Over the weekend, at WordCamp Austin, I had a conversation that I think a lot of women in WordPress will recognize. I introduced myself to a male developer, and he asked if I was speaking later in the day. I said yes, and he asked about the topic of my talk. (All normal so far.) When I told him, he quizzed me about what I planned to say on the topic. In this case, it was a plugin roundup, so I gave a few examples of the plugins I planned to mention, and he actually said at one point, “That’s the answer I was looking for.”
I’ve been quizzed before — in fact, I had an almost identical conversation at the same event last year — but never so blatantly, and with so little offered in response.
What’s probably going through the man’s mind is: I want to make sure the project/my work is accurately represented.
Here’s what the woman hears: I want to make sure you’re qualified to talk to me.
I had similar conversations with women and with men who weren’t posturing as gatekeepers to the community, and there are two key differences. First, there’s give and take. My conversational partner asks questions, and is no doubt evaluating me based on my answers, but s/he offers information in return (“I’m speaking too, on [___]“). And second, we congratulate each other on being asked to speak in the first place (“You’re speaking? That’s great! What’s your topic?”) instead of treating the opportunity as our due. These tiny conversational cues make a huge difference.
I had dozens of hallway conversations, of course, but this one stuck in my mind. If other women who are newer or less confident of their place in the community met with similar microaggression, I hope they, too, were able to brush it off and enjoy the rest of the event. I certainly found lots of more pleasant people to talk to, but I know all too well that having the gates of the community slammed down in your face repeatedly can make you decide that this group neither wants nor needs you, and your free time would be better spent on something else.
In case you were wondering, ladies: you are welcome here, and we definitely need you.