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Mail sent to Ateneo CS and CompSAt mailing lists

Updated copy at http://www.livejournal.com/users/sachachua/6605.html .
Please leave comments there.

Miguel Paraz just forwarded a _very_ interesting contest application
to the CompSAt-EB mailing list, and I’m sending this to you because it
is worth talking about, and that is because it is completely wrong.

The Philippine Computer Society (PCS) is doing a search for “Digital
Pinay 2005″. They’re looking for role models for information and
communication technology, “women who exemplify the qualities expected
of future women leaders of the Philippine ICT industry.”

To help them find worthy candidates, their application form asks for
information like name, paragraph or two about why you deserve the
award, IT experience, and such essential information as height,
weight, bust, waist, and hip measurements.

I put up a copy of the form at
http://sacha.free.net.ph/notebook/personal/digitalpinay.doc . Read it
all the way to the end. You may start out amused, perhaps annoyed. I
hope you end up horrified that such a thing could have been thinkable,
much less thought a good idea. That it was proposed at all could be
chalked up to temporary insanity, but that it reached this point
cannot be attributed to reason.

A beauty pageant does not pretend to be anything but a beauty pageant.
On the other hand, “Digital Pinay 2005″ pretends to define an ideal
woman in ICT, and _that_ is why it is so insulting. Or perhaps our
Atenean curriculum is missing charm classes to help women learn how to
wear business suits and casual clothes well?

Our industry _cannot_ be like this. Until now, I have not come face to
face with such discrimination in what I believe to be such an
egalitarian field. Our industry _is_not_ like this. But the existence
of this contest sends a message to students, to professionals, to
people inside and outside our industry. The message is that ICT in
2005 is about appearance more than substance, that how a woman looks
and how she walks is more important than what she learned and what she
can do. If nothing else, it tells us that our industry thinks this
view is acceptable.

It is a farce that I must denounce in the strongest terms. If the PCS
would like to beautify its meetings with models, it should not pretend
at all to be promoting women in ICT when it is actually doing the
exact opposite. If PCS would like to say that women are valuable
contributors to ICT, it should not attach such values to them. For
what will these women be but stereotypes and living proofs of
discrimination in IT? What is their value? What will they be beyond
a pretty face and a nice body?

(I find it interesting that winners are required to attend all PCS
official functions. Essentially, you can buy a professional woman’s
time for P 25,000. The co-ed winner costs only P10,000 and the
runners-up are free. Why will they grace the PCS functions with their
presence? Who will take them seriously knowing the criteria by which
they were judged? What of this promised visibility in the job market?
Is that really the kind of job markets Ateneans are preparing for?)

The contest insults women by objectifying them, and men for proposing
that such objectification is commonplace and normal. The contest
insults our industry and our society. Will we not discuss it? Will we
not consider how such a situation came to be? Will we not point at it
and say that this is wrong?

Exams are going on and there seems to be no time to talk of things
like this, but these are things that must be thought about. This is
Science and Society. This is the Philosophy of Man. This is, even
without all the subjects you’ve taken up, even if only considering
that still and quiet voice within you—this is a matter of right and
wrong.

So read, reflect, and be angry, for this is the sort of thing that
should never be complacantly ignored. Realize that this _is_ a
problem, that it _does_ exist, and that we contribute to it with our
silence. Affirm what you believe in. Write. Write your fury, your
shock—or casual indifference, if that is all you experience upon
reading this.

As for me, I believe that just because something _is_ doesn’t mean it
has to be.

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Digital Pinay 2005: Sent mail to Leo Querubin, Special Projects Chair of PCS

Received from Leo Querubin:

Hello Sascha,

Your email was forwarded to me by Bombing of MediaG8way regarding your
reaction to the Digital Pinay competition. I share your sentiments when
I saw the application form.

There was a misunderstanding in the contents of the application forms
(for the co-ed and professional) as the original forms did not include
the info on height, weight, bust, waist and hips. Be that as it may, I
take full responsibility over this as Special Projects Chair of PCS and
I apologise for this. It was never our intention to promote the
competition as a beauty contest.

You have brought several good points in your email. I would like to sit
down with you and discuss these comments and see how we can improve the
competition.

Sincerely,

Leo Querubin

Sent this reply:

Hello, Leo!

