Sunday 31 July 2005

Full Frontal Female

IT’S BEEN A HELLUVA FEW DAYS. Between an emotional experience advocating Microsoft’s IE7 beta plans, the expression and aftermath of that emotion here on my blog, and blogher going full steam (one of the few conferences I’m not able to be at this year, alas), I’ve got a bit more on my mind to write about regarding being a public female and the importance of authentic expression on a blog.

picture of molly in mirror

Don’t yawn! It’s not yet another one of those “where are the women” posts. Not exactly.

Shelley Powers has written a very eloquent post, Sugar and Spice, about WaSP, my actions and commentary on IE7 and how I used language to describe my feelings. Her concern is profoundly compelling because it dares ask a question that most others would sidestep: Did I play a “quit hurting me I’m a damsel in distress” card?

The answer is: Yes, I did.

Did I express myself as a hurt little girl purposely to manipulate people to my point of view? No, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t played those cards either. In fact, I have an entire repertoire of what might be termed “female machinations” that rear up from time to time. I might be 42 and considered successful, but I’m still the product of my life and times and despite 25 years of therapy, have never completely learned to control my outbursts – whether their origins are gender-oriented or not.

In this case, I was feeling very lonely, vulnerable and yes, very much a little girl. And what I did was write exactly that. When women readers and friends wrote back “You GO, girl!” and men friends threatened to beat up anyone who was hurting me, do you think that bothered me in the least?

The answer is: Nope, it did not.

If anything, the outpouring of support made me feel a level of love and protection that I never honestly experienced in my life, and quite frankly, really needed to feel at that moment.

Was it the best way to get what I felt I needed? Perhaps not, but it worked. Could I learn to be more dignified? Oh, most definitely. More mature? Yeah, but I wonder if that will ever happen and whether I even want it to!

For many women, especially ones who are working hard to gain notoriety (or a more pure fame) in fields with low numbers of women such as high tech, self-control and dignity can become critical tools in terms of gaining respect. This is particularly true in highly conservative environments, so it’s quite understandable that any woman acting out emotionally in public is going to make people uncomfortable. Curiously, I find it makes women far more uncomfortable than men.

I also find that for whatever reasons, being the way I am has actually opened more doors and made me more capable of enjoying relationships with women and men from all walks of life. I can’t explain why this is, but it definitely skews my perspective on promoting feminist ideologies, because people by and large seem to be drawn to and not away from what some might describe as being the very female aspects of my personality.

I am first about people, but being a woman naturally I’m going to be aware of social concerns as they pertain to women and the female experience. I’m also very clear that the way I achieved that has been to be myself in all my unpredictable, emotional and sometimes seemingly questionable behavior.

I am warm and funny, outrageously flirtatious and inappropriate, opportunistic, occassionally manipulative, neurotic and depressive, rarely but highly capable of being cruel and most of the time a decent, caring person who likes to laugh loudly and find joy in every day. That’s me. I can’t polish that up for my blog, and I haven’t polished it up in life. To thoughtfully put together a blog post, to craft it as I would an article, academic essay, or book chapter simply isn’t my style.

If I’m having a tantrum, it’s probably going to end up here.

Last year at this time regular readers and close friends will recall that I was the victim of an unfortunate and violent physical attack. Something I wrote on my blog is what spawned that, and if anything should have frightened me into watching what I say, how I say it, and what I do, it should have been that experience. But here it is a year later, and I’m still, perhaps quite foolishly, unwilling to compromise that aspect of my being.

As much as I’d like to think I was setting an example for women, perhaps I don’t deserve that distinction, because I will never fit the ideal professional female as other people might see one.

I do know this, I didn’t advance in my career by being passive, quiet or fearful. I’m living my life facing the world in all my full-frontal triumphs and failures.

It’s the most difficult and rewarding activity I’ve ever experienced.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 16:05 | Comments (44)

Comments (44)

  1. Two words describes you in my eyes:

    Open. Honest.

    No more needs to be said.

  2. I think that if the “damsel in distress” thing is part of your personality that comes out naturally, and it works for you, you’ve got nothing to explain or justify.

    What makes me uncomfortable is any suggestion that I *should* do it too. I don’t see it in this blog, but I do IRL and I just can’t do it. It’s like being told to just go out and speak another language. I’d bet that’s where a lot of the discomfort you see from women comes from.

