Tech is to boys as shopping is to women?

Yesterday I was at work – in my male-dominated IMIT department – talking with two of my (entirely male) coworkers. I keep running out of space on my laptop when I am editing videos or photos, and it’s a problem. So how much space do I need? After a lengthy discourse on how much space I need to store and process all my needs, I suggested we should all go on a field trip after work and go look at tech stuff. Both men shook their heads emphatically with a resounding NO.

“No way,” they practically said in unison. “We’d spend too much money in there. We’d never make it out alive.”

We all laughed at this. A few months ago, I bought a sound mixing board because I thought it would be fun to learn to use one in my spare time. That brought forth a landslide of “necessary” purchases, like a decent recorder, two new microphones, and a spaghetti of cables. (I just coined “spaghetti of cables.” It’s like a “murder of crows,” except I just coined it right now. If you hear it in future, know that it got started here on my blog.) Since I had literally never dabbled in audio in my life, the fact that I suddenly owned an obscene amount of audio equipment and was trotting out new words like “plosives” and “XLR to 3/4” where I never had before made it clear that when it comes to technology, more is more and impulse shopping is far too much fun. So I totally got why they were saying they didn’t want to go into a tech store. Their wish list was too long. And they didn’t even know what was on it yet.

I want to pause here for a little background because I don’t know my job title has ever come up in my blog before. I am a Technical Analyst. I have taken impressive technical courses – and passed – and have a decent technical pedigree. I began my interest back in the early 80’s when few people owned a computer and the computer lab in my junior high was the exclusive hangout of geeky, unfriendly boys who mostly ignored me. I was an early adopter of technology and I still learn new technology to a level of basic competence quickly. For example, my entire audio editing collection – which came through an interest in creating better podcasts – sprung up in less than ten days. While I am not saying I am a fully-fledged audio-visual tech after a few months of playing, I am saying I did just fine learning how to assemble the entire thing and turn it into good audio. (I also turned my office closet into a sound booth. Maybe that’s worth a blog post down the road.)

Back to my conversation with my coworkers where I am trying to lure them into a tech store and they are saying no. I respected their decision not to bring their credit cards into a tech shop. As a woman with a tripod, a camera, a microphone with adapter, and three cells phones in her purse (don’t ask), I’m not judging how much tech is enough when faced with a whole store of goodies.

And then one of my coworkers threw this curve ball at me:

“Tech shopping for boys is like shopping for women.”

I let that hang in the air a minute. For one thing, I was the one who initiated the shopping trip. For another thing, I’m a female tech. And I work with him. In fact, I had been there longer than he had been there. He worked with ME. I wasn’t just a female tech. I was a female tech with more seniority. And going shopping for technical gear was my idea. (Did I mention that?)

“You do realize I’m a girl, right?” I asked him, gritting my teeth.

“Yeah,” he said, “But women love to shop.” (My hands balled themselves into fists.)

“You do realize I’m the one who invited you to go shopping in a tech store, right?” I snarled, decades of gender stereotyping fury edging into my voice.

“Yeah,” he said, “But you’re different.”

Realizing my male coworker (Male Tech #1) was now putting his life in danger, my other male coworker (Male Tech #2) decided to step in. “I think he means ‘nerds love shopping for tech gear,'” he said helpfully. I narrowed my eyes. This was better, and more accurate, but it wasn’t what Male Tech #1 had said. Or meant. Or defended.

I have heard it before. I have been treated like a secretary by both management and clients while my male coworkers are just assumed to be helplessly incapable of anything outside our identical job descriptions. His carelessly stated belief wasn’t new. This isn’t, wasn’t, the last time I will hear this.

The end of the story here isn’t a throat punch to patriarchy and gender stereotypes – or my coworker – but I did let it go. Enough had been said and Male Tech #1 was clearly embarrassed (he had kept going, digging a deeper hole using sports shopping as an example of things only men do) and Male Tech #2 had abdicated after unsuccessfully trying to open an escape hatch for MT#1.

But here’s the thing: attitudes towards women techs are so entrenched, I could work next to a guy for ten years – and yes, it’s been an actual decade – and he still doesn’t think of women as techs. I’m not sure what he thinks I do over on my side of the cubicle, but apparently he thinks I’m shoe shopping.

We have a long way to go before the gender veil is removed in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. We aren’t there. We aren’t even close to there. One thing is for certain: I’m going to personally make sure that women graduating tech programs have space in my department. (Assuming they even make it past the gender hurdles that make it hard to even get into the program.)

We haven’t come a long way. Don’t call me baby. And don’t tell me to smile, either.

PS: I wrote this blog post in Word, which I stored on my Seagate 2 TB external hard drive, bought yesterday all by myself when I went tech shopping after work. And unlike my male counterparts, I had enough self control to buy what I came for and then go home.

computer computer keyboard contemporary display

Not my current work computer. Not even the first computer I ever used. But old and kind of fits this blog entry.