Where are all the women?

My response to Jeffery Zeldman’s Women in Web design:

In 1984 I received my first Apple II computer and coded endlessly with “the turtle.” A few years later I begged my parents for a computer (just a blank PC) and they thought I was crazy (a pretty little cute 14 year old girl wanting a what? This was 1987 after all). I began coding games in DOS Basic in between rounds of playing with Barbie and learning how to put on rouge. Then I got into BBS’ing – 300, 1200 oh my word 9600 baud! It was pre-web at that point but I was connecting to people from around the world at a very slow pace and loved every minute of it.

In 1995 I created my first web page using Netscape Navigator and began writing a daily online journal in 1996. My personal site became instantly popular (I assume because at this time, there wasn’t much personal stuff on nor was there many females). In 2001 I began my own freelance career which I chronicled on my site, GirlatPlay.com. I ended up creating more sites, branding things, creating a loyal audience, and having 2 SXSW Web award nominations.

I’ve worked in New Media and technology for a lot of years yet I’m almost never invited to speak on tech subjects (I usually am only asked to speak at writing and “creative” conferences which I mostly pass on). Although I’m 33 with this 20 year solid online history, I look quite young, I’m very blond, I wear dresses, I laugh whilst speaking, I’m not uber-competitive with others and I still maintain a life outside the web. This, I think, makes it hard to get taken as “serious tech geek who has authority” amongst a whole bunch of men and a few pant wearing women – the same 4 women that seem to get asked over and over again to speak.

I think people often have a perception of what “geek” is, what “authority” is and what “serious” is and if one doesn’t fit it, they’re out. I know all the “cool kids” who speak at these conferences, I am connected with my peers yet I don’t have their “look” nor do I blog 24/7 about it. I think that has a lot to do why I – along with other women like myself – do not get invited to participate at conferences. We can talk about “being creative,” our “feelings” and “wearing pink boas” but we don’t really get to talk about the meat of things very often. And that’s frustrating. Especially since I don’t think we have to be one or the other – we can be both. And I think those of us who don’t just make a living blogging 24/7 about tech or just going to conferences as a full-time job might be a little more in-touch with the outside world and have a fresher perspective than the people who keep making the same rounds.

It’s why I initiated and helped put together a (very well-received) panel at the 2007 SXSWI called “Boss Lady” – showing women can be smart, creative, funny, personable, driven, and geeky. Because I know I have something to offer and I’m not going to wait to be asked to share it anymore.

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