Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

A Guy Walks Into A Bra

from the women-in-technology dept

A recent and surprisingly unpleasant professional encounter found me thinking again about an experience I had in the late 90s during my earlier career as a web developer before I went to law school. I’d gotten involved with a group that put on monthly meetings on topics of interest to the local community of Internet professionals. After the meetings a bunch of us would typically go out for dinner to chat and catch up. I did know some women from the organization, but I think most of the time the friends I went out with afterwards were men. It has never really bothered me to be in situations where I am outnumbered by men, so long as I’m treated with the respect of an equal. And I had no quarrel with my male friends on that front. But that evening drove home a reason why it was not good for women not to be better represented in technology in general.

Out at dinner we began “talking shop” almost immediately, discussing, in those early days of the Web, the importance of e-commerce to businesses and what sort of web presences companies needed to have in order to be able to profit from the Internet. We started listing stories of successes and failures, but the conversation ground to a halt once I offered my example:

“I have a bra I really like, and I’d like to buy another, but I can’t seem to find a web site for the brand that would allow me to order one.”

(Men, I am assuming that you will keep reading the rest of this post, so that I can make my point. But based on my friends’ reaction I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already slammed down the lid of your laptop, or tossed aside your phone, and run away. In which case, if that’s your inclination, it’s even more important that you keep reading.)

The example I raised was a perfectly reasonable one. I was sharing an example of a significant e-commerce opportunity being left untapped for no good reason. The essential facts were indisputable: many women wear bras, bras don’t last forever, women would probably like to replace their worn-out bras with ones they know they like, and women will pay money to a bra manufacturer to get the bra they want. Therefore, any bra manufacturer not using the Internet to facilitate this purchase was leaving money on the table.

The same would be true for plenty of other goods as well, and I’m sure if I’d swapped the word “women” for “men” and instead listed a product specific to the latter my friends would have readily agreed that it needed to be sold online. After all, at least one of them had an MBA, and they were some of the biggest Internet commerce evangelists I knew. But that the product example was something specific to women’s bodies completely shut them down. They practically squirmed out of their seats, desperate for the subject to be changed.

It was an uncomfortable moment for me, too, realizing that an ordinary reality of the female existence could be so unwelcome in a professional conversation. Was it too immodest to discuss undergarments with work colleagues? In an era when Viagra commercials were already running on broadcast television it would hardly seem so. If there was no compunction against discussing the commercialization of such intimate matters for men, why could that same clinical detachment not be afforded to similar topics important to women? After all, this wasn’t second grade; no one was going to catch cooties talking about a specific form of underwear common to many women. The bottom line is that women are people and peers and professionals and deserve not to be regarded with the adolescent squeamishness that all too often keeps us apart from the world.

And as far as our discussion was concerned, the subject of selling bras online was a perfectly salient example to cite, just as any male-specific product would have been. In fact, from the larger perspective of e-commerce, it had to get raised by someone. But it seems to take someone with experience with these ideas to bring them to the fore, which means that without having women involved in the decision making they are going to be forever overlooked by the men in charge, who all too easily can regard such topics as icky and esoteric, or outright ignorable, rather than worthwhile business problems to solve.

In the twenty-odd years since that dinner bra manufacturers did eventually discover the web. Yet two decades later, we are still talking about women in technology ? including the relative lack thereof. And it’s an absence that hasn’t stopped mattering.

I’ve never been one who wanted to believe it might matter. As I said earlier, I’ve never generally been bothered by being one of the few or only women in a situation, because I didn’t think it should matter. To me, true equality means that men and women should essentially be interchangeable, with all of us passing through life based on our merit as people. And I’ve always worried that if we focused too much on gender issues it might overly dwell on our differences, end up being divisive, and thus keep us from ever getting there.

But the reality is that we aren’t there, at least not yet. While there are lots of women in technology, albeit more in some sectors than others, we’re not a point where we exist in numbers on par with our male counterparts. And as with any other demographic where inclusion doesn’t come easily or equivalently, that lack of representation has consequences.

First, as the bra example illustrates, it leaves out of the technology conversation the insights and additions that women can bring. Although in every way that matters women are equal to men, the reality is that there can be some differences in our physical construction and, moreover, in our lived experiences. These differences shape our perspectives, awareness of issues others might overlook, and perhaps also our acuities. As a result, as with all people from the diverse fabric of humanity, they give us something extra to contribute that is valuable, and that should be valued.

But also, sometimes it is our absence itself that is what makes our lives different, and not in a good way. Because when women are not at the table it teaches everyone that women do not belong at the table. Which makes it really hard to then come along as a woman and try to sit at the table and be treated as the equal that we are.

