Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Feminist tech demos: menstruation, harassment, an erotic wearable, and more

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

On Friday, I interviewed feminist technologists at a demo showcase in New York City. (Thanks to NYC Media Lab (a higher education-city government-industry partnership) for giving me a press pass to their 2015 annual summit.)

Patchworked Venus

Joelle Fleurantin presented Patchworked Venus, “A wearable exploring how computing has given birth to a new form of sexual intimacy”. See the embedded video below for a demo.

Patchworked Venus: Erotic Haptic Device Preview from Joelle F. on Vimeo.

Ms. Fleurantin, (MPS ’15, NYU ITP), discussed her design with me, explaining that instead of being a phallic accessory like a lot of other erotic devices, Patchworked Venus emphasizes other erogenous zones. Her artist’s statement asks:

How can an erotic device become a tool for body modification: an extension of the user rather than a facsimile of an external, imagined person? And what then becomes of this augmented wearer, specifically when her body is not raceless like those present in dominant representations of the cyborg?

Patchworked Venus explores these questions by casting an intimate experience within the context of dress as performance.

The garment, in contrast to conventional vibrators, is meant to be worn, and uses heat, compression, and touch on the wearer’s back, inner thighs, and nipples. A warm circuit provides heat over the breast, motors like those used for haptic response in mobile phones give the user a sensation of touch on the back and the inner thighs, and an inflatable jacket and hood literally embrace the wearer with a pneumatic actuating system, providing a pleasant feeling of compression and constriction. She “designed and milled breakout boards for use with the Adafruit Flora” (from her “About” page). Ms. Fleurantin also considered using soft robotics and lithography to give the wearer a sensation of breath on the skin, but decided against it since that approach would require a large, loud air compressor.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

Check out her ten-minute thesis presentation for more on the Erotic Haptic Device and Patchworked Venus. In it, Ms. Fleurantin discusses her influences and process, including her upbringing as a black woman, learning from her mother how important self-presentation, grooming, and clothing were. I noted down some names and links from that presentation and from my conversation with her on Friday:

(I had previously known Ms. Fleurantin because of her work on user research for the Mozilla wiki; I’ll be curious to see her next project as well!)


I spoke with Lucy M. Bonner and tried out her immersive harassment simulator “Compliment”. Ms. Bonner (MFA Design and Technology ’16, Parsons the New School for Design) developed “Compliment,” a virtual reality experience using the Oculus Rift, and you can see a demo video on YouTube if you sign in.

From her artist’s statement:

Compliment is an immersive experience of street harassment designed and created for the Oculus Rift. It demonstrates the fact that harassment creates an atmosphere of intimidation and tension for women on a daily basis, that it is not ok, and that it is not a compliment. Compliment conveys the forceful intrusion and violation of space and attention that makes a woman feel vulnerable, angry, and silenced in order to raise awareness and effect change.

Ms. Bonner received much more street harassment when she moved from Houston to New York City, and used those catcalls she heard in real life to populate the set of harassing comments that simulated harassers say to the player. She appreciates how virtual reality lets her offer, say, a 6-foot-2-inches man a way to experience the world as a shorter, more vulnerable person. “Many of the harassers in the experience are much larger than the player, which creates part of the sense of danger and intrusion in confrontations.” Also: “Players are unable to respond, as in the real world with concern for safety, and are forced to constantly hear and dodge unwanted attention.”

I mentioned to Ms. Bonner a truism I’ve heard (via Adria Richards or Lukas Blakk, I believe) that men tend to use augmented reality experiences like Google Glass to more powerfully navigate the world, while women tend to use them to document their experience in the world. Ms. Bonner wouldn’t put “Compliment” in that latter category, and not just because VR and augmented reality are different approaches; she considers “Compliment” more outwardly focused, showing other people what her experience is like rather than concentrating on gathering proof of the experience itself. “Compliment” conveys, as she puts it, the “cumulative atmosphere of silencing and objectification”.

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot


I spoke with Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth about their quite different simulator, d.Bot. “Drawing from female experiences in online and offline dating, is a chatbot that simulates conversing with an unenlightened male.” Ms. Chin and Mr. Collinsworth (MFA in Design & Technology ’16, The New School) used JavaScript,, and Parse to develop d.Bot, and made it partially to test out a theory about a different approach to artificial intelligence than you often see. Rather than aiming for a predictive response, d.Bot is trying to stimulate a particular response in the human user. You can try it out at

A demo session with d.Bot

A demo session with d.Bot

Ms. Chin said that it’s been nice to be able to use things guys have said to her, and that hearing or seeing new annoying messages, she figures, it’s going into the pot. (This includes a comment a guy said to her during fair setup, just before I arrived.) You can also click the “Feed Me” button to add something a guy has said to you, if you’d like to add more quotes to the database.

