To Other Women in Tech
This article is a reaction to How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’ in the opinion section of the NYT.
I was really excited when women in tech spoke out about sexism in the tech and gaming industry on Twitter with #1reasonwhy. But more and more, the mission to expose sexism in tech is turning into unproductive rants. I don’t want to see women try to top each other with their own awful stories. Young women who are trying to choose their path in life don’t want to go into such an unwelcoming path either.
Yesterday, a male co-worker asked me which of our “dev bros” he can talk to about a web development topic. I happened to be really interested in that topic so I geeked out a little bit about it. After that, I remembered that he had asked for someone else to talk to so I asked him if he’d still like to talk to a developer and he said no and that I’ve given him some really valuable information.
Now, I could have read it as, he didn’t think I’d know anything about this topic cause I’m a girl and he wanted to talk to a “dev bro” or, I could read it as that he just didn’t know that I’d know anything about this topic because I wasn’t a developer. At moments like this, you can either act to the reason why men in tech are awkward around women by assuming sexism all the time, or you can act like a normal human being and give the other person the benefit of the doubt— and that’s exactly what I did.
I’m committed to being nice to my fellow ladies in tech, as long as they act intelligent, classy, and keep drama away. I’m committed to always giving my male counterparts the benefit of the doubt when situations arise. I’m committed to telling positive stories about being a woman in tech. I’m committed to setting a good example for young, smart, women who have a calling in tech.
The Women Behind My Tattoo— a personal story
Before I left Buffalo, NY to start grad school at NYU in 2010, I started a half-sleeve arm tattoo. Now, people often ask me about the meaning of it and I find it really hard to sum up all of its meaning in a 30 second explanation — so I decided to write it up and put it on my blog.
Meeting the Artist
I’d never thought about getting a large tattoo until I was at a birthday party and my friend Amy showed me this large tattoo of Dali’s Giraffe on the side of her body. I’d never seen such amazing detail and color on a tattoo. I expressed— half jokingly, that if I ever got a large tattoo, I’d go to her tattoo artist. A guy next to me smiled and said “thank you, here’s my card.” That’s how I met my tattoo artist Chris Pchelka.
I knew that I wanted something related to literature, my culture, and my roots.
I had just read Wild Swans by Jung Chang and that book changed how I looked at my family. Chinese families are very private. Misfortunes and grievances are often hidden from younger siblings and children. It wasn’t until I read Wild Swans and asked my mom about some of the specific things in the book that she told me about some of the hardships for our family and the women in her generation. I found out that like the author’s father in the book, my grandfather gave his life to the government and did everything to protect his family. At the end of his life, someone spread rumors that he was not loyal to our communist government and he died in his bed because no hospital would take him in and no doctor dared to pay him a visit.
My mom never talked about her resentment for the way her father was treated and everything that the government put her family through. She kept her head down and worked hard. Back then, grades were important but to get great job and school placement, it was important to have a mentor in “the party”. Despite how much it would have helped her career, my mom never officially joined the communist party. She proved herself to be the best while she was in school and then in the pharmaceutical job she eventually landed.
When I was 3, she left Beijing for Shanghai to learn English for 6 months. It was really hard for her to leave me and my dad but she knew that it’d pay off. When I was 5, she was offered a rare opportunity to do an apprenticeship at the University of Buffalo in the United States. I’d eventually join her when I finished 4th grade but after she left Beijing, my grandmother and my extended family raised me.
My grandmothers on both sides were total matriarchs. After my grandparents on my dad’s side passed way, my oldest aunt ran the family. That same aunt was reprimanded during the Cultural Revolution because her name was originally An Na Li and that sounded too British. I knew that she changed her name to overcome the gossip, and she eventually became a successful lawyer but my family never talks about the other punishments she had to endure. When her husband died in the late ‘90s from being tossed out of a car after it rolled off a mountain road, she put her son through law school in London and continued to care for our extended family. There is no doubt that she’s the glue on my father’s side of the family. To her, her role in the family is ‘the way it is’ she’s never treated it like a burden or a sacrifice.
Growing up, I remember my 3 aunts cooking all day together on Sundays and arguing over who’s dumpling recipe was the best in the family. They’d dismiss each other’s food logic, they’d bicker and make fun of the others’ method for squeezing together the dumpling wrappers but at the end of the day, we’d all sit together at a large round table and happily bury our faces in dumplings. They’d always sneak me a few dumplings out of the first batch and tell me to not to let my cousins—their own sons and daughters, see me eat the secret dumplings.
I am the youngest in my family and I was also really small for my age. I always wanted to hang out with my cooler cousins, and that led me to some unfortunate situations. I remember jumping a fence to an abandoned tile factory with my cousins, and then being abandoned because I couldn’t get back over the fence. My aunts came and got me. They also defended me against bullies and my cousins’ innate need to play tricks on me before I was old enough to do it myself.