About a year before the dinner described above I had a different job developing websites at a start-up. It was not a great job for a number of reasons, including that my boss didn’t actually know how to make websites. So he tended to give me instructions that were, at best, infeasible. One day I explained that we couldn’t do what he asked because we had to use the web-safe color palette or else the page would not render well. Back then, limitations in computer monitor technology meant that web sites were effectively limited to 216 colors in order to render predictably, and I was correct to point out the need to adhere to this common web design practice. But I was a woman dropping this knowledge on a man. He didn’t believe it until he looked across at my male colleague who confirmed it.

It was such a stark wake-up call that it didn’t necessarily matter how good I was at my job. For some men I would never be good enough simply because I wasn’t one of them. And it is among those sorts of attitudes that I am supposed to somehow carve out my career.

On the other hand, ever watch re-runs from earlier decades? In many important ways things are significantly better for women than they used to be. Including that there are plenty of men who welcome us as full equals at the table. But that doesn’t mean that things are totally fine ? in fact, far from it. Many challenges remain, and one of those challenges is implicit (and sometimes explicit) sex bias, which, even if it only comes up in a minority of situations, still ends up being an issue in quite a few situations. And part of why we need to contend with it is because it can be subtle. While it should hopefully be clear to everyone by now that no one should ever have to deal with the sort of verbal and physical harassment that prompted the #metoo movement, too many men seem to think that simply not outright abusing their female colleagues somehow absolves them of being sexist. But that’s hardly the benchmark.

Instead, as that recent unpleasant experience reminded me, there are other questions that need to be asked. Such as: are women as welcome to contribute to the best of our capacity as our male counterparts are? Or is our presence just merely tolerated because at this point it might have to be? When we speak, are we heard like our male colleagues are heard? Or are we tuned out like my friends did to me when I shared a perspective they didn’t want to hear or, worse, like my former boss did when I tried to speak with authority and expertise?

Obviously no woman is going to be right on everything, just as no man would be. We’re not even going to always agree among ourselves. But if we’re not generally regarded as having equivalent ethos as an equally-positioned man, and therefore denied the opportunities to be in an equal position, then that’s a problem. It’s a problem for women, it’s even a problem for men, and it’s a problem for any industry that drives our contributions away.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “A Guy Walks Into A Bra”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Coffee U (profile) says:

Re: meritocracy?

I think that you might be failing hard by talking about "improving meritocracy" when you’re absolutely not dealing with a meritocracy.

It’s like getting lost in a conversation about which general construction material is most favoured as a dessert topping. Maybe cement pre-water might have better mouth feel than a 2×4, but you have lost by having started the conversation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Written in 1795:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

If you think that Rabbie Burns was rich, you really need to brush up on your history.

The simple fact is that "meritocracy" was, if not invented, then at least mostly promoted by the 18th centuries equivalent of social justice campaigners. (As, it so happens, was "free trade" and "market economies"). They weren’t cunning plots to trap the poor in the rich man’s grasp, they were reactions to the government favoritism and stifling social stratification the infested the world (including the Americas) at that time. Too many on the left want to restore that level of social control, albeit for different reasons, without considering the society that that would build. The same applies to many on the right, but in America those people are mostly so lost in their delusions that they are not worth trying to discuss in a rational conversation.

The undeserving rich may have subverted and coopted these concepts to some degree, but thay most certainly didn’t invent them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: Re: myth and legands

Yup, in a true meritocracy, everybody would have the same starting position, which would mean, for example, that we introduce a 100% inheritance tax. Even then, nature is unfair with the skills it distributes. I therefore reject meritocracy. A much better alternative is to organize society in such a way, that everybody can contribute according to his or her skills and aptitude, and everybody is rewarded at least a decent income for that. Economically and technically we have the means to do so, only the political will and understanding is missing. (Reading tip: The Tyranny of Merit by Michael J. Sandel).

Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you are talking about merit, you should also focus about what merits you actually want to look for and reward, because often, the merits that are rewarded are those that happen to be more prominently present in men — which in itself is already discriminatory. This also means organizations do not function optimally, as perfectly illustrated in this article. If we refocus on what skills and personalities we actually want positively contribute to an organization, and recognize that diversity in itself has significant value (read Rebel Ideas by Mathew Syed), we don’t even need discriminating methods to get a more diverse workplace.

With a proper understanding of who adds value, we don’t get to hire only those minority people that show majority traits as token representatives to meet some arbitrary quota, which will not lead to a healthy viewpoint diversity, and that latter is what is actually called for.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

David says:

It has to do with projection

You’ll find that persons wearing football jerseys will ridicule people wearing different jerseys for the perceived deficiencies of the opposing team. They will get into a fight over those.