Thank you for your prompt reply. I’m glad to hear that the original
forms did not include such demeaning questions. I would still like to
clarify the rules of the competition and the expected public effect.
If PCS also considers the present form of the competition to be
insulting to IT students and professionals, I would like to help you
do damage control and correct the impression people have received.
After all, this is the form that’s out there in the wild, and that’s
the form of contest people will see it as. Whether it is a mixup or
not, PCS has done something wrong.

I would like a full explanation from PCS so that I can present other
sides of the story. How did this make it past the proposal stage? Why
was it approved by the committee? Did no one consider it as even the
least bit discriminating? How is it that the country’s premier IT
organization can do such a thing?

I would also like to understand how one can calculate scores based on
20% popularity (measured through text votes), 40% appearance, and 40%
intelligence and skills, and still not think of this as a beauty
contest. As
http://www.srcf.ucam.org/~hmw26/join-the-dots/2005/01/17/spectacular/
points out:

So let me see: that’s 60% for popularity and appearance based
criteria, and 40% for intelligence and technical knowledge. Oh
yeah, that makes total sense for an ICT professional award.

How is it possible that mature professionals can take all the
terms used in beauty contests—you don’t hear the term “formal wear”
or “reign” in software competitions, do you—and pretend that this is
something about the professional capabilities of women? How is it at
all understandable?

What about the public effect of this contest? The public sees only the
application and the coronation. They will not see whatever care you
put into sifting through applicants’ academic credentials. They will
not see the interviews. They will only see the beginning and the end.
They will only see this form that defines women by numbers and a
“coronation” that involves how well a woman can wear clothes and walk.
This _public_ includes students and children who may not have the
experience or confidence to know that you can be successful in
technology and yet not be an object because of your gender. They may
think that even in this field, women have to be pretty, and brains or
achievements don’t really matter.

What about the “prizes” that these women win? Are you just looking for
a promo girl? You cannot spin this as professional exposure for women
without also exposing the exploitation of women. You cannot even say
that this promotes women in computing when it reduces women to
something pretty to look at.

Perhaps you meant well, but this is broken. This is a release-critical
bug. This is something that should have never made it out the door in
its present form. The contest by itself is wrong, but I am incredulous
about the fact that PCS actually _came up_ with this thing. I have no
idea why it took me to point out how broken this is, but this is not
something you can just quietly apologize for, improve or even cancel.
You realize that that form has made its way to schools and to other
people’s lists, forwarded by people who either thought it was a good
idea or a farce. You must realize that the form brought with it an
idea of how PCS thinks of women.

I need you to think very carefully about the reasons why this contest
was implemented. I need that explanation from you, and I need it
shared not only with me but with as many people as it can be shared
with. I need you to think very carefully about how you’re trying to
encourage more women to get into IT. I need you to start doing damage
control.

What happened here?

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Sanitized application forms

Leo Querubin of PCS sent me another set of application forms, saying

These were the original apps forms.

- http://sacha.free.net.ph/notebook/personal/digitalpinay-coed.doc
http://sacha.free.net.ph/notebook/personal/digitalpinay-pro.doc

For comparison, the form I received in a forward is here:

- http://sacha.free.net.ph/notebook/personal/digitalpinay.doc

I like how the rules are no longer included so that they have more
time to make up their mind. I like how the form does not mention the
controversial prize of P 25,000 (look! the average monthly salary
of an IT professional!) or the form of the contest.

It is entirely possible that there really was just a simple misunderstanding.

It is entirely impossible for everyone to believe that.

It is also probably impossible for them to reach everyone the first
forwarded form(s) reached. They have opened up a can of worms, and
they cannot neatly stuff all the worms back in.

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PCS has found their spin: It’s a search for future C?Os

Looks like PCS is pushing through with Digital Pinay 2005. Their spin?
They’re searching for future female chief executive officers, so 60%
personality (in terms of appearance, popularity and poise) makes
perfect sense.

Indeed it does. After all, they’re looking for future managers, and
managers really do need soft skills. So that’s their market. They’re
not trying to define a good IT professional in terms of technical
wizardry. This is MIS.

They’re not saying you have to be pretty to be a good geek. They’re
saying you have to be pretty—este, personable—in order to be a good
manager. Which is all too true and we’re used to that, I guess.

I wonder if they’ll ask the contestants in the “Search for the Most
Outstanding CIO” to model sportswear. I still think that if you’re
looking for future leaders, you should ask them to make speeches
instead of strut around in several different kinds of clothes. You
should ask them to make a difference in their community.

