Bringing Balance to the Force: The Women of Star Wars Episode VII

This is a guest post by Lydia Huxley, a writer who loves playing music or a musician who loves writing. Is there a difference?

Upon looking at the recently-released theatrical poster for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, one character stands out more than the others. Part of it is because she’s located at the very middle of the poster: a place typically reserved for the star. Part of it is because she is – well …a she. Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, is the first woman to fill such a spot in the previously male-dominated franchise. In the previous six films there have been a total of two women in major roles: Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Natalie Portman as Padmé. And these are supporting roles!

Ridley is not the only actress to land a major role for the latest installment of the sci-fi series. She will be joined by Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, Lupita Nyong’o voicing and motion capturing Maz Kanata, and Carrie Fisher returning as Princess Leia. With the exception of Leia, almost nothing is known about these characters, but all four appear on the theatrical poster so it’s a safe bet that they will be integral to the plot. Four women in major roles? In one movie? That’s double the number in the previous two trilogies combined.

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Singin’ bye bye Miss Linkspammy Pie

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The linkspam really tied the room together (10 November 2015)

Starting this roundup with memorials to open source contributor Telsa Gwynne:

  • In Memory of Telsa Gwynne | GNOME: “Telsa was a long-time GNOME contributor who began by contributing to Welsh translations. She participated in the bug squad, managing bugs in the GNOME 2 code and documentation, and she served on the release team. She was heavily involved in GNOME, and served on the Board of Directors in 2002.”
  • Remembering Telsa Gwynne | “Telsa was also a critical inspiration to me as an activist: in the early 2000s (and still) it was hugely controversial to either believe that open source communities could still work if they were more civil (the entire LinuxChix project was partly an experiment with that), and even more so to insist that they should be. Telsa is the earliest person I can think of who stood up in an open source development community and asked it to change its norms in the direction of civility. I don’t know how heavily her online harassment experiences played a part in her departing Free Software and some online communities — I hope it wasn’t a large part — but I’m sorry it happened and I’m angry. Telsa was a brilliant and kind and strong person, and I am sorrier than I can say that we will never be in contact again.”
  • In Memory of Telsa Gwynne | Fellowship of FSFE: “Telsa was also one of our early volunteers for the Free Software Foundation Europe, lending her keen eye as proofreader to much of our English material, and supporting our early activities in the UK. For myself though, I’ll mostly remember the laughs we shared. One, where in 1999, we discovered people searching Google for “wrestling teams without clothes on” and landing on her blog.”

Other links:

  • Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company did NOT have a good experience in Powder House Park | davis_square: “Erin Butcher, artistic director of Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company, posted a long essay to Facebook about her experience producing The Winter’s Tale outdoors in Powder House Park this summer. I am reposting it here with her permission, because we live here and this shouldn’t be happening to people in our community.”
  • The Call of the Sad Whelkfins: The Continued Relevance of How To Suppress Women’s Writing | Uncanny Magazine: “For the past week, Natalie Luhrs and I had been discussing the book in the context of the ongoing fight for the soul of the science fiction community, most recently played out in the failed attempt to take over the Hugo Awards. In HTSWW, Russ uses an alien species called the “whelk–finned Glotolog” to illustrate the methods by which human cultures control women’s writing without direct censorship (4). These days, the tactics the so–called “sad puppies” use to paint themselves as the true heirs of science fiction, bravely holding the line against the invading masses, are the very same tactics Joanna Russ ascribed to the whelk–finned Glotolog in 1983.”
  • Assistive Technology by People with Disabilities, Part 1: Introducing Team Free to Pee | Model View Culture: “Very often, specialized companies create assistive technology with little input from actual users with disabilities. These products are usually institutional in look and feel, overpriced, and only reimbursable by insurance. People with disabilities have limited selection and cannot repair or replace parts independently. Upending this relationship between manufacturers and people with disabilities, makeathons and other similar activities can incrementally disrupt this power dynamic.”
  • Girl Gamers Episode 2: Why Do Women Make Games? | Fusion: “How do you start making games? From writing a graduate school term paper on public bathrooms to animating dress up dolls, this generation of creators got their start in surprisingly simple ways. In the second episode of Fusion’s five-part digital series Girl Gamers, we explore what motivated these developers to start designing their own games.”

Analyzing How “Hamilton” Appeals to Geek Feminists

“History is the trade secret of science fiction” — that quote’s attributed to me, but I think I got it from Asimov.

