Microaggression and Programming, A Followup Post

A woman walks into a programming meetup, where her boyfriend is waiting for her. She's a programmer, is a print-published author on programming, has lectured on programming numerous times, has been attending programming meetups with said boyfriend for a decade before they started dating, has run programming meetups for years, and is concerned that people will think that she is "tagging along" if they realize that her boyfriend is there. Since she brought this problem to his attention, they've hidden their relationship at meetups to avoid that assumption.

She hasn't seen her boyfriend in a few days and he's there; she's looking forward to seeing him. She decides to drop the "not my boyfriend" act for a moment, just to greet him, and then intends to pick the act back up. She walks up behind him, puts her arm around him, and gives him a peck on the shoulder. Then she starts to walk away. Before she gets away, the guy across from him speaks:

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup Post

"Oh hi! We're just talking about high level programming things like coding operating systems." He says this in a patronizing tone, because clearly she can't understand the topic. She says to herself "but operating system programming is low-level programming. 'High-level' is a term in programming and he just used it wrong." She decides to ignore the microaggression, as well as assume that he doesn't realize that 'high-level' is a term. She turns to her boyfriend.

"Oh, like Bill stuff?" Bill is her friend who writes operating system device drivers for a living. Her boyfriend has been trying to teach himself assembly by programming his own operating system from scratch and has had long discussions with her friend Bill about his work. She had decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were talking about coding operating systems in assembly, a topic that interests her boyfriend. The stranger replies.

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup PostS

"Oh no, nothing silly like that." He didn't understand that when she asked, she meant a guy named Bill and not a billing system. She was confused. What does billing have to do with programming operating systems? What in the world is the actual topic of conversation here? Her boyfriend continues.

"As I was saying, there are some problems with AOP, but they're more apparent in the long run so people need to understand the consequences of using it before they make that choice." Ah, they're talking about aspect oriented programming, something that she's used before and done minor coverage on in a lecture. She still don't know why this is a discussion about operating systems. She looks up at the stranger and says

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup PostS

"Well, yeah, because magic happens and no one can find the code that does it when that code needs to be changed or fixed."

"Exactly," her boyfriend says as she walks away, triumphant. She doesn't know if the guy is hanging his head in shame for having assumed that she wouldn't understand the conversation when it turns out she understood it better than he did, but she doesn't look back, imagining that he does.

Later she tells her boyfriend that she's proud of herself for showing up that guy who assumed that she's not a programmer. He doesn't understand. He says "I know you know what you're talking about but I think that sometimes you need to give people the benefit out the doubt more than you do." She drops it.

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup PostS

A few weeks later, she tells the story to a woman that she regularly sees at that meeting, asking if she's had problems there because she got microaggressed at the last one. The woman says the guy was a jerk and that she hasn't had problems there, that it's better than most meetings. That night, she tells her microaggression story to another programmer, this time a guy. After the first comment from the stranger is related, he says "well, just to play devil's advocate, are you sure that you read his tone right?" She continues with the story and when she says the thing about "Bill" he friend says "oh God, he though you meant billing, which apparently isn't significant. But still, you might have read him wrong."

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup PostS

Our protagonist decided to not go to the next meeting. She wasn't feeling up to dealing with people, especially a group of mostly men who would likely discount her expertise because of her gender. It was going to be a bother; she expected that she might be irritated by the end of the networking phase. She didn't have a guaranteed entrance and her boyfriend wasn't going, so she had no guarantee that a single safe person would be in attendance.

The next morning, her lady friend reports on her experience at the meeting. She says that there's a guy that she's talked to numerous times at the meeting about programming, that she wanted to talk to him some more about programming. She asked if maybe he would have time to have lunch sometime soon to continue their discussion. He said that he would have to tell his wife. This made her feel like he was treating her differently because she is a woman, that he wouldn't have said that if she were male, because why would he have to clear lunch with a colleague with his wife?

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup Post

Women chime in to back her up. Yes, that was problematic. Her male friends chime in to back up the male stranger.

Man 1: Sarcastic comment about how not awkward engineers are.

Man 2: In his defense, his wife may be prone to jealousy.

Man 3: He respects his wife… or fears her.

Protagonist: I would like to point out the demographics of who is siding with our friend and who is siding with the male stranger. Also, would he have said this if she were a man?

Man 3: Would it make a difference if he were a gay man?

Protagonist: So you won't address either question. You'll only try "gotcha" rhetoric to derail?

Man 4: "If she were a man?" is pointless. It's hypothetical and in reality, she isn't a man. As a man who works in a female-dominated field, my wife wants to know if I have a 1-on-1 with a female colleague.

Man 3: I agree with man 4.

Protagonist: No, it's not meaningless. As I have already mentioned, I was subjected to mild misogyny at the previous meeting and the programming community here is extremely misogynistic. A woman complained about the way that she was treated, a way that she was treated because she is a woman, and every man in the conversation showed up to claim that her reaction is invalid and refuses to even address that every person doing that is male. And now two of them have explicitly faulted the man's wife.

Man 5: I'm not sure if [social justice speak] or not. It's hard to say.

Man 6: My wife is totes jealous and would have been bothered if I didn't clear it with her. Some people are just jealous like that.

Man 5: True dat. It's a deal breaker.

Man 6: It was. I ended that train-wreck of a relationship.

Man 5: Yeah, it's hard to tell if he has a jealous wife but the statement was inappropriate and potentially sexist. He could have said "let me check my schedule" and included asking his wife in that check.

Man 7: How jealous his wife might be is irrelevant to her professional life.

Protagonist: Most of you men are terrible. Here is a cookie for Man 7. Man 5, thanks for acknowledging that it might be a microaggression. We are now at 5 men telling their female friend that her feelings are invalid, most of whom are faulting a man's wife for his behavior, 1 waffler, 1 treating his friend's feelings as valid. And 0 acknowledging what's going on here. Honey, I'm sorry about your friends.

Microaggression and Programming, A Followup Post

Some men like to claim that it is discriminatory for women to separate themselves and have groups set aside to help female programmers. But the fact is, when we do and we tell tales like these, we listen to each other. We're not allowed to do that in other contexts without men showing up to discount our feelings by playing devil's advocate for a stranger.

Guys, it's taken us years to realize that that voice in our heads that excuses those men is wrong and is part of the problem. Don't be that voice in our heads. We have already listened to it and decided that it's wrong.

ETA: I'd just like to clarify that my boyfriend and the other male friend of mine that I mentioned are fucking awesome and usually really great allies. They are the most important, supportive people in my life right now. I know they meant well. It's the sum total of every man doing this and only women listening.