Monthly Archives: March 2010

You’re not gonna reach my linkspam (31st March, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Being an ally in the workplace

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our commenters.

What interventions do you recommend pro-feminist male geeks make in their workplaces? If you could get the guy geeks on your side to agitate for the cause and to provoke change, on what specific issues do you think they should focus? How could they best lend support?

I ask because I get this question a lot from decent guys who aren’t sure what to do. Feel free to list things they should read and areas about which they should inform themselves.

Ladies celebratin’ ladies

Like a lot of people, I think, I became an instant convert to the cult of Sady when I read her 13 Ways of Looking at Liz Lemon last week. I’m a big 30 Rock fan but not blind to the show’s problems, especially in its treatment of race and class, and I loved Sady’s trenchant take. But I think her piece on Parks and Recreation for Feministe’s Weekend Arts Section is even better. I haven’t watched the show but I sure will now. Here’s a chunk I found especially chewy:

Since your life is about your work, and about feminism — not in the abstract, Liz Lemonist sense, either, but in terms of actually and truly connecting with and helping other girls — and about your ideals and your friends and your goals for the city of Pawnee and for yourself, and very definitively not about any one dude or dudes in general, having Your Life Minus That One Dude was simply not a very big deal. It was sad, but it definitely wasn’t going to ruin you. You already had a full plate, a whole interesting life, and dudes could come in and out of your life without altering that fact. So, no matter what happens to you, dude-wise, you’re going to know that you’re pretty great. And since you put your whole self into all you do, since you care about people and it shows, other people are going to know that you’re great, too. They’ll be there for you. And that’s how you’ll get by.

I talk a lot about feminism, Leslie, and I think about feminism a lot, and I have to tell you: I think this was one of the most genuinely feminist moments on your show.

Wow. I mean wow, seriously, especially in the wake of the always-provocative Ada Lovelace Day. This made me think about how profoundly my relationships with women have changed in the last decade. I was a bad feminist in my twenties. I wanted to be the special one, the one who was into physics and maths and programming and who could talk to boys, and I saw other women as competition, and so nearly all my friends were men and nearly all women found me incredibly irritating and divisive.

I’m not claiming to be a great feminist in my thirties, but one dramatic change has been the quality and intensity of my relationships with other women. These days when I meet an awesome woman my first reaction is not, or isn’t always, to be threatened and defensive. The self-confidence that has been the single absolute best thing about growing older has made it possible for me to hold my own in awesome company, not because I think I am awesome, but because I mind less and less what other people think. And of course awesome women tend to be awesome friends, if you gather up the courage to approach them, and when you realize that you somehow without really meaning to have created this network of strong intelligent kind entertaining adults on whom you can rely – well, it makes the prospect of middle age look downright pleasant to me.

It’s what Wired magazine and the Burning Man organization used to call the shift from a scarcity economy, where people competed over constrained resources, to a surplus economy, where people just give each other gifts, because. That model looks like questionable economic theory these days but it’s certainly true that love and friendship don’t need to be constrained resources, and that the more you give, the more you get. Another economic analogy might be investment. Romantic relationships were for me always very high-risk, high-return propositions – a VC investing in a startup – and I wish I’d never risked more than I could afford to lose. (I did, of course. Oh well. I wasn’t using that dignity anyway.) Platonic friendships, in this analogy, are dividend-bearing stocks.

Among the dividends: these relationships have also improved my friendships with men – including a handful of very intense friendships left over from my single days. It’s my women friends who have taught me to shut the fuck up and listen, to not try to fix things. That sometimes all you can do is show up.

I’ve noticed these patterns at work as well as in my personal life. I’ve sought out professional mentors, and younger women have sought me out. I feel completely inadequate to offer anything to the latter, of course, but at the same time I have a strong sense of indebtedness to the older women who have given me their advice and support. I’ll always seek out qualified women for jobs, and I’ll always try to make time for younger women who seek my advice: it’s the least I owe to myself.

Bottom line, I guess: I really honestly believe that it’s true, that women can have a complete and fulfilling life made out of work and friendships, with or without a significant other. If I could go back and give my 18-year-old self advice it would be to love my friends more, and let the dudes come and go as they please. What about you? What are your hot tips for the investment of your affection and time?

