Tag Archives: conferences

On TRUCEConf

This is a guest post by Jacob Kaplan-Moss. Jacob is the co-BDFL of Django and Director of Security at Heroku. Jacob helped create Django while working at the Lawrence Journal-World, a family owned newspaper in Lawrence, KS. He lives outside of Lawrence and spends his weekends playing at being a farmer.

This post originally appeared on Jacob’s blog.

Friday brought news of TRUCEConf.

It’s a terrible, dangerous and insulting idea. The organizers should reconsider, either canceling the event or changing its scope and mission radically. I have no doubts that the organizers have good intentions, but good intention don’t always yield positive results. As is, TRUCEConf’s very existence runs counter to the vision of equality in tech.

Tone arguments and trivialization

It’s hard to read the verbiage on TRUCEConf‘s home page as anything other than an extended tone argument. The page continually talks “anger”: citing the need for “discussions without… anger”, or the danger of continuing “on the path of anger”.

It’s hard to read this as anything other than buying into the myth of the “angry feminist”, criticizing people working for equality who have the temerity to occasionally get angry. This is a classic tone argument at its best: distracting from the actual issue at hand by focusing on the tone.

Here’s the thing, though: as Melissa McEwan points out, “to a subjugated person… anger is perfectly rational.” Indeed, “how can you look at a cultural landscape of institutionalized inequality and not be angry… because you know that the opposite of anger, for a progressive, is complacence.”

TRUCEConf, on the very face of it, trivializes and dismisses the work that’s already been done, implying that the reason it failed is because it was somehow done wrong. That’s incredibly insulting to everyone who’s been working on this problem.

What exactly are “both sides”?

TRUCEConf continually mentions “both sides”. What exactly are these two sides? (Spoiler alert: they don’t exist.)

Men and women?

Maybe they mean “men” and “women”? If so:

  • It ignores the fact that some men are as uncomfortable with the status quo, as well as the sad truth that some women have a deep investment in keeping the system in place.
  • This buys into the myth of the gender binary, sweeping trans*, gender questioning, and gender nonconforming people under the rug.
  • Indeed, it implies that the only problems facing tech is sexism, when in fact our community is also racist, ableist, ageist, etc. etc. etc.

All of this comes down to a lack of understanding of intersectionalism – the way different forms of oppression interlock and interrelate. There’s not “two sides”; there’s a deep and complex interlocking set of oppressions. Put succinctly:

When you enter a feminist space and you are only concerned with sexism, you are missing the full story. It’s like listening to music but only hearing the melody…without the harmony, percussion, and bass line, you aren’t actually hearing the song.

(From Intersectionalism 101. Read the rest of it, please!)

Sexists” and “non-sexists”?

OK, maybe they don’t mean “men” and “women”; maybe they mean “sexists” and “non-sexists”?

If so, that’s even worse. We’re not talking about two equal groups here; one “side” is comprised of harassers, abusers, and rapists. Take a moment to peruse the history of sexist incidents in tech. Is TRUCEConf seriously suggesting that we invite people from “both sides” of those events?

Do they really believe that the solution is to invite abusers and their victims to “work together in an open environment to solve our problems collaboratively”?

Both sides” implies false equivalence

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what these supposed “two sides” are. The very
discussion of these “two sides” sets up a damaging an untrue false equivalence
between bullies, abusers and rapists on one “side” and people speaking out
against harassment on the other.

This implies that speaking out about abuse is somehow equivalent to abuse itself.

It’s hard even to articulate how insulting and damaging this sort of false equivalence is.

This is an appropriation of the language of oppression by the oppressing class. Having your privilege challenged isn’t bullying. Saying that is the worst kind of privilege. If the worst thing that’s happened to you is having someone on Twitter call you sexist, well, you’ve lived a pretty incredibly lucky life so far, don’t you think?

This isn’t a war

Fundamentally, TRUCEConf fails because this isn’t a “war.” A “war” implies some sort of struggle, with equivalent atrocities on both sides. When it comes to our tech industry, nothing could be further from the truth.

