NY ComicCon

Last week I talked about Kids These Days. This past weekend I went with my daughter to NY ComicCon. It was a late 8th grade graduation present she had requested. Due to me messing things up last year, we missed our chance to go, so I made up for it this year. And it was well worth it, for a couple of reasons. I want to focus on two, one topical and one personal. The topical first.

The topic is in the above photograph.  I apologize for it being blurry, “I’m a DBA Jim, not a photographer.”  But I took it for a reason. This was the panel for a talk titled: Join the Resistance! (Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). It was an interesting panel that talked about the books they wrote that cover the time between The Last Jedi to this December’s The Rise of Skywalker. But partway through listening, something dawned on me about the panel.  Can you figure out what I realized?

It’s there in the picture, but if not, let me list the panelists: authors Rebecca Roanhorse, Justina Ireland, Kevin Shinick, Ethan Sacks, Delilah S. Dawson, audiobook narrator Marc Thompson and moderator Ashley Eckstein.

What strikes you about that list of names? Now compare that to the panels you see at a number of tech events such as various SQL events. Note what it’s not. This is NOT a MANEL!

Science Fiction has for far too long been treated as the domain of boys and then later men. Marketing for decades often focused on boys. It was assumed that every boy wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk.  Women in shows and books were often only there as props for the male characters to react to. Granted, this statement isn’t 100% true, even Princess Leia had some meat to her character in the original Star Wars (back before it was episode IV or A New Hope.) Even then though, she served the role set out in much of mythology as the princess in distress to be rescued. Fortunately her role and the role of women in Star Wars was greatly expanded over the series, to the point now where Rey is our hero.

Ahsoka Tano in triplicate!

Ahsoka Tano in triplicate!

And this panel shows exactly how equitable the Star Wars universe has become. The moderator was Ahsley Eckstein, who voices the character Ahsoka Tano in various animated Star Wars series. Three of the authors on the panel were women. In other words, women were well represented.

Think about this when planning your tech event such as SQL Saturday. Do you have equal representation? “But wait Greg, there’s just not that women doing SQL! I only had 3 women apply to talk and 30 men!” I’m going to give you some advice. Ask for more women. Talk to those three, see if they know anyone who might want to speak, but was too nervous to put in a submission. Talk to Kathi Kellenberger and Rie Irish of the PASS Virtual Group Women in Technology.  Yes, there may not be as many women in tech as men, but I can guarantee that there’s more than you think and that it won’t change without encouragement and representation. If you as a guy get invited to speak on a panel, make sure there’s diversity. Turn down opportunities if it looks like it’s going to be a manel. Call out your fellow community members if they’re engaging in sexist behavior. It’s not always comfortable,especially if it’s a friend or a co-worker, but it needs to be done. Do your part.

If ComicCon can have an equitable panel in regards to Star Wars, you can do the same in regards to SQL or other tech panels.

Now for the personal:

Live Long and Prospoer

Autograph and picture with two amazing women, Nichelle Nichols and my daughter Rebecca.

Two amazing women: Nichelle Nichols is an amazing woman and helped represent African Americans on television in the 1960s and helped inspire people like Whoopi Goldberg and Mae Jemison. And as for my daughter, her future and journey is in front of her.  I will admit to basically being speechless in front of such an icon and here I am, still three days later grinning ear to ear thinking “I was in the presence of Uhura!”

(BTW, for those who recognize it, that’s a 1st edition Star Fleet Technical Manual with her signature. It also contains the signature of George Takei and James Doohan.)

 

“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.

Challenge Accepted!

Monica Rathbun in a recent blog post commented on how hard it is to write a blog post in under 5 minutes and challenged her readers to try to do it.

The only thing I can say is… challenge accepted.

But what to write about?

How about how I write, or rather how an idea gets into a blog post.

I have to admit, some Tuesdays my mind is blank. I sit at the screen, sometimes for 5 minutes or longer and my mind draws a blank. That’s rare. Fortunately, I often, sometime in the previous 6 days or so get an idea in my head and start to think about what I should write on it. It might have been a particular issue at work I had to solve, so I might be focusing on a more technical SQL or PowerShell focused blog.  Or it might be something I’ve seen that amused me.  This means I mull the thoughts over in my head and often have a basic outline before I put fingers to keyboard. The can help me cut down on the time I spent blogging.

I’ve also got about a dozen drafts saved in WordPress where I simply write a few lines of an idea for future posts. These are my saving graces. When I really can’t think of an idea I’ll go back and pull one of those up and finish them, such as this one which lay in draft status for months.

So, looking I think I failed. I think this one took just over 5 minutes. And to save time, I’m ignoring adding a picture, so you get the default. For now.

 

Nothing to Prove

This past weekend was a busy weekend for me. Thursday night I helped do the offensive door for my wife’s hockey team in the first game of a 3 game tournament. Despite only having 9 players (plus a goalie) they tied it 2-2 against a far larger squad. Quite impressive really seeing them up their level of play. They in fact got accused later of stacking the team with college students. Truth is, about half the team was in their 40s or above and the others late 20s or 30s. Not bad.

