Highly trained girl-monkey sys admin bait


geeking at the conference
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I was saddened and angered recently at a geeky gathering, to hear a very annoying and sexist story about women at techology conferences. A young man was talking to another guy and a couple of women who also looked to be in their 20s. He was laughing and telling a story with a tone of “Wow, listen to this hilarious amazing thing!”

According to this poor little dude, it is hilarious that it has become common that at sys admin and other tech conferences, big companies send women in undercover to do stealth recruiting. His story laid out how the big companies “specially train the women to sound like they know what they’re talking about”, priming them with lessons in the correct use of technical jargon. They send sexy women who are basically “high class call girls” to flirt with the valuable (assumed unquestioningly to be male) sys admins and programmers and get their information, and to figure out which ones are good and know their job. Then the Trained Monkey Fake Sys Admin Whores pass that information on to their superiors (also assumed in the story to be male) who actually know what computers are, for them to do intensive recruiting.

“Hahahaha!” laughed the young women at the party.

“Wow, hahahah!” laughed the guy listening.

“It’s totally true!” said the young spreader of poisonous, sexist, urban myths. “I even know guys who have slept with them!”

Oh for fuck’s sake. Let’s just undermine the legitimacy of technical women at conferences just A LITTLE BIT MORE with our messed-up “booth babe” stories, shall we?

If this even had a grain of truth to it, what would it sound like, framed differently? “Some companies send technical recruiters to technical conferences.” That’s it. There is nothing newsworthy there. I mean, DUH.

But, as soon as there are WOMEN in the story, it is given a misogynist spin, which is assumed to be hilarious and titillating and to make the listener feel superior. Because the technical recruiters are female, they are sluts, or “call girls”; definitely sexually available and exploitable. Because they are female, they are assumed in the story to be ignorant of computers, technology, sys adminning, and programming; any knowledge they DO have is “fake” because it is is artificial “training” given to them as a thin veneer just to mask their real goal which is sexual predation on the sys admins, run by mythical “big company” pimps.

I was super amazed to hear this crap coming out of someone’s mouth, at a party which was chock full of skilled, amazing, geeky women, and men who are sweet feminist allies. But, on the other hand, I was not amazed, because this is exactly the sort of thing people say all the time about, and around, technical women, or any women in male-dominated fields. It is part of the background of undermining and de-legitimizing women, that poisons the fucking air we breathe, that makes people assume we suck, that makes us women have to prove ourselves in every new professional context, to everyone we meet, that means we have to be 10 times better than a man in a comparable context before other people believe in our professional credentials.

Just think about that next time you hear a bunch of dudes arguing about why there aren’t more women in programming and engineering, and, quit looking for your biological explanations, and go check your own assumptions, and the kind of stories you tell and tolerate in your communities.

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9 Responses to Highly trained girl-monkey sys admin bait

  1. Dawn Foster says:

    Ugh. I remember being one of a dozen female sys admins at an AIX conference back in the mid-90′s. I’ve also been accused of being a booth babe at Linux World where some clueless guy would come up to me and say, “can I talk to someone who actually works at Intel?” and having to respond with something like, “well I manage a team of people at Intel responsible for enabling open source applications for new Intel processors”. Sheesh.

  2. sgtg says:

    Ugh is right. I’m old now but have lived through so much similar shit. It depresses the crap out of me to think that 20-somethings still buy into it. I rant often to my daughter who is 17, but she doesn’t see. I keep hoping I’m just old-fashioned and she won’t ever have to deal with it – but obviously she will. For whatever reason, she just doesn’t see it yet (or recognize it). Fucking ugh.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Along those same lines, at SC07 there was a company with a stunningly gorgeous woman at their booth, who turned out to be the founder of the company. I think that many heads exploded upon finding that out!

  4. Mackenzie says:

    @sgtg In 2006, when I first joined LinuxChix, I didn’t see it. Barely over a year later, I do. As soon as she starts going to “grown up” geek things, she’ll see it. I got crap in high school and figured it was just stupid hs boy stuff. When she starts hearing “I never knew girls used Linux” when she pulls out her laptop or starts getting hit on at “grown up” tech events because she can talk on a subject intelligently, she’ll get it. When the boys in school ask why she’s in the computer room and is she lost, she’ll get it.

  5. Digital says:

    Liz,

    Do you think the guy telling this story felt more powerful for having told it? Maybe the girls that laughed did so because of his story’s absurdity. I mean, it’s a joke, right?

    Unfortunately, as previous commenters point out, this is WAY too common a story. We have an alternative perspective that needs to be told more often.

    Part of the story began 60 years ago with the ENIAC programmers (women). (Kathy Kleiman has been trying to raise funds to finish the video on these amazing women.)

    You’re probably familiar with the current work of Anita Borg Institute, connecting Women and Technology. They’re also working to show and support an alternative story to your post.

    I’m inspired by your competition to give away some impressive tech gear. You required a brief explanation of how I’d share the magic. Here it is in one sentence:

    I’d empower a team to address an imbalance of geek girls in the world.

    Years ago I started to collect stories of who we are. Here are a few from the computer science profession. (Reload for a new story. There are a couple hundred of them.) We have more stories to tell. You are one of them. Dawn, sgtg, and Rebecca are too.

    So many stories are forgotten, lessons relearned. The project needs to be reborn. It’s going to take a community, isn’t it?

  6. Rikki says:

    As managing editor of Linux Pro (former managing editor of Sys Admin magazine), I’m used to having someone walk up to our booth at events and ask, “Is an editor here?” In fact, at LinuxWorld last summer a man walked up to our Linux Pro booth and made a comment about me being a “booth babe”. I told him I was the managing editor, and he looked me up and down and said, “No, You’re a booth babe,” and walked off. After more than a decade in this field and that I’m in my late 30s maybe I’m supposed to feel flattered, but I don’t.

