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.

Quick hit: FOSS Outreach Program for Women internships

This guest post is from the Outreach Program for Women (OPW), and is edited from their outreach materials.

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is software that gives the user the freedom to use, copy, study, change, and improve it. FOSS contributors believe that this is the best way to develop software because it benefits society, creates a fun collaborative community around a project, and allows anyone to make innovative changes that reach many people.

In an effort to improve the gender diversity in FOSS, a number of organizations are offering Outreach Program for Women internships through a program organized by the GNOME Foundation. These internships are open to women (cis and trans) and genderqueer. The internships have the same structure, the same stipend and similar program dates. The application deadline for the Outreach Program for Women is March 19 and the program dates are May 19 to August 18. Unlike in Google Summer of Code, participants do not need to be students and non-coding projects are available. In addition to coding, projects include such tasks as graphic design, user experience design, documentation, bug triage and community engagement. Internships are typically remote and available worldwide. The stipend is $5500 (USD).

More information on the May to August 2014 round of OPW is available, including a list of participating organizations such as GNOME, Linux kernel, Wikimedia and OpenStack, and application instructions. Remember, applications close March 19, and you need to have made a contribution to a participating project before the application deadline.

In defense of Women in Tech (WiT) groups

This is a guest post by Coral Sheldon-Hess, a web developer and librarian in Anchorage, Alaska.
She blogs at sheldon-hess.org/coral and tweets as @web_kunoichi.

This post originally appeared on Coral’s blog.

I’ve been rolling this post around in my head for a couple of days, in between attending conference and binge-(re)watching Firefly.

It turns out, I have put a lot of time and effort—and, more importantly, thought—into creating and running a WiT group, so I have a lot to say on this topic. Also, Rebecca Stavick’s post isn’t the first anti-WiT-post I’ve read by a woman (great response to that one, here), never mind dealing with men’s arguments against these groups; so I’ve had time to think through a lot of these issues.

Myth #1 – Meeting as a group of women isn’t valuable in a male-dominated field.

Rosie the RiveterI really liked Eric Phetteplace’s response on Twitter, but I’m going to add a bit, since I have more than 280 characters to play with.

Networking is incredibly important to moving forward in one’s career, maybe especially so in tech circles, where everything moves so quickly and invitations to work on cool projects, or give important talks, depend so heavily on who knows you. So, on the surface, sure, it makes sense to get face time with male colleagues, and nobody is suggesting you shouldn’t.

But networking within a group of women is also incredibly valuable. Take the Merrill Lynch Four, who met and shared information and talked up one another’s work; they all ultimately ended up better off for it. Self-promotion can be hard for women, but promoting the work of other women? It’s easy to do, it’s never frowned upon, and it’s very effective! Also, it’s only possible if you can get into an environment where 1) you’re talking to other women, 2) about work-related stuff, and 3) you won’t be interrupted by men, who are, on average, better at self-promotion and are therefore likely to dominate the discussion.

Myth #2 – Learning with women is less valuable than learning in a gender-mixed group.

I think most people are aware that women have a lower level of confidence than equally competent men, in STEM subjects, as explored in the Fiorentine paper from 1988, comparing male and female medical students. (Short version: women consistently rated themselves lower on every attribute than their equally capable male colleagues.) You can find a bunch of respectable academic citations about differences in teacher behavior toward male and female students here, but I can also tell you, from six years’ worth of personal experience in male-dominated STEM classrooms: women get very little opportunity to talk, even if they are brave enough to do so. Which they aren’t, on average, due to the confidence gap: women report being afraid of asking stupid questions in front of their far more confident male peers, in part because they tend to misinterpret increased confidence as increased competence.

xkcd: How it works (Two male figures: "Wow you suck at math", male and female figure: "Wow girls suck at math")There is also a legitimate concern, when a woman is outnumbered by men in a STEM setting, that anything she does wrong will be extrapolated unfairly out to all women.

Women in a male-dominated environment, trying to learn about a field that’s generally viewed as male-dominated, also suffer from stereotype threat, which is made worse by prominent tech industry assholes (sorry, but he is) who make incorrect sweeping generalizations like “You have to have started programming at the age of 13 to be any good.” That is, as Philip Guo will tell you, total crap.

Do you know how you go about combating stereotype threat for women? Logic dictates—and now a study shows—that female role models are essential.

So, there it is: female-dominated classrooms, with female instructors, are an obvious win, for women learning technology concepts.

Myth #3 – These groups support gender stereotypes by using “dumbed-down language” and female-coded fonts/colors.

Anchorage Programming Workshop logoAt first, I was totally on board with the idea that pink is problematic, which is why we chose a nice, bright blue-green for Anchorage Programming Workshop, with a logo featuring the Venus mirror to try to emphasize the “for women” aspect. Neither of the hosts for the group is overly feminine in our manner or dress, and we didn’t want to risk excluding other women who don’t identify with pink and rounded fonts. “Our group is for all women!” – that was our intended message.