And we are talking about 4XL jerseys here. It would be quite more straightforward to ridicule the wearer of the jersey for their own lack of bodily fitness.

Now people wear their skin and gender like a jersey, giving them a sense of identity and self-assurance that is not separate from the identity and self-assurance they derive from their job competency.

And then you relate your difficulties in getting a jersey cheering for the wrong team, when they were proud of managing to treat you like someone wearing the same jersey as they do.

We understand the world in categories, and everybody wants to be proud of the categories they are sorted in and identify with. And categories take less effort to work with than individuals.

Well, people are enlightened and tolerant. Of course they can get along with you wearing the wrong jersey in their fan club if you don’t rub it in. But it would be an uncomfortable look for the president, wouldn’t it?

Of course this is a steaming heap of bullshit. It’s the kind of thing humans waste a considerable part of brain capacity on. It’s the kind of things wars are fought over.

I hope we never need to explain that kind of thing to a foreign intelligence. It’s embarrassing enough to explain to your kids.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Brandon (profile) says:

Re: It has to do with projection

This is a rather tortured analogy and as a result I’m not actually sure what point you’re trying to make. Football is inherently oppositional (opposed teams competing) and association with a team (or interest in the sport at all) is purely volitional. And you’re using this to make some comment about tribalism based on inherent qualities of identity which are not in opposition and not in the least bit voluntarily-assumed? You’ve used a lot of words to make a point that’s as clear as mud.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It has to do with projection

Your part about wanting to size it in person to make sure it fits is valid, but she specifically mentioned having one she already liked and wanting to buy another of the same one.

Personally, I don’t care what the item in question is, if I have something I know I like and know I’ll want more of, I’d love to be able to just go to the OEM’s website and order more shipped straight to me. It’s silly to me any time any business doesn’t have an internet presence, in this day and age.

Anon says:

Good Points

First thought – buying a bra online? Sounds like an iffy proposition. having followed my wife from specialty store to specialty store, she had trouble finding something that fit properly. This may be a very personal item; and everyone is different. I suspect some things need inspection and trying out, for the same reason we buy books online more than fresh vegetables. (And the worst failing is that many manufacturers cannot continue making the exact same product from year to year, they have to tweak it. So one cannot even rely on buying "the same as two years ago". There’s a reason Amazon got a good start selling books – no matter where or how you buy a particular book, it’s the same book. (so far)

But to the OP’s real point. I have no illusions about male superiority – my mother was a STEM professor starting in the early 1960’s; one of my sisters was a researcher at Bell Labs. When I was working for a large firm in IT, I had 3 different women who were my boss. Half the department were women, and they were just as competent. Where I noticed a difference, was that the "computer club" fans were exclusively male – the joke was there were no women "because they had a life".

Several of the women did mention the same bias – that they were not taken as seriously as men. (I sent one woman engineer the cartoon from the 150th Anniversary edition of Punch, where the boss is saying to the woman in the business meeting "That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Trimble. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it?")

OTOH, I saw the same with myself as a white male, versus consultants. I suggested something and the boss shot it down, a few minutes later our high-paid IT consultant made the same suggestion and the boss gushed over it.

So I think there are several points at work in the OP’s article. First, males, rightly or wrongly, are uncomfortable discussing things to do with sex – like women’s undergarments – in the presence of females. Is this logical? No. But anything sex is not logical.

Second, yes, because of historic gender roles, women are not taken as seriously in technical roles. Is this logical? No. But it happens. There’s a phenomenon I recall mentioned in other groups undergoing gender equality conversion such as women firemen or police officers – someone said until there’s an adequate balance – say at least a quarter of the participants are female, the rest don’t take them as equals. I suspect IT is in many respects working its way to that number, sadly.

Third, the more aggressive people get the recognition – but again, gender roles come into play. A man can be abrasive and aggressive, and he’s "forceful", a woman displaying the same properties can be a "bitch". It’s a fine line to walk. How we fix it, I don’t know. But even at the bottom level, men tend to be more assertive and hence get recognition. (As a less assertive type on the spectrum, I did note that I tended to get less recognition than my peers.)

Finally, there are the inter-gender issues. Guys do indulge in locker-room talk, and can make remarks that they can’t make to women without getting called into HR. This may make them uncomfortable., But… Just like not making racist remarks, they have to learn to live with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The blindness is not all one-sided

"First, males, rightly […] are uncomfortable discussing things to do with sex – like women’s undergarments – in the presence of females, __especially at work___."

ftfy. I find it telling that Ms Gellis includes both a)

too many men seem to think that simply not outright abusing their female colleagues somehow absolves them of being sexist.

and b)

They practically squirmed out of their seats, desperate for the subject to be changed.