Ken MacLeod, “Working the Wet End” interview, The Human Front Plus…, 2013, PM Press

For the past several weeks I’ve listened several times to the cast recording of the new Broadway musical Hamilton, and I’m only one of many; my circles of fandom have fallen in love with it and it’s the most-requested and most-offered fandom in this year’s Yuletide fanfic exchange. I’m quickly summing up some thoughts not just on what makes Hamilton good, but what makes it so astonishingly appealing to my circle of feminist friends who also adore reading speculative fiction, and who don’t generally find their tastes running to Broadway musicals.
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Nobody has ever escaped from Linkspam 17 (03 November 2015)

  • Thought on Diversity Part 2. Why Diversity is Difficult. | Medium: “I left that meeting wondering how I could, in good conscience, continue to work in an organization where the Sr. VP of Engineering could see himself as a technology visionary and be so unaware of this blind spot in his understanding of diversity. Leadership keeps citing the pipeline when the data does not support it. They continue to churn out ethnic and racial minorities and women but still claim a commitment to diversity.”
  • Rise of the Bias Busters: How Unconscious Bias Became Silicon Valley’s Newest Target | Forbes: “The central contradiction of hidden bias training is that you can’t train something you can’t control. The classes suggest that you can become more objective just by learning about and thinking about your unconscious biases, but it’s not that easy. “Understanding implicit bias does not actually provide you the tools to do something about it,” said Greenwald, the University of Washington psychologist. He thinks there may be another reason driving companies to do trainings: publicity. “Perhaps the main value of this training to Google and Facebook is to put a desirable appearance on their personnel activities by indicating their (commendable) awareness of problems and implying that they’re doing something to effectively address the problems,” he wrote in an e-mail.”
  • Fake Cover Letters Expose Discrimination Against Disabled | New York Times: “Employers appear to discriminate against well-qualified job candidates who have a disability, researchers at Rutgers and Syracuse universities have concluded. The researchers, who sent résumés and cover letters on behalf of fictitious candidates for thousands of accounting jobs, found that employers expressed interest in candidates who disclosed a disability about 26 percent less frequently than in candidates who did not.”
  • Anonymous sexism in paleoanthropology | john hawks weblog: “There is absolutely nothing strange about the top candidates with archaeological experience being all women, because our students are mostly women. How could a senior scientist be oblivious to this reality? One reason is that some departments have such a history of sexism and harassment that other scientists advise women students to avoid them like the plague. Some scholars don’t have students who are women because they are driving women away.”
  • Why SXSW Cancelled a Panel on Digital Harassment | Autostraddle: “I asked Caroline if she and her panelists were going to accept the offer to be a part of SXSW’s Harassment Summit, and she said they were on the fence. I asked what would have to change about the offer to convince them to accept it, and she responded: “Talks of security, where and how our panel will participate, and Save Point being moved back to its regularly scheduled programming in SXSW. It’s a journalism panel, put it where people who are seeking digital journalism will find it.” I clarified. You mean SXSW wants to include Save Point in an anti-harassment lineup? To which Caroline simply replied, “Yeah.””
  • Part 1: Actually, Inside Out’s Gender Norms Are A Major Problem Turning Inside Out Upside Down | Satricalifragilistic: (Link from August) “The perception that father’s careers are central in families affects women’s professional advancement both on the family and work fronts — and Inside Out’s San Francisco setting in particular reinforces some ugly sexist patterns in the tech industry.”

Multi-Linkspam Marketing (30 October 2015)

UK cover for Sorcerer to the Crown

Book Club: “Sorcerer to the Crown”, postcolonial wish fulfillment, and impulsive women

The votes came in and we decided to read Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. It’s a fast-moving period fantasy with a bunch of women and people of color, and it’s the first novel by this British-Malaysian author. Come for the dragons and stay for the social justice, or vice versa! You can read the first chapter for free online. Spoilers under the cut!

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Eat, Pray, Linkspam (20 October 2015)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The Paradox of Meritocracy

We try to focus new material here at Geek Feminism, but I was just reading this study entitled “The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations” by Castilla and Bernard, and I think it’s worth highlighting despite being from 2010. (Warning: it is also based on a gender binary model; those of you who seeking more nuanced gender-based research may want to give this one a miss.)

To give you an idea of what’s in this study, here’s a screenshot of the one page that I think contains a lot of highlights:

Page 26 of the study "The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations"

Page 26 of the study “The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations”

For those who cannot see the image, there’s a few important things in there. I’ll list them here in reverse order vs what you see on that page as I think it tells a more clear story of the paper:

Two quotes that I’ve highlighted:

This article advanced research on this question by empirically testing, for the first time in the literature, whether certain management efforts to promote meritocracy in the workplace may have the causal effect of increasing ascriptive bias


Although these efforts by employers are aimed at improving equal opportunity and linking merit to employees’ careers, recent empirical studies have found that workplace disparities persist

There is also a graph which shows that with their “non-meritocratic condition” (a “control” situation where meritocracy and manager choice were not emphasized) bonuses were fairly similar for men and women but when meritocracy was emphasized in the organization, men received much higher bonuses on average.

In short, the study shows that emphasizing meritocracy appears to increase a tendency to reward men, rather than actually rewarding contributors based on merit. Pretty awkward. Emphasizing manager choice, strangely, resulted in advantaging women over men (possibly due to over-correction?), which is awkward in a different way. But either way, it seems like talking in terms of meritocracy probably makes the choices less meritocratic, and that’s a serious problem if you were hoping that meritocracy would eventually solve your diversity issues.

There’s actually a lot of interesting stuff in there, but I’d like to encourage folk to read the paper themselves. The paper is open access and can be found here (click on the links to download the pdf to get the whole thing). Please feel free to discuss or highlight out other parts of it you found interesting!