But you know what? We ended up with pissed off dudes approaching our booth at the Anchorage Maker Faire and parents lamenting that we wouldn’t teach their sons how to code. Until we changed our RSVP form, we got guys RSVPing for our events and then not showing up after receiving the email (that went to all participants) emphasizing that “men are welcome, provided they are the guests of female-identified participants.”

I don’t think we’d get as much of that if we had gone with pink. So… I actually kind of respect the other groups’ forethought, on that count.

As for the “dumbed down language” thing, you know what? “Dumbed down” is so very rarely applicable that I propose we strike it from the lexicon. Making something approachable and friendly, so it doesn’t frighten off someone with low confidence, is a good thing! It’s also really hard to do, so, PROTIP: people who have put a lot of effort into making something usable get really angry when you use a phrase that dismisses their efforts and implies that incomprehensibility is a good goal.

Anything written by a competent instructor for an audience of new people will look “dumbed down” (argh) to an expert; that’s sort of the point. If you go look at the intro video and first week of CS50x, a freshman-level CS class at Harvard and online, you’ll see the same kind of language, the same reassuring tone. Because that is the right way to approach an introduction to technology. It has nothing to do with gender.

We do agree on one thing, sort of:

WiT groups—actually, all technology groups—need to do everything they can to be open to people who aren’t “exactly the same” as one another. Most WiT groups are really good about using “female-identified” as their descriptor, rather than just “female,” which is code that they are LGBT-friendly. Most have codes of conduct, which help advertise their commitment to diversity. Some are explicitly for women of color. These are all great! (And already happening, just, you know, for the record…) That isn’t to say any given WiT group shouldn’t work harder to increase the diversity of its participants; I just disagree that gender is the only path to diversity.

I find anti-WiT rhetoric frustrating, because it’s coming from both sides: men feel left out and want to tell us all about it, and women feel compelled to share their knee-jerk reactions to the color pink. Nobody starts with the assumption “This is a valid approach, based on good research and careful plans,” even though that is, in fact, the case. The arguments against these programs are shallow and easily countered, with only a few minutes’ research, yet they just keep coming.

Fact: WiT groups are a benefit to women and to the technology community at large, and their pedagogy and branding are, for the most part, well thought out and well implemented. They are worthwhile, and they deserve support. If you think they can be improved, volunteer to help, instead of tearing them down with grumpy blog posts.

The Filter Bubble Is a Misguided, Privileged Notion

nina de jesus is a digital projects librarian on Mississauga land. Interests include digital preservation, information ethics, and long walks on the beach. nina conducts experiments on her life as performance art in an attempt to resist, challenge, and inspire discourse on #libtechwomen. This post originally appeared on nina’s blog.

The basic notion of the filter bubble is that personalization on the internet (with google search, facebook, etc) creates this individualized spaces where we only see things we already agree with, stuff that confirms our points of view, rather than stuff that challenges us or makes us uncomfortable.

The first and most glaring problem with this idea is that it wholly makes this into a technological problem when it is a social problem.

On the whole, we actually know this. Idioms like “birds of a feather flock together” suggest that we have a very basic, folk understanding that people tend to stick with other people who are like them. This is something that holds true in pretty much every social arena that you care to pick. From the moment we are born, we already exist in a filter bubble. A bubble that is determined by many factors outside of our control: race, gender, class, geography, etc.

Eli Pariser mentions that he is from Maine. Which is one of the least racially diverse states in the US, with 95% of the people in the 2010 US Census reporting that they are white. The fact that he is able to posit filter bubbles as a predominantly technological problem while growing up in one of the most racially segregated and homogenous states in America is… well. Exactly how my point is proven.

The thing is. Say he successfully solves the technological problem. How will this, in anyway, deal with the fact that his home state’s demographics precludes most of the white inhabitants from ever actually encountering a person of colour in real life? Where, arguably, it is far more critical that we don’t have filter bubbles so that we can experience the humanity of other people, rather than just being exposed to facts/articles/whatever.

This also explains why his solution won’t work. As the recent piece about polarization on Twitter demonstrates… Most people don’t bother seeking out stuff that disagrees with them. This is stark on a site like Twitter, where your timeline is still chronological feed, rather than one decided by relevance. You can follow people you don’t agree with, see what they post, etc. But most of us don’t bother. And this isn’t going to change anytime soon and no amount of tech whatever will change it either.

Second. Only the most privileged of people are truly able to exist within a filter bubble.

The other main part of his notion of the bubble is that it is good for ‘democracy’ and ‘responsible citizenship’ for people to be exposed to contrary view points that make them uncomfortable or challenge them.

The fact that, in his narrative, he has to describe how he used the internet, as a youth, to seek out these contrary viewpoints demonstrates, more than anything, the amount of privilege he has as a (presumably) straight, white, cis d00d.

This is a problem I often find with people who are similarly privileged.

Existing in the world as a marginalized person means that there is never a filter bubble. You don’t get protection like this.

