Tag Archives: black geeks

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, d.bot 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, socket.io, 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 http://bit.ly/dBot.

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 Haveyouseenthem.org, 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.

Everything that linkspams must converge (13 June 2014)

Warning for discussion of sexual assault. Predatory behaviour and sexual assault at International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and in ed-tech:

  • The original post at Medium, entitled “What is this, church camp?”, by Ariel Norling, is now deleted, Norling has since published Setting a Few Things Straight | Medium (June 5): “Both men’s actions were aggressive and symptomatic of larger systemic issues of sexism and rape culture. This topic has been too often avoided (because it is simply too intimidating for women to confess), ignored, and silenced. My sole objective was to bring attention to the fact that educational technology is a sector that still suffers from these issues, despite being comprised primarily of women.”
  • #YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe | Audrey Watters at Hack Education (June 4): “As I’ve explained on this blog before — or actually, in retrospect, maybe I’ve just hinted — I have received an incredible amount of misogynistic and violent feedback to my work in education technology.”

New movies! Reviews of Maleficent and X-Men: Days of Future Past abound! But it seems our spam submissions have a preference…


  • Kim Moir of Releng of the Nerds recommends (June 9) Brianna Wu’s talk Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech (video, June 4) [no known transcript or subtitles, you can start subtitling at Amara to help make it accessible]
  • Online Harassment, Defamation, and Hateful Speech: A Primer of the Legal Landscape | Alice E. Marwick and Ross W. Miller at Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy: “This interdisciplinary project focused on online speech directed at women and seeks to provide a primer on (i) what legal remedies, if any, are available for victims of sexist, misogynist, or harassing online speech, and (ii) if such legal remedies and procedures exist, whether practical hurdles stand in the way of victims’ abilities to stop harassing or defamatory behavior… The study concluded that… there are few legal remedies for victims.”
  • How Perks Can Divide Us | Melissa Santos and Rafe Colburn at Model View Culture (June 9): “As managers, our goal should be to build the strongest and most effective teams possible. That starts with being able to draw from the broadest pool of candidates possible. When we exclude people because they don’t drink beer, can’t hang out after work, are remote employees or don’t like video games, we’re driving away people who could make our teams great for irrelevant reasons.”
  • Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines | Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker (May 28): “On the very same day [N. K.] Jemisin made her [WisCon Guest of Honor] speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up… from the same editor who called Jemisin a [racial and gendered insult] and [gendered insult].”
  • Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned | Sumana Harihareswara at WikiConference USA (May 30) [transcript, video and audio are also available]: “When someone is criticized for doing something inhospitable, the first response needs to not be ‘Oh, but remember their edit count. Remember he’s done X or she’s done Y for this community.’ We need to start treating hospitality as a first class virtue, and see that it is the seed of everything else. Alberto Brandolini said ‘The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.’ It has a big cost when someone treats others badly.”
  • Black girls take on tech’s diversity woes | Contessa Gayles at CNN (June 10): “This past weekend, Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit that teaches coding to girls from underserved communities, hosted its first ever hackathon. “
  • The Newest Frontier | Lesli-Ann Lewis at Model View Culture (June 9): “There’s a persistent lie that there is a new industry of equality in the West. There’s a belief that in this industry, there are new playing fields, even ones, where ingenuity, inventiveness and good ole gumption result in success for anyone worthy. That industry is tech.”
  • Some thoughts on handling harassment and toxic behavior privately | Selena Deckelmann (June 9): “I believe in proportionate response. However, when the interactions are online and there is no physical public space, just ‘public media’, there’s a serious problem with the idea that a private response, particularly from the harassed, works at all.”
  • Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate | Maria Konnikova at The New Yorker (June 11): “Hannah Riley Bowles… has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire. “
  • How Not To Review Women’s Writing | Mallory Ortberg at The Toast (June 2): “I have gone back and forth several times over the last few days on whether or not it would be worth addressing Adam Plunkett’s New Yorker.com review of poet Patricia Lockwood’s latest book here… Also, if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t want to seem mean by criticizing a man twice in public. I have since overcome this reluctance… It is such a perfect illustration of Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing that I think it merits mentioning, if only as a cautionary example for all you future New Yorker (dot com) reviewers out there.”

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Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Screenshot of computer program code

Quick hit: BlackGirlsCODE’s 2012 Summer of Code

Signal boosting this in a separate post rather than a linkspam, since the fundraising deadline is soon:

“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child”

Today there is a huge epidemic taking place across America. In low-income neighborhoods across the country thousands of children of color are not being offered high-quality education. There is a digital divide separating our country and our children are stuck in the middle. It is said by 2015 (3 years from now) 80% of new jobs will require a technical degree:


On June 17th, 2012, BlackGirlsCODE (BGC) will launch our Summer of CODE Campaign. Our goal is to teach computer programming to more than 300 boys and girls from underrepresented communities, in 90 days, in more than 7 cities across the United States. We are launching this BGC Summer of CODE Campaign to emphasize the importance of technology education and achievement for our next generation of citizens. We are especially focused on giving girls from African American, Latino, and Native American communities the opportunity to learn valuable tech skills and to plant a seed that may “Change the Face” of the future of tech!