Mr. Collinsworth hopes d.Bot will help men experience what women experience, both online and in the physical world; any one guy saying uncreative things doesn’t experience what it’s like to hear those same comments frequently and en masse. In that vein, he suggested that perhaps Tinder could show users an originality score as they type messages to other users, flagging likely boring messages and discouraging users from sending them.

Ms. Chin said that she’s seen other critique of boring or harassing men (street harassers and OKCupid and Tinder users) that’s more in a name-and-shame mode, and that she wonders whether a critique in the form of humor around originality and creativity would be more likely to change the player’s behavior, as opposed to dinging a user and saying “you’re a bad person”. For her and for other d.Bot users, the bot is also a fun way to vent — she said she’s seen women happy to finally have a chance to talk back to these messages in a safe, consequence-free sandbox.

I asked for her thoughts on feminist dating apps like Bumble, and we discussed the possibility that Bumble (in which women can and men cannot initiate conversation) is just moving the problem a little further down the road; instead of screening out men at the stage of initial online conversation, het women might find that they go on more dates with men who don’t interact well.


Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presented “SHVRK”: “Surf the crimson wave with fewer fatalities”. Users can sign up to get text message alerts of their friends’ menstrual cycles. Below is her SHVRK v1.0 demo video.

Ms. Raffaelli (MS Integrated Digital Media ’16, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering) and I spoke a little on Friday, and then she answered my questions on SHVRK, her influences, and her feminism via email:

There are apps for women to track women’s cycles, and there are apps for men to track what they don’t like about women’s cycles. The former often have pastel palettes, cute logos, and an emphasis on fertility and pregnancy. The latter have a handful of angry responses from the feminist community.

As long as bodily fluids and excretions are taboo, periods will be taboo. The app was never meant to change anybody’s views of leftover uterine lining. That said, the divisive nature of the current apps on the market doesn’t offer many people the opportunity to level the playing field. What we need is an app with an interface with universal appeal. We need an app that doesn’t perpetuate traditional stereotypes, but educates and facilitates. We need an app that makes the monthly inconvenience a little more convenient.

I’ve tried apps with features I didn’t need. I don’t need help getting pregnant, I don’t need to share my uterine woes with a community of empathetic blood sisters, and I don’t need cute puppies to guide me through reminders to hydrate. What I do need is an app that alerts my man to the state of my hormones. What about the men who don’t care about the difference between pads and tampons, ovulation versus menstruation, or what PMS really stands for? Well, I don’t blame them­­I’m not sure I would care for the details either if I didn’t go through it monthly.

The first steps were figuring out what would make a man WANT to use the same period app as a woman. My favorite answers were from the “make me a sandwich” types of guys. If this could get you laid, would you use the app? But of course.

Who is this app for? This is for women who like men, men who like women, and women who like women. This is for the monogamous and polyamorous. This is for the people with a sense of humor. This app is for those who say “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die.” This is for anybody who has ever been cockblocked by a period.

“…why you made SHVRK (including your dissatisfactions with other services and apps)…”

My shark week isn’t a big deal. In fact, I usually forget about it, and that’s why I started to use the apps. These would give me a heads up, and I realized, you know who else could use these updates? My boyfriend. When the conversation comes up, he tries to either be understanding or a comedian. He cares, but he’ll never really get it. Why not give him just the information he needs without framing it in etiquette and small talk?

My research showed that there were tons of apps for men. They seemed to have exploded between 2008 and 2010, and most of them enraged the feminist community. Could it be possible to make one app that could appeal to those menstruating as well as those not menstruating?

“…what technologies you used to make it…”

The graphite pencil. Illustrator, After Effects, and the rest of the Adobe suite. Started playing around with a bit of this and that for the final product, from PHP to Swift… This is a lot of learning as I go.

“…what some next steps are…”

Step 1: iOS or Android? Step 2: Launch.

“…your feminism and the ways in which the project is feminist…”

Feminism can be a scary word. Every female in this society develops a relationship with it, and that makes it a weighty, frustrating, and complex matter. Feminism is a spectrum. We might avoid it all costs, or we embrace our own definition, or we embody someone else’s interpretation without realizing it. That’s about all I can say about ‘feminism’.

I want to bid farewell to man­bashing and figurative bra­burning. There are too many women in the world with no access to proper hygiene products and women who are cast out of their homes during that time of the month, but there are also too many man­bashers and bra­burners here fighting a fight that’s been fought here. What if we take another approach to understanding the difference between men and women in the little world of people with smartphones and access to clean running water?

In April, Leslee Udwin visited NYU for a special screening of her film ​India’s Daughter. There are two relevant memorable moments from that night. The first was when Leslee Udwin said she set out to answer ‘why men rape’. The second was when I asked if she had found her answer, and she responded that she expected the men she interviewed to be monsters. She expected them to be textbook psychopaths. What she found was that they were just humans like you and me. They were not ‘bad apples’ spoiling the barrel. The barrel was bad.

There are bad apple feminists the same way there are bad apple chauvinists. SHVRK is not about redefining ‘man’ or ‘woman’, but about leveling the playing field between unique individuals like you and me, ​so we don’t have to hear “Are you PMSing? Are you on your period?”

