Tag Archives: guest post

Interactive Feminist bingo screenshot

Announcing the release of the Interactive Feminist Bingo Card

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Yalkut and Betsy Haibel. Elizabeth is a front-end developer and writer in New York City; she is a A Very Uncommon Cook. Betsy is a Rubyist who wishes that anarchist punks and open-source geeks talked to each other more. She can be found on the internet at a usually-silly tumblr and a usually-less-silly github account. Together, they are the Irregular Gentlewomen.

This post originally appeared on Elizabeth’s tumblr.

The Irregular Gentlewomen are proud to release version 1.0 of the Interactive Feminist Bingo Card! An open-source project (CC BY-NC-SA), the Interactive Feminist Bingo Card is meant to be an easy way for commenters in online feminist venues to identify sexist and misogynistic trolls, provide validation of a commenter’s judgement that a troll is genuinely trolling and not just clueless, and suggest responses to some of the remarks the troll has made.

Bingo cards are common in the geek feminist community; there are several existing ones linked in the Geek Feminism wiki, and Betsy & I relied on them heavily while creating the bingo card. We’ve both used those existing cards when participating in or reading passionate exchanges in feminist spaces, and felt the need for a card which collated the contents of many of the existing cards and made the game aspect of the card more true to life. (We’re not aware of any other interactive bingo cards in the social justice blogosphere; the cards we have encountered have all been either table-based or images, many of the latter very pretty.)

There are dozens of different squares in the many existing cards, which sometimes made it frustrating to play using one card — “That comment should get me bingo, but it’s not on the card!”

The color scheme is the “girly girl” palette from earlgrey at colorlovers, and the fonts are Emily’s Candy and Miss Fajardose; the names were a part of our decision-making process. We rejected at least one font because the name included a masculine reference. This bingo card is, in part, about embracing the female and the feminine and the feminist and not being ashamed of those things — so we looked for color schemes tagged “girly,” with lots of pink in them, we filtered through the display fonts at Google Fonts to find ones with girls’ names and curlicues and hearts over the i’s. But pink and swirly and all of those quote-unquote traditionally feminine qualities aren’t the only way of being feminine, much less being female, and certainly not the only way of being feminist (in fact, it can be argued that embracing the girly and feminine is a very specific kind of feminism, very third-wave feminism, which isn’t always accepted as feminism). We wanted to make sure to include some iconic feminist references, which is why, upon clicking a square, the text transforms into white-on-red with a black-and-white background — it’s meant to evoke the Barbara Kruger (your body is a battleground) photograph, which was designed as a poster for the massive pro-choice march that took place on April 9, 1989 in Washington, D.C. I would have loved to make that reference more explicit by using the actual face in the Kruger, or treating a stock image similarly, but we were concerned about copyright issues. Hence, the classic “female” symbol is the background of the “used” squares. (Yeah, we probably could have gotten away with a fair use argument, but that was just not the hill we wanted to die on.)

The animation is there for a few reasons: one, because this project was partially a lab space for us to push the boundaries of our code knowledge, and I haven’t gotten a chance to mess around with CSS animations and transitions and whatnot at work much; two, because animation on a web site, unless very discreet, is the kind of stuff that gets disparaged as the realm of amateurs*, the kind of thing you would have seen on a Geocities site, the sort of visual flourish which would only appeal to (and imagine this said in a tone of deep contempt) girls. Obviously, we regard this as bullshit. Animation is a key part of a lot of things that are not seen as girly — where, for example, would video games be without animation? So we wanted to juxtapose the very femininely-styled text, in a feminist context, against the kind of powerful effects which are either sneered at as unsubtle when it’s in a context coded as female or lauded as creative and daring when in a context coded as male. How well we succeeded, well, that’s for the audience to decide. The code is available on github, after all, and if you hate the animations, you can fork it and strip the CSS.

(Also, I really like the zoomy effect. VROOM VROOM FEMINISM.)

In general, we strongly encourage people to fork the project! One of our design goals was ensuring that the content-source files, particularly, would be easy to edit — hopefully, even easy to edit for the less technical. We hope that other people will add to our list of trollish comments & rebuttals, and perhaps even that our code can provide an engine for other anti-oppression bingo cards. (While we’d love to see, for example, anti-racist or anti-cissexist bingo cards, we felt that as white cis women from privileged economic backgrounds we would not be the right people to make them.)

