Author Archives: Guest Blogger

About Guest Blogger

Geek Feminism invites guest posts from writers around the 'net on geeky feminist topics. See our guest post page to submit a post.

Intersectional Types: a new mailing list for programming languages researchers and research-curious

This is a guest post by Chris Martens, a programming languages researcher who recently got her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University; she research-blogs at

STEM academia falls behind the broader “women in tech” movements in several respects, most notably in the sense that we don’t have many spaces (i.e. backchannels) to discuss, organize, and seek advice in situations that are unique to academia, while still arising from the usual structural oppression systems. In recent years, the Lambda Ladies group for women in functional programming has been a great example of a group that serves this purpose for participation in industry and open source, which opened my eyes to what academia has been sorely missing.

Meanwhile, from where I stand within programming languages (PL) research, I am seeing more and more women showing up (though usually white, cis women), more trans people coming out, other queer people speaking up, and people of color (who sometimes inhabit several of those identities) struggling for a voice. While each of these groups and intersections faces their own challenges to integrating with a largely white/cishet/male academic community, I believe the time is ripe for us to organize and talk to each other about those challenges, to build a space of our own for social as well as research discussions.

As a starting point for our field, I started a mailing list back in May of this year, called Intersectional Types.

Currently, the mailing list traffic is very light (averaging less than one message per day), and thread topics have been things like approaching organizers of conferences about diversity issues, calls for participation and service on committees, dependently-typed programming, and favorite female role models.

In general, the list has the following purpose, as summarized at the above link:

In some ways, this list should be considered just another research list, such as the TYPES forum. This space can be used for research questions, literature guidance, starting collaborative efforts, introductions and updates to current research projects, open-ended philosophical questions about grand research visions, links to blog posts/papers, announcement of CFPs and job postings, announcements of achievements and breakthroughs.

In addition, this list is a response to a problem: that PL research communities have a really hard time attracting, retaining, and especially *valuing* people who are marginalized in society. This problem is in no way unique to PL, but the purpose of this list is to bring together folks with similar enough research interests that we can provide each other support that’s meaningful within the context of our specific field.

Some specific examples of activity we encourage, but don’t see on traditional research fora, are: requests for career mentorship and advice (especially along an academic career track); requests for feedback on papers and blog posts; giving (remote) practice talks; organizing local meetups and events; posting about mentorship programs, fellowships, summer schools, and other opportunities; venting about the ways our environments are unwelcoming and dysfunctional; and discussing how we ourselves can create more welcoming and supportive environments when we are in positions of leadership.

Other details, such as who’s welcome to join, moderator contact information, and the code of conduct, can be found on the list description page. In particular, we encourage new members who have some degree of experience with PL as a topic (e.g. a course or self-instruction) but may not work formally within the academic system, whether that’s a “not yet” situation or a “probably never” situation, especially if structural oppression systems influence that situation.

Finally, I want to add a call to other academic feminists to consider searching for and starting explicitly political backchannels like this one within your field. There may be more people out there who are like you, frustrated in the ways you are frustrated, or merely different in the ways that you are different. The first step toward change is often feeling less alone in wanting it.

Guest Post: Men, if Django Girls makes you uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing

This is a guest post by Brianna Laugher, a software developer who appreciates significant whitespace. She tweets fleetingly at @pfctdayelise. It is cross-posted at her Tumblr.

Monday was the first day of Europython, and the first keynote was by Ola Sendecka & Ola Sitarska, the founders of Django Girls. They gave a wonderful talk leading us through their journey in creating the Django Girls tutorial, its viral-like spread in introducing over 1600 women worldwide to Python programming, leading to a Django Girls Foundation with a paid employee, and their plans to expand the tutorial to a book, Yay Python!. This was all illustrated with an incredibly charming squirrel-centred parable, hand-drawn by Sendecka. The two Olas are clearly a formidable team.

And yet. I had no less than three conversations with men later that day who told me they thought it was a great idea to encourage more women in Python, but…wasn’t it encouraging stereotypes? Was it good that Django Girls was so, well, girly?

There may be a well-meaning concern about avoiding stereotypes, but I wonder if there also wasn’t some underlying discomfort, about seeing something encouraging people in their field that didn’t speak to them. Could programming really look like this? Maybe it felt a bit like being a squirrel surrounded by badgers, in fact.

colored illustration of one squirrel, alone, among three badgers who are conversing with each other

one squirrel among three badgers, by Ola Sendecka, from slide 12 of
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone. Take This: The Power of Community
slides from EuroPython 2015 keynote

So firstly. Certainly pink can be a lazy shorthand for marketing to women. But anyone who watches the Olas’ keynote can be in no doubt that they have poured endless effort into their work. Their enthusiasm and attitude infuses every aspect of the tutorials. There’s no way it could be equated with a cynical marketing ploy.

Certainly pink things, sparkles and curly fonts have a reputation as being associated with girls. Here’s a question to blow your mind: is there anything bad about them, besides the fact that they are associated with girls?

Compulsory femininity, where girls and women are expected to act and look a certain way, is bad, yes. But femininity itself is not inherently weak, or silly, or frivolous, or bad.

Monospace white-on-black command-line aesthetic is a stylistic choice. It’s one that is relatively unmarked in our community. Glittery pastels is a different aesthetic. They are both perfectly valid ways to invite someone to be a programmer. And they will appeal to different audiences.

Julia Serano writes:

Most reasonable people these days would agree that demeaning or dismissing someone solely because she is female is socially unacceptable. However, demeaning or dismissing people for expressing feminine qualities is often condoned and even encouraged. Indeed, much of the sexism faced by women today targets their femininity (or assumed femininity) rather than their femaleness.

Demeaning feminine qualities is the flip side of androcentrism. Androcentrism is a society-wide pattern that celebrates masculine or male-associated traits, whatever the gender of the person with these traits. It’s part of the reason why women who succeed in male dominated fields are lauded, why those fields themselves are often overpaid. It’s how we find ourselves being the Cool Girl, who is Not Like Other Girls, an honorary guy.

It’s not a coincidence that people in our community rarely attend with a feminine presentation, for example, wearing dresses. Fitting in – looking like we belong – currently requires pants and a t-shirt. Wearing a dress is a lightning rod for double-takes, stares, condescension, being doubted, not being taken seriously.

