The makers' insidious mark

20 Dec 2012

There is an attitude in the circles that I frequent, a poison without odor but noticeable by taste. It seeps in quietly and when no one is looking closely, it hangs in the air and drives people away.

It is sexism that keeps rearing its head in the hobby electronics or “maker” community.

Until last week, I was a community representative and freelance writer for The position, while contracted, was everything I could have hoped to do with the added bonus of a paycheck. In my attempt to get more involved in the community that tindie was building, I joined the IRC channel and hoped to start conversations with sellers. When one seller made a comment that his other customers were “hormonal banshees”, it felt like my bubble of technojoy had popped.

I hadn’t told my boss that a few weeks before, I went to a local meetup for Arduino fans that was entirely male-dominated. (My gender path was complicated but I am a woman.) I was ignored during the introductions. One man spent the entire time leering and creeping over me while I assembled and documented a kit for tindie. I can’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but the more time I spent in that room with the rest of the men, the more I wanted to cry or vomit. After that day, each time I tried to write about that kit I burst into tears. How could I tell my boss? He wouldn’t understand that feeling.

At Maker Faire, my boss seemed oblivious to the strange way I was treated when we would both talk to sellers. I would try to talk to sellers, being interested in the technology, and most would start to talk at my boss instead. Almost every conversation except one resulted in me being more or less ignored. Maybe makers were less interested in geeking out and more interested in potential business. The same thing had happened when I went to a mini Maker Faire in Seattle – men would talk to my male friend before talking to me. I ignored those feelings.

A friend of mine was in IRC when a microprocessor channel went from talking about a chip to slagging Jeri Ellsworth, calling her a poser and threatening her. (She wasn’t in the room, but we know her and think highly of her.) My friend tried to get Freenode to do something, but there wasn’t anything to be done.

Those incidents, as well as the constant microaggressions that I have faced while spending time with hobbyists, caused me to lash out at a seller on tindie’s IRC channel, for which I was fired. I told the seller that it was guys like him that made me hate makers, and words like this at another job would cause me to get a verbal warning with a talk from my manager, or a dock in pay. At tindie, the sellers come first, period. My accounts were shut down and I was given an email pink slip. My head spun.

I regret not being able to disarm the remark and turn it into a learning situation, but I do not regret pointing out that it was sexist. I couldn’t ignore it. I had to stand up to myself, unlike every other time I’ve been caught defenseless. When you are a raisin in the sun, do you hide every bruise and control every hurt feeling?

Or do you explode?