And it doesn’t deal with the biggest culprit of filtering: the public education system. This is something particularly relevant given that it is February, Black History month. The solitary month every year where Black people get to show up in history. And we also know that every single time this month comes around, white people complain and ask why they can’t have all twelve months for white history (re: white mythology).

Then we can talk about the media in Canada. About how most of the books I read in or out of school had white men/boys as protagonists. Or how most TV shows, movies, etc. and so on likewise not only have white men/boys as protagonists, but also very much serve to emphasize this point of view as default, normal, unmarked.

I have literally spent my entire life listening to, learning about, being exposed to ideas, thoughts, worldviews that make me uncomfortable and that I do not agree with.

Instead of having to expend effort to find stuff that disagrees with me, I’m always on an eternal search for information that agrees with me. As soon as I was able to access the internet, visit the library on my own, have any amount of agency and control over the information I consumed, I have been seeking things that let me know that I am a human being. That I (and people like me) actually exist. That we live, breath, have adventures, have a history, that we have fun, that we are sad — just that we are human. That we exist.

Last, what are, precisely, the viewpoints that disagree with me or make me uncomfortable?

On the first pass, I’d say it is probably the points of view of the people who shout things like “ft” “chk” or “t**y” at me when I’m moving around and existing in public space (so happy that these people are excersing their good democratic citizenship by treating me to their challenging viewpoints in public!).

What does this mean for the internet?

Maybe it means reading sensationalized and dehumanizing stories about the death of a trans Latina, Lorena Escalera from notorious liberal/left media news rag, the New York Times.

Maybe it means reading an imperialist post when I’m just trying to learn about Ruby.

Or perhaps seeing something about how because some men are sexual predators, trans women deserve no public protection or acccommodatons.

Does it mean that I should spend my time reading the content at stormwatch or Fox News?

Or maybe it could mean that the internet is one of the very few places I have any real amount of control to filter out these points of view so that I can find people who agree with me. People I can build community with. People I can rant to/with. Find support for things that most of the world refuses to support me for.

Because, at the end of the day, I do, in fact have to live in the real world. The world where (this was me yesterday at Ryerson) I have to spend 15 minutes looking for a gender neutral washroom (and another 10 waiting for it to be unoccupied) because using either gendered washroom makes me uncomfortable and feel very unsafe. The world where if I want to regularly watch TV shows with PoC, I have to watch them in languages I don’t understand. Where I get stared at all the time in public — which does nothing to help my agoraphobia. Basically the world where — almnost my entire life — I’ve felt unsafe in most public spaces.

But, hey, filter bubbles, amirite?

Sexist or Insensitive? Either way – It’s just lazy, and it is keeping women from taking part.

This post is by a guest blogger who wishes to remain anonymous.

I recently received an invitation to attend a guest lecture in my research institute entitled: “Tits struggling to keep up (with climate change)”. Is this funny? Is it a clever pun? Is it sexist? Is it insensitive?

I have seen many cases of scientists trying to make their topics more inviting with a ‘sexy’ title to a paper or talk, and, if followed through properly, it can be a very effective way of engaging an audience who might otherwise be bored by the topic. This example, however, does not qualify in my mind as an effective tool for communication. Instead, I would say that this is exactly the kind of lazy title-tweaking that makes up some of the subtle sexism that continues to pervade the higher education research environment.

I call this lazy for two reasons: first, because it cashes in on the sexist structures which are widespread in our society, and the assumption that simply linking an idea to female sexual organs will be enough to make it interesting to the masses; second, because in order for a ‘sexy’ title to be truly effective, it needs to be placed in the context of a larger theme within the paper or talk, which will continue to highlight the ‘fun’ side of the research while presenting the relevant data. I hardly think that the presentation is peppered with pictures of the breasts of aging women instead of birds.

Recently it was mentioned to me by (male) senior members of staff that the institute is trying to encourage women to enter and remain in research. So, a female colleague and I discussed the sexist/insensitive attitude of the title and decided to comment. The institute’s response? “There is no pun.”

Now, I find this hard to believe, considering the construction of the sentence. If there were no pun, the use of parenthesis would be unnecessary. However, it is just barely possible that the scientist in question has a poor understanding of parenthetical usage. It is also possible that the title was meant as a joke, which we were meant to find mildly amusing, and enticing enough to attend the lecture.

In the end, it doesn’t matter; whether the title was meant as an ‘inoffensive’ joke, or was simply insensitive, these are the small pin-pricks that jab at female scientists on a daily basis. To be reminded that your worth as a human being, in a societal context, is still largely based on your appearance and adherence to strict sexual and social norms, despite your ground-breaking research, and to have this happen while you are at work, and to be expected to laugh at this reminder, rather than mention how unwelcome it is, is not acceptable. It is this laziness and this insensitivity that subtly reminds women of ‘their place’ in even the most prestigious labs and universities.

Guestblog: user avatars and the unmarked state

This is an anonymous guestblog entry by a cultural critic, fullstack developer, and kdrama enthusiast living in North America. Geek Feminism has mildly edited and retitled it.

