When I was young, before junior high, I strongly believed that women were the weaker sex and that it was up to men to protect them. I believed that women shouldn't fight in the military, that they probably shouldn't engage in the hurly-burly of the working world, and that men should take on all of the physically demanding work leaving women the easier, less physically demanding work.
Through the loving, persistent efforts of a Sunday School teacher and many female friends, I became accustomed to the idea that women were just as hardy as men, just as able to take on any task, just as able to bear any burden, and just as able to engage the world. For the past 15–20 years, I've heard that women are equal to men in any area that they care to be involved in and that men shouldn't treat them any differently from how men treat other men. I thought that being a feminist meant believing that there were few, if any, differences between the genders.
Over the past 2 years, I've run into a different brand of feminists. They tell me that women are horribly discriminated against. They tell me that men are predatory beasts who prey upon women and that it's up to men to protect women from these predators. They tell me that women want to be computer engineers, software designers, scientists, and mathematicians but that the culture in these fields is too toxic for women to endure. They tell me that these fields need to be cleaned up and sanitized before women can feel safe enough to work there.
Now I don't know what to think. Are women strong and resilient like men? Are they hardy, able to live in unpleasant conditions, to clear a space for themselves, and to blaze a trail? Or are they hothouse flowers who need a carefully controlled environment before they can live and thrive? Are women as I was taught: strong, confident, able to defend themselves? Or are women as I first believed: a weaker sex that needs to be protected by the strong sex?
Here's a perfect example of my dilemma. An anonymous women provided this advice on software development: Engaging With Hateful People in Your Community Lends Legitimacy to Their Presence. She's writing in the context of a software development project that takes feedback and contributions from the general public. The words are hers. Any extra emphasis comes from me.
What’s the right way to deal with male supremacists and similar hate groups showing up?
I don’t have a clear answer. What I care most about is that community members are protected.
Here’s my suggestion #1: Don’t engage. It’s better to instantly block that person from the repo and delete their comments.
GitHub’s weaknesses make it not very safe for women and minorities, so if you want those voices heard, avoid the GitHub issue tracker.
By the way: Similar things apply when male supremacists send you reasonable-looking pull requests.
I noticed that this gr.amergr.ate person had sent a small PR to a [my-project] plugin, and the plugin maintainer merged it.
This made me super uncomfortable, and I hope I don’t have to interact with that maintainer, because I really don’t trust their judgment.
When you get a PR from an author whose very name spells hate, then even if the diff looks reasonable, don’t merge it.
This women is arguing that the best way to get women involved in software development is for other people to carefully police the software project, instantly banning commenters and contributors just on the basis of their usernames.
She's not arguing that these contributors have demonstrated harmful behavior and need to be banned on that basis. She's not arguing that these individuals have personally done anything that's even threatening. She's arguing that usernames that represent a community that she doesn't like are themselves a threat and that anyone with such a username should be immediately banned from the software project. Without this, she won't feel safe enough to contribute to the project.
To my ears, this represents a view of women as hothouse flowers that need protection. This isn't something that a strong, confident, assertive, girl power, "hear me roar" woman would write. This is something written by a woman who always needs a fainting couch nearby, a shrinking violet who can't survive in the harsh, uncontrolled environment of the real world.
I'm willing and ready to treat women however they want to be treated. Just, please, make up your minds. Should I censor your mail, only passing along what's safe for you to read? Should I carefully pre-screen your online communities before letting you engage? Should I create special woman-safe zones, carefully monitoring language and behavior for anything indelicate or offensive? Or should I stand back and let you engage the world as equals, trusting that you're strong enough to face whatever comes your way, that you're up to the challenge of engaging the world without a male chaperone?