Author Archives: skud

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.)

Quick hit: a feminist fanvid sampler

I missed this when it was posted, but thought it was worth a quick hit. halfamoon is a celebration of women in fandom that occurs every February. This year, among the posts celebrating women characters, women writers, etc, was harriet_spy‘s post about feminist fanvids.

She breaks her recommendations into four sections:

Critique: vids that explicitly critique the source, or social attitudes reflected in the source.

Methods: is fangirling itself a feminist act?

Reclaiming the Narrative: “if you don’t like it, rewrite it”—how can you bring this approach to source that excludes or diminishes or demeans the stories of women?

Reclaiming the Gaze: A particular problem for fans who use visual media: how do you take footage conceived and edited to appeal to a sexist audience and use those very same images to tell a different kind of story?

Each fanvid is usually around 3 minutes long, and sets footage from film, tv, or other visual media to music to tell a story or evoke some kind of response. While many are streamable, some vids will need to be downloaded to watch; if your computer doesn’t have good video player, try VLC, which will play just about anything.

Women have been making fanvids for at least 35 years, since long before Youtube. For more information on the mostly-female vidding culture, check out Vidding, a documentary available on MIT’s Tech TV channel, or read just about anything from Francesca Coppa’s bibliography.

Germany’s Pirate Party: “We already have gender equality.”

Via yvi, who points out problems with the Pirate Party’s stance on gender equality. Sources are in German, but she writes:

Basic summary: “We don’t need to talk about gender equality in our party because we already have gender equality! Every woman who says otherwise is an evil bitch! The evil feminists are trying to exclude the poor men! Also, we don’t need gender statistics in our party because we don’t need to care – see above re: gender equality.”

Err, yeah.

The Pirate Party is a political party who support Internet rights and the oppose online censorship and the like — for a US perspective, think EFF as an actual political party (though yes, there is an actual US Pirate Party, as well as others internationally).

The discussion seems to have come up after an attempt to form a women’s group within the German Pirate Party. A Google translation of the Piratinnen page on the Pirate Party wiki reads:

“We are post-gender” is often claimed by the pirates. This is an ideal and for many it is so, but sometimes the reality, unfortunately, still looks different. That nobody is disadvantaged, can not be dogmatically postulated by the majority. We want to reach women who feel discriminated within the party – and women who are not going to take but the position of the other seriously. In particular, we want to be focal point for women who for network policy and issues of interest to other pirates, but have not been committed because they feel discriminated against than women with us. We want to create a communication space in which such problems can be articulated.

Sounds very much like the same discussions I’ve heard in other tech areas (open source, tech industry, etc.) Are there any German GF readers who can share a bit more insight into this particular situation?

On LambdaFail, women writing m/m erotica, and the queerness and/or misogyny of slash fandom

This won’t be news to anyone who moves in fannish meta circles, but I thought it warranted a post for those who might not have encountered the discussion before now.

Back in September, the Lambda Literary Foundation announced that henceforth their awards would be restricted to authors who identified as GLBT, rather than (as had previously been the case) anyone who was writing GLBT-oriented works. This excluded, in particular, a growing segment of the book market consisting of male/male erotica written by (presumably straight) women.

Discussion ensued as to whether such fiction was appropriating gay male culture and offensive to gay men, or whether the backlash against m/m erotica written by women was just another instance of women’s sexual expression being policed by men, as it so often is. A round of Oppression Olympics ensued, with women on one team and gay men on the other; both groups are in the right, being similarly subject to the kyriarchy and privileged (or not) on different axes, but few commentators approached the debate from this perspective in the early rounds.

Recently, the discussion has spread to slash fandom on Livejournal, Dreamwidth, and elsewhere, and this (IMHO) is where it gets really interesting, because that crowd is nothing if not introspective, verbose, smart, and well practiced in massively hypertext discussions of complicated issues.

Slash is m/m erotica written (usually) by women about (usually) male characters from TV, movies, books, etc. Many of the most popular slash fandoms are geek staples such as Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Buffy, superhero comics, and so forth. Unlike the professional m/m erotica market, slash writers are generally working with existing characters, often from fandoms that don’t pass (or barely pass) Bechdel in the first place. Many slashers use their writing/reading to explore sex and gender in a relatively safe online environment that might not otherwise be available to them. And, it turns out, many or most slashers are themselves queer, despite stereotypes about “straight housewives” and the like.

So, fandom being fandom, and things being always more complicated, the discussion coming out of this is pretty crunchy. Some of the questions/themes I’ve seen covered include:

  • Does romance/erotica ignore or erase difficult issues (eg. discrimination, oppression), and should we care? Or does escapism get a free pass?
  • Do fanfic writers have a duty to write the other respectfully and realistically when the “other” in question is gay men/MSM? How do we do this?
  • Why do fanfic writers write about male characters so much more than female characters, anyway? Is this internalised misogyny?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in reading up on some of what’s been posted, take a look at the linkspam and metafandom communities, which have been collecting links to interesting posts on the subject.

You know what’s hilarious AND disgusting?

Vaginas! And anything that goes in or near vaginas! If you want to be the funniest person in the world, and gross everyone out with how edgy and ewww you’re being, what you should do is compare things to menstrual products.

OMG WHO WOULD WANT TO USE SOMETHING THAT SOUNDS LIKE IT GOES IN/NEAR A VAGINA EWWW! HA HA! #iTampon

Also, people will think you are twelve years old. Which is awesome, because twelve-year-olds are the funniest and coolest people in the history of ever.