Dear Mansplainer, a footnote

* Dear Mansplainer,

Please don’t misunderstand what I just said / wrote / tweeted. I’m not a girl who doesn’t get any of this web code stuff. I’m a woman who is a member of the CSS Working Group. Who’s been teaching the industry ground-breaking insights into the nature of CSS, layout, graphic design, and the medium of the web full-time for the last three years. I’m working on new CSS, inventing things that don’t exist yet.

The other day, when Eric Meyer was introducing me on-stage, before a six-hour lecture on layout CSS that I gave at An Event Apart, he said he’d learned more about CSS from me in the last few years than from anyone else. Quite an honor. Gosh. Wow. Thank you Eric. Yes, this Eric Meyer.

In fact, I’m a highly-technical person, who’s mixed design with a deep mastery of nerdy tools my entire career. Which has spanned multiple industries. I wrote my first line of code in 1982 — learning BASIC, Fortran, and Turbo Pascal. In fact my skills in Turbo Pascal won me Computer Science Student of the Year in high school. I twice won (structural) engineering awards for building the strongest bridge in contests at Virginia Tech. The first video game I owned? Pong. Likely before you were born. I took Calculus I and II in college just for fun (and it was super fun). My professional career started almost three decades ago in print, where I learned pasteup and film-based techniques for offset printing right before the industry started switching to desktop publishing. Soon after, I started working in theater as a stagehand, an electrician and a carpenter. Once I’d gained enough experience, I designed for theater professionally — creating lighting, scenic and sound designs, expanding later to projection design. I designed computer-driven projection for an opera about Nikola Tesla which premiered in Belgrade, Serbia. I taught myself how to mix sound and mixed salsa bands. I taught myself double-entry bookkeeping because we needed someone to do the bookkeeping. I taught myself PageMaker, and then taught my boss at the print shop. I taught myself SuperPaint, Freehand, Illustrator, Photoshop, QuarkXpress, etc, and then taught all my friends who wanted to know. I mastered Final Cut Pro, Director, Flash ActionScript. I figured out how to install an AppleTalk network. This is how it used to be — other than one friend, there was no one else around who knew any of this stuff, and the web wasn’t robust enough yet to use to learn any of this stuff, so I taught myself. And then taught everyone around me.

Over twenty years, I sent thousands of jobs to a printing press, and designed or produced more than 400 shows. When the web came along in the mid-90s, I started designing and building websites, too, making hundreds of sites for artists, non-profits, and tiny businesses. I got an almost perfect score on the GRE Analytical Ability test, despite being out of school for ten years before taking it. I got straight As in graduate school, and finished first in my class with an MFA in film production, which included learning a lot of nerdy film camera technology. I’ve taught university classes in web design. And taught media arts to teenagers for several years. Once I moved to New York city, nearly ten years ago, I dove full-time into web design, working on big projects for big names, including CERN, Google, and the W3C. I’ve stood onstage teaching CSS, layout, and how to best make websites many, many times . And I think it sounds stupid to brag like this, but it’s so deeply frustrating to have people not even consider me a person who might really know something deep and complex, because of the assumptions you make about who I am before you know anything about me.

So, take a breath. And realize that just because I’m a) a woman, and b) willing to admit there’s still a lot of stuff I don’t know, doesn’t mean you know more than me about this CSS stuff, or that you should tell me How It Is™. So relax. Notice if you have a bias against me and take my statements of vulnerability to mean that I’m stupid. Because, well, I’m not. That bias is on you, not me. Or really, it’s on society, and forces that were started long before you or I were born. So, take a look at the baggage you might be carrying around, and see if there’s something you might want to let go. It’s really just about taking a moment to notice the bias, and not acting on it. And waking up again tomorrow and attempting to do the same thing again. Notice the bias. Ignore it. Act differently than sexism — or racism, or homophobia, or classism, or nationalism — tells you to. It’s not your fault. But it is your responsibility.

I like explaining how there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. I like learning in public. I think it helps us all. I just get tired of paying a price for this, when men assume I’m stupid, and try to explain things in a way that clearly shows that they don’t actually understand what I’m saying, or who I am saying it. So thus this defensive ranty braggy note. Which maybe will make it easier to flop around describing all the stuff I don’t know, being the person I actually am. I don’t like being bitter about the death by a thousand paper cuts stuff. So I’ll just leave this here. Where I can link to it periodically, as a footnote to other posts. And see how that works out.

Love, Jen.


Oh, in a similar vein, two months ago, I decided to institute an anti-mansplainer quiz. I think I’ll put it here.

If you would still like to tell me how wrong I am, from a place of deep conviction that I don’t know much, you may do so. But you first have to pass this quiz, without using the internet to look things up:

1) What is this diagram? Explain in detail why these colors are drawn in this order.

2) Pros and cons of PageMaker vs Quark vs InDesign. Which was better when? And why? Illustrator or Freehand? MacPaint or Superpaint?

3) Explain, from memory, why film projectors and TV ran at 23.97 and 29.97fps. Why such odd numbers? Why both? NTSC or PAL? Why?

4) Calculate how many lighting instruments you can plug into a 120v 20amp circuit. From memory. What else do you need?

5) Condenser or dynamic microphone? On which stand? Length of condenser? Wireless or not? Lav placement: head or chest, under or over clothing?

6) Web press or offset Press? Gang print or custom? What finished sizes are available if you gang? If you don’t? What size paper to run?

7) Coated or gloss paper? Matte? When? Dot gain? From memory, what point size is appropriate for which use? Which binding do you want, when?