This isn’t a “war” between equals; it’s the systematic oppression of women, people of color, LGBT folk, and other minorities. The people with privilege are not going to just sit down, talk it out, and suddenly agree to give up that privilege; there’s a massive culture deeply invested in maintaining the status quo.

Refusing to acknowledge this systemic imbalance implicitly endorses it. The concept of a “truce” is laughable; the only solution is to dismantle the system that’s so stacked against equality.

How is linkspam formed? (9 July 2013)

Special issue on conference harassment!

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.

Photograph of John Scalzi, by I am the Jeff

How To Be An Ally, Speaker Edition

John Scalzi is a New York Times best-selling Science Fiction writer. He’s won or been nominated for most of the genre’s top awards, and he’s the most recent former president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. It’s fair to say he’s a sought-after guest on the SF convention circuit; he’s been a Guest of Honor several times and a Toastmaster more than once, including at the 2012 WorldCon in Chicago.

Photograph of John Scalzi, by I am the Jeff

John Scalzi, from a photo by I am the Jeff

Yesterday, he announced that going forward, he will only accept invitations to conventions that have a published harassment policy that is “clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go to for help and action.”

We often hear from allies who are looking for things they can do to help make geek culture a safer space. If you’re somebody who speaks at conferences, this is a great way that you can leverage your power to help.

How to do it:

Scalzi has an extremely well-trafficked blog, but there’s no need to make a big public statement if you’re not comfortable doing so. All you have to do is:

  1. Only accept invitations/submit talk proposals to conferences with a clear, published, enforced anti-harassment policy, and
  2. When you decline an invitation (or decline to submit a talk), tell them why.

Step Two is key. If you just decline the invitation, the conference will have no way of knowing that there is a simple step they can take to change your mind and make their event safer and more welcoming.

So when you’re invited to speak, check the event’s website for a harassment policy. If you can’t find one, shoot them an email:

Thank you for the invitation to [event]. I’d love to attend, but I only speak at conferences with [clear, publicized] anti-harassment policies. Do you have one that I’ve missed, or would you consider implementing one? [Can you tell me how you will publicize it to attenders?]

For calls for papers or talk submission systems, do the same thing:

I’d love to submit a talk for [event], but I only speak at conferences with [clear, publicized] anti-harassment policies. Do you have one that I’ve missed, or would you consider implementing one? [Can you tell me how you will publicize it to attenders?]

If they tell you that they don’t have a policy, or if the policy they have is not adequate (“don’t be a jerk” is not an anti-harassment policy), encourage them to adopt a real policy. Point them at this template policy, which The Ada Initiative developed in collaboration with other volunteers. It can be adapted to suit most technical, literary, gaming, or media conferences. The introduction includes a concise argument for why conferences should adopt clear policies:

Why have an official anti-harassment policy for your conference? First, it is necessary (unfortunately). Harassment at conferences is incredibly common – for example, see this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities. Second, it sets expectations for behavior at the conference. Simply having an anti-harassment policy can prevent harassment all by itself. Third, it encourages people to attend who have had bad experiences at other conferences. Finally, it gives conference staff instructions on how to handle harassment quickly, with the minimum amount of disruption or bad press for your conference.

If they choose not to adopt and publicize a clear policy with a reporting process, decline their invitation to speak or submit a talk.

Other Ways To Encourage Conferences To Adopt Policies:

The Geek Feminism Wiki has a list of other actions you can take to encourage conferences to adopt anti-harassment policies. Among them:

  1. Privately request a policy by directly contacting the conference organizers, and their parent organization if there is one (some conferences are run by a non-profit parent body, for example).
  2. Publicly request a policy by blogging, tweeting, or similar.
  3. Do not attend conferences without a policy, and let them know of your decision.
  4. Privately or publicly thank conferences that do adopt a policy (and their parent body, if any).
  5. Help publicize conferences that do have a policy.
  6. Preferentially attend conferences with a policy and let them know that you did so.
  7. Refuse to volunteer for or run events that benefit a conference unless it has a policy.

