Gender and style

I rarely quote another blog's entry in its entirety, but this one needed to appear whole. It's from Dorothea Salo, reacting to Edd Dumbill's report, on, about something I said in my Tuesday keynote:

I am a peasant. I am only a peasant. I know this.

But, damn, it's irritating to see things I've known from experience for five years get trotted out like the greatest new thing ever.

Yeah, yeah, I'm just jealous because I'm not in Philadelphia. (The Philly conference everybody is being all nostalgic about? In '99? I was at that one. My first professional conference ever. Still got your conference proceedings? I helped typeset that.)

But this caused me to emit such an uproar that my husband ran in to see what was wrong with me:

The other problem in preserving context, aside from the tools, is of course persuading people to create metadata in the first place. Udell suggested that a way of doing this might be through using style as a back door. Many people are willing to spend a long time on getting the look of a document right, but not be willing to spend that time on metadata creation. Udell suggested that by providing metadata-significant styles, authoring tools creators could encourage more preservation of context in communication through the carrot of creating beautiful documents.

Well. Um. Okay. Oh, to hell with it --


If they can't see it, they won't do it. I've known this since the last Philly conference (even mentioned it here), and I am only a peasant. Why'd it take the eggheads so long to figure it out? Gee, maybe because they spurn peasants right back into the mud that spawned them?

Eh, well. At least now that Jon Udell has said it, somebody will pay attention to it.

I'm hesitant to turn this into a gender issue, but honestly, I do wonder. How many eggheads are male, and how many peasants female? And how much of the disdain for WYSIWYG (and the until-now utter failure to figure out that visual distinctiveness of text ranges is an authoring/editing aid) comes from its association with those ditzy blonde secretaries? You know, women?

Bah. Grow up, you guys. Start talking to some peasants. If this is the state of the art in the field, y'all could learn a lot from a publishing-production peasant.

[Caveat Lector: Decembri 07, 2003 - Decembri 13, 2003 Archives]

Yikes! Where to start? Well, I guess here:

Even though the book's source is "only" HTML/CSS, it is also XML, structured so that it's easy to pick out chapter headings, listings, and figures. This way of combining HTML, CSS, and XML is a transitional strategy. I hope it won't be needed once browsers that render XML directly (subject to CSS or XSL styles) have become widespread and standard, along with tools that help us write XML. But even in "Internet time" these developments sometimes take longer than we'd like. [Practical Internet Groupware, 9.2.4, XML and HTML can fruitfully coexist
That's from my 1999 book. CSS as a style/structure bridge is a strategy that I, too, have been using for five years. I'm way less accomplished on the style side of the equation than Dorothea, though perhaps more accomplished on the structure side. Every now and then, I notice that the idea never has caught on, that my prediction about Internet time was depressingly accurate, and that even at this late date it's worth mentioning again. It feels awkward to do so, frankly, because it is such old news. And yet, sure enough, there were folks who came up to me after the talk and said "Great idea!"

Now to the larger point. The gender issue has been percolating around in blogspace for a while now. One entry that particularly stuck with me is this one from the Longhorn PDC:

Everything seems pretty normal and nice, save for one thing: Where's all the women? For reals, y'all. I feel like I'm at a Microsoft monastery here. I think I've seen about 2.5 females, and they were part of the hired help. It's like they're an endangered species. [Rory Blyth]
It reminded me of the Cairo/Win95 PDC in Chicago ten years ago in Anaheim. Microsoft rented Disneyland for the event. Imagine Disneyland at night, just me and approximately 5000 post-adolescent males wandering around the spookily-lit attractions. It was spectacularly weird.

I've been giving this matter some serious thought. For example, if I collect the names of all the people I've quoted in the last few hundred entries, the maleness of the list fits the well-known pattern.

Aaron Cohen, Adam Curry, Alf Eaton, Allie Rogers, Andy Clark, Annrai O'Toole, Benjamin J. J. Voight, Bernard Teo, Bill Gates, Bill de hÓra, Bob Clary, Bob DuCharme, Brendan Eich, Brian Marick, Chad Dickerson, Charles Petzold, Chris Anderson, Chris Brumme, Chuck Myers, Claus Dahl, Craig Franklin, Dan Brickley, Dan Bricklin, Dan Gaters, Danny Ayers, Dare Obasanjo, Dave Megginson, Dave Winer, Don Box, Dorothea Salo, Doug Glenn, Douwe Osinga, Edward Tenner, Edwin Khodabakchian, Evan Williams, Gavin Weightman, Gerald Bauer, Glenn Vanderburg, Gordon Weakliem, Hal Roberts, Hiawatha Bray, Ian Hixie, J. Scott Anderson, James Farmer, Jay Rosen, Jeff Angus, Jemaleddin Cole, Jenny Levine, Jesse James Garrett, Jim Mooney, Jim O'Halloran, Joe Hewitt, John Markoff, Jon Udell, Karl Best, Karsten Self, Ken Manheimer, Kevin Werbach, Kimbro Staken, Kingsley Idehen, Kirk Holbrook, Larry O'Brien, Len Bullard, Les Orchard, Matt Griffith, Micah Alpern, Michael Kinsley, Mike Deem, Mitch Kapor, Nancy McGough, Ned Batchelder, PJ Connolly, Paul Everitt, Paul Graham, Paul Philp, Pete Cole, Peter Wayner, Phil Wainewright, Philip Brittan, Ralph Loader, Ray Kurzweil, Ray Ozzie, Rob Howard, Robert Ivanc, Robert L. Vaessen, Robert Scoble, Russell Beattie, Sam Ruby, Samuel Pepys, Sandeepan Banerjee, Scott Reynen, Sean McGrath, Stefano Mazzocchi, Steve Crocker, Steve Lawrence, Sue Spielman, Ted Leung, Ted Neward, Tiernan Ray, Tim Bray, Tim Oren, Tom Yager, Tonico Strasser, Trace Reed, Ward Cunningham

Were it not for my recent foray into the world of libraries, the female names would be even fewer, and there are already precious few of them. This can't be good.

As it happens, the XML conference I just left was more balanced than most -- which isn't saying much. Still, I did get to meet Lauren Wood, Eve Maler, and Sharon Adler (see the XSL 1.0 spec). Sharon, who works for IBM Research, was particularly interested to follow up with me on the main theme of the talk, which was how and why we ought to use documents to contextualize human relationships. Which, by the way, is not something I present as a stunning flash of egghead brilliance, but simply as an overlooked home truth. Now, is the fact that Sharon finds this theme to be important -- and underappreciated at IBM Research -- related to the fact that Sharon is female? Seems very likely to me.

So, for the record, I think this gender issue we all keep tiptoeing around is quite real, and affects technological choices and strategies far more deeply than many of us XY types would dare imagine.

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