I Don't Belong Here

Tags: community

This is a reworking of something I posted on Facebook a few days ago. I don’t post on Facebook very often, and when I do it is usually because some bad crap happened elsewhere and I need a private space to vent about it and get sympathy from my family and friends who are there. I finally needed to lay out enough back story for them that my persistent belief that I do not belong in Haskell, it was a mistake to learn Haskell, I cannot take this much longer would start to be coherent to them.

I started learning Haskell in 2014, very reluctantly, from Chris Allen, with whom I also wrote Haskell Programming from First Principles. I’m pretty proud of the work I did on that, but I’m still hesitant to stick around Haskellandia.

Hi, I’m Julie

And I’m More Than the Sum of my Relationships with Various Men

I’m going to summarize here because the details are tedious. I found out quickly that there is a contingent of people around Haskell and Clojure and FP who have very strong (and mostly justified) dislike of my former coauthor. They have taken their dislike of him out on me in numerous ways. I have continued to believe that eventually, if I write enough and work hard enough, I will have my own reputation here and it will be strong enough to override those associations.

I am frequently confronted by people who think that my coauthor has done the vast majority of the work on our book and that I’m sort of a glorified secretary – or, worse, that he only put my name on the cover to thwart the people in the community who think he’s a misogynist. I still run into people who don’t even know the book has two authors, and I go around and pipe up to get my name recognized. Certainly no one else is going to do that for me.

Many people in the community focus on the fact that when I started learning Haskell, I was a 40-year-old housewife, and believe that whatever I did contribute to the book mostly came from my absolute beginner’s perspective on Haskell. To be fair, that did help; I asked a lot of questions that experienced Haskellers just don’t ask. But I also wrote – prose and code and exercises even.

Meanwhile I also had to learn how to do things like build and deploy our web site, had to read extensively because it was all new to me, had to learn me some git. You know the old saw about how women do the same thing as men except backwards and in heels? It_Me_IRL.

PEOPLE: I have a master’s degree in linguistics, and I have a ton of writing experience. I have also been a teacher for most of my adult life, having taught English composition, ESL, philosophy, and medical transcription. (The last one is a long story.) And homeschooling my two kids. Most of this I have said before, but still somehow people think that all the pedagogical insight and good writing came from my coauthor? Yeah, no, sorry. That book very much depended on skills I brought to it.

I never really had impostor syndrome until I suddenly found myself surrounded by people who, one way or another, believe I’m a fraud or treated me like the important things about me are my (male) coauthor and my status as a housewife.

I haven’t, for what it’s worth, seen my former coauthor’s other students or people who work with him get treated this way. Perhaps they will correct me if I’m wrong. My defaults, having come from academic settings in which no one treated me like a fraud, are set so that I do not automatically suspect sexism. But, I don’t know, sometimes it starts to look that way.

How Learning Haskell Became a Threat to My Physical Safety

Anyway, as it turns out, a lot of the people who dislike my coauthor and have harassed me because of him, also strongly disapproved of the LambdaConf decisions last year. Some of the people who thought I was essentially my coauthor’s puppet thought he was behind our decision to go on sponsoring the conference.

Others took a different route and decided that I am much more to blame than my coauthor. They already blamed me for “bro-enabling” for being associated with him, but plot twist now I’m the bro.

Some of these people openly endorse the idea that I am a Nazi, a white supremacist, a danger and threat to “the community,” a predator. They think that endorsing that view and discrediting the book and my teaching efforts and the other work I do will make the community safer for diversity. I’m not going to link to these people but they’re easy enough to find if you want to.

When the whole thing was happening last year, I had threats of violence against me and my children. My last name is unique; I am easy to find; my kids are easy to find. How serious are these threats? Gah, who knows, they’re programmers, they are unlikely to do anything like that in reality, but am I going to take my kids around and find out? Hell no.