“…​and what or who some of your influences are.​”

Leslee Udwin is pretty amazing, but here I have to officially say Happenstance. Nothing goes up on a pedestal like happenstance. Letting the cards fall as they may is magical and always a little mysterious. Let it lead the way.

And more

I concentrated in this piece on discussing demos from the summit that particularly spoke to me on a feminist level, but I saw women technologists presenting many projects you might find interesting for other reasons. StackedUp uses AI for investigative reporting. NEW YOARK is an augmented reality mobile app that emphasizes the diversity of languages spoken in New York City. Bullet Pointe Lab designs and makes innovative clothes for ballet dancers, such as shorts with heating elements to help warm hips so they can open more fully. I saw multiple more clothing-related apps, natural language processing research, a tool to help you analyze your own social media activity, and a Twitter bot and collaborative storytelling and coding project telling the stories of people incarcerated at the Rikers Island correctional facility. On my way out the door, I spoke to one of the event staffers, a woman who’s working on, a project to use the web and stickers on milk cartons to raise awareness of missing Central American and Mexican migrants.

Thanks again to NYC Media Lab and to the innovators who spoke with me.

Battlestar Linkspam

  • Half of Australian universities sign up to SAGE gender-equity program | The Age (September 16): “More than half of the country’s universities and medical research institutions have signed up to the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, which rates organisations based on their gender equity policies and practices, rewarding them with gold, silver or bronze awards.”
  • What it’s like to be a woman working in science, and how to make it better | The Conversation (September 16): “This Wednesday saw the launch of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot program by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) in partnership with the Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (ATSE). (…) The Conversation asked women in the sciences to reflect on their experiences working in the field and comment the significance of the SAGE initiative.”
  • Wanted: Fit, Fearless Scientist for Huge Underground Find | National Geographic (September 17): “Since the find was made public, Peixotto has been a bit irked at the focus on her tiny size instead of on her professional accomplishments. She has two master’s degree and is finishing a Ph.D. that focuses on community building among escaped slaves.”
  • Double Union — Double Union is moving and needs your help! (September 22): “After two awesome years of running our space in the Mission neighborhood, it’s time to find a new home. The building we’ve been renting space in was recently sold to new owners who are evicting all tenants to prepare for long-term renovation. “
  • What Happens When You Get Your Period In Space? | Shots (September 17): “I remember the engineers trying to decide how many tampons should fly on a one-week flight; they asked, ‘Is 100 the right number?’ – ‘No. That would not be the right number.’ So what does happen when you get your period in space?”
  • Review: In ‘Photograph 51,’ Nicole Kidman Is a Steely DNA Scientist | The New York Times (September 14): “When Nicole Kidman steps out of the shadows, breaking off from a wall of men, and onto the edge of the stage at the Noël Coward Theater, where Anna Ziegler’s “Photograph 51” opened here on Monday night, her eyes beam undiluted willpower. It is a gaze that both chills and warms, radiating and demanding trust in this singularly self-possessed presence. Ms. Kidman makes it clear that she is in charge here, and woe unto those of us who doubt it.”
  • Nourish Your Brains With This STEM News Roundup | Autostraddle (September 23): loads more links to excellent geekfeminist news
  • Why we need to stop car crash ‘women in tech’ panels and actually break the glass ceiling | The Sydney Morning Herald (September 21): “Yes, you heard right: Just a few minutes into a panel discussion Wojcicki was asked whether her children were of the same father.
    Missing from the panel was a discussion of Wojcocki’s accomplishments in physics at Stanford University, of history and literature at Harvard, her not one but two Masters – one in science of economics from the University of California, the other in business admin from UCLA Anderson School of Management. Also omitted from the event was her professional growth at Google from the Doodle department to heading up the departments that created AdWords, Adsense and Google Analytics, (you know, the stuff that makes Google money), before becoming CEO of YouTube.”
  • Meet a traveller: Mireya Mayor, primatologist and world explorer – Lonely Planet (September 10): “Dubbed the ‘female Indiana Jones’, Mireya Mayor is an adventurer and then some… Taking the career path less travelled – going from NFL cheerleader to anthropologist – Mayor’s love for exploration and conservation has led her to some of the most biodiverse places in the world.”
  • Feminisms in Digital Humanities | Digital Humanities Quarterly: Preview “In calling for a more sustained consideration of relationships between feminist theories and digital humanities, we were calling for engagements that helped enrich our sense of why feminisms mattered to DH, beyond simply getting more women in the rooms. In addition to issues of equity and access, at stake in the conception of this special issue were the ethics and commitments in digital humanities scholarship and teaching.”
  • NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan Discusses Space Science, Her Career | World Science Festival : “In our Pioneers program, Stofan discussed the intertwined subjects of her planetary discoveries and career, which included an inspired but ultimately unsuccessful proposal for a sail-propelled probe that would explore the methane lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan. Yet Stofan’s career demonstrates that bumps in the road can be opportunities instead of obstacles.”
  • Two Seattle girls launched a balloon to the edge of space this weekend, and have the video to prove it | GeekWire (September 7): “On Saturday, a handmade craft rose 78,000 feet to capture the view from the edge of space. The craft, built by two Seattle youngsters, reached speeds of over 100 km/h on its journey over central Washington.”