But women are an advanced social skill…

This post is following on from Melissa’s post, and particularly inspired by a comment in moderation, which I am not sure whether she will approve or not, which defends “hardcore geeks” (presumed to never be women themselves, I gather) behaviour towards women on the basis of “INCREDIBLY limited socialization”.

This is all quite genuinely mystifying to me. Admittedly I’m relying on extensive anecdata rather than surveys, but self-identified geeks mostly go through a stage as teenagers and sometimes beyond, and often quite a hurtful stage, of at best social difficulties and at worst cruel bullying and social isolation. Many only find their people at university or cons or other places with a high geek density.

But this doesn’t translate to a life so obviously deprived of chances to interact with women that we are required to assume that all geek men are at least eighteen years behind their chronological age in exposure to women. It’s true that groups of women and mixed-gender groups have their own social norms. In fact women geeks can find these difficult to navigate too and some prefer for a while, or always, the social norms of male geek groups to those of women non-geeks (at the same time often encountering problems being a woman in said group as well). Admittedly my sample is biased because by definition I’m not friends with any geek who doesn’t have women friends, but after high school geeks seem to me to have roughly the same social success that others have, where “social success” is approximated by “has a social circle of the desired number of people, who you enjoy spending time with”. Possibly with different types of people, but similar numbers of them.

(Speaking of social success, a geeky tangent: Scott L. Feld’s Why Your Friends Have More Friends than You Do, see Satoshi Kanazawa’s write-up in Psychology Today if you don’t have access, although beware the horrible subtitle.)

But even though I see lots of men geeks who are enough of a social success to make them happy, I find this notion of interacting with women being a graduate-level social skill to be quite seriously brought up by some of these same geeks. Even middle-aged men geeks who are in long-term heterosexual relationships or who have long-time women colleagues and collaborators. They maintain that the entry-level of dealing with women in general should not be close to their own skills, but a very very low bar in which outright sexual harassment ought to be treated as a forgivable faux pas and an opportunity for a gentle teaching moment, rather than a very justified cause of anger.

There are several related things going on. One is that geek culture is not as uninfluenced by other cultures as some geeks would like to argue. Much of geek sexism is a geeky spin on plain old sexism, not a parallel form of sexism that’s accidentally developed as a result of innocent geek men’s social isolation. The second is that, as a consequence of many geekdoms being male dominated, they attract men who prefer not to interact with women, or at least not to interact with us in their leisure time. (To be clear here: I am not saying that all men geeks in a male dominated geekdom are there to get away from women. I’m saying that a subset of them are, and that they have a reason to push against including women.) I also notice an unfortunate tendency to believe that men are solely socialised by women: if a man, through no fault of his own, has ended up in a men-only social pocket, then it’s basically Lord of the Flies until a kind woman makes up for the failings of women past and helps him out.

There do seem to be a number of men who genuinely and sincerely believe that the single most acceptable way to interact with any woman is to be sure to inform her that they approve of her appearance, or, less often, her general civilising influence, and who get a horrible shock when someone is angry with them for it. But much of the rest of the “don’t expect too much of geeks when it comes to social decencies!” rhetoric seems self-serving and disingenuous.

Note: discussions of geeks and social skills can attract blanket statements about the skills of geeks with autism spectrum disorders. I haven’t addressed that in this post because I am neurotypical and have no especial expertise about autism spectrum disorders. I welcome informed comment on it here, but uninformed blanket statements won’t be approved; if you don’t know anything much about ASDs don’t make it up.

Dear Geekdoms: We’re not your decoration

There’s a trend in geekdoms whereby after some visibility-enhancing event or incident some dudes notice that there are women participating in their geekdom (liek omg rly?!). With best intents and all, these dudes go off and verbalise how awesome it is that these women are choosing the geekdom.

Because, they say, women’s presence makes the geekdom sexy.

Saying that women’s presence in the geekdom community rather than the women’s actual quantitative and qualitative contributions are the influence that results in this increase in attribute is not only awkward, but effectively invalidates the actual achievements that the women have worked so hard for. “Her design skills make the product gorgeous” is far more appropriate than “She makes the product gorgeous!”

By saying that women make your geekdom be more something, you are framing the mere proximity of women as a feature of the completely unrelated topic around which the geekdom at large congregates. This would be merely awkward if it was, say, something like “It makes my geekdom that much more balanced!” Or any other attribute that is not typically dependent on the subject’s (in this application of phrase, women’s) appearance.

