Stay Classy Siobhan

Clownfish in Anemone

Disclaimer – before anything else is said in this post I think it's important to mention that I have a hard time discussing feminism. My first reaction is to be defensive. I feel like I'm being attacked just for being a guy. It usually takes me a while to process the information and to try to begin to understand what's it like to live in a patriarchal culture. I post this not because I pretend to know what I'm talking about but because I want to express my thoughts and have a candid discussion about this really important issue.

Those of you in the WordPress world probably know the name Siobhan McKeown. She's writing the History of WordPress, she writes for Smashing Magazine, she organized WordCamp Europe, she works with all sorts of documentation projects for WordPress, and she's all around awesome. She recently wrote a post about how several members in the WordPress community went about describing herself and other women.

Siobhan's post discusses several exchanges on IRC. Here's one of them:

Person 1: Need to ping siobahn !
Person 2: The hot chick or the other one
Person 1: The WP organizer for WCLND

What's Wrong with Describing Someone?

So my first thought while reading her post is:

What's wrong with describing someone?

There isn't anything intrinsically wrong describing someone it all comes down to how we describe them. When we describe someone as “the hot one” or “the other one” we've basically simplified two people who have lives, jobs, loves, preferences, and accomplishments down to whether they're hot or not. It's as if those are the only two things that matter when it relates to this person.

As Siobhan states in her post it would be one thing to describe them based on their hair color or some other physical trait but in this case the poster decided to use a differentiator that's linked directly to how women are trained to think about themselves in our culture. You could equate this to “the successful one” or “the failure”.

It didn't take me long to realize that I experienced something similar when I joined WooThemes. Someone came up with nicknames to distinguish the two Patricks on the team and I wasn't particularly happy with “Short Patrick”. There's so much more to me; I like to run, I live in Green Bay, I have a last name, I even eat vegan when I can.

Okay, so it's Offensive. Deal With it.

Yes, this is offensive. I wouldn't want to hear anything like that about my self. But so what? Why go to such a length to bring it up? Why not just deal with it – pussy.

It's amazing that this thought went through my brain just a few hours ago. We forget that our hyper masculine culture not only affects women but also affects guys. Instead of admitting that something affects us we, as guys, tend to just deal with it and go on pretending that we're untouchable. The truth is that these things do affect us. They wear us down over time and they prevent guys from having open and honest relationships both at home and at work.

We need to move away from this line of thinking and admit that comments like this do affect us and take steps to fix the damage that's been done and prevent future damage.

I was lucky in my case that an awesome person on the WooThemes team was able to see “Short Patrick” as a potential issue and started calling me “Bendy Patrick”. I'm proud of going through my yoga teacher training last year, it's a big part of my life now, and I'm so much happier having this as a differentiator rather than my height.

What We Can Do About It

Just like I had an advocate on the WooThemes team we all need to be advocates for each other. We all need to stand up for each other and be empathetic instead of apathetic towards others feelings. I don't think rules are going to help us in this case we need to change ourselves. That's easier said than done but by educating each other and having these discussions we can make progress towards that goal.

Stay Classy Siobhan

Siobhan decided to share her story with the WordPress community; not because she wanted sympathy, not because she wanted revenge, but because she didn't want others to go through the same pain that she went through. She didn't shame the original poster she created a blog post where people like myself who struggle with this issue have a chance to process it and learn and grow. I give her mad props for that. Thanks for taking the classy route Siobhan.

Photo Credit: JamesDPhotography via Compfight cc

2 thoughts on “Stay Classy Siobhan

  1. Thanks for writing this! It’s interesting to hear how you have been affected by it in another way, and great to hear that you have someone at WooThemes who acted as your advocate. It’s difficult to speak out about these things yourself because you don’t want to be seen as someone who is overly sensitive.

    You’re spot on when you talk about your instant reaction to seeing the exchange about myself. I’m prone to think like that – women are no less conditioned to think according masculine patterns of thought than men are. We can, however, recognise these things in ourselves and work to change them.

    Stay classy too!

    Classy Siobhan 🙂

  2. Nice post Patrick 🙂 It’s been interesting reading this post and Siobhan’s one the other day – always sad to see this stuff happen in any community, but particularly in a community like the WordPress one where your physical characteristics are effectively irrelevant to who you are as a person and what you can contribute to the community.

    In defense of the WooTeam, you only earned the ‘short’ nickname in comparison to the other Patrick’s extreme height, but I’m really glad we found you a better one – it sucks to be stuck with a label that you find offensive. You’re an awesome addition to the team, so glad you’re happy with being known as bendy instead 🙂

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