Other Things You Can Do:

  1. Make A Public Personal Pledge to not engage in harassment and to speak up when you see harassment, as sci-fi author Jim C. Hines did, and/or to personally back up targets of harassment, as Mary Robinette Kowal has done.
  2. Refuse To Share A Stage With Jerks. If you’re invited to speak at a conference where another speaker is a known harasser, misogynist, racist, heterosexist, cis-sexist, or other brand of jerk, refuse the invitation, and tell them why:

    I’d love to speak at [event], but I see that you’ve invited [jerk] to be your [Guest of Honor/Keynote/etc]. [Jerk] has done/said [awful things they’ve done/said][, and to my knowledge, they have not accepted responsibility, nor have they made a public commitment to behave better in the future]. I’m not comfortable [speaking at conferences with them/sitting on a panel with them/toasting them/etc], because I don’t want people thinking I endorse their behavior.

  3. Support Those Who Choose To Speak Out. Last week, Elise Matthesen chose to speak out about being harassed at a conference, and her experience with reporting the harasser. Her post on the subject appeared on the blogs of several well-known SF writers, including Mary Robinette Kowal, Jim C. Hines, Seanan McGuire, Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Wendig, and John Scalzi (hat tip to Mary Robinette Kowal for listing the cross-posters on her blog. More information is available on the Geek Feminism Wiki). These writers not only lent Matthesen their platform and speaking trumpet; they also took on the work of moderating the comments her post generated. Offering to host a post on your own blog and moderate the comments is an extremely valuable service you can offer to people who want to tell personal stories about harassment or related issues.
  4. Name Harassers. Many victims of harassment and assault do not feel safe publicly naming and shaming their harassers/attackers. Those that do name names risk personal, professional, and legal reprisals for doing so. If you have enough personal power within a community that you feel you can safely name a harasser, and if you can do so without outing a victim or betraying a victim’s confidence, consider speaking up. People who are vulnerable to harassment are often forced to rely on a grape-vine of backchannel warnings about serial offenders. This system is opaque, ad-hoc, poorly-documented, and it doesn’t help people who aren’t already tapped into a network that can pass the warnings on. Author K. Tempest Bradford reports that Matthesen’s harasser’s employer has been aware of his behavior for years. There have been previous complaints about it stretching back to at least 2002. After Matthesen came forward last week, Segrid Ellis and Mary Robinette Kowal both came forward to name him. This will make it much easier to hold him (and spaces that tolerate his behavior) accountable going forward.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. There are a hundred big and small ways that you can fight bad behavior in geek spaces–many of which don’t depend on being powerful or famous.

On Twitter, Scalzi said about his new policy: “I didn’t make that harassment statement for the cookies, incidentally. I did it because I don’t want my friends [bleep]ing harassed.” Taking any of these suggested steps may not earn you any cookies, but if you’re in a position to do them, they can help make a real, lasting difference that makes geek communities more safe and welcoming for everyone.

The left hand of linkspam (19 April 2013)

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.

Syntax error: unexpected linkspam (16 April 2013)

