Author Archives: Annalee

About Annalee

Annalee is a web developer, science fiction writer, and general purpose geek. On Twitter she's @LeeFlower.

Quick Rec: LaShawn M. Wanak’s 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)

Do you like beautifully-written short fantasy? Of course you do.

Head on over to Strange Horizons to read LaShawn M. Wanak’s 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One) for a little bit of wisdom, a little bit of Chicago, and a little bit of magic.

And if you like it (you probably will; it’s pretty awesome), consider supporting Strange Horizons.

ETA: Wanak has some background info about the story on her blog.

Kid Flash The Super Creep: The Problem With ‘Funny Harassment’

Content Warning: this post discusses sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual assault.

Kid Flash

Kid Flash

I’ve recently been introduced to Young Justice, a superhero cartoon featuring beloved sidekicks of the Justice League. It started in 2010 and wrapped up earlier this year. I’m a big fan of superhero cartoons, having grown up on the DC Animated Universe. So Young Justice is right up my alley.

But if Kid Flash doesn’t have a drastic character adjustment pretty soon, I’m giving up on the show.

Kid Flash, AKA Wally West, is one of the founding members of the Justice League’s covert junior team. As soon as he meets teammate Miss Martian, he starts hitting on her. She brushes him off.

And so begins a campaign of sexual harassment that, seven episodes in, shows no sign of ending soon. It’s annoying enough to watch as a viewer, because harassment isn’t funny, but what it says about this world and the morals of these alleged ‘heroes’ is pretty gross.

Aside from Robin making fun of Kid Flash with no apparent concern for Miss Martian’s personhood, no one has called him out. Neither Robin nor team leader Aqualad has pulled him aside and said “Bro. She’s not interested. Quit being a creep.” The adult members of the Justice League don’t seem concerned, either–though given how the adult Flash behaves, it’d not hard to work out where young Wally picked up his views on women.

So Miss Martian has to put up with not just killer robots and evil monsters, but also with an incessant campaign of sexual harassment. On top of that, she has to rely on a team that clearly doesn’t have her back. They’d rather laugh about Kid Flash’s behavior than tell him to knock it off.

As far as the show is concerned, this situation is funny. We’re meant to laugh at Wally and his pathetic antics, rather than empathize with how awkward and uncomfortable his harassment makes things for Miss Martian.

If it were just this one obnoxious character on one show, it’d be an ignorant joke in terrible taste. But Kid Flash is part of a larger pattern[1] of pop culture heroes portraying sexual harassment as funny or endearing.

Miss Martian

Miss Martian

This stuff matters–not just because it’s an annoying trope that alienates harassment and assault survivors, but because it leads to real people getting harassed and assaulted in the real world. It perpetuates the idea that harassment is normal courting behavior, and that “no” actually means “keep asking me until I change my fickle girly mind and fall madly in love with you.” Some folks who’ve been raised on a steady diet of this trope have it so bad that they take anger and contempt as signs that their victim secretly likes them back.

A guy who assaulted me went on to subject me to this kind of ‘funny’ harassment. He was a friend of my brother’s and a member of a social club I was very heavily involved in, so I had no good way to avoid him.

Among other obnoxious behavior, he was constantly calling me ‘babe.’ Every single time he did it, I told him to knock it off. I tried patiently explaining that I found it demeaning. I tried yelling. I tried getting up and leaving the room. I tried flipping him off and calling him sexist.

He kept right on doing it.

One day he told me he did it because the main character in his favorite book did it.

I bet the romantic interest in that book told the main character to quit calling her ‘babe,’ too. I’ll bet she was a Strong Female Character who Didn’t Put Up With Nonsense.

And I’ll bet by the end of the book, his campaign of harassment had changed her fickle, girly mind and she’d fallen madly in love with him, thus completing his hero narrative of the good guy getting the girl.

They guy who assaulted me? His campaign of harassment didn’t end that way.

It ended with him assaulting me a second time.

Since I grew up watching cartoons, I’m used to superheroes telling me about seat-belts, recycling, stranger danger, staying away from guns, and not trying superheroics at home. Would it have killed Young Justice to have a member of the Justice League take young Wally aside and tell him that heroes treat women with respect?