She had dropped her dinner companions into a sexual harassment minefield. And yes, that was 20 years ago, and yes, it was still a workplace minefield. There is literally no way that a man could bring up the topic of bra sales online without a subsequent visit to HR. There is a vast social difference between talking about undergarments and, for instance shaving cream or even razors.

And this is even when her point is about "availability of a specific thing online". Tenative about participating in such a conversation? Damned betcha. What do I know about buying, specifically, bras? Zip. I talk about something I myself can’t find online, it becomes "changing the topic".

For some men I would never be good enough simply because I wasn’t one of them.

Welcome to the club. For some men – and women – I myself will never be good enough: because I didn’t graduate from the "right" school, or have the right degree or letters after my name, or have experience on my resume from the right company (no matter the position). Don’t play their chosen sport (golf, baseball, whatever), or played for the wrong team. Too young. Too old. Nationality. Accent. Skin color. Hair color. Hair style. There are a million ways we human beings separate people into "us up here" and "you lesser beings". Most of them are trivial and almost all are irrelevant to the job requirements. Gender shouldn’t be one of them. Race shouldn’t be one of them. A million other things shouldn’t be one of them, but here we are.

Welcome to the club. We’ve got unisex T-shirts.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: The blindness is not all one-sided

She had dropped her dinner companions into a sexual harassment minefield.

Why? She only asked why a certain brand-product wasn’t readily available on the internet. That a majority men find that question loaded when it pertains to female undergarments aptly illustrates the "problem".

And yes, that was 20 years ago, and yes, it was still a workplace minefield. There is literally no way that a man could bring up the topic of bra sales online without a subsequent visit to HR.

Your statement aptly illustrates the "problem".

The "problem" is how a majority of women have been viewed and treated by men, and still is.

Welcome to the club. For some men – and women – I myself will never be good enough: because I didn’t graduate from the "right" school, or have the right degree or letters after my name, or have experience on my resume from the right company (no matter the position).

And here you are the problem, you are actually mansplaining to women why their experience is no worse than graduating from the "wrong " school etc.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The blindness is not all one-sided

"There is literally no way that a man could bring up the topic of bra sales online without a subsequent visit to HR."

Really? "My girlfriend is finding it hard to find this product, does anyone know why?" would be a trip to HR?

"There is a vast social difference between talking about undergarments and, for instance shaving cream or even razors."

Not really, it’s all about context. I’d expect you’d get the trip to HR if you asked the ladies how they shave their bikini region more quickly than if you ask a question of what kind of lingerie would be best to surprise your significant other with.

"I myself will never be good enough: because I didn’t graduate from the "right" school, or have the right degree or letters after my name, or have experience on my resume from the right company (no matter the position). Don’t play their chosen sport (golf, baseball, whatever), or played for the wrong team…. Hair style"

You’ll note that all of these related to personal choices, not an inherent trait you were born with. Trying to conflate that with race is disingenuous.

Sure, you shouldn’t be treated differently just because you choose not to play golf, but it’s a far cry from being discriminated against because you have a boyfriend.

"Welcome to the club"

You seem to be confused as to the nature and location of the club.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Good Points

Let’s say some bra company decides to solve the problem of how to deliver well fitting bras to women. That would be worth money because in fact, the author is right: there’s a huge missed opportunity for a bra-making business when women who otherwise might buy bras more often simply give up and wear old worn-out bras because nobody is delivering them in a simple, convenient and well-priced way. Commerce is going online and there’s no going back so the company that can solve the riddle of how to sell bras online is going to rake in a lot of money.

But the group described in this article aren’t the bra company and the people making product and marketing decisions. They’re the web developers, who are brought on after the higher level decisions are made. And if they’re so uncomfortable with bras that they can’t work on a website where there are myriad photos of bras, then they might want to request a different assignment.

There could be technology-based innovations needed for the internet-bra-selling company. Is there a way to model various body shapes online so that women can find their shape and then find the right bra? Could you use camera phones to "scan" the customer and create a custom bra for her? That would be an interesting challenge for the web developers but wow they better get comfortable with women’s bodies fast if they want that assignment (also the legal department might need to get involved if this company needs to process nude photos as part of their business.)

Valis (profile) says:

Oh, the irony!

