Policing Gender through Bathrooms

I have been called sir more times than I’ve been called ma’am.

When I popped out of my mother the nurse was able to tell her clearly that I was a girl. She also predicted I’d be a dancer based on my leg length.

I reached 5’10” by the time I was 13. The only person taller than me in middle school was the principal (he’s your pal!) At 18 I was just shy of 6′ and so skinny I had little to no figure.

For a variety of reasons I wore baggy tshirts that hid what figure I had. I tied my hair back in a plain pony tale. I didn’t shave my legs. And, thanks to genetic quirks handed down by a French Canadian great grandmother, I can grow a teenage boy’s beard.

I wore heels to my wedding and occasionally to the opera. I like dresses but jeans are easier if I have to climb a fence. You never know when you’re going to have to climb a fence. I grew up in the country riding cows and climbing fences. Nobody taught me how to shave my legs. I have the scar on my shin to prove it.

So I got called sir a lot until the person behind the register did a double take and apologized. I told them not to worry. What did it matter? What’s between my legs only matters if you plan on having sex with me.

It didn’t even matter when it came to going to the bathroom. If the girls’ room was full and the boy’s room empty I’d go in the boys’ room. The sign on the wall is just a warning. Enter here and you may see someone peeing standing up! Enter here and you may see a bloody tampon in the trash!

Lately people have been freaking out that someone of the “Wrong gender” may be using the bathroom. They don’t talk about my popping into the men’s room or a man using the women’s room or mothers bringing their sons into the women’s room or fathers bringing their daughters into the men’s room. What they talk about is people who are “wrong” about their gender using a bathroom. This is about a man “masquerading as a woman” trying to get into the women’s bathroom.

So how do you spot a man “masquerading as a woman?” Is he tall? Does he have stubble? Does he not wear heels or makeup or dresses? Sounds like me.

Am I supposed to carry my birth certificate with me everywhere in case I need to use the bathroom? You know you’re not supposed to carry your birth certificate around right? Identity theft is a problem too.

Who has the right to ask if I’m in the right bathroom? Who’s going to arrest me? What will the charges be? How often will I have to go to court with a note from my doctor saying that all my lady bits are the original package I was born with? Should I just start wearing dresses and no underwear and throw up my skirts every time someone questions my gender? How close a look is close enough to tell? Do I get to go pee first?

“This isn’t about you! This is about transgender people.” (Say both transgender people and the people who hate them.)

This is actually about everyone. The bathroom bill set up to target transgender people makes it so everyone’s genitals are under the microscope. Are you masculine enough? Are you feminine enough? Every person you meet in the bathroom has the right to question this now. Sure you may look like a guy but the bulge in your pants is pretty pitiful so I need to see your birth certificate. You think you’re ok because unlike me you can’t grow facial hair and you do wear dresses? Someone’s going to think you’re trying too hard. Meanwhile how long before a divoced dad gets taken to court because he took his little girl into the bathroom because she had to potty and is too young to go alone?

So let’s just skip past the moral question of whether or not it’s right to ask to see a person’s private bits to make sure they’re in the “right” bathroom. This law is not enforceable. It simply creates chaos and panic and excuses for bigots to beat up on people who may or may not be what they hate.

Fighting Stereotypes: #ILookLikeAnEngineer

Once upon a time a software company posted pictures of their employees. The end.

Or not. One of their engineers happened to be a beautiful woman. Out of nowhere she started getting comments and messages, “You don’t look like an engineer, are you sure you’re not a model they hired to pretend to be an engineer?” And ruder. Her response? #ILookLikeAnEngineer

When I first started down the path of becoming a programmer people would tell me that the money wasn’t good (it was just after the dot com crash) or the hours were awful or any number of negatives. Then they would say wouldn’t you rather be a teacher? Or a project manager? Or a product owner? Or a designer? No, actually, I enjoy the act of programming.

