Tag Archives: geek identity

Some Geek Feminism guest posts of 2010

Here are some of my favourite guest posts of 2010. I’ve organized them by topic, but many of the links appear under more than one category.

On Geek Identity

Critical

Inspirational

Instructional

This is a personal (biased) list of favourites, and I did not consult other Geek Feminism bloggers before making the list. The full list of guest posts are tagged ‘guest post‘.

Earlier this year, I found this interesting drawing at Wrestling Buddies and unicorns: a personal reflection on gender:

A bespectacled white girl wearing jeans and carrying a notebook stands slightly slouched. Slightly frowning, she looks at two white girls in miniskirts and wearing flowers in their hair, caressing a pink unicorn with a female symbol.

In the accompanying text, Nicole Lorenz writes:

Secretly, I wanted to run away with my brother’s Wrestling Buddy (which he still slept with every night), bind my boobs, and live the rest of my life as a boy.

Even more secretly, though, I wanted to be a girl – and not just any girl, but a capital-G, trend-setting, epitome of femininity, datable, respectable Girl. I had the right biological accouterments. I had the right level of socialized self-consciousness. Thanks to my parents’ unintentional sexism around the holidays, I had the right toys in the back of my closet. What was wrong with me that kept me from being a Girl?

Near as I could tell, other girls had access to some sort of mythical well of girliness – some ace in their perfectly pressed sleeves that I didn’t have.

I wanted to provide commentary before posting the image and quote, but I never got around to it, so I want to hear your thoughts.

What are you wearing for Wear and Share Star Wars Day?

Star Wars Katie

Katie

You may have heard the story already: First grader Katie was bullied over her star wars water bottle. The boys claimed that star was was for boys.

The story was picked up by epbot and others and there was a huge outpouring of support as people told Katie their own stories and sent on words of encouragement.

One of the things suggested was that Friday, Dec 10th be “Wear and Share Star Wars Day” where people put on their geeky best to support Katie and others who might be getting teased because they’re different.

I’m not much of a star wars fan myself, but I can dig up a cute little star trek t-shirt with a cartoon klingon on it for the occasion. Got any extra-awesome geek wear you’ll be sporting tomorrow?

Respond in style: Wear *these* shirts

[Trigger Warning: Links marked with [TW] discuss rape apologia]

[TW]Kirby Bits has thrown down the gauntlet (the one with the middle finger extended) in response to Penny Arcade profiteering via merchandise from the “Dickwolves” incident:

Which brings me to another point – where, except at PAX/PAX East, could you even wear this shirt?  Do you really want to see the kind of looks people will shoot you when their kids are asking, “What’s a dickwolf?” in the middle of the supermarket?

[…]

So, to honor those imaginary victims of imaginary rape by a mythological creature whose every limb is an erect phallus, I came up with this idea, gloriously realized by an Anonymous Graphic Design Genius:

The Dickwolves Survivors Guild.

The shirt price is $1 over the actual cost.  All of those dollars are being donated to RAINN.  Thanks to the class acts at Penny Arcade for inspiring me and my Anonymous Graphic Design Genius friend to make this and use the profit to help make the world a better place.

From the Kirby Bits comments:

I love this idea, and I love the idea of actually doing something worthwhile with the money. Keep it up! I’d really like to see people wearing *these* shirts at PAX.

This is awesome – I hope these shirts are a wall of gold at PAX!

To steal a [TW]quote from Melissa McEwan of Shakesville because she puts it awesomely (trigger warning mine):

Here’s how teaspoons work: Kirby Bits, with the help of an Anonymous Graphic Design Genius, is [TW]selling a Dickwolves Survivors Guild t-shirt, all of the profits for which will be donated to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. If you would like to donate directly to RAINN, go here.


50 years of cyborgs: I have not the words.

Quinn Norton is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Wired News, The Guardian, Make Magazine, Seed, and more. She covers copyright, robotics, computer security, intellectual property, body modification, and medicine. She wanders about, though usually between DC, Boston, and San Francisco. Quinn is reachable at quinn@quinnnorton.com.

Crossposted from Quinn Said.

Prologue

(This is a post for Tim Maly’s #50cyborgs project, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the word cyborg entering the language. He starts the project here, and collects it here.

