Yearly Archives: 2011

Privilege denying atheist: "We should be more skeptical of feminism: who knows, maybe women aren't people after all"

Quick hit: rAtheism fail

Warning: linked posts have, and quote, misogynist commentary.

  1. 15yo atheist woman Lunam posts pic of herself with Carl Sagan book to the atheism sub-reddit.
  2. Misogynist jokes about rape, women’s appearance, women’s intelligence, women’s attention-seeking follow. (You are awful, too is being linked widely as well.)
  3. Lunam has updated on reddit also.

    Finally, have some Scumbag Privilege Denying rAtheism:

Black and white photo of Fan Chung in 1987

Wednesday Geek Woman: Fan Chung, leading mathematician

This post appeared on Lecta for Ada Lovelace Day 2011 and is an expanded version of a post at Geek Feminism last year.

“Don’t be intimidated!… I have seen many people get discouraged because they see mathematics as full of deep incomprehensible theories. There is no reason to feel that way. In mathematics whatever you learn is yours and you build it up—one step at a time. It’s not like a real time game of winning and losing. You win if you are benefited from the power, rigor and beauty of mathematics. It is a big win if you discover a new principle or solve a tough problem.

Fan Chung

Black and white photo of Fan Chung in 1987Fan Chung is a leading mathematician, specialising in combinatorics and later graph theory. She is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at UC San Diego.

I first heard of Chung in Paul Hoffman’s The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul ErdÅ‘s and the Search for Mathematical Truth; Chung and her husband Ron Graham were two of ErdÅ‘s’s closest collaborators. Hoffman tells a great story about how when Chung had finished, and come first in, her PhD qualifying exams at the University of Pennsylvania, her eventual PhD advisor Herbert Wilf gave her a textbook on Ramsey theory to browse and she came back and explained that she’d improved one of the proofs. That was a core part of her PhD dissertation, completed in a week. Those kinds of stories are told about the best mathematicians.

Chung has worked both in academia and in industry, having spent twenty years at Bell Labs and Bellcore in both information technology and mathematics before returning to the University of Pennsylvania, where she did her doctorate. After her time in industry she is deeply concerned with mathematical breadth, and is known for her “nose” for problems that cross several subfields.

Many mathematicians would hate to marry someone in the profession. They fear their relationship would be too competitive. In our case, not only are we both mathematicians, we both do work in the same areas. So we can understand and appreciate what the other is working on, and we can work on things together-and sometimes make good progress.

Fan Chung, describing her relationship with husband Ron Graham

If my count is right, Chung’s publication list shows 79 papers co-authored with Ron Graham. I’ve always admired stories of professionally companionate marrages: even Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne can’t compete on those numbers.

Chung’s website has a copy of a chapter about her in Claudia Henrion’s Women in mathematics: the addition of difference. Among other things it talks about her move to the United States from Taiwan for her graduate work, and her thoughts on having a child while at graduate school.

[Graduate school] is a wonderful time to have a child. You don’t have to attend classes; you only have to write your thesis.

Fan Chung

Hrm, yes, well. Perhaps I will give that advice in 20 years time. Perhaps not…

References

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Booth Grandmas passing out cookies at Good Old Games PAX Prime 2011 booth

Re-post: The advantage of being me

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from earlier in the year. This post originally appeared on February 28, 2011.

From The Advantage Of Dual-Identities (A Case Study of Nabokov), I bring you this quote:

It’s also important to note that the advantage of having a “dual-identity” – being both a novelist and a scientist, for instance – isn’t limited to Nabokov. According to a study led by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, people who describe themselves as both Asian and American, or see themselves as a female engineer (and not just an engineer), consistently display higher levels of creativity.

So as a female, half-asian all-canadian researcher, I’m clearly better at creativity than all those boring white dude researchers?

Angela Montenegro from Bones… I don’t even know exactly where to begin on this. So I’m going talk about Bones for a minute. I’ve been watching it with my sister lately while we do other things (crochet, do mending, wander around looking for things in an mmo, eat dinner, etc.) and the other day she pointed out that she loves how the show deals with Angela, or really, how it doesn’t. See, Angela Montenegro is the team’s artist: she does sketches of the victims. But she doesn’t stop there: she also coaxes data off broken camcorders and swallowed flash drives doing digital forensic work. She’s an adept computer programmer who writes software that helps visualize and model what happened during a crime. What’s cool about Bones is that it’s totally taken for granted that she can be an artist and a coder. (And really, pretty much whatever else she wants to be.)