“what I want (well, one of many things)”

Recently I saw a news bit about an upcoming convention for, I think it was, women game-writers. There was, of course, the inevitable bit about how women don’t need their own gaming convention, and leaving out the menz, and the usual.[...]

I’m all for safe space, but now I want one in my industry. Someplace where I could post this, and know I’m talking to people who won’t act like I’m seeing things, or practically pat me on the head with the patronizing, or tell me it’s not a big deal (or that it doesn’t bother them so naturally it shouldn’t bother me) and I should get over it, or whatever. But since I can’t find that locally, it’s all y’all instead who get to share my pain. I mean, this shit really is insidious.

user-business-boss.png, user-business.png, user-female.png, user.png

user-business-boss.png, user-business.png, user-female.png, user.png

Note the icon titles. GEE, THANKS FOR CLEARING THAT UP FOR ME.

How to kill someone without pulling the trigger

This is a guest post by Taryn Fox. Taryn Fox interned in the summer 2012 GNOME Outreach Program for Women, working on JavaScript developer documentation. She blogs at jewelfox.dreamwidth.org about her gender transition, recovery from abuse, and alternative spirituality and neurology. She unfortunately does not live in Canada yet.

This post originally appeared on Taryn Fox’s blog in 2013.

Matthew Garrett’s recent post on depression touched a nerve, because I’ve been dealing with it for most of my life and it was especially bad all of last year. I’m trying to arrange to get help, but even that is extremely difficult right now.

I’m going to try to add some things to his post without going on for too long. Specifically, I’m going to address ideas we have and stuff we take for granted that makes the experience of being depressed much, much worse.

The “Just World” fallacy

This is a fancy name for the idea that people tend to get what they deserve. Here in the States, we call it “liberty” and “objectivism” and “reducing dependence on government.” In the Linux and Free Software communities, we call it “meritocracy.”

It’s an extremely convenient belief to have if you’re at the top of your pecking order. It tells you that you deserve to be there, because of how awesome you are. And it tells you not to worry about anybody beneath you, because if they’re deserving they’ll make it eventually. And if they’re not, well, don’t worry about it. It’s their fault, and helping them will just keep them dependent on you. Better to throw them out of the nest and watch their carcasses smear on the rocks, until you find one that can fly like you could.

This mindset stigmatizes being weak or in need of help. It turns being a newb, at life or at Linux, into something to be ashamed of. And when you have this mindset yourself, and are weak or injured, you’re ashamed of everything. You have a desperate need to please others and show that your life is worthwhile. You’re afraid to admit failure, to yourself or to anyone else, because you know that you’ll be destroyed and it’ll be your fault.

Preordained winners and losers

If you aren’t so conscientious, of course, none of that matters. Of course you’ll get the help you need. Of course you deserve it. Ayn Rand herself went on Social Security. My parents have no qualms about getting cheques from the government, via dad’s military retirement. But I sold off almost all my possessions to keep from needing to apply for “food stamps,” which are one of the only reliable social welfare programs here for people who aren’t senior citizens. I didn’t want to be a burden.

And that’s what these beliefs are all about. They take people who care about others, who want to help others, who want to be part of a team and community and work together to do something awesome, and very often make them into nervous, self-loathing wrecks. At their best and most productive, they may have impostor syndrome and depression, may fail to promote themselves and their projects, and may put up with crap no one should. At their worse, they may want to kill themselves, like I almost did a few years ago after being thrown out of the house.

The fact that my parents let me back in an hour or so later didn’t change anything. There was no apology. The status quo, in which this event wasn’t even surprising and I just needed to live with it, did not change. And my family laughed and joked with each other later that day, without saying a word about what’d happened, as I went catatonic right there on the couch. I knew now that I was worthless, and no matter how much reassurance or encouragement I get from others that “fact” is still the core of my being.

I guess what I’m trying to say is,

The idea of “meritocracy” causes depression and kills people

And so whenever I see people glorify it, I know right away that to the degree that they take this belief seriously I’m looking at a good ol’ boys’ network with preordained winners and losers. Where people they like and consider worthwhile get rewarded and get away with anything, and people they dislike get blamed for their “failures” and punished.

This is why there’s historically been so much hostility towards Apple, and towards everything in GNOME and Free Software and politics that tries to make stuff easier for newbs or bring new people into the fold. The people complaining have decided who’s a “real” hacker or gamer or contributor or American, and who’s undeserving of the label. They want the undeserving to run off somewhere that they don’t have to see them, and they close their eyes so they don’t see the smeared carcasses on the rocks.

When you grow up with this mindset and then realize that you’re undeserving, you want to die.

I guess that’s all.

It is easier now that I look like a guy

This is a guest post by Fortister, who prefers to remain otherwise anonymous.

This was inspired by a question on Twitter by Dr. Kortney Ziegler: “so much energy focused on women in tech — rightfully so — but for trans men or other non binary gender identities…crickets…”

It is easier now that I look like a guy.

