Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?

It is a linkspam universally acknowledged (25 February 2014)

  • 7 Disney Princesses My Daughter Wishes Existed | cecilyk on babble (Feb 21, 2014): “Like so many 7-year-old girls, my daughter is utterly obsessed with Disney Princesses. [...] But because I’m a feminist, I annoy my daughter by having long discussions with her about the way Disney portrays women and how she feels about it. [...] she also longs for a princess that is more, well, like her. So we sat down together, and she gave me a list of what she would love to see in a Disney Princess. Take note, Disney!”
  • What I learned while editing Wikipedia | Noopur Raval on opensource.com (Jan 27, 2014): “My work with the Wikimedia Foundation and editing Wikipedia has helped me take a hard look at myself as a woman of colour from India in technology. [...] The question I ask myself now everyday is whether merely enabling access through infrastructure and providing free platforms like Wikipedia can help us resolve uneven digital geographies created in the process.”
  • Software Engineering Made a Woman Outta Me | Jennifer Gilbert on Medium (Feb 18, 2014): “When I decided to learn to code, I knew I was entering a male-dominated field. But I considered that challenge far less worrisome than, say, taming the black magic of recursion. [...] And yet, the day I became a software engineer, I became a woman. It was a lonely moment. My dad wasn’t even there to awkwardly hug me before yelling for my mother and excusing himself to Any Room But This One. [...] The biggest tomboy alive can suddenly feel like Programmer Barbie if her surrounding context is male enough.”
  • debian women – MiniDebConf Barcelona 2014 | DebConf (2014): “On the 15th and 16th of March, Barcelona will host a Mini DebConf with both talks and social events, to which everyone in Debian is invited but the speakers in the talks are all people who identify themselves as female. We consider this important to: Encourage women who haven’t yet given their first DebConf talk; Provide role models for women who are interested in contributing; Debunk the myth that there are not enough women who can give talks in DebConf. The idea behind the conference is not to talk about women in free software, or women in debian, but rather to make discussion about Debian subjects more inclusive for women. [...] We are still raising funds to cover the costs of running the conference and to offer travel sponsorship to people who cannot pay for it. Please, consider donating any amount you can, everything helps!”
  • Rubrics Like the Bechdel Test are a Start, Not an End | s.e. smith (Feb 14, 2014):
    “The obvious question you have to ask after applying it is ‘why did it pass (or fail)’? You can point to specific scenes, or lack thereof, that helped a film or other piece of media meet the standard, and you can note shortcomings of the Bechdel test; for example, if a piece of media is a solo performance by a woman, it’s going to fail, but does that mean it’s necessarily sexist? If a movie passed, does that mean it’s not sexist? Two women talking to each other about something other than a man in a piece of media don’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t contain sexist stereotypes or other problems.”
  • Apparently, these guys don’t want women to write science fiction | Aja Romano on The Daily Dot (Feb 15, 2014): “A conversation on a science-fiction forum this week revealed a section of the community that’s teeming with indignation about recent attempts to make the genre more progressive. [...] But these days, the sci-fi community is an increasingly large, public place. And with the advent of instant communication across the Internet, more voices are coming to the table and speaking out”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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.

There’s more than one way to linkspam (21 February 2014)

