“Don’t be so Sensitive”

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have an interest both in the SQL Server world, and the caving world. Often these both overlap in different ways, for example disaster planning and the like.

The other day I was reminded of another way in which they overlap: the ratio of men to women in each activity.  In both areas, though I don’t have firm numbers, far more men participate than women. There are a number of reasons for this, but one I’ll call “the good ol’ boys” attitude. I discussed this in a previous post concerning women in the industry. Recently however I was reminded that sexism continues to be a problem in the caving community. On Facebook, I’m a member of a number of groups with a focus on caving. The other day someone saw fit to post a picture in one of the groups I’m a member of. The picture was of a young woman, in a sports bra and short tights wearing a rock-climbing harness, and holding on to a dangling rope.

Now, there were several problems technically wrong with the picture, including the fact that she was wearing a rock-climbing harness and this was a caving group and the fact that the harness was on backwards.  But, that wasn’t the real problem.  The real issue was, this was that it simply was not appropriate for this group.  Several members posted pointing out that this picture, and pictures like this, objectify women and discourage them from caving.

And then it came, a guy saying, “Don’t be so sensitive.”

In four words, he casually dismissed the concerns and feelings of a large number of his fellow cavers.  He said, without realizing it, “I don’t care how you feel. Your feelings and concerns are not important to me.” In my experience, these are the very same men who then complain there aren’t enough women in caving.

Similar comments included, “Oh, now you’re saying she’s wrong to be proud of her body” or “what’s the matter with a hot body”.  Here the underlying subtext is that anyone who expressed an issue with the photograph in that group was a prude.

I’ve seen similar comments at times in the IT community; “What’s the matter if I call her pretty, she should be proud of that!” “What, DBAs can’t be hot too?”

What some of my fellow cavers and IT professionals fail to understand is that the women in these circles want to be considered by the same standards as their male companions, on their skills and accomplishments, not on what their body looks like.  This does not make them prudes.

Nor, when these same women dress up for a cocktail party, or have a beer, or crack a ribald joke does that make them hypocrites. This is also an important concept for many men to understand. The women I know who cave and are DBAs are just as complex and varied as the men. Some like to dress up, some like to tell off-color jokes in the appropriate setting, some like to smoke a cigar, and often do all the same things that their male compatriots do.  But when it comes to caving or IT, they want to be respected for their skills, not judged for these other attributes.

So, next time you’re about to post a hot sexy photo, or make a comment on a woman’s appearance, ask yourself, “is this the appropriate place for this? Would I do this if it was a hot sexy photo of a man? Would I make the same comment towards a man?” And as a hint, if the name of the group is something like, “Professionals in IT” or “Cavers of the World” the answer is almost certainly “no”. Remember, your fellow cavers and IT professionals are judging you.

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