Wednesday 7 July 2004

where are the women of CSS?

Where are the women of CSS?

As a recent thread on Eric Meyer’s site Wanted: CSS Luminary demonstrates, there are only two women even publically recognized as potentials for a CSS book project: myself and Holly Bergevin. And before you get too excited, Anne van Kesteren is a man.

Now, the list of names at Eric’s place is impressive – it’s filled with loads of people I really respect, and while many have never written a book, certainly most everyone’s contributions have been impressive. If you examine the list, though, you see a range: some folks are designers, others are more technical. I myself am not a designer per se, my skill is in teaching – whether it’s in a classroom or via an article or book. Nevertheless, a luminary is a luminary is a luminary, right?

So why are there only two women even listed there, much less listed far fewer times than the guys? Is it that women aren’t typically thought of as “luminaries?” I’d hate to think that, because I know at least 70% of the folks on that list and they are all enlightened men who don’t exhibit discomfort regarding women in computing. Is it that women aren’t attracted to CSS for some reason? Or maybe they are quieter about it, less competitive, less interested?

I don’t understand why women in CSS are so overlooked, and with the two of us that have been mentioned – at least in this case – it’s either far less often than the guys or, in Holly’s case, always as a duo with Big John, and not on the merit of her own individuality. I want to understand this. Maybe you can help me.

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Posted by:   Molly | 10:57 | Comments (70)

Comments (70)

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  5. I will just point out links that address this issue (or similarly) since they say it better (and I already address it in their threads):

    It’s a grey and sensitive area that’s difficult to address…

  6. Personally, I’m very interested in semantic markup and CSS, along with Typography and web design but I don’t talk about it much. I prefer to practice and learn from the writings of others to discussing what it seems everyone already knows.

  7. I’m not sure, I certainly don’t think in conventional terms, but the computing world, in both hardware and software, men are prevalent. Same goes with PC gaming, especially on a professional level. However on the internet, gender isn’t such a big deal, or shouldn’t be. I guess guys aren’t used to having women in an industry that has been known to be dominantly (probably shouldn’t use that word) male.

    Which leads me to another train of thought that I would like to tackle one day … why do men always jump into a new industry sooner than women?

  8. I’ve been wondering the same thing. I’ve noticed that a lot of women aren’t really interested in CSS, they say that it’s too confusing to learn and someone even once said to me “It’s a guy thing”. I disagree and would love to see more women become involved.

  9. Well, good point! I don’t know! All these CSS blogs seems to link to each others… and yes it’s true there is very few women…
    There is a lot of women designers though, is it the geeky technology aspect of CSS at play? Boys and their toys…..

  10. If I were not a product manager for web-based software and thus had the time to perfect my CSS chops on a daily basis, I would probably gravitate towards it. Its efficiency pleases me greatly.

    However, as someone who really enjoys tool design, communication & evangelism, and even many admittedly rather bureaucratic aspects of project optimizing, I have directed my career to management & planning rather than design & coding.

    Maybe that’s a more common pattern for women than men?

  11. Sorry, but the idea that there are few women interested in CSS is plain foolishness.

    There are a lot of women involved with CSS but, and here’s the biggie, no one hears about them. Then when something like this comes up it’s, “Well women find it too hard.”

    Tech for tech, and I’m sure the same can be said for Molly, but I can hold my own regarding technology with any guy on that list. Any. Guy. On. That. List.

    However, something like this comes up and guys get the nod. Then they become more known, and get more nods, and the cycle continues.

  12. Considering i’ve been in every single one of those links mentioned above, arguing the side that gender isn’t important but somehow managing to get shouted at by women. Here’s my view:

    Positive discrimination sucks. Those who don’t know what that is, look it up. I don’t feel like anyone should have to mention someones name, JUST because they’re of the opposite sex.