Wow, a cis-het white woman complaining there’s not enough cis-het white woman in the industry. No, you know what’s the real problem? There’s not enough black people in the industry. The internet is systemically racist and mysoginistic and homophobic and transphobic. We need more black women in the industry, and even more especially, more queer black women!

But that ‘s not going to happen, because, USA…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, the irony!

"Focus does not imply exclusion"

Bingo. It’s not a zero sum game, and any changes are going to take a long time. One minority getting a leg up before another one does not imply it will be more difficult for the latter to also get representation. However, attacking white women because you don’t think they deserve representation you think should go to a black woman will make things more difficult – if only because that lack of self-awareness and maturity certainly reduces your overall employment chances.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Why must the industry play a zero-sum game by making more room only for people from one hyper-specific marginalized group (queer Black women) at the expense of people from a broader marginalized group (women in general)?

I’m not here to argue that queer Black women don’t deserve a spot in the industry. I’m here to argue that women who don’t fit that mold (e.g., queer white women, straight/cishet women of any race) can be equally as deserving of a spot. Locking them out because of a hyper-focused zero-sum version of diversity hiring says to do that is bullshit.

David says:

Re: Oh, the irony!

Diversity can be useful when the product benefits from it. But short of that, normality would be going a long way. Have people work with even the rare queer black female programmer colleague like, well, a programmer.

It’s sort of embarrassing that one needs quotas until the incumbents manage to behave normally and focus on the job description; and the more marginal groups we are talking about, the more unwieldy quotas become for managing the fallout of chauvinism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh, the irony!

So you want a cis white woman speaking for the experience of trans Black queer workers? I don’t see the irony.

You certainly have valid points, but expanding on your ideas would be great, as opposed to the ‘die, cis non-Black scum’ approach which isn’t particularly communicative in this space where a whole lot of the people here agree with your points. It’s not the oppression olympics. i doubt Gellis is a TERF or ignores the challenges Black people face. But you want people who are experienced and expert with some of these intersections to write about them.

Maybe you have suggestions for articles that could appear here? Or links to other sources for thinking on these topics. they are important.

and yeah i’m pretty much despondent about the US and the bulk of humanity in general, so i don’t know what if anything will ever positively change for good.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, the irony!

"i doubt Gellis is a TERF or ignores the challenges Black people face"

Indeed, I don’t see where she bought up race or sexual identity at all, other than the implied sexuality on the side of male harassment. Yet, Valis decided not only to insert them, but us them as the basis to attack the woman for speaking out. Somehow, I don’t think that has the real world effect that they were hoping for.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Oh, the irony!

…and this is the attitude that sets you up to fail. While other people are talking about total representation for every minority, you’re willing to trash one group trying to get representation because they don’t fit another monitory. The end result of this is nobody takes any of you seriously and neither of you gets better treatment.

"The internet is systemically racist and mysoginistic and homophobic and transphobic"

Case in point – your comment. You’ll attack women because they’re not black or gay enough for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not only the traditional sexism, and the unexamined subtle sexism, but also since sexism and other disparity issues have been pushing to the fore again over the last 20 years, we have the reactionary bigots who are fully engaged with their -isms simply because other people had the nerve to suggest that these things aren’t cool and maybe we should change, and that any prior "changes" still aren’t cutting it.

Michael says:

what am I missing

The author brought up bras and … what happened? Men "practically squirmed out of their seats"? Is that an outcome? An observation? Did she just get the outcome she expected, or was there actually some sort of negativity associated with their subjective reactions?

I say this as a man who used to work at Victoria’s Secret: What exactly are you trying to say here? What’s the point of the anecdote, and how does it relate to the thesis? I’ve also not been listened to when discussing color palettes (as it relates to accessibility, in my case) only to finally be validated by another dev. It never occurred to me to check and see if I had a vagina and this was just sexism, rather than me just having to deal with assholes.

And more importantly, how is all this related to Techdirt?

I feel like someone accidentally removed a paragraph that explains the author’s point.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rocky says:

Re: what am I missing

I feel like someone accidentally removed a paragraph that explains the author’s point.

TL;DR: Men tend to discount or completely ignore the female POV, and more so when it comes to technology. It has gotten better the last 20 years, but the problem still exists.

Also, using your experience as a man as a measurement of how valid women’s experience is when dealing with men, is kinda. . .mostly useless.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: what am I missing

Personal experiences don’t have an intrinic purpose. To summarize she recounted her experiences of company folly in leaving money on the table, recounted personal alienation, and the implications of cultural short comings.

Not to diminish the sexist outcomes and intents but I personally think what she encountered is subset of a larger error. Namely of utterly baseless and useless societal taboos treated uncritically as existentially important. There are mountains of stupid disqualifers making major impacts.