They are aiming to raise $18 500. As of now, with 42 hours left in the fundraising campaign, they have raised $9 915.

Donate to the Summer of CODE via Indiegogo.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Tough as an old linkspam (8th December, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in 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.

She was only appointed because she’s a linkspam (8th April, 2011)

  • Words and Offense: Of course slurs are still bad… Offense is just not the reason why. Systemic oppression, concept association and a phenomenon known as hostile tagging (where the phrase either tags a person as someone to be hostile to and exclude or tags an area as a hostile place to any oppressed people that come in) are the actual reasons why…
  • Duke Nukem Forever – Wallowing in sexism: In some games we find sexism buried within plot points or seen through the stereotyped portrayals of female characters. Duke Nukem Forever is not one of those games. There is no need to look deeply into gameplay or storyline to find issues. Duke Nukem Forever is simply a game that wallows in sexism.
  • Geeky enough for you?: What I’m curious about here is this: what does the word “geeky’ mean to you? How do you define it? Also, how do you define not-geeky? I’m interested!
  • Trigger warning. Power switch: social media gives victims new ways to fight back These days if a woman is abused or humiliated by men belonging to a macho institution, she needn’t cop it. She can shop her story and shine light on the injustice herself.
  • Women of Color in Tech: How Can We Encourage Them?: But Viva couldn’t get a job in the Valley—despite introductions that I gave her to leading venture capitalists… It raised a red flag in my mind.
  • Hanna Director Joe Wright Slams Sucker Punch‘s Girl Power: Wright… trac[ed] the “alarming” brand of sexually-exploitative girl power found in Sucker Punch back to the Spice Girls.
  • Can we declare victory for women in their participation in science? Not yet: Over the last half-century, efforts to recruit and encourage women to pursue careers in science have been very successful, but they have not been evenly distributed… In physics, though, [the] numbers have barely budged…
  • BGG (Black Girl Gamer)–LFG, PST!: It’s not just the standard girl gamer war, where there is incessant name calling, references to genitalia or even the normal male chauvinist crap. The battle is having to defend why we are even playing games, in the first place. Why would we be playing games, because black women don’t play games.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or freelish.us 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.

Where are all the linkspams? (14th March, 2011)

  • Betsy Leondar-Wright and ana australiana write about the impenetrability of middle-class activism to working class people, and about how the sidelining of middle-class subcultures isn’t equivalent to systemic oppression: It’s not “them” — it’s us!, Equivalences.
  • “Very rarely do stories of women and technology vary in tone from the gender gap theme. Where are the women? Well, heck, we’ve been here all along – something we’ve recently pointed out in our Valentine’s Day piece about ENIAC.Writes Amber Bouman in MaximumPC for Women’s History Month.
  • sqbr is interested in user stories about the use of image descriptions on Tumblr. my arguments have all been about hypothetical users and it would be useful to have some evidence against the “but noone who needs descriptions would use a visual medium like tumblr” argument. There’s lots of feedback in comments.
  • s.e. smith: Why I’m Leaving Feminism: So many disabled people, nonwhite people, transgender people, people of colour, poor people, adamantly refuse to identify with feminism in its current incarnation in the United States… The model of feminism we see is one where oppression perpetrated in the name of “activism’ is acceptable, where casual ableism, racism, classism, transphobia run so deep that many of us don’t even bother to point it out anymore.
  • A bit of history: Carl Sagan’s appeal to the Explorers Club to admit women.
  • Gender Differences and Casual Sex: The New Research: Women’s reluctance comparative to men to accept the [offer] wasn’t really a reluctance to have casual sex, but rather a response to a different offer than the men got — the didn’t think the men would be as much fun.
  • Heidi Grant Halvorson on the difficulties of high achieving girls: What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science.
  • Gaming industry finally recognizes the work of a pioneer: It was back in the mid-1970s that [Jerry] Lawson developed the first video game console system, breaking ground in more ways than one. You see, Lawson, 70, is black. And while we often try to pretend that's neither here nor there, the truth is it is here — and it was even more-so there, when Lawson arrived in the valley in 1968.
  • Inoculation Against Stereotype: …choice isn’t as simple as people think. People assume that these choices are free choices, based on talent and interest and motivation, Dasgupta said. …Even talented people may not choose math or science not because they don’t like it or are not good at it, but because they feel that they don’t belong.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious 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.

Linkspamming into a brick wall (9th November, 2010)

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