Monday, January 10, 2005

Am I Sexist?

I had an interesting discussion with my office mates this morning about women in the IT field. We were considering a web conference and we passed around a flyer with bios on the two presenters. I said, oh look white guys. Everyone was a little shocked and I said that i'd simply noticed lately that I didn't see a lot of women in the it field. In addition, my social interactions with other women tend to be primarily about children, which is fine, but frankly I'd rather talk about other things. Plus, if I bring up that I have a blog or talk about my ipod, they look at me like I have two heads. In other words, I feel a little ostracised in my field because i'm a woman and a little ostracised among my peer group because i'm interested in technology. Is this a problem for anyone but me? I certainly don't have a problem with the two men I work with. I consider them to be good friends and colleagues and I don't think about them in a gendered way at all. Is it wrong for me to want some diversity? Shouldn't I be worried that there aren't more women in the IT field? Is it okay for me to point out that when I go to a conference, there aren't many women? Am I just like the men who say where are the women bloggers? They're there, but I'm just not looking in the right places?

Maybe I am being sexist in thinking that there should be more women in the field. My colleagues implied (though didn't say outright so I may be putting words in their mouths) that women don't choose technology fields. I happen to believe that our ideas about gender are socially constructed in ways that are so subtle and ingrained that we think we're not being sexist when we are. So where my colleagues see a choice, I see an entire system working against women making that choice, from girls being discouraged in math classes to the lack of video games aimed at girls to the way girls are directed toward more "feminine" things--humanities, the arts, etc. Is this a dated view of things? I just don't get this feeling that suddenly, things are looking great for women. Isn't there still a wage gap? Don't professions considered typically "female" see lower wages?

I felt bad for making my snide comment about white men, and it's not that all white men are a problem or that an overabundance of white men in a field is necessarily a problem. Is it so wrong of me to want my workplace and my field to reflect the world?

Aside from all of that, I do think that I'm an odd duck. I'm a 36-year-old female technophile. There just aren't that many people my age who really, really like technology. I have more in common with the students in that regard than with women my own age. I think it's possible that the technology gap will narrow in the future, but I'm also worried that if it doesn't, women will get left out of more than just the technology fields. They might get left out of political movements, other kinds of job opportunities, government programs, a generally fulfilling life. And that, I don't think, is being sexist. Cynical maybe, but not sexist.