Michael Dukakis was voted against because he looked kind of dumb wearing a helmet in a tank gunner’s seat. The functional purpose of a representative getting down in such "common" things isn’t the showmanship but to promote a little bit of understanding and seeing things from their point on the ground. Executives go to industrial sites and look over operations of factories not because in some emergency they may need to run it but to get a view of the situation from the ground. They don’t have to impress their employees to get elected.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
JMT (profile) says:

Re: what am I missing

"What exactly are you trying to say here? What’s the point of the anecdote, and how does it relate to the thesis?"

That these men were uncomfortable talking about bras because they’re obviously (and stupidly) uncomfortable about women in general. It’s an attitude that was common 20 years ago and things are better not but along way from perfect. How hard is that to understand?

"And more importantly, how is all this related to Techdirt?"

For the millionth time, when you’re the editor around here, you’ll get to decide what runs. Cathy writes interesting articles for Techdirt, that’s all the connection there needs to be. Nobody is forcing you to read anything you’re not interested in, but you read it and commented so…

"I feel like someone accidentally removed a paragraph that explains the author’s point."

I feel like someone accidentally removed your sense of irony.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: what am I missing

My take on it is, why do web developers even need to know about bras? If they take on a bra company as a client, then the decisions about bras will be made by the client and I would assume the decision makers are very comfortable with women’s bodies and bras since they deal with them and think about them on a daily basis, regardless of their gender. They signed up to work for a bra company so obviously it wasn’t an issue for them.

The missing paragraph would relate to the assumption that web developers need to know a company’s product and marketing strategy before working on a website and I don’t see why that would be needed. The client already knows their product and their customers. They hire a web development company to realize the vision they have already mapped out. Other than not fainting dead away if they encounter photos of bras in their job, web developers really don’t need to know much about the products their clients are selling or their strategy.

The exception would be if this is an innovative web development company that can use technology to solve a client’s problem, namely, the client comes in and says: women don’t have a good way to buy bras online and we need you to help us solve that. In which case, the team that works on this project needs to be very comfortable with women’s bodies and women’s concerns and the bosses can find that team and assemble them. Anyone who can’t emotionally handle the assignment doesn’t get the opportunity.

Doesn’t really matter what gender they are. What matters is if they are willing to get over their personal issues in return for a chance to work on an interesting technology challenge. Ideally, they have no personal issues to begin with (or are good at hiding them.) But anyone who wants to do innovative, cutting edge work needs to have mental flexibility as one of their personality traits, so why would web developers who were so skittish work for a company like that in the first place? They are only hurting themselves by letting their neuroses cut them off from opportunities.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
BentFranklin (profile) says:

Dear Author,

Don’t let the notalls and whatabouts get you down. This is a great article. Thanks for giving your story. I just reviewed your history of articles and I think they are all superb contributions to TechDirt, even when I don’t completely agree.

We recently started rewatching MAS*H from the beginning. The show that we remembered as so engaging and illuminating at the time was all that, but was also often so cringe in its treatment of women we had to just stop. Why didn’t we see that then? What don’t we see today?

DebbyS (profile) says:

Re: What don't we see today?

I noticed way back when the TV shows were originally running that every Cartwright (sp) (or Cartwright wannabe) in Bonanza would fall in love but his lover would die, usually after giving birth (delivering Hoss wasn’t easy!), but each time the events (in flashback) occurred within one episode. Hey, but by the end of each of those episodes, the man had learned a Valuable Lesson. In Star Trek (The Original), Kirk, Spock & McCoy loved and lost and… by the next episode the woman was forgotten. At least Uhuru hung on! In many action shows, when any female guest star character didn’t find herself killed off but somehow became a continuing character, she was usually a nurse or a secretary. Important but… replaceable. So MAS*H, as brilliant as the writing was, fell into that trap, too.

Cathy Gellis (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Thanks, BF! Of course, you should always agree with me :-p

I liked the Stargate TV shows because Samantha was a smart, capable woman who didn’t die and didn’t have to have love affairs with her colleagues to be an equal protagonist.

Also later MASH episodes, particularly with the arrival of Potter, BJ, and Charles, and the increasing creative influence of Alda, were much better. The one where Lt. Kelley stands up to Hawkeye stands out in particular. And Swit didn’t sell Hoolihan short, especially after the character divorced. The frustrations she experienced being a career woman in that age were well-told.

Rich says:

Discomfort, Bras, Men, Etc.

