CSS, reputation and gender

In response to conversations happening at Doug and Molly‘s sites among others, I have to say I agree most with Angie‘s comments.

As someone who studied history, I do understand that to effect change you sometimes need to stir things up. G.B. Shaw said “The reasonable man is content with things as they are, therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Substitute woman and we’ve got a good argument for not taking whatever bias or oppression we get handed.


I don’t see bias or oppression as pervasive among the top thinkers on CSS or even in web design in general. In my experience, these are people who do not care what’s in your pants when it comes to judging your work. How do you “make the list”? Not by nepotism (“bestowal of patronage in consideration of relationship, rather than of merit”)

You make the list by doing great work and/or enabling others to do great work; by being a muse and a teacher. And you don’t do great work or teach because you’re looking forward to the glory; you do it because good design matters. It matters.

You do it even before you’re good. You do project after project after project, paid and unpaid. You continuously learn about design, actively and unconsciously through observation. You talk about it with other people who are passionate about it. That’s how you get good.

If you are really exceptionally good; your work will probably get you noticed, but there are role models and there are muses. Muses are catalysts. It’s not just that Doug does good work; it’s that he talks about his work in a way which makes us understand and appreciate good design more. He plants the seeds for us to do better design.

This is what I think someone (Molly, I think, but I’m getting lost in too many threads) was getting at in commentary on this when talking about how weblogging can help improve diversity. Yes, you let the work speak for itself in terms of whether or not it’s good, but you do speak for yourself as the creator to inform about the process of its creation. Doug’s recent series about the header images in the redesign of his site is a great example.

Add to that more personal and subtle form of teaching attendence at conferences, participation on panels, writing of books, teaching of classes, and, providing you’re good at it, you become respected.

It’s not about stridency, about fighting for respect; it’s about getting good and then sharing your strengths. If you think you can be the female Doug Bowman by getting in people’s faces, then you haven’t learned much about him or his design sense.

So, here we are with a short list of the most respected people in a field and there are more men than women on the list. Don’t blame these men or women for that. I didn’t choose to respect Doug or Eric or Dave or Molly because of their genitalia. To the best of my knowledge it plays no significant role in CSS. I respect them because not only do they do good work, they’ve contributed to the community so that the quality of everyone’s work can be better.

What I think has come out of all these conversations is that in some, probably many, places young girls will be discouraged by adults or their peers or pop culture from being technically savvy. If you’re bothered by the lack of women on that list, get out there and start visiting schools. And your message will mean a whole lot more if you don’t just go in saying “I’m a woman and I want to get girls interested in technology.” If the whole feminist point is that gender doesn’t matter, then women need to stop giving the “even though you’re a girl” part of the “you can do this” message. If a woman designer visits a class and inspires kids to become designers or even just to care about good design, that’s what counts. It really doesn’t matter if the ones inspired are boys or girls.

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Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. Gamemaster. Current project: creating a binaryless universe for fantasy gaming https://www.patreon.com/kabalor Vote as if you were about to move to the year 2090 (not 1950).

One thought on “CSS, reputation and gender”

  1. Dinah, I thought you might appreciate this little anecdote. Around 1996, as I was about to complete my master’s in library science, I took the required “Library Administration” class. There were around 60 students in the class and probably less than 15 were male. At one point the professor asked “who plans on going into library administration?” All the men raised their hands and I don’t really remember any of the women doing so. (For the record, I didn’t either.) I remember the professor looking rather crushed as she asked why more of us didn’t want to. I believe that’s when I learned that even in that female dominated profession, most administrative positions are held by men.


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