Or, better yet, they could have just not included ‘funny harassment’ at all, because harassment isn’t funny, and Miss Martian is supposed to be there to fight bad guys, not to teach socially-awkward boy geniuses like Wally how to behave around women.


[1] TV Tropes has several pages full of examples, including:

  1. [CW: Harassment, stalking] “The Dogged Nice Guy”
  2. [CW: Harassment, stalking, misogyny]: “Defrosting the Ice Queen”
  3. [CW: harassment, stalking]: “Belligerent Sexual Tension”
  4. [CW: Stalking]: “Stalking is love”

Co-Signing the Ada Initiative’s Statement on Michael Schwern

[CONTENT WARNING: Domestic violence arrest]

On September 25th, the Ada Initiative released the following statement on Michael Schwern:

The Ada Initiative does not support Michael Schwern’s ally work

[TRIGGER WARNING: domestic violence arrest]

On Thursday 19th September 2013, open source community member Michael George Schwern (known commonly as “Schwern”) was arrested by Portland Police, North District, on charges of HARASSMENT DV – (B Misdemeanor) and STRANGULATION DV – (A Misdemeanor). On Tuesday 24th September 2013, a lawyer representing Michael Schwern published a press release stating that the District Attorney declined to charge Mr. Schwern and that he faces no charges.

The Ada Initiative has promoted Michael Schwern’s advocacy for diversity in open source in the past, including through posts on our blog (e.g. this post and this post) and on our social media.

The Ada Initiative declines now and in future to work with Michael Schwern or to promote his work based on the information above. We have updated our existing blog posts mentioning him or his work with a link to this statement.

Resources for victims of domestic violence and their supporters

The Geek Feminism Wiki has a page on Abuse and Trauma resources. This page has resources for victims of abuse, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, and sexual violence, as well as resources for supporters of victims of abuse and violence.

The following members of the Geek Feminism Blog co-sign the Ada Initiative’s statement:

Annalee
Alex Bayley
Rachel Chalmers
Tim Chevalier
Ashe Dryden
Liz Henry
Leigh Honeywell

If you also wish to co-sign, you may do so in comments. Please note that this comment thread is open to co-signatures only. No other comments will be approved.

Édouard Manet's Woman Reading, 1897/80

Everyday Sexism at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is currently hosting a special exhibit on Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, featuring impressionist paintings alongside extant garments from the period.

Impressionist work and 19thc fashion being two of my favorite things, I went to visit the exhibit while I was in town for DjangoCon.

I’d been told the Art Institute has “substantial holdings of impressionist and related art,” and I can’t say I was disappointed. There was much geeking to be had. The dresses were great, too. I may have, on occasion, crouched down next to certain dresses to get a look at how their hems were done, or put my nose a little too close to their glass cases to be dignified.

I do, however, have a bone to pick with whoever did the descriptive placards that accompanied the artwork.

Édouard Manet's Woman Reading, 1897/80

Édouard Manet’s Woman Reading, 1879/80

Manet’s Woman Reading is one of the first paintings you see when you enter the exhibit. It depicts a woman reading a newspaper at a café.

They wouldn’t let me photograph the accompanying placard, so I copied the last sentence down by hand. It read:

These illegible calligraphic squiggles suggest that the woman is focused less on the newspaper’s printed words than on the fashion illustrations and advertisements.

…I’m not art historian, but I’m pretty sure the illegible calligraphic squiggles suggest that this is an impressionist painting.

Come on, placard-writer. The woman may be doing the 19thc equivalent of taking her laptop to a coffee shop, but even my apparently sub-literate ladybrain knows that impressionists weren’t concerned with capturing their subjects in photo-realistic detail. Manet most likely rendered the newspaper in ‘squiggles’ because that’s all he needed to give the impression of a newspaper.

Also, not for nothing, but those squiggles look way more like a rendering of a figure than of text to me. So maybe they’re ‘squiggles’ because she’s too busy reading up on the first class of female students at Oxford University to pay much attention to the advertisements.