I also don’t think we lose our femininity by focusing on ideas and
accomplishments. In fact, we express it by not highlighting it, not
making it the center of attention. I want more attention paid to the
fact that we get results through taking risks and working hard than to
the accident of our gender.

Anyway. It’s their org. It’s their money and it’s their name. At least
they’ve clarified their position. I have a feeling there’s nothing
more I can do about that. We’re talking about completely different things.

You know what my problem is? I keep thinking that the C in PCS means
they’re even vaguely related to the stuff we do. But right, right,
they’re business-related, and that’s a completely different world. I
just have to remember that. I really should remember that PCS is a
professional organization, and their definition of IT is very
different from our definition of IT.

You know what? I think I’ll stay out of the corporate world. I love
teaching. I love showing people that they can do anything they want to
do in IT. I love hacking on open source. I don’t want to have to dress
up in a suit to work on something cool with other people.

I guess it’s time to resume life. I have things to hack on.

Thanks to everyone who listened.

PCS to push through with Digital Pinay 2005 – INQ7.net

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Press conference today, PCS pushing through with Digital Pinay 2005

PCS is expected to confirm its resolve to push through with the
controversial “Digital Pinay 2005″ contest at a press conference to be
held today at 3:30 PM at AIM’s ACCEED center.

They say that the contest is a search for future chief executive
officers and chief information officers, and have decided to keep
their original criteria: 20% popularity (text votes, another
revenue-generator), 20% personality (sound bites in the question and
answer portion), and 20% poise (modeling business wear, formal wear
and sports wear). Oh, right, and 40% intelligence and achievements,
but since that’s all evaluated behind the scenes, we’ll only get to
see the 60% part.

They also deny that it’s a beauty pageant and claim they never
intended it to be one. And oh, oops, the
first application form was a
complete mistake—they didn’t mean to send *that* version to the press
mailing list. They *really* meant to send these sanitized application
forms: ../personal/digitalpinay-coed.doc and
../personal/digitalpinay-pro.doc. So they’d like to tell all you
outraged bloggers that
you’re barking up the wrong tree. It really isn’t a beauty pageant.
Even if there’s a “Coronation Night” competition where people are
judged on how they wear clothes instead of, say, their business plans
or their ability to give presentations. Even if there’s a text voting
thing.

All I can say is that if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and
quacks like a duck…

Whatever.

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

My mother would be the last person to say she’s beautiful. She’d say
she’s short, or she has gray hair and wrinkles. She wears make-up, but
she doesn’t spend hours putting a face on every day and she doesn’t
buy fancy clothes. She’s too busy as the general manager of
Adphoto to get much beauty sleep, and
sees nothing wrong with trekking around in comfortable shoes. I think
she’s beautiful.

My former grade school principal, Lala Castillo, had wrinkles around
her eyes that showed how much she smiled. I never saw her dressed in
sharp business suits. I think she was always in flowing skirts or
sensible pants. She knew all of us by name. As a child, I wondered if
I could just skip being an adult and be old and wise like she was.
I think she’s beautiful.

Didith Rodrigo, the chair of the computer science department, is not
one for beauty pageants. I don’t think she wears make-up. But she made
us feel welcome. She knew what she was talking about, and she could
explain herself very clearly. She was also a great listener. I think
she’s beautiful.

If PCS wants to judge on “beauty”—which basically means how much does
a woman resemble advertisements—then they risk closing their eyes to
the real gems, people who can _really_ inspire others.

As for me, I’m going to stay in my own little world where results
matter more than appearances, where ordinary people become beautiful
when you get to know them.

I’m glad that I’m not spectacular. At least that way, I don’t have to
worry about people speculating about my breast size, unlike one of my
friends who occasionally has to put up with that despite being a
brilliant physicist. At least that way, I know people pay attention to
my ideas and not just to my body.

I still feel a little insecure from time to time. Am I where I am just
because I’m a girl, just because I was in the right place at the right
time? Would I have gotten as far if people didn’t make a fuss over the
fact that ooh, look, a girl’s _really_ into tech?

Then I go online and talk to people who don’t know anything about me,
people who even assume I’m a guy until the regulars laugh and correct
them, and I realize that I’m good enough on my own.

That’s an assurance the DigitalPinay winners might not have, because
they’ll wonder: was I hired because my resume was good and I can
really make a difference, or was I hired because I won a beauty
pageant?

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