  3. Ahhh….

    Molly, in your previous posts – you could have substituted the words ‘Girl’ for ‘Lady’…and the (approximate) phrase of ‘crying and climbing into a bottle of wine’ for the phrase ‘deeply upset’….but REALLY it wouldn’t have made any difference because the meanings are almost entirely the same – it wasn’t the use of those words or phrases that made me post my support on your previous blog, no – it was that you’re a good person who was being hurt by a bunch of morons.
    I’ve just read Shelley’s Sugar and Spice blog post and, eloquent as it might be, I still got to the end and said aloud…”Tripe!”
    Shelley seems to have dwelled on trivial matters such as whether you should or should not be using certain words or phrases in your blog….(Shelley: it’s Molly’s blog – she’s a person – she can put whatever she likes on her own personal blog!!) And I think this is what you might be eluding to Molly: where some people can’t understand that your site is a hybrid of your professional AND your personal statements. If that’s too ‘tricky’ for some people to comprehend then maybe they should crawl back under the rock they came from instead of bitchin’ and moaning about it!

    And it’s worth noting that some people’s negative remarks about your posts are probably just envy for the levels of great support you richly deserve…you’ve earned respect from your fans (respect that others can only dream of and never reach!)

    Note: I’m not threatening anyone with violence, or saying ‘Go Girl’…but I am making this post because I feel I should…and for all the right reasons.


  4. i am truly disturbed that after all the hard work that you and the others at WaSP have done on our behalf that you were treated with that much disregard.

    I might not think that the ie 7 beta is the cure for cancer, but that doesn’t mean that you guys aren’t doing your job, or ‘sold out’.

    As always you have my support and thanks. You just let me know who I need to get ‘all pentecostal’ on. You know a little ‘laying on of hands’… gawd I love theology humor.

  5. Mary-Ann Horley: “…What makes me uncomfortable is any suggestion that I should do it too.”

    Which suggestion….where? When? Has someone approached you and verbally suggested this? Because if they haven’t done….then what do you mean? Are we talking about ‘The suggestion (of a suggestion)?’…that would be a complete nonsense – please tell me it’s not that!
    Are you talking about suggestions in magazines, books, TV, media….what?
    Just saying ‘IRL’ isn’t specific enough Mary – please elaborate. 🙂


  6. Molly, this may cause *you* to yawn but I’ve been reading an awesome book called the Tao of Equus bye Linda Kohanov, and it discusses at great length how our society “trains” us not to be emotional, but we *need* our emotions to guide our decision making and to be creative.

    Women are often (not always of course) more aware of and in tune with their emotions than men (and the book explains why from a historical and sociological and psychological viewpoint) but frequently have to suppress their true selves and outwardly act like they’re driven by pure logic and rationality to be taken seriously, especially by men in the business world. (Of course it’s the same for men but men are “trained” more than women to suppress their emotions.)

    But given that our “gut feelings” are so important to the decisions we make about our lives, and what’s right for us (and what’s right or wrong in our professional lives too) it is a shame more men don’t acknowledge their role. A shame that emotion is so taboo. (Obviously I don’t mean indulging in constant and/or uncontrolled excessive emotion… I may not be explaining this well so please take what I’m saying in the spirit it was meant. 🙂

    It’s got to the point where a lot of people have to go to special classes or retreats to get “back in touch” with their emotions and sense of creativity. That’s pretty sad.

    Onya Molly. FWIW I admire you and I know you won’t let anyone’s comments on how you write or act change the way you write or act – because you’re strong enough to know what’s the essense of you and to be true to yourself.

    And anyone who says they have never engaged in manipulative behaviour – well. We *all* do. Every day. We *all* deliberately act in ways that will get us what we want or need both personally and in business. Who is any one of us to say we don’t like the way someone else does it? And in the end, what does it matter?

    My two cents with GST.


  7. Great post, Molly. I agree with all the above comments. It’s your blog, write what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. I appreciate all you do.

  8. Molly, how you deal with your personal and professional life is up to you. But when you’ve classified yourself as one of the few prominant women in technology, then your actions can impact on other women in technology.

