I have been a professional computer programmer since 1998. In 2001, I moved to Silicon Valley, then wrote part of a book on the language that I use. In 2003, I took over the local user group for my language, which is now the equivalent to a meetup (which did not exist when the group started). I have lectured for that group repeatedly and there has never been any question that I attend that group because I am a programmer of that language. I started a second user group in a related language, where again, my credentials as a programmer were already known and thus wouldn't be questioned. That a woman is a programmer is apparently not the default assumption when a women goes to meetups for programming languages.
I've talked to other female programmers in the area, who have told me that when they go to meetups with male friends, people assume that they are the girlfriend who got dragged along to the meeting, but are not actually programmers. This is one of the reasons that they prefer the women's programming meetups, where this assumption is not made*. Until they told me about this, it had not even occurred to me that when I went to programming meetups with my meetup buddy that other attendees might assume that I showed up as a bored girlfriend who doesn’t even program.
I almost always go to programming meetups with my meetup buddy, who is a guy, and we've gone to meetups together for well over 6 years. I do know that during conversations with strangers at these meetups, people have reacted with surprise when I made a comment that denoted some programming expertise. I very occasionally got surprising questions that I didn't understand, like "is this your boyfriend?" I just didn't occur to me why people would be surprised that I was at a programming user group as an experienced programmer. Having had this pointed out by other women, I look back at some things that confused me that now make sense.
But now I am dating my meetup buddy. This morning, while I was getting dressed, he told me about two meetups that he has scheduled for this week, both for programming languages that I'm interested in. I went to meetup to sign up but then I realized… if I show up to a meetup where people don't know us and there is PDA, are they going to assume that I am unqualified to be there? In one case, the group leader is someone who knows me and would correct anyone who expressed that notion around him. But I don't know anyone else signed up for the other meetup and I'm concerned that people will think that because I am with my boyfriend, that I am not a programmer.
Whether it's reasonable or not, I feel like I have to change the way that I act towards my boyfriend at programming events in order to be taken seriously as a programmer. Feeling like I have to do that is pretty messed up but that doesn't change that it's the situation that I'm in and the situation that I have to deal with.
How messed up is that?
*There are guys who go to the women's programming meetups to pick up chicks or to teach us programming cause we totes need manly help with that, leading to as assumption that these are the reasons that all male attendees have attended. This can drive allies away even if they understand why people behave oddly when men show up. That said, this assumption is made about men only when they attend programming groups specifically designated as women's groups. Bad assumptions are made about women when they attend gender-neutral groups, on the assumption that women aren't programmers or if they are, they aren’t "serious enough programmers: to go to meetups about programming languages.