To be explicit, this doesn’t mean that all women currently in tech are longing to femme it up. Many women are perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans. But implicitly expecting women to conform to that uniform is just as much a problem as expecting feminine attire. The problem is the lack of freedom to present and participate as our authentic selves.

Read these personal accounts and believe that this is how feminine women in tech get treated. They’re both hugely insightful.

(Then maybe read Julia Serano’s piece again and think about the connections to these two stories – seriously, these three pages are dense with concepts to absorb.)

photo of an instant camera, lip gloss, a zine marked 'Secret Messages' featuring two cats conversing, nail polish, and an object shaped like a strawberry ice cream cone, on a white shag carpet

Secret Messages zine by Sailor Mercury, surrounded by other symbols of femininity

Like Ola Sendecka, Sailor Mercury is a talented illustrator, as can be seen in her article. She ran a Kickstarter campaign to create her Bubblesort Zines (which you can now buy!). The overwhelming success of her Kickstarter (it reached its goal in 4 hours and eventually raised over US$60,000) speaks to an excitement and hunger for this style of work.

Inviting women into tech isn’t worth much if they have to leave their personality at the door to be accepted. Being supportive of diversity doesn’t mean much if you expect to look around and see things look basically the same. The existence of Django Girls does not compel all Pythonista women to femininity, but it does offer and even celebrate it as an option. If it’s not for you, so what? Take your discomfort as a starting point to figure out what you can do to make your community more welcoming for feminine people. Embrace femininity: Take a feminine person seriously today.

PS. If you’re still stuck back at “isn’t something only for girls (REVERSE) SEXIST?” – Read the FAQ.

Code release: Spam All the Links

This is a guest post by former Geek Feminism blogger Mary Gardiner. It originally appeared on

The Geek Feminism blog’s Linkspam tradition started back in August 2009, in the very early days of the blog and by September it had occurred to us to take submissions through bookmarking services. From shortly after that point there were a sequence of scripts that pulled links out of RSS feeds. Last year, I began cleaning up my script and turning it into the one link-hoovering script to rule them all. It sucks links out of bookmarking sites, Twitter and WordPress sites and bundles them all up into an email that is sent to the linkspamming team there for curation, pre-formatted in HTML and with title and suggestion descriptions for each link. It even attempts to filter out links already posted in previous linkspams.

The Geek Feminism linkspammers aren’t the only link compilers in town, and it’s possible we’re not the only group who would find my script useful. I’ve therefore finished generalising it, and I’ve released it as Spam All the Links on Gitlab. It’s a Python 3 script that should run on most standard Python environments.

Spam All the Links

Spam All the Links is a command line script that fetches URL suggestions from
several sources and assembles them into one email. That email can in turn be
pasted into a blog entry or otherwise used to share the list of links.

Use case

Spam All the Links was written to assist in producing the Geek Feminism linkspam posts. It was developed to check WordPress comments, bookmarking websites such as Pinboard, and Twitter, for links tagged “geekfeminism”, assemble them into one email, and email them to an editor who could use the email as the basis for a blog post.

The script has been generalised to allow searches of RSS/Atom feeds, Twitter, and WordPress blog comments as specified by a configuration file.

Email output

The email output of the script has three components:

  1. a plain text email with the list of links
  2. a HTML email with the list of links
  3. an attachment with the HTML formatted links but no surrounding text so as to be easily copy and pasted

All three parts of the email can be templated with Jinja2.

Sources of links

Spam All the Links currently can be configured to check multiple sources of links, in these forms:

  1. RSS/Atom feeds, such as those produced by the bookmarking sites Pinboard or Diigo, where the link, title and description of the link can be derived from the equivalent fields in the RSS/Atom. (bookmarkfeed in the configuration file)
  2. RSS/Atom feeds where links can be found in the ‘body’ of a post (postfeed in the configuration file)
  3. Twitter searches (twitter in the configuration file)
  4. comments on WordPress blog entries (wpcommentsfeed in the configuration file)

More info, and the code, is available at the Spam All the Links repository at Gitlab. It is available under the MIT free software licence.

Creating just online social spaces

Aria Stewart is a programmer living in Boston working on open source, Unschooler, former owner of an Internet service provider in Colorado, a hiker, lover of science fiction, and studies networks (both social and computer) online interaction and social structures as a matter of habit.

The last two months have seen two Slack chats start to support marginalized groups in the technology field, LGBTQ* Technology and Women in Technology, and we’ve had a lot of discussions about how to run the spaces effectively, not just being a place for those who it says on the tin, but to support, encourage and not be terrible to people who are marginalized in other ways than the one the particular group is trying to represent.

This is a sort of how-to guide for creating a social Slack that is inclusive and just, and a lot of of this will apply to other styles and mediums for interaction.

The problem begins thus: How do you keep a Slack started by a white gay cisgender man from reflecting only that as a core group? How do you keep a women in technology chat from being run entirely by white women of (relative) affluence afforded by tech industry positions, leaving women of color, trans women, people with disabilities out in the cold?

Making just social spaces is not a one time structural setup, though things like a good Code of Conduct is an important starting place, and there are difficult balances to strike.

Make sure there is sufficient representation. Social spaces grow from their seed members, and as it’s been studied, people’s social networks tend to be racially and genderwise insular; White members beget more white members; men bring more men, especially in technology as we’ve found. If a space is insufficiently representative of the diversity of experiences that should be there, people will leave, having seen yet another space that isn’t “for” them. So, too, power structures reflect the initial or core body of a social group, and a social group will tend to reflect the demographics of those in positions of power, creating a feedback cycle that will be hard to break without a lot of effort. Seed your network as broadly as you can, and put people without homogenous backgrounds in power.

Empower a broad group. A few admins can’t guide and create the shape of the space alone, so empower users to make positive change themselves.

Plan for timezones. If your chat starts off with US users, you will find that they will dominate the space during US waking hours. You may find an off-peak group in Europe, with an almost entirely separate culture. Bridging the gap with admins in other timezones to help consistently guide the shape of the group can be helpful.

