On being geeky, disabled, and also kinda smokin’

This is a guest post by Cecily Kane. a writer, business professional, and sci-fi and fantasy geek. She blogs at Manic Pixie Dream Worlds , where she reviews books, talks speculative fiction, and rants regarding intersectional feminism, sometimes even coherently.

I am a geek, and a writer, and was born with a mild disability — thumb hypoplasia, type II/III.

Effectively, on my right hand, I have five fingers and no thumb. I possess a digit that looks quite thumb-like but has no thenar muscles, no flexor tendons, and an undeveloped joint — in short, it is devoid of all of the manual characteristics that make our species more highly evolved than other mammals.

There are many jokes in my household about my primate status. I make most of them.

I am also right-handed. This makes life awkward at times.

I began to disclose my disability regularly about a year ago, with the new knowledge that birth defects which limit one’s physical functions are, in fact, disabilities. Medical professionals are always curious; this defect only occurs in about 1 out of every 100,000 live births, so meeting me is often their only opportunity to see it. This curiosity does not bother me. I compare myself and my gimpy hand to Nemo and his flappy fin.

When I disclose this disability to men who are not in the medical profession, however, I almost invariably get the exact same response:

“Well, you don’t look disabled. You’re very pretty.”

Given that most of the men in my social circles are other writers, you would think the existence of a writer who is physically unable to write longhand would merit a mention, that there is something more to discuss here than my aesthetic qualities.

You would even think, perhaps, that there’s a smidge of a heroine’s story in there, a narrative of someone who overcomes a serious roadblock in order to pursue her dreams and do what she loves, a protagonist who has a dragon to slay daily.

You would think that authors would pick up on this.

They don’t.

I realize there is some confusion about the difference between a disfiguring disability and one like mine, one that limits my body’s functionality but is invisible unless one knows to look for it. Not that disfiguring disabilities make someone unattractive; I grew up with a beauty pageant queen who was born with half a left arm and half a hand. But it’s easy to see how these well-intentioned dudes who say this exact same thing are trying to reassure me that I’m, you know, bangable or whatever.

For me, it’s brain-jarring. Level of physical ability and level of physical attractiveness are not in the same registers. A dude thinking I am good-looking — well, that’s nice to hear, especially on a day I’m feeling bloated, or when the humidity levels make my hair do strange and awkward things.

But it’s not a consolation for an inability to hold a coffee cup without discomfort, perform common household repairs, use sharp tools safely, write longhand…

And given that this aspect of my life typically arises during discussions of  writing  with other writers , this response — “You don’t look disabled. You’re pretty” — clearly manifests the male gaze, and derails the nature of the conversation:

I transform from subject, writer , to object, she whom  the writer finds pretty .

And it’s not like this agency-removing comment comes from the mouths of unapologetically sexist douchecannons that I’d be better off not knowing. It comes from colleagues, friends, a boss I had once who added “intelligent” to the mix, since I’d just found him a rather substantial tax credit for hiring the disabled. Several of them are even male feminists and allies. However, I’m pretty sure it’d take an entire Women’s Studies 101 class to give any of these dudes the beginning of a clue about why “You’re pretty” is a head-spinning non sequitur and not, despite its good intentions, an appropriate response to a disability disclosure.

And so my response to these guys is, likewise, always the same. I smile and say:

“Thank you.”

At my signal, unleash Linkspam (7 March 2014)