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, 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.

A linkspam of Earthsea (22 September 2015)

  • Kate Beaton Talks Superheroes and Brontë Sisters | Vulture: “Beaton soldiers on, and this month, she’s releasing a new strip collection called Step Aside, Pops. It shows her moving into new territory, such as riffs on superhero comics… We caught up with Beaton to talk about giant robots, Tumblr arguments, and historical topics that are just too damn sad for comics.”
  • Outreachy Expands to People of Color Underrepresented in U.S. Tech | Software Freedom Conservancy: : “Outreachy’s expanded program will now include residents and nationals of the United States of any gender who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin@, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.”
  • Coping Mechanisms and Unlearned Skills | Accidentally in Code: “One of the things I’ve been meditating on since escaping the tech industry is what skills do you not acquire when the main skills you are learning are how to cope in a bad situation? And do you have to unlearn them to go back?”
  • The (Final?) Cost of Ben Radford’s Libel Bullying: About $5K | Skepchick: : “I think there’s a huge public interest in understanding exactly why libel threats are so often successful at censoring speech. In my experience, it comes down to two reasons: the enormous potential cost (both financial and psychological) of going to court, and the slightly lower enormous actual cost (both financial and psychological) of what happens before you even get to a courtroom.”
  • Why the ‘Kitchen of the Future’ Always Fails Us | Eater: “Around the corner, in the kitchen, our lovely future wife is making dinner. She always seems to be making dinner. Because no matter how far in the future we imagine, in the kitchen, it is always the 1950’s, it is always dinnertime, and it is always the wife’s job to make it. Today’s homes of the future are full of incredible ideas and gizmos, but while designers seems happy to extrapolate far beyond what we can do today when it comes to battery life or touch screens, they can’t seem to wrap their minds around any changes happening culturally. In a future kitchen full of incredible technology, why can we still not imagine anything more interesting than a woman making dinner alone?”
  • How Gamergate’s earliest target came to empathize with her abusers | The Verge: “In the months since, Quinn — an indie game developer known best for her cult hit Depression Quest — has spent a lot of time investigating why people who have never met her have devoted so much energy to harassing her. The more she considered the problem, she says, the more she recognized herself in her attackers. And that gave her a new insight into why users of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are so quick to pick up pitchforks when they perceive an injustice.”
  • Ellen Pao Can Still be a Feminist Hero | Elle: “Maybe somewhere there is a CEO who will really promote women and minorities rather than just talk about it, or a whistleblower who vows not to be chilled by it all. We already know there is discrimination—unless you believe that white men are just better than everyone else, which I don’t. Regardless of any minor victory Pao may have scored here, let’s not forget that it is in the context of conceding defeat. We still have a long, long way to go. Is this the end of the Ellen Pao saga? No—because it’s ours.”
  • Party Like It’s 1995: The Rise and Fall of the Girl Game | Autostraddle: “Once there was a whole movement that wished those same things. The girl game movement was a briefly lived golden era of pink-wrapped PC games made for, and marketed to, young girls… Game developers realized they were missing out on a share of the market, so they went pink and purple (those are the only colors girl children see, you know). Girls’ games were almost all available on CD-rom, based on the idea that girls did not own the consoles that were available in the late 90s.”
  • Kiera Wilmot arrest: Florida teenager reacts to Ahmed Mohamed story | Slate: “I spoke with Wilmot—now 19 and a sophomore at Florida Polytechnic University majoring in mechanical engineering—this morning about Mohamed’s predicament. She said that her first reaction was anger: “I honestly thought, ‘How could this happen to somebody else?’”

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, 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.

Finite State Linkspam (15 September 2015)

