28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Fourteen, The Other Date Blogger

In which Willard the blogger becomes Willard the blogged.

So, 14 Dates in. Halfway through the marathon.

My smug married friends often wonder out loud at me how I put up with it - along with pondering what's so wrong with me to still be single at 33, of course. My sister phoned me up the other day to tell me my problem. The real problem, she suspected, was that as well as being a journalist being off-putting, all the girls I date sound too thin, and my sister thought I should date more fat girls. "You're fat. Only a fat girl will want to go on more than one date with you," she said, only sort-of joking. The evil body fascist that she is.

It's actually an article of faith in my family that people below a size 14 are basically not to be trusted. Once, after I was hospitalised with bad lungs, my mother took a then-girlfriend out to dinner, to say thankyou for being generally brilliant about the whole situation. As soon as my mother picked me up from hospital, I could tell the (thin) girlfriend had made some dreadful faux-pas. I finally got it out of mum. "I took her to the nicest restaurant in town, told her to order whatever she liked. And do you know what she ordered? A SALAD. It was like she was calling me fat to my face."

Body shape aside, I must say having gone on 13 dates and not yet found "the one", I was starting to look at myself in the mirror and think "What is wrong with me?" Most of my friends who have really good experiences with online dating tell me things like "Oooh, I went on 8 or 9 dates with freakish monsters or nice but boring folk but then date 10 was my beloved wife/husband".

I was coming close to the point where I was beginning to wonder if I was the boring weirdo freak in other people's stories. It would be a wonderfully Lovecraftian twist ending to the blog, if nothing else. You already know the drill: mind-melting shock, a sudden congealing of all the apparent facts into a terrible revelation, and possibly most important, the shocking one-liner of truth revealed in italics.

Thus, when a twitter follower suggested I should go on a date with another date blogger, I quite fancied the idea of going on a date and maybe getting some feedback. So, I asked the lady out, to see what would happen I didn't really know what to expect - she's a journalist for Britain's most popular tabloid, and I read several posts on her blog, and she was absolutely brutal -in the way only a hardened tabloid hack can be - to some of the men she dated. To be fair, they did sound absolutely dreadful. At the end of the day, honesty was what I wanted. Was I a fat boring monster? I guessed I would hold up a text-based mirror to myself and find out. It seemed worth it even if that led to an article entitled WILLARD FOXTON: MY BORING FAT DATE SHAME.

We agreed to meet in a lovely wine bar near London bridge. It's the sort of poncy and pretentious place I really love, where they rotate their wine cellar to let you try out a different couple of bottles of wine each week. Each bottle comes with a "wine passport", telling you where it came from, what it's about and enabling you to order the same wine again, at a vastly inflated price. In the name of epicureanism, I usually try whatever the wine of the week is. It was at about the point I was reading that the wine I was drinking was "grown from a kind of grape enjoyed by the Romans, long thought extinct, but recently rediscovered growing under a florentine villa" that something struck me.

Bella, the other date blogger, had recently written a post despairing about the kind of pretentious guys she met on Guardian Soulmates. Men who said they liked astronomy & 17th century harpsichord music. Men who described their interests in terms like "I love traveling, but I'm no tourist. I've been known to land in New York for a week and never leave Harlem." I started to wonder "...Am I that guy?" as I sipped my Roman tribune approved wine. I realised that being on the other side of a date blog - of knowing you will be discussed and dissected in detail - is a weird experience. Was the fact I was blogging making it harder to meet "the one"?

Anyway, Bella arrived, and, no doubt to my sister's dismay, is very pretty, but no more than average sized. We got to talking. Within about five minutes of her arriving, we were laughing away, drinking more and more Roman wine and I totally forgot that I, or indeed, she was supposed to be writing it up. We compared notes on how dreadful the whole process of online dating was - I think she was slightly surprised that as a bloke, I got almost as many weird and sleazy messages as she did. Maybe we are more sensitive to this than most, but we lamented the fact that grammar and spelling had gone from a basic skill required in a person to something that had become a desirable trait.

She told me about a dreadful date she'd been on where she thought the bloke was being seriously weird and rude. I realised he was in fact trying to use the tips and tricks from nightmare misogynist dating guide "The Rules of the Game". I'd learned via my perma-tanned former housemate Higga, the particular kind of nasty cod psychology behind this book.

Essentially, it equips you with a limited toolkit of Derren Brown-esque mindtricks, which aim to pretty much fool women into sleeping with you. The promise the book makes is it will turn you into a kind of rapey Jedi, for only £9.99. It's fair to say I'm not a fan. It certainly hadn't worked on Bella, anyway. Maybe Murdoch's employees (minions?) are immune to Jedi mind tricks.

We both felt freed up by the fact we both had a ton of experience of online dating. The was no pretence, no "game" - we talked and talked, and got on to the thorny and dreadfully honest subject of why two clearly entertaining, fun, successful people were still single in our early thirties. We decided that two wrongs made a right, and shared our experiences of the exes that had left us in the wasteland of online dating. Unlike the last occasion I ended up talking about my baggage, I was able to tell the stories with a glint in my eye and a smile on my lips.

4 hours flipped by in what felt like five minutes, and we parted with a smile and a hug. Then, about a week later, her review of the date went up online. She'd had a good time; it seemed, I was a decent date after all (phew), but, sadly for Ms.Battle, I was sadly, not "the one".

So, at least that's one worry out of the way, but I'm still looking for Ms.Right. But with 14 down, and 14 to go, it's really starting to feel as if I can get through this - and I'm starting to realise, even if I don't find "the one" in 28 Dates, there are plenty of lovely women out there, going through the same sort of thing I am. I just have to find the right one.

Photograph: Getty Images

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.