  • Science needs more women: “The bottom line is that many excellent female researchers across Australia do not encounter a set of sequential career rungs to be climbed, but rather need to navigate a complex game of snakes-and-ladders.”
  • Signs of Change: “Not everyone is on the same page, and there is still a lot of progress to go on all fronts, particularly with regard to the players themselves who congregate in gaming communities; it’s often these folks who will engage in the most abuse against advocacy for inclusivity, diversity, and equality. For the first time though, I feel that things are actually changing, that minds are being opened, and that the advocacy, the blogging, the speaking out that people have been doing for so many years-that all of this exhausting work is bearing fruit. There is a cultural shift happening in games, and I hope it continues to shift to a better place.”
  • ABA TechShow Has a Diversity Problem: “TechShow is a very good conference, even with all the white guys on stage. It is like a huge workshop, with something for lawyers who are still trying to use Word properly to lawyers trying to figure out how to gain an edge at trial. It would just be a lot better if there were a greater variety of voices on the presentation stages.”
  • Taking out tokenism: Why some people are changing their minds on quotas: “Lindy Stephens was convinced that quota systems were the wrong way to increase the number of women in positions of power. But three years after adopting a system of positive discrimination, the managing director of IT consultancy Thoughtworks Australia has changed her mind.”
  • MAKE | Where Are the Women?: “In our workshop, Hacking the Gender Gap, we present a brief overview of the published research on the gender gap and women’s history in computing. Then we pass out two different colors of large Post-Its and markers. On one color, we ask participants to write a story of a negative experience they’ve had with technology. On the other color, we ask them to write a positive experience… As a group, we read the stories and discuss the themes that emerge, and what could be done to encourage more of the positive experiences and prevent the negative ones.”
  • Girls Who Code: “The first GWC program launched in the summer of 2012 with 22 girls in New York City. Courses covered not only coding but pitching and presentation skills. At the outset, only one participant was considering a major in computer science; by the end, the entire class planned to major or minor in the subject.”
  • What we talk about, when we talk about fake fangirls: “The fake geek girl meme depends on the narrative of invasion. The particular battle at stake is women entering male space, and demanding that it change.”
  • The Last of Us Female Characters: “So here we see a pretty serious effect of how the assumption “women don’t play video games” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we assume that women don’t play, then we’ll never ask them what they think of a game, and it becomes far more likely that we’ll create a game that presents gender in a limited way, from a limited perspective, or even an offensive one. And then women will be less likely to enjoy playing our game, but that’s all right, because we know that women don’t play games anyway.”
  • Feminist Pax Enforcers: “My experience with PAX East enforcers is that they have created a self-perpetuating image: everybody believes that they’re competent and on top of things and so should be treated with respect, which allows them to be maximally friendly, calm, helpful, and communicative to attendees… which allows them to be completely on top of things, which means that everybody believes they are on top of things… and so on. So it does not surprise me one bit that some of them have gotten together, in the wake of a well publicized incident of a disruptive media attendee, to reassure female cosplayers and attendees that they’ve got your back. With a nerdy meme.”
  • Gail Simone Brings First Transgendered Character to DC Comics in Batgirl #19: “I’m sure it’s controversial on some level to some people, but honest to God, I just could not care less about that. If someone gets upset, so be it; there are a thousand other comics out there for those people.”

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.

linux.conf.au 2007 speaker panel grouped on stage

Re-post: When sex and porn are on-topic at conferences: Keeping it women-friendly

During December and January, Geek Feminism is republishing some of our 2012 posts for the benefit of new and existing readers. This post originally appeared on October 1, 2012.

This is a cross-post from the Ada Initiative blog. Discussion is extremely welcome!

We’d like to start a discussion: How can the Ada Initiative extend the example anti-harassment conference policy to explicitly allow respectful, woman-positive discussion of topics like sex and pornography when it is on-topic, without creating loopholes for sexist and exclusionary behavior to creep back in?

First, let’s be clear: harassment and unwelcoming behavior at open tech/culture conferences are far from over. For example, one recent conference tried to “break the ice” using slides with sexual messages and/or animals mating and ended up getting racism and prison rape jokes (unsurprisingly – see this list of higher risk activities for conferences to avoid). That’s why the Ada Initiative’s advice on including pornography or sexual discussion at technology conferences is “don’t.”

A brief explanation of why pornography and sex are off-putting to women and LGBTQ people of any gender: Most pornography shown in this situation assumes that the audience is male and heterosexual, and sends the message that everyone who is not a heterosexual man is not the intended audience. Also, shifting people’s minds towards sex often triggers people to view women as sexual objects, in a context in which women want to be treated as humans with a shared interest.

Cindy Gallop

Cindy Gallop speaking

But showing pornography and talking about sex in public are not necessarily a “women not wanted” sign. Women are using open tech/culture to create erotica by and for women, and to have open discussions about sexuality in general.

