I have a pair of pants made of an athletic, greyish-green material, with ankle cuffs. If they sound unseemly, it’s because they are, so I call these my “ugly pants” and I usually wear them over leggings when I’m cold. I could call them a less insulting name, but I delight in the idea that I can wear ugliness, in the same way as I can wear maroon or leather. It’s a way to own beauty.

Society is weird about beauty

One of my most hated marketing initiatives is Dove’s campaign for fake beauty. This is the series of ads where a corporation declares that EVERYONE MUST BE BEAUTIFUL and then preys on women’s insecurities about feeling sub-beautiful, just like every other corporation. The problem is that people of average looks are not beautiful (in the model sense), in the same way that people of average intelligence are not geniuses.

And who cares? Being average in appearance, intelligence, or any other single trait does not doom us to uselessness or unhappy lives.

Beauty is particularly weird because society assumes it’s a fixed trait and then does a lot of judging. Being non-beautiful becomes hard because it’s easy to feel worthless, while being beautiful becomes hard because it becomes all people notice. The only answer is to sneer at beauty as a trait and own it like clothing.

In reality, human beauty is not some transcendent, immutable quality; rather, it’s mundane and adjustable. Anyone can significantly alter their level of attractiveness with clothing, makeup, hair, or posture. And those are just instantaneous changes – long-term, we can also change our diets, adopt exercise regimes, or visit plastic surgeons.

The realization that I could adjust my attractiveness freed me from beauty. That’s why I love my ugly pants!

Being female is great! And DevBootcamp is a great place to be female. Rarely have I been in places where it’s difficult to be female, specifically, but this environment is significantly above average in terms of gender issue awareness. We have open discussions about gender and people seem to embrace their stereotypically opposite-gender traits more often than I see in the rest of the world. Early on, our instructor shared a self-aware story about how he noticed himself falling into some gender stereotypes at a previous workplace – this meant a lot to me to hear from a male perspective.

There are some ways that I still see gender as an issue. 

In this kind of learning environment, it is apparent that men are often more willing to mention concepts confidently in passing, even if they don’t really understand the concept. There have been so many situations with a number of guys where the conversation goes like this:

Guy: “Oh yes, blah blah technology x is really good for that blah blah”

Me: “What is technology x?”

Guy: “I’m not quite sure, it’s just something I heard someone else talking about.”

It’s weird to me, because rarely would I mention something with an opinion when I know I don’t understand the topic. I don’t think it’s the fault of men (or anyone who does this), it’s really just that our society hasn’t come to terms with how to discuss uncertainty and puts pressure on people to feign confidence. More on that some other time.

On a related note, men are also more often seen as people who can answer one-time questions, probably because they tend to give more assertive answers than I would, even if I have the same amount of knowledge, whereas I tend to answer with what I know and then also mention what I’m not sure of that might be useful to look into.

My response to gender awareness does make me do some weird stuff.

I am inclined to not do “feminine” stuff – like be the person who cleans up the kitchen for other people or talk about how much I love expensive shoes. I’ve also developed a reputation for hating CSS and front end, which is true, I do hate the feeling of moving boxes around (I am actually okay with the instances where I learn nuances about how elements tend to behave and why they’re designed that way). However, I think I’ve also been more vocal about it than I normally would be towards something I mostly find boring. If I’m honest with myself, this might be because I don’t want women in general to be seen as leaning towards softer design aspects of programming rather than data-heavy back end stuff. But on the other hand, it might be feeding into stereotypes of women being overly emotional; I don’t believe anyone would count me as being overly emotional, though, so it doesn’t feel like a risk to me.

This doesn’t apply to all men, but it is surprising how little men think about women’s issues. I guess it is reasonable, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I think about poverty, race issues, LGBT issues much more than men here seem to have thought about women’s issues. However, since I’m Asian-American and female, it might be that I’ve been pushed to think more about minority issues in general.

Anyway, on the other hand, men here are absolutely willing to talk about women’s issues. I’ve had conversations with several people where i spout my thinking of “women’s issues are men’s issues don’t you want men to be able to play with dolls if they want to.” I’ve found this to be a great thing about how men are raised in the American society (note – not a way that men ARE, just how they are usually trained by society) – they’re happy to have heated arguments with you on whatever touchy subject where both parties say politically incorrect things and will not hesitate to call you out on any details, but there’s no animosity outside of that conversation.

Conclusion – being female. It’s good. It’s good here.