    If those people who listed those names truly felt like more than 2 women (molly and holly – strangely rhyming) were fit for writing that book, they would have listed their names. The only reason all those guys names came up, is because those names mentioned are quite influential in web design (hence why Molly and Holly’s name came up).

    I think i’ll leave it at that. I don’t wonder where the women are, because I know they’re here – designing, developing, commenting, writing articles/books – alive and well.

    “but I can hold my own regarding technology with any guy on that list. Any. Guy. On. That. List.”

    As for this comment. Can you hold your own when it comes to writing a book though, that is supposed to guide and help thousands/millions? Yes, you need to have technical talent, but you also need to be able to write like crazy and express yourself well. If you feel you can, why don’t you list your name, you never know – anything could happen.

  13. Robert, I’ve authored or co-authored 14 books.

  14. There are a ton of women in CSS, I help mod a forum that’s 90% women in CSS and Standards Compliance (they say that there aren’t many women who do that either, which, like Shelley said, is plain foolishness). I’ve never heard any female say that CSS was too hard.

    I think the mention of women being less competitive in CSS (in tech fields, most fields) is probably decently accurate in pinpointing one of the reasons that list only has two women on it. I think that women are competitive, I know I to some degree, but perhaps not at the boastful level that a lot of tech guys are at. It’s hard to be heard unless you take on the mannerisms of a guy. This is what I’ve noticed, but not something that I would encourage.

    Of course, with that list on Eric’s site, it reads more like a popularity vote than anything else, since he was looking for people who had strength of name moreso than strength of skill (not that they don’t have that, I’m just saying the priority was more about selling some sort of CSS “name brand” than anything else), so I don’t know how much stock I would put in that list and its lack of mentioned women.

    There’s always the option of adding women to the list or starting a new list.

  15. Eris, I agree with you 100%. I don’t think women are good at blowing our own horn. But more than that, I think that society tends to look down on a woman listing her capabilities, where it approves of men doing so. The man is seen as being assertive, sure of himself; the woman is considered vain, or self-centered, or even bragging from insecurity.

    I also agree that there seems to a popularity vote feel to the list at Eric’s — but how can we put more women into these votes?

  16. Shelley: Well in that case, fair enough. I don’t think it’s because i’m ignorant that I didn’t know that – I know that Molly has written books, I have quite a few of them.

    We were asked for names based on how influential they are, what their technical knowledge is like and if they have a good writing style (even if Eric didn’t say that). We picked those people who are in our faces all the time and match those qualities. You’re not in my face all the time, if you were then I would have picked you based on what i’ve read from your web site so far and from your experience.

    I’ll be sure to pass by your web site in future.

  17. I don’t think there’s a difference when we’re talking about skill level. Women can compete in this arena with any man – I firmly believe that. Nor do I believe that some gender-related factor keeps women out of CSS. It’s certainly not because there’s only a couple qualified women, either. I’m sure that there are plenty out there, just waiting to be recognized.

    And I think that’s the entire problem right there – recognition/notoriety. So here’s what I propose. A Playboy pictorial – “The Women of CSS.” Notoriety problem solved.

    Sorry. Had to do it.

  18. Also, I don’t think men think like that at all. I see plenty of “influential” male designers as being big headed, but I know they’re there. If your plan is for women to become more noticed, then stop thinking guys are going to slam you. Just get in their faces, annoy the hell out of them, do whatever – just get your names out there.

  19. Robert said:
    >>If your plan is for women to become more noticed, then stop thinking guys are going to slam you. Just get in their faces, annoy the hell out of them, do whatever – just get your names out there.

    There are flaws in this plan. Trust me. I’ve been following your advice for over 16 years now.


  20. Robert, Molly has tried. I have tried. Dori Smith has tried. Any other women have tried. And when we do become annoying, or even angry, we’re often told by other women — other women, mind — that our behavior is abrasive. I’ve actually been excluded from women in technology groups because I get into people’s faces. It is a lose/lose situation, only enhanced by weblogging.