However, by saying that women’s presence is a feature using words that are etymologically and by modern popular use aligned almost exclusively if not totally so with visual appeasement such as “sexier”, and other words that you would otherwise reserve for rating a prospective mate to your drinking buddies in a pub, you make it sound like you’re looking for one.

This isn’t an obscure invented language construct just for the sake of annoying people. This is how language works. When you apply an attribute to a subject, such as “women’s presence”, you’re applying the attribute to the women’s bodily presence. If you apply the attribute to the work of the women, then you’re applying the attribute to the work and crediting it to the women. It is a big freaking difference.

If a woman gets irked at you implying that her bodily presence is making something otherwise unrelated to her appearance “sexy”, rather than more accurately crediting a tangible enhancement to her actual work, then for the love of rainbows and bunnies don’t tell her off for not appreciating it. Learn how to compliment her properly.

If you’re treating someone’s presence as a visually appealing enhancement, you’re treating them as decoration. It’s that simple. Women are not decoration for your geekdom.

Mentoring a geeky teen

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our commenters.

In my day job, I’m the teacher librarian at an independent (private) high school in the Midwest. I’m a geek myself, but more along the lines of library work rather than coding (I’ve done a little, but not much) I’m starting to have conversations with students (ages about 14-18) who’d love to learn more. Our school offers digital arts courses and a robotics clubs, but no classes in programming by itself. So, my question is two fold:

  1. What do you wish some nice supportive adult who thought geekiness was great had done for you when you were a teenager? What got you excited, and what made a lasting impression? (And what parts of that do you think are still true even if the specific technology options have changed?)
  2. What sources and options do you think are a really good intro, especially for younger students.

For example: I’ve been starting one of them on basic HTML, with a move to CSS and then scripting once she learns more. I’m hesitant to suggest she look at something like Dreamwidth or AO3 just yet: she’s a great person, but she doesn’t quite have the social or time management skills to handle that kind of project environment without a lot of mentoring yet.

I’d love something that fit that middle ground: a guided resource with lots of advice and ideas that produced an interesting or creative outcome, but that I could help her through without learning it all myself. (much as I’d like to, not realistic at this point, given the stubborn persistence of 24 hours in a day.)

Quick Hit: Too Many Dicks

Anita Sarkeesian over at Feminist Frequency just posted a vid critiquing the gender imbalance in video games, to the Flight of the Conchords song “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor”. It’s inspired by sloanesomething’s Star Trek vid along similar lines.

Anita writes:

Not only are these games dominated by male characters but even the few women characters who get staring roles are replicating the overly patriarchal, violent, macho behaviour all wrapped up in a hyper sexualized body. I specifically used clips from two games that help to counter this male dominance: Portal a game of strategy and Mirror’s Edge which stars a woman of color in a dystopian future.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of game producers, designers and writers are men. To put it simply, there are too many dicks on the dance floor!

Too many misters, not enough sisters! If you enjoy the vid, drop seedling a comment on her blog.

Meetup in Sydney, Australia

Although we’re not as bad as the San Franciscans, Sydneysiders (myself and Melissa) comprise a disproportionate slice of the Geek Feminist Hive Vagina. But as powerful as we are, we can only become more powerful when allied with Hoydens About Town, so… let’s picnic together.

We’re currently organising the picnic for a weekend day in late May. Head on over to Hoyden if you’re coming along and let us know your preferred date.

If anyone is interested in organising an informal meetup in their own city, I suggest posting to an open thread to see if there’s any interest and going from there. I’m happy to post your plans on the front page here once finalised. (At some point that fails to scale, but we’ll worry about it if it happens.)

Comments are closed on this post, if coming to the Sydney meetup, please comment at Hoyden.

Open Thread: A rose by any other…

Today’s Open Thread is hosted by the newly named baby elephant from Taronga Zoo:

Pathi Harn, the miracle elephant

A tiny baby elephant is hiding under his mother's belly as they frolic in water. His trunk is raised and his mouth open in a cheery expression akin to "IT'S GOOD TO BE ALIVE :D !!1!"

Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Frank Sartor, today announced that Taronga’s new elephant calf will be named Pathi Harn (pronounced ‘par tea harn’).

“The people of NSW and zoo keepers have chosen Pathi Harn – the Thai word for miracle – as the new name for Mr Shuffles,†Mr Sartor said.

The little darling has been called a miracle since his birth, as zoo vets had given up hope that he would be born alive after they ceased to detect signs of life.