There’s a stereotype around what software engineers look like. The effect of that stereotype is that people who don’t fit the stereotype constantly have to explain why they want to be a software engineer. Since women are assumed to be worse at math than men the reason they want to be software engineers is often thought to be something other than love of the (at times) mathematical nature of the work. Instead of defending ideas that I have around programming I end up defending that I can even have those ideas as a woman.

The #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign touched me. I may not look like a model but I have had been told I don’t look like an engineer. I posted my picture to twitter. I write software. I am an engineer. I look like an engineer.

A week later my boss at Billups asked me if I’d seen #ILookLikeAnEngineer. I showed him my post. He said they wanted to help with the Indiegogo campaign. Then he and the owner of Billups threw the weight of the whole company behind helping get the best possible out-of-home billboard campaign for the project. The team handled the campaign from conception to execution, organizing the printers, getting good deals through contacts in the area, making the whole thing bigger and better pro bono. Yes, pro bono, no charge for our services.

We got the message all over the Bay area – we have coverage in Oakland (Coliseum), Bay Bridge, 101 (Santa Clara & Palo Alto), downtown SF, BART stations. Media formats include: Bulletins (static & digital), Metro-Lights, 2-sheets. (Yes, I’m quoting a coworker who was talking about what we did. I just build the software that helps organize the data and process, everything I know about the process comes from amazing people like Kristana.) AND we partnered with a great data company called ESRI that makes it possible to provide a density map of people in the Bay Area that had a Computer / Mathematical focus for strategic targeted planning. (They also often host the local #golang meetup.)

All that launched this week. What started with me caring about how software engineers who don’t fit the stereotype are viewed became the company I work for doing amazing things for the community. The official press release is here. And yes, they stuck my face on the billboard. Luckily I wasn’t alone and one of the other women who builds Billups’ software was willing to have her picture taken too. So here we are, looking like engineers before going back to work programming in Go, writing tests, creating data structures, building databases, and maintaining our legacy PHP codebase.

Alex & Rebekah looking like engineers
photo credit: Victor Garcia


There are a lot of awful things on the internet. Online people can cluster together and encourage one another in opinions that get you uninvited from all Thanksgivings ever at my house. And then one day some idiot decides that he is going to go forth and take action on behalf of all the idiots online and shoots nine people in a church in Charleston. To quote that idiot, “…no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Conspiracy theories and hate led that man to kill nine people.

There are a lot of awful things in real life. In the U.S. someone convicted of abusing their spouse can go buy a gun with more ease than a woman can get a morning after pill after being raped. And when I vote, when I donate to causes, volunteer, talk to my friends, or witness foul behavior I can speak out in real life and say, “Stop that.” Or better yet, make beautiful things happen through good deeds.

People who say racist things, whether they intend to be racist or not, are not welcome in my house.

People who say racist things, whether they intend to be racist or not, are not welcome in my corner of the internet.

A bit over a month ago I decided I was going to participate in voting for the Hugo Awards. The whole process had gotten muddy and I wanted to help bring it back to being about good science fiction and fantasy. I forced myself to read a bunch of mediocre works, some of which had mildly to extremely offensive themes or points of view. I wrote honestly about what I did and did not like about each story. And I had planned to continue to do so.

The last few days I have stalled on my goal to read everything on the Hugo Awards ballot and in my way I have been doing some internal nudging to figure out why. Then I realized what was bothering me.

The man who is at the center of this year’s Hugo Awards kerfuffle is a racist. That link goes to an interview with him (I won’t link to his site) which I think pretty clearly spells out how racist he is.

The problem with this year’s Hugo Awards? That man put a whole bunch of works published by his publishing house and stories he’s written on the ballot through dishonorable means.

I did not pay for these works but they take up space on my Nook, on my laptop, in my mind, from my days. I am giving him a corner of my intranet.

Now I have never believed that one should avoid reading something just because it is offensive or ridiculous. There are historical and political texts which I do not agree with that I will read. But why am I reading this mediocre stuff? To prove a point?