Friday night the family went to see Captain Marvel. I’ve mentioned before my daughter’s love of Star Wars. She’s also a fan of superheros, both in the comics and movies. We’ve seen a number of them together, including Wonder Woman and now Captain Marvel.

As a father I’m glad for movies like The Last Jedi, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. The last two might be called superhero movies, but they’re really about being a hero in general. You don’t need superpowers to be a hero. You need to be a person who decides to do the right thing at the right time. When Wonder Woman decides to cross the No-Man’s Land, she does rely on her superpowers to keep her safe, but she acts because she knows she has the power to make things better. Similarly, Carol Danvers is faced with a choice of doing what is easy and she has been taught to do and what is right. She’s a hero, again not because of her powers, but because she chooses to do the right thing.

Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are great movies for a number of reasons; but I think foremost because they truly focus on their stars. Steve Trevor and Nick Fury are supporting partners, not just in theory, but in the way they often take their lead from the main characters. Both are strong and powerful people in their own right, but recognize they’re among their betters. And, aiding their partners doesn’t hurt their masculinity, and they realize that.

I enjoy these movies because, while, as far as I know, my daughter doesn’t have a magical lasso, nor can she shoot photon bursts out of her hands, she has role models. While yes, her favorite comic book superhero might be Batman, she really enjoys having these superheros as models.

On Saturday, she and I drove 2.5 hours to Binghamton NY for her team’s competition in something called “Odyssey of the Mind“. While her team didn’t do as well has hoped, it was still a great time to bond and talk, including about Captain Marvel and role models.

My wife had her second game of the tournament on Saturday and when she called to give me the score, I could pick up on her excitement even before she said they had lost, 1-0. But this time with only 8 players instead of 9, it was in some ways even more impressive than the Thursday game.

Sunday rolled around and since we had to take our son to the train station to go back to college, it was easier to bring him to the game first. So, he got to watch his mom’s team, again with only 8 players actually win, 3-1 and come in 3rd out of 6 teams!

It was a fitting cap to a weekend of watching powerful women.

Oh, and besides Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and my wife’s hockey team be great role models for women, I think they’re great role models for men.  Men, you can have powerful women in your life and it doesn’t weaken you or make attack your masculinity.  If anything, it can help you be a better man.  So don’t just take your daughters to see Captain Marvel, take your sons.

 

Don’t…

call yourself an ally.

Just don’t.  You may think you’re an ally. You might actually be one, at times. But, don’t call yourself an ally.

Note, I didn’t say you can’t be one, nor did I say you can’t strive to be one. I’m simply saying don’t call yourself one.

I don’t care if you volunteer for the local LGBTA+ outreach group, if you serve on a women in tech diversity panel, or have all the “right” stickers on your car or laptop. You can do all the right things and be an ally, but don’t call yourself one.

Now, if members of the groups you’re helping want to call you an ally, that’s great. You’re doing good work. You’re doing something right. And it’s ok to enjoy the praise and thanks, a bit. But, still, don’t call yourself an ally.

Here’s the thing, I’ve got about every privilege box I can check in the US. I’m white, cis-het male, with a decent income. I have friends and family members that don’t quite hit all those boxes. I like to think I use my privilege to help others.

And it’s true, I’ve found in online debates I can say almost the exact same thing one of the people identifying as female says and somehow my words get taken with more gravity.

And yes, in the IT field, I’ve seen multiple times my coworkers talk over or ignore someone who wasn’t cis-het male, despite the other person’s knowledge and wealth of experience.

I’ve used my privilege to try to bring equality into the IT spaces I’m in. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed.

I’ve called others out for homophobic jokes, cat-calling and more.

But, as I’ve grown older, and I like to think wiser, I’ve realized even more, how I can’t call myself an ally.

It’s not for lack of effort. Let’s be clear, NO amount of effort will allow me to call myself an ally. And here’s why:

I’m not a member of the groups I’m trying to help. I’ve never truly experienced the discrimination and bigotry they’ve faced. Even when I’ve been associated with them, I’ve come to realize I’m “other”. This isn’t a fault or a failing, simply my reality. I can be among a group of gay men celebrating a friend’s birthday at the Green Lantern in Washington DC, and be perfectly comfortable, but know I’m “other”. And they know it too. The next day at work, even if I encountered a homophobic coworker, I can still disassociate myself from that weekend’s activities. It’s not a core part of WHO I am, it’s simply a part of something I did.

If I support women in tech, and I’d like to think I do, no matter how well I listen, I won’t truly have the gestalt experience of walking to my car at night wondering, if something happens, will someone’s first question be, “Well, what where you wearing?”  I’ll never be in a meeting and have an idea shot down and wonder, “was my idea dismissed because it was bad, or because of my gender presentation?”