  • How female coders are shaping the future of fashion | DailyLife (September 10): “When Coco Rocha sashayed down the runway at ZAC by Zac Posen’s show at New York Fashion Week, she lit up the entire room – quite literally. Her black nylon mesh dress was embedded with over 500 programmable LED lights that had been coded by a team of teen girls.”
  • “Picture yourself as a stereotypical male” | MIT Admissions (September 3): “It is true that men score higher on spatial reasoning tests, though you might have caught on that there’s a little bit more to this picture (why would a female MIT student publicize stereotypes that actively work against her?).”
  • Everybody Hurts: Content for Kindness | Sara Wachter-Boettcher (September 10): “How can we take our users’ vulnerabilities, triggers, and touchy subjects into account when we don’t even know what they are? What would it mean to optimize not just for seamlessness, but for kindness?”
  • The Sims 4: My Nemesis – Character Creation | Rock, Paper, Shotgun (September 10): “I don’t want to go into huge personal detail but parts of depression and anxiety can incorporate body issues. I used to be (and at times still am) bad at assessing what I actually look like. (…) it had never occurred to me that it might affect character creation until I was asked outright how I could be so bad at making an avatar of myself and fine with creating one for a friend.”
  • Twitter Bias: We Listen When Men Talk Tech and Women Talk Diversity | Re/code (September 8): “I write quite a bit about women in technology. I’m also an enterprise startup CEO, a linguistics PhD and a fan of astronomy. I regularly tweet about all these things. One day a few months back, I had a hunch: My tweets about women in tech seemed to get significantly more engagement than the others.”
  • If you like Return Of The Jedi but hate the Ewoks, you understand feminist criticism | The A.V. Club (September 14): “The idea that a movie can be good despite its weaker elements is one of the most basic tenets of film criticism. Yet when it comes to dissecting films from a feminist viewpoint, we seem to have trouble keeping that in mind.”
  • Five Books About Inconvenient Women | (September 8): “Women aren’t often allowed to be unlikable—and that’s especially true for fictional women. (…) look at all the asshole geniuses and Byronic heroes lauded in fiction and adored by fans. But the common denominator among these assholes about whom so much ink is spilt, and to whom so much screentime is devoted, is that they’re invariably male.”

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, 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.

Even cowgirls spam the links (11 September 2015)

  • Silicon Valley’s 91-year-old designer | BBC News: “Imagine doing your dream job at the age of 91 – that’s what Barbara Knickerbocker-Beskind, a designer in Silicon Valley, is doing. She talks about her life long passion for inventing.”
  • The demo for the iPad Pro involved a man Photoshopping a woman’s face to make her smile more | Tech Insider: “Why is that a problem? A man telling a woman to smile or “smile more!” is highly and widely-regarded as a form of harassment, and a line many women find uncomfortable and inappropriate.”
  • OS4W: Open Source for Women: “Together we can make things better. OS4W aims to be a resource for connecting all women, including women of color and transgender women, to open source projects that are welcoming, inclusive, and appreciative of diversity in their contributors.”
  • The queer masculinity of stealth games | Offworld: “There’s a certain secret cartography to navigating the world as trans that imbues things with different pitfalls and possibilities, where I’m asked to see the world as a series of puzzles more than a place I get to live.”
  • Inclusion and Diversity at Slack | Several People Are Typing: “Our primary goal is to avoid becoming yet another place where underrepresented groups exit the technology industry. We don’t want to be a place where people give up on their ambitions. All kinds of people should be able to be successful at Slack. While much focus has been on the pipeline, we understand that increasing the diversity of applicants and new hires will not result in any significant change if people from underrepresented groups cannot thrive at the company. Workplace policies that foster inclusion are equally important.”
  • Ellen Pao Speaks: ‘I Am Now Moving On’ | Recode: “I have a request for all companies: Please don’t try to silence employees who raise discrimination and harassment concerns. Instead allow balanced and complete perspectives to come out publicly so we can all learn and improve. I and many others are eager to hear more stories being shared by women and minorities. I turned down offers to settle so I can keep telling mine. We need to keep telling our stories and educating people on how it can be that women and minorities form such a small fraction of our investor base, our tech workforce and our leadership.”
  • Insurance and Feelings | This is Hard: “I talk a lot about diversity, but I’m learning that without an environment that encourages being good humans, without leadership that champions empathy, kindness, communication, and compassion, all diversity efforts are for naught.”

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, 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: Anonymous girls score higher on math tests?

I’ve often heard people say that math is one of the few school subjects where marking isn’t subjective, but apparently not:

Beginning in 2002, the researchers studied three groups of Israeli students from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, one graded by outsiders who did not know their identities and another by teachers who knew their names.

In math, the girls outscored the boys in the exam graded anonymously, but the boys outscored the girls when graded by teachers who knew their names. The effect was not the same for tests on other subjects, like English and Hebrew. The researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys’ abilities and underestimated the girls’, and that this had long-term effects on students’ attitudes toward the subjects.

Full news article: “How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science” C. Miller at

Original research paper: “On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases” by V. Lavy and E. Sand.

Oops I did it again, I linkspammed your heart (8 September 2015)