For example, Archive of Our Own is a “fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks,” designed and created by a majority women community, and hosts erotic fan fiction written by women among many other fan works. At the Open Video conference, Cindy Gallop talked about ways to change pornography to be more women-friendly, as well as more “open source” (and launched a startup actually doing it). for women in open tech/culture also need to speak about what keeps women out of their communities, which requires talking about pornography and sex.

Valerie Aurora speaking at AdaCamp DC

Valerie Aurora speaking at AdaCamp

What we want to do is support conferences that have organizers, speakers, and attendees who are sufficiently aware of sexism, homophobia, racism, and other forms of harassment in order to distinguish between, e.g., trying to “spice up” a presentation with a little off-topic pornography, and a discussion of ways to change pornography to be more women-positive. Our own AdaCamp is an example of a conference in which sex and pornography are on-topic.

The Ada Initiative’s current anti-harassment policy includes the following paragraph:

Exception: Discussion or images related to sex, pornography, discriminatory language, or similar is welcome if it meets all of the following criteria: (a) the organizers have specifically granted permission in writing, (b) it is necessary to the topic of discussion and no alternative exists, (c) it is presented in a respectful manner, especially towards women and LGBTQ people, (d) attendees are warned in advance in the program and respectfully given ample warning and opportunity to leave beforehand. This exception specifically does not allow use of gratuitous sexual images as attention-getting devices or unnecessary examples.

We then add a blanket provision approving discussion about topics that are appropriate for the specific conference.

What do you think? Comments are open (but heavily moderated).

Food for discussion: A few examples of anti-harassment policies from conferences where sex and pornography are on-topic: BiCon, Open SF, and Open Video Conference.

My Little Linkspam: URLs are magic (22 January 2013)

  • Gender in Twitter: Styles, stances, and social networks: “By clustering Twitter feeds, we find a range of styles and interests that reflects the multifaceted interaction between gender and language.”
  • New X-Men Relaunch Will Feature an All Women Team, Albeit Still Drawn By Men: “A relaunch of X-Men is going to feature an all-lady series, including all of my favorite female characters: Jubilee, Kitty Pride, Storm, Rogue, Rachel Grey, and Psylocke. X-Men has a history of featuring strong females, and I have high hopes for how well this series will be written even though it is authored and drawn by two men, because really, this would have been the perfect opportunity for a female writer and artist.”
  • Sexism In Gaming: A Response To Gabrielle Toledano: “[W]hat Toledano fails to comprehend is that gaming, like everything else, is an ecosystem – and right now, at every single level of participation, women are feeling the effects of sexism.”
  • The Panasonic Toughpad Press Conference: “A man in charge of something important just made a SEX PISS JOKE at the Panasonic Press Conference and that’s all fine. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. Is that fine? Is this just what happens at tech events? I want to have a lie down.”
  • The Great Face-Paint Debate: “The anti-‘superficiality’ thread in geek culture promotes often veers into femmephobic territory. Spending $30 on a single t-shirt with a particular geek darling’s logo emblazoned on it is considered admirable, while spending $30 on an entire outfit that reads “fancy” or “overdressed” (i.e. coordinated and feminine) is unthinkable.”
  • Women take future of coding in own hands: “Howard acknowledges that there are plenty of coding classes out there, but in approaching a predominantly male profession, many women prefer to learn without the typical “bravado,” as she termed the hyper-competitive nature of coding groups or hackathons.”
  • Sigh.: “Can I not even escape getting punched in the face by the unattainable “idealized” female body in my nerdy writer space?”
  • The Feministing Five: Reshma Saujani: “Girls want to leverage the power of technology to help others, and I knew we had to teach more girls the skills they needed to do that. The girls we taught last summer all opted to build products to give back to their communities.”

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.