    Keith, I did get a giggle from your idea. Heck, might work.

  21. Molly: Tis (excuse the archaism) weird that you say that, considering how succesful you are (imo).

    Yes, there are times when you need to just sit back – but a lot of the time to get noticed you either have to be in someones face all the time, or create controversy (or both).

    90% of men will not slam you for getting your name out there, same was 90% of women won’t do that to men. There’s evil on both sides, no need to pick on a minority from each and blow it up.

    I just don’t have an answer to be honest with you, in most cases it’s just a combination of skill, confidence and luck.

  22. Shelley: It’s a shame that people do that to you and others. I honestly wish the world was different.

    How do you measure success in your life though?

    I certainly don’t define it as getting my name listed for a book or being accepted by the world – i’m gothic, that’d be impossible.

    I’d rather be known by 10 people who truly care about what I say, than 10000 people who only listen to me 20% of the time.

  23. Yeah, its either “abrasive”, “shrill” or “bitchy”. Meh. Why not “strong” or “confident”?

    Shelley, Keith, so is that the centerfold or a full-blown calendar with CSS tips for each month?

  24. >Yeah, its either “abrasive”, “shrill” or “bitchy”. Meh. Why not “strong” or “confident”?

    Ha! What’s the difference?

    We really do need new words.


  25. Robert, but you have a choice whether to be ignored or not, on the book or not, known or not.

    We want that choice. Damn it, we deserve that choice.

    Shelley “Bitchy, shrill, abrasive Burningbird” Powers

  26. Oh and Eris, CSS tips, of course. And if Zeldman asked nicely, he could have one of the months, as the token male. But he’d have to ask nicely.

  27. There’s no denying the noticable lack of women. The internet is the most democratic medium I’m aware of though, so the question is this — are women actively being shut out, are they not contributing, or are there just not as many of them?

    Shelley, I see you’re going with option 1 in that list. Molly? Eris? Dinah? What do the rest of you feel?

  28. So then I will ask the airheaded question to the women in this thread, what other females should get recognized?

    I am not gonna jump on either side of this war, but if some of you think (I don’t know how anyone feels) that women are being unjustly ignore, is there any examples? I mean was there something a women did in the community that should’ve have made everyone take notice?

    I have mentioned to other people numerous times the point that Shea brings up concerning the web being a democratic medium. If you wish to get noticed you usually do. Molly and Shelley are recognizable as they deserve to be, but has anyone else put in that effort?

    As Lea linked I had a conversation similar to this one on my site last week and only about 3-4 women commented on it, while here the majority of the comments come from women. Maybe most women only actively participate on other women’s sites. I know the ones that participate on mine get noticed. I don’t know what my point was so I will leave it like this 🙂

    And this might be the stupidest comment, but if everyone is getting paid does it matter at all?

  29. At Kevin Smokler’s SXSW Wrap-Up panel, Where Do We Go From Here?, Kimberly Blessing of AOL asked why there were so few women on panels.

    Some of the points above were made, with good reason. I also suggested that, while the panel leaders tend to pick people they know, they also pick people that are writing about web standards, CSS etc.

    There are great number of women using CSS, but perhaps not so many writing about it. On the css-discuss list, how many women actually respond to help requests with any frequency, other than Holly and Zoe Gillenwater?

  30. Hey Molly. Do your thing girl. Who needs more when we have you?

  31. Some say that actions speak louder than words and if this is so, then I’ve been yelling since 1997 when I first started using CSS. I’d put my name on that list but I don’t feel that I write that well.

    I never learned how to use tables for layouts and have been using only CSS and tables for what they were made for, the display of tabular data.

  32. My belief is that not every subgenre of a technical field attracts every group equally. I can tell you that as a former gay kid in engineer school (which, similarly, is still at most ~23% female in Canada).