I think of myself as a shapeshifter, and with that comes shifting perspective. I am non-binary identified. I’ve kept my expressive voice and use female pronouns out of political stubbornness, because in this place, at this time, being a woman is exceptional, and I didn’t want to disappear. I spend enough time as the second woman in the room that it would feel like leaving my community to leave that role. Even as a woman, though, it is still easier now that I look like a guy. Masculine privilege is a powerful thing.

In meetings I state my opinion with no apologies or waffling and no one is taken aback. I get invited to dinners with coworkers and we talk about work instead of their wives. I don’t get hit on at industry events, and I go to hotel room parties at conferences with only lingering fear from another life. No one expresses surprise at my technical competence, and no one has yelled at me once since I shifted.

There was a time my long hair and I were assumed to be someone’s wife or girlfriend or HR rep. Now HR reps walk up to me. I know when it is time for a haircut because people start questioning my tone or dismissing my opinions. There was a time when I wondered how much makeup to wear, and which shirts were too thin. Now my clothes come from Amazon and I dress just like everyone I work with and I wake up fifteen minutes before rolling out the door.

It’s easier now.

The usual downsides of my identity don’t even seem to apply. No one questions my pronouns; after all at times I am the only example of a “woman” in the room. Neither do I feel misgendered as simply “woman”; just being a programmer queers my gender. It is convenient for the men around me to appropriate my presence and ignore the distinction. My boss doesn’t even blink when I get “Sir’ed” at a business dinner.

The women’s bathroom is nearly empty and the women there are unsurprised by my presence. We usually know each others names and at least half them are as grateful for the lack of gender police as I am. I still glance down with a self-deprecating smile, because I don’t want to make anyone any more uncomfortable than we already are.

Just because it is easier doesn’t mean it is easy. So much of my effort has gone to things that have nothing to do with tech. I choose my company for culture and the possibility of being promoted as a woman, even one who looks like a man, instead of for the technical problems that I would like to solve. I don’t move around as much because I would have to establish myself all over again. I’ve wasted countless hours to men who find it easier to ask questions of me than my colleagues, though I value the opportunities to mentor as well. At meetings I’m distracted from the topic at hand when the only other woman is ignored. “What was that?” I ask, interrupting the interrupter, but in the same moment I’ve lost the technical thread in a rush of adrenaline. At technical conferences men ask me what I think about women in tech, or guiltily admit their discomfort with our culture, instead of inquiring about my work. I’ve given up on Hacker News after yet another vicious round of misogyny and had abandoned Slashdot years before, and so my coworkers talk about things I have no energy to seek out for myself. I limit my conferences to ones where I will not be an oddity. (In the rest of the world my masculinity makes me an oddity. Here it is the vestiges of womanhood.)

Instead of spending my weekend hacking open source I spend my weekend figuring out how to defend the notion of my humanity. How to explain, just a little more clearly, why the oblivion of the men around me is harmful and destructive. How to make it about them, so that maybe finally they will care. I’m glad I’m not job hunting; instead of a github I have a portfolio of blog posts I’m too afraid to share (they are all insufficient for the impossible task of changing my world.) When people talk about wanting to only hire the most passionate, the most committed programmers I want to tell them that if I weren’t I would have never made it this far. Merely being a mid-career woman programming is a demonstration of passion the privileged men around me will never have an opportunity to display.

I can smell their fear, the possibility that their mediocrity is merely covered by privilege. When they protest that women aren’t interested, it is with the fear that their house of masculine cards might come toppling down. There is nothing manly about typing, about understanding systems, about communicating with humans and machines to create useful tools. Our work is not white-collar networking and control. It is not blue-collar physical strength. It is not pink-collar emotional labor. It is something new, beyond the gender binary. A huge amount of political work has gone into turning this profession masculine, but that distinction is precarious and some of us seek to actively undermine it. There is nothing masculine about what we do, and so the masculine performances that accompany it are beyond ridiculous. To need pictures of naked women to prove that we are all Straight Men here, we must know it isn’t true. Some of us are so anxious that if we can not use “he” in our job postings and documentation we might, what, forget that we are men?

I have no sympathy; some of us didn’t have this option. If you rely on your profession to validate your gender identity, you are setting yourself up for disappointment as well as acting like an exclusionary jerk.

The capitalists exploit men’s fear of being unmanly, offering them paltry rewards relative to the value they produce in exchange for brutal hours, insulting treatment and the inevitable eventual betrayal of their values. “Do no evil” becomes “evil is hard to define”, and if men admit they care they are considered soft. Organizing for working conditions or caring about missing your children’s childhoods would be womanly, not ruggedly individualistic. When there is any pushback, it is cloaked in the most masculine language possible, of “life hacking”, of seeking time to lift heavy objects or get trashed to cover for the lack of meaningful interpersonal relationships in our work-dominated lives. The only alternative to the capitalist-driven workplace is the even-more masculine world of VC and the near-certainty of failure, with egos protected by the knowledge that they are at least not women. They are doing something women cannot do, they assume, rather than doing something no one with any self respect would be willing to do, woman or man.

