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Why I'm Not Writing about Myself for SheCoded

First: I do get the irony of this article; there's no way around the idea that I am, actually, writing a post for the #shecoded tag. But there are so many things that bother me so much about this annual event as a feminist, so instead of writing about my own experiences, I want to offer some ways to make the annual #shecoded event better.

Pick a different tag

There are so many things to love about Elizabeth Warren, not the least of which is that she appropriately cited Coretta Scott King in the debate on the famous attorney general confirmation hearings.

However, I dislike that the soundbyte from McConnell, "Nevertheless, she persisted" about Elizabeth Warren has become a feminist rallying cry.

If you need a refresher or if you've never closely followed American politics, Warren was excluded from the attorney general confirmation debate after reading from a letter from Coretta Scott King on the racism of the attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions. Mitch McConnell objected to the letter, and, in solidarity, another (male) senator stepped up to read the letter.

People seized on the idea that Warren was penalized for reading the letter while her colleague wasn't, but this is incredibly shallow analysis. Warren wasn't being punished because she was a woman; she was being punished because McConnell was in a tight spot politically and made a stupid tactical move in trying to censor King's letter. Moreover, Warren's colleague wasn't let off the hook because he was a man but because it was obvious at that point what would happen if McConnell kept objecting--every Democratic senator would have lined up to read the letter and get kicked out, which would further raise the profile of the letter, which was the opposite of what McConnell was trying to accomplish.

It's worth asking why I find the #neverthelessshepersisted meme so objectionable--what's the harm in a shallow meme if it creates a platform for women to tell their stories.

  1. Gender-based discrimination is a serious issue, and it should be treated with seriousness. Latching onto a catchy, out-of-context soundbyte diminishes stories of actual discrimination.

  2. Much more importantly, the misappropriation of the episode is a sad example of white feminism. The mythology around the silencing of Elizabeth Warren and the subsequent outpouring of other women telling their stories effectively buried the story of the actual woman who was being discriminated against and silenced: Coretta Scott King. It was her words which McConnell objected to and her story of discrimination being censored. In a way, McConnell succeeded in burying the letter because of the hashtag, and we cooperate with King's silencing when we play off of #neverthelessshepersisted, which refers to Warren.

Get rid of #shecodedally

Allyship is great, and incentivising allyship is great, but incentivizing men to speak out on feminism in a space that's vastly majority-male anyway... isn't great. If you're a man, I think the most important thing you can do for IWD is to practice reading-to-understand rather than reading-to-respond. You don't have to ultimately agree with every woman's take--I certainly don't--but read everything with an open mind and just sit with it for a few days before making up your mind.

I'm not saying men in general should not say anything, but I think the ally hashtag shouldn't be promoted or officially recognized. Men who have particular experiences or data they feel they should share certainly should do so! But donating for every #shecodedally post necessarily puts men in the difficult position of chosing between pontificating on a subject they may not be fluent in or foregoing a free $20 donation. It's not fair to men, and it is necessarily going to lead to a "She Coded" event with a lot more "ally" voices than actual #shecoded posts.

Give non-binary people their own day

As a woman, I don't speak for non-binary people, and I know not all non-binary people are going to agree with me here, but every time I see non-binary issues ham-fistedly tacked on to a women's thing, I think of this brutal Reductress article. Non-binary people are not a kind of woman. Their issues are not usually women's issues and vice versa.

Just like #shecodedally posts are going to overwhelm #shecoded posts, #shecoded posts are going dwarf the number of #theycoded posts. It's not fair to non-binary people.

Alternately, if you absolutely have to lump all non-men together, then please in the name of all that is holy, at least find a way to actually treat non-binary people as equal in value to women instead of an afterthought. If you want to include non-binary people

  • Don't call the event "SheCoded" with a mention of #theycoded buried in the text.
  • Don't hold it on a day called, "International Women's Day."
  • Don't make the beneficiary an organization called "GirlDevelopIt."

In conclusion

In spite of all this, I am glad that is actively trying to close the gender gap in tech. I think the problems with the SheCoded program are significant but very solvable, and I hope that, like a well-maintained software project, it continues to improve over time.

Top comments (1)

ellativity profile image
Ella (she/her/elle)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts @webbureaucrat.

I feel comfortable speaking for the other members of the team at DEV in agreeing with you that non-binary voices in tech shouldn't be lumped in with women. It's wrong and illogical to conflate all non-men identities, and you're right to draw attention to that.

I fully agree that SheCoded can't act as a catch-all for demanding equality for all genders and gender non-conforming people - intersectionality renders these conversations complex and sensitive. It's a totally different perspective, but as a feminist of colour, I have often experienced frustration and tension around various International Women's Day celebrations in previous years. I appreciate that my team mates in the DEV team consciously make space to elevate diverse voices in tech year-round and, in particular reference to your point, will be recognizing International Non-Binary People's Day on 14 July.

Whilst you may not agree with me here, I see SheCoded as an opportunity to have conversations about equality in tech in general. And every opportunity we take is another silence broken.

We'll have to break a whole lot more to get to the place we want to be at - but these are the conversations that will help get us there, so thanks for taking this step to begin one around this year's SheCoded.