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.