It is easier because I merely look like a guy. I do not need to protest my manliness, because I know in my womanly education and upbringing I was taught skills that are valuable here. “He” is not as valuable a programmer as “they” are, since “he” is artificially limited. The competence of women is no threat to my self-image; it is patently obvious to me that women can code because I have met good programmers who are women in the spaces where we congregate, reassuring each other of our existence when the people around us deny it. I do not need to believe that I am special, that my profession is exclusionary, in order to feel whole, nor am I willing to write off the millions of potential programmers who have never had the set of happy accidents that led me to the profession. I seek to prove neither my relevance nor masculinity, since I am confident of both. That confidence comes from having to fight for them; it is impossible to know what we are capable of if we never reach our limits.

Men still tell me openly that they think women are better at “that people stuff” than “technical things”, as though their opinion outweighs my experience and citations and as though technical problems were not caused by people. They say that boys are better at math, as though they don’t turn to StackOverflow any time they need an equation. A few brave and very ignorant men suggest that it’s my masculinity that enables me to code. I tell them the best software development class I took was Introduction to Writing Poetry and I am the only one in it who became a programmer. I tell them a story where our insistence on masculinity is bankrupting our profession. I say that there are millions of women who have been driven from the field by the ignorance and sexist behavior of people like them. Each time, I blush in fear at my audacity, but my masculinity protects me. Before the shift, they laughed at my protestations of belonging or mocked my supposed naivete. Now in person the worst they do is walk away or change the subject uncomfortably.

Online, of course, is a different story. I am either assumed male or dismissed, belittled and told to make sandwiches if I make a point to be read female (I use sex here purposefully, for lack of better terminology: online I’ve found read sex more important than identity, voice, tone or gendered behavior. That reading of sex, of course, is fraught.) The area for us shifters is erased; there is no true self for me to show because there is no space in people’s expectations for me. I am presumed to not exist.

Online it’s easy to be a man. It is also deeply uncomfortable; it feels like a lie to erase my other life. However, going out of my way to be read a woman is to cut away a part of myself as well. This is perhaps part of why I keep to the shadows, the private forums, the feminist hideaways. Among the geeky feminists, I have found a story that allows my existence. Things can be more complicated.

Editor’s note: We welcome and encourage guest post submissions from trans women, and from non-binary-identified, genderqueer, gender-fluid, and/or agender people who were coercively assigned male at birth, about their experiences in geeky communities, professions, or subcultures — as well as any other geek feminist or social-justice-related topic. We would love to feature more guest posts about the experience of being gender-non-conforming in tech, from people with a variety of lived experiences.

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Seattle Attic and me: community, compassion, and power-with

This is a guest post by Frances Hocutt. Frances is the founding president of the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, Seattle’s first feminist hackerspace/makerspace. She prefers elegance in her science and effectiveness in her art and is happiest when drawing on as many disciplines as she can. Frances’s current passion is helping others find the space, tools, and community that they need to make their world fit them better. Between her science and her skill at ancient technology, she considers herself an integral part of any postapocalyptic team.

TL;DR: Check out Seattle Attic’s Indiegogo campaign.

2013 has been a hell of a year for me. I’ve lost family; I’ve ended or reshaped several important personal and professional relationships; I’ve begun to reconsider my career path based on some truly unfortunate experiences in my current academic department. And with all that, it’s been the most personally and professionally rewarding year I’ve lived so far.

Why? I wanted to turn some of my frustrations into positive change and started the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, the first of the new West Coast feminist hackerspaces. I can  and will  talk about our vision for the space and specifics on how we are moving toward it. First, though, I’m going to talk about how my work with the Attic has changed me and why I love this space so much.

I think it’s the first space — at least, the first formal community — that I’ve been able to bring all of myself into without fear of rejection. I can be the least censored public version of myself. I’m not afraid I’ll be judged for the choices I make to deal with the flawed systems we all live in, and I’m not afraid that the real harm those systems do will be waved away in the process. The support there helps me grow into the self I want to be: gutsy, strong, curious, creative, knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate. I want to create. I want to learn. I want to teach. At the Attic, I can ask the basic questions that let me learn without being judged for not knowing already. And I’m not the only one who’s restarted work on projects that had been on hold for months and years.

It’s what I wish working at a start-up — or a new lab — were like. If I ever do start a company, I’ll be drawing on my organizational experiences here. We consciously notice our social dynamics. We learn from movements’ prior experiences. We explicitly discuss burnout and balance responsibilities so that the work gets done and no one feels like they have to do it all. We value respect and kindness over displays of superiority — disagreements don’t define our worth as individuals, we aren’t afraid to be judged when we ask questions, and we’re not ashamed of our interests.