Good luck never getting bingo, and if you have to, we hope the kitten video (oh, did we mention that if you win, you get a kitten video? Thanks to Skud and Emily for that idea.) helps balm your soul.

* See, for example, Vitaly Friedman’s article, in which he remarks, “designers of CSS-based websites tend to avoid extreme interactivity and instead use subtle, refined effects sparingly”. And yet Anthony Calzadilla‘s Spiderman animation, later linked in Friedman’s Smashing Magazine as an example of CSS3 animation, is about as in-your-face as it can get.

A closeup photograph of an open lipstick, with a blurry laptop in the background (by Aih)

The Ladycoders Project, Interviewing and Career Advice

This is a guest post by Addie. Addie is a software engineer specializing in web applications in the Portland, OR area. She’s actively involved in the Portland tech community, including the local women-in-tech group Code N Splode.

This post originally appeared on her blog.

Last fall, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) and had a transformative experience. Over those two days of sessions and networking, I felt like I reconnected with every aspect of myself that has existed throughout my 12 years writing code, and this had a way of healing some old career wounds in a way nothing else really has. GHC is interesting because it brings together women from all stages of the computing pipeline – academics, industry veterans and novices alike, and students – so many students.

Many of the conference’s sessions focused on career development, and rightly so. Many of the students in attendance were on the cusp of starting their careers in industry, and the conference provided some crucial guidance. Some sessions were tuned to issues female developers tend to grapple with more than male developers – Impostor Syndrome and other crises of low confidence, for instance. In one of the most personally powerful moments of the conference, the woman who was my only female teammate on a team of 30+ men in my first job out of college sat down next to me during a “Confidence Building Tricks” session. This woman has been my role model both personally and professionally in the six years since I met her, and this was the first time I’d seen her since leaving that job. At the behest of the workshop organizers, she turned to me and bragged, “I run the Internet” (and she does!) in her best Schwarzenegger voice, and I felt elated.

The final session I attended at GHC involved an informal, rotating panel of women in industry giving career advice to women just about to launch their careers. Everybody had different stories, and the hour of discussion that followed was really eye-opening. I learned that I hadn’t been the only person who’d cried during my first job interview. I learned that I wasn’t the only person to find my college’s career center training to be mostly insufficient when it came to technical interviewing, because technical interviews often reduce a person to their skills and can feel very dehumanizing when you’ve been trained to expect something entirely different. I heard about a variety of industry experiences very different from my own, and reconnected with the nervousness that is standing on the cusp of the unknown as a college graduate-to-be.

After the session, one of the college-age women pulled me aside and said she wanted more advice about interviewing, specifically technical interviews. I reiterated that she should take traditional interview training with a grain of salt, because technical interviews rely so heavily on problem-solving and proving technical skill. I recommended that she investigate the wide array of websites that post sample technical interview questions and problems to solve, and to practice working through the solutions to those problems not only on her own but out loud and with others – to get comfortable “working on the whiteboard”. I told her that the technical content in interviews varies substantially depending on the company – and even the interviewer!, and that she should expect to occasionally deal with problems that are intentionally difficult and not easy to solve. I wrapped up by telling her that it’s easy to feel discouraged and frustrated with oneself after dealing with the rigor of some technical interviews, but that’s a normal response and to not think she wasn’t cut out for this if she has a bad interview or practice session. Once you get the hang of it, I said, technical interviews can actually be a lot of fun.

One of the most difficult aspects of the Grace Hopper conference was interacting with women who approached the “gender in tech” issue from a different angle than me. Many of the goodies in the Expo Hall celebrated being a coder in the same breath as stereotypical girliness in a way that I find quite problematic. But I also saw college women who loved the problematic swag and was reminded that, a decade ago, seizing upon my girliness as part of my identity as developer was an act of rebellion.

I squirmed when women – especially industry women, and especially those on stage, in panels – made gender essentialist claims (implying that women were superior in certain skilled areas). I wished these women wouldn’t make such claims in front of a room full of students who looked to them as authorities, but I also remembered the times in my past where cheap gender essentialism helped me feel a lot better during times of low confidence.