    And lads will tend to stick together and quite subconsciously self-correct toward other lads; if you aren’t laddish enough (and I’m not, being much too out for most of them), they pick someone who is laddish enough.

    With both of those phenomena at work simultaneously, yes, what you get are hordes of superficially similar fellas dominating CSS. I have, however, met several of them and can tell you that they may all be boys, but that’s really all they have in common. As a result, I wouldn’t clump them in one group, and I absolutely wouldn’t clump women in CSS in another group.

    My field is all about accommodating differences that may variously be common among groups or absurdly specific or both. This method of evaluation could easily apply here.

  33. Scrivs, you mentioned having a conversation on this last week, and only women commented on it. This is representative of the saddest, and most depressing aspect of all of this: these topics are being shunned.

    The guys, they don’t see the problem, but then, how can they? They do know that these conversations, well, they make the guys uncomfortable. They make them irritable. They want us to just stop because they don’t see that there’s any problem that any woman with ‘gumption’ can’t resolve just by trying hard enough.

    So Molly is kind enough to ask for feedback and understanding, perspective if you will, from all sexes. And some gentlement do respond, and that’s a goodness. But in so many of these conversations, too much of the discussions comes from the women, and it seems the same women, too frequently. I even envy the female discussion because lately I recieve little or not response at all when I talk about these issues.

    Why don’t I do more, the guys ask, but I do. My weblog is full of tech topics and writings. I have an old Radio weblog, called Alter Ego that was nothing but tech. Yet I’ve seen, week after week, a guy saying the same thing I said a week or a month before, and they get responses and I get silence. I just spent three days on something that I bet I won’t get a word about. But I know, I know that the same effort from a couple of guys I know of, and the response would be different.

    Not all environments have this: I have found the Microsoft world to be very equal among the sexes. But you get into open source…

    Molly, sorry for monopolizing your comments. Thank you for bringing this up.

  34. OK, I’m going to list a few women that ARE famous, or should be famous, but aren’t recognized enough in web circles for their achievements, despite their words and work holding the same amount of weight as their male counterparts.

    For one thing, I’m surprised that Mena Trott, who co-created Movable Type isn’t mentioned more often in design or developer circles for any type of prowess. Definitely, she cares about web standards and css!

    Jennifer is like a machine: she pumps out tips after tips of amazing coding advice, customization advice for your CMS (lots of MT tips, and now, WordPress tips) Though she’s only getting the hang of CSS and design, since she’s primarily a programmer first. But a helpful one at that!

    Veerle Pieters is very much female, though she doesn’t explicitly make it obvious immediately. She recently started a Designing a CSS Based Template series in her site that’s as informative as anything, and yet only has received less than 10 comments per post. I would consider her a very good designer AND a CSS diva.

    There’s also Angie McKaig who recently wrote an interesting article that er, may be related to the root of this problem.

    Lynda is also an active developer for ExpressionEngine, and is definitely knowledgeable about CSS and table-less layouts and customization.

    Neither of the women above I mentioned are “unknown”–men and women alike visit their websites often! And yet…

    As they say, when there’s smoke, there’s fire. We’re not just “bitching” because we can. 😉

    Also interesting to note, that a couple of those sites have been mentioned in the CSS Vault, too.

  35. Many of the people I see on that list seem to have community efforts that have gained them the mindshare they enjoy, it has nothing to do with their technical ability with regards to CSS. Two examples that come to mind are Eric with CSS-D and CSS Edge, and of course Dave’s Garden. If there are similar accoplishments that are being overlooked (from men or women) by all means point them out so we can all flock to them. I have plenty of women on my blogroll I read regularly and Shelley, Molly, and Shirley Kaiser are the only ones that come to mind dealing with web tech issues.

  36. Dave Shea asks:
    >There’s no denying the noticable lack of women. The internet is the most democratic medium I’m aware of though, so the question is this – are women actively being shut out, are they not contributing, or are there just not as many of them?