So I guess while I fundamentally agree that having multiple “identities” is a huge asset to my work and creative abilities, I sort of feel like… why are they making such a big deal about this, as if it’s some hugely abnormal thing. Why can’t they just accept that Angela can draw and code? Why do people insist on compartmentalizing people into single skill sets? I can drive a car and code and no one thinks that’s weird, but plenty of people have commented with surprise that I can edit a magazine (yes, I used to do this) and write code. Hello, world?

The article just makes me a little uncomfortable. This worst part is the paragraph about how the US will be overrun by mixed-race folk like me with superior creative skills — awkward racial superiority with a different spin — but even the study methodology doesn’t quite sit right with me at a first reading. But maybe the article is simply a journalistic reflection of research into of a real logical fallacy that people often employ: the assumption that one must specialize in only one skill to be the best person one can be. That’s one of those things that might be true for programs, but I really haven’t seen much evidence of it being true for people.

Despite my issues with the article, I think it’s got a nice take-away message: it’s a-ok, normal, and maybe even superior to have and use your multiple identities. And don’t let incredulous folk tell you otherwise.

This was originally posted on my personal blog.

nina

Re-post: in memory of nina reiser

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on September 3, 2011.

Trigger warning for lethal violence against women

I picked up Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries with trepidation, because it’s at least nominally about the Hans Reiser murder trial, and Nina Reiser’s murder fucked me up. Her kids are the same age as mine. Her career counselor is my next door neighbor and friend. And her husband and mine are both Linux kernel programmers. They worked together at a Palo Alto startup during the boom, where Hans sometimes cornered my husband to rant about the extremely acrimonious Reiser divorce.

When news of Nina’s disappearance broke, I asked my husband:

“Do you think he killed her?”

He thought about it for a minute and said:

“I am not saying no.”

Trust me, this is not a thing you ever want to hear.

Elliott’s book is gorgeously written and as a San Francisco memoir has a great deal to recommend it; and it’s not really about Nina and Hans. The trial is more or less just a backdrop to Elliott’s wandering around the Mission District and Bernal Heights and taking too many drugs. I loved it, and I do not mean to suggest that Elliott should have written a different book, or no book at all – here I am writing about Nina to exorcise my own personal bullshit, after all.

I have two – not even criticisms, let’s say two observations to make about the book. The first is that I am sad, still sad, continually endlessly sad and angry at the way everyone else’s narratives collude to obscure Nina and her life. It’s not that she was a saint or a celebrity – the hagiographies that dwell on her “movie star good looks” set my teeth on edge – but she was an extremely intelligent and tough woman, coping admirably in a horrible situation, and by every account a wonderful, playful, caring and responsible mom.

And because she was murdered she is now, in some sense, public property. Everyone, myself included, projects his or her own personal issues all over her frozen image. Hans’s supporters call her a whore. Stephen Elliott remakes her in the image of his dead mother. Her death has become a set of Meanings that overwhelm her life, which had its own meaning, and which was her own. I mourn the Nina who was alive, and really nice and clever and ordinary. It’s not fair. It’s really shitty that she’s dead, and I hate it.

My second point is a little bit harder to make, but here goes. Elliott, God love him, has the creative professional’s lofty disdain for those of us who work in cubes. A brief stint as a search engine optimization specialist at the end of the boom has qualified him to rule on the working world once for all time, apparently. We are not an interesting set of stories, he concludes. We are too simplistic, and the world we inhabit is too black and white.

I actually find this endearing (I have a whole other rant about how people who don’t work in an office can’t write about working for a living and can’t begin to imagine how intricate and interesting it really is, a multi-dimensional 15-puzzle played with and by chimpanzees), but I think it misses part of what was going on with Hans, and maybe a big part. It misses Namesys.

Joshua Davis’s brilliant article in Wired (part of the inspiration for Elliott’s book) joined the dots between Hans’ code and his character, but a company is also an expression of a person’s soul. His brilliant Russian mail-order bride was a big part of Hans’s self-image as the startup entrepreneur who could afford to date, let’s face it, way out of his league. And much of the savagery of the divorce seemed to stem from Hans’s fears that Nina would imperil or claim for herself some part of his hoped-for payout from Namesys.

Hans felt that his intelligence gave him special privileges. (Did I mention that he and my husband worked together at Rearden Steel? Yes, named for the company in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. You can’t make this shit up.) Armed with his titanium sense of entitlement, Hans insisted on what he saw as his rights. And it seems that when Nina stood up for herself, he choked her to death in the driveway of his mother’s home while their children were playing in the basement.