Parts of the Tattoo
For my tattoo, there was nothing more perfect than a scene out of Journey to the West. It had always been my favorite series growing up. The condensed version of the story is that a monkey gets special powers, and he became more human than monkey. He became really full of himself and defied the gods and tried to fight them. The monkey was in some deep trouble until Kwan Yin (sometimes spelled Guan Yin), a bodhisattva who represents compassion, gave him a way out by making a deal with him that he can redeem himself if he accompanied a monk on his pilgrimage.
At first, the monkey tried to run away but Kwan Yin put a crown on his head that tightens when a certain prayer is said. After a few stops with the monk, the monkey realizes that the monk is truly helpless without him and he willingly accompanies him to the end. The monkey’s intelligence, stubbornness, short temper, ego and impulsiveness gets him in trouble, and Kwan Yin had to help them along the way. Their journey are full of evil people who try to derail them, and each story of the book is a new adventure.
My family always compared me to the Monkey King when I was little — I never listened to my elders, I’d always insist on inventing a new way of getting something done. I got a lot of timeouts in kindergarten because I’d get bored with the class activities, and I’d distract people around me by telling them funny stories that I had read in more advanced books.
When I was young, I was always monkeying around, and I never backed down from an argument or a fight. My mom told me that once when I was little, my dad tried to scare me by spanking me and instead of crying I looked him straight in the eye and basically told him to ‘bring it.’ Luckily, I’ve calmed down since then and I’ve grown from my mistakes like the Monkey King did.
Kwan Yin never stop believing in the Monkey King’s potential to learn from his mistakes and she believed that he can learn to control his impulsiveness and complete the trip a changed monkey. The women in my family have always encouraged me, and they were amazing role models.
I decided to get a Fu Dog on the inside of my arm because I always felt safe and protected by my grandmother, my mom, and my aunts. My grandma and I took long walks every weekend, and there are a lot of pictures of me climbing all over Fu Dog statues as a kid, and I used one of those pictures as a reference for the tattoo.
I wanted this tattoo to honor all the women in my family but getting a giant tattoo is not a very traditional way to honor your Chinese family. Like the stubborn Monkey King, I had to do it anyway. When I told my mom, she told me not to do it. A month later, she was sitting with me in Chris’s tattoo room and making funny faces at me when the tattoo gun touched my skin.
When I went back to China in 2007, I had just finished the Kwan Yin part of my tattoo. I was really scared to show my family because tattoos were not looked at as an art form in the slightest. It really worried me that my grandmother would hated it because she’s never been to America and she hardly ever watched any western entertainment. Her understanding of tattoos is from portrayal of gangsters in Chinese and Japanese movies. I wore a shawl for the first 2 hours of arriving in Beijing, but the humid, summer heat of Beijing got me just before we sat down for dinner.
When my grandmother saw it she got quiet, and I remember holding my breath as she studied it carefully. When she finally talked, she frowned and said, “It worries me that it hurt you, but it’s so beautiful.” My grandma kicks ass.
In my personal journey, I’ve learned the importance of patience and acceptance. I now love getting advice from others, and when I’m feeling rebellious, I use that energy to innovate and rebel against “the way it’s always been done.”
After dinner on that humid July evening, my cool uncle, and I stuck off for a secret cigarette on the balcony. “I don’t like it,” He gestured towards my tattoo with the cigarette he was handing me, “but your mom and gramma did.” He lit my cigarette and said, “I’m trying to quit. Don’t tell your aunt.”
I tried google glass today! WOOT. Takes a while for your eyes to get used to the focusing. via @verge
Let me just preface this post with: I’m not a feminist. I don’t sit around all day dwelling on the fact that I’m a woman in Tech Journalism and IT. This is a post of my thoughts on my experiences. I’m not looking to be right or wrong.
It’s so easy to jump on the bandwagon of pointing out sexism and racism in tech. Yes, women are the minority in tech, the geek / nerd culture is not too friendly to women, and we are always being rescued in video games (poor Princess Peach).
I’ve heard and read some rants by some male tech journalists that was just way too dramatic — especially when they were criticizing the Playstation and the Samsung Galaxy S4 events.
I, like a lot of women, do not need to be told by a bunch of men why I should be offended at a portrayal of women.
There has been a lot of sexism talk involving tech keynotes lately. Most recently, the Samsung Galaxy S4 event has gotten some heat for an unfair portrayal of women.
The most controversial scene was the fourth (and last) one, where a bunch of *very* culturally diverse women in a wedding party are standing around drinking with the bride-to-be. During this scene, a dude with a nice body gets naked, and the women objectify him but do not become the damsel in distress.
This was obviously a ripoff of a Sex and the City scene down to the similarity of the music that they open and close the scene with.
I looked at this scene like I did the other ones — as a goofy, weird, and over dramatic portrayal of life written by a person who was paid to make up scenarios where these new S4 features would come in handy.
Would this have been controversial if it was a bunch of football bros high-fiving and S Beaming each other their favorite tunes?
