I have been mulling over something today. It’s been one of those things that nags at you, but you don’t really realize it’s nagging at you until you find yourself writing a (probably rambling) blog post about it.
Those who know me in real life or have seen some of my relevant tweets know that I have never thought of myself as a victim based on my gender. I haven’t consciously experienced the sexism some people talk about when it comes to being a woman in insert male-dominated industry here, and have never thought of myself as disadvantaged in any way. And I have always, always been extremely happy about not having to carry around that weight.
But a few times it’s been brought up in passing, by a few different people, that the nature of interaction between men and women is such that men who show any sort of interest in talking to me about my work or hobbies are consciously or subconsciously first and foremost interested in me as a moderately attractive female, at least at first (though some say throughout). I’ve heard this several times over the years and usually you just brush it off, until it comes from someone whose opinion you actually value.
Nobody ever positions it as a bad thing, just as a simple fact of life. And it’s not like I deny that there is probably some truth in this. People are drawn to other people for many different reasons and sex is an ever-present undercurrent in pretty much all human interaction. But I have never felt as crippled or helpless as I do when I let myself accept that that’s really the way all communication with the opposite sex works, and that the people who befriend me in real life, or comment on this blog, or follow me on Twitter, or add me as a friend on Facebook are really only going out of their way to talk to me because of that usually subconscious sexual undercurrent.
Because then none of the things you actually do, or know, or are interested in, or learn, matter. It’s not like you’re an interesting person whom people might just want to talk to about shared hobbies or work because you share hobbies or work. And even if you happen to actually be a little interesting, that doesn’t matter because any male who initiates a conversation with you does this because they think you’re hot on some level and maybe the fact that you’re a bit of a freak because you prefer to stay in and learn JS on Friday nights instead of getting drunk off your face at a bar just makes you a little more of a novelty to talk to. None of this is ever explicitly suggested, of course, but that’s what it implies.
The problem with accepting this is that there’s nothing I can ever do about it. Like I said, I’ve thought about this before and logically accept that this may be a valid view. The only actions and intentions that I have control over are my own, so I never worried about why other people may be talking to me. It’s the content of the conversation that mattered, not some intent that the other party may not even consciously recognize. But if I let this idea really sink in and accept it a little more completely, or if it’s something that’s suggested on a regular basis, it becomes a problem. And then, if you accept it, not only do you feel like you will never have a genuine platonic interaction with the opposite sex on a personal level, but you feel like you will never have a genuine interaction with the opposite sex on a professional level, either.
This is a problem because there aren’t that many girls (yet) in any line of work that I’m interested in. I have been working in mostly male-populated environments ever since I entered the job market and that is unlikely to change any time soon. I’ve always had more male than female friends and coworkers in general. So, if I accept that this is how things work, I will always know that it’s not my skill level or passion or any other attribute that would otherwise be a relevant catalyst to getting me a job that matter - it’s the fact that some dude on some obscure level thought I was hot, decided to talk to me, and everything else was secondary. But even that wouldn’t hurt as much as knowing that someone whose opinion matters to you thinks that’s the case, too, just because you’re a girl and that’s how things work. And no matter how much I learn, or what I build, or how competent I am, it will never be good enough. It might be good enough to other people after they get to know me, after that undercurrent made them talk to me in the first place, but it will never be good enough to me because it will never be the catalyst. My competency will never be the reason that someone decides to go “Hey, let’s talk to this person.”
So, in conclusion, I’d rather forget that way of thinking about human interaction and go back to not thinking about why the other party may be talking to me, and I really hope that I can still do that. Not just because of how helpless that acceptance makes me feel for the first time (and that weight I’ve been so happy about not carrying? It was there throughout this entire blog post), but because I have too many good friends and coworkers of the opposite sex to do them the injustice of assuming some other underlying cause for our friendship. Sometimes friends obviously hit on you (whether you’re a man or a woman), and you deal with that separately. But when there’s no visible reason to assume anything other than a purely platonic relationship between two people who value each other as just people on a personal or professional level, letting that idea take over your brain cripples that relationship as a whole.