Author Archives: skud

Wiscon panel brainstorming post

Those of you who attend WisCon probably already know that they are seeking program ideas. For those who have never attended WisCon before, it is a Feminist Science Fiction Convention held each May in Madison, Wisconsin. I went for the first time last year, and met many of the GF bloggers there for the first time, not to mention many of our regular commenters. It was a great experience, and one I look forward to repeating this year. If you’ve never been to an SF convention before, I can recommend this one to first-timers.

Anyway! My point! I had one!

Program suggestions close on the 22nd. What are you going to suggest? Got any half-formed ideas you’d like to bounce around? Do any of the geek feminist events of 2009 suggest panels? And the most important question: GF Party Y/Y?

Quick hit: About a rant about women

I guess by now everyone’s seen Clay Shirky’s A rant about women?

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

It was cheering that, by the time I read it, there were already comments pointing Clay (and other readers) at the ovular (what!? it’s like seminal but without the semen!) Women Don’t Ask. If you haven’t read that book, go get hold of a copy pronto. It’s an overview of research into negotiation skills and gender, and it’s eye-opening.

I didn’t see linked, but also thought of, Fugitivus’s posts about rape culture, especially another post about rape, in which she says:

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.

That, in a nutshell, is my response to Clay. (A good feminist bookmark collection is a life-saver, I swear.)

Two other posts I found today, talking about Clay’s rant. First, Gabriella Coleman, Being Bad-Ass w/o the Arrogance:

I have always resented the idea that women can’t be assertive and confident. However, confidence and self-esteem, which I agree are vital for getting noted, does not inherently entail jerky behavior. I think Shirky’s perspective might be skewed because of his home field, which is filled with just the type of guys he is describing.

And Tom Coates, Should we encourage self-promotion and lies?:

My experience has been that there’s definitely a role for the arrogant and the pushy in the creation and promotion of a project. It’s also taught me that this skill is a small part of the set of skills necessary to produce something great.

The kinds of things that result in great products are tangible skills, a desire and a pleasure in collaborative building, an aspiration and sense that you’re making something important, a sense of teamwork, room to experiment, the ability to bring out the best in the people around you, a good work ethic.


GF Classifieds

We’ve been saying for a while that we ought to do something like this, so here’s a first attempt.

I frequently get email from people who say that they’re trying to recruit women for events, projects, speaking gigs, research studies, or whatever. I sometimes wonder… what am I meant to do with these emails? I’m not just going to post them here every time. For one thing, it would be spamalicious, and for another, I quite often don’t know the event/project/etc in question and don’t have time to research it before implicitly endorsing it by posting the want ad.

So, this is going to be a semi-regular (I hope) place for people who are looking to reach out to women to post their information.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Think of it like a job ad: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  5. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address. The email address you enter in the comment form is not public, so don’t assume that readers can see it.
  6. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

And, because this is the first time we’ve had this sort of thing, here are some examples of things that would be suitable to post:

  • If your workplace is hiring, and you’d like to see more women applying, you could post job ads here and tell us why geek women would love working there.
  • If you are an event organiser, you could use this to recruit speakers or attendees (be sure to mention any efforts you have taken to make your event women-friendly).
  • You could advertise for guest-bloggers or writers for geeky publications.

You get the idea. Good luck!

Wanted: aggressive people with no lives

Sarah Mei just tweeted:

Whenever anyone asks why there aren’t more female developers at startups, I’m going to send them this job post.

The link goes to this job ad for Mahalo:

If you’re looking for a 9-5 gig where you can keep your head down and collect a pay check don’t apply—we don’t want you. Seriously, I don’t care if you wrote the book on Python or MySQL… if you’re not a hardworking maniac who is hungry as hell you’re of no use to us. We need killers. So, if you’re a killer who wants crush it with a bunch of killer who already crushing it send me your resume.

Their benefits include:

We’ll clean your car for you and do your laundry—literally. Seriously, we don’t want you thinking about doing your laundry, cleaning your car or what you’re doing to eat—let alone spending time on that non-sense.

Who is this aimed at? Young single people, for starters. People who can move cross-country for a job. People without kids. People whose partners care for the kids. People who are aggressive. People who like working with other aggressive people, including the boss. People who are pushy enough to deal with a self-described meritocracy, or be fired. People who can identify with a long list of male names, representing people who previously enjoyed working this way.

Sound appealing to you? If not, how would you write that ad to make it more appealing?

Two genderfails from LiveJournal and its environs

First up, the return of fannish scammer formerly known as Victoria Bitter, most recently appearing on LiveJournal as thanfiction. If you’re familiar with the back-story, you’ll know that the person in question has been identifying as male for some years now. Despite this, various people in the fandom_wank thread have been referring to him as “she” or “s/he” or the like. The fandom_wank post now comes with a “No more transfail!” warning.

