Be bold

I have a tattoo of a teacup on my arm. This tends to confuse people (unless they’ve seen how much tea I drink). There is HTML code on this teacup – deprecated, incomplete code on an already broken teacup. This probably adds to the confusion, though no one has called me on the incomplete nature (no one code reviews appendages I guess!).

The imagery of the teacup is both a nod to my mother (that tea addiction is hereditary) and a pop culture reference, with a side of reference to kintsukuroi (a rather tempting concept to any of us with a few cracks).

The HTML however … having a code tattoo likely makes sense on its own, given the life & career path I have chosen. But as for the specific code, that deprecated incomplete little snippet? That actually comes down not to a web design story, but to an old English fairy tale called Mr. Fox.

In this story a young lady becomes suspicious of her fiancé, because he won’t invite her home. So one day when he’s away on business, she sneaks over – to find out surprise! he’s actually got a lot of skeletons in his closet, quite literally. And so she escapes a horrible fate awaiting her (for this is a variant of the Bluebeard legend, which is partially how that pop culture imagery ended up weaving itself in).

But the part of the story that has always stands out to me is from when she sneaks into his house. There’s warning signs along her path (which probably should have been her first clue, as I doubt that’s normal design aesthetic even in gothic England).

Be bold, be bold, the first sign tells her, urging her on.

And then she hits the next. Be bold, be bold … but not too bold.

Turn back, foolish girl. Why do you dare?

I used to be very shy.

I tell people this and often get weird looks. Saying I do not tend to come across as shy might be an understatement.

But that’s the thing. Quiet and shy girl? In a male dominated, highly skewed industry? It was an uphill battle, and the advice rolled in constantly: you need to speak up. No one is going to listen to you if you don’t. You seem weak. Be one of the boys, get their attention, be forceful, it’s the only way.

Be bold. Be bold.
(And you follow instructions.)

Then it starts. Do you have to be so loud? That’s not what (nice) girls do. You’re abrasive. People are going to think you’re a bitch. They find you scary.

But not too bold, after all.
(You can’t win – you followed the rules, you did what you were told was needed, and now it’s apparently wrong?)

Problem is, this is who you are now. You’ve learned to say fuck it, you’ve learned to fight, and sometimes it’s still bravado, but a lot of time it isn’t and no one said to include an off switch until after.

Turn back, foolish girl, why do you dare?

I have a passion for seeing more women in this industry. But every time I hear about the latest push against it – whether it be a full shitstorm of hatred or a small story of teacher being a dick to a female programming student, I have a moment where I worry: am I wrong to encourage this? Should I tell them to turn back?

A couple of years ago I got lucky enough to have a few young women volunteering under me for a couple of days. They were all brilliant, but one in particular was so smart and sharp and inspiringly so that I couldn’t resist the unsolicited, uncontrolled advice that came out.

Be sassy. Give em hell.
(Be oh so very bold)

I knew her bosses. Great guys who I respect & who I am privileged to know. Never have had any issues with them, would never expect to, knew they’d treat her well no matter what.

Why, they laughed, would you tell her to sass us?

Because I had to, I told them.
Because she has to, I didn’t say.

Because there’s a reason the teacup breaks where it does (a reminder. a promise.)

Fuck not too bold.

Also published on Medium.

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