Your users will have reactions to media posted. In particular, seizure disorders can be triggered by flashing animated GIFs. Building an awareness into your social space early can help make sure these are not posted or restricted to certain channels. Likewise, explicit imagery, upsetting news and articles can be marked or restricted, even without banning it entirely.

Plan for how to resolve conflicts. While outright malicious violation of a Code of Conduct can be solved by ejecting members, most cases of conflict are more nebulous, or not so extreme nor malicious that a first offense should involve removal from the space. Slack in particular has let the LGBTQ* Tech group practice a group form of conflict resolution. We created a #couldhavegonebetter channel. When a conversation strays off the rails, into vindictive, oppressive by a member of a relatively privileged group, or evangelizing views that make others uncomfortable, a strategy that has worked well is to end the conversation with “That #couldhavegonebetter”, force-invite the users involved into the channel, and start with a careful breakdown of how the discussion turned problematic. This gives a place to discuss that isn’t occupying the main space; those who care about conflict resolution can join the channel. It’s not super private, but it’s equivalent of taking someone aside in the hallway at a conference rather than calling them out in front of an auditorium full of their peers. De-escalation works wonderfully.

Keep meta-discussion from dominating all spaces. It’s a human tendency to navel-gaze, doubly so in a social space, where the intent of the members shapes the future of the space. That said, it can dominate discussion quickly, and so letting meta-discussion happen in channels separate from the thing it’s discussing can keep the original purpose of channels intact.

Allow the creation of exclusive spaces. Much of the time, especially socially, marginalized people need a place that isn’t dominated or doesn’t have the group who talks over them most: people of color need to escape white people, trans people need to escape cisgender people, people outside the US need space to be away from American-centric culture and assumptions, and not-men need to be able to have space that is not dominated by men. It has ended up being the least problematic to allow the creation of spaces that are exclusive of the dominant group, just to give breathing room. It feels weird, but like a slack focused on a marginalized group as a whole, sometimes even breaking things down further lets those at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression lighten the load a bit.

A chat system with a systemwide identity has different moderation needs than one that does not. A problem found on IRC is that channels are themselves the unit of social space allocation. There is no related space that is more or less intimate than the main group, and so conversations can’t be taken elsewhere, and channelization balkanizes the user group. With Slack, this is not true. Channels are cheap to create, and conversations can flow between channels thanks to hyperlinks.

Allow people to opt out generally, and in to uncomfortable or demanding situations. A great number of problems can be avoided by making it possible to opt out without major repercussions. Avoid lots of conversation in the must-be-present #general channel, howver it’s been renamed. (#announcements in one place, #meta in another). Default channels, auto-joined by new users should be kept accessible. Work-topical channels should be kept not-explicit, non-violent spaces, so they are broadly accessible. Leave explicit imagery in its own channels, let talk about the ills of the world be avoided. And keep the volume low in places people can’t leave if they’ll be in the Slack during their workday.

Good luck, and happy Slacking!

Learning How to Hack in a Bro’s World: A Women’s College Student Perspective

A skewed image of the interior of a building with interior brick walls, concrete catwalks, and stone staircases

Image courtesy of Cali Stenson.

This is a guest post from Cali Stenson and Karina Chan. Cali Stenson is a sophomore at Wellesley College majoring in computer science and minoring in math. She’s the co-hack chair of Wellesley’s Computer Science Club, a member of the Wellesley Whiptails Ultimate Frisbee team, and an avid believer in learning and sharing knowledge with others. Karina Chan is a junior at Wellesley College. She is majoring in Computer Science and minoring in math. She tweets all things technology and cat related.

The first hackathon we went to was PennApps over Valentine’s weekend in February of 2014. We thought it sounded really fun; who doesn’t want to spend their weekend making a cool app or website?

It wasn’t exactly what we expected. Hackathons are glorified as centers where people build life-changing and legendary projects; however, most of the students at PennApps seemed to just end up tired, dirty, and a little defeated. What went wrong? Is it the perpetuation of the no sleep/shower/brogrammer stereotype? We do know that we were two of the few women within an entire group of 1,200 hackers.

We didn’t have a great time, but we learned something. We found ourselves in an environment that unconsciously shuts women out, and even worse, women who are beginning hackers. We felt like we did not belong; we could not possibly be competent enough to compete with the guys who seemed so much better than us with their aggressive energy drinking and loud bragging. Not to mention, some unconscious aversion to showering. There is no moment where you have more impostor syndrome than when you meet brogrammer after brogrammer with a successful app/gadget at the end of a hackathon where you did not even get a basic website up.

This might seem like a surface-level and exaggerated assessment, but from what we’ve seen, getting that feeling of acceptance at a hackathon needs to begin at the ground level as well as the top level. Even with the plentiful conversation flowing about gender inequality in tech and the beginning of forced gender ratios at hackathons, it is important to change the “brogrammer” culture of hackathons. One of the major problems for women interested in hackathons is that it is intimidating to throw yourself into an unfamiliar environment, only to feel different and rejected. Why is this even a problem? In its purest definition, hackathons are havens where people who like to build things have time to build things. Impostor syndrome is distracting and needs to be addressed based on what women are looking for in hackathons and on how teams interact with one another. Are the needs of women different from men? How do we appeal to both audiences? Hackathons should foster an environment friendly to all skill levels and all people that encourages learning for the sake of it, and this is should be enforced not just by creating a magic ratio, but by changing how the internal culture is run.

Over the weekend of April 17-19th, Wellesley College’s CS club along with a group of CS students at Simmons College will be hosting a hackathon that aims to change the internal culture. We want to create a pure space that supports learning and developing while also creating opportunities for networking with current members of industry, i.e. alumnae of Wellesley college and professionals in the Boston area. We’re focusing on the target audience of undergraduate women in CS (will not exclude men), and we encourage students who do not thrive in the typical hackathon environment to come learn to hack with us. Our aim is to focus on the ground up and to address these questions: how do we get women to participate in the hackathon scene, and how do we get women (+ men!) to stay?

Editor’s note: For more information on attending the hackathon, sponsoring the hackathon, or being a mentor, please fill out this contact form, which sends email directly to the Wellesley CS Club.

do ALL things! arts, tech, and not having to choose just one as a young girl

This is a guest post by creatrix tiara | edited for geek feminism from original posts on tumblr and medium. Creatrix Tiara works with creative arts & media productions, community cultural development, and education to explore ideas around community, identity, liminality, belonging, and social justice. She has been on a computer before she could talk and is currently trying to find ways to bridge her artsy side and her techy side. Also, she’s currently available for hire.

