Reflecting on life as an experiment, gender gaps, and privilege

Is there a gender gap for self-experimentation? Maybe. I’m not sure. But I can tell you about the things I take for granted that might be making it easier for me than for other people, and how some of the barriers might be correlated with gender.

1. I have the privilege of time. It takes time to reflect. It takes time to track. It takes time to analyze. It takes time to be curious. I know lots of other people struggle with work-life balance issues. W- and I share household responsibilities fairly (if anything, he does more work), so we both have the time to hack. Many women bear a disproportionate burden of household and child-rearing responsibilities, which cuts into the time needed to reflect and experiment.

2. I have the privilege of asking my own questions. It means I can ask my own questions. Many people struggle with questions and goals posed from the outside. People are under pressure to ask themselves: "How can I lose weight?" "How can I get out of debt?" "How can I have more time for myself?" "How can I deal with other people’s expectations?" I’m lucky that I’m not under pressure from these questions, so I can ask my own. Women receive a lot of this self-image policing, well-meant or not.

3. I have the privilege of experimenting with and building tools. I’ve saved up an opportunity fund for things like my smartphone. If I have an idea for something I want to track, I can prototype something using spreadsheets, customize my Emacs, or develop an application for
it. Many people aren’t as comfortable with technology as I am, and many women have less exposure to technology for a variety of reasons.

4. I have the privilege of enjoying math. I like tracking my finances and my time. I like analyzing my trends. I like seeing the numbers and the graphs. Many people are uncomfortable with math, and many women haven’t had opportunities to discover how much fun it can be.

5. I have the privilege of a network. I know people (male and female) who geek, who track, who hack. They inspire and encourage me, and sometimes they help me figure things out. Many women aren’t as connected with other technical people.

6. I have the privilege of confidence. It’s not easy being the odd one out, being one of a few women in a room or in an online space. It helps to know I can hold my own, that no one’s going to patronize me because of my gender or perceived inexperience. Many people don’t have
that experience, and women run into those subtleties more often than men do.

7. I have the privilege of understanding the big picture. To an outsider looking in, self-tracking or self-quantification might seem like a lot of work for little benefit. Why would anyone want to track when they wake up, or how much they spend on things, or what their mood is? It really helps to understand the bigger picture. For example, I track my finances because I like knowing when I can afford to grab an opportunity, and because I want to make sure my spending
lines up with my priorities so that I can live a better life. We geeks often talk about the trees without showing people the forest, so many men and women don’t see why it matters.

Knowing the privileges I take for granted, then, I can think about ways to reduce the barriers that other people run into. It’s hard to solve other people’s work-life integration issues for them, but it
might be possible to inspire people to learn more and grow. It’s hard to fight advertising and culture, but I work on counteracting common messages. It’s hard to get everyone into programming or math, but I might be able to help early adopters with tools and blog posts, and
that can ripple out to others. I can’t help everyone get connected or become confident, but I can share stories and help people come in. I’ll periodically lapse into jargon and geeky delight over obscure details, but I can also share my big picture.

What privileges do you take for granted when it comes to experimentation, self-tracking, technology, or other areas? What can you do to reduce the barriers for others?

  • http://None Kevin W

    I take for granted that my experience with Linux makes it immediately and clearly obvious to me, why I would choose it over Windows every time I get a chance. it is NOT obvious to many others, including my R&D co-workers…..

    Also I wonder when your emacs book is coming out, Sacha? My current [ and only ] emacs book is by Sams “Teach yourself emacs”. Unfortunately it does not cover org mode, although it did help me set up my mail [ I am taking the GNUS 30 day challenge to see if I will revert to using Thunderbird – or not ]

    In relation to your blog, you included a screenshot of the org-mode which made it more clear to me why I would care about it at all. Previously I only saw it mentioned in text form. Bottom line for both geeks and non-geeks: What can this function do for ME? I think [ some ] more people might use emacs if they knew it contained a fully functional shell, a graphing programmable calculator [ yay! ] , of course a document writer, a diary , a calendar, a contact database, a mail / news reader program, … but wait there’s more.

    I find it is not very easy to articulate to people why they might want to investigate this or that, when it is obvious to me. Or perhaps I’m not very good at it!

  • http://www.matthewcornell.org/ Matthew Cornell

    Brilliant post, Sacha! I suggest you post a link/trackback to it on the version of my post over at http://quantifiedself.com/2010/12/is-there-a-self-experimentation-gender-gap/