For a sense of place to my moment, I will tell you I am on a wireless keyboard, swinging on a homemade swing on the first floor in the three story high living room of the person that would be my it’s complicated on Facebook if I had a Facebook.

My computer itself is on the second floor. As I type these words into the air I have no way of knowing for sure that they are not ephemeral, nothing to confirm my progress and therefore distract me from my thoughts. I strongly suspect that for all the weirdness of the moment, they are (in fact) among the least ephemeral words penned by mankind, the majority of which are lost to the vagaries of mulberry bark and vellum, then paper, then pre-web computing.

We are sitting in a maker/artist community in a converted factory in Oakland called the Vulcan, one of the many ground zeros for the Maker movement. We are positively surrounded by burners and recently returned from Burning Man ourselves, where we spent a week in the desert pouring our own and our society’s resources into a weeklong art festival and dance party, which is meant to vanish without a trace shortly after Labor Day.

He (the Facebook “it’s complicated”) is playing an xbox game where little cartoon zombies trundle into his yard trying to eat his brain while he quickly plants transgenic killer plants (with eyes) that do things like shoot giant peas at them. It’s called Plants vs Zombies. It’s very popular right now, taping into the historical moment’s zeitgeist of anxieties. After all, in an automated society that consumes knowledge workers, what’s a better symbol than a shambling soulless throng that wants to eat your mind and make you irrevocably one of them? As for the transgenic killer plants on the perfectly manicured American backyard lawn as tower defense, that’s so rife with cultural suggestion I get dizzy at the thought of looking too closely. And, to be honest, a touch nauseous.

So in a way, I feel whatever I can tell you about the extraordinariness of the cyborg might be a bit mooted by the strangeness of our present moment. If we’ve learned anything in the last 50 years, it’s definitely that there’s more that one way to skin the culture’s collective cat.)

The early vision of the cyborg was about man changing himself in preparation for his rocket age. It was about “the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space,” according to Wikipedia, right now. Man would add to and modify the body to make the impossible doable, to ease the way into an environment of extreme hostility. It was all bionic arms and lungs and artificial exo and edo skeletons, powered jump suits and then brain computer interfaces as we went on talking about it. But the Space age was DOA, it never really made the changes we’d dreamed up, and by the time my post-moon generation was growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was all looking like a wash.

But a cyborg revolution was happening the same year Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline coined the term. A hostile environment was being tamed by a newly and artificially capable people. It escaped notice and critique though, because the modified weren’t men, and then environment wasn’t space. The modified were women, and the environment was men. The women of the 60s were the first to modify and control their uteruses. (Yes, menfolk, you can be a pretty brutal environment.)

Two years before the We Will Go to the Moon speech, Enovid, the first birth control pill, hit the market. The IUD came into its own in 1968 with the copper T, the year before we landed on the moon. While the Jetsons were giving us a space future to look at, the heirs of Margaret Sanger were quietly destroying the social institution it portrayed. And for all the attention and resources the Space Race consumed, and it consumed a world, the world was changed by the women freed from the tyranny of biology and no longer (as) subject to the whims of men.

Over 100 million women worldwide are probably using an IUD right now, though it’s really hard to count that kind of thing. Each is mechanically modified to invisibly control biology with near perfect success. It’s the most popular form of reversible birth control, though the number of women using IUDs is still smaller than the number of women sterilized, made forever into unmothers-to-be by surgery that otherwise leaves them strong, healthy, and invisibly different. Last citation I could find estimated 138 million women sterilized in the developing world, millions more in the OECD. Yet millions more are using pills, sponges, creams, gewgaws, doodads and even female condoms to exist in a world full of fucking and no particular desire to shoulder an equal burden of childrearing afterwards.

And then, in the last 50 years, women got seriously uppity. “Cyborgs not only disrupt orderly power structures and fixed interests but also signify a challenge to settled politics, which assumes that binary oppositions or identities are natural distinctions.” – ripped from context, but you can google it with the quotes intact. What single bit of technology has changed society more in so short a time? She looks so innocently fuckable, but what cyborgs were so quickly ubiquitous, and so invisible?

