more enjoyable to you too.