 

The Curious Incident of the Novelette and the Hugo Ballot

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”

Something hinky happened with the Hugo Awards Best Novelette category this year.

The committee responsible for one of Science Fiction literature’s top awards decided to contravene both the award’s rules and its precedent to disqualify Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” from consideration, without even telling her.

The Hugo Awards are basically the Oscars of Science Fiction literature. They’re awarded every year at WorldCon, and administered under the rules of the World Science Fiction Society’s Constitution. WorldCon members are eligible to nominate Science Fiction or Fantasy stories that appeared for the first time during the previous year, and the five stories in each category to receive the most nominations appear on the Hugo ballot. (More on the voting process here).

Last year, Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” appeared in Audible.com’s RIP-OFF! Anthology, which was an audiobook. In February 2013, she posted the text of the story, exactly as it was turned in to Audible, on her website (incidentally, if you haven’t read The Lady Astronaut of Mars yet, it is freaking awesome and you should probably have it in your life. Go ahead and read it. The rest of this post will still be here when you get back).

When all of the Hugo nominations for the novelette category were tallied up, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” came in third (see the vote breakdown on page 20 of the 2013 Hugo Awards Statistics Report).

And here’s where things get weird. The story clearly had enough nominations to make the ballot. But the award committee decided to declare the story “Ineligible as the 2012 work was an audiobook.”

Well, let’s have a look at what the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution has to say about eligibility:

Section 3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.

So far, so good–The Lady Astronaut of Mars appeared for the first time in an anthology in 2012. Let’s look at the Novelette category:

3.3.3: Best Novelette. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (1 7,500) words.

My word processor clocks The Lady Astronaut of Mars in at 8,035 words. Definitely a novelette.

The category rules don’t say the words must be published in print format, and nether do the general rules. They say the work must ‘appear for the first time’ in the year prior to the year in which it is nominated. Going by that, it’s pretty clear that audiobooks are eligible to be nominated in the story categories. In fact, the Hugo Awards website clearly says, in reference to e-book eligibility: “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.”

There are these two sections of the general rules concerned with moving works from one eligible category to another:

3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

3.2.10: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a dramatic pre sentation work into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is ne cessary, provided that the length of the work is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category boundary.

But:

(1) The fact that they wrote one rule for moving stories and a separate rule for moving dramatic presentations rather suggests that they didn’t mean for stories to be moved into Dramatic Presentation, or vice versa; and more importantly:

(2) Audiobooks have previously been declared eligible in the story categories. When the Audible anthology METAtropolis came out in 2008, John Scalzi (who edited the anthology and had a story in it) was told that while the entire anthology was eligible in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, the individual stories within it were eligible in the Novella category. Including his novella, “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.”

If disqualifying her pretty-obviously-eligible work wasn’t bad enough, they decided not to give her a chance to make a case for its eligibility–or even tell her at all.

Instead, they left her to find out at a party after the awards.

That’s right: they disqualified her story from consideration for one of the genre’s most prestigious awards, and left her to find out about this on awards night, in front of a room full of people.

What, were they afraid she’d make a scene?

Even if they had done the right thing and talked to her privately, that would still leave the question: what makes Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” different from John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis?”

Gee.

I wonder.

I’m not saying they consciously decided to disqualify Kowal’s story just because she’s a woman. I am saying that I don’t believe for one second they would have treated John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, or any of the genre’s other well-known white men this way.

EDIT TO ADD:

Kowal has her own writeup of the incident here, including the emails she exchanged with the committee about this.

Also, based on the comments sitting in moderation, it’s time to remind folks that we have a comment policy. I specifically want to draw attention to our policy on comments that add nothing to the conversation.

Valerie and Mary of the Ada Initiative, at AdaCamp DC

That Time I Wasn’t Harassed At A Conference

Last month, best-selling science fiction author John Scalzi made a big splash when he pledged to only attend conferences that have a clear, published anti-harassment policy. Since then, more than 1,000 people have co-signed his pledge.

He noted in a follow-up post and on Twitter that while his announcement helped publicize the effort to get conferences to adopt policies, he joined a fight that others–particularly women–have been on the front lines of for some time.