Anyway, during an IRC conversation earlier today Mary noted that we really don’t have a name for our beloved commenters:

<mary> You know, geekfeminism.org doesn’t have a name for our commenters.
<mary> I mean, like Twisty‘s Blamers, or Shakesville‘s Shakers.

We figure, what the heck, why not let you name yourselves. In a similar fashion to how the adorable bundle of ubercute above was named, we’ll take ideas and poll the suggestions we like most in a future thread.

So, Open Threaders: What do you, our geekfeminist.org community, wish to be nicknamed?

Showing your awesomeness for Google Summer of Code

Some of you may have heard the story: When the GNOME folk looked through their summer of code applicants back in 2006, they had 181 applicants… and not a single woman. They decided to do something about this, and started The GNOME Women’s Outreach project. They soon had 100 talented female applicants. You can read the whole story here. One of the lessons to take away from this is that there may be really talented women out there who just aren’t applying:

Women would contact us saying “oh I don’t know if I’m qualified enough but working with a mentor sounds good etc etc etc and then have REALLY impressive CVs — clearly they’d’ve been accepted to GSoC if they’d applied, but they were clearly not confident enough to do so.

We at geek feminism hate losing talented folk to Impostor Syndrome, which causes totally awesome people to believe that they aren’t good enough. So for those of you who are considering applying this year, I’m hoping we can boost your confidence by reminding you that projects want you, providing some tips on making an application that will get noticed (so you can’t say “oh, I’ll never get it”), and giving you another place to ask questions if you’re too shy to ask them elsewhere. We can also help with applications and maybe even introduce you to people if you’re just too shy to get your foot in the door — just ask!

Lots of readers of and writers for Geek Feminism have been involved in GSoC. I’m one of the mentors for Systers, which might be especially interesting to GF readers since we’re an organization that promotes and supports women in technology (the name “Systers” is a play on women in “systems”). You can read my blurb advertising the incredible awesomeness of my project here and there’s lots of other cool summer of code projects advertising on GF.

The most common question I’m getting from prospective students right now is, “What do you look for in a GSoC applicant, and how can I make my application stand out?.”

There’s lots of things we look for in a GSoC applicant, but we most of all we want someone who’ll get stuff done, and with whom we’ll enjoy working.

Here’s some tips for demonstrating your inner awesomeness:

  1. Get involved with the community early. Join the mailing list(s), hang out on IRC, or wherever the community is. That lets both you and us know if we’ll work well together, and lets you learn more so you can put together an awesome application that we’ll all be excited about. If you participate in discussions, we’re much more likely to remember you when your application comes in! (Hint: if you’re using a nickname, remember to put that name in your application too so we can associate!) The earlier the better when it comes to community involvement — you don’t need to wait ’till the applications open.
  2. Spend some time doing research on your proposed project: Find out if anyone’s tried it, what other approaches are possible and how your idea compares to them. If you’ve done this research in advance, we know you’ll be ready to go when summer hits!
  3. Ask smart questions. If there’s something about the project you don’t understand or you’re trying to do a bit of hacking and run into a snag, the mentors will often be able to help. One of the things I’m looking for in applicants is an ability to communicate, and asking articulate questions that show you’ve done research is one way to impress me. I’m also looking for applicants who can work independently and figure out stuff on your own, so if you do get stuck, remember to explain what you’ve tried, and where you’ve already looked for information so I know you made the effort to solve the problem yourself.
  4. Contribute to the project in advance. One of my prospective students has started writing patches to fix our simple bugs, and it tells me so much about her: that she’s already getting comfortable with our code base, that she’s dedicated enough to find solutions to problems, that she’s really serious about contributing to our project. Another way to contribute would be through helping others such as answering questions on the mailing lists or IRC or contributing to the project wiki. Show off your skills!
  5. Don’t be afraid to apply! Even if you don’t get in, the GSoC application period is a great time to scope out a project because there are mentors who you know are willing to answer questions. You don’t need GSoC: you can always choose to join the project on your own. But don’t forget that lots of really talented folk misjudge their own awesomeness, so don’t pre-reject yourself. You might be exactly what that project needs!

So now I open up the floor to everyone else: If you’re a mentor, what impresses you? If you’re a former student, what tips do you have? If you’re a prospective student, what else would you like to know? Feel free to ask for help with your applications or ask if we can introduce you to someone in your project too!