I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.

This is cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

I demonstrated an aptitude for computers when I was a young girl, but I didn’t have home Internet access until I graduated from high school. I blame the Patriarchy, partly.

By the time I was in high school, I was usually the only person in my classes who didn’t have any Internet access, while most of my peers had high-speed access. When my peers communicated with each other through e-mail and chat, I was shut out of the social conversation and didn’t understand the “technical” terms they were using. I understood the creative potential of being able to communicate with computer users all over the world. I knew that Internet access would allow me to communicate with others without my social anxiety getting in the way. However, my father was hard-set against the idea of “the Internet”.

For five years, I was part of a persistent family campaign to convince my father that we should get Internet access. He thought that the Internet was a software program that was just a “fad” and would go out of style. Back then, the mainstream media was even more confused than now about what “the Internet” was. The news sensationalized stories about online predators luring young girls through “the Internet” to rape them. The implied moral of these news stories was that the Internet was dangerous and full of sexual predators.

My father did not work in an office then, so he heard more about “the Internet” through his coworkers. One male coworker basically explained to my father that The Internet Is For Porn. My father came home and told us that he was never going to let us have Internet access, because girls especially should be protected from exposure to pornography.

Like rape-prevention advice that instructs women to confine ourselves inside our houses to avoid rape, my father believed that it was his duty to protect his daughter’s safety and purity by preventing her from having Internet access. Like other sexist double standards, he thought the possibility of girls being exposed to pornography was worse than the possibility of boys being exposed to it, even when boys are more likely to exploit it, because our culture requires that girls be mentally and physically virginal.

When I was in high school, I discovered that I had a natural talent for programming, because I finished programming assignments in a few minutes, while it was normal for my classmates take the whole period, take their work home, and/or come into the computer lab after hours. In high school, I indulged in my childhood wish to design computer games by creating a 2D fan RPG using a game engine, which I downloaded at a relative’s place through my mom’s machinations, since my mom was pro-Internet and used the Internet at work. I liked programming and software, and I knew I would learn so much more if I just had Internet access. However, I felt oppressed. I felt I was prevented from learning, because I was a girl, and my father was sexist.

The summer before university, I finally had Internet access at home, so I learned HTML. During the five years of campaigning for Internet access, I dreamt of making a website, and it was only when I finally had access that I could.

I’m bitter that I was such an Internet noob in my first year of university, that I spammed other students I wanted to befriend with useless e-mail chain letters. I’m bitter that I still didn’t understand the intricacies of using a web browser, that a fellow student from a CS course had to tell me that I could right-click on a link and choose “Save As…”. I’m bitter that I probably made women in CS look bad. My programming assignments in my intro programming course were still perfect, but people usually don’t understand that someone can be an Internet noob who knows how to code. It’s not that I was technically incompetent because of female brain hard-wiring. It’s that I was technically incompetent because of sexism; because of the patriarchal structure of my household where my father’s opinion overrides the majority vote; and because my father is a special kind of luddite.

Male geeks often say that the geek community is a meritocracy, and that there are no barriers to girls learning technology except for our choices (or our brains), but I faced extra hurdles because of my gender. Not everyone has the same access to technology, because technology does not exist in the ether; it has physical and social components that grant and deny access. I was privileged, because I had a shared family computer before most of my peers. I was also disadvantaged, because I was a girl.


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28 Responses to “I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.”

  1. Sam Says:

    “I’m bitter that I was such an Internet noob in my first year of university, that I spammed other students I wanted to befriend with useless e-mail chain letters. I’m bitter that I still didn’t understand the intricacies of using a web browser, that a fellow student from a CS course had to tell me that I could right-click on a link and choose ‘Save As…’.” Cue the violins….oh, the humanity!
    This person must be very young if her great claim to “oppression” is that she looked a little silly in her freshman year. (News flash: ALL freshmen look silly.) If she is the computer genius she claims to be, or even just competent, within a year or so after graduation that horrific trauma will be forgotten.
    On the other hand, since she has gone to the trouble to write up her tale of woe and share it with the world, maybe she’ll be in therapy over it for years to come.
    This article is ridiculous.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    Sam,

    You’re missing the point. I’ve done way, way more embarrassing things in my first year than that. The point is that other people had a 5-7 year head start (since the “five year” number is conservative), and you can learn so much in 5-7 years. The fact that sexism set me back 5+ years is pretty significant.

    Another point is that other people probably thought I didn’t know how to due things because of my nature, when it was because of nurture.

