The tech industry, like many, is rife with sexual discrimination and muted policies towards equality in the workplace. I used to let it ride. No longer - this is my story.
This all started, as most stories do, on a regular day. The sun was shining, I was in a good mood all things considered. I drove to work in light traffic in my new car that I could afford because I have this job in the technical industry. I'm a programmer - which is usually quite shocking to people when I tell them.
"You don't look like a programmer! When did you get into computers? That's kinda hot..."
I'm used to it. For some reason being a guy means I'm supposed to be digging ditches or playing football for a living where tight outfits and showing off my body - you know: no shirt, sun glistening on ripped pecs. That kind of thing.
Yet I'm not that guy - even though I'm 6'3 and workout a lot (and some say I look the part) - I'm a programmer and I work in an industry dominated by women who can't get passed the idea that I'm a programmer and I'm hot (I've overheard many of the moms at our playground call me a FILF).
Not everyone has a hard time with the idea that I'm a programmer - it's young women mostly - the kind that just graduated and want to get rich while drinking with their friends while wearing the latest in geek fashion accessories. Dark skirts, thick-healed shoes with their hair pulled back into that "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" kind of thing.
It's the world I work in - every day. My boss (the senior dev) is a Dragon Girl - you'd swear she buys her clothes from the Stieg Larsson catalog for the wannabe-techie-who's-never-coded-before.
Sigh. So anyway - today we're doing our morning Intentions (for those not familiar with Agile - that's where we all stand together and describe our Work Intentions for the day) and my annoying coworker is, once again, staring at my crotch.
I'm used to it. I try and dress nice for work and sometimes that means wearing things that accentuate "the male form". Normally I'm happy in a pair of baggy 501s but I'm trying to dress "professionally" and move up in life - and my dad told me I need to use what God Gave Me. Whatever that means.
That was his generation where men ran around in fear of their wives - pushing the strollers and wearing the Bjorn while the wife barks commands in her pony tail, vest-jacket and yoga pants. Thank God I don't live in that generation....
I shift my stance a bit and give this lame girl a look as if to say "grow up scumbag" - and she just laughs. Women can be so annoying... and then I hear my name called.
I freeze. Shit! This numb-tits was just staring at my junk and got me so wound up I forgot what I was thinking about! All of a sudden I feel like everyone's eyes are on me and my pants...
In my mind I try to get the image of that chick out of my mind - and I can't. I feel like they're all looking at the bulge in my pants and I wonder why I wore this thing to work then get mad at myself for even questioning myself and my wardrobe and why can't these fucking women GROW UP and understand that YES I'M A MAN SO FUCKING WHAT.
For the life of me I can't remember what I was going to say.
He must have a boner or something.
Light giggles. I'm completely embarrassed. Yes this really happened. I'm so completely astounded that one of these idiot girls said that to me... I can't believe I work here, with these people. I love my job and I love to program - but dealing with these fucking morons is taking its toll.
I look over to my boss who's just giggling slightly. "Should we move on then Rob?" she says. I look over to the corner office where the founders - all women - are sitting around a table tensely discussing company strategy... I feel trapped - in a Good Old Girl network where "just another boner comment" will get me a nice, matronizing look from someone who has no idea what it's like to be a man in this hell hole.
"Whatever" is what I manage to say. What else can I say? And I begin to remember my parents and their advice...
Women Want Only One Thing
I grew up in Los Angeles. Meat-fest and the place where men get crotch implants for their 16th birthday. I never cared about the size of my privates and my parents, when I was in junior high and hight school kept insisting that men grow differently and to be proud of my body.
Yet every day there were billboards, magazine articles, storefront windows, music videos - literally wherever you turned: men in tight pants with their bulge right in your face.
I was 12 and started to believe that men with a big bulge seemed to have everything they wanted. My dad used to lecture me constantly:
Keep those pants buttoned up and believe that all women want in. That will keep you safe.