Back to the linkspam (16 January 2013)

  • Harassment in nerd spaces, and encouraging honesty: “I hope this story encourages more people to talk seriously about experiences they’ve had at conventions, at gaming meet-ups, at comic book stores, or any other male-dominated spaces that (however unintentionally) end up housing predators and “creepers” who make people feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. People should feel like they can talk about their experiences without having to use jokey euphemisms (“creeper”) or make supposedly-satirical-but-sort-of-serious videos.”
  • On false dichotomies and diversity: “A person who calls for greater diversity is not necessarily advocating the implementation of a quota system — that’s a straw man fallacy. Similarly, having a diverse roster of speakers at a conference does not imply that those speakers were not chosen on merit. Diversity and a merit‐based selection process are not mutually exclusive. To state the contrary is a false dichotomy. And before assuming that a conference probably couldn’t find enough women because not enough women applied (blaming the victim), first find out whether or not the selection process actually included an open call for talks.”
  • Rocket rain: “The ques­tion for me is, what signi­fi­cance the inci­dents actually occur­ring have for various atten­dees: inci­dents like sexist modera­tion, the reduc­tion of women to head­less bodies, or the hacking of Asher Wolf’s blog. For the majo­rity (I would guess) such events are little things, if they are noti­ced at all. Even if you find them ugly, they don’t tar­nish the ent­ire event. They have the signi­fi­cance of a bro­ken plate in a com­mer­cial kit­chen: it hap­pens, but it’s not signi­fi­cant. It’s just a blip. For many other people, and I include mys­elf here, these events carry a dif­fe­rent weight. They are indi­vi­dual cases of cho­lera on a cruise ship, or dog poop on the hem of the wed­ding dress: the ugly blips makes the over­all situa­tion dan­ge­rous or intolerable.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Violent Images] Facebook’s Questionable Policy on Violent Content Toward Women: “After a Change.org petition collected over 200,000 signatures and the issue appeared in mainstream media outlets, some of the pages promoting the rape and assault of women were removed. Others were allowed to remain on the site if they were categorized as “humor” sites. Given the seemingly inconsistent application of the site’s own guidelines regarding violent and threatening images and speech, it’s hard not to wonder: What is Facebook’s actual policy regarding content that advocates rape and violence toward women – or does one exist?”
  • Silicon Valley Congresswoman talks the 2013 tech agenda: “‘The outcome of the SOPA fight last year is the Big Content people realize the days of getting their way completely is kind of at an end. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve consideration — they do. It’s time to work with technology and instead of seeing it as a threat, seeing it as an opportunity to grow your market.'”
  • 10 Awesome Female Engineers from Science Fiction: “Everybody knows that the engineers are the ones who keep everything going in a science fiction story. They’re the ones who make the ship fly. They build the megastructures. They make the spinning things spin and the jumping things jump. And some of the coolest engineers and designers in science fiction just happen to be women.”

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.

Group of male-type and female-type body symbols, 8 male, 2 female

Re-post: How To Exclude Women Without Really Trying

During December and January, Geek Feminism is republishing some of our 2012 posts for the benefit of new and existing readers. This post originally appeared on September 17, 2012.

An earlier version of this post appears on Tim’s blog.

Excluding by inclusion

This year’s “Future of Haskell” discussion, which traditionally ends the annual Haskell Symposium, stumbled into the question of gender equity, via the perennial question of how to increase the number of Haskell programmers. Many programmers (of all genders) find math intimidating and think that the Haskell programming language requires more mathematical skill than other popular languages. In the discussion, Doaitse Swierstra, a professor of computer science at the University of Utrecht, suggested that a good way to increase the number of Haskell programmers would be to recruit one woman for every man in the room. So far, so good: in fact, Prof. Swierstra showed creativity by introducing the problem of gender inequity at this point in the discussion. But then he went on to say that if this goal were achieved, it would make the meetings more “attractive”.