I don’t think we’ll ever notice the age of cyborgs, because we do these things one at a time. We roll them out in small ways, and increment them across society. We quietly piece together a know-everything machine, make its connections invisible, then put it in a small box we built as a talk-to-anyone-machine, and carry it around with us. (The first and ultimate prosthetic of the species being community, and so our most powerful magics will always be incantations to one another.) We hand out drugs to everyone that make them more ready for capitalism as a warm, tasty beverage. While we talk about powersuits and armies of robots, we get into metal boxes next to explosion chambers and extend our proprioception to their edges. We do this so that we can then hurtle down ribbons of death we’ve built all around the landscape at speeds not naturally found very often this side of celestial interaction. We call this commuting and consider it one of the most boring things humans do.

An Aside

(Despite all my cyborgian features and posthuman ways, my augmented senses and depleted neurotransmitters, my postmodern sexuality and self-conscious interaction with my environment, I still have to remove the waste of bacteria from my mouth by scraping it off with a soft brush and a thin string. I still have to remember to pull the string below the gumline on both sides of each tooth everyday of my life. I’m king of annoyed that I can have a phone with GPS and even an interface to countless mechanical turks, I can have a Northpaw and I can control my fertility, I can fly anywhere in hours with money I don’t have on a plastic card and be merely contracting rather than earning or stealing, but I have to scrape my teeth in an ever losing battle to keep them, still. I mean, seriously, WTF?)

It seems like the discussion of cyborgs in the time since 1960, echoing the discussion of robotics, bounced between news of DARPA and DARPA-like Sci-fi projects none of us will ever really see and Critiques on how We’d All Been Cyborgs, Really, Since We First Picked Up Sticks. I want a middle ground. I want to say there are inflection points where the scale of things changes the nature of what they do. And my fucking smartphone is not a stick, even if it uses the same neural infrastructure in me. I want to say I will beat you with a stick if you say it is, which is funny and you know I’m joking because despite the fact that I am talking to you I am not even in the same room as you. So you know that at my worst, I would have to use the phone to call you and make stick slapping noises.

We need new language to talk about the shit we don’t see. Cyborg is a start, but it was coined by the very forces of big phallic rocket male domination that cyborgs were about to fuck up in the darkened alleys of the collection consciousness. Like, that day. We need language that lets us talk about the terrorism of little changes. Be they good or bad, they are terrible in aggregate.

Also 50 years on, we need another word, one that describes the inverse of the cyborg, to describe what we are filling the world with. What I mean by inverse is this:

In 2006 in a NATO report I found the description of a particular anti-coalition IED encountered in the field in Iraq. It works like this: the insurgent digs out a hole in the wall, and plants a grenade sans pin there. (S)He (When the hell is English going to get a gender neutral pronoun to match our newly gender neutral roles, damnit?) Anyway, s(he) pastes an anti-coalition propaganda poster on top of it. When the American soldier comes along and tears down the poster, (s)he pulls the lever. There are many booby traps, what makes this one of interest is that part of its mechanism is a specific frame of mind in its victim. This is a device augmented with an organism. It’s not just, or even mainly incorporating the mind of its creator from the moment of its creation, but the mind of the victim in the moment of its function.

But we don’t have a word for organically augmented machinery, even though they are fast filling the new and vacated niches of the environment. It’s there when an API calls up Mechanical Turk, it’s there when Google uses the soft, human touches of links to create meaningful relationships for an otherwise indifferent server farm to traverse. It was noticed even in 1968, next door temporally to the copper T, byAlan Kay: “The user at the console is considered to be inside a process description which in turn is interior to the FLEX system and environment.” It turned out we didn’t always have to obviously merge with our machines to become cyborgs, and the reverse holds. They don’t have to merge with us to become something more, something augmented beyond what they could have possible hoped to contain within their endogenous mechanics. They can just use us, too. But how do we talk about it without sounding mad when we have to reuse language meant for other things?

We have not the words.

Geek Feminism and Mideast Youth

Guest Post by Esra’a from Bahrain. She enjoys hardcore acoustic noise-terror music, and is fortunate enough to be a TED Global Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, and on the Advisory Board for the European Summit for Global Transformation and the Meta-Activism Project. She gave a keynote at BlogHer about the group blog and about kicking ass and free speech in general.