Brown Betty puts it like this:

It is never okay to disregard a transperson’s preferred gender identity. Not if he’s a compulsive liar, not if he’s a demonstrated con-artist, not if he’s dragging down the name of fandom, not if he’s the worst person on the internet.

Let me recontextualize, with a hypothetical: “It is never okay to slut-shame. Not if she’s a compulsive liar, a demonstrated con-artist, dragging down the good name of fandom…”

Clearer now?

Meanwhile, Livejournal has recently added code which will require (binary) gender disclosure, presumably to better target its advertising. Unlike, say, Facebook, LJ has never nagged you to disclose your gender or fit into the boxes marked “Male” or “Female”. This made it more trans-friendly than many social networking sites.

Denise’s letter to the LJ feedback folks reads, in part:

Transgender and genderqueer individuals experience discrimination every day when they are forced to identify themselves with the gender binary when it doesn’t apply to them. Please do not contribute to this oppression.

Please keep the “Unspecified” option for gender, and add an “Other” option, if you are making the gender field mandatory. Please do not contribute to the oppression of others. While I recognize that having a user’s gender makes advertisers happier, collecting revenue at the expense of human suffering is not the action of a company I want to do business with.

She suggests that LJ users go set their gender to “Unspecified” in protest, before the probable code-push on Thursday, and send a letter to LJ registering your disapproval.

If anyone wants ‘em, I’ve got Dreamwidth invites. More on Dreamwidth and trans/genderqueer inclusion.

ETA: The LJ change has been rolled back. Binary gender disclosure will not be required (for now).

Motorola Droid: why don’t you want my business?

A friend of GF just Bcc’d me on this email, which was sent to the CEOs of Motorola and Verizon along with a number of other senior executives of those companies.

To: “greg.brown” <>,
“jonathan.ruff” <>,
“Juli.Burda” <>,
“jennifer.erickson” <>,
“william.kula” <>,
“Thomas.Pica” <>,
“anthony.melone” <>,
“ajay.waghray” <>,
“peter.thonis” <>,
“ivan.seidenberg” <>

Dear Sirs and Mesdames,

Two weeks ago I researched, then bought four Motorola/Verizon Droids for my family. Without my research and influence, we’d probably have bought two Blackberries for the adults and dumbphones for the children.

Today I learned that Motorola is running ads, “Pretty”, explaining that Droids aren’t for “princesses”, trade “hair-do for can-do”, and by implication are not for women. (Yes, I do occasionally call my daughter “princess”. She’s currently attending an Ivy League institution.) My daughter and I are currently discussing buying ornamental skins for our Droids; I do hope this won’t crash the Android operating system.

I make over $100,000 a year. I work in high tech. And I control major purchasing decisions. Why are you running advertisements suggesting that your product is primarily for men?

The addresses are all there for you if you should feel the urge to write a letter yourself. The email’s author tells me she guessed them based on the standard address format used by the companies in question, and says that none of them bounced. (Some guesses that did bounce have been removed from the list above.)

And here’s the ad in question:

Another blog post on the subject, which I came across yesterday via the geekfeminism tag on delicious is Girls are still icky, over at Coyle’s InFormation. I’m sure there are more out there, so feel free to link them in comments.

Know a woman of vision? Nominate her!

The Anita Borg institute is one of my favourite organisations out there for women in the tech field. Among their many activities, they have an annual award for Women of Vision, who have made a significant contribution to technology as innovators, leaders, or in creating social impact.

Last year’s award winners were Yuqing Gao, Senior Manager, IBM Research, IBM, for Innovation; Jan Cuny, Program Director, National Science Foundation, for Social Impact; and Mitchell Baker, Chairperson, Mozilla, for Leadership.

Nominations for the 2010 award have been extended til December 18th. If you know a woman who’s made a significant contribution to technology this year, visit the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision website and nominate her!


Mary just excluded a Twilight critique from a recent linkspam because, quote, “if we start linking to that we’ll never stop”. She has a point. And yet, there is a lot of interesting geeky feminist critique of Twilight out there. Many of you have probably already seen this mashup of Twilight with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example:

So, while we don’t much relish the idea of becoming the All Twilight All The Time channel, we figured it was worth offering an opportunity for geek feminist discussion of Twilight, or for links to such discussion elsewhere. This is that thread. Enjoy!

Questioning the merit of meritocracy.

In certain communities (I’m looking at you, open source), it’s common to describe the way the community functions as a “meritocracy”. The idea is that the community is led by those who demonstrate ability and skill, and in software projects, that usually means the people who write the code. Meritocracy is often espoused as being fair, in that anyone is theoretically able to rise to the top: all they have to do is demonstrate their ability.