When I explored the discomfort that surfaced while witnessing others coping with the women-in-tech issue in ways I found problematic, I saw so much of my younger, less experienced self. I empathized strongly with the coping mechanisms we all employ to make the difficult journey as a female or other minority developer. Like all coping mechanisms, some work better than others. One of the big questions I grappled with in light of this, and still grapple with, is this: being well-versed in women-in-tech issues is something that requires education and lived experience just like any other specialty. As we’re learning, we’re going to accidentally hurt people along the way. How do we correct problematic behavior when we see it, without alienating? How do we learn, and encourage participation, along all steps of our journey, and cope with the inevitable cases where someone says something that isn’t quite clueful and steps on some toes?

I’m reminded of all of this thanks to a discussion popping up in several of my social circles lately regarding the Ladycoders Project, a (now fully-funded) Kickstarter campaign and upcoming career-development seminar for women in technical careers. After learning about this project, most of the women in tech that I know were initially jazzed: we all love the idea of empowering women to succeed in an industry that doesn’t make it easy. Every female developer has a thing or two she’s learned the hard way that she would have preferred to see in a seminar like this one. Most of the initial discussion I saw was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

It didn’t take long, though, before some folks started investigating the Ladycoders site and found some content that disturbed them. That “good” and “bad” mock interview in the Kickstarter video didn’t sit right. The seminar opens with a session called “Skin Deep”, which focuses specifically on appearance. The outline to the “Certifications and Skills” session includes a bullet point on “why you have to be qualitatively better” (presumably, than your male peers). There’s language in the Kickstarter’s FAQ which has made LGBTQ individuals – who face many of the same issues (and more!) in industry as cisgendered women – uneasy. But the session that sticks out the most (and the worst) is “Men Aren’t the Enemy”, which posits:

Men don’t deliberately keep us out; it’s our job (for now) to be easily integrated into an all-male team, nonthreatening, and hyperskilled

This statement has (rightly) made many women in industry quite angry, myself included. Geek Feminism’s Timeline of Incidents catalogs an ever-growing list of sexist events across communities. People have (and will continue to) say that these exclusionary practices aren’t a “deliberate” attempt to keep women out, but anybody who has experienced the isolating chill of exclusionary behavior understands that it is harmful, whether or not it is deliberate, and it does keep women out. (Further reading: Intent is Not Magic.) The rest of the sentence suggests a path of least resistance that relies heavily on performing stereotypical gendered behavior; I’m not the only person who detects a strong whiff of victim blaming in all of it.

Many of us who have been discussing this project feel incredibly torn here: we have serious problems with some of the content on the Ladycoders site, but we also think the project has an excellent goal. There’s a lot of good advice in the session outlines as well – in particular, I liked seeing bits about “the myth of the one-page resume” and building up a public code repository on a site like GitHub. There’s also emphasis on practicing whiteboard exercises and mock technical interviews. Since this project is just getting off the ground – the seminar hasn’t happened yet – we don’t know how the problematic stuff in the session outlines will translate to in-person education; the only information we can go from is what’s provided by the website and the Kickstarter. The problematic content inspires far more questions than answers.

Some of us are also torn because of a discussion a few weeks ago following a post called “The Dark Side of Geek Feminism”; Skud’s post summarizes the scope of the discussion quite well. We’re still grappling with some difficult questions: if our feminism really isn’t about setting rules or hoops to jump through, how do we skillfully engage with problematic content? How do we take a stance on something when we all come from different perspectives, opinions, and backgrounds? How do we call out ignorant or hurtful statements while still showing compassion? While Ladycoders doesn’t explicitly state that it’s a feminist project, its goals (to increase the participation and representation of women in industry) match those of [geek] feminists. As individuals, we all draw our lines in different places when it comes to problematic content and behavior.

I can only speak for myself here. I think the problematic content in the Ladycoders outline has the potential to do tremendous harm, and ultimately drive women away from industry by delivering misleading information. That’s my beef with it.

Circling back to Grace Hopper here for a moment, I had the same feeling when I came out of Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote address. As I’ve said before, I really have trouble with Sandberg’s “inspiring” speeches to women because she places so much emphasis on women’s ambition and hard work, as if every obstacle constructed by institutional sexism can be overcome just by working a little harder or shedding a bit more blood. As a young person it is enormously empowering to feel like what’s possible is solely within the realm of one’s imagination and willpower. And there is some truth to that. But there are also so many systems at play, and when it comes to being a minority in any field, those systems can work very strongly against us.