Speaking as someone who attended functional programming conferences for ten years, the field of programming language (PL) research in general is particularly male-dominated even by computer science standards. Also anecdotally, functional programming is an even more male-dominated sub-field within PL research. I would sometimes play a game during conference talks where I would count the number of men with long hair, and the number of women, in the room. There were always more long-haired men than women. I can’t know what someone’s gender is by looking at them (as I well know, since before 2007 most people who looked at me would have thought I counted as one of those women). Still, even with a very generous estimate as to how many people who appeared to be men may actually have been trans women or genderqueer people, the conferences would still have had a gender balance that doesn’t reflect the underlying population, or even the gender balance in computer science or software as a whole. Even the field of mathematics is less male-dominated than functional programming research, so the excuse that PL people are blameless and the numbers result from discouragement of girls learning math at the primary and secondary educational levels does not explain the imbalance.

Prof. Swierstra does get credit for recognizing that there is a problem. And I don’t doubt that by making the comments he made, he intended to encourage the inclusion of women, not exclusion. (You can listen to the relevant part of the discussion yourself—the link goes directly to 32:00 in the video. Apologizes in advance to those who are hard of hearing; I didn’t want to attempt a transcript beyond what I already paraphrased, since I wasn’t totally sure about all of it.)

Even so, Swierstra’s remark provides a great example of how it’s not the intent behind what you say that matters, but rather, the effect that your words have. By following a call for more women in the room with a comment about his opinion of women’s greater attractiveness relative to men, he completely undermined his own attempt to encourage equality, whether or not that was his intent. If you accidentally run a person over with your car, not having intended to hurt them doesn’t make them less dead. And if you make an objectifying comment that tells women their value at an academic conference is as decoration, not having intended to send that message doesn’t make those women feel any more welcome. (While accidental killings are punished less harshly than deliberate ones, the analogy stops holding at that point, since no one wants to punish people for accidentally making sexist comments, only to ask them to reflect and learn so they don’t make such comments in the future.)
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It’s a Linkspam! (11 December 2012)

  • Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy: “History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth. History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.”
  • PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical: “Which leads me back to the issue of prejudice: specifically, to the claim that including such characters in SFF stories, by dint of contradicting the model of straight, white, male homogeneity laid down by Tolkien and taken as gospel ever since, is an inherently political – and therefore suspect – act. To which I say: what on Earth makes you think that the classic SWM default is apolitical?”
  • Why Talking About Character Gender Still Matters (Even Though It Shouldn’t): “As much as I want gender to not matter, the stories I consume typically tell me otherwise, and I think that’s worth talking about. Not because women view female characters as superior to male characters, or because we want to do away with male-led stories entirely… All I want is a game culture (or really, a storytelling culture) in which things like Omega don’t strike me as unusual.”
  • The Python Software Foundation Code Of Conduct: “What we are seeing is a fundamental shift in the awareness that we need to be more welcoming, more open to those who do not make the majority of our community. We need to have workshops, we need to be more inviting. We need to lower the barrier of entry of contribution. We need to make safe havens for those who want to contribute but who are scared and intimidated by the status quo. This includes men, women – everyone.”
  • Got your new debit card!!!: Automatic-educating for digital security over Twitter: “I’ve been responding to as many tweets as I can, like chucking beached starfish back into the sea. But it’s occurred to me that if it was so easy to find and retweet the original card posts in a chaotic-neutral way, that could lead either to posters getting warned or to their card details being stolen, it would also be trivial to code a bot to respond to @NeedADebitCard and warn the posters to cancel their cards.”
  • SciGirls: the right way to do it: “The creators have obviously paid careful attention to research about girls’ interest and participation in science. Science is portrayed as a social activity – the girls work together as a team, have fun together, and comment on their social processes. They use science to support a concrete practical goal. And because role models have been found to be highly important for girls, in each episode, they seek out a female scientist to mentor them.”
  • The Truth About ‘Pink’ and ‘Blue’ Brains: “Janet Hyde, a pioneer in this area, did a meta-analysis of meta-analyses that combined the results of 7,084 separate studies. She found evidence for a large or very large difference on 8% of characteristics and evidence for medium-sized differences on 15%. She found evidence for small differences on another 48%… For the final 30% of characteristics, she found no evidence gender difference. So, on 78% of characteristics, she found teensy differences or none at all. Wow, “opposite sexes” indeed.”

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.