    What am I doing about it? I’m trying to draw attention to a variety of women in open source to help illustrate that there are a lot of people who just don’t get the recognition they should. As a group, women aren’t the best at self-promotion, so maybe we can help each other out by recognizing contributions and publicly acknowledging them.

    Let me know (rkite@linuxpromagazine.com) if you have topic ideas for my blog about women in open source: linuxpromagazine.com/roseblog

  7. Jamie S. says:

    This is (only) one of the reasons that all of the articles about how “women aren’t inclined towards computer science / engineering / maths” make me so angry. It’s not genetics! It’s people like that, that aren’t thinking through the things they say, and with those things fostering environments that are nearly (or are, in some cases), hostile to women.

    I have unfortunately encountered a couple of “those” people.

    As an undergraduate student (I am right now a grad), I had three majors– music studies, computer science, and mathematics. I was in the top of my classes and would later score an internship and a graduate co-op with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.

    My first day of our version of intro to data structures and computing theory, I walked in and got the stares of the 7 guys in the room, two of whom proceeded to tell me that I’d be better off dropping the class then, because women “don’t do well” in that class and it would just be embarrassing to see me cry in class. Instead, I was one of 3 people who DIDN’T drop the class, and all three of us got a 3.7 (on a 4.0 scale).

    That was angering enough, but it unfortunately wasn’t the last time it happened. I was also a TA in this department (even for classes I was in at the time, lol). We ended up getting a “substitute teacher” for a year while our chair went on sabbatical to do grantwork with the NSF. This substitute was young(er), male, and creepy, though I didn’t know this at the time.

    I walked into the office on the first day of his intro’s lab class and held my hand out to introduce myself: “Hi, I’m Jamie! I’m your TA.” He looks at me and says “Oh. I thought you’d be a guy,” and walks out.

    Yes, I have an androgynous name. Yes, I was one of THREE female majors (out of 44). But, really? Tact? I would have counted it as a simple slip if he hadn’t taken away my ability to grade papers (my favourite part of the job, as our TAs didn’t teach, just held office hours, did labs, and graded) before I even started. This prof actually ended up scaring away a prospective female major– she came to me and told me that she felt he was hitting on her.

    Now that I’m in grad school (at another school), I don’t see or hear it as much, but the numbers are still pretty bad. I’m one of maybe 10 women in my 80-person first year class. There are a small handful of women CSE professors. It shouldn’t matter, the gender distribution (we’re all people!), but somehow it feels… isolating.

    I’m on a mailing list for women in CS (Systers) and part of the Society of Women Engineers, but it just barely helps. It makes me very glad that gender is actually very well balanced at my co-op.

    ***

    How would I “share the magic”?

    Well, I’d have to be (indirectly) greedy right off– my mom’s also a grad student (with both of us daughters in school at the same time, too… oy for her…), and I’d give one of the computers to her to use, because she could use a new one.

    As for the others… I would love to donate them to one of the local high schools with the understanding that they’d go towards a lab for girls (to help them get and stay interested in CS younger) or a lab for underprivileged students, being the first and having been the latter.

    ***

    I don’t keep a blog, but I’d love to link to Systers:

    http://www.anitaborg.org/initiatives/systers

    and to the Society for Women Engineers:

    http://societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/

  8. Always says:

    The assumption that women ‘can not’ is deep. So far I have found few ‘communities’ of people that have that idea washed from them. Even the women in some ‘communities’ swallow that line of bull and then feed that line to their children. Some children swallow, some do not.

    The older I get the more I wonder why women’s spirituality has not REALLY exploded. There really is a difference in how women are viewed, respected, consulted and looked at. These women feed positive ideas to their children about equality- duh and work hard to remove any hurtful, demeaning or unbalancing ideas presented to their kids. It hard but as time goes on, it has improved. It will get better still. I know it will.

    If I had computers to give away, I would give them to artists I have never met (perhaps from different countries) and form a community of artists that empower each other to show the world itself (through, poems, paintings, photographs, video etc)so that the world might learn its true nature. Maybe if we really looked at each other we could see our similarities and celebrate. We would also face our faults and hopefully grow.

    My Place is http://wykked.blogspot.com/.

    I’m mouthy and cuss a bit, well alot really so its cool if you can’t show it.

    oh here is the link to my post
    http://wykked.blogspot.com/2008/12/hp-give-away.html

  9. Always says:

    Forgive me if this posts twice, I could not tell if it went through the first time.

    The assumption that women ‘can not’ is deep. So far I have found few ‘communities’ of people that have that idea washed from them. Even the women in some ‘communities’ swallow that line of bull and then feed that line to their children. Some children swallow, some do not.

    The older I get the more I wonder why women’s spirituality has not REALLY exploded. There really is a difference in how women are viewed, respected, consulted and looked at. These women feed positive ideas to their children about equality- duh and work hard to remove any hurtful, demeaning or unbalancing ideas presented to their kids. It hard but as time goes on, it has improved. It will get better still. I know it will.

    If I had computers to give away, I would give them to artists I have never met (perhaps from different countries) and form a community of artists that empower each other to show the world itself (through, poems, paintings, photographs, video etc)so that the world might learn its true nature. Maybe if we really looked at each other we could see our similarities and celebrate. We would also face our faults and hopefully grow.

    My Place is http://wykked.blogspot.com/.

    I’m mouthy and cuss a bit, well alot really so its cool if you can’t show it.

    Here is my post on this
    http://wykked.blogspot.com/2008/12/hp-give-away.html

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