Author Archives: skud


Who is harmed by a “real names” policy?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about pseudonymity and about online services that disallow it, instead requiring so-called “real names”. For example, previously on Geek Feminism:

Some time ago, I helped draft a list of groups of people who would be harmed by a policy banning pseudonymity and requiring “real names”. Unfortunately that document’s not available anywhere publicly online, so I thought it might be good to recreate it on the Geek Feminism wiki, and offer it as a general resource.

Here it is: Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?

Please help us fill in any categories of people you can think of who benefit from pseudonymity online, or who may experience real harm from a policy that bans it. You can edit the wiki directly if you like, or just drop a comment here on this post and we’ll try and include them.

And, of course, please bookmark the link and use it whenever anyone claims that only trolls or people with “something to hide” want to use pseudonyms online.


Music geekery

Didn’t we link to this geek hierarchy? I just searched the GF blog and can’t find it. Anyway, SURPRISE! All forms of geek on the hierarchy are male! At least til you get to the very bottom of the list and the fanfic writer has a bag over zir head. There’s a whole nother article to be written about the presumed and actual gender of fanfic writers, but I wanted to talk about the top of the geek hierarchy: the music geek.

Undisputed King of the Geek World, the Music Geek is without a doubt the most socially acceptable. For some reason you can be totally obsessed with going to music store after music store looking for that rare Australian-only single release by your third favorite indie band, and nobody’s going to think you’re weird or “eccentric” for doing so. This geekdom is the “coolest” because it does not repel women, and many of these geeks actually go out in public regularly to see bands perform, so they tend not to be socially awkward hermits.

*pounds head gently on desk*

As some of you may know, I’m quitting my job in the tech industry and going into music. It’s given me some pause for thought wrt my geek identity, let me tell you. But fuck it, I can be a music geek, and a geek in music, and/or a geek who combines tech and music. Whatever.

Anyway, on that note, I just wanted to post a quick link to an article on one of my favourite music-geek blogs, Pam’s Newsprint Fray:

Earlier this week, Pitchfork published a list of their 60 favorite music books. It is pretty wide-ranging and there are many good books on the list. (And some I really hated.) But only one was written by a woman, and two had lady coauthors. Come the fuck on.

Pam then offers us:

that happen to have been written by ladies

or at least co-written in a few cases

I’m definitely adding a few of these to my to-read list. Meanwhile, talk to me about music geekery, being a female music geek and/or geek in music, etc?

Fighting sexism with humor?

Valerie Aurora just tweeted:

30 minutes till I run #foocamp session “Defeating Sexism through Humor.” Suggestions?

I suggested a few things to her including:

Got any others? Or any experiences with using humor for feminist ends?

The t-shirt challenge

Yesterday on Twitter, I announced an offer:

For any tech conference I attend which provides t-shirts in my size, I will donate $100 to the event or to a related non-profit or charity.

The small print:

  • The t-shirts must be provided as standard and available to all attendees, not custom-made just for me.
  • My t-shirt size is 24″ measured from armpit to armpit, unstretched, in a women’s “fitted” cut. This is roughly the same diameter as a men’s XL.
  • If the event is a volunteer-run/non-profit/donation-accepting event I will donate the $100 to the event itself. Otherwise, I will donate to a closely-related non-profit or charity such as an open source software foundation, the EFF, or similar.
  • I will do this for the first 5 events that meet my criteria, or 2 years, whichever comes first.

A word on sizing. Women’s/fitted tshirts provided at events or for sale online usually max out somewhere around 40″ bust measurement, plus or minus a few inches. For instance, Thinkgeek’s largest women’s size, XXL, is 36″ in circumference, equivalent to a men’s S. American Apparel’s women’s 2XL tshirt supposedly fits around a 44″-46″ bust though AA run small. The actual size of their largest women’s tshirt, measured with a tape measure, is 42″, and falls between a men’s M and L.

Here’s a picture of an AA women’s 2XL laid out over a men’s L. As you can see, the largest women’s size is smaller than a men’s L:

American Apparel women's 2XL tshirt laid over a men's L.  The women's tshirt is slightly smaller in diameter than the men's.

