The best ideas are the simplest ones. Last week I suddenly saw a rash of tweets and blog posts about librarians donating to the Ada Initiative. In library/archives technology (where I work), the Ada Initiative is well known for programs that work to fight systematic sexism in technology, including conference and community codes of conduct, ally training and programs, and AdaCamps. It’s there, it’s a great resource, and it’s worthy of attention and support. But in the last few days the conversation on this topic has reached a fever pitch, due to the outstanding generosity of our community in response to an amazingly simple and common idea – matching donations. Four committed and well respected leaders in this community (Andromeda Yelton @thatandromeda, Bess Sadler @eosadler, Chris Bourg @mchris4duke, and Mark Matienzo @anarchivist) simply announced that between them they’d match up to $5120 donated by librarians and archivists to the Ada Initiative through a targeted campaign, and a mini-movement was born. Nearly $15,000 has been donated so far with four days left.
To me, the Ada Initiative’s most important impact is surfacing the systematic nature of sexism, especially in tech. I know far too many individuals, both male and female, that view sexism as outright bigotry (“women aren’t as good at…” or “women shouldn’t…”), and believe it’s not a huge problem in North America because they don’t hear statements like that. But that’s not all sexism is. First, people do make statements that mean these very things, but they’re much more often subtly coded or cached in care/concern or “explaining” a situation. Second, and more insidious, is the way that women are framed in everyday speech, action, and media that reinforces a power dynamic where women are objects subject to others’ judgment and desires and are assumed to be less skilled or informed. This systematic, deeper sexism also tends to highlight (misguided) paternalistic attempts to “help” as somehow enlightened rather than revealing these actions as extending the unequal status quo.
The well documented and pervasive phenomenon of women being subjected to unwelcome sexual attention in technology communities, both at conferences and online, demonstrates just how blatant this inequality and objectification is, and how speaking up about it results in retaliation and denial of the issues at hand. Microagressions in everyday workplace and personal conversation further re-establish sexist norms and by their very nature typically go un-commented upon and largely (consciously) un-noticed to those who deny this is a problem. Just in the last few weeks I’ve had extremely basic technical concepts explained to me by someone who knew my job title and what sort of skills and knowledge it requires, had an individual in a professional meeting refer to a specific groups of academics we were discussing as “sluts” who “would do anything for money,” and had an extremely well-meaning individual explicitly state that he was acting to protect women from a workplace situation where both men and women were being manipulated and adversely affected. This is deep, ingrained, entrenched, dangerous stuff, folks. It’s largely invisible and is structured to perpetuate itself. We must do better.
The Ada Initiative works to bring these issues to the forefront with the idea that exposure causes people to think more deeply and look more closely. And that leads to real change. Let’s watch, let’s talk, and let’s make some change.
If you’re a librarian or archivist, please consider donating to this targeted campaign to support Ada’s important work. If you’re not a librarian or archivist, please consider donating through Ada’s regular donation channels.
(Ada folks – mine is coming, just waiting on new credit cards to arrive after an unfortunate wallet incident last weekend. C’mon Canada Post…)