  3. Jayn Says:

    Not to mention that when you’re in a new place with a bunch of strange people, the last thing you want is to look stupid/ignorant/whatever. You don’t mention if that hurt your relationships with your peers, but it certainly couldn’t have helped.

  4. Restructure! Says:

    It probably hurt, but there were also other issues going on, like racism and class privilege (maybe it’s just my perception, but white people who consider themselves middle-class, on average, tend to be of a higher class than POC who consider themselves middle-class; some white people think that attending private school is middle-class, for example).

  5. See the Big Picture Says:

    Restructure: A couple of comments.

    First of all, is it possible that the core of the problem stemmed from the fact not that the primary decision-maker in your family was male to your female, but because he was a paranoid technophobe who believed the bullsh!t line of “I ain’t usin’ the Innernet because I heard the Innernet was just full of porn and child molesters?” I’m sorry that you got caught in the backlash of that kind of environment, but the fact that he was unwilling to do any kind of investigation on his own and instead listen to talking heads who decry anything they do not understand as “evil” does not necessarily mean that this becomes a sexist, patriarchal problem. It could just mean that your father was an overly-controlling jackass who didn’t listen to the rest of his family.

    Second, in your response to “Sam,” you wrote: “Another point is that other people probably thought I didn’t know how to due things because of my nature, when it was because of nurture.” Do you have any proof of that, or are you assuming that *other* people were assuming that your unfamiliarity with technology was due to the fact that you are female and not because you were brought up in an environment where the primary decision-maker was a paranoid, overly-controlling technophobic jackass? In which case, who is the bigger sexist, the people who saw your incompetence and may have judged you, or you for assuming that they were judging you for a specific reason?

  6. Sam Says:

    “The point is that other people had a 5-7 year head start (since the “five year” number is conservative), and you can learn so much in 5-7 years.”

    I speak from the perspective of being 30+ years into my career, knowing that one’s early training becomes less and less relevant as time goes on. Whether or not you continue to grow is more important. Also, given your description of how much better you were than other students in high school, one would assume that you caught up quickly when you finally got unrestricted internet access.

    “Another point is that other people probably thought I didn’t know how to due things because of my nature, when it was because of nurture.”

    One of the most unfortunate things young people have to deal with is caring too much about what others think of them.

  7. Restructure! Says:

    Sam,

    Well, yes, I guess to you I am “very young”. I’m still in my 20s, so 5-7 years is a huge chunk of my life.

    Yes, I did catch up quickly. But another hurdle was that the Internet I finally got was dial-up.

    ***

    See the Big Picture,

    This is technophobia interacting with sexism, though. He also said that “girls” especially shouldn’t be exposed to porn. If I was a boy, he would probably be less paranoid about protecting me from anything of a sexual or predatory nature.

    Would you be more bothered if your young daughter looked at porn, or your young son (real or hypothetical)?

  8. See the Big Picture Says:

    (Disclaimer: I have no children, so this situation is completely hypothetical. Anyone who feels that I am now unqualified to participate in this discussion should feel free to feel that way; nevertheless, here I am. Enough of my peers have kids to whom I am “the uncle that loves them as though they were my own” that I consider it the next best thing.)

    “Would you be more bothered if your young daughter looked at porn, or your young son (real or hypothetical)?”

    Frankly? Neither. As long as my (theoretical) child is conscientious of the disconnect between situations presented in adult movies and reality, and is not seeing them as a blueprint of how one should act or expect others to act, I really couldn’t give a good God damn about the gender of the aforementioned child.

    “He also said that “girls” especially shouldn’t be exposed to porn.”

    I’m not trying to argue that your father was a sexist, along with everything else. It’s the generalization that you made of “I am a victim of the Patriarchy” rather than “I’m the daughter of a sexist jackass who treated me like a SPESHUL SNOFLAYK instead of preparing me to deal with the real world because he was scared of Big Bad Reality” that was at the core of my comment. And again, I’m sorry that you ended up in that situation, although you’ve obviously used your own intelligence and learning capability (both of which seem to be well above average) to overcome that setback.

  9. Jayn Says:

    “But another hurdle was that the Internet I finally got was dial-up.”

    Ow >< This was one reason I was glad to get to university–my parents STILL cannot get high speed service at their house.

  10. ilyka Says:

    It’s the generalization that you made of “I am a victim of the Patriarchy” rather than “I’m the daughter of a sexist jackass who treated me like a SPESHUL SNOFLAYK instead of preparing me to deal with the real world because he was scared of Big Bad Reality” that was at the core of my comment.

    It’s not a generalization if similar setbacks occur to other women in tech, and they do.