I’m the geek who founded Mideast Youth. I have been aggressively expanding it with my friends for the past 4 years and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Mideast Youth is first and foremost a group blog shared by a growing number of young activists and bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa who want to be heard on a variety of different topics, from religion to free speech to politics to gay rights (and more.) Aside from that, we run a network of about 15 sites that deal with: Baha’i human rights, Kurdish human rights, migrant worker rights, underground activist musicians, free speech for bloggers, and a few other campaigns that deal with free speech and minority rights.

Mideast Youth currently operates in English, Arabic and Farsi, featuring podcasts in these languages as well.

We’re all volunteers – and the core Mideast Youth team consists of about 5 people (Me from Bahrain, Fatima from Saudi Arabia, Ali from Iran, Ahmed from Egypt and the 5th person is a frequently rotating team of other volunteers who help with design, development and video editing.)

We love running our projects and making people aware of things that not many people talk about – but most of all, we love helping others set up their own projects, which we design and host for them, for free:

http://www.mideastyouth.com/services

Our latest project is CrowdVoice.org, which is a user-powered service that tracks voices of protest from around the world by crowdsourcing information. This site rocks. We believe you might think so too, once you look at it.

As you can see, we are an active bunch, but we need your help to continue. Some bird told me that geeks enjoy helping other geeks out. That is a lie actually (birds don’t talk.) But I want to believe it’s true.

If you support our community, our mission, and believe in it as much as we do, your help would be highly appreciated.

She Geek: Women and Self-Labeling in Online Geek Communities

Courtney is an MA student studying Victorian science fiction at Texas A&M University. She blogs about feminism, geekery, and academia at From Austin to A&M.

This post originally appeared at From Austin to A&M.

My intent in this project was to examine the labeling of female-oriented geek spaces on the internet. What I found was that self-labeling of geek women often defeats the potentially subversive act of creating a female-oriented geek community.

I would argue that the mere creation or and participation in geek communities labeled “for women” are aggressive acts towards male-dominated geek culture. One of the reasons we can see these communities as a challenge to mainstream geek culture is the still-prevailing myth of internet neutrality.

This myth argues that since we are “disembodied” on the internet, everyone begins on equal ground.

Bodies don’t matter in cyberspace. This is not how it works in real life, however, particularly in geek spaces. It is true that until you mark yourself as Other than the privileged class—male, heterosexual, cisgendered, abled, middle-class, and white—you will be assumed to be those things. However, this will not protect you from hate speech or sexist, racist, and homophobic “jokes,” since geek communities often engage in these forms of discourse. Even objecting to these discursive acts, without revealing the state of one’s own body, will immediately mark you as Other, and leave you vulnerable to harassment and denigration. By labeling their spaces as for women, female geeks challenge the neutrality myth, by making their female bodies conspicuous and by demonstrating a need for safe cyberspaces for women.

In a study of the language of male gamers playing within a Quake server, Natasha Christensen claims that

Even though the world of cyberspace allows for the possibility that gender can be transformed, men in Jeff’s Quake Server continue to relate to each other in ways which support male dominance and heterosexual male superiority. […] In the bodiless realm of cyberspace, it is fascinating to note that men who are able to create an alternate world where masculinity is defined differently do not take this opportunity. Instead, real life is mimicked not only by taking on the physical attributes of strength, but also by using ways of talk that emphasize aggression and sexual dominance.

[…]

Therefore, in the same way that sports and war help to perpetuate the concept of male dominance through physical strength, the Quake server also promotes the idea of success through aggression and violence. […] Sports and war games became a way for white middle class men to fight their fears of social feminization. At the turn of this century, online computer games are being used in the same manner. Computer geeks who are especially vulnerable to the accusations of being less than manly are able both through the actions and discourse on Quake to demonstrate the qualities required of hegemonic masculinity. Emphasis is placed on the strength of the masculine body while discourse sets the players apart from anything that is feminine.

The same patriarchal standards that put women at a disadvantage also disadvantage computer and other geeks. Often, geeks cite an experience of growing up with bullying and teasing, precisely because they do not live up to hegemonic masculinity. Instead of using cyberspace to fight against hegemonic masculinity, however, geek men often use it to buttress those standards and fulfill them discursively instead of physically. This is precisely why geek women find online geek spaces—necessarily discursive spaces—to be so unwelcoming and hostile. And it is through alternative discourse, whether blogging or forum writing or fanfiction, that women challenge this culture of hypermasculinity.