Last year I listened to "The Way We Teach Computing Hurts Women", a podcast episode by WYNC’s Manoush Zomorodi, talking about different approaches to get girls interested in tech and computer science from childhood to university. There’s some history about Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer period, as well as discussion of Hello Ruby and Goldiblox, which are aimed at getting very young girls interested in computer science and engineering. (What would have been great would be a mention of Lauren Ipsum, an Alice-in-Wonderland style book about computer science principles and lady pirates.)

This brought up a lot of feelings for me, mostly to do with being involved in tech as a young girl but fading out of it until very recently – and still feeling stuck not so much because of gender but because of another part of my identity: my passions.

So you know how some celebrity artists or athletes talk about "I could sing before I could talk!" or “I was dancing before I could walk!”? That was me, but with two things: before I could talk, I taught myself to read and how to use the computer. There is even a pretty adorable picture of me around age 2–4 mucking around with Harvard Graphics or the tutorials for Microsoft Works.

(Yes I had an odd idea of fun.

But you could make databases for skiers and spreadsheets for snail races!!)

When I was about 8 years old, the day my sister left Malaysia for the UK (for good), my parents answered a telemarketer call advertising computer classes. My mum asked me if I was interested — I remember being very sleepy, having been caught in traffic jams to and from the airport, and muttering a Yes without much thought.

The school had divided up their classes by year level — Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, a level or so in between. After my pre-test they said I could skip the Beginner level and go straight to Intermediate. I was the youngest person there by a year.

This was before Windows 3.1 was much of a thing, and when we were still working with 5.25" floppies. We learnt newspaper layouts, basic animation, and coding in Pascal. Mostly we cheated on the exams and looked forward to playing the various Super Solvers games.

An 8-bit video game still image, showing an adventurer about to enter a clubhouse

those blasted elves

The Internet came to Malaysia circa 1995, and once I got online I never left. About the only time I took a significant break from the Internet was in 1997 when we had our first big national exam, the UPSR (which tells you which secondary school you go to), and my parents suggested that I go offline and quit computer classes for the year. I was allowed online just once – to write in the memorial book for Princess Diana.

Other then that ,  I was actively online all the time. I joined an online kids’ media site and reviewed books mailed to me from the US to Malaysia. I started webzines and wrote fiction & poetry. I hosted picnics on Geocities chat and virtual cities on AOL. When I really got into Aqua and Savage Garden, and then fandoms in general, my use of the Internet really took off. I was an amazingly prolific fanfic writer, made a ton of friends via online fandom, and even changed my life in very significant ways — such as making one of my closest friendships with someone who met me through a fansite I made for her TV channel, or choosing the Australian college I lived in based on having seen some Livejournal comics about exchange student life by one of its residents — where I met my matey: first boyfriend/significant relationship and now one of my closest friends.

In recent years my Internet presence has become more activist: first with Malaysia’s leading blog about alternative education, which could have gotten me elected into Parliament like my contemporary Malaysian edu-blogging peer, and now through talking about arts and intersectionality — gaining notoriety and (in)fame(y) by speaking up about racism in burlesque. (People still aren’t over it.)

The main reason I became so involved with the Internet is because it was safety and sanctuary in a hostile world. I was heavily bullied in school due to racial tension — most of the teachers were hostile instigators or at least uncaring. I didn’t really have a lot of space to express myself, because I was constantly told that my existence was wrong. I didn’t really learn a lot from the Malaysian education system: most of the State-sanctioned curriculum was already decades old. I was a desperately lonely child, seeking connection and community.

My friends were online. My creative expression was online. My education was online. The computer was a source of life for me, in many ways: even now I feel more spiritually connected to bits and bytes rather than trees and sea. While I sometimes had to deal with trolls and online bullies, I also had much stronger positive support online – many more people who had no problem with my existence and actually welcomed it.

However, despite my affinity to computers and the Internet and the fact that I am still online all the time, I didn’t actually follow through with any sort of tech degree or career path. Even now my family wonders why I didn’t pursue computer science; my dad calls me all the time demanding I make the next Facebook, because with my supposed computer smarts and his business acumen we could take on the world! I fit the childhood profile of many professional computer geeks: what was I doing being anything else?

There were a few factors in effect: they weren’t really connected to gender, in that nobody told me I shouldn’t be coding because that’s a boy’s thing, but they still played into societal expectations in some ways.

Some of it was logistical: I was often working on old semi-obsolete gear – I couldn’t even practice CSS or Javascript when they were still new because my browser wouldn’t support it. Asides from the classes I went to as a youngster, there wasn’t really any avenue for computer science education in my area in Malaysia – it wasn’t in the national curriculum, and I was often the de-facto school tech expert even in primary/elementary school. There’s only so much I could teach myself with my limited resources and age.

Mostly, though, nobody told me that I, or any other Malaysian student, could be both artsy and geeky; we were told to choose between Science or Arts. Science, in this case, meant taking Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and maybe Additional Mathematics in Forms 4 and 5 in Malaysian secondary schools. It was what every good student does because the whole point of Malaysian education is to study Medicine and be a doctor and make good money for your family. There wasn’t any "women can’t do Science" sentiment (and I went to all-girls schools that weren’t particularly feminist). The expectation was that everyone does Science, because that’s just what you do. Arts and Humanities, so my teachers and a lot of Malaysian society claimed, were for stupid people: people who failed their exams and so had to take Visual Art or Literature instead because those are for simpletons.

I caused quite a ruckus in Form 4 when I moved myself from being placed in one of the Science class to sitting in the row for the "last" class because I wanted to take Literature.

As you probably noticed, a lot of my online activity from childhood on involved writing. The same people who thought I would be a computer scientist or programmer also thought I would be a world-class writer, and at the time writing was my more pressing interest. I saw the Internet as a medium to post my writing and talk to other creative people, but didn’t really think about being in the bones of hardware or software or web development — it had been so many years since I knew any coding that I thought I’d missed the boat.