  • Your Critic is in Another Castle: Not a “Real” Gamer: “It’s so insidious. The culture sneaks up on you so easily. And while I watched my husband finish his personal-canon Mass Effect trilogy replay in the evenings, I sat and stewed and lamented that I don’t appear to be a gamer anymore… while holding my 3DS in my hand.”
  • 5 Big Problems with Compassion-Baiting: ‘To ask someone to publicly defend their humanity through “dialog,” and then chastize them for refusing to do so, completely ignores and obscures the additional burden of oppressed people participating in “dialogs” that evaluate their own humanity.’
  • Sexism in fandom and Bullying: Analysis of recent Ross/Hugo Award article shows how the usual power dynamics, victim-of-bullying appropriation, and gendered slurs came into play when people protested the choice. Bonus ref to Mary Beard’s recent essay on the silencing of women in 2000 years of Western lit.
  • Capcom can’t include female characters in Deep Down because reasons. (Many images) | Go Make Me a Sandwich: “Stories are things written by people – they don’t spring out of some magical thought vacuum. Neither are they things that are received from on high, perfect and immutable, that must be transmitted without any change from its original form. If you’re incapable of telling the story you want to tell while also including female characters, that says a lot about how you look at the world as a creator, none of it good.”
  • YC Female Founders Conference | Ellen’s Blog: “So, I’d go to the event again. I wish the industry was far enough along that I was writing about clever lessons I learned and was coming back to apply. Unfortunately, it’s not. The YC Female Founders conference made me realize how far we still have to go.”
  • Microsoft ads show women focused on how computers can help their wedding planning and children | Slate: “They’re funny, sure, but ads that misrepresent the relationship between technology and women aren’t harmless. They perpetuate the idea that women are less equipped to interact with technology and imply that specific devices must be marketed to women to be appealing. “
  • Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable: “I picture “calling in” as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes; a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.”
  • Double Union — How not to support women in tech: “In fact, any situation that allows people to be in a position of power over women and/or marginalized people (such as mentorship or volunteer coding workshops) is likely to attract creepy or abusive people. If your organization serves women in tech and/or marginalized people, we argue that your organization has a specific responsibility to screen for, detect, and eject creepy or abusive people. “
  • Indian Wikimedia community coordinates Women’s History Month « Wikimedia blog: “The Indian Wikimedia community is pleased to invite you to participate in Women’s History Month events, 2014… We have planned events all through this month. They aim at creating new articles, expanding the existing stubs and translating English articles to various Indic languages.”
  • How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Our study also identified interventions that could help change that disheartening pattern. Some of these policies are now in place at some universities and are being promoted by some federal agencies. We are at a critical point, where the story could change dramatically: The “baby penalty” could be wiped out, or at least greatly ameliorated, by these four reforms: better child care (in many forms), effective dual-career policies, childbirth accommodations, and compliance with Title IX’s prohibition on pregnancy discrimination.”

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.

Quick hit: FOSS Outreach Program for Women internships

This guest post is from the Outreach Program for Women (OPW), and is edited from their outreach materials.

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is software that gives the user the freedom to use, copy, study, change, and improve it. FOSS contributors believe that this is the best way to develop software because it benefits society, creates a fun collaborative community around a project, and allows anyone to make innovative changes that reach many people.

In an effort to improve the gender diversity in FOSS, a number of organizations are offering Outreach Program for Women internships through a program organized by the GNOME Foundation. These internships are open to women (cis and trans) and genderqueer. The internships have the same structure, the same stipend and similar program dates. The application deadline for the Outreach Program for Women is March 19 and the program dates are May 19 to August 18. Unlike in Google Summer of Code, participants do not need to be students and non-coding projects are available. In addition to coding, projects include such tasks as graphic design, user experience design, documentation, bug triage and community engagement. Internships are typically remote and available worldwide. The stipend is $5500 (USD).

More information on the May to August 2014 round of OPW is available, including a list of participating organizations such as GNOME, Linux kernel, Wikimedia and OpenStack, and application instructions. Remember, applications close March 19, and you need to have made a contribution to a participating project before the application deadline.

Neck-to-knee shot of woman in red top and jeans reading a newspaper, by Ed Yourdon, CC BY-SA

GF classifieds (March and April 2014)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

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. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. 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.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. 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.)

Good luck!

In defense of Women in Tech (WiT) groups

This is a guest post by Coral Sheldon-Hess, a web developer and librarian in Anchorage, Alaska.
She blogs at sheldon-hess.org/coral and tweets as @web_kunoichi.

This post originally appeared on Coral’s blog.

I’ve been rolling this post around in my head for a couple of days, in between attending conference and binge-(re)watching Firefly.

It turns out, I have put a lot of time and effort—and, more importantly, thought—into creating and running a WiT group, so I have a lot to say on this topic. Also, Rebecca Stavick’s post isn’t the first anti-WiT-post I’ve read by a woman (great response to that one, here), never mind dealing with men’s arguments against these groups; so I’ve had time to think through a lot of these issues.

Myth #1 – Meeting as a group of women isn’t valuable in a male-dominated field.

Rosie the RiveterI really liked Eric Phetteplace’s response on Twitter, but I’m going to add a bit, since I have more than 280 characters to play with.