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G33k & G4M3R Girls: You’re doing it wrong.

Metaneira is a 30 year old female currently in school for a master’s in public administration focusing on the non-profit sector. Meta has been gaming since she could hold a joystick, and has been blogging in one form or another since 1999. She currently co-hosts a site about mages and feminist issues in World of Warcraft at www.empoweredfire.com.

This post originally appeared at Empowered Fire.

By now you may have seen the video “G33k & G4M3R Girls,” a parody of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” written by a few women involved with geek culture. (If you haven’t, you can see it here: while safe for work, the video features women very scantily clad and has an aggressively cloying auto-tuned soundtrack. Watch at your own risk.) The four women — Milynn Sarley, Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, and Michele Boyd — form “Team Unicorn” and were interviewed by the Official Star Wars Blog about the video. The author of the article says the ladies answer as one unit “cause that’s how they roll.” Fine: “Team Unicorn” it is. Team Unicorn: you’re doing it wrong.

Now, let me get a few things straight: I’m a geek. I’m a gamer. And I’m a woman. But none of those things are me: they are just parts of the whole. Having my entire personality boiled down to a list of nerdy references I get or things I enjoy doing is kind of absurd, but this is what the video promotes. From the very start, Seth Green asks, “Hello friends… don’t you want to meet a nice girl?” The video is not aimed at the women it is purporting to celebrate: it is straight-up pandering to the largely sexist, male-centric geek subculture. It is geek women served up for the male gaze on a shiny latex platter. This is not empowering.

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The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality

This post was originally published at Restructure!

People who consider themselves fully rational individuals are ignorant about basic psychology and their own minds.

It is easy for white men in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to perceive themselves as more rational than other groups, because our society associates rationality with whites, men, and STEM professionals. When white men in STEM fields believe in this stereotype, they might assume that bias is more common in non-white people, women, and people in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. After all, these other groups seem to want to discuss bias more often, and unexamined associative “reasoning” would link bias to those who bring up the topic of bias. Under logical scrutiny, however, it does not follow that the act of thinking about bias makes one more biased.

Green Red Blue
Purple Blue Purple


Blue Purple Red
Green Purple Green


the Stroop effect refers to the fact that naming the color of the first set of words is easier and quicker than the second.

A basic tenet of contemporary psychology is that mental activity can be unconscious. Unconscious simply refers to any mental activity that is “not conscious”, and it is not equivalent to the unscientific New Age concept of the Subconscious. A good example of unconscious mental activity interfering with conscious intentions is the Stroop effect (right). If you try to name the colours of the colour words aloud, the first set of colours will be easier to name than the second set of colours, because you unconsciously read the words. This means that you do not have full control over your thoughts and behaviour, and your willpower or logical reasoning cannot overcome the unconscious cultural bias of being able to read in English. Of course, there are other unconscious cultural biases aside from English literacy bias.

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Is there honour among linkspammers? (4th August, 2010)

  • “CAUSE I’M NERDCORE LIKE THAT: Toward a Subversive Geek Identity: In the meantime, subversive nerd subcultures form communities and alliances, fostering a collective cultural cross-fertilization that is strengthened by our multiple intelligences and identities.
  • reaction rant: First of all, it can’t be simultaneously true that women and men are equally suited to technology jobs and also that women have specific immutable characteristics that need to be catered to. Sure it can. Some characteristics that may need accommodations are not related to one’s actual skill in programming. But more to the point, some of those common gendered characteristics are in no way immutable; they’re cultural.
  • Soil change for our larva: women and wiggly things that live in dirt make for an exciting day.
  • The FSF reminds me of PETA sometimes: deborah is angry at a thread in which Richard Stallman advocates compromising accessibility in favour of Free Software.
  • Woman in technology: Stubbornella responds to criticisms of grants for women: I resent the notion that women are inferior and that is why they are getting grants. Google is correcting for women being less likely to stand up and say “me, me, me!”, not for their technical skills or development prowess.
  • How privileged is a geek girl, anyway?: Deirdra Kiai reflects on her privileged access to computer skills: I suppose that when I remarked that making games isn’t really that hard, what I really ought to have said was that making games shouldn’t be so hard. I need to be helping to create a world where anyone can have access to a computer at an early age…

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.