It’s hitting the point where I feel manipulated. Some kid out there said, “You’re just going to vote against it without even reading it and that’s not fair.” Then I said, “I can too be fair!” Ignoring the fact that it’s unfair to make me read it.

I have read someof the works put forward by the people who gamed the Hugo Awards. So far what I’ve found is that they really weren’t trying to nominate based on quality. They might have stumbled across some quality but they did not nominate based on quality. I am still going to read everything on the Hugo Awards ballot… with a few exceptions.

I cannot give that racist publisher any space in my head, on my hardware, or in my time. From here forward I will not be reading or reviewing anything published by his publishing house or written or edited by him.

We are all human. The color of our skin, our gender, the number of toes we have, our mental abilities and disabilities, they are all asides when it comes down to one basic truth: we are human. We all carry all the potential of humanity from greatest good to greatest evil, most amazing genius and most frustrating stupidity. The color skin, our gender, our physical traits do not predict nor preclude any of those.

Not encouraging racists is the very least I can do for the men and women who died in Charleston. It’s not enough but it’s me trying.

Compliments, Credit and Gender oh my

A friend of mine complained to me the other day that since we started talking about feminism he’s started spotting things he never saw before. In this case it was Bechdel Test related conversations around movies and TV. He can’t help but wonder if there are more than one named female character and watch to see if they talk about anything other than men. Once you’re in deep it goes beyond spotting instances of imbalance though and also thinking about the context, depth and possible real life reenactments of those imbalances.

For me, this post started with an episode of Agent Carter. In this particular episode Agent Carter goes on a mission with one of the office guys who regularly dismisses her abilities based on her gender. At the end of the episode they are reporting on the mission and he says, “Really Agent Carter was the one who made this mission a success.”

There it is! Acknowledgement! Change based on his observing her skills instead of clinging to stereotypes. Let everyone on the couch leap up and scream “Touchdown!”

Then it happened. Agent Carter says, “It was a team effort.”

This is where everyone goes “aaaawww” and thinks what a great job she is doing at creating allies and being a team player. They’ve both complimented each other and the universe is in gender balance.

Except not.

This episode followed me around for weeks replaying in my head as I tried to figure out why it wanted my attention. Then someone posted about Grace Hopper and I remembered how when I got started in computer science Grace Hopper was presented as a programmer who worked on the team who created COBOL.

This is how her work in COBOL was/is presented: “In 1952, her team created the first compiler for computer languages (a compiler renders worded instructions into code that can be read by computers). This compiler was a precursor for the Common Business Oriented Language, or COBOL, a widely adapted language that would be used around the world. Though she did not invent COBOL, Hopper encouraged its adaptation.

Which is different than this newer way of looking at her work: “She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944, and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and the one of those who popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.”

As an engineer I am really good at splitting hairs and I’m going to do it here. There are two stories about Grace Hopper. One is where she was on a team that created COBOL and the other is the one where she was instrumental to the creation of COBOL. Both are true.

Likewise with Agent Carter. She was the reason the mission succeeded and she did it as a member of the team. Both are true.

What’s wrong with being on a team that accomplishes things vs being integral to the accomplishment of things?

This is where we start getting into how credit is given. As people try to increase the number of women in science research is done into historical women who can be used as role models. This research seems to be uncovering a sad number of women who discovered things that men got Nobel Prizes for.

And it’s more than about Nobel Prizes. It’s about paychecks. Rock stars get paid more than the band. It’s about respect. Rock stars get more social credit than the band.

Just recently a coworker sent out a status report on a project she’s on. It was amazing, thorough and well written. More than well written – highly readable and entertaining while imparting a lot of real information. I sent her a “good job” email. She replied, “Thanks, I couldn’t have done it without the team” and named some of the people who helped her.

She wrote that status report. She made it readable. She credited the team. These are all good things.