  • GenCon Follow-Up: Mike Mearls and D&D Consulting | Go Make Me a Sandwich (August 5): “In the end, I wound up doing research and writing that culminated in the creation of a (somewhat) brief document on guidelines designed to aid in the creation of positive depictions of women in D&D products.” Features the backstory and an excerpt with Dos and Don’ts.
  • Black Girls Are Magic Lit Mag is a new literary magazine featuring speculative fiction by and about black women.”
  • Some Jerks Used a 56-Year-Old Anti-Discrimination Law to Shut Down “Women in Tech” Group | The Mary Sue (September 4): “Chic CEO is a free online platform geared towards female entrepreneurs, which enables them to do things like network or find helpful resources for starting a business. CEO Stephanie Burns regularly secured space for these female entrepreneurs by organizing networking events and mixers for women. That all came to an end when two men, Allen Candelore and Rich Allison, tried to enter one of the female-focused events.”
  • Women in Comics – Back To School Edition | The Hub (September 4): “Sad as it may be for some, summer has come to a close and the new school year is upon us. In honor of this time of the year, here is a list of great comics by women that focus on back to school, whether this means starting college, transitioning to middle school or starting over at a new institution.”
  • The Problem With Trillian: Hitchhiker’s Guide and Me | The Toast (September 1): “Maybe figuring out Trillian’s failures can point the way to a new age of sci-fi women as distinctive and indelible as Ford Prefect or Zaphod Beeblebrox, women whose strength will lie not only in their smarts but in the way they stand guard against laziness and cliché.”
  • You literally cannot pay me to speak without a Code of Conduct | Rachel Nabors (September 1): “Recently I was approached by the User Experience field’s illustrious Jared Spool about giving a workshop and speaking at his spring conference UX Immersion in San Diego. At first I was delighted. (…) But there was a problem: Jared refused to have a Code of Conduct at his event.” Rachel Nabors, award-winning cartoonist turned digital storyteller, on why she refused to speak at UX Immersion.

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, 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.

Libraries’ tech pipeline problem

This is cross-posted on Coral’s blog. There has been some discussion on Metafilter and on Twitter (link goes to a Storify of tweets).

“We’ve got a pipeline problem, so let’s build a better pipeline.” –Bess Sadler, Code4Lib 2014 Conference (the link goes to the video)

I’ve been thinking hard (for two years, judging by the draft date on this post) about how to grow as a programmer, when one is also a librarian. I’m talking not so much about teaching/learning the basics of coding, which is something a lot of people are working really hard on, but more about getting from “OK, I finished yet another Python/Rails/JavaScript/whatever workshop” or “OK, I’ve been through all of Code Academy/edX/whatever”—or from where I am, “OK, I can Do Interesting Things™ with code, but there are huge gaps in my tech knowledge and vocabulary”—to the point where one could get a full-time librarian-coder position.

I should add, right here: I’m no longer trying to get a librarian-coder position*. This post isn’t about me, although it is, of course, from my perspective and informed by my experiences. This post is about a field I love, which is currently shooting itself in the foot, which frustrates me.

Bess is right: libraries need 1) more developers and 2) more diversity among them. Libraries are hamstrung by expensive, insufficient vendor “solutions.” (I’m not hating on the vendors, here; libraries’ problems are complex, and fragmentation and a number of other issues make it difficult for vendors to provide really good solutions.) Libraries and librarians could be so much more effective if we had good software, with interoperable APIs, designed specifically to fill modern libraries’ needs.

Please, don’t get me wrong: I know some libraries are working on this. But they’re too few, and their developers’ demographics do not represent the demographics of libraries at large, let alone our patron bases. I argue that the dearth and the demographic skew will continue and probably worsen, unless we make a radical change to our hiring practices and training options for technical talent.

Building technical skills among librarians

The biggest issue I see is that we offer a fair number of very basic learn-to-code workshops, but we don’t offer a realistic path from there to writing code as a job. To put a finer point on it, we do not offer “junior developer” positions in libraries; we write job ads asking for unicorns, with expert- or near-expert-level skills in at least two areas (I’ve seen ones that wanted strong skills in development, user experience, and devops, for instance).

This is unfortunate, because developing real fluency with any skill, including coding, requires practicing it regularly. In the case of software development, there are things you can really only learn on the job, working with other developers (ask me about Git, sometime); only, nobody seems willing to hire for that. And, yes, I understand that there are lots of single-person teams in libraries—far more than there should be—but many open source software projects can fill in a lot of that group learning and mentoring experience, if a lone developer is allowed to participate in them on work time. (OSS is how I am planning to fill in those skills, myself.)

From what I can tell, if you’re a librarian who wants to learn to code, you generally have two really bad options: 1) learn in your spare time, somehow; or 2) quit libraries and work somewhere else until your skills are built up. I’ve been down both of those roads, and as a result I no longer have “be a [paid] librarian-developer” on my goals list.

Option one: Learn in your spare time

This option is clown shoes. It isn’t sustainable for anybody, really, but it’s especially not sustainable for people in caretaker roles (e.g. single parents), people with certain disabilities (who have less energy and free time to start with), people who need to work more than one job, etc.—that is, people from marginalized groups. Frankly, it’s oppressive, and it’s absolutely a contributing factor to libtech’s largely male, white, middle to upper-middle class, able-bodied demographics—in contrast to the demographics of the field at large (which is also most of those things, but certainly not predominantly male).