    I honestly don’t know, which is why I brought it up. I know that showing up to the party has been a big part of me becoming at least a recognizable name in the industry – I go to events, I meet everyone, I hang with everyone, and I pursue relationships and collaborative projects with as many people as possible. I’m sure that has a great influence over my own small fame. But no one has ever fawned over me quite the way they do you, Dave, or the way they do Eric. I feel, without animosity, that I have had to work very, very hard and for many, many years now to be recognized, and because I’m not a notable designer or technologist, rather an educator and an advocate, it’s sometimes been especially tough to find my niche.

    It is a point of interest that this is the first discussion on in history that has had so many posts by women. Typically, the most vocal members of my audience are male. Not that I mind – I like men. And unlike some others here, I don’t feel that the lack of notable women in CSS specifically and Web in general is anyone’s fault per se. It’s just an odd situation that bears examination.

    So perhaps part of the answer lies in a certain level of participation not just on blogs or in discussion groups, but on a F2F level, and a collaborative level.

    I remember walking into the Hilton this past March during SXSW, and in the cafe sitting around a coffee table were (I kid you not, dear readers): Eric Meyer, Christopher Schmitt, Doug Bowman, Dave Shea, and Dan Cederholm. As I sat down to join them for a bit, I remember thinking to myself “Gee, if something exploded in this tiny corner of the world, we’d wipe out the CSS brain trust in one fell swoop.” I wasn’t even thinking about my own part in the game, just that here was a group of men – all of whom I consider friends – that are doing some of the foremost work in our field. Interesting that I left myself out of the equation, no? That I thought of them distinctly as a group of men (well, they’re all so good-looking and manly, true . . . ), and more curiously, that I thought of myself as an outsider in that context, despite the fact that here was a group of my friends! There is nothing but support and encouragement that’s ever been conveyed to me by any of these folks – what happened is something that went on inside my own head, for reasons I don’t yet understand.

    I definitely don’t have the answers, and I certainly am not thinking of this as a “war” as someone mentioned uptopic. This is a discussion about a strange phenomenon in what should otherwise be the most democratic environment humankind has ever known. That’s a good discussion to have, whether we come up with answers or just end up asking deeper questions.


  37. Molly, Shelley and others – I’d be really interested to know your take on how the internet compares to the worlds of graphic design, IT, print media etc. that most of us emerged from in the past years.

    I’ve been really taken aback at how few women there are in creative / development roles – working in central London, it wasn’t quite what I expected…

    You might be interested in taking a look at the work that Jane Austin from Recollective (and others) did a while ago exploring gender in design and promoting women designers:

    It’s also worth saying that I’m sure there are very few black faces amongst the Usual CSS Suspects too – white boys (and I am one…) do seem to – even if unwittingly – promote themselves and each other to the detriment of other very talented people.

    Lazy idea – but awards always seem to get profile and spread the word about who is doing what. How about setting up a ‘Women in CSS 2004 Award’ and raising the profile?

  38. Mostly my overall message has been that there’s a time to consider gender and a time not to. If a designer is hired to work on a site for Tampax, the gender of his/her team would be relevent to take into consideration. If you’re in a competition based on skill, gender should be an irrelevent factor. Nobody wants to hear, “yeah you’re pretty good for a _______”.

    I think also this specific topic gets blown out of proportion in some ways. A friend of mine put it well when she said, “a woman NOTICING it (lack of female presence in tech fields) is assumed to be complaining.” If, as a guy, for example, you walk into a room full of women, you’re going to look around and instantly notice that there are not more people in that room like you, that there are not more men. We look for our faces in any group. If that same guy leans over to one of the women next to him and asks, “Hey where are the men?” he’s not complaining, he’s not bitching, he’s not making some huge issue out of the deal. He’s just Noticing.