Now, I recognise I’m a large woman. But I’m not that large. Without breasts, I would be a stocky little guy with a bit of a paunch, and take a size L tshirt. With breasts — and again, they’re large but they’re not that large — I’m off the scale.

Don’t tell me I can wear a straight-cut/unisex/men’s tshirt. I don’t want to. Yes, some women prefer straight-cut shirts or find that they fit well. I am not one of them. And my size/shape/t-shirt preference is not a rare one.

When I wear a straight-cut shirt, it pulls across my chest and hips, sags around my waist, bunches under my armpits, creeps up to choke me, and the sleeves hang down to my elbows. I feel awkward and uncomfortable and I spend a good part of your conference thinking about how I look and feel, rather than about the subject at hand. I really hope that’s not what you want me to remember about your event.

Which conference cares more about its attendees?  Webstock t-shirt fits well, JavaOne t-shirt is baggy and unattractive.
Photo credit: Kathy Sierra, under CC-BY-NC-SA, from her Creating Passionate Users blog.

So here’s what I want event organisers to do. Find a vendor that provides women’s/fitted t-shirts in sizes that go up to 24″ measured armpit to armpit. Yes, there are a number of them out there — but American Apparel is not one of them. Have those t-shirts at your conference for any attendees who want them. And I will donate $100 to your event or to a closely-related charity or non-profit.

Who else is with me? (Or, since cash donations aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, feel free to propose other incentives in comments.)

Shuttleworth apologises for last year’s comments at LinuxCon

Remember how last September in a keynote speech at LinuxCon, Mark Shuttleworth (Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life of the Ubuntu Linux project) made a series of comments including one about how “us guys” in the Linux community have trouble “explaining to girls what we actually do”? At the time, I posted an open letter to Mark, saying,

I’d like to invite you to think about the message you’re sending to women in the Linux community, and, if you didn’t mean to convey the message that we’re technical illiterates and hard to educate, consider apologising publicly.

There’s a followup post with more information, and in November last year Shuttleworth responded in comment on another post on the subject. However, he did not apologise at that time.

So, I’m glad to be able to report that the other day, in the comment thread on a post about “tribalism” on his own blog, he offered an apology after prompting by Máirín Duffy and Carla Schroder:

I apologize unreservedly to all offended by my poor choice of language on that or other occasions.

Better late than never! I know that several Ubuntu women I’ve spoken to are pleased and relieved that Shuttleworth finally apologised, even if it’s not a textbook apology. So, thank you, Mark. I hope you’ll continue listening to the women in your community, and think about the effects of your words in future.

Quick hit: xkcd “Phobia” passes Bechdel Test

Today’s xkcd comic strip, Phobia, passes the Bechdel Test.

  1. Contains two women
  2. Having a conversation
  3. About something other than a man

Last time this happened, as far as I can tell, was over 400 comics ago, where the two women in question ended up being rescued from the RIAA and MPAA enforcers by Richard Stallman. Or has there been one more recently?

One thing I like about “Phobia” is that the two characters just happen to be women. They’re not there to tell us a very special message about women or to be part of someone’s romantic fantasy. They just… are. People. With fears and motivations and ideas and dreams.

So, thanks, Randall! More like this please!

Hacker News and pseudonymity

Mark Suster has a post about improving civility on YCombinator’s Hacker News:

I’ve seen vitriolic responses on HN on several occasion. I mostly get hammered on HN if I write about a controversial topic like criticizing Apple (in fact, what prompted me to write this post today was that I was asked on Twitter to write a post about Facebook. I have been avoiding it because I wasn’t up for the inevitable public pummeling this week). […]

In fact, I was reluctant to write this post because I know it’s likely to lead to the inevitable bashing on HackerNews, which unfortunately also spills over into hate emails that some people from HN send me personally (no prizes for guessing my email address).

His suggested fixes include:

1. Make all users post under real names that you verify — This in and of itself would help temper comments. It’s totally acceptable to me for people to harshly criticize my points-of-view. No problem. But calling me a f***ing a**hole or some of the other epithets used goes too far. If people used real names and if these were crawlable and searchable in Google the transparency alone would help regulate people. Not everybody but many. HackerNews doesn’t need to be JuicyCampus.

Better still add photos the was Disqus and Quora do. It humanizes everybody and drives more civil conversation. As Paul said in his blog posting, “don’t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldn’t say in person.†Photos drives this closer to reality.