He probably didn’t intend to kill her. My husband makes the macabre point that if the murder were premeditated, Hans would have been better prepared for it. Having done it, though, Hans thought he ought to get away with it. He thought he could outsmart the police. He thought that his intellect was so great that it was only reasonable that he should get away with murder.

Hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the way Silicon Valley-style technocratic capitalism can reinforce the kyriarchy.

But here I go again, indulging the temptation to make Nina’s death a metaphor, a political point, an argument, instead of what it is, which is a tragedy. Today, on the fifth anniversary of her murder, I remember Nina.

Annie Jump Cannon sitting at her desk

Wednesday Geek Woman: Annie Jump Cannon, astronomer and leader in stellar classification

This is a guest post by kim. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2009.

Annie Jump Cannon sitting at her deskA good place to start in honoring women is the Smithsonian’s Women in Science gallery. Sure, it’s got pix of Marie Curie, of whom everyone has heard. But it also has pix of many women engineers, scientists, and science educators who are not as well known, but who should be.

I choose to honor Annie Jump Canon (1863-1941), luminary in astronomical research and stellar classification. Although living in a time deeply ambivalent (if not hostile) to advanced education for women, and suffering from profound hearing impairment after a teenage bout with scarlet fever Annie graduated from Wellsely College in 1884 with a degree in physics. She returned there for graduate studies in physics and astronomy, eventually gaining an MA in 1907. During her time at Wellsley she was hired by the Harvard College Observatory, and along with several other women, paid a pittance (less than a Harvard secretary) to assist Edward Pickering to compile the Draper Catalog, a massive, annotated atlas of all the stars in the sky.

While she was part of this project (itsef funded by Anna Draper, a wealthy widow of an amateur astronomer), Annie was instrumental in defining the spectral classification system, which defines the star classes O, B, F, G, K, and M – a system based on stellar temperature that along with later enhancements is still used today. Annie’s personal work included extensive cataloging of variable stars, including 300 for which she is credited as discoverer, and classifying over 230,000 stellar bodies, the most anyone has defined to this day.

You can read more about Annie and her work at a dedicated memorial at Wellesley’s website. There are other pages about her here, and on Wikipedia.

Annie Jump Cannon examining an objectI close with a quotation from her:

“In our troubled days it is good to have something outside our planet, something fine and distant for comfort.”

Annie, shine on!

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Old Lego advertisement featuring a little girl and her lego creation

Pandering to horny teenage linkspam

  • Angela Zhang of Cupertino won a $100,000 scholarship for her cancer fighting research. In her project, Zhang aimed to design a targeted gold and iron oxide-based nanoparticle with the potential to eradicate cancer stem cells through a controlled delivery of the drug salinomycin to the site of the tumor. (…) The 17-year-old roughly estimates that the essence of her research could be available for use by cancer patients in 15 to 20 years.
  • Anti-pattern theater: how to get women to quit

    How do you piss off a technical woman so she will leave your team? It’s easy. Just go and lob a few complaints about her behavior that would never apply to a guy. The easiest one of these is to say “you’re being too emotional”. Who’s going to argue against that? All you have to do is find places where she emphasizes things instead of remaining in a flat monotone and you hit paydirt.

  • BusinessWeek asserts, Lego Is for Girls:
    Focusing on boys saved the toymaker in 2005. Now the company is launching Lego Friends for “the other 50 percent of the world’s children.” Will girls buy in?

  • I’m starting to think Lego is evil – Some musings on how lego has changed over the years, including the new “targeted at girls” line. This article’s from a dad, and I’d like to see some responses from women too, so if you’ve seen a good one (or written one!) please post in the comments. Mostly, though, you need to see this old ad he dug up:
    Old Lego advertisement featuring a little girl and her lego creation

    Old Lego advertisement featuring a little girl and her lego creation

  • @mnemosynekurai: Surprising no one, @Kotaku defends its pandering to horny teenage boys yfrog.com/mnv83p
  • 11 To-Do’s for Women In Tech – Written after a panel at LISA, this is a very nice, short, clear list of advice for those trying to improve the numbers of women in tech. This probably won’t be new advice to many readers here, but it’s a good version to keep handy for those who want a short primer.
  • Greg Wilson is starting up a course on How to Teach Webcraft and Programming to Free-Range Students: Right now, people all over the world are learning how to write programs and create web sites, but or every one who is doing it in a classroom there are a dozen free-range learners. This group will focus on how we, as mentors, can best help them. This may be of interest to those hoping to mentor fellow women in technology!