I didn’t want to be a doctor, or any kind of scientist, despite loving science museums as much as I loved libraries and bookstores and computers. This was mostly because the school’s take on Science was super boring (had I had a better set of teachers I may have been more inclined) but also because I felt like I had to choose: Science or Arts. The opportunities for Science were everywhere; the Arts, less so. I had my one chance, and I was a bit of a rebel — I had to take it.

Nobody ever said that I could have done all of the above. It never occurred to me to pull a Hermione Granger and take all the subjects — it was two distinct streams and I had to make a decision.

Ever since then, my personal and professional journeys have largely been in the arts and creative industries: media, performance art, writing, community cultural development. I wrote scripts for TV and interviewed Prime Ministers and stripped onstage while reciting adaptations of Suheir Hammad. I sang and danced and chomped the tops off roses and went viral for something I said at Slutwalk.

All of these were made possible via the Internet — whether by finding out about opportunities, getting a shot from the muse, posting my work, being known.

And yet I didn’t really see myself as the programming type.

Digital? Yes. Geeky? Sure.

Computer scientist? ehhh…

Yet there is so much I want to do with technology that goes beyond blog posts and social media and Facebook invites. I’ve started venturing into game design, after harbouring an interest for a long time, as a means of producing creative interactive experiences. I have ideas for performances that require a fair bit of geekery (such as this LED light costume). And there’s all these apps that would make my creative life so much easier but which don’t get made because there aren’t a lot of coders who are interested enough in making them.

I have noticed how deep the chasm is between the arts world and the tech world, even now, and how I’m somehow caught in the middle.

At a meeting hosted by a major Bay Area arts organization, one of the organizers proclaimed that we were "analogue mediums in a digital world!". A few days later, while volunteering at a games conference, a lot of attendees were puzzled at the presence of a performance artist in their midst. I’ve had people respond to my presentation of a social media campaign project at an international hackathon specifically designed to bring media-makers, journalists, and developers together with sarcastic tweets about how “if you’re going to be at a hackathon you should be creating something” (because a stack of blog posts, and animated video, and a hashtag doesn’t count as “creating”, clearly). I’ve also had to stop myself from getting riled up at writers’ events when people respond to my novel-in-progress, about a girl who gets superpowers from a Google-Glass-like device, with a long rant about how Google Glass is always evil and the downfall of society.

Around the time I wrote the first version of this article, I was being interviewed for a possible space at a tech bootcamp known for its supportive community and diversity work: when the interviewer asked why I wanted to learn coding, I told her about wanting to be entrepreneurial by producing creative work and artist tools, and I could hear her interest switch off, simply because I didn’t say "I want to be hired as a software engineer". (I was rejected twice.)

The combination of arts and tech does exist, though in smaller scale: this Ask Metafilter question brings up a lot of options, and for a little while I was going to an Arts+Tech Meetup in San Francisco, which is leading me to a lot of other opportunities. I also was nearly involved with Gray Area’s Creative Code bootcamp, which would have been perfect, but the timing didn’t work out.

The more I find, the more I wish this existed for me as a young girl — and the more I want to help young girls currently in this situation.

There are a lot of efforts towards encouraging young girls to get involved with tech, as demonstrated in the podcast. Girls Make Games did a presentation at Casual Connect and a big horde of us women immediately volunteered to help out! Search "tech for girls" and you find heaps of classes, workshops, camps — for Australian school girls or budding makers or young girls of color.

And yet so much of it is about getting girls involved in science or engineering. STEM. Even the first project talked about in the podcast had renamed their subject "Creative Problem-solving in Science and Engineering" — artsy little me would not have thought coding was ever an option for me.

There seems to be a little nudge in that direction: Google’s Made with Code has resources for code in the arts, and there is an Arty archetype in the Tech Girls Movement. But I would like to see more. I would like to encourage more. I want to bring more to the girls who may be where I was 15 years ago and thought that being a geek and being an artist or writer or musician was somehow a contradiction.

Now that I’ve graduated with an MFA and I’m looking for jobs on my OPT visa, I’m started to revisit the tech industry as the next stage in my career. It’s been tricky; some of the places I’ve interviewed at have asked me why someone with an arts and non-profit background like myself would want to be involved in tech. Sone get it though, when I tell them that putting a show together is much like working in a scrappy startup, trying to herd cats and do everything at once.

Maybe there is a space for an artsy creative person like me — especially a queer migrant minority gender-weird woman. (It’s been really bizarre to have my South Asian race not make me a minority, though I am not sure how many Bangladeshi-Malaysians are out there.)

Maybe there are ways to reach out to young girls, young boys, intimidated artists, baffled techies, about how these worlds do not need to be separate, how left brain/right brain is a myth, how you don’t have to sacrifice one interest for another.

Maybe I can look to my sister, who has always been inspiration for me even from a thousand miles away, who went from a lifetime of science to a rebirth as an illustrator, and yet so much of her work is already very scientific anyway. She has a kid, Zen, who – before her second birthday – declared to her mother that she wants to "do ALL things!", and is already proving so: her Instagram photos always have her trying out something new, from cooking to beekeeping to painting to building.

I want to help her do all things too.

So now, after not having coded anything since I mucked around with QBASIC as a 13-year-old, I’m learning how to code. I took the Web Developer blueprint with Skillcrush, which is geared towards women — I mostly joined because one of the staff members totally understood what it’s like to be the Resident Geek amongst her artist friends. Asides from the classes, there’s also a pretty vibrant community — including other artsy types. I’m also catching up on Codecademy; Javascript is a lot easier than I thought it would be! (Sort of: for loops confuse me a little.) I have also been looking at tech bootcamps, since I find that I learn better in person, though cost has been a major limiting factor.

When I listened to this podcast, I became so inspired: I was reminded of my dream to support young artsy & geeky girls, and this was more motivation to do so. I am almost tempted to get a computer science degree, but formal education and I barely get along. And I do want more options for exploring tech than having to do yet another degree.

But I have a vision, a vision for the creative Renaissance girls amongst us — if nothing else, then for my niece, and 4 year old me.

A little girl with shoulder-length dark hair, wearing a drum on a strap around her neck as she plays the drum and smiles

marching to the beat of her own drum

Cross-post: Start your own b(r)and: Everything I know about starting collaborative, feminist publications

This is a cross-post from Amelia Greenhall’s blog.

