I just finished listening to a MacVoices interview with Tatiana Apandi about the Women In Tech series. Great interview, Tatiana!
One great point she made in the intervew was the distinction between being acknowledged or singled out for being different. They were discussing Nelly Yusupova’s article Be a Part of Influencing the Future. From the interview, around 12:30 in the audio file:
MacVoice: Do you think it’s really true that women experience fear in tech world?
Tatiana Apandi: Well.. you don’t take one person’s experience and say that’s all women. For her that was true, and I think that it can be true for a lot of people. When you go into a situation where you have to prove, not just yourself but an entire population… you are representative of something. That can be really a lot of pressure, and some people don’t mind it, but maybe don’t even notice it. But it’s there.
Personally, I do feel the Other a lot, just [from] people asking me questions [like] “So as an Asian what do you think of this…” I know what that’s like, that separation, and sometimes it does get uncomfortable to the point where I don’t want to participate anymore. So, I can relate to that, but I wouldn’t say that’s indicative of what women feel when they enter this field. Because its going to be different for every woman.
MV: That’s a very interesting statement. You take it out of the gender area and make it a bit more cultural. There are times when it is absolutely valid to ask a question from an Asian perspective, from a male perspective, from a female perspective… But there are times I guess [where it’s not.] Maybe a lot of us have never even really about that. Even by coming to you and asking “why now” about a series of articles about women in tech – is that a sexist question? Did I ask a sexist question?
[laughter from both]
TA: I don’t think so. I think it’s an interesting question… I think its more that when you’re in a group that you consider your peers, or you’re considered to be… all the same, and a question [comes up that] forces you realize that you’re not part of this community. [If that question] singles you out [by] saying “what do you think as *this* representative” you’re no longer laughing and joking with that community. Now you’re part of something else and that’s where the uncomfortability comes in for me. Where you’re suddenly [thinking] “oh yeah, I’m not one of you, I’m different somehow.”
There’s more before and after that excerpt about conferences and the discomfort people have when navigating being social (“Do I go out of my way to invite the one woman in the room to lunch with the group? Or will that be misinterpreted”). And Tatiana discusses her motivations and what she’s trying to do with the series.
During the part of the interview I quoted, I thought of a classroom management story my husband told me the other day about being singled out. He’s teaching a unit on borders – focusing on the Mexico/USA border.
An important lesson for the kids is how some borders are arbitrary – in both good and bad ways. Here’s the story he told: A student was asked to stay after class, and some of her peers immediately teased her for being in trouble. When confronted, the student who started the teasing acknowledged that he’d just been “drawing a line” between himself and others, and that the effect was to make the first student feel as though she was on the wrong side of the line. Students should be able to handle a little gentle ribbing, but I thought the confrontation was a good and harmless lesson about how teasing can work to marginalize people in groups.
I really enjoyed working with Tatiana on my essay. Her voice and editing are the glue sticking our work together. She has a great perspective, and I’m happy she’s out there, representing the group.