Valerie and Mary of the Ada Initiative, at AdaCamp DC

Valerie and Mary of the Ada Initiative. Photo by Adam Novak, cc-by-sa.

For instance, the Ada Initiative has been hard at work on this issue since 2010, when they created a clear, specific anti-harassment policy and released it under the totally free Creative Commons ‘Zero license.’ Since then, dozens of conferences have adopted the Ada Initiative policy, or adapted it for their use.

Let me tell you about the time I wasn’t harassed at a conference – and why I donated to the Ada Initiative’s 2013 fundraising drive to support this work.

Djangocon uses the Ada Initiative policy. They’ll be in Chicago this year, but last year, Djangocon was held in Crystal City, Virginia, just outside Washington DC–practically my backyard. Thanks to generous scholarships from PyLadies and the Django Software Foundation, I was able to get a ticket.

I was nervous about going to a new conference alone. Like most geek women, I’m used to harassment in geek spaces.  It used to be, when trying to explain how hostile an environment the geek world can be, I’d tell people, “I’ve been attending cons of various types since I was thirteen, and I have never, not once, been to a con where I wasn’t harassed.”

But I was fairly new to Django development and wanted to start building connections to the wider Django community. The conference was using the Ada Initiative’s policy, and since it was in my home town, it wasn’t going to be hard to bail if I needed to.

Selena Deckelmann keynoting Djangocon 2012.

Selena Deckelmann keynoting Djangocon 2012 (and sporting an Ada Lovelace laptop sticker). Photo by Alec Perkins, used with permission.

The Django community was very welcoming. People asked me what I was working on. What I thought of this talk or that. Whether I’d been to Djangocon before. I attended several talks that were directly relevant to stuff I was working on at the time, met a bunch of awesome people, and even –gasp– grabbed coffee with strangers without it being weird.

But what really stood out for me about that conference was that I felt safe the entire time. Nobody made inappropriate sexual comments, touched me without my permission, or took creepy pictures of me.

It would be unscientific to attribute my experience at Djangocon entirely to the anti-harassment policy. I’ve never been to a Djangocon without such a policy, after all, so it could be that the Django community just knows how to behave. But when I’m trying to decide whether to go to a conference, a clear, specific, well-publicized anti-harassment policy is big points in its favor. This is especially true when a conference is using the Ada Initiative’s policy, because I know that it comes with a comprehensive back-end policy to ensure that event staff know how to handle problems as they arise.

These things make me feel safer, especially when I’m new to a community. They tell me what the community’s standards are. They also tell everyone else what the community’s standards are, which is perhaps their biggest effect: telling people what behaviors are unacceptable can help prevent problems from occurring at all.

Scalzi’s pledge is a great example of how to help make conferences safer spaces, especially if you’re someone with a lot of influence in a community, like a sought-after speaker. But even if you’re not a big name, there’s still plenty that you can do. Ask conferences that don’t have specific, publicized policies to consider adopting them. If a conference you’re attending has such a policy, thank them for it–and consider doing so publicly, in a blog post or on social media.

Annalee and Mackenzie at Adacamp DC.

My friend Mackenzie and I at AdaCamp DC. Photo by Adam Novak, cc-by-sa.

Finally, consider donating to the Ada Initiative, whose staff advocates for women in open technology and culture (including fan and remix culture). They didn’t just put the anti-harassment policy out there and hope it’d stick: they work hard year round to encourage conferences to adopt anti-harassment policies and other best practices. They also offer workshops for allies, and host AdaCamp, an unconference where feminists in open stuff can get together to network, talk about our shared interests, and strategize around issues a lot of us face, such as impostor syndrome.

They rely on donations to keep up their excellent work. And because supporting women in open technology and culture is their job, they’re able to work harder and smarter for us than many of us can on our own.

If you believe in welcoming, fun, harassment-free conferences for everyone, join me in supporting the Ada Initiative’s work.

Photograph of John Scalzi, by I am the Jeff

How To Be An Ally, Speaker Edition

John Scalzi is a New York Times best-selling Science Fiction writer. He’s won or been nominated for most of the genre’s top awards, and he’s the most recent former president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. It’s fair to say he’s a sought-after guest on the SF convention circuit; he’s been a Guest of Honor several times and a Toastmaster more than once, including at the 2012 WorldCon in Chicago.