I am very hopeful that other intersectional feminist tech publications – possibly many others – will start in the coming year. This blog post is my way of supporting these nascent publications: an offering of everything I’ve learned about starting and running publishing companies.

After I wrote a blog post (What it was like to co-found Model View Culture with Shanley Kane) that disclosed that my business partner had been emotionally and verbally abusive, a number of people who had written for Model View Culture wrote nuanced, thoughtful pieces about it. (Links at the end.) In particular, Amelia Abreu wrote “Now start yr own band: on relationships, trauma, and tech feminism”. The last sentence of her essay really resonated with me:

“To borrow an old riot grrrl catchphrase, “Now start yr own band”. I neither want nor need to be aligned with a movement that is led unilaterally, and I also have no problem supporting those who need to control their own visions. We have the momentum, so now let’s start a bunch of new conversations and some new venues for them.”

At the moment, I have no interest in (or time for) starting another intersectional feminist tech publication, but I do possess a lot of knowledge about what goes into running one. I have pulled it all together here in hopes that it will help people who are considering starting a new publication. Here’s my (California/USA-flavored) advice on publishing, collaborating, budgeting, business incorporating, working with lawyers, being profitable, and anything else I thought was both important and non-obvious. I also asked Valerie Aurora (co-founder of The Ada Initiative and one of the women I co-founded Double Union with) to contribute to this article, including the sections on incorporation, choosing a founder, choosing a board of directors and advisors, making a budget, and raising money.

May this be of use.

— Amelia Greenhall (@ameliagreenhall), San Francisco, January 2015

Continue reading

On Getting Paid to Speak

In response to a thread on a private mailing list, a prominent woman in tech wrote this fantastic rundown of the details of getting paid to speak, including which speaker bureaus represent which kinds of speakers. We are re-posting an anonymized version of it with her permission in the hopes that with better information, more women will get paid fairly for their public speaking. Paying women fair wages for their work is a feminist act. This advice applies primarily to United States-based speakers; if you have information about international speaker bureaus, please share it in the comments!

Question: I’m interested in speaking with [members of the private mailing list] who either speak via a speaker bureau/agency, or otherwise get paid for their speaking gigs. I have done an absolute ton of speaking in the past few years (including several keynotes) and I know I’m at the level where I could be asking for money for my speaking, and I also need to reduce the amount I sign up for in order to focus on my own projects. So I’m on the market for an agency and would love to hear numbers from other folks who charge for giving talks. I know several women who ask for $1000-$2000 plus travel costs for engagement, but would love to know if that is typical or low as I definitely do know dudes who get much more.


PS this was a very scary email to write! Asking for others to value your work as work is really difficult!

Answer: I have a lot of experience with this & have done a lot of research. The main U.S. bureaus are:

  • The Leigh Bureau, which represents Nate Silver, Joi Ito, danah boyd, Tim Wu, Don Tapscott, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. Leigh tends to represent so-called public intellectuals, and to do a lot of work crafting the brand and visibility of their speakers in well-thought-out laborious campaigns. It tends to represent people for whom speaking is their FT job (or at least, it’s what pays their bills). Leigh does things like organize paid author tours when a new book comes out. Being repped by Leigh is a major time commitment.
  • The Washington Speakers Bureau: Jonathan Zittrain, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair, Katie Couric, Lou Dobbs, Ezra Klein. These folks specialize in DC/public policy.
  • The Harry Walker Agency: Jimmy Wales, Bill Clinton, Larry Summers, Steve Forbes, Bono, Steven Levitt, Cass Sunstein. These folks tend to rep celebrities and DC types: busy people for whom speaking is a sideline.
  • The Lavin Agency: Jared Diamond, Anderson Cooper, Jonathan Haidt, Lewis Lapham, Steve Wozniak. Lavin does (sort of) generalist public intellectual think-y type people, but is way less commitment than e.g. Leigh. Lavin reps people whose main work is something other than speaking.

(There are probably lots of others including ones that are more specialized, but these are the ones I know.)

I went with Lavin and they’ve been fine. The primary benefits to me are 1) They bring me well-paying talks I wouldn’t otherwise get; 2) they take care of all the flakes so I don’t have to, and they vet to figure out who is a flake; 2) they negotiate the fee; and 3) they handle all the boring logistical details of e.g. scheduling, contractual stuff, reimbursements, etc. I mostly do two types of talks:

  1. The event organizers approach me, and I send them to Lavin. About 80% of these invitations are just [stuff] I would never do, because it pays nothing and/or the event sounds dubious, the expected audience is tiny, I have no idea why they invited me, or whatever. But, about 20% are people/events that I like or am interested in, like advocacy groups, museums, [technical standards bodies], [technical conferences]; TED-x. If I really like the organizers and they are poor, sometimes I will waive my fee and just have them pay expenses. (Warning: if there is no fee, the bureau bows out and I have to handle everything myself. Further warning: twice I have waived my fee and found out later that other speakers didn’t. Bah.) If I get paid for these events, it’s usually about 5K.
  2. The event organizers approach Lavin directly, requesting me. These tend to be professional conferences, where they’re staging something every year and need to come up with a new keynote annually. These are all organized by a corporation or an industry association with money — e.g., Penguin Books, Bain, McKinsey, the American Society of Public Relations Professionals, the Institute of E-Learning Specialists, etc. I do them solely for the money, and I accept them unless I have a scheduling conflict or I really cannot imagine myself connecting with the theme or the audience. These talks are way less fun than the #1 kind above, but they pay more: my fee is usually 25K but occasionally 50K.

For all my talks I get the base fee plus hotel and airfare, plus usually an expenses buyout of about $200 a day. A few orgs can’t do a buyout because of internal policies: that’s worse for me because it means I need to save receipts etc., which is a hassle. Lavin keeps half my fee, which I think is pretty typical. In terms of fees generally, I can tell you from working with bureaus from the other side that 5K is a pretty typical ballpark fee that would usually get a speaker with some public profile (like a David Pogue-level of celebrity) who would be expected to be somewhat entertaining. The drivers of speaker fees are, I think 1) fame, 2) entertainment value and 3) expertise/substance, with the last being the least important. The less famous you are, the more entertaining you’re expected to be. Usually for the high-money talks, there is at least one prep call, during which they tell me what they want: usually it’s a combination of “inspiration” plus a couple of inside-baseball type anecdotes that people can tell their friends about afterwards. The high-money talks are definitely less fun than the low-money ones: the audiences are less engaged, it’s more work for me to provide what they need, everybody cares less, etc.