    When this question, “Where are the Women in CSS/Web Design?” pops up, I think it’s easy to instantly assume that a rant about being some kind of “victim” is implied in that question. It is not. It’s just a cursory glance and a mental tally that there are not more people in the room like me. Or Molly. Or Shelley. etc… The question also acts as a sort of roll-call. “Where are the ____?” “Hey, here we are.” “Ahh, cool, thats good to know.”

    To ask, “WHY aren’t there more ______?” is a completely different question and one I don’t have an answer to.

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  41. Meant to add, too, that noticing == being aware. And awareness goes a long way. And in terms of awarness, for those who are asking, “does it matter at all?”, look at how this topic has exploded with female participation and trackbacks to articles on other sites that ask the same question/talk about the same thing.

  42. Too often these conversations start to drift around to, well let’s find a way to specifically single out women (i.e. Women in CSS, 2004) or what can women do to be more noticed. Neither of these are effective because the former groups women, and gives us a token response; the latter just assumes that women have to be the ones to change.

    Neither addresses the issue of respect. Dave S asks the question: what is the problem, and gives some ideas of what he assumes are the causes of the problem, and then immediately decides that my answer is such and such, deriving such answer from my previous discussion. Yet I completely disagree with what he’s saying.

    Women aren’t being actively shut out. It would be nice to know that we’re given that much power to be actively shut out. But when women say the same thing as the men, the men’s words are given more respect, and hence more weight. And both women and men are guilty of this.

    This goes back to what Molly said about how people react to someone like you Dave S, as compared to how they act around her.

    Respect leads to notice and this is gratifying so you continue the behavior, leading to more notice, and so on. Think of what happens if you don’t get quite the same respect, not quite the same notice?

  43. Speaking of no notice, anyone ‘notice’ anything pertinent to this conversation in regards to the new Wired article on blogger burnout?

  44. Molly, if this is the table you’re talking about there were at least two women there, Anitra and Kimberly.

  45. Nevermind, that’s obviously from the wrong time.

  46. 🙂 … good question Molly. I have been playing with and manipulating CSS for several years now. Offering tips, advice, lecturing classes, and helping others debug complex CSS issues for others [mostly men]. Maybe it is that feeling that digital media, whether it be art slant or technical [I think it is both, myself], tends to still be associated with guru, geek, and maybe the male group in general? An odd thought for the year 2004, but maybe it is still there?

    [the other one … 🙂 ]

  47. I’m going to be doing some research at various all girls schools in London (a huge area for IT), basically finding out how many are interested in IT (if so what sector, what is their reason for getting into IT blah blah) and if not, then what is their reason for going another route. I feel that asking young women who will be the “next generation” of designers is the key to understanding all of this – rather than speculating what the answer could be and “blaming people”.

    The research will be done on approximately 2000 students (depending on how much time I have).

    The research will be put up on my web site development site once it’s finished, along with other articles covering things I need to get off my chest (design myths, coding help and future projects).

    So, those that are interested in my findings, check out my web site or send me an email and i’ll let you know when my research is up (with comments). It’s a project i’m looking forward to.

  48. Don’t expect the research to be up any time soon though, as it’s the end of the school year. So, in about a month or so – considering I have to compile the results and make some sense out of it.

  49. I‘m a woman. I also made the css help pile. I purposely went by my initials to see if anyone would notice, care — and to know that if I never had any success or failure, it wasn’t related to my gender. I’m fairly certain most who’ve stopped by my site assume I’m male, though I have no real proof that.

    Of course, I’m still new to CSS, so including me in a best-of list would be, well, foolish. But nevertheless, there you have it: another woman developer who’s interested in CSS.

  50. After looking over all these comments, I have a slightly different view. At the Nemesis Project there have been 6 authors that backed out of their commitments. Four of the six have been women. All the women have given family business as the reason. Maybe one of the reason we see less women in print is, unlike most men they put family above fame.

    Please don’t get all bent out of shape about this comment. This is just a personal observation from someone that has been willing to give women a chance to publish.

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