I can tell you exactly why the mention of bras online stopped the conversation dead in its tracks. Many men have absolutely no idea how to engage in any sort of "good-natured" ribbing with the feminine side of the work force. Had you been male, and brought up the notion of purchasing athletic supporters online, someone would have made some comment regarding someones inability to adequately fill one athletic supporter, never mind an online order of them. Chuckles would have been had, another round of beers, and further good-natured ribbing would have ensued. Instead, through no fault of your own, you were met with the inevitable silence left behind after the the internal censors of all present stood strong while pointing to countless news headlines about sexual harassment
lawsuits, and dutifully blocked any quips about bras and the sizing, capacity, or contents thereof.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re: Discomfort, Bras, Men, Etc.

I assume this roundtable was practice for some real-life situation such as: a bra company CEO, a potential client, has a meeting with the web development company these guys work for. The CEO lays out the problem: commerce is moving online but women don’t have a good way of buying well fitting bras online, which means the CEO knows his/her company is losing business. They want the web development company to come up with innovative solutions to this problem.

So if one of the guys in the roundtable were in that meeting, would they giggle and squirm at the subject matter? If they were going to be so juvenile and unprofessional, I’m sure their boss wouldn’t allow them in the meeting. So that is the real issue here: if these guys’ goal is to be at a senior enough level that they can be in the bra-company-CEO meeting where their company is trying to land a new client, then they really need to get over their juvenile mindset and start thinking about product and marketing issues beyond their own narrow personal experience or they’ll do nothing but grunt-level web development for the rest of their careers.

Cathy Gellis (profile) says:

Re: Discomfort, Bras, Men, Etc.

This was the 90s, and just a small group of friends, so I don’t think fear of a harassment charge was operative here. Also, there was nothing comedic about it; I wanted to discuss it with the clinical detachment we were using to discuss other e-commerce success stories. But they couldn’t, and my sense was that they just thought it was too icky a topic and couldn’t get past that reflex. As a result, it felt to me like there was an almost impenetrable brick wall that I couldn’t get past. It was weird, and unpleasant. I felt almost physically trapped because there was nothing I could say, or intellectually explain, to unstick the conversation without abandoning the topic altogether. Like tires spinning in mud, I couldn’t get any traction to move the conversation forward. It left me with a weird sense of powerlessness that I can still remember vividly today.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Discomfort, Bras, Men, Etc.

I would humbly offer a minor disagreement. In 1992 or so, I was about a month in my second job in the "Tech" industry, also known as a Software City store, that in this case also hosted a co-owner’s computer service company, and I was routinely stunned and taken aback by the foul comments that my boss would routinely throw around, especially at the two women who worked there. Although never anything that seemed deliberately hateful or in any way directly threatening either employment or physical harm, I was always amazed that he was not, nor had been, in the middle of some ugly lawsuit. In my mind at that time, every other comment out of his mouth was bringing the business closer to some inevitable, employment-ending, fiscal demise resulting from losing a court case or two.

With that said, I would ask you to consider what your reaction would have been if you had not brought it up yourself, but one of the men did. And if they had all agreed that this was indeed an idea to persue, and if they had started asking you for details about bra sizing and the current shopping experience, can you honestly say that there wouldn’t come a moment when you suddenly realize that you are a woman, surrounded by men who are now interested in your undergarments, and pressing you for details about such, and in that moment, you would not feel weird and want to politely step away from the topic? If you can see that such a scenario could make you feel a bit weird or uncomfortable, then you can also spot the very same landmine that many men try to gingerly tiptoe around, without realizing that in many cases, they somehow manage to either bellyflop themselves directly on top of it, or fail to realize just how insulting their overt efforts to avoid something that they believe you couldn’t handle might be.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re: Discomfort, Bras, Men, Etc.

If this group can’t discuss products that relate to half the population, then that’s the problem: they don’t have the mindset or expertise to make the big decisions about e-commerce.

The example given – the difficulty of buying bras online – is a very good example since it represents a business opportunity that even today hasn’t adequately been solved. An innovative web development group might come up with cool uses of technology to solve this problem and make a lot of money for their bra-company client.

The fact that this group didn’t say "wow that’s interesting, tell us more about the problems women have with buying bras and let’s brainstorm ways technology can solve that problem" just tells me they weren’t the right group to be creating business strategy and should just stick with developing web sites for clients who are the ones making the big product and marketing strategy decisions, which they hand off to the web developers to implement.