  • Being Trans in the Tech Industry | Brook Shelly on The Toast (Feb 7, 2014): “For trans women that choose to not disclose their history to employers, coworkers, or even the world at large – which is our right – we face the struggle of speaking up that might force our hand on disclosure. If I call out or discuss something transmisogynistic, do they see me in a different light? At what point do I become safely “othered” in their mind?”
  • We Know Tech Companies Are Sexist, But This Is Horrifying | Mark Gongloff on The Huffington Post (Feb 5, 2014): “Please first take note of the breathtaking lack of women in executive positions across the entire corporate universe. But then look at just how much worse things are in Silicon Valley: Nearly half of the SV 150 companies have no female executives at all, while 84 percent of the S&P 500 manages to have at least one. That is an astounding number.”
  • Black Canary is a Totally Bisexual Superhero on “Arrow,” Kissed A Hot Lady On TV Last Night | Mey on Autostraddle (Feb 6, 2014): “In the latest episode of the CW’s show Arrow, “Heir to the Demon,” one of the main characters, Sara Lance, also known as the superhero Black Canary, came out as queer. She’s the first superhero from one of the two major companies (DC and Marvel) to be visibly and explicitly queer on either television or film.”
  • These Women Are Building The Software That Quietly Runs The World | Julie Bort on Business Insider Australia (Feb 10, 2014): “we asked the Linux Foundation, the granddaddy of all open-source projects, to give us a list of stand-out women doing fabulous work. [...] So, here’s our list of women with awesome careers working on Linux, the tech that’s quietly running the world.”
  • Sunday Reflections: Time to Not Be Nice | Christie on Teen Librarian Toolbox (Feb 9, 2014): “Girls (and women) do not need to be ‘friendly’ on the internet. We need to be intelligent, coherent, sound, passionate, and LOUD in our voices, our passions, and for our beliefs and for our rights. We need to stand up for the right to control our bodies, no matter whether it is to have children or not, no matter whether it is to have sex or not, and to have the right to choose WHEN and WHERE that encounter is. We need to be able to have the voice to say NO when we don’t want something, no matter if it’s a hug, a glance, someone calling us honey or sweetheart, or even a slice of cheese on a hamburger.”
  • Women who program aren’t unicorns | Julia Evans  on Medium (Feb 10, 2104): “I know so many women who code now. A ton of the people I follow on Twitter are women and the people I talk to about programming are largely women. I feel surprised when I go to a meetup and it’s all men, because it’s no longer the community that I’m used to.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam and a bag of chips (18 February 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on PinboardDelicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam, the feminist hackerspace edition

Welcome to a special edition of Linkspam, featuring a number of recent articles about feminist hackerspaces.

First, Geek Feminism’s own Liz Henry documents The Rise of Feminist Hackerspaces and How to Make Your Own:

We’d like to build spaces without harassment, without having to worry about jerks, and more ambitiously, with active encouragement to explore. The culture we’re developing supports making, learning, and teaching, which is a goal we share with many other hackerspaces. Ours is starting with a few extra values; intersectional feminism, support for feminist activism and strong respect for personal boundaries. We’re trying to build structures that help us form strong social ties and share responsibility.

It’s very exciting. I know what you’re thinking. You want a feminist hackerspace full of creative, talented non-jerks near you!

Elsewhere:

Anyone founded, founding, attending or contemplating a feminist hackerspace? Ask questions and share tips in comments!

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.

Jane Tiberia Kirk beams back from an away mission

Star Trek’s ‘Parallel Lives’ and The Awesome Women In The Mirror

IDW Publishing’s Star Trek comics follow the adventures of the Enterprise crew as they explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before.

In Star Trek #29, the Enterprise continues its five-year mission under the command of Jane Tiberia Kirk.

Yup, that’s right:

an image from a parallel, gender-flipped version of the Star Trek universe, where the Enterprise is under the command of Captain Jane Tiberia Kirk.

Captain Jane Tiberia Kirk, Lt. Commander Spock, and Yeoman Jason Rand.

The fun doesn’t end there: the entire crew, from Lea “Bones” McCoy on down to Hikari Sulu and Pavlovna Chekov, is gender-swapped. (Spock is apparently a gender-neutral name among Vulcans).

Mainstream comics have a well-earned reputation for epic fail when it comes to gender, so when I saw pages of this comic on Racebending’s Tumblr, I had a dual reaction. On the one hand, shut up and take my money. On the other: I hope this isn’t a foul mess.

I grabbed a digital copy from the publisher, and I’m happy to report that is not, in fact, a foul mess. With one glaring exception, the characters have kept the sensibilities and interpersonal dynamics of their better-known counterparts. Captain Kirk is still full of bravado, Bones is still a curmudgeon, and Spock is still Kirk’s good sense. No one’s been turned into a whiny damsel, and artist Yasmin Liang hasn’t drawn our intrepid heroes straining their backs to present their breasts and butt to a viewer they can’t perceive.

Because the characters are still so very much who they are in the normal timeline, the comic gives us a glimpse into a mirror universe I’d sure like to visit: one where a group of brilliant female cadets were given control of a top-of-the-line star ship after stopping a Romulan terrorist when no one else could. Where women can discuss engineering, theoretical physics, and the Prime Directive as readily as they talk about babies. Where Captain Jane T. Kirk’s “love ‘em and leave ‘em” approach to sex isn’t any more of a mark against her character than it is against Jim’s.