As we started this, I started to lead our earlier meetings and eventually was formally chosen as president. I discovered that I do have a talent for leadership — and here, I don’t have to keep my guard up or worry that my femaleness or my queerness will undermine it. I encouraged little things that build community; our meetings include a “rant and squee” section, one part consciousness-raising group, one part fannishness, one part show-and-tell, as well as a “good and welfare” section that I nabbed from my academic student employee union‘s meetings. Other members have also called me on my mistakes and failings and with their support, I’ve turned those around and done better.

This space and its members have also been a base of support for my other activism. It’s why one of our members entered the tech field this year. It’s a huge part of why I feel secure enough to consider leaving science completely. It’s given me the support I needed to be able to share my reasons why and is why I plan to do my best to make a change in my department and not keep my head down. None of this is easy, but now it’s possible.

So, this is a love letter of a sort to the Attic and the people who comprise it. Many of my best experiences this year have been through the Attic or through the amazing women I’ve met and worked with there. After this year it would be easy for me to leave science completely and geek from the edges, or to stay and become more and more angry and brittle. That’s not what’s happened. The acceptance, encouragement, and compassionate strength I’ve found from my fellow Attic members have helped make me into the person I want to be. I look around and see how I can be strong without being brittle. I’ve been shaped by my painful experiences this year; I’m being tempered by the kindness and utter acceptance the Attic’s showed me.

Right now, Seattle Attic is raising money so that we can build on the beginning we’ve made and expand our space and our programs. We want to make this space sustainable, and we want to provide enough resources that other makerspaces can do the same. If you want to help us continue to make our vision real, you can contribute to our fundraiser, or simply spread the word and tell a handful of your friends why this feminist makerspace excites you, personally. If you’re local or visiting, come to one of our open houses, workshops, or events — we would love to meet you.

More TRUCEConf

This is a guest post by Meagan Waller. Meagan Waller is a Ruby developer and resident apprentice at 8th Light. She tweets at @meaganewaller and blogs at Meaganwaller.com

TRUCEConf is a two-day conference with the purpose of setting aside differences and creating an inclusive and open place where we can put an end to the gender war in tech. TRUCE stands for trust, respect, unity, compassion, and equality, which are elements to a healthy community.

http://truceconf.com/

I really don’t doubt that the Truceconf organisers have good intentions, however I think that when you think of feminism in tech as a war between the genders you’re missing the point. It’s not a war, and it’s not right to pit the two sides against each other like there is an equal playing field and like we can just talk it out.

Frankly, I’m insulted by the conference. The organizers need to reconsider: whether that is changing the scope of project, bringing on people who actually have experience and education in dealing with this, and can we please talk about how the people who are most educated on this are saying this is terrible, and the majority of the people who are on board with this are male. I don’t ever want my activism to make my oppressors comfortable, and I’m not sorry about that. And like I said, I’m sure Elizabeth and the organizers have good intentions, I have no doubt that they do, but this screams “White-Lean-In-Feminism” that caters to the patriarchy instead of dismantling it, it’s “fuck you, I got mine” feminism, and it’s toxic and harmful. However, good intentions don’t always yield positive results, as we’ve seen.

Starting with the Tone Arguments and the way TruceConf’s message statement, and their writing on their page seems to trivialize the importance of this. They continue talk about anger and how we’re striving to have conversations without anger, and even how dangerous anger is. Justified anger isn’t dangerous, and yes, it makes people uncomfortable, it makes people aware of their privilege and it’s hard, but ignoring that and even saying it’s bad is just the straw man angry feminist argument that gets thrown in our faces, and it’s so frustrating. Criticizing people who are working for equality, who get angry sometimes, how can you look around and not be angry? I’m pissed off constantly, I am tired and fed up of being kicked when I’m already down and being told I’m lucky for the experience. This is tone argument derailing 101, and it distracts from the real issue, it really does.

TruceConf, however good intentioned it is, trivializes and dismisses the work that’s been done, it’s insulting to me because they think I’ve failed because of how I’ve gone about it. As if no one has ever thought of just being nice, as if we could just talk this out and everything would be okay. If it wasn’t for Ashe Dryden and Julie Pagano’s and many other of the influential feminists in the tech world I would’ve never became a feminist. I felt uncomfortable by their anger, and I remember even unfollowing both of them within a week when I first started following them because of all my unexamined white privilege, but I’m fundamentally changed now, and anger, real justified anger, did that.

When we set this up like it’s a war, we are missing the entire point. That’s a false equivalence, a space with abusive victims and abusers and abuse apologists, and a space with rapist apologist, and rape victims, and maybe even rapists, does not make for a safe space. To say that those who speak out against oppression, and rapists, and abusive have equal platforms, and should have an equal voice in the discussion as those who work to perpetuate and do the harassing, and abusing, and raping is wrong. Plain and simple. How can you say that speaking out against abuse is the same as abusing? How can you say they should have an equal voice in that discussion.

