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Saturday, July 31, 2010

I am a Purple Unicorn: Being a female geek in male-dominated industries, interests, and hobbies

In my "requested blog topic arsenal", I am pulling out this one, as it's a topic which has come up in chats, interviews, emailing lists, and general discussions.

I am a woman. I am also a senior level software engineer, a gamer, a Trekkie, a Doctor Who fan, and a scifi/fantasy fan in general. In short, I'm a card-carrying geek. And as anyone who's seen the author pic of me from the back with the red cloth and tattoos, I look like anything but.

In short, I'm a purple unicorn.

I've been told in message boards, movies, tv, and books that I don't exist. If I do, I am obviously a "Mary Sue", which means I'm a projection of some weird male fantasy where chicks like me like the sort of thing guys in my culture (and by my culture, read: American suburban) like. I even got published due to writing "Vader pr0n", ie., Star Wars erotic fanfic.

So what's a gal like me to do when I hang out in the chats with other women who have no idea who David Tennant is, don't know the differences between Star Trek and Star Wars, and prefer watching Desperate Housewives over Torchwood (and no, the episode where John Barrowman guest starred in DOESN'T COUNT)?

Or how about when I show up for a job interview for a lead tech position in an industry filled with men who have publicly stated that they know of no female programmers, they don't exist and when they do, they're awful to mediocre coders? Add the fact that I look significantly younger than my age to the mix, and it's been a recipe for disaster and outright, blatantly-stated gender and age discrimination. In one interview, I was told with a pointed look that they were looking for a "mature" engineer. I very bluntly asked them if thirty-two was mature enough for them, which was met with much shock, recovery, followed by hemming and hawing by someone who clearly didn't read the full resume including the year I graduated college (1999, for the curious).

It's funny. I live in a culture with such very clear gender roles and ideas to the point where even so-called feminists can't think outside of them. I get told on a regular basis what is considered to be "male" versus "female", what is "appropriate" for my age and gender--and not all of this is coming from older generations, either. I hear it from those in mine and younger.

So what's a purple unicorn to do, and how do you get more women to read science fiction, become Computer Science majors, and watch Star Trek with their male boyfriends? The answer is this, my friends: BREED. Raise your daughters to have these sorts of things in their environment and don't point out anything as being "male" or "female". There's nothing "male" about RPGs, science fiction, or computers--and it's honestly bullshit stereotypes like that which cause a science fiction manuscript to be rejected when a female name pens it, but when the same one is submitted with an androgynous name to be accepted.

The cycle feeds itself. We need more women writing hard science fiction, going to conventions, becoming math and science majors, and stop pinning them to roles which we find to be more "appropriate" and give them talking Barbie dolls which inform them that "math is hard".

It's not hard. But dealing with batshit stereotypes about gender is. It makes me feel especially for those who are transitioning into their internal gender; I've been told by some trans women that they were expected to behave in a way they found insulting in order to "pass" and receive the appropriate help they needed to transition. That's seriously insane.

On the whole, I'm proud to be a purple unicorn. We exist!

Love & Magic,

\Please Note: I am blogging on behalf of the Boston Rape Crisis Center, and if you wish to sponsor me in any dollar amount--none is too small, every bit counts!--please go here: then email me your receipt at so I can keep a running total. If you don't know what to put down for the donation, just put "Adrianne Brennan - Blogathon".


Cairenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrianne Brennan said...

Hi Cairenn! Niiiiice! I really miss playing World of Warcraft, but found out the hard way that inactive account get hacked and then suspended, so I've given up on the pursuit. Glad to meet another purple unicorn. :D

Cairenn said...

Sing it sister! I, too, am a purple unicorn.

I helped found and continue to run multiple MMORPG websites (7 sites covering 8 games, at present), and more to the point, MMORPG UI-programming websites. I run a bunch of IRC chat rooms that support those sites. I even did some coding of my own. I'm not to the level you are on the coding front by any means, but I know all about being a female in a male-dominated world. And a highly visible one at that. One of the first, actually.

I watched every StarTrek series, from the when they were first aired (I'm 43), and all the movies. I adore Monty Python and Black Watch. My site rules are always based either on Monty Python or Lord of the Rings. I have the original Star Wars sound track on vinyl, with the accompanying movie poster. (BTW, the last 3 movies are crap :p ). Dr. Who is a hoot.

My daughter is 22. She just got back from her weekly D&D session, and is now signed on to her weekly on-line rpg (they're creating their own world, and the accompanying books). She's in the process of becoming an archeologist. She writes high fantasy based in ancient cultures (think Ancient Egypt, pre-feudal Japan, Ancient Rome and Greece, Myan, etc.)

We started gaming with EverQuest, play WoW, EQ2, LotRO and DDO.

I'm a purple unicorn too. It's a hard row we hoe, but someone has to do it.

(Sorry, now our comments are out of order, but I wanted to add some more. ;) )

Adrianne Brennan said...

Monty Python! <3 Now that's awesome. :D

And no apologies necessary, loving the detail and glad to hear from others of similar interests.

Phelan said...

I am a huge Dr Who fan. play rpg's, but am a writer for a living. no computer stuff sorry. Guess I am a mauve unicorn.

Adrianne Brennan said...

Mauve's a good color, and glad to meet another fan of the Doctor. :D

I also envy anyone who can write for a living. :)

Adrianne Brennan said...

Mauve's a good color, and glad to meet another fan of the Doctor. :D

I also envy anyone who can write for a living. :)

Cairenn said...

BTW, I can help you get your WoW account back, if you are still interested in playing. I have a few connections. Shhhh.

Adrianne Brennan said...

I think I will definitely be in touch with you about that, yes....

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