I remember thinking my dad was just another prude male - his thinking straight out of the Victorian Era where men wore those ridiculous, fluffy outfits that managed to hide most of their body except for their bulge.
Fast-forward to high school. I was a junior and took part in a typical story of following friends into a room at a party, talking to this girl that seemed to be nice, my friends leaving the room at some point, being drunk, and ultimately being pressured to do something I wasn't prepared to do.
A familiar story for many men - I know. Just stick with me for a second because I was one of those statistics. Many men are - and most women don't seem to understand that. Say stupid shit first, apologize for hurt feelings later.
It was 3am when I made it home. My crotch hurt. I didn't know it would hurt like that and I remember feeling shamed and numb. I tried to sneak in and not tell my parents - they would be furious with me. My mom... God knows what she would do to this girl if she ever found out who it was.
I told myself not to regret it - it just a physical act that I was going to do someday anyway - and now it's done. Big Deal. I wanted to be in love the first time, I wanted to have it be something special - not something induced by alcohol and clever conversation...
But we can't all get what we want can we?
I had a few more experiences in college but I was a bit more on my guard. I didn't put myself in situations where women were drinking and there were dark rooms. I came to realize that we all want the same thing in the end - and that not all women were scumbags waiting to get into my pants.
But working at my job these days - I'm taken right back to my high school days. The so-called "Sisgrammer" thing is in full effect with these young women coming out of school thinking everything is a sorority party.
Drinking at work, long stares at my crotch, quips about boners in my pants.
The other day we were out at a user group meeting (my first one) and I showed up - and one of the women there asked me
Are you here to take our drink order?
I was speechless. I left this shit behind me in college - yet here it is in front of me. I couldn't think of a retort so I just smiled wryly and muttered something non-confrontational. She cocked her head a bit as she looked me up and down - noting my bulge - and said
Sorry - but you don't look like a programmer - no offense
Yes. I'm a man. My junk doesn't look like yours.
I look up at the TV that's there next to the bar and coincidently there's a commercial for GoDaddy with Michael Phelps in his speedo, gyrating in front of the camera with his gold medals dangling around his bulge...
I recall a Nokia video that I watched the other day on Vimeo where these Sis-grammers strut around in their Dragon Girl outfits while these men, dressed in leather pants with a huge bulge and these shoes, glasses and shirts that made them look like Men With a Dragon Tattoo - gyrating in front of the camera...
All to sell Nokia/Windows Phone 7's. The scene reminded me of that party - my First Time Party - surrounded by women that "wanted to get some". The sexual pressure coming at me from everywhere... finally relenting.
Let's just say that Nokia phone isn't high on my list.
My resentment grows as I stare back at the clueless bitch who's still staring at me with that sorority sister smile... I don't want to resent her, I want to move on with my life an my career...
Another GoDaddy commercial comes on the TV.
I turn and leave.
This Too Shall Change
I know what you're thinking: "So what - another victim story where a person who can't hang blames women in tech for all his problems". I hear this a lot when I speak up.
It would be easy to believe that - to accept the boner comments, the stares, the imagery on TV. But I don't think I'll do that.
Inequality, segregation, prejudice and bigotry have been common in human history - but they aren't permanent. I choose to be patient, to work hard and eventually... someday... possibly... rise to a position where - hey look! I'm your boss!
Sorry what was that? Oh right - that comment - well yeah actually I do remember that. Hard feelings? No - I realize that people say weird things sometimes... speaking of...
I called you into my office today to have a chat with you about a comment you made in the office - or was it on Twitter? Or maybe at a conference? Either way you seem to have offended someone from the opposite sex (again! Imagine that!).
Unfortunately for you we're not at a bar, and I'm not taking your drink order...
I'll take my time explaining what professionalism is, and what it means in the workplace. I'll take care not to offend you as I explain the roles of men and women in any industry. I'll listen to your excuses, and I'll listen to you politely explain that I should lighten up.
Then I'll fire your fucking ass.