If all the men reply, “Thanks” and all the women reply, “Thanks, it was a team effort” then who is the creator and who is the support? Who is vital to the project and who is replaceable? Who gets the award for the successful launch and who did the other half of the work? Who gets a raise?

This ties the topic around to women in United States culture and how we receive compliments. I told a male friend today he looked good. He said, “Thanks.” I told a female friend she looked good. She said, “Thanks, this is a new top I really love it.” There are a ton of articles about how women deflect compliments. I don’t need to add to it. What I do want to point out is that women deflecting compliments regarding work also deflects credit away from them.

Grace Hopper was on a team that created the first compiler.

Larry Wall created Perl.

Nobody says Larry Wall worked on a team that resulted in Perl. Larry Wall alone magically created Perl in the basement of a tech company. The Lone Man Made Things.

There are important stories being perpetuated here and women themselves are helping perpetuate them. Grace Hopper didn’t want credit. She wanted to work. I  don’t want credit. I just want to do my job. Yet a side effect of not taking credit, of sharing the compliment, is that women are viewed as supports while men are viewed as creators.

This is a surprisingly actionable realization. The next time someone says “good job” all I have to do is say “thank you.” No more, “Couldn’t have done it without [insert team member name here].”

Is this a bigger solution? No. Because it sucks that the fact that I couldn’t have done it without my team can’t be acknowledged without diminishing my own part. Even if he acknowledges me back. It sucks that women are more likely to be viewed in supportive roles than as leads. It sucks that we want rock stars and not symphony orchestras.

But maybe over time as women accept credit, get credit, get respect maybe we can change the dynamic a little. Maybe a solid productive team will be valued more than a lone genius and then all those lonely geniuses can join really nice teams.

Reviewing; Meta Post

I took a short break from writing twice a day reviews to have an existential crisis about writing reviews. I’m going to review what I’ve decided I’m reviewing for.

On file770, in the middle of some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in web site comments, someone brought up the dual ideas of compelling questions and conversational analysis. I’m going to focus on compelling questions because that’s the half that I’ve latched onto.

This goes back to my post about Totaled. It was a good story. Had some interesting ideas. Didn’t do it for me and I think the reason why not has to do with compelling questions. Look at Ancillary Justice and the story is full of compelling questions. Then there’s Mono No Aware.

Cutting for spoilers about Mono No Aware, Totaled, and me.

Continue reading “Reviewing; Meta Post”

Doing Something Re: #Gamergate

I just wrote to Intel:

Dear Intel,

At OSCON and through other sources I have heard of Intel’s desire to hire more women in the STEM fields. I believe your engineering department understands the benefits of gender diversity as well as other forms of diversity in programming.

Yet meanwhile your advertising department has pulled advertising from sites like Gamasutra because they allowed a handful of men claim any article discussing the changes in the culture of gaming bullies _them_.

How are female engineers (some of whom have left the game development industry) to trust Intel’s stated desire for diversity in STEM when you’re caving to the influence of the worst parts of sexist geek culture?

I am writing not just as someone who buys Intel products but also as someone who lives in Portland and had considered Intel as an interesting potential employer. Sadly, so long as Intel takes its direction from movements like #Gamergate the idea of Intel as an interesting place for women in computer science to work will have to remain past tense.

Thank you for reading all the way through,
Rebekah Golden
BS Computer Science
Software Engineer – 10 yrs

posted publicly in spite of the fact that it will probably get me doxxed and threats

Self Confidence and Minorities

Yesterday I gave my pep talk to a friend. The summary?

  1. You do better than you think
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others
  3. Contributions don’t have to be equivalent to be valuable
  4. When you don’t feel as smart as everyone else just work to be handy, helpful and hardworking ™

The irony? Normally I give this talk to other women in the technology field who work predominantly men. Yesterday I gave my pep talk to a black man who works mostly with white people. It got me thinking. Is there an inherent self confidence issue to having obvious physical differences from everyone around you? Maybe particularly physical differences that have been labeled negative, like being overweight?