Photograph of John Scalzi, by I am the Jeff

John Scalzi, from a photo by I am the Jeff

Yesterday, he announced that going forward, he will only accept invitations to conventions that have a published harassment policy that is “clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go to for help and action.”

We often hear from allies who are looking for things they can do to help make geek culture a safer space. If you’re somebody who speaks at conferences, this is a great way that you can leverage your power to help.

How to do it:

Scalzi has an extremely well-trafficked blog, but there’s no need to make a big public statement if you’re not comfortable doing so. All you have to do is:

  1. Only accept invitations/submit talk proposals to conferences with a clear, published, enforced anti-harassment policy, and
  2. When you decline an invitation (or decline to submit a talk), tell them why.

Step Two is key. If you just decline the invitation, the conference will have no way of knowing that there is a simple step they can take to change your mind and make their event safer and more welcoming.

So when you’re invited to speak, check the event’s website for a harassment policy. If you can’t find one, shoot them an email:

Thank you for the invitation to [event]. I’d love to attend, but I only speak at conferences with [clear, publicized] anti-harassment policies. Do you have one that I’ve missed, or would you consider implementing one? [Can you tell me how you will publicize it to attenders?]

For calls for papers or talk submission systems, do the same thing:

I’d love to submit a talk for [event], but I only speak at conferences with [clear, publicized] anti-harassment policies. Do you have one that I’ve missed, or would you consider implementing one? [Can you tell me how you will publicize it to attenders?]

If they tell you that they don’t have a policy, or if the policy they have is not adequate (“don’t be a jerk” is not an anti-harassment policy), encourage them to adopt a real policy. Point them at this template policy, which The Ada Initiative developed in collaboration with other volunteers. It can be adapted to suit most technical, literary, gaming, or media conferences. The introduction includes a concise argument for why conferences should adopt clear policies:

Why have an official anti-harassment policy for your conference? First, it is necessary (unfortunately). Harassment at conferences is incredibly common – for example, see this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities. Second, it sets expectations for behavior at the conference. Simply having an anti-harassment policy can prevent harassment all by itself. Third, it encourages people to attend who have had bad experiences at other conferences. Finally, it gives conference staff instructions on how to handle harassment quickly, with the minimum amount of disruption or bad press for your conference.

If they choose not to adopt and publicize a clear policy with a reporting process, decline their invitation to speak or submit a talk.

Other Ways To Encourage Conferences To Adopt Policies:

The Geek Feminism Wiki has a list of other actions you can take to encourage conferences to adopt anti-harassment policies. Among them:

  1. Privately request a policy by directly contacting the conference organizers, and their parent organization if there is one (some conferences are run by a non-profit parent body, for example).
  2. Publicly request a policy by blogging, tweeting, or similar.
  3. Do not attend conferences without a policy, and let them know of your decision.
  4. Privately or publicly thank conferences that do adopt a policy (and their parent body, if any).
  5. Help publicize conferences that do have a policy.
  6. Preferentially attend conferences with a policy and let them know that you did so.
  7. Refuse to volunteer for or run events that benefit a conference unless it has a policy.

Other Things You Can Do:

  1. Make A Public Personal Pledge to not engage in harassment and to speak up when you see harassment, as sci-fi author Jim C. Hines did, and/or to personally back up targets of harassment, as Mary Robinette Kowal has done.
  2. Refuse To Share A Stage With Jerks. If you’re invited to speak at a conference where another speaker is a known harasser, misogynist, racist, heterosexist, cis-sexist, or other brand of jerk, refuse the invitation, and tell them why:

    I’d love to speak at [event], but I see that you’ve invited [jerk] to be your [Guest of Honor/Keynote/etc]. [Jerk] has done/said [awful things they've done/said][, and to my knowledge, they have not accepted responsibility, nor have they made a public commitment to behave better in the future]. I’m not comfortable [speaking at conferences with them/sitting on a panel with them/toasting them/etc], because I don’t want people thinking I endorse their behavior.

