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Context: male, female, or N/A (Tested)

On June 6, 2010, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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If you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet that you are either male or female.

But maybe you’re reading this at work right now and feel gender neutral.  After all, gender is irrelevant in testing.

Or is it?

You could be testing a website tailored to women or acting out a male persona as you test an e-survey about your last prostate exam.

But let’s say you’re testing a password login for an e-commerce site with the standard bag of tricks for test ideas: cross-site scripting, SQL injection, embedded HTML, super long passwords to exploit a buffer overflow.  In that case, you may be asexual, gender neutral, and think that ideas are ideas regardless of sex.

But let’s say you do this testing thing very well and have garnered a bit of a name for yourself.  You get an award for it, public recognition, accolades, blog mentions, a testimonial dinner in your honor.  Oh, and to qualify for this great honor, it was required that you be female.

Now how does it feel? Your ideas were great, but better that you’re a woman!

I doubt a condescending tone was the intent of the organizers of “Women In Agile“.  I’m sure they felt there are not enough women in testing — though it’s unclear how they calculate such a thing — and this is their way of promoting diversity, or in their words: “give a voice to this group and promote the empowerment of women in agile teams.”

I hadn’t realized women were “underpowered” and voiceless, but maybe I’m nieve (wouldn’t be the first time).  Regardless, they’re going to find ways to empower women. I’m not included in that just because of my gender.  Apparently, my gender already makes me empowered enough not to need outside help.  In fact, if there was a Men in Agile org, there would be an outcry, right? 

I would be mad about this female bias if I felt I needed empowerment from an outside source.  Maybe I have it made because I’m a man, but I prefer to believe it’s because I have found ways to develop my own power. Just because I’m a man doesn’t mean the way has been paved for me.  If it was, I must have missed the secret meeting.

But what really struck me about the Women in Agile program was this: “[Women’s] stories will describe how embracing the diverse opinions, experiences and special perspectives of women can and does make agile teams and projects better.”

I felt that not only was sexist but would even be condescending to some women testers I know.  I asked some and they confirmed that.  And that’s why I felt justified in reacting strongly on Twitter. The WIA says just because you are female, you have a “special perspective”, but special in what context? Any context? I suppose women would have a special perspective about prostate cancer, but wouldn’t I have a special perspective about uterine cancer?

With this, I tweeted about the WIA Friday night and it kicked off a conversation between Lanette Creamer and James. (Lanette has since posted about this topic).  Marlena Compton joined in and it escalated. After a few tweets, she suddenly (and oddly) condemned the Context-Driven philosophy.

A follower supported her, tweeting “Context-Driven School implodes”, referencing the debate between Marlena and James, tagging Marlena’s tweet that the Context-Driven School was “sexist bullshit.”

Not sure how she made that leap. I’ve met Marlena, I’ve read her smart and thoughtful posts about data visualization and other technical topics. She’s never been one to like Twitter debates, but I was disappointed about how much anger she had so fast, deciding to condemn an entire testing philosophy after a few tweets with one of its founders — especially on a subject that was all about context — in this case, the context of gender in testing.

Though Marlena might have imploded that night, the Context-Driven School did not.  It was stronger and more affirming to me because gender may indeed have an important context in testing.

Marlena has since written a blog saying: “So if you are among those who think we all ought to be wearing badges announcing how great it is that we fit some cultural stereotype/straightjacket, I hope you take some time to rethink that stance.”

I was going to agree, but then I remembered Louann Brizendine’s two books: “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain.”  In the latter, she writes: “scientists have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal, and functional brain differences between women and men.  We’ve learned that men and women have different brain sensitivities to stress and conflict. They use different brain areas and circuits to solve problems, process language, experience and store the same strong emotion.  Women may remember the smallest details of their first dates, and their biggest fights, while their husbands barely remember that these things happened.  Brain structure and chemistry have everything to do why this is so.”

With that, maybe we do need a “Women in Agile” organization.  Maybe women do have “special perspectives” by virtue of having something Brizendine calls a “female brain.” Should they be rewarded for that perspective, though? I still don’t think so.

Just when I was confused on which side of the issue I was on, Context came in to clarify it.  Actually, Context and Maura van der Linden, to be exact.  I’ve known Maura for years and I forgot how much I respect her judgment.  Forget my gender-neutral password security testing example above — Maura happens to *be* a security testing expert (author of the extremely useful “Testing Code Security“)!  But it was her most recent blog that clarified it for me:

“When I think of any group called “Women in X”, I immediately try to figure out what the purpose of the group is. I am never a fan of any type of diversity quotas or rules. But I consider that there are HUGE numbers of ways to be different from another person. Things like skillsets, experience, interest, hobbies, etc. Being a female is a part of my makeup but it’s only a small part of the puzzle. I’m more likely to consider myself an Agile tester or a security tester than I am a female tester because I don’t think being female is a major point I bring to the table.”

I don’t think being male is a major piece I bring to the table, but in the right context, it could be meaningful.  I just don’t want that meaning to qualify me in any way for rewards or recognition.

 

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