    You had written in the comments to my When We Are Needed post the following:

    “As one of the very few prominent and visible women in our field, I have the opportunity to directly ask the people that ask me to speak at conferences and participate in events why they choose fewer women. The answer is consistently: “Well we asked so and so and she said no.”

    So as much relevance as there is in needing to fix the underlying social issues in getting women to IT in the first place, there’s another concern here too. Women have to take responsibility and STEP UP. The more women that are visible, the stronger and more positive a message we send to young girls world over that they can achieve great things. ”

    You took on a job for WaSP, one you knew was going to get you flack. And you’re saying that the experience was traumatic for you, and you felt like a little girl, and as you said, even wanted to be treated that way.

    Can you at least see how these two positions of yours can be a conflict? In other words, if you want to be a role model, and not just for girls, but a demonstration of how women can be in technology, saying that you were literally couldn’t handle the reactions to what is a professional task — it is frustrating to me.

    Especially since I’ve spent the last four years in weblogging fighting for women getting respect in the tech field. Trying to generate awareness of women, and our capabilities and our competencies.

    And losing out on all of those opportunities–consulting, working, and writing–that you now have, because I have angered so many people in the industry with what I’ve said on behalf of women like yourself.

    I give up. I have spent four years fighting for nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    Now I had better leave before your readers swarm me.

  9. (Shelley moans some more)….*yawn*

    Molly: There’s no way at all that your blog posts, admitting that you’ve been given abuse and grief about your fantastic work with WaSP (causing you justifiable distress), and the use of the word ‘girl’, going to set the feminist movement back in terms establishing women in the IT industry – what a load of rubbish! Shelley’s frustration with your conduct is nothing short of pathetic…and if she now feels that four years of fighting (*coughs* since when is ‘blogging’ a fight?!) has been for nothing…then…well, who’s being the Drama Queen now eh? Really: it is daft!

  10. Matt, you do Molly a disservice to degrade others who write in disagreement or debate with her. She is an adult woman. Why don’t you let her speak for herself.

    I did want to add to my last post (before reading Matt’s comment), no one asked me to do whatever what I’ve done the last few years, and I take responsibility for my actions, and the consequences. To imply otherwise would be to play the po’me game. And I won’t.

    Now Matt, as you were.

  11. Shelley: “….Matt, you do Molly a disservice to degrade others who write in disagreement or debate with her. She is an adult woman. Why don’t you let her speak for herself.”

    Of course, my words online are my own – not Molly’s and she’s responded to you already – don’t confuse my responses as being Molly’s…that’s just stupid (and you certainly don’t seem like the stupid type!)

    No really Shelley…’as you were’…bitching, moaning, whining, etc. – go right ahead!
    #Laughs #

  12. Isn’t the purpose of a blog to say whatever the hell you think and feel? So go for it. If someone doesn’t like it, well they can have their own blog and do the same.

  13. Can someone make some popcorn, please? Oh, and if there’s chocolate, I’ll do chocolate about now.

  14. Is this the part where the steal cage descends from the ceiling?

  15. Whoa.

    “Why are you obsessed with fighting? Stick to fishing from now on”.

  16. Geez, this is starting to look like a thread over at Robert Scoble’s place. Let’s settle down, okay? Or I’ll have to start deleting posts, which I loathe doing.

    Mary-Ann: I completely understand – there are many external pressures about how people expect us to behave.

    Vicki: Great comment. I haven’t read Kohanov’s book but have heard of it. And insofar as emotions and men, my experience once again is wholly different. Most men are very emotional in my experience, it just doesn’t always look as we expect it to. Furthermore, men seem to handle my emotional expression far better than women – that’s partly my point.

    Shelley: I do see why it seems like a conflict but in my defense I decidedly did not know that I would get the type of criticism I did, and I was wholly unprepared for it. I have been very fortunate in that most regular readers of my blog are typically positive and enthusiastic, and while I’ve had my share of trolls and some problems, nothing near the problems other bloggers get. A lot of the traffic that came my way over the last week came via Scoble and other avenues that draw a lot of anti-Microsoft sentiment. Fortunately, it’s not my usual readership. What’s more, I was able to delete some of the real nasty stuff in time, although not surprisingly, the nastiest attacks came via email – the cowards!