When I spoke with [a guy at one agency] he told me some interesting stuff about tech conferences, most of which I sadly have forgotten :/ But IIRC I think he said tech conferences tend to pay poorly if at all, because the assumption is that the speaker is benefiting in other ways than cash — they’re consultants who want to be hired by tech companies, they’re pitching a product, trying to hire engineers, building their personal brand, or whatever. Leigh says they’re not lucrative and so they don’t place their people at them much. The real money is in the super-boring stuff, and in PR/social media conferences.

Hope this is useful!

We certainly found it useful. Here are some additional resources which came up in the mailing list thread:

Internet freedom and the EFF’s anti-harassment statement

Today we’re featuring two separate guest posts about online harassment: Dr. Alice Marwick’s post about her research proposal for studying why men harass women online — with a link to a site where you can vote for this proposal to be funded! — and this one, taking a closer look at the EFF‘s recent anti-harassment statement.

This is a guest post from Jem Yoshioka, a writer and illustrator from New Zealand. She grew up on the internet, connecting with people all around the world who like to draw and write. She uses the internet constantly, like many other people on the planet. However, a part of loving something means knowing when it’s a bit broken, and the internet is definitely that. Jem’s illustration work is available online and you can follow her on Twitter.

I’d love to say that the statement EFF made on the 8th of January was anything but a disappointment, but it is. The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community. We’re watching people’s lives burn to the ground and the EFF brings a watering can filled with weak platitudes.

The Internet isn’t built for everyone

Internet freedom. It sounds pretty good on paper. An open and uncapturable internet with truly utopian beliefs and ideals about equality. In our rosiest narratives, the internet is one of the most incredible and liberating human inventions in recent history, and it’s certainly changing how we all live our lives. However, this utopian internet — a place where we can all live, work, socialise and act harmoniously together — has never and most likely will never exist. This is because the internet is largely built with the same patriarchal, cis, white male structures that “real world” societies are built with. It’s built from the same essential building blocks, and those blocks’ stresses, cracks and faults continue to harm the same people.

The internet is designed by and for straight, white, cis dudes. If you look at any of the startups currently vying for your valuable time and attention, you will see numbers of far, far more men than women and almost every single one of them will be white. The higher up you go, the whiter and more male it gets. If you follow the money that’s funding these ventures, you’ll notice a lot of them bear a striking resemblance to each other and also to a tall glass of milk.

White, hetero, cis male privilege is unaware of itself, but this is in part because it’s unaware of everyone else. And if these people are building our infrastructure, then there’s an awful lot of essential tools they’re missing because of their ignorance.

The places these people build are becoming increasingly more essential to our businesses, our work and our social lives, whether we like it or not. The dominance of platforms like Twitter and Facebook is strongly influencing we all use the internet and who can safely use the internet. When push comes to shove, the system protects the people who designed it for their own use; but everyone else is constantly placed at risk both in their online activities and in their physical space.

The thorny topic of harassment

Harassment was the hot-button word of 2014. It seemed like things reached some magical media tipping point and all of a sudden, women receiving rape and death threats online counted as proper “real world” news. But as many of us who are the targets (or potential targets) of this kind of harassment know, this behaviour isn’t something that’s just sprung up magically in the last year. It’s the festering muck that’s been lingering at the bottom of potentially every page, probably since the comment section was invented.

Being a woman on the internet is like playing with a ticking time bomb where you can’t see the timer. It could go off any second, or never, or in five years. It could go off because of something you said or someone else, or something completely unrelated to you. It could be because you like a hobby mostly boys like, or you’ve written that you’re fed up with inequality and sexism, or you’d just like a woman’s face to be on a bank note. It’s all stuff that it’s well within our rights as humans to discuss and have opinions about. But if you do so as a woman, you risk being hit with a harassment bomb.

When a harassment bomb detonates, it ruins lives. Private information is shared, companies boycotted, parents’ phone numbers called. Death threats are sent to conventions where victims plan to speak. Victims are blamed and accused of being “professional victims” all the while, the harassers push for their own financial and social profit.

It’s a constant struggle to write, share, and operate normally in the face of constant harassment. Not all of us are strong enough to stand against a tsunami of verbal and visual effluence day after day, and still manage time to build, construct, run, and manage a business. It’s exhausting even to witness from a safe distance, let alone live through. (Those that do manage, let me just say that I love you and everything you bring us, and your voice means the entire world to me. But I do wish you didn’t have to spend so much of your brilliance keeping your safety watertight.)

Since the targets of online harassment are most often marginalised people, this means we are losing voices. Targets are more likely to be women, of colour, trans, disabled, poor, or informally educated. Usually a mix of things because humans don’t tend to sit nicely in categorised boxes. Not everyone who faces this harassment can cut it, and they shouldn’t have to in order to do a simple thing like be active on the internet. We have no idea how many people have quit or won’t even start down this path because of harassment.

What’s wrong with the EFF’s picture

The EFF as an organisation stands up for a lot of the same things that I want to stand up for. Removal of restrictive DRM, power to people instead of governments, critical looks at spying laws and tackling issues of security. But when it comes to matters that involve harassment or the internet’s own structural biases, they are comparatively quiet. Since harassment silences and self-censors so many of our most marginalised voices, I would assume that an organisation like the EFF would jump onto the issue with all guns blazing. They have commented in the past in small doses, but they often take a relatively conservative approach in order to protect the “real” issue of actual proper free speech.

I’d love to say that the statement EFF made on the 8th of January was anything but a disappointment, but it is. The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community. We’re watching people’s lives burn to the ground and the EFF brings a watering can filled with weak platitudes.

What we are seeing with online abuse can’t be mistaken for a disagreement of opinion. It’s not a couple of people having a swear-off or even just one person losing their cool at another. It’s constant, structured campaigns of active and malicious behaviour, much of it already illegal under existing law. I’m confused as to why it’d even be controversial to take a strong stand against it.