If I searched I’m sure I would find other stories, researched I would find data. Meanwhile it’s just a thought. Add to that some articles I’ve read recently about confidence and career advancement and I have some more thoughts to think.

Meanwhile, remember, you don’t have to be a super hero to be good at your job. You don’t have to be Bruce Wayne to have value.

Somewhere Between

Brain dead and discovering the meaning of life.

So far the meaning of life appears to be leaning in the direction of sustaining life, creating more life, enjoying life, and improving life. Sustaining and improving life oddly enough involves population control, aka death.

Meanwhile it’s a nice sunny spring day and I am waiting for my husband to wake up and go for a walk with me. I love our rambles.

Just Do _

I know that “just do it” is a popular phrase in spite of (or because of) the vagary of “it.”

Maybe I am being effected by the various challenges of my life but I’m also annoyed by “just” these days.  Take this doc for installing Composer on your computer. I am annoyed by “just download the executable.” Give me the verbose version from the same site please. I prefer more words and less reassurance of “ease.”

Modifying Yoga [modified]

Twenty years ago I started practicing yoga by choosing a routine from the back of Youth, Yoga and Reincarnation (a book I never finished reading but oh the appendix is worth the $1.50 used price). Over time I’ve modified that basic yoga routine to suit me. I took other yoga classes, studied dance in various forms, learned about muscles and stretching and what my body in particular needed. I now have a modest little yoga drill that works for me. When I do the exercises I go at a pace that works for me. (A very  very yin pace.) I try to associate breathing in and out with the up and down of the motion and generally at my weakest will repeat three times or hold for three breaths.

I haven’t done yoga in over two years. Health issues blah blah blah. On Tuesday I asked my vestibular rehabilitation therapist (aka balance therapist) how long she expected I would need to do my balance exercises. She said that ideally I would do them for the rest of my life, once a day. This was momentarily crushing. It felt like she was saying I would never be healthy or “normal” again. Not that I ever was normal, not that any of us really have met normal, not that the normal in my head is the normal that exists on average. Normal bah!

After a day of digesting this news I decided to start doing yoga again. For me it is a gentle daily exercise that I already had a habit around before I started experiencing all the things that led to brain surgery.  I realized I could modify it to include my balance exercises. That way these exercises are just part of what I do, not something I do because I had a hole in my head (SCDS).

My balance exercises are divided into three parts for me: sitting, standing, standing ankle thing.

Sitting: Sitting with good posture, thumbs become the focal point. Hold thumbs about 10″ from face, each one in front of a shoulder. Look thumb to thumb holding on each thumb for three seconds, moving slowly with eyes between thumbs. Move thumbs to about forehead and heart height and look thumb to thumb again. Shift out to shoulder height again, one up, one down and look thumb to thumb. Shift which is high and which is low, look thumb to thumb. Change to holding one thumb in front of face, this time moving head/vision left right, up down, diagonally both ways. Then change to holding head still and moving thumb while following thumb with eyes (left right, up down, diagonally both ways).  Feel very bored but also headachy and tired.

Standing: Standing with good posture, first time through with feet shoulder width apart, second time through with feet together, third time through with feet shoulder width apart and eyes closed (third time is an advanced exercise lately added.) Move head up and down, side to side, top corner to bottom corner (both sides), focusing on what is visible when eyes are open.

Standing Ankle Thing: Standing with feet shoulder width apart lean forward and back only bending at the ankles. Remain very very aware of feet and ankles.

[modification] I plan to do Standing Ankle Thing  before Chest Expander, Standing after The Stork right before Neck Rolls, Sitting will go where Eye Exercises currently is in addition to those mild yoga eye exercises. [end modification]

I’m also generally modifying my yoga again. Definitely no inversions.

These are the pages I created ten years ago with the complete list of modified yoga from which to pick and choose. I’ll need to make a new entry with modified yoga and balance exercises as described above.

Page one yoga
Page two yoga