  3. Support Those Who Choose To Speak Out. Last week, Elise Matthesen chose to speak out about being harassed at a conference, and her experience with reporting the harasser. Her post on the subject appeared on the blogs of several well-known SF writers, including Mary Robinette Kowal, Jim C. Hines, Seanan McGuire, Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Wendig, and John Scalzi (hat tip to Mary Robinette Kowal for listing the cross-posters on her blog. More information is available on the Geek Feminism Wiki). These writers not only lent Matthesen their platform and speaking trumpet; they also took on the work of moderating the comments her post generated. Offering to host a post on your own blog and moderate the comments is an extremely valuable service you can offer to people who want to tell personal stories about harassment or related issues.
  4. Name Harassers. Many victims of harassment and assault do not feel safe publicly naming and shaming their harassers/attackers. Those that do name names risk personal, professional, and legal reprisals for doing so. If you have enough personal power within a community that you feel you can safely name a harasser, and if you can do so without outing a victim or betraying a victim’s confidence, consider speaking up. People who are vulnerable to harassment are often forced to rely on a grape-vine of backchannel warnings about serial offenders. This system is opaque, ad-hoc, poorly-documented, and it doesn’t help people who aren’t already tapped into a network that can pass the warnings on. Author K. Tempest Bradford reports that Matthesen’s harasser’s employer has been aware of his behavior for years. There have been previous complaints about it stretching back to at least 2002. After Matthesen came forward last week, Segrid Ellis and Mary Robinette Kowal both came forward to name him. This will make it much easier to hold him (and spaces that tolerate his behavior) accountable going forward.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. There are a hundred big and small ways that you can fight bad behavior in geek spaces–many of which don’t depend on being powerful or famous.

On Twitter, Scalzi said about his new policy: “I didn’t make that harassment statement for the cookies, incidentally. I did it because I don’t want my friends [bleep]ing harassed.” Taking any of these suggested steps may not earn you any cookies, but if you’re in a position to do them, they can help make a real, lasting difference that makes geek communities more safe and welcoming for everyone.

Wednesday Geek Woman: Mary Anne Mohanraj, Author and Editor

Photo by Alberto Yáñez.

Photo by Alberto Yáñez.

Mary Anne Mohanraj started one of the Internet’s first blogs, back in the wild days of 1995 when we still called them “Online Journals,” and everyone had to do all their html by hand.

She founded the award-winning speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons, and the Speculative Literature Foundation, which promotes literary quality in speculative fiction. She has made a lot of her own short fiction available for free on her website.

She’s also a co-founder of the Carl Brandon Society, which works to “increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.” Her essays about race in fandom have had a substantial impact on my own understanding of racial privilege. For folks looking for a solid introduction to these issues, I strongly recommend her two guest-posts on John Scalzi’s Whatever on race in SFF fandom: Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets You Up to Speed, Part I and Part II.

Mohanraj has an essay in Queers Dig Time Lords, which is coming out on June 4th. Her latest book, illustrated Science Fiction Erotica The Stars Change, is currently available for pre-order. It’ll be released on October 1st.

Star-Trek-Logo-Jesperhansen1972-cc-by-sa

Whitewashing? KHAAAAN!

JJ Abrams, the director of Star Trek (2009) and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness is known for being secretive about his upcoming projects. He’s taken it to an extreme with Into Darkness, however: he won’t even confirm the identity of the villain.

Rumors have been flying all over the place for months, of course. The most common is that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the iconic Original Trek character Khan.

Ricardo Montalban in Fiesta trailer

Ricardo Montalbán as Mario Morales in Fiesta (1947).

I really, really hope it’s not true.

Khan, full name Khan Noonien Singh, was originally played by Ricardo Montalbán. He first appeared in the Original Trek episode Space Seed; in which he’s identified as being “[f]rom the northern India area…. Probably a Sikh.” (Here’s the clip; skip to 9:10 for the line).

Benedict Cumberbatch 2011 (jpg)

Benedict Cumberbatch. By Sam Hughes from UK derivative work: RanZag [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Benedict Cumberbatch is a very talented actor. He is also a very white actor.