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in 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.

Oh-The-Humanities_onshirt

Re-post: Geekery and the humanities

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from earlier in the year. This post originally appeared on July 13, 2011.

Cross posted at From Austin to A&M.

I was at ApolloCon in Houston this year, and am really glad I went. I was on a couple of panels, met some really nice people, and got to pontificate about geek culture and science fiction for a few days. A couple of things really got under my skin (I think this may be my fate at every con I go to), but the one that made me the saddest happened at the Geek Girls in Popular Culture panel, which I was a part of. During our closing remarks, I noted that we seem to only be including women in the science/tech/math fields when we talked about “geek girls” and this is, I think, a real problem. As a humanities-based geek myself, it made me feel like I was being left out, but also it seems to include the assumption that the STEM fields are simply better than the humanities, and everyone would be better off if all geeks were in those fields. I worded it carefully, because I didn’t want it to sound like an accusation, and so it came out much more “Dude, I’m a geek too, and it hurts my feelings when everyone acts like I should be a computer nerd to count as one.” The answer I got shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. One of the panelists, and at least two audience members chimed in with, “Well, the only reason you’re in the humanities is because you’ve been discouraged from being in STEM.”

I was kind of stunned by that answer, in part because I had just told this group of people that I am making the humanities my career, and their response was to basically argue that it’s worthless, or at least worth less. So I didn’t say anything for a second, trying to come up with an answer that wasn’t, “Fuck you. The majority of my work lately has been determining the values of this motherfucking subculture right here, and you are the subjects of that work. It doesn’t make any sense for you to tell me that that isn’t worthwhile.” I had told these people that I do fan studies, and as fans, their response is tell me that I only chose my field because I had been discouraged from doing more important work? Seriously.

Someone on the panel did backtrack a little, saying “well, we should be encouraging everyone to be in the fields they enjoy and are good at, whatever that may be,” but there’s still this…niggling. Because this is not the first place in geek culture I have seen a strong preference for STEM over the humanities, and it’s not the first place I’ve seen it outright said that the former is better than the latter, especially for women. And that’s precisely what that argument is; by saying that I’m only in the humanities because everyone knows girls are bad at STEM, they are arguing that all things being equal, every girl (or at least geek girl) would choose STEM. Because, you know, it’s better. Maybe the reason we like to think this is that geeks tend to buy hook, line, and sinker the idea that logic is better than emotion and objectivity is better than subjectivity. And we associate humanities with the latter and the sciences/math with the former. But subjectivity and emotion are not poison and they are not invalid. If you think an argument without emotion is the best kind of argument, go preach eating babies to the poor. If you think that subjective experiences don’t matter, then I guess we can all stop listening to the marginalized people of the world talking about discrimination in their lives. Because “objective” more often than not just means the words of white, hetero, cis men, whose experiences are figured as neutral and who we seem to think are unaffected by their sex, race, class, sexuality, etc.

I’m not claiming that every individual geek is consciously a logic-worshipping dude who hates gross lady feelings. But this logic worship is something that flutters just under the surface of geek culture, and manifests in seemingly harmless statements like those made at this panel. In this culture, masculinity is logic and science and femininity is emotion and feeling, and one is clearly superior to the other. Look at the show Big Bang Theory as an example. while Leonard is our hero, he is not the star of this show; Sheldon is. And Sheldon, let’s be honest, is kind of a dick. He has no regard for other people and doesn’t think anyone is as important as himself. But he’s smart, and super logical, and thus we like him. We’re supposed to like him, even as we roll our eyes at him, because he may be bad at social situations but at least he is objective! It doesn’t even seem to occur to most geek viewers that, by most measures, Sheldon is a terrible person. Because that doesn’t matter as much as his adherence to an objective, logical worldview. The comparison of him to Spock indicates, I think, another geek hero who represents this worship of logical thinking over emotional intelligence; while Spock’s character development mostly consists of him re-valuing emotion, most fans seem to see him as awesome because he appears to escape the emotion-ridden, subjectively experienced life that we must live through.

I think one of the reasons this logic worship is just under the surface of geek communities, rather than explicit, is because fan communities are actually all about personal experiences (with the text, with each other), even when they pretend not to be. This is a culture in which people dress up as characters, role-play as characters, write stories about characters, and thus relate the text to themselves and their lives. We get emotionally invested in our games, in our TV shows, in our movies, and in our books, because that’s what fans do. So perhaps this obsession with science and logic is more an anxiety than anything else; maybe fans overcompensate for what they know is their own deeply personal emotional engagement with a text.