There is no way that will go okay. I am SCARED for this to happen, I am scared for this to become a thing. I am scared that the organizers won’t listen to the feedback from those who actively work to dismantle the current structure. This isn’t a war between two equal, consenting sides, this is about the systematic oppression of women, PoC, LGBTQIA folks, disabled, and all the intersections that exist in those realms. Why would the people with privilege sit down and talk it out, and just agree to give up their privilege? The culture is purely invested in maintaining the status quo, and this conference doesn’t break any barriers, it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, or anything that society doesn’t already do. This conference caters to the status quo, this conference is something the patriarchy can (and has) gotten behind.

When we don’t acknowledge this systematic and institutionalized imbalance we are just a cog in the machine. The idea of a truce isn’t realistic, as awesome as that could be. The only way to rid tech of sexism, racism, ageism, ableism is to dismantle the system that’s stacked against equality.

On TRUCEConf

This is a guest post by Jacob Kaplan-Moss. Jacob is the co-BDFL of Django and Director of Security at Heroku. Jacob helped create Django while working at the Lawrence Journal-World, a family owned newspaper in Lawrence, KS. He lives outside of Lawrence and spends his weekends playing at being a farmer.

This post originally appeared on Jacob’s blog.

Friday brought news of TRUCEConf.

It’s a terrible, dangerous and insulting idea. The organizers should reconsider, either canceling the event or changing its scope and mission radically. I have no doubts that the organizers have good intentions, but good intention don’t always yield positive results. As is, TRUCEConf’s very existence runs counter to the vision of equality in tech.

Tone arguments and trivialization

It’s hard to read the verbiage on TRUCEConf‘s home page as anything other than an extended tone argument. The page continually talks “anger”: citing the need for “discussions without… anger”, or the danger of continuing “on the path of anger”.

It’s hard to read this as anything other than buying into the myth of the “angry feminist”, criticizing people working for equality who have the temerity to occasionally get angry. This is a classic tone argument at its best: distracting from the actual issue at hand by focusing on the tone.

Here’s the thing, though: as Melissa McEwan points out, “to a subjugated person… anger is perfectly rational.” Indeed, “how can you look at a cultural landscape of institutionalized inequality and not be angry… because you know that the opposite of anger, for a progressive, is complacence.”

TRUCEConf, on the very face of it, trivializes and dismisses the work that’s already been done, implying that the reason it failed is because it was somehow done wrong. That’s incredibly insulting to everyone who’s been working on this problem.

What exactly are “both sides”?

TRUCEConf continually mentions “both sides”. What exactly are these two sides? (Spoiler alert: they don’t exist.)

Men and women?

Maybe they mean “men” and “women”? If so:

  • It ignores the fact that some men are as uncomfortable with the status quo, as well as the sad truth that some women have a deep investment in keeping the system in place.
  • This buys into the myth of the gender binary, sweeping trans*, gender questioning, and gender nonconforming people under the rug.
  • Indeed, it implies that the only problems facing tech is sexism, when in fact our community is also racist, ableist, ageist, etc. etc. etc.

All of this comes down to a lack of understanding of intersectionalism – the way different forms of oppression interlock and interrelate. There’s not “two sides”; there’s a deep and complex interlocking set of oppressions. Put succinctly:

When you enter a feminist space and you are only concerned with sexism, you are missing the full story. It’s like listening to music but only hearing the melody…without the harmony, percussion, and bass line, you aren’t actually hearing the song.

(From Intersectionalism 101. Read the rest of it, please!)

Sexists” and “non-sexists”?

OK, maybe they don’t mean “men” and “women”; maybe they mean “sexists” and “non-sexists”?

If so, that’s even worse. We’re not talking about two equal groups here; one “side” is comprised of harassers, abusers, and rapists. Take a moment to peruse the history of sexist incidents in tech. Is TRUCEConf seriously suggesting that we invite people from “both sides” of those events?

Do they really believe that the solution is to invite abusers and their victims to “work together in an open environment to solve our problems collaboratively”?

Both sides” implies false equivalence

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what these supposed “two sides” are. The very
discussion of these “two sides” sets up a damaging an untrue false equivalence
between bullies, abusers and rapists on one “side” and people speaking out
against harassment on the other.

This implies that speaking out about abuse is somehow equivalent to abuse itself.

It’s hard even to articulate how insulting and damaging this sort of false equivalence is.

This is an appropriation of the language of oppression by the oppressing class. Having your privilege challenged isn’t bullying. Saying that is the worst kind of privilege. If the worst thing that’s happened to you is having someone on Twitter call you sexist, well, you’ve lived a pretty incredibly lucky life so far, don’t you think?

This isn’t a war

Fundamentally, TRUCEConf fails because this isn’t a “war.” A “war” implies some sort of struggle, with equivalent atrocities on both sides. When it comes to our tech industry, nothing could be further from the truth.

This isn’t a “war” between equals; it’s the systematic oppression of women, people of color, LGBT folk, and other minorities. The people with privilege are not going to just sit down, talk it out, and suddenly agree to give up that privilege; there’s a massive culture deeply invested in maintaining the status quo.

Refusing to acknowledge this systemic imbalance implicitly endorses it. The concept of a “truce” is laughable; the only solution is to dismantle the system that’s so stacked against equality.