This post was originally published at Restructure!
Often, computer geeks who started programming at a young age brag about it, as it is a source of geeky prestige. However, most computer geeks are oblivious to the fact that your parents being able to afford a computer back in the 1980s is a product of class privilege, not your innate geekiness. Additionally, the child’s gender affects how much the parents are willing to financially invest in the child’s computer education. If parents in the 1980s think that it is unlikely their eight-year-old daughter will have a career in technology, then purchasing a computer may seem like a frivolous expense.
Because of systemic racism, class differences correlate with racial demographics. In the Racialicious post Gaming Masculinity, Latoya quotes a researcher’s exchange with an African American male computer science (CS) undergraduate:
“Me and some of my black friends were talking about the other guys in CS. Some of them have been programming since they were eight. We can’t compete with that. Now, the only thing that I have been doing since I was eight is playing basketball. I would own them on the court. I mean it wouldn’t be fair, they would just stand there and I would dominate. It is sort of like that in CS.”
— Undergraduate CS Major
Those “other guys” in CS are those white, male geeks who brag in CS newsgroups about hacking away at their Commodore 64s as young children, where successive posters reveal younger and younger ages in order to trump the previous poster. This disgusting flaunting of privilege completely demoralizes those of us who gained computer access only recently. However, CS departments—which tend to be dominated by even more privileged computer geeks of an earlier era when computers were even rarer—also assume that early computer adoption is a meritocratic measure of innate interest and ability.
This is cross-posted at Restructure!
In the futuristic city of Metropolis, Cindi Mayweather, a.k.a. Android # 57821, falls in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. As a result, the Star Commission schedules for her immediate disassembly. Cindi Mayweather hides in the Neon Valley Street District, while card-carrying android bounty hunters are urged to capture her for a reward. The Droid Control Marshalls forbid the bounty hunters from using phasers that day; they can only use chainsaws and electro-daggers.
Cindi Mayweather is actually the alter-ego of Janelle MonÃ¡e, an underrated, multi-talented American recording artist, and apparent science fiction geek. Jason Heller of sci-fl/fantasy site Tor writes of MonÃ¡e:
MonÃ¡e herself has said how indebted to the SF canon she is: In interviews sheâ€™s gushed about Philip K. Dick, The Matrix, Metropolis (a film she pays visual tribute to on the cover of The ArchAndroid), and most often Octavia E. Butler, a visionary writer whose ethnocentric SF clearly marks her as MonÃ¡eâ€™s aesthetic godmother. [...] MonÃ¡e isnâ€™t dabbling in SF. She takes the stuff passionately and seriously.
In her lyrics, MonÃ¡e alludes to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, kryptonite, and thinks of herself as “something like a Terminator“. (On the other hand, her lyrics also include some ableist (and nonsensical) phrases like, “shake it like schizo”.)
From her first album, Metropolis, the music video for “Many Moons” is about an Annual Android Auction featuring a performance by Cindi Mayweather, in which MonÃ¡e dances erratically and does the moonwalk:
If you liked that video and want more highly-polished videos by MonÃ¡e, check out “Tightrope”, which is not sci-fi-themed but has fantasy elements and gender-liberating dancing, as well as the trailer for The ArchAndroid, in which the camera pans around a futuristic city-scape that turns out to be MonÃ¡e’s hat.
Related links (thanks, yatima):
- Adventures in Wondaland: Janelle Monae takes us on a musical mission to the future. by Vanessa Lazar at Gender Across Borders
- Janelle Monae turns rhythm and blues into science fiction by Gillian ‘Gus’ Andrews at io9
Trigger warning: contains mentions of implied sexual assault.
Between around 2000 and 2005, mostly during my second and third attempts at tertiary study, I racked up substantially more than one year’s worth of time in a text-based RPG. The particular one I played was a very heavily customised CircleMUD and had been going for quite a number of years at that stage.
Back then, I was an environment geek, or so I thought. It was during the second tertiary course that I learned the uber-basics of how The Internets worked, mostly from trying and (given my inexperience) largely succeeding in creating a website for a class project. The site was to document the species found in an ecological restoration site.
I learned HTML in the space of a weekend, and continued on to create the entire umpteen bazillion HTML files over the following few weeks. By hand. In static HTML. And frustrating the hell out of the teacher who could not get over my use of Notepad as my preferred way to edit HTML files. You really do not want to know what she wanted me to use.
All the while I was doing this, I was spending my spare time smiting the living daylights out of textually represented orcs, goblins, trolls and so forth, doing quest tasks, and generally having a fun time. So much fun that I started contributing to the game by making zones — new lands full of things to smite to shit, and be smited by.
I was prolific in my zone building. I tidied several orphaned zones up to start with, then I earned the privilege of being able to add completely new zones and expand one of the adopted zones to be a whole new area which was richly scripted. I moderated the communications channels, and helped form policies. I had a penchant for running weekly quests and all this meant that by the time I left, I ranked moderately in the deity hierarchy and knew how to code.
There was a small group of regulars who were women. That is, women in Real Life. To say we were “sought after” would be an understatement. To say that some of the dudes didn’t know boundaries is probably a larger one. At least once I had someone attempt to enact a caveman mating ritual. For real. Using a knock-out spell and the “R” word and everything. It was awful, but thankfully my protests were heard and the asshole was banned for a significant period of time and learned from his mistake.