Now, I’m not anti-logic or anti-science; I do think these things are valuable, but they can only be convincing and powerful when they take into account emotion and the humanities (for lack of a better term). None of these things work best on their own. Which brings me to my real argument: the idea that the humanities are less important than STEM is an idea that geeks need to drop, because the humanities are constitutive to geek culture, just as much as science, technology, and math are.

The idea that the humanities is not important to geek cultures is patently ridiculous; most of the time geek fan cultures are based on books or TV shows (you know, things written by writers and performed by actors, who are by definition in “the arts”); and game designers and writers are likely to have studied literature and the arts to prepare for their jobs, not just programming and computer science. The study of the King Arthur myth, Tolkien, fantasy, and history are not part of physics or chemistry; they are part of the humanities. Obviously, science and math and computers are all important parts of geek culture, but so is literature and history and the arts.

In fact, geek culture is one of those places that the STEM fields and the humanities have blended in a significant and sort of beautiful way; this is the culture in which scientists and philosophers can and do have meaningful conversations, in which literature and science come together in a novel, in which the engineer and the literary critic talk for hours on end at a convention, in which art and cyborgs are not at all at odds. This is the place where these two “opposites” meet and mingle and blend, and for our communities to really shine, we need to get rid of this underlying belief that one is better than the other.

So let’s stop ragging on the arts and humanities, and stop dismissing geeks who do them as limited or stifled. Some of us are drawn to the humanities and arts because of what they do in our culture and can do for our culture, because we recognize that they are important in geek culture and in our world. I am not a literary critic because I couldn’t think of anything more worthy to do. And I don’t think being one makes me less of a geek than anyone else.

A glass wall between the camera and a computer working area

Re-post: Impostor syndrome and hiring power

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from earlier in the year. This post originally appeared on February 22, 2011.

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question:

What are some ways in which I can avoid rejecting people who suffer from impostor syndrome when they apply for a job?

I’ve recently been promoted to a position where I’m somewhat responsible for hiring people. I would like to increase the diversity of new hires, and so I’m more likely to put applications from women through to the interview stage.

Following that though I don’t want to lose out on quality applicants as they are modest about their achievements and abilities, due to impostor syndrome or otherwise.

Giving an automatic “+10 kickass” to every female applicant as they may suffer from impostor syndrome seems to be a strategy without much merit. Getting everyone to exhibit their full potential is clearly the better solution.

Can you suggest interview strategies that would create the environment in which women (and indeed anyone) will be better able to convince me of their suitability for the role?

I don’t have so many specific interview strategies, but I’ve got plenty of ideas for hiring strategies in general, I hope you can adopt some of them and perhaps our commenters can talk about the interview.

First, a should be obvious: a +10 kickass bonus may be illegal discrimination in your geographic area. If it is, definitely don’t do that.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about soliciting applications. Now, there’s a couple of things that stop some women at this point. First, there’s a tendency to regard themselves as underqualified for perfectly suitable jobs. Next, there’s concern that they needn’t bother, as a woman’s name will cause you to discount their resume. Some suggestions:

  1. get your signalling right. You want to say “women friendly employer” in your advertisements without discriminatory pro-women statements. This at least gets you past the “I’m not a man” part of impostor syndrome. Here’s some things you should be doing:
    • advertising all relevant open positions on a women’s job list such as, say, LinuxChix’s jobposts for open source jobs. This at least shows that you aren’t actively avoiding women applicants.
    • including on your full ads the “equal opportunity” boilerplate you might be able to find on other local job ads
    • including information on the “Careers” section of your website about your carer leave, your retirement contributions, your shared sick leave pool, your friendliness to part-time employees if any of these hold

    Not only are these things attractive to many women (and yes, some men as well) in and of themselves, they also signal in various ways that when you picture your new hire, the picture isn’t young, white, able-bodied, male, etc etc.

  2. if your employer has recently had a similar (especially perhaps slightly more junior) position available, get the resumes of the people who were considered the better applicants from the hiring manager, HR person or recruiter, and re-consider them for the new position (probably there would need to be some kind of process of tracking and perhaps re-application here, but I’ll handwave that problem to you).
  3. consider internal employees in more junior positions as potential applicants. Depending on the size of the company, other managers might be able to recommend people to you who are overqualified for their position (or possibly not, if they are getting good work from them)
  4. consider whether you really need experience that skews very very male. For example, does someone have to have open source development experience? Are there alternative ways that someone could have learned the skills you need?