“I’ve never bought this ‘do it in your spare time’ stuff. And it turns out that doing it in your spare time is terribly discriminatory, because … a prominent aspect of oppression is that you have more to do in less spare time.” – Valerie Aurora, during her keynote interview for Code4Lib 2014 (the link goes to the video)

“It’s become the norm in many technology shops to expect that people will take care of skills upgrading on their own time. But that’s just not a sustainable model. Even people who adore late night, just-for-fun hacking sessions during the legendary ‘larval phase’ of discovering software development can come to feel differently in a later part of their lives.” – Bess Sadler, same talk as above

I tried to make it work, in my last library job, by taking one day off every other week** to work on my development skills. I did make some headway—a lot, arguably—but one day every two weeks is not enough to build real fluency, just as fiddling around alone did not help me build the skills that a project with a team would have. Not only do most people not have the privilege of dropping to 90% of their work time, but even if you do, that’s not an effective route to learning enough!

And, here, you might think of the coding bootcamps (at more than $10k per) or the (free, but you have to live in NYC) Recurse Center (which sits on my bucket list, unvisited), but, again: most people can’t afford to take three months away from work, like that. And the Recurse Center isn’t so much a school (hence the name change away from “Hacker School”) as it is a place to get away from the pressures of daily life and just code; realistically, you have to be at a certain level to get in. My point, though, is that the people for whom these are realistic options tend to be among the least marginalized in other ways. So, I argue that they are not solutions and not something we should expect people to do.

Option two: go work in tech

If you can’t get the training you need within libraries or in your spare time, it kind of makes sense to go find a job with some tech company, work there for a few years, build up your skills, and then come back. I thought so, anyway. It turns out, this plan was clown shoes, too.

Every woman I’ve talked to who has taken this approach has had a terrible experience. (I also know of a few women who’ve tried this approach and haven’t reported back, at least to me. So my data is incomplete, here. Still, tech’s horror stories are numerous, so go with me here.) I have a theory that library vendors are a safer bet and may be open to hiring newer developers than libraries currently are, but I don’t have enough data (or anecdata) to back it up, so I’m going to talk about tech-tech.

Frankly, if we expect members of any marginalized group to go work in tech in order to build up the skills necessary for a librarian-developer job, we are throwing them to the wolves. In tech, even able-bodied straight cisgender middle class white women are a badly marginalized group, and heaven help you if you’re on any other axis of oppression.

And, sure, yeah. Not all tech. I’ll agree that there are non-terrible jobs for people from marginalized groups in tech, but you have to be skilled enough to get to be that choosy, which people in the scenario we’re discussing are not. I think my story is a pretty good illustration of how even a promising-looking tech job can still turn out horrible. (TLDR: I found a company that could talk about basic inclusivity and diversity in a knowledgeable way and seemed to want to build a healthy culture. It did not have a healthy culture.)

We just can’t outsource that skill-building period to non-library tech. It isn’t right. We stand to lose good people that way.

We need to develop our own techies—I’m talking code, here, because it’s what I know, but most of my argument expands to all of libtech and possibly even to library leadership—or continue offering our patrons sub-par software built within vendor silos and patched together by a small, privileged subset of our field. I don’t have to tell you what that looks like; we live with it, already.

What to do?

I’m going to focus on what you, as an individual organization, or leader within an organization, can do to help; I acknowledge that there are some systemic issues at play, beyond what my relatively small suggestions can reach, and I hope this post gets people talking and thinking about them (and not just to wave their hands and sigh and complain that “there isn’t enough money,” because doomsaying is boring and not helpful).

First of all, when you’re looking at adding to the tech talent in your organization, look within your organization. Is there a cataloger who knows some scripting and might want to learn more? (Ask around! Find out!) What about your web content manager, UX person, etc.? (Offer!) You’ll probably be tempted to look at men, first, because society has programmed us all in evil ways (seriously), so acknowledge that impulse and look harder. The same goes for race and disability and having the MLIS, which is too often a stand-in for socioeconomic class; actively resist those biases (and we all have those biases).

If you need tech talent and can’t grow it from within your organization, sit down and figure out what you really need, on day one, versus what might be nice to have, but could realistically wait. Don’t put a single nice-to-have on your requirements list, and don’t you dare lose sight of what is and isn’t necessary when evaluating candidates.

Recruit in diverse and non-traditional spaces for tech folks — dashing off an email to Code4Lib is not good enough (although, sure, do that too; they’re nice folks). LibTechWomen is an obvious choice, as are the Spectrum Scholars, but you might also look at the cataloging listservs or the UX listservs, just to name two options. Maybe see who tweets about #libtechgender and #critlib (and possibly #lismicroaggressions?), and invite those folks to apply and to share your linted job opening with their networks.

Don’t use whiteboard interviews! They are useless and unnecessarily intimidating! They screen for “confidence,” not technical ability. Pair-programming exercises, with actual taking turns and pairing, are a good alternative. Talking through scenarios is also a good alternative.

Don’t give candidates technology vocabulary tests. Not only is it nearly useless as an evaluation tool (and a little insulting); it actively discriminates against people without formal CS education (or, cough, people with CS minors from more than a decade ago). You want to know that they can approach a problem in an organized manner, not that they can define a term that’s easily Googled.