Unfortunately, there was not always this level of understanding.
Years later, towards the end of my playing days, there was an individual who developed an obsession with myself and one of the other deity women. He abused the messaging services within the game, and when he realised that we had set him to ignore on all fronts, he proceeded to abuse scripted things within the game such as the florists, and out-of-game contact methods like email, to send us things. Awful things. Like links to pictures of hysteria machines saying how fun they would be for us. The higher deities were aware, and some of them did their best to spare us from the harassment, banning him when things got bad. At one point, the individual even posted a hate website to try slut-shame our characters.
Then, one day, the asshole appeared online as a deity himself. We could no longer avoid him, as he too was now a deity and impervious to ignore filters. What the hell was happening?!
It turns out that this little freak had befriended the administrator’s fiancÃ©e, and then the admin. They had decided that since we’d never taken our complaints to the admin himself until the promotion — just the deities above our own rank — that they didn’t have to care. We were told that we were just making stuff up for the sake of spite, then we were reprimanded rather fiercely by the fiancÃ©e for getting angry at her for defending the asshole.
I tried to hang around for a while, and even tried to continue playing under the guise of an alternate character. Alas, the fun was no longer there.
- How the Geek Stereotype Stunts Computer Science: Lisa Grossman, writer of "Of Geeks and Girls", responds to some Hacker News comments: “The entrance fee to a computer science career is membership in geek culture, and thatâ€™s way too restrictive. If any other field had a cultural barrier to entry like that, no one would stand for it.”
- Dear Marvel Comics: Rusalka appreciates Marvel Comics’ efforts to spotlight female superheroes in comics. But why are they spotlighted as “girls” or “ladies” rather than “women”?
- Denver University â€œCyber Civil Rightsâ€ Symposium Recap: Eric Goldman recounts the â€œCyber Civil Rights: New Challenges for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in our Networked Age" symposium, with special attention to Danielle Citron's session on harassment of women online and legal solutions to it.
- Thinking Out Loud: Is Social Media the new Pink Collar Ghetto of Tech?: The Learned Fangirl wants to avoid a "separate but equal" tech ghetto for women.
- Nerd Girls: a video documenting the Tufts University’s “Nerd Girls” team, women engineering students building a solar car.
- Management changes at Canonical: Jane Silber, current COO of Canonical Ltd, will take over from Mark Shuttleworth as CEO in March 2010. (Canonical is a company owned by Shuttleworth and is the sponsor of Ubuntu development among other ventures.) There’s been much discussion around the Linuxosphere (Linux.com, Slashdot, LWN), but most of it around Shuttleworth’s decision.
- Charting a course from virtual reality to the White House: CNET News profiles Beth Noveck, Deputy CTO for the Obama administration in the US.
- UbuntuGeek republished a laptoplogic article (original now gone): Is Ubuntu Ready for a Non-tech-savvy Girlfriend? Is making sure to specify “non-tech-savvy” enough to get this article out of the So simple, [a woman you know] could do it? trap, or is it playing into it?
If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if youâ€™re a delicious user, tag them â€œgeekfeminismâ€ to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).
Links to Lisa Grossman’s Of Geeks and Girls have been turning up everywhere. She’s recounting work by Sapna Cheryan asking women about their interest in computing, in their case rooms that are decorated such that “Star Wars posters adorned the walls, discarded computer parts and cans of Coke clustered on a table” and showing that they are much less likely to agree that they have any interest in computer science. (Grossman does not report how men responded: surely Cheryan’s work used male subjects as well?)
The article goes on to caution though that while geek culture stereotypes seem to alienate women to some degree, dismantling the whole culture is not the solution:
But what about the women who do think like computer scientists? What of the girl geeks?
Cheryan has given talks where the audience doubted the existence of girl geeks. She’s also given talks to girl geeks. There, she has received responses such as, â€œI’m a female engineer, and I like Star Trek! What are you trying to say?â€ She explains that her studies aren’t supposed to give a picture of what computer scientists are actually like. The geek room is a caricature. â€œWe couldn’t have found a room in the CS building that really looked like that,â€ she says. But the perception it captures is real.
It’s a fairly frequent response to geek feminism to argue that it’s an attempt to destroy geek culture, or at best that it’s a zero sum game: the number of women who would join a more feminist geek culture would be equalled by the number of men who would leave; occasionally this argument essentially boils down to “I’m here to get the hell away from women” but more commonly it’s along the lines of “I’m here to get the hell away from mainstream social norms, I like the social norms in geekdom, you’re trying to turn them into mainstream social norms, ew.” This reminds me of that response, but from women. We’re here for the geekdom. We talk about what we want to change; we should also talk about what we want to keep.
You’re welcome to discuss Cheryan’s work and Grossman’s take on it in general in comments here (worth remembering though that we generally don’t have perfect insight into our prejudices, so you may or may not be more turned off by discarded computer parts than you think), but I specifically wanted to ask women who see themselves as part of geek culture, or a geek culture, what are the parts of it that you enjoy and that you’re hoping to open up to more women?