And now for considering applications prior to interview:

  1. you may not be able to say you’re doing this, but in order to avoid bias on the basis of gender or other demographic characteristics, for as long as possible in the process keep names off resumes. Have names and addresses scraped from resumes by someone before you see them, and do as much ranking as you can prior to finding out the names and details of the applicants.
  2. avoid judgements about cultural fit at this stage.
  3. there are reasons companies rely on the recommendations of existing employees, but for each open position, try and select some applicants for interview who didn’t come in via the company networks in order to avoid duplicating your company’s present demographic by hiring all their friends

In the interview itself here is a strategy for getting people to talk about their successes when they are susceptible to impostor syndrome (note that any candidate might be part of an oppressed group, so don’t limit these to women candidates): ask about something the candidate did that benefited someone else. How did they save their company money or helped a team member learn what they needed to know? Present them with cooperative scenarios where they need to help you or your employer do something as well as or instead of competitive scenarios where they need to prove they are the single right person for the position. If anyone can flesh this out to specific example questions in the comments, that would be useful.

I strongly recommend reading Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever for good solid information both about women’s negotiation and self-promotion strategies and why they use those strategies, namely, that competitive and aggressive interpersonal strategies are simply not effective for most women because of negative responses to perceived aggression in women.

Privilege Denying Dude (Edman)

I feel like you are trying to tell me something

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Gregory, a PhD student in Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University.

Have you ever been watching a movie/TV show or reading a book/magazine article and all of a sudden been confronted with a reminder that you (a lady) are not the target audience?

I had no television for a few years so, although I watched The Big Bang Theory when it first aired, I haven’t watched it in a long time. A few weeks ago I caught an episode and I was struck by this scene. HA HA! Women never go to comic book stores! Because they are girls! Hilarious! I always enjoyed the show because it reveled in geek culture, but this is what I hear from this scene:

Me: I like your show.

Them: That’s cool and everything, but it isn’t for you.

Me: It’s on TV, isn’t it for everyone? It’s not even on Cable.

Them: Well yeah, but it is for geeks.

Me: I’m a geek.

Them: We mean guy geeks. You know, real geeks.

About a year ago, I was reading Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. The narrator of the story is a woman. In one part, she describes having a catheter as something plastic stuck in your vagina. Here is the thing. I don’t pee from my vagina and I haven’t ever heard of a women that does and I certainly don’t consider my urethra as part of my vagina. Here is my imaginary conversation with Chuck Palahniuk.

Me: Do you really think women pee from their vaginas?

Him: Eeew. I don’t know what happens down there.

Me: This is basic human anatomy.

Him: No, it is women’s anatomy, not regular anatomy. I’m close, right? The pee definitely comes from that general location, right?

Me: What I don’t understand is how you didn’t have one editor read this and point out that this is anatomically wrong. Especially since, throughout the book, you describe in great detail other parts of the human body and their function. This seems be a fact checking error.

Him: I feel like most people are confused by lady parts. As previously stated, Eeew!

When I was a senior in Aerospace Engineering, we all took senior seminar. It was a 1 credit class (compared to a regular 3 credit class) in which the head of the department talked to us about interviews, jobs, life insurance, firing people, mortgages, and ethics. I remember he brought in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) code of ethics. Here is item 2.3 (emphasis mine):

The member will inform his employer or client if he is financially interested in any vendor or contractor, or in any invention, machines, or apparatus, which is involved in a project or work of his employer or client. The member will not allow such interest to affect his decision regarding services which he may be called upon to perform.

This document was approved in 1978, so it is old; but it hasn’t been changed. Here is an imaginary conversation with people who do not see that this is exclusionary.

Them: But HE is the generic pronoun, it includes women.

Me: Yeah, I know, that is why when the line for the ladies room is long, I use the men’s room. You know, because the word men really means both men and women.

The message is that I am not in the club. You know “the club” Silly me for thinking that liking geeky things makes me a geek, or being a women who enjoys Chuck Palahniuk novels means that he would consider that women actually read them, or that earning 2 degrees in Engineering and paying my membership dues to AIAA means that I am a member and the code of ethics should apply to me too. I am just a girl and I see now that the sloppily painted sign on the tree house does in fact say “No Girls Allowed”


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