Do some reading about impostor syndrome, stereotype threat, and responsible tech hiring. Model View Culture’s a good place to start; here is their hiring issue.

(I have a whole slew of comments about hiring, and I’ll make those—and probably repeat the list above—in another post.)

Once you have someone in a position, or (better) you’re growing someone into a position, be sure to set reasonable expectations and deadlines. There will be some training time for any tech person; you want this, because something built with enough forethought and research will be better than something hurriedly duct-taped (figuratively, you hope) together.

Give people access to mentorship, in whatever form you can. If you can’t give them access to a team within your organization, give them dedicated time to contribute to relevant OSS projects. Send them to—just to name two really inclusive and helpful conferences/communities—Code4Lib (which has regional meetings, too) and/or Open Source Bridge.


So… that’s what I’ve got. What have I missed? What else should we be doing to help fix this gap?


* In truth, as excited as I am about starting my own business, I wouldn’t turn down an interview for a librarian-coder position local to Pittsburgh, but 1) it doesn’t feel like the wind is blowing that way, here, and 2) I’m in the midst of a whole slew of posts that may make me unemployable, anyway ;) (back to the text)

** To be fair, I did get to do some development on the clock, there. Unfortunately, because I wore so many hats, and other hats grew more quickly, it was not a large part of my work. Still, I got most of my PHP experience there, and I’m glad I had the opportunity. (back to the text)


All Along the Linkspam

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, 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.

Eat, pray, linkspam (2 September 2015)

  • [Video] Maggie Nelson, GitHub Director of Infrastructure Engineering: “Maggie Nelson, Director of Infrastructure Engineering at GitHub, shares her story at the GitHub Girl Geek Dinner on August 19, 2015”
  • Black Lives Matter Inspired This Chilling Fantasy Novel | Wired (August 29): “Her new novel The Fifth Season is set in a world wracked by natural disasters that threaten to destroy civilization. In this world sorcerers who can harness the power of earthquakes and volcanoes are both feared and valued, and such people, known as orogenes, are subject to brutal oppression. Jemisin says that real-world events in Ferguson, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, helped inspire her story.”
  • I’m Obsessed With Slam City Oracles and You Will Be Too | Autostraddle (August 29): “Jane Friedhoff’s Slam City Oracles is a smash-em-up game […]  like you’re wandering through an imagined world full of blocks and, like we all did when we were four or five, pretending to Godzilla things over with absolutely no consequences.”
  • Kickin’ Rad, Super Bad: Interview With ‘Hiveswap’ UI Artist Veronica Nizama | FemHype (August 28): “One key member of the development team is Veronica Nizama, user interface designer and texture artist for What Pumpkin Studios. Veronica has a wealth of experience with both mobile and mainstream game development, having worked directly on over forty projects, and has carved a name for herself on the adult comic book scene. I had the chance to sit down with her and discuss her work on Hiveswap, as well as some of her own personal experiences in the industry.”
  • Don’t let them label you a demon kitty | Stormy’s Corner (August 28): “if your organization is labeling you as a “demon kitty”, it’s not your fault, not any more than it was the fault of a six week old kitten. So, hold that knowledge, that it’s not your fault, and decide if you want to work it out with them or if you want to find a better home.”
  • Call It the ‘Bechdel-Wallace Test’ | The Atlantic (August 25): “Bechdel reiterated her debt to Wallace for coming up with the test. “I feel a little bit sheepish about the whole thing, […] because it’s not like I invented this test or said this is the Bechdel test. It somehow has gotten attributed to me over the years.””
  • Letters to Tiptree: what does it mean to “write like a man”? | Hoyden About Town (August 26): “Letters to Tiptree was released this week from World Fantasy Award-winning Australian small press Twelfth Planet Press, and I’m rather excited about it. […] In Letters to Tiptree, forty writers, editors, critics, and fans address questions of gender, of sexuality, of the impossibility and joy of knowing someone only through their fiction and biography. They reminisce about the impact of Tiptree’s work, about teaching her stories, and about what it means that a woman can write “like a man”.”
  • Diversity Panels I’d Like To See | The Bias (August 31): “generic panels don’t so much add to the conversation as recap it. It’s impossible to go into a subject as broad as “Race In Science Fiction” in any depth in a one-hour slot, and without knowing how well the audience has educated themselves on the topic, the panelists generally just end up summarizing the background reading.”
  • Diversity Panels: Where Next? | I Make Up Worlds (August 25): “These days, more conventions & comiccons feature panels on diversity: what it is, why it matters, how we can support it. I’ve seen examples of these being absolutely packed, especially when they first became features of the con and library landscape […] Now, however, without in any way suggesting that the need for discussion is over or that we have solved the problems, I am wondering to what degree the “diversity panel” may be beginning to become less effective and perhaps even to exacerbate the problem.”

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, 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.