The Republic of Korea. Once dubbed ‘the land of morning calm’, is now miles away from that image. Korea of 2017 (and by Korea I mean it’s capital city, Seoul) is anything but calm. Aspiring technology and trade center of Asia, it’s a city that never sleeps, both figuratively and literally. At the same time, it’s still a place where it is tough to be a woman, let alone a woman developer. Patriarchy, top-down system and sexual-imaging of women in media are just the beginning of what a girl must go through every day. The recent political turmoil has not helped the already not the general violence and abuse towards women here.
Yes, these statistics may be a tad bit over dramatic, and it’s not like women are scared of going out on the streets (in fact, Seoul is probably much safer than an average American or European city. But still I recommend reading up on the country’s gender issues). But as much as Korea holds a high spot, when it comes to proportion of female developers, most of them are a) for decoration (SMEs get extra funding if they have female employees on their technical team) b) not on management positions, blocked by the glass ceiling (and usually without a permanent contract), c) given typical ‘girly’ tasks, like front-end or testing.
‘Girls can’t keep up in coding’, ‘Computer stuff is not for women’, ‘Python is easy, so there is a lot of girls doing it’, ‘Wow! It’s my first time seeing a girl programmer!’, ‘Pfff… You are a girl, how can you be a programmer?’, ‘Women cannot possibly learn proper backend programming. They should just sit in service centers and talk to clients’
The above are all real remarks members have heard again and again. The biggest compliment a girl can receive from her seniors is ‘In my eyes, you are not a girl’. It’s like saying ‘you are good enough to be really part of our team’. And there is still little support to overcome this way of thinking from the male-dominated developer community. A while ago I, a total Python-greenie, went for a meetup organized by one of the groups. Not only was I stared up and down as the only girl in the room, I was also told to google myself a tutorial and ask questions if I cannot understand something (FYI. It was a total beginner group!). I was then seated next to two guys who were discussing techniques of picking up girls in bars. I am a seasoned participant of a very male industry (telecommunications), and such talk is really water off the duck’s back for me. But I can very well imagine how uncomfortable and humiliated a younger, less accustomed girl would feel. And so girls do avoid going to such meetups, because why would one want to put oneself in such an awkward spotlight?
But just like the recent peaceful revolt of the society against corrupted and demoralized authorities, there is hope in Korean developer scene. More and more events and groups are looking more seriously at various minorities, and this includes women. Especially this year an active role of promoting ‘feminism’ (this term is so disputed… I guess ‘women empowerment’ would be better) has fallen onto Django Girls Seoul.
In theory that’s what we are supposed to do: facilitate teaching Django and Python to people, namely girls, and any other social minorities, who don’t feel very welcome at regular coding meetups. But it’s turning out to be much more than this. Our Slack community has become not only a place where you can ask the ‘silliest’ questions (there are no silly questions, though!) without feeling like a ‘stupid girl’ about it, but also an information board, a support group, place where finally you can be… you. And it’s not only young women that find safe haven here: we have a representation of high schoolers (girls and boys) and hm… ‘older’ members (meaning they are 35+ years old). For our most recent edition of 6-week study group program (Python, Django), designed for 7~8 participants (mostly due to location restrictions)…. over 140 people signed up. Among them were not only students, young professionals or already wannabe-programmers but also housewives, working moms and people who reached that eerie point of their life where they don’t really know what to do next. And a free coding study group seems to be a good excuse as any to change out pyjamas and go out of the house.
Sure, there are other women-oriented meet-ups, but either they are not very regular (Women Techmakers) or have been put on hold due to members’ other professional and personal engagements (Geek Girl Carrots, Pyladies). So in a sense, Django Girls has become temporarily (we hope!) the main ‘feminist’ representation on Korea’s developer community scene.
We are planning a one day workshop for June, and already one of the biggest concerns is how to meet such a big demand with the limited resources we have. It will require some logistical adjustments, networking magic and great patience, but we believe we will have yet another amazing event, which people will leave all smiles about accomplishing something they thought they wouldn’t be able to do.
I have been in Korea for the last 8 years and have seen the society and social mentality change by leaps. It’s still a long and windy ahead, but groups like ours help things along the way. A lot of you may not be aware of what is going on in this small country, stuck somewhere East of China, West of Japan, but there are some big, revolutionary changes ahead of the Korean people. Breaking up with the old system, looking to introduce new standards and practices into the society is no easy challenge. But as long as there are groups like Django Girls, who may not have a political lobbying power, but can offer a shoulder to cry on, I remain hopeful for this country and its people. And most importantly for it’s strong and beautiful women.
<This text was inspired by an amazing presentation by my Django Girls Seoul co-organizer, Jiyoung Hwang, that she delivered during Women Techmakers Korea 2017 event. I would like to thank her and our delightful community members because they are the best! 우리 아자아자 화이팅~~>
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