Women tech bloggers get comments their male counterparts don't — ones concerning their appearance. What exactly is up with that?
I had an e-mail exchange recently with a former IT consultant who now writes about tech. Or at least she did. She has pretty much made up her mind to leave the field altogether due to some derogatory feedback she's received in the comment sections of her blogs. When I asked if she felt that being a woman was a detriment to a career in tech, she said there are too many factors involved to categorically say yes — one's age, geographic location, and depth of knowledge also have something to do with how one is perceived.
But she did make one statement that, as far as I can tell in my rudimentary research, is categorically true:
"One only has to look at the comments associated with a story about a woman in technology, which is accompanied by her photo, to realize there are significant differences in how men are perceived as compared to women. If a woman is overweight, her weight will figure into the negative comments, versus a guy who is overweight. If a woman is young and pretty, it becomes especially difficult to find comments that reflect on the story or what the woman has done, as compared to how she looks."
Here are just two examples I found after searching the Web for about 10 minutes:
From a site called The Minority Report:
"Leah Culver gives me the heads up today by pointing out some significant women in the computer industry today. Personally, I've been meaning to dedicate a blog post or two to the incredible hotness of Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Search Product and User Experience at Google. Aside from her yummy gorgeousness, she must be incredibly intelligent to have been one of the first twenty employees of Google and still be there. I'd throw one up there..." [For anyone who thinks Marissa Mayer should be flattered by that first comment, we'll wait here while you go get some band-aids for your dragging knuckles.]
From a discussion on a CNET piece by Caroline McCarthy:
"Caroline... I think you're a pretty girl and all, but, really, who cares?"
What does a woman's appearance — good or bad — have to do with the information she is trying to impart? Why are comments about appearance such knee-jerk responses for some people?
According to a piece in The Washington Post, experts say that two factors contribute to the vitriol many women IT bloggers get hit with: The fact that "they're blogging in a male-dominated field, such as technology, and they're achieving a degree of prominence."
What has been my own experience as a female blogger for TechRepublic? At first, I got the occasional sexist e-mails commenting on my blog photo, some complimentary, some suggesting a face transplant, all annoying. But anyone who dared post something like that in the forum discussion was metaphorically maimed by the regular TechRepublic posters. Our membership is mighty good at policing the forums and making sure things remain fair.
My IT consultant friend listed Drupal as another example of an egalitarian community, "so much so that it could be a poster child for all other tech communities."
But, she says, "When you get into the Web 2.0 worlds, or the Ajax communities, or the 'hip' young California-based hot startup communities, women might as well stay home."
So let's open the discussion on this topic. Have you noticed a disparity with how women tech bloggers are treated vs. their male counterparts?
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.