Normally, pointing this out invites comments like “Ricardo Montalbán wasn’t Indian either!” That’s true. Hollywood has a long and ugly history of using raceface to portray characters of color. It also has an ugly history of whitewashing characters of color–casting white actors to portray the characters as white.

Which is exactly what they’ve done, yet again, if Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan.

The Stop Whitewashing Tumblr has a great primer on why that’s problematic. Here’s another excellent introduction.

Racebending.com also has many smart things to say about whitewashing, including an extensive history of Hollywood’s use of raceface and whitewashing of Asian characters.

The short of it is that there are disproportionately few roles for actors of color as it stands, and those roles that do exist often take a back seat to the many roles already available to white men (especially talented, famous white men like Cumberbatch). Whitewashing characters of color is a form of systematic racism.

Khan is an interesting, complex, and iconic villain, and it’s not 1967 anymore. If the film features a character of Indian descent, there is absolutely no excuse for not hiring an actor of Indian descent to play the part.

Edit to Add–a few links, courtesy Racebending’s fantastically awesome tumblr:

The Whitewashing Khan tumblr. “It’s wrong and you know it.” That about sums it up, yeah.

Racebending breaks down why “it’s just an action movie” and “but Cumberbatch is awesome!” do not excuse whitewashing.

Charlie Jane Anders tackled this on io9 almost a year ago, with insightful commentary on what a white Khan means in terms of Khan’s background with eugenics.

[This post's featured image is from wikimedia commons, cc-by-sa wikipedian Jesperhansen1972]

Changelog–this post has been updated (see comments for details):
–”That’s true. He was Hispanic. Wikipedia pegs him as the son of Castillian Spaniards. I don’t know whether he self-identified as a person of color. If he did, But while there is certainly plenty to say about Hollywood’s habit of casting people of color to play characters from completely different backgrounds as if all brown people look the same (Montalbán played more than one Asian character during his career),. But that is a separate issue entirely from Hollywood’s ugly history of casting white people to play characters of color.”
++”That’s true. Hollywood has a long and ugly history of using raceface to portray characters of color. It also has an ugly history of whitewashing characters of color–casting white actors to portray the characters as white.”

akirachix-flickr-user-cesarharada-cc-nc-sa

Wednesday Geek Women: Akirachix

akirachix-flickr-user-cesarharada-cc-nc-sa

Akirachix at iHub in Nairobi. Photo by Cesar Harada, cc-nc-sa.

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Akirachix is an association of women in tech. Through mentorship, training programs, and networking, they’re working to “inspire and develop a successful force of women in Technology that will change Africa’s future.”

According to the Akirachix website, women make up half of Africa’s workforce, but only 15% of the tech industry. Last December, American news service National Public Radio sat down with Akirachix president Judith Owigar, who talked about what it’s like to be a woman in the Kenyan tech scene:

“You know you’re the oddball just because of your gender,” Owigar says.

It turns out that in Kenya, exactly as in Silicon Valley, the problem with getting more women in tech is that there aren’t more women in tech.

“There are probably other women in tech who are alone, and they think they’re the weird ones, but if enough of us meet together, you know, it won’t be so weird anymore.”

akirachix-flickr-user-dreamfish-cc-by-nc-sa

photo by Flickr user Dreamfish, cc-nc-sa.

So what are they doing about it? They’ve built a support network of two hundred women in technology. They’re hacking the pipeline with mentorship programs for high school girls and training programs for talented women, many of whom can’t afford the tuition costs of a formal degree. They run a mobile app competition to encourage local entrepreneurs to build tools for their own communities:

Africa has 644 million subscribers (approximately 11% of the global total) and this has powered a social and economic revolution. As more people get access to mobile phones and Internet penetration increases they will need applications and services to serve their need. African developers are well positioned to come up with applications for this new mobile user and serve the existing ones in new ways.

With grant funding from international development interests, they’re working to build a mobile social network, and partnered with Computer Aid International to build an open-source screen magnifier to improve visual accessibility.

Learn more about Akirachix on their website and blog, or follow them on twitter.