Networking is incredibly important to moving forward in one’s career, maybe especially so in tech circles, where everything moves so quickly and invitations to work on cool projects, or give important talks, depend so heavily on who knows you. So, on the surface, sure, it makes sense to get face time with male colleagues, and nobody is suggesting you shouldn’t.

But networking within a group of women is also incredibly valuable. Take the Merrill Lynch Four, who met and shared information and talked up one another’s work; they all ultimately ended up better off for it. Self-promotion can be hard for women, but promoting the work of other women? It’s easy to do, it’s never frowned upon, and it’s very effective! Also, it’s only possible if you can get into an environment where 1) you’re talking to other women, 2) about work-related stuff, and 3) you won’t be interrupted by men, who are, on average, better at self-promotion and are therefore likely to dominate the discussion.

Myth #2 – Learning with women is less valuable than learning in a gender-mixed group.

I think most people are aware that women have a lower level of confidence than equally competent men, in STEM subjects, as explored in the Fiorentine paper from 1988, comparing male and female medical students. (Short version: women consistently rated themselves lower on every attribute than their equally capable male colleagues.) You can find a bunch of respectable academic citations about differences in teacher behavior toward male and female students here, but I can also tell you, from six years’ worth of personal experience in male-dominated STEM classrooms: women get very little opportunity to talk, even if they are brave enough to do so. Which they aren’t, on average, due to the confidence gap: women report being afraid of asking stupid questions in front of their far more confident male peers, in part because they tend to misinterpret increased confidence as increased competence.

xkcd: How it works (Two male figures: "Wow you suck at math", male and female figure: "Wow girls suck at math")There is also a legitimate concern, when a woman is outnumbered by men in a STEM setting, that anything she does wrong will be extrapolated unfairly out to all women.

Women in a male-dominated environment, trying to learn about a field that’s generally viewed as male-dominated, also suffer from stereotype threat, which is made worse by prominent tech industry assholes (sorry, but he is) who make incorrect sweeping generalizations like “You have to have started programming at the age of 13 to be any good.” That is, as Philip Guo will tell you, total crap.

Do you know how you go about combating stereotype threat for women? Logic dictates—and now a study shows—that female role models are essential.

So, there it is: female-dominated classrooms, with female instructors, are an obvious win, for women learning technology concepts.

Myth #3 – These groups support gender stereotypes by using “dumbed-down language” and female-coded fonts/colors.

Anchorage Programming Workshop logoAt first, I was totally on board with the idea that pink is problematic, which is why we chose a nice, bright blue-green for Anchorage Programming Workshop, with a logo featuring the Venus mirror to try to emphasize the “for women” aspect. Neither of the hosts for the group is overly feminine in our manner or dress, and we didn’t want to risk excluding other women who don’t identify with pink and rounded fonts. “Our group is for all women!” – that was our intended message.

But you know what? We ended up with pissed off dudes approaching our booth at the Anchorage Maker Faire and parents lamenting that we wouldn’t teach their sons how to code. Until we changed our RSVP form, we got guys RSVPing for our events and then not showing up after receiving the email (that went to all participants) emphasizing that “men are welcome, provided they are the guests of female-identified participants.”

I don’t think we’d get as much of that if we had gone with pink. So… I actually kind of respect the other groups’ forethought, on that count.

As for the “dumbed down language” thing, you know what? “Dumbed down” is so very rarely applicable that I propose we strike it from the lexicon. Making something approachable and friendly, so it doesn’t frighten off someone with low confidence, is a good thing! It’s also really hard to do, so, PROTIP: people who have put a lot of effort into making something usable get really angry when you use a phrase that dismisses their efforts and implies that incomprehensibility is a good goal.

Anything written by a competent instructor for an audience of new people will look “dumbed down” (argh) to an expert; that’s sort of the point. If you go look at the intro video and first week of CS50x, a freshman-level CS class at Harvard and online, you’ll see the same kind of language, the same reassuring tone. Because that is the right way to approach an introduction to technology. It has nothing to do with gender.

We do agree on one thing, sort of:

WiT groups—actually, all technology groups—need to do everything they can to be open to people who aren’t “exactly the same” as one another. Most WiT groups are really good about using “female-identified” as their descriptor, rather than just “female,” which is code that they are LGBT-friendly. Most have codes of conduct, which help advertise their commitment to diversity. Some are explicitly for women of color. These are all great! (And already happening, just, you know, for the record…) That isn’t to say any given WiT group shouldn’t work harder to increase the diversity of its participants; I just disagree that gender is the only path to diversity.

