Front Row Seats

When I was in GIS school, I usually sat up front, assuming a front row seat was available. The program was eight weeks long. I had been there about seven weeks when I finally realized I was the only woman who did that. One or two other women floated around the room at random. Somewhat to my personal discomfort, I realized the rest of the women consistently filled the entire last row and part of the second to last row.

I have a tendency to sit up front in classrooms and similar settings. It gets viewed by other people as extremely aggressive Type A personality behavior. I find that baffling. I don't see myself as aggressive and my reasons for sitting up front are things like I don't see or hear too well and I just want to not miss anything. But I have consistently noticed that my behavior is anomalous, especially for a woman. And it draws comments from other people. Even women in positions of power have found it worth remarking upon.

I remain somewhat befuddled as to what exactly causes me to stand out in this and other ways. There is no conscious intent to behave "aggressively". It certainly isn't rooted in jockeying for social position. I rather loathe the whole pecking order thing and the way so many people try to establish if they are one up or one down from me. I try to treat other people with respect, simply because they exist. I don't always get it right, but that's what I believe in. I feel I should also be treated with respect, merely because I am human, and not as some sort of privilege of a high position. I see that as a two way street, just common courtesy. But a lot of other people do not appear to agree with me.

A recent online discussion reminded me of those women in GIS school, most of them sitting as far back as possible. I have been debating whether to write about it here or try to sweep it under the rug, not call attention to it, hope no one else notices, hope I am actually wrong and just don't have enough data to see that. Ultimately I have decided that my fears concerning writing about it are probably unfounded. This blog still gets trivial amounts of traffic. That is unlikely to change anytime soon. Thus putting my thoughts together are rather unlikely to create trouble for me or other women, at least nothing significant, nothing more than we already deal with.

I recently asked who else is female on Hacker News. There have been few replies and most replies indicated they mostly lurked. Two women actually created accounts to self identify as female lurkers. I was also accused of nefarious motives for asking at all, which prompted me to wonder exactly why was I asking? I had not been sure until I tried to tentatively draft a reply concerning what I intended to "do" with the list.

My initial flippant "answer" was that I was wondering if I would make the Women of HN Leaderboard in spite of my pathetically low karma score (currently a bit short of 4.5k) which comes nowhere near close for the actual leaderboard. I don't think I am all that competitive, so I wondered at this thought and what might be behind it. I realized I was, in fact, wondering if my karma was high for a woman. And then I realized why.

I have long gotten remarks which suggested people remembered me as if I were a "prominent" female member, never mind that I don't program and I fairly often disappear for weeks or months at a time. But other than inferences based on comments and other similarly nebulous social indicators, I have had no means to determine my "standing" in that regard. The forum places a super low emphasis on "social" aspects. There are no avatars or similar means for personalization. Gender is not readily apparent from many of the handles. Most profiles give little to no personal info. Other than the leaderboard, which lists the 100 highest ranked names, I know of no member list.

Not terribly long ago, maybe a few weeks back, for no particular reason that I was consciously aware of, I bookmarked a few names of HN members under the label "HN Women". I was somewhat surprised to realize that some of the women I viewed as "big names" (for women) had substantially lower karma than me. But one person currently has about 5.5k and another has over 8k and I only had a handful of names, so maybe two people above me and three below. I figured the general lack of legibility of the social stuff and brevity of the list were the reasons I ranked third. I certainly wasn't impressed with being number three. Surely there are plenty of women members with more karma than I have.

Then, last week, I checked the profile of the person on my list with 8k karma and went to a website they listed. The website indicates this individual is male. There is even a photo. I had jumped to conclusions based on a handle that sounded gendered to me. From there, I looked up the word that I thought indicated he was a woman. The term is not gendered. I don't quite know where I got the idea that it was.

But, suddenly, with the elimination of just one name, my list put me in the number two spot, and short by 1000-ish points, not short by half. I wondered if I should just keep quietly bookmarking names but I was suddenly curious as to who else was female. I decided to post a question. The women I had previously bookmarked did not reply to my inquiry. Everyone who has replied so far has less karma than I have, most of them by quite a lot.

I still hope I am wrong. Hacker News is highly illegible in this regard. So I still hope there are quite a lot more women on HN than I have managed to ID and that at least a few of them blow my karma score out of the water. But the best data I can come up with so far suggests I would be number two on a Women of HN Leaderboard.

Even when there are no physical chairs, I seem to wind up in a front row seat. I have seriously mixed feelings about that. On the upside, I am still nowhere close to making the actual leaderboard. (The lowest score is currently 12677.)

Footnote: This was originally posted elsewhere on 2013/01/19. Additional info came in later that there was at least one more openly female member of HN who had more karma than I had at that time. That would have made me position three on the fictitious Women of HN Leaderboard, out of more than a mere handful of names by that point.

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