I’m guessing that Samsung’s goal was to conjure up four scenes that had to show off the new features of this phone, cover all the user types Samsung found during their market research, and be racially diverse through it all.
Here are the four scenes through a critical lens.
Scene 1: A Caucasian family (from the Upper West Side, as inferred by the overly-jovial emcee) with a bratty kid who thinks that the absence of the greatest cell phone camera is a reflection of her parent’s love.
Scene 2: Adventurous men in their mid-twenties taking a journey to find love and themselves along the way. One becomes a fool in love, the other faces the challenges of a foreign culture.
Scene 3: If you meet a New Yorker, they are more than likely an actor or a competitive person who is always trying to steal the spotlight. If you have a kid in Long Island, he probably wants money. Men would rather talk to a voice over system than to stop to ask for directions.
Scene 4: Women hang out together like the women in Sex and the City. There’s always a loud friend and a friend who cannot hold her liquor. It’s ok to check out some eye candy. Gardeners are sexy and often get hot from their work so they take their shirts off.
There are serious sexism issues in the tech world, just like many other fields of work but in this case, calling Samsung’s portrayal of women sexist just makes women look sensitive. We do not want to get to the point where people can’t openly address this issue because they feel like no matter what they do, someone is always going to criticize the action.
Maybe this is the adult version of punching your crush on the shoulder— there’s a better way to say “I like you” but the pressure is just too much to handle.
Man bashing is a definitely a thing in society but we don’t hear much about that.
Before you organize a bra-burning meetup, turn on a television. How many sitcoms are of a bumbling, lazy husband and a loving wife who puts up with it all for comedy relief? Isn’t the point of feminism for women to be treated as equals and to have the same opportunities as men do?
If so, then how come so many women can’t take a joke? Or laugh at the fact that we’ve all been to a party with girlfriends and things got loud and obnoxious?
I’ve experienced my share of blatant sexism.
While getting my undergrad degrees and then my masters degree, I worked full-time then part-time at a retail store as a hardware and software certified computer technician. No matter which store I worked at, I was always one of the best and most trusted technicians. I loved my co-workers and I proved myself as a go to person when a mystery problem with a computer popped up. They never showed me sexism or prejudice.
In the face of customers, however, things were different. I’ve had multiple people—men and woman, blatantly tell me that they want to talk to a real technician instead of “the girl who wrote up the paperwork.” I’ve even had a conversation where a guy asked for a real technician, then after being told that I’m the real technician, he looked at me in the eyes and said, “Ok, I want to talk to a man.”
That’s also how you can also kicked out of a retail store. My managers, my coworkers never condoned that. Ever. In a field that’s a boy’s world, they all had my back because I did great work and no one argued with that.
I don’t want to live in a world where people are hyper-sensitive to political correctness. A portrayal of five women having fun together and talking about their diet is not sexist the way Samsung did it, just like how calling it sexist does not get women any closer to equality.
I’m not sure how to have conversations surrounding sexism in the tech world. For me, working hard, proving myself, and having a sense of humor about things has gotten me really far.
When someone gives me negative feedback, I assume that their feedback comes from a good place in their heart, and they they want to make me see how my actions are seen by others, whether or not if I intended to appear that way.
I’m scared that for companies, the easy way out of being labeled as sexist is to hire token women. I never want to be a hire to fill a quota for the number of women at a workplace.
We, as a society, need to encourage kids to be more balanced. We should have coding classes and fun math classes for younger kids. No, not just coding classes that encourage women or young girls. People need to be together, women need to compete with men in math and computer sciences. We need to get more women into these fields.
I wish more teen girls thought that computers and math are cool things to study. I wish TV shows catering to young kids would stop portraying nerds as friendless losers.
I don’t have a solution for this.
The only thing I can do is live my life the way I want to as a tech journalist/support manager. I want to be someone a young girl (who might be insecure about showing off her nerdy talents in math or computer science in fear of being bullied) can stumble upon on the internet one day and say ‘being a woman in tech can be cool’ or ‘Chao didn’t have a prom date and she did ok for herself doing what she loves.’
If you’ve made it this far. Let me just leave you all with a simple thought: relax and be good to one another.
This post is a rambling of my thoughts and ideas. It does not reflect the opinions of my employers.
Lessons Learned: Things I Read [11/27]
Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present by C.W Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky (I haven’t finished this yet but it’s def a great read!)
Old media’s problems are the costs not the lack of paywalls via @pandodaily
Inside Search: Power Searching with Google is back Via @google (I didn’t know Google did tutorials like this. I’m very pleased with this find)
How Rare Black Dahlias Get Their Color Via @livescience
I hope you enjoy today’s readings. I know I did! Let me know what else you think I’d like on Twitter or in the comments!
I’ve been thinking a lot about how amazing biomimicry is recently. I’m linking to this TED talk because this was the first thing that introduced the concept of biomimicry to me. I love the idea of applying one set of rules to something completely different.