The EFF blames victims. The focus of their suggestions is on potential victims and users needing to learn self-protection, rather than addressing the very clear underlying systemic and cultural elements that allow harassment to flourish. They discount that many victims do already protect themselves — as much as online systems can possibly allow. Even with significant amounts of filtering, muting and blocking, their time and energy is being diverted from enjoying their time online to a constant battle for space and safety.

The EFF say that if only Twitter unlocked its API, third party creators could develop better tools to protect users. And yes, that’s a possibility. But for this possibility to be viable, someone needs to devote an awful lot of their time, skill and energy just to ensure a platform becomes marginally safer, which Twitter should be doing for its users in the first place.

Companies that profit from our data should be doing more to keep us as users safe. We should be able to have systems in place to protect us, built by full-time staff who are paid a living wage. We shouldn’t have to donate our own time to build such systems for ourselves, on top of whatever other work we need to do to keep ourselves and our families safe, fed, and sheltered. It’s your system that’s broken; you need to fix it. Pay someone to fix it. Put it in your business roadmaps. Hire people who know about this stuff. Stop building on top of the same structures that punish marginalised people.

It seems to be the EFF’s position that harassment needs to be condoned to some extent if we want free speech. If we get too tough on harassment, it’ll mostly end up getting used to punish free speech by governments instead of harassment at all. This idea that censorship trickles down is ridiculous, because marginalised people are already facing self-censorship of their work on a daily basis out of fear of harassment. It’s already happening, and we’re not being helped or protected except by each other.

The internet is white. The internet is male. Most of the internet speaks English. If you aren’t or don’t do these things, you are actively and continuously put under pressure to ensure conformity. If you continuously fail to conform, you are sent harassing messages, death and rape threats, and have your whole life twisted upside down for you and then blamed for it.

I love the internet. It’s my home. It’s where I’ve met most of my friends and how I keep connected with my family. It helps me to connect with new clients and keeps me informed of current events. It’s been a teacher, a friend, and my external memory component (effectively making me a cyborg). It improves my life in little and incalculable ways every day. However, the dark, hostile side can’t be ignored or tolerated. In order for the internet to be the best internet it can be, it needs to be better for everyone. We need to all be safe online, not just those of us who know how to protect ourselves or are lucky enough to never be targets. We need it to be a priority of the bigger fish, of our governments and of our advocacy organisations. We deserve to be safe.

Let’s Talk to the Men This Time: Combating Online Harassment

Today we’re featuring two separate guest posts, both about online harassment. Stay tuned for the second one!

This is a guest post from Alice Marwick, PhD. Dr. Marwick is the Director of the McGannon Center for Communication Research and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.

Over the last two years, gendered online harassment has finally been recognized as a significant issue. High-profile cases of women doxed, attacked, or shamed in public, often those speaking out about sexism, highlight the ways in which the technical affordances of the internet enable systemic persecution. The same technologies which allow for positive collaboration and creativity can—and are—used to threaten, provoke, and hector journalists, bloggers, software developers, activists, or even just random people online with disturbing regularity.

This is a difficult problem to solve. The desire to harass women is not a virus spread by the internet that strikes individuals at random. Instead, it’s fueled by very real, and very complicated, underpinnings of structural misogyny (and, often, racism, homophobia, and classism as well) that affect who gets harassed. During the panic over cyberbullying a few years ago, LGBT activists implored the press to remember that implementing anti-bullying campaigns without addressing larger issues of trans- and homophobia ignored the underlying issues. I’m currently working to do something similar with gendered online harassment.

Many well-meaning people are proposing a host of legal and technical solutions, from eliminating online anonymity, to reinforcing anti-harassment statutes currently on the books, to increasing moderation in online communities. Some of these solutions may work, and some may not. But I share the EFF’s concerns; we shouldn’t use gendered online harassment, as awful as it is, to chip away at protections for online speech. Online anonymity is frequently used by activists, domestic violence survivors, and sexual minorities as a protective tactic. And companies like Facebook and Reddit, who are not legally required to actively patrol harassment on their platforms, have shown themselves unwilling to invest in greater moderation or content regulation.

Even given all these suggestions, we still have very little information both about why people choose to harass others—and, more broadly—why men adopt, adhere to, and spread sexist and misogynist views. You’d think the latter would have been extensively researched in the 1970s, but it seems to have been barely studied at all. I (and two PhD-level research assistants) have been unable to find any major studies identifying motivations for men adopting sexist views, let alone motivations for harassing women, whether that be sexual harassment, street harassment, or online harassment. (I would be extremely happy if you could comment with any studies you may know of and I can be proven wrong). But this is the missing piece. Without understanding why people are harassing others online, we cannot accurately solve this problem.

So I’m posting this to ask for a favor. A project I’m involved with is currently up for a People’s Choice Award in the fifth Digital Media and Learning grant competition (called the Trust Challenge). Together with another professor at Fordham, Gregory Donovan—who’s worked extensively with diverse groups of young people in NYC on other participatory research projects—we’re hoping to study harassers with the collaboration of young women who’ve been harassed. We think it’s extremely important to involve victims of online harassment to avoid the paternalism that often comes into play when creating solutions to help young women. The information and expertise provided by a focus group of young, diverse New York City area women will help us understand where this harassment takes place, what it looks like, and how to combat it. It will also inform the second half of the project. We hope to identify, contact, and interview people online who have harassed others. From these people, we want to understand motivations. Is it for the lulz? Do they identify as trolls? Is it because they subscribe to a Men’s Rights ideology? Is it a way to let out aggression? With the information we learn from both groups, we hope to create best practices for tech companies and legislators to design any strategies to combat harassment. We hope to include not solely harassment for being feminist, but harassment for merely existing as a woman online—especially a woman of color, a queer woman, or someone with an intersectional perspective.

Please vote for our project on the DML website. It takes a second—just click the heart—and it gets us one step closer to getting this project fully funded. We’re asking for money to support summer funding for both of us, a semester off for Gregory so he can devote himself to the project, incentives for our participants, and a grad student to help out with the project. We hope that you’ll agree that this project is worth funding.

(We also encourage you to check out FemTechNet’s project which focuses on creating educational content to combat harassment of feminists specifically).