Things we share

Green print that reads "Make something good today."
This print, by Jen Renninger, hangs in my office. (Click the image to get one of your own!)

So, that post. I’ve never written anything that’s gotten much attention before, and the experience has been strangely, intensely stressful. Is it too divisive?, I wonder. Too hastily written? When I wrote the post, to be honest with you, I was livid about job-market news from friends, not to mention the latest VIDA stats. Should I have been more constructive? I was short with people in the comments, and I regret that. (Sorry, Ben.) Should I have said more about how much I love the community of DH? Because I do, because it’s been life-changing for me, because I love spending time with you. Am I now Gender Lady? I hope not, because I really don’t want to talk about this all the time.

I was glad to see the post gain traction — and I prodded it along — because I want the conversation to take place. But I’m extremely self-conscious about being near the center of it.

On Sunday, it felt like time to shut down the computer and dig out my sewing machine, which is something that consoles me. I first learned to sew from my mom, but I was too impatient to stick with it. It wasn’t until college that I picked it back up again. I really came of age too late to be a riot grrl. But this was in Portland, where, as we all know, the dream of the ’90s lives on, and stuff like sewing and crafting was part of DIY feminist culture. (Just as it was for Jacqueline Wermont!) We taught each other to sew and knit, and, yes, we put many a bird on it.

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Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code

First panel: Two men stand at a chalkboard. While one man works on an equation, the second man thinks, "Wow, he sucks at math." Second panel: A man and a woman stand at a chalkboard. While the woman works at an equation, the man thinks, "Wow, women suck at math."
XKCD, "How It Works"

Oh, how I hate being the bearer of bad news. Yet I feel I have to tell you something about the frustration I’m hearing, in whispers and on the backchannel, from early-career women involved in digital humanities.

Here, there, and everywhere, we’re being told: A DHer should code! Don’t know how? Learn! The work that’s getting noticed, one can’t help but see, is code. As digital humanities winds its way into academic departments, it seems reasonable to predict that the work that will get people jobs — the work that marks a real digital humanist — will be work that shows that you can code.

And that work is overwhelmingly by men. There are some important exceptions, but the pattern is pretty clear.

In principle, I have no particular problem with getting everyone to code. I’m learning to do it myself. (And a million thank yous to those of you who are helping me.) But I wanted to talk here about why men are the ones who code, so that we can speak openly about the fact that programming knowledge is not a neutral thing, but something men will tend to have more often than women.

This matter is of no small concern to me. It is breaking my damn heart to see how many women I know have earnestly committed themselves to codeacademy because they want to be good citizens, to prove they have what it takes. These are my friends, and this is their livelihood, and this is the career we’ve chosen.

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