    Shelley, you seem to keep indicating that I collapsed under the pressure, maybe I’m reading you wrong, but the point is that while the pressure HURT I have far from collapsed. I’ve used my blog as a venting mechanism in order to get those frustrations OUT of me and to get support and love headed my way so I can refuel and rethink not only my role with WaSP and Microsoft, but how I’ll handle that kind of criticism in the future. So I felt like a little girl. Maybe next time I’ll handle it with more maturity as a result of all this, yeah?

    Matt: I love your enthusiasm generally and I’m delighted you participate as much as you do here. For that reason and that reason only I’ve not started deleting. Shelley’s upset, and I understand why. It’s okay for people to disagree and still find a way to respect each other, ya know. And I have utmost respect for Shelley, or I wouldn’t have taken her initial commentary so much to heart.

    So hey everyone, let’s chill on the personal back and forth and if we want to continue discussing the issues at hand, that’s fine, but don’t make me start deleting stuff.

  17. Molly-life sucks. Accept it. Deal w/it. Move on !!

    Bogsphere is a place with no rules. You make your own as u go along. You have the virture of being honest and open. That’s all that matters. Hold those values close and nothing – no amount of undermining – can take u down. Remeber, at times silence is also a mode of communication !!

  18. Molly: I hear ya…(or ‘read ya’ rather!) and thanks. 😉

  19. Sometimes life does suck. And during those times, I see it as an opportunity to fall into the emotions, learn from them and gain insights I would never had if I had just squared my shoulders and moved on.

    Molly, my friend, I wish you had been around when I was younger and needed a role model.

    You go girl!!

  20. I bow before you in respect 🙂
    You know how I feel.
    “E o resto é conversa!”


  21. Personal barbs aside, great discussion. This is why I love comments. I hope your feelings weren’t too terribly hurt Molly and Shelley and, for my part, I’m grateful you were open to the discussion.

    Finally, while I would NEVER refer to a woman as a "girl" in a professional situation, I hope Moly feels free to refer to herself any way she wants. And Shelley, while I don’t totally agree with your complaint, your points about women in tech are important to keep in mind, especially for dramatic, overly informal &quotboys" like myself.

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  23. Molly –

    Were you a damsel in distress? Yes – in a way you were. If reassurance – the warth and protection of the collective hug – were what made you feel good, then you were definitely in need at the moment. No harm in saying so or asking for it.

    Shelley –

    Anyone, male, female, otherwise, who puts on the strong facade for appearances sake – to bolster an image or create one – must realize that it IS a facade… because everyone who looks at them knows it too. Honesty requires strength. Cowardice hides behind the mask.

  24. Speaking of standards, here’s some feedback regarding English usage: Rarely is someone “working hard to gain notoriety.” “Notoriety” means “the quality or condition of being notorious; ill fame.” And “notorious” means “known widely and usually unfavorably; infamous: a notorious gangster; a district notorious for vice.” (Both cited definitions are from

    Just FYI….

  25. Notorious is a synonym for famous, and while there is a special connotation of “ill fame” there, it’s not the primary meaning. And frankly, there’s kind of a nice pun in there, so while I appreciate the editorial note, I’m keeping it. 😉

  26. Okay, but….

    In order to deftly navigate the topography of synonym lists, one needs to be aware of the usage history of each word before making a selection. Mere synonym exchange is the telltale sign of a casual or inexperienced wordsmith (not to mention a machine translator).

    “Notorious” has carried its negative connotation since the 17th century, and only recently (because of widespread decline in verbal acuity) has it become frequently misused as a more upscale-sounding 1:1 equivalent of “famous.”

    You’re a good writer, Molly, and it’s likely that you could become an excellent writer by developing greater sensitivity to semantic nuance, which can only be developed through alert immersion in the classics (whether literary or nonfiction), the study of linguistics and etymology, proficient multilingual communication, etc.

    In the meantime, observe the logical distinction between “different from” and “other than”; hear with your ears that “criteria” is a plural noun and never takes a singular verb; find out why “comprised of” is an ignorant writer’s error; and know that “ill fame” is still the primary meaning of “notorious,” even among the flabbiest of descriptive lexicographers.

    You go, girl!

  27. Izzie reminds me of comments I often receive about the way I express myself. Despite the somewhat pedantic approach you’ll note approval and encouragement. Writing the way you talk to people still works ; don’t be intimidated.