    It’s interesting to me that (generally speaking!), dudes focus on the “victim” component whenever a woman tries to make the argument that some of her problems are not unique to her own circumstances, but rather systemic. But dudes seize on “victim” even if that word doesn’t appear anywhere in the woman’s complaint (it does not, for example, appear in this post): “Oh, you’re a VICTIM.” In their heads they seem to be translating that to “hopeless whiner,” or “person who flails about instead of solving the problem.”

    Yet part of effective problem-solving is accurately assessing a problem’s scale. Women in tech are better equipped to assess the scale of problems that impact them directly than men are; I don’t know why that’s not taken as given by the ostensibly more-logical sex. A blind spot, perhaps.

  11. Restructure! Says:

    He didn’t treat me like a special snowflake, not at all. He had a typical authoritarian style of parenting. He thought it was his duty as the Father to make the decisions and discipline his child/children, often with physical force.

  12. Flaw In The System Says:

    “Male geeks often say that the geek community is a meritocracy, and that there are no barriers to girls learning technology except for our choices (or our brains), but I faced extra hurdles because of my gender. Not everyone has the same access to technology, because technology does not exist in the ether; it has physical and social components that grant and deny access. I was privileged, because I had a shared family computer before most of my peers. I was also disadvantaged, because I was a girl.”

    I’ve seen many similar lines to this. Now I may be wrong, but more often male Geeks claims indicate they mean there no barrier purposely created by the geek community to keep girls/women out (of course there is varying levels of ingrained sexism inspite of this claim that works as a barrier).

    And as you say, by the time you enter higher education but found yourself lacking technically, with the exception of straight programming, this isn’t your (male) geek peers fault. This, in the scope of geek communities and open source projects specifically means you may have “Less merit” due to your inability to say, navigate and use bug trackers (despite the skills to fix bugs). This puts you in a tricky position, either you take time to learn these systems and earn yourself merit (but could be perceived as a barrier others hadn’t faced due to privilege), or you explain the reason of your difficulties and may gain some leeway. However leeway also inflates your merit above its actually value meaning there is no longer, in the strictest sense a meritocracy.

  13. Restructure! Says:

    Flaw In The System,

    Back then, I was using Internet Explorer as my web browser. My next hurdle back then was that I was using dial-up. I didn’t like to download software or run software updates unless I really had to, since it would take like half an hour or something to download a program or update. If it disconnected and the file was corrupted, then you would have to start over. Later I discovered download managers, but you also had to first download the download manager and make sure it wasn’t a corrupted before you could install it to download other things.

    At that time, I was more interested in downloading MP3s using P2P software, since that’s what the cool kids did in high school, and I finally had the opportunity. Downloading MP3s on dial-up took a long time too.

    My dial-up plan also charged per minute. We weren’t very knowledgeable about the Internet then, so we didn’t make the best decisions about what Internet plan made sense. Anyway, there was financial pressure not use the Internet so much.

  14. Jayn Says:

    Flaw in the System,

    The term ‘meritocracy’ tends to imply a level playing field. It’s true that Restructure had, in the eyes of her geeky peers, less merit, and it certainly wasn’t their fault. But for a meritocracy to have any real meaning, everyone needs to have equal opportunities to advance–otherwise it just winds up a reflection of the general inequalities already at play.

    The ‘it’s a meritocracy’ folks are glossing over those inequalities of opportunity and privilege. While we’ve had the discussion before where people manage to overcome the stacked odds against them, we shouldn’t be having those types of pissing contests, because it still serves to ignore the uneven playing field, rather than actually changing things for the better. When someone brings up the types of obstacles they’ve had to deal with in their life, the response shouldn’t be ‘I managed to overcome them’ but ‘what can we do to change that?’

  15. Flaw in the System Says:

    “The term ‘meritocracy’ tends to imply a level playing field. It’s true that Restructure had, in the eyes of her geeky peers, less merit, and it certainly wasn’t their fault. But for a meritocracy to have any real meaning, everyone needs to have equal opportunities to advance–otherwise it just winds up a reflection of the general inequalities already at play.”

    Societies around the world are different, facist, democratic, republic and communist to name a few, each offering its own ways to advance, each there own set of discriminations and barriers.

    (Follow quite possibly poor, but hopefully clear example)
    A meritocracy, however, is often the ideal of a project or ogranization that can span many countries. Assume people from country A discourage further education for women, but country B supports equal access between sex’s. A meritocracy styled electronic/software/mechanical project that spans both countries is likely to have a greater participation from men than women, due to ‘country A’s discrimination, not due to any inherent flaw in the meritocracy. Is it not fair to say the meritocracy shows the symptoms but the cause?