I find anti-WiT rhetoric frustrating, because it’s coming from both sides: men feel left out and want to tell us all about it, and women feel compelled to share their knee-jerk reactions to the color pink. Nobody starts with the assumption “This is a valid approach, based on good research and careful plans,” even though that is, in fact, the case. The arguments against these programs are shallow and easily countered, with only a few minutes’ research, yet they just keep coming.

Fact: WiT groups are a benefit to women and to the technology community at large, and their pedagogy and branding are, for the most part, well thought out and well implemented. They are worthwhile, and they deserve support. If you think they can be improved, volunteer to help, instead of tearing them down with grumpy blog posts.

My only regret is that I have but one link to give for my spam (4 March 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.

Battle Hymn of the Linkspam (28 February 2014)

  • 6 Ways to Scare Off Technical Women From Your Company | Co.LABS: “Are you trying to create more diverse software teams by hiring more women? Here are six things NOT to do during the recruiting and interviewing process.”
  • Astronaut Mae Jemison on interstellar travel: ‘We can’t do this with just half of the population’ | TNW: “Jemison, who is the first African-American woman to go to space, emphasized that, as women become a greater part of STEM education and industries, it’s important for women to be in the room ‘helping to make the choices.’”
  • What Privacy Advocates Get Wrong | mathbabe: “There’s a wicked irony when it comes to many privacy advocates. They are often narrowly focused on the their own individual privacy issues, but when it comes down to it they are typically super educated well-off nerds with few revolutionary thoughts. In other words, the very people obsessing over their privacy are people who are not particularly vulnerable to the predatory attacks of either the NSA or the private companies that make use of private data.”
  • Lean Against: Building an Alternative to Lean In Within Tech | Model View Culture : “To make true progress, our efforts must refuse to construct a harmless straw-men of endemic discrimination: we must name and address rampant physical and sexual violence and harassment in tech, institutionalized racism, systemic barriers to achievement, overt and implicit bias, and the people and systems who benefit from them.”
  • On the Double Standards of Internet Discourse: “Where the double standard comes into play is that many people will remain resolute in their position that any activist, any person who cares about liberation, any marginalized person has a moral obligation to educate any and all people who ask, whever they ask. No one espects this from respondents in tech forums. If someone messes up and they get mocked, few of these people dig in their heels and suggest that the respondents are morally obliged to help them. Instead, they are often chastised for breaking the community standards of engagement (and often will accept this as their due).”
  • I Didn’t Want To Lean Out | Model View Culture: “When a pipeline leaks, we don’t blame the water. We fix the pipe and design the next one to leak less. Why do we blame women who leave STEM fields?”
  • Bad Ally Quiz | Julie Pagano: “The topic of bad ‘allies’ has come up a lot lately. Some people want to know how to identify bad allies. Others want to know if they are being bad allies. Below is a list of common issues in the ever popular internet quiz style to help you determine if yourself or someone else might be a bad ally.”
  • The Importance of the Unlikeable Heroine | Claire Legrand: “These characters learn from their mistakes, and they grow and change, but at the end of the day, they can look at themselves in the mirror and proclaim, ‘Here I am. This is me. You may not always like me—I may not always like me—but I will not be someone else because you say I should be. I will not lose myself to your expectations. I will not become someone else just to be liked.’”
  • Gendered Language: Feature or Bug In Software Documentation? | Model View Culture: “Ultimately, whatever the underlying motivation, when you compare the tacit messaging with the explicit messaging, you can see that these dismissals are false. While the explicit message says that the work of redressing sexism is ‘trivial’ and therefore not worth doing, the tacit message — that is, the sheer volume of responses attempting to establish the ‘triviality’ of anti-sexist conversation — says otherwise.”
  • Meet Terri Conley: The Psychologist With an Alternative Theory of Hookup Culture | NYMag: “Terri Conley’s Stigmatized Sexualities Lab has been producing research that’s the rare, refreshing exception. A University of Michigan professor of psychology and women’s studies, she’s systematically debunking the conventional wisdom surrounding gender, sexuality, orgasm, and desire.”

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.

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”

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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.