No. No no and again no.

Strong moderation is possible without compromising anonymity or pseudonymity. And Suster’s suggestion of requiring real/verified names can actually worsen the situation for some people. Suster quotes Paul Graham, saying, “Don’t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldn’t say in person,” but that sounds like the voice of someone who’s never received abuse or harassment in person. People aren’t ashamed or afraid to make abusive comments under their own names, and the necessity of using real/verified names will only exclude those who don’t want abusive comments to follow them back to their own email inboxes (as Suster himself experienced) or worse, their homes or workplaces.

Suster and Graham may not have noticed (they’re not the target audiences, after all), but women online are regularly admonished to use pseudonyms to protect themselves. Many websites with a culture of pseudonymity — LiveJournal and derivative sites are an example — have a very high proportion of female members, perhaps in part because of the sense of privacy and security that pseudonymity brings. A site which requires real/verified names is automatically flagging itself as a potentially/probably unsafe space for women, or for anyone else at risk of harassment, violence, job discrimination, and the like.

People sometimes speak as if pseudonymity is the same as anonymity, or suggest that pseudonymity is nothing more than a way to avoid accountability for one’s words. It’s not. Persistent pseudonyms (those used over many years and perhaps across multiple sites) can accrue social capital and respect just as “real” names can, and be subject to the same social pressures towards civil behaviour if the community has a strong culture of respect. Without a culture of respect, real names won’t help. With it, real names won’t matter.

There’s more about pseudonymity on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

How John Scalzi invented fanfic

So the other day John Scalzi posted on his blog that he is writing a “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s science fiction novel “Little Fuzzy”. He says:

Why did you do this?

Because as far as I know it’s never been done before. Science fiction TV and movie series are rebooted all the time — see Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek for recent examples of this — but I can’t think of a significant, original universe in science fiction literature in which this has been done, at least, not by someone who is not the original author. So I thought, hey, this seems like it could be a fun thing to do. So I did it.

If your eyes aren’t rolling enough already (because, hello, fan fiction?), melannen pointed out to me that Ardath Mayhar, a female author, had even written a professionally published retelling of the Little Fuzzy story (a fact that’s mentioned on the Wikipedia page for Little Fuzzy, so it’s hardly obscure.)

Is it time for another round of How To Suppress Women’s Writing?

  • She didn’t write it.

(But if it’s clear she did the deed. . .)

  • She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.)
  • She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!)
  • She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (“Jane Eyre. Poor dear, that’s all she ever. . .â€)
  • She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s sci fi!)
  • She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Branwell Bronte. Her own “masculine side.â€)
  • She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help….)
  • She wrote it BUT. . .

When women do it, it’s just fan fiction. When men do it, it’s a reboot. Right.

ETA: I’ve been pointed at a subsequent post in which Scalzi admits he’s writing fanfic.

For those who are new here, I’d like to point out that we have a comment policy which asks you to “Be at least one of: feminist, friendly, amusing, or perspicacious. Two is even better.” Comments along the lines of “She wrote it, BUT…” (it wasn’t commercially published, it wasn’t called a reboot because we hadn’t invented that word yet, she didn’t have permission from TPTB…) will be bitbucketed.

Quick Hit: Too Many Dicks

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

Anita writes:

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

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

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

Thoughts on International Women’s Day

It’s 11:18pm in my timezone as I write this and I’m reflecting on International Women’s Day. I feel kind of anxious and twitchy and unhappy, and I’m trying to unpick why.

This morning one of the first things that greeted me, as I sat in bed skimming my Dreamwidth reading page, was this video of Ethyl Smyth‘s March of the Women, illustrated with pictures of women suffragists who fought for votes — and a wide range of human rights — for women.

Next year marks 100 years since the composition of that song. These are women of my great-grandmother’s generation marching, fighting, protesting, being arrested, and being imprisoned for basic human rights. I should be inspired, and yet I feel frustrated and exhausted.

How is it that we are still dealing with this shit?

(And because I am cranky, I am going to set an arbitrary rule on comments: if you post a comment with “but here’s an awesome feminist thing to be happy about!” you must also post a “but this fucking sucks” link as well. And vice versa.)