  16. Jayn Says:

    That’s pretty much what I said. My point is, that by using the meritocracy argument, it ignores both the symptoms and the cause. Just because there’s no problem with the system (which is in itself debatable, given the ofttimes hostile culture towards female geeks), doesn’t mean there are no problems, and it certainly doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to address them to create a true meritocracy–one where the only barriers are one’s abilities and interests.

  17. Flaw In The System Says:

    “Just because there’s no problem with the system (which is in itself debatable, given the ofttimes hostile culture towards female geeks), doesn’t mean there are no problems, and it certainly doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to address them to create a true meritocracy”

    Do you attribute a “true meritocracy” to a form of government then, or some social understanding if it is to dominate all problems? If so thats rapidly moving out of the scope of a simple project.

  18. Restructure! Says:

    Flaw In The System,

    It looks like you’re confusing a descriptive statement with a normative statement. A descriptive statement is a statement about how the world is, but a normative statement is a statement about how the world should be. “Geek status is a function of pure merit,” is a descriptive statement, but false. “Geek status should be a function of pure merit” is a normative statement and true. Just because you want something to be true, it does not imply that it is actually true.

  19. Flaw In The System Says:

    I think my point was missed, never mind.

  20. Jane Says:

    You’re young and have your whole life ahead of you in a great city. There are millions who are held back much longer by much worse circumstances or never able to get off the ground at all. Just because there are some people who got a better start than you doesn’t mean you are all that bad off. Privilege is relative. I speak as one who lost more than half of my middle-aged life to illness exacerbated by poverty and abuse. Analysis is valuable up to a certain point, but there comes a point where you have to let go of the past and do the best you can with the time and resources you’ve got.

  21. Restructure! Says:

    Flaw In The System,

    I don’t know what your point is. From your comments, you seem to be arguing against a straw man, as if some people here are against meritocracies.

    Jane,

    Thank you for missing the point, and for reminding me why I don’t like to use anecdotes. I’m not fucking asking for your pity. I’m giving a counter example to the claim that anyone who wants to learn tech has the opportunity to do so. Reminder: this is not about me. I’m talking about the fucking system. You can be selfish and think only about yourself and individuals all you want, but that’s not going to help anything when children today don’t all have the same access to technology.

  22. Jayn Says:

    Hey, I never said it was a simple project. Just that we’re all responsible for the outcome, and ignoring it doesn’t stop one’s actions from affecting that.

  23. fred Says:

    restructure has a potty mouth.

  24. Sam Says:

    “You can be selfish and think only about yourself and individuals all you want, but that’s not going to help anything when children today don’t all have the same access to technology.”

    How would you insure universally equal access to technology for all kids?

  25. Sam Says:

    “‘You can be selfish and think only about yourself and individuals all you want, but that’s not going to help anything when children today don’t all have the same access to technology.’

    How would you insure universally equal access to technology for all kids?”

    Well, Restructure, enough days have passed for you to present a solution if you had one. Clearly the point of this article, like most of your presentations, is to wallow in your cherished “grievances”, to enshrine them, to endlessly meditate on them, to lovingly analyze them ad infinitum…
    Don’t you EVER get tired of your precious victimhood?
    I have a blessing for you. May you have at least one child. May you make a mistake in raising that child, (if you become a parent you WILL make thousands of mistakes~ everyone does, and that’s what your father did).
    May your child ruthlessly trash you on a public forum for your mistake.
    There’s some”justice” for you.

  26. Comment censorship and comment policies VIIIs: Coloured bloggers in need of a reality check (follow-up) « Michael Eriksson's Blog Says:

    [...] following post is titled I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.e, giving a clear indication of the closeness in thought to harmful variations of [...]

  27. karen Says:

    “Male geeks often say that the geek community is a meritocracy, and that there are no barriers to girls learning technology except for our choices (or our brains), but I faced extra hurdles because of my gender. Not everyone has the same access to technology, because technology does not exist in the ether; it has physical and social components that grant and deny access. I was privileged, because I had a shared family computer before most of my peers. I was also disadvantaged, because I was a girl.”

    Just thank you for this. Thank you. I haven’t checked your blog in forever due to real life circumstances, but I always feel so relieved to read your pieces on race, gender, and technology.

  28. Can you spot the female geek? « Restructure! Says:

    [...] lying and then basically accused me of whoring around with multiple boyfriends, a reflection of his patriarchal paranoia regarding sexual purity rather than anything I did. Apparently, the possibility that I might actually be good at physics [...]


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