In the technology companies I’ve worked for, the people doing the web development are different from the ones who create the product and marketing strategy. If these web developers wanted to expand their horizons then first they’d have to get over their silly neuroses.

n00bdragon (profile) says:

I am a programmer by trade. I’m in my mid-thirties now but when I attended college it was hard not to notice a trend among my peers. My college CS department had a very large population of south Asian international students and among them the split between men and women was close to 50/50. Of American-born students I knew of two female students, total, out of hundreds. The reason there are no (non-indian) women in CS is because there are no (non-indian) women getting CS degrees in college. Why they aren’t going to college to pursue those degrees is a mystery. Clearly, it’s not something particular to women, because non-American women are pursuing technology careers with gusto. It’s something about the western cultural zeitgeist that is shunting them away.

What’s really interesting is that it wasn’t always this way. After graduating I fell into a software career doing COBOL. There’s no getting around it, COBOL developers skew old. Really old. The average COBOL developer is 60 years old, so for every 30 year old baby like myself there’s a crypt keeper a few seats down. But there are far more women in COBOL than any other CS field, close to half. COBOL was invented by a woman and for many decades programming and computers were seen as good careers for women and it seems to have taken a hard shift in the mid 90s and since then basically zero western-born women have entered the field.

When you hear all these horror stories about toxic male workplace cultures that drive women out I can understand why that’s repellent, but it wasn’t the stodgy Mad Men good-ol-boys clubs of the past that drove women out of CS. That was prime time for women in technology. I don’t know what caused it, since I wasn’t in college in the 90s, but that’s where it all went wrong.

Brandon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The reason is that early on, the machine or computing device was the big invention and the programming method was seen as grunt work. Women did the "boring" work of programming while the men did the "exciting" work of inventing the next big new machine. It wasn’t until programming started being seen as something worth doing that would generate money and plaudits that men started moving into the field and alienating women. There are also the traditional barriers to women in some branches of academia. Computer science and programming, often being an offshoot of math, and now also potentially being an offshoot of certain management programs, is a field largely dominated by men in academia.

So it really was the good-ol-boys club that drove women out. At the time programming was starting to become more important men had even more social capital than they do now and as they worked their way into the field they started erecting barriers to women.

Barry Winters (profile) says:

An interesting read, and equally interesting set of responses covering just about every nook and cranny of human existence. While the author’s title and opening story involves purchasing a bra, the subject is focused on credibility which she accurately identifies as ethos near the end. Women have been denied credibility by men for eons because they have never moved beyond “they rare different” from us. Which make me think of the phrase: “No shite Sherlock!” of course they are different. Just as males differ and women differ and racial and ethnic differences exist. When credibility is with-held due to gender, race or whatever, it means the person has forsaken logic and facts (logos) and prefers hysterical emotions (pathos) and that also seems to pretty much describe the state of the world today.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

I always got a kick out of men squirming over female topics.
To be honest I’m a mixed setting I’d sometimes drop something into discussion just to make them uncomfortable.
Most men have too many issues to explain.

Generally, it’s… “she said bra, huk huk” if Not “oh my god the b word”.
I’ve gotten into situations of being shunned because I’ll often go to a woman for help. But nothing has happened in over 4 decades to change my opinion that anything a man can do a woman can do better.

That said the metoo movement has caused problems of its own that didn’t exist.
It’s no longer just bad “come over here and we’ll see what comes up”.
Or over the line “sit on my face”.
Now even stuff that should be acceptable (you look great today) is taboo.
Telling someone you like their new shoes can set of a chain reaction.
We’ve gone from ignoring the issues to treating every word as a dagger.
And that’s just as bad.

Hopefully some day people will just come to understand plugs and sockets are only different in design, not general function. And does little for intelligence.

I’m a guy, btw. If talking about a bra makes you uncomfortable you have a serious issue to ponder.

nerdrage (profile) says:

what a weird example

Sounds like that group of internet professionals were talking about business strategy and marketing. In that case, the fact that they were so unfamiliar with half the population, and half their customers, that they balked at a discussion of bras, is a very bad sign for whatever businesses they were running or hoping to start.

Were they actually a bunch of engineers who aren’t really in charge of making decisions about target markets and product strategy, but rather are in charge of building the websites to implement the strategies of others? If so, the basic problem is, they were way out of their depth.

I’ve worked in high tech for a long time and if I were working for a bra-making company that needed a website, I would expect the actual decision makers to include quite a few actual human women or at least men who understood a lot about what women want in bras, their problems with bras, finding bras that fit well, etc.

Then that group makes the decisions and maps out the websites that the web developers will build. The web developers could all be women or all men, doesn’t much matter. And they don’t actually need to know much about bras at all. Someone else is designing the site, choosing the photos, writing the copy, and devising the marketing plan to reach the potential customer base and direct them to the site.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...