I will always be “other”.

In a related manner, I can, intentionally, or unintentionally stop being an ally in an instant. I can intentionally choose to sit down and not be an ally.  Or, I can make a misstep and fail as an ally. And I don’t get to decide if I’ve succeeded or failed.

I will give an example of this: via Twitter I saw one woman speaker comment on how she felt offended that she had been asked, in part because of her gender, to speak at a conference. The person approaching her had made it clear he wanted more women to speak. Generally, this could be seen as being a good ally; making sure conferences aren’t full of manels and/or only have a slate of male speakers. Other women stepped in and said they wouldn’t be offended at all, that they appreciated the effort to include more women, even if at times it came across as ham-fisted or overly obvious.

So here’s the thing, the person asking probably thought of himself as an ally and might have called himself one. But, clearly the first woman didn’t agree, but others did. This is why he can’t call himself an ally, but others can. Perspective makes a huge difference here.

So in conclusion, let me end with what I opened with: not only can you work to be an ally, I would in fact encourage you to work to help others obtain the privileges and opportunities you have. BE an ally. But let OTHERS determine if you’re their ally. If they call you an ally, great! Keep it up.

If they however tell you that your actions or words are not helpful, listen to them. They are in the best position to determine what helps them. Unless they ask for input, don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong or why they’re wrong to not accept their help.

Wear their shoes

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting our local SQL Server User Group and having Rie Irish speak. Despite it being a remote presentation, which usually draws a smaller crowd, we had one of our larger crowds in awhile; I was quite pleased.

The topic was “Well Actually… Don’t be THAT guy in IT.” I first saw her present this at the Atlanta SQL Saturday 2018 and knew I wanted her to speak again to my user group.  She had previously presented “Let Her Finish” and this was a good follow-up.

One of the points she makes during this particular talk is that men don’t know what it’s like to be in a woman’s shoes.  This triggered a memory of when I was a wee lad.

Let’s jump back into the old Time Machine and dial it back to early September 1985. It’s evening on the campus at RPI and a young college freshman is hanging out with one or two other guys trying to figure out what evening session for their student orientation they should go to. They see a session provided by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) talking about women in engineering. One of them says, “Oh that should be fun” in a voice that probably had at least a bit of snark in it. So, this young, intrepid and naive freshman follows along, after all, at a school with a 5:1 ratio, one might as well go where there’s some women.

Now, this young freshman can’t quite remember the entire session, but he did come away with a very different impression than he thought he would. Basically it was an “Oh wow” moment. Prior to that he had no idea the sexism women might face at an engineering college where in theory one was admitted solely on merit. It was eye-opening.

Jumping back into the time machine, we can dial it forward about 18 months and set down at a house off campus where he’s talking with one of his housemates. She mentions she had started as an architecture major but changed majors, for a variety of reasons. But, one thing that stood out was her first day of class where a professor made it quite clear that he didn’t think women should be architecture majors. He was a bit shocked that such attitudes still existed, but by then wasn’t entirely surprised.

Again, jumping in the time machine, he dials things forward about 2 years later. He’s sitting in the backyard of a sorority house talking with his girlfriend and a mutual friend. The mutual friend is a geology major. She mentions how she has gotten into the habit of submitting her homework and papers with simply her first initial and last name. This less naive man doesn’t quite get the reason why at first until she points out that this way, her professor can’t as easily identify her gender, and it makes her life easier and she tends to get better grades that way. He doesn’t want to believe it, but he does, because he figures she has no reason to lie.  It angers him though that she has to do it.

Let’s jump forward now about two decades. Due to his then current work situation, he’s actually staying with the now former girlfriend from college. In the years since they graduated and broke up, she had gone on to become a VP of engineer at a medical devices company before eventually quitting and going into consulting. He’s making dinner when she comes home from a meeting she had with a client. She’s visibly upset.

He asks why. After all, she was simply going there to give her final report on an item she had been asked to review and to get paid for that report.  The client had accepted the paper, and then asked her for a date. What had been a professional setting now became an awkward setting where she was placed in a position of having to say no to something she never expected to come up and to still make sure she got paid.

Jumping into the time machine one last time, we return to the modern day where Rie is still speaking. This no longer young man has to agree.

He’s had glimpses into what close friends have gone through, but, that’s exactly what they are. Glimpses. He didn’t experience them. He has never, as another friend has had happen, been told if he gave a blow job, he would get the job.  He’s never had a door close behind him and a manager awkwardly try to make a move on him.  He hasn’t woken up most mornings wondering, “who will question my credentials today because I have large breasts.”

Today’s takeaway for a number of my readers is: listen to your colleagues and believe their experiences, but don’t for a minute claim to fully understand them. Many of us never can and never will.

Oh, and one more comment: this author is far from perfect when it comes to handling gender and other similar issues. It’s an ongoing process.  I’m still trying to learn and grow.