It’s a universe where Jane, like Jim, is free to be driven not by romantic prospects or the need to prove that she’s as good as any man out there, but by the desire to live up to her mother’s legacy–to be worthy of Georgina Kirk’s valiant sacrifice aboard the USS Kelvin.

But while the story is giving these women room to be whole people, it’s also not glossing over the way gendered expectations hit Jane differently than they do Jim. Where Pike pegged Jim’s tenacity and passion as leadership qualities, Jane is instead ‘headstrong’ and ‘emotional’–and catches flak for it from her superiors.

Admiral: "Everyone at starfleet command is confident in your abilities, Kirk, despite your headstrong reputation. But we are not oblivious to the fact that you are the youngest captain in the fleet..." Kirk: "You can lose the code words, admiral. 'Emotional.' 'Headstrong.' Just come out and say it. A young female captain makes the bigwigs back in San Francisco nervous."

This fool just called Captain Kirk ‘emotional’ in front of the entire bridge crew. Apparently she’s not emotional enough to flip him the bird he so richly deserves for that.

One thing about the comic did give me pause: Lt. Nnamdi Uhuro. While everyone else is essentially the same person they are in the main timeline, the gender swap seems to have deprived the lieutenant of every ounce of his good sense:

Uhuro: "Or maybe I just want to protect the woman I love. Must be an Earth thing. The gallant knight always wants to save the pricess, y'know?"

I’m pretty sure that if the real Uhura heard a dude talking like that, she’d roll her eyes in twelve languages.

It isn’t just that this is out of character for Uhura, who would never brook this kind of nonsense. Uhuro is the only man of color with a speaking part in this comic. Giving him the fail-ball here has some unfortunate implications.

I’m also a bit sad about not having the real Uhura around because she holds a special place in pop culture history. Most folks have heard Nichelle Nichols’s story about Martin Luther King, Jr. personally talking her out of quitting Star Trek, and Whoopi Goldberg’s story of how powerful it was for her, as a child, to see Nichelle Nichols in that role: a black woman on TV who wasn’t playing a maid.

People of color remain underrepresented in Star Trek, but in the time since Nichols hung up her communicator, we’ve seen several Black men don the uniform: Sisko as a captain, LaForge as Chief Engineer, Mayweather as a helmsman. If we’re counting aliens, we’ve also got Tuvok and Worf at tactical. But in nearly fifty years of Trek, Uhura is the only black female Starfleet officer we’ve had in a core-cast role. Any mirror universe where she’s not rockin’ her ear-piece is the poorer for it.

And speaking of people of color being underrepresented: this Enterprise is just as white as the original. I wish we’d seen more of Sulu. In this version, she’s the only woman of color in the core cast, and she barely has one line.

But while I wish the ladies of this Enterprise were more diverse, this comic still put a smile on my face. It’s well-written, well-drawn, and funny. Jane Kirk is a great character, and one I wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time with. I’m sad that this is just a two-parter, and not an ongoing series that I can buy every copy of forever.

I’m even sadder that it takes alternate timelines like this for us to get the kind of representation that white men can take for granted. Even white as this mirror-cast is, we’d never see a crew like them on the big screen.

You can get a digital copy of Star Trek #29 directly from the publisher, or pick up a paper copy from your local comic book store.

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.

Welcome to the new geekfeminism.org!

At this weekend’s One Web For All hackathon, several Geek Feminism bloggers and some wonderful new volunteers completed the migration of geekfeminism.org from a fairly custom self-hosted WordPress install to wordpress.com’s hosting.  We’d relied on plugins for many of the particularities of running a large, controversial group blog, and over the years most of those plugin features have been added to wordpress.com.

I wanted to extend thanks to the following people for their help with the migration:

  • Faruk Ateş and Cori Johnson for putting on the best hackathon I’ve ever attended. This migration was a task I’d been dreading for months, and you created a space where it felt safe to ask for help and make mistakes.
  • Sara Rasmussen, Jahlela Rose, Camille Villa, and Kimberly Muñoz for their work on the theme (and wiki), and for putting up with Matt and I clobbering their changes several times :)
  • Matt Zimmerman, Geek Feminism blogger emeritus, for export-mangling, figuring out attribution bugs, and hacking with me on the link-gathering app we’re building for the linkspammers.
  • All the other wonderful folks who edited the Geek Feminism wiki over the weekend.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you run into anything unexpected or any broken content with the new site.

We are also now cross-posting to tumblr at geekfeminismblog.tumblr.com, if you prefer to follow our posts there.