For instance, in Jono Bacon’s recent book The Art of Community, he says:

The magic of meritocracies is that the playing field is level for everyone. Those who work hard and show a recurring commitment to the community are rewarded. Those who think that driving a car with a blue neon light underneath it will impress us are going to be sadly disappointed.

Few would argue that a meritocracy is a bad thing. Its fundamental basis is in rewarding hard work. This concept largely maps to the general life lessons that we are all raised with: work hard and you reap the rewards of your efforts.

I don’t mean to pick on Jono here, because his is only one description of meritocracy that I’ve seen. Others include PHP, Apache, and Eclipse.

But something about Jono’s description of meritocracy really jumped out for me: “the life lessons that we are all raised with.” I was lucky — let’s call it what it is and say privileged — because I did receive that message, largely through my schooling at a private, girls-only school. But it came long with other messages, from my family and society at large, like “people won’t like it if you’re too clever” and “ambition is so unattractive” and “don’t put yourself forward, dear.”

Noirin Shirley describes the situation in a blog post from 2006, FLOSSPOLS, Sexism, and Why Meritocracy Really Isn’t:

On the surface, [meritocracy is] a completely fair, non-sexist, open concept. Anyone can get in, anyone can progress, as long as they’re good enough.

That’s very, very rarely true. Generally, at best, a meritocracy turns very quickly into a merit-and-confidence/pushiness-ocracy. Good work doesn’t win you influence — good work that’s pushed in others’ faces, or at the very least, good work of which others are regularly reminded — wins you influence. And that’s where women fall down.

In short: meritocracy benefits not only those with skill and ability, but with the self-confidence to demonstrate their skill publicly and demand recognition for it. And self-confidence is highly gendered.

Noirin also writes about unconscious bias in judging merit:

The final problem with meritocracy is that even after all the noises of “it’s all about the quality of contributionsâ€, women very often aren’t judged on the same basis as men. This is one of the few areas that FLOSSPOLS have looked at where both men and women perceive there to be a problem. People listen or pay attention to women, or don’t, based on the fact that they’re female — not based on the merit or otherwise of their contributions.

This reminds me of the practice of blind auditions, where it was found that women have greater success rates in auditioning for orchestral roles when they are placed behind a screen that prevents the listener from perceiving the musician’s gender. We know that unconscious sexism plays a part in how merit is judged in other “meritocracies”; it would be naive to think that the situation is different in software development.

So when I hear someone say that their project is a meritocracy (especially if they say it as if it’s necessarily a good thing), I tend to assume that they are 1) naive, and 2) probably have a bunch of unexamined, unconscious sexism going on.

So I guess this is the part where I offer suggestions for improvement.

First up, I’d like to see projects expand the definition of merit. A pure “meritocracy” based on coding skill will lead to crappy documentation, ugly UIs, and poor community dynamics. Watch How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People and consider whether a poisonous person who writes good code has merit or not. Then consider any steps to seniority or leadership that are based on “merit”. Do you judge nothing but code, or do you also include other skills, including “plays well with others”, in your reviews of people’s merit?

Accept that some of your contributors will have lower “merit”, but may still be valuable, perhaps by taking on easy tasks so that more senior contributors have time to work on harder ones, or perhaps as senior contributors in training. Don’t expect people to come in with a high level of skill and ability from day one, and be prepared to accept contributions that are less than perfect. Denise Paolucci’s Teaching People to Fish is a good read on this subject for project leaders, and Angie Byron’s A diary of two developers describes a similar situation from the contributor’s perspective, showing how imperfect contributions quickly iterated can lead to a more active, collaborative community than a single perfect patch.

Finally, don’t require pushiness along with ability. To what extent do people need to put themselves forward to progress in seniority? Could you offer commit bits or leadership roles to people who haven’t asked for them, if you think they’ll do a good job? And consider “pulling” instead: ask people how their patch is progressing, and offer to review it privately. Make yourself available via a back-channel such as instant messenger and ping contributors from time to time to give them an opportunity to talk without appearing pushy.

Quick hit: open source leadership survey

Yesterday at ApacheCon I met Yeliz Eseryel, a researcher from Groningen University who’s looking into leadership in open source projects. If you’re involved in any open source project and have a few minutes to spare, please take her survey.

The survey asks you to pick any one project you know of, and talk about the leadership of it. If you pick a project with women in leadership roles, please comment below and let us know about it. If they’re not already on the GF wiki’s list of women in free and open source software, please add them. (Yes, anyone can edit!)

You can find out more about Yeliz and her group’s research at I noticed this on the page:

NOTE: Want to have us do research on Open Source that can contribute back to your community? Email me at and suggest areas (or questions) of Open Source that we should study. YOUR input is important.

I’ll point her at this list of research ideas from a couple of months back. If you’ve got any others please let her know!