  28. I like you lizzie. Comments like yours always make me appreciate a skilled editor.

    Talk about undersung workers of the web. Editorial staff? Okay, it’s a blog post.

    So, I changed my entry to reflect your corrections.

    I didn’t remove the word notorious because I identify with its semantic meaning.

    I know you know what I mean.

    I added famous just for clarity.

  29. Molly you are one of the most inspiring women I know in the web community.

    Keep it up. We need you!

  30. Great post, Molly. It really spoke to the emotional side of being a woman and your honesty was refreshing. I think whether woman want to believe it or admit it, those “female machinations” come through regardless. It’s part of our “makeup” so to speak (yeah, silly pun intended).

    My question is what IS the ideal professional woman? I think society has deemed that to be a woman who acts more like a man in the workplace…. I’m sorry but that is NOT my ideal of an ideal professional woman NOR do I ever want to be “that” woman. If you have a career you love and are passionate about – in my opinion you ARE the ideal professional woman.

    Keep your emotions – they are very important for us professional women 🙂

  31. Listen, but always be true to who you are, even amongst the flying arrows.


  32. Well, finally, some folks that will stick up for the flamee for a change!!

    I’ve begun to view the world wide web as an appropriate name, and the spiders that inhabit it are those that get nothing but sadistic pleasure in sucking the soul out of others just because it makes them feel superior. Fact is it doesn’t make them superior, it just demonstrates how SICK a person is willing to act, and the Jollies that too many go for when they can’t be called to account for their viper’s tongue, or shall I say spider venom. Yep, the WWW is filled with spiders who inject venom of demoralization and who would probably have a major coronary if the very idea of compassion went through their heart that is as small as a flea!

    All the support you fine folks are giving Molly IS has made my day and is quite heartening. I know what abuse can do. I can tell of abuse so terrible at the hands of my dad that I class him with such nutcases as hitler, manson, and such. I don’t dwell in the past, but I can’t be the ostrich who buries his head in the sand and thinks that the effects of this abuse is not apparrent. As a result, I have extreme difficulty finding work because I come off as desperate,tho I’m a competent programmer, and they just shut down the west coast office where I work at and now I get the joy of abject terror, of whether I’m going to get a job, but back to Molly.

    For the first time, in my life, I see folks who are sticking up for someone who speaks their heart and soul, and says what’s on her mind. Good for them!!

    Support, not internet vampirism is where it is at! I’m glad to see that there are at last some folks on the internet, who feel that openness isn’t a disease but a means of communication.

  33. First time to your blog, but -wow! I like you already:)

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  37. I’ve just read Shelley’s Sugar and Spice blog post and, eloquent as it might be, I still got to the end and said aloud…”Tripe!”
    Shelley seems to have dwelled on trivial matters such as whether you should or should not be using certain words or phrases in your blog….(Shelley: it’s Molly’s blog – she’s a person – she can put whatever she likes on her own personal blog!!) And I think this is what you might be eluding to Molly: where some people can’t understand that your site is a hybrid of your professional AND your personal statements.

  38. Women are often (not always of course) more aware of and in tune with their emotions than men (and the book explains why from a historical and sociological and psychological viewpoint) but frequently have to suppress their true selves and outwardly act like they’re driven by pure logic and rationality to be taken seriously, especially by men in the business world. (Of course it’s the same for men but men are “trained” more than women to suppress their emotions.)

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  40. hello!

    I read your website and I was moved to tears about your beaten up last year. I am truly sorry. I can relate with yourself because I too was beaten up abput a year and a half. It took a lot of time for myself to recover and reclaim my lost confidence from the bullies who beat me up. How did I do this? I decided that I wasnt going to be a victim anymore and started to act confident.. being confident and ignoring the bullies. They understood in the end because they wanted me to be terrified of them because IT POWERED them from my fear of being beaten up again.

    But I didnt and they stopped giving me hassle.. why did they beat me up? because I am a transsexual woman. I gained a new confidence by hiding my face in my makeup.. in essence I became a different but confident woman in the end. I am still relearning but one thing is for sure.. even if you are scared.. never let the bullies see it. Just act normal as if you didnt hear them. They will feel stupid because you are ignoring them. NO ONE likes to be ignored.. right?

    take care of yourself


  41. thanks for your sharing

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