Lately, a lot of people are passionately in favor of punching Nazis. I have been confronting the knowledge that a) some people I will meet at tech conferences deeply believe I’m a Nazi and b) they think punching Nazis is righteous. So…by the transitive property… The ones who don’t believe I’m a Nazi are shocked when I point out that they just justified people who do think I’m a Nazi hitting me at a tech conference.

And, no, sorry, your Code of Conduct isn’t going to stop them if they want to do it badly enough.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think someone is going to punch me at BayHac, because I think they’re all talk. But I think it’s a foolish thing to do as the only woman at an event surrounded by men to ignore open threats of violence. Maybe it’s always a foolish idea, whether or not you’re a woman, I don’t know. Considering people have already threatened violence against me personally (not just random Nazis they will never meet), by the transitive fucking property, I am more than a little concerned.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

I’m not naming names here because it isn’t a question of getting rid of this one guy or that one bro and then everything will be cool. The list of names of everyone who has attacked me, publicly or privately and very often solely because of their opinions of my coauthor, would be very long, and probably most of them are not bad people deep down. But I ask myself every day if the project of bringing new people into this community is a good thing to be doing.

In one of my periodic feelings that I should go and be done with it, I tweeted something about quitting Haskell. Several months later, a friend made a comment about how when he saw that, he felt sad about the self-perpetuating monoculture in programming. If there is such a monoculture and you do think it’s a problem, then you should be asking yourself what behaviors and mechanisms perpetuate it and try to stop participating in them. That includes attacking people on Twitter whom you don’t even know just because they’re associated with someone you don’t like.

I persist at Haskell because I like Haskell itself, because of the few good, supportive friends I have made here, and because I’m stubborn as all hell. I also have noticed a lot of people really want to learn Haskell, and I like to teach this thing that I love, and if I may be so immodest, I think I’m pretty good at it.

But when I say I don’t feel welcome here, that I don’t belong here, that this “community” is hostile, this is what I’m talking about.


Last night after Haskell meetup, several of us went out for a beer, as we often do. One of the men – let’s call him K – wanted to make the argument that tweeting complaints about something is abusive to people who like that thing, even if the tweets are directed at no one in particular and do not even @-mention anyone. Another man – we’ll call him “friend” – and I argued that this is not abusive and that we should save strong words like abusive for things that are more serious and, generally, for things done with the intent to hurt.

From the way K was acting in the conversation, it was clear – not just to me, but to friend and the other men observing the conversation – that K was treating me differently from friend who was arguing the same thing I was; as an example, even though I was displaying less emotion than friend was (gesturing less, not raising my voice), K told me he was ignoring me because of my “theatrics.” Putting that together with the way K has acted in the past at meetups, it became the consensus that he’s, ok, yeah, we hate to admit this, but he’s a sexist.

After K left, friend suggested K probably wouldn’t return to meetups because of this conversation. I smiled. Friend said I shouldn’t smile about that, as it meant that the conversation had gone badly. The conversation, from my perspective, was bound to go badly, because people who think they are being abused simply because someone somewhere doesn’t like the thing they like and has the audacity to gripe about it to no one in particular are not, prima facie, reasonable people.

Friend posited that sexism like K’s isn’t actionable. There is no recourse. He doesn’t recognize that he is; he will not be convinced of it. No reasonable argument I can make is going to make him see it because his sexist biases are already such that no argument from a woman is reasonable and any such argument from another man is going to be taken as “political correctness” or “white knighting.”

So, I had to ask friend, who is not white, and another friend (also male, also not white, also in agreement that K is a sexist): it may not be actionable, but you want me to not be happy that he may not come back to the meetups that I teach and lead – but if he were racist in the same nonactionable but nonetheless degrading ways, would you want him to come back? Would you want to teach him or work with him or engage him again in conversation?

They agreed: hell no.

So then why should I have to put up with it?

Yet I do. Very few men are empathetic enough (having never been women) to see when another man is being sexist, even if they themselves are not sexist. Even less are they going to treat it as unacceptable.

If you like my writing and are interested in learning beginner-to-intermediate Haskell, take a look at my first book.