The problem with not acknowledging the oppressive influence of the system in one’s approach is that it can be utterly heartbreaking once the system gets in the way. If I’ve been taught that my success in industry just comes down to my agreeability, my ambition, my skillfulness in not threatening my male peers – what happens when the problems that such behavior meant to solve arise anyhow? How do I cope in that situation – do I blame myself? Do I decide I’m just not cut out for this, and quit? What information could I have received about these inevitable obstacles that could have fostered resilience?

This is what I’m worried about when I hear Sandberg speak, or read about Ladycoders encouraging me to do all the work to integrate with my all-male team. It just doesn’t match up with the reality that I’ve lived. In fact, it would require an inhuman amount of energy and the emotional fortitude of a robot. One approach does not fit all situations.

I’d like to pivot back to the advice I gave that college student back at GHC, and some general sentiments about my own experience with interviewing and otherwise getting by in industry. There’s a lot we can do as developers to better ourselves – to make ourselves better candidates for a job, and outstanding employees once we’re on the job. But the onus shouldn’t just be on us. The tech industry is very young, and there are a lot of things it’s not doing well either. I have major criticisms about the general trend of software companies hiring for a very specific set of skills and experience rather than aptitude, and being unwilling to invest significant resources in training: I firmly believe this is damaging for all parties, and allows for the continued glorification of the stereotypical hacker type who spends all of their time on code, disadvantaging developers who prefer more balance. Peter Cappelli has been writing some great pieces about the skills gap myth that tie into his book “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It“. It encourages me to see a voice putting pressure on institutions instead of individuals for once. Needless to say, I have the same opinions about organizations with gender diversity issues: it is the organization’s job to proactively make themselves appealing to people of all identities; if the responsibility has been placed on the token person in that diverse group to point out what you’re doing wrong, you’re not doing it right. We absolutely need to work on improving ourselves as candidates and employees, but the pressure on systems and institutions to fix themselves up could be so much stronger, and that’s where my passion lies.

Personally, I love talking about interviews and general career advice. There’s a lot of things I’ve gotten right and many more I’ve gotten wrong. I’m an excellent interviewer, and getting a job has never been difficult for me. I’ve still had some interviews that I would have conducted differently if given the chance to do them again. On the job, things have been a bit more challenging for me – I’ve spent more time as a “new employee” than not, and one of the things I’ve learned is that I’m not very good at being “new”. I’m not very good at asking lots of questions in lieu of reading documentation, motivating myself to jump into a foreign code base, or warming up to a new development team. I’d like to be a more focused and organized worker, and I’d like to spend more time on skill development than I currently do. So I have plenty that I’m still working on.

I asked some other female developers about their experiences interviewing women, and learned some interesting things. I want to wrap this up by passing on some advice I think is useful and trends women-or-minority-specific, but a bit more constructive than the problematic bits in the Ladycoders outline.

  • Learn about terms like Impostor Syndrome, Stereotype Threat, and microaggressions as soon as possible. It’s normal to encounter one, if not all, of these at some point. Being able to put a name to that uncomfortable feeling will help you feel less alone in your experience, and will help you communicate your needs more precisely.
  • The most important component of a technical interview is being able to problem-solve on your feet. Try doing this with both easy and hard problems; examine the way you react when you don’t know how to solve a problem, and consider more constructive ways to engage with it. Asking for clarification or additional information is totally okay. Give as much information as possible while you’re thinking through an answer; it’s okay to say “I know this isn’t the optimal solution, but here’s the first thing that comes to mind.” Technical interviews can actually be a whole lot of fun once you get the hang of these things.
  • One of the benefits of switching jobs regularly is more frequent interview experience. If you’re looking for a new job after a few years away from interviewing, realize that you’ll probably be a bit less polished. Take some time to review potential interview questions and practice with a friend. I know some people that regularly interview between jobs even if they aren’t actually looking; this doesn’t work for everybody, but it does help the practice stay fresh.
  • Appearance and personality mean so much less during a technical interview than they do any other interview, and this can be disorienting for people who have been trained on non-technical interviews. I typically interview in jeans and a sweater (and also a nose ring and candy-colored hair – YMMV, but this hasn’t been a problem for me), and I incorporate things like my motivations and values into my narrative about my career history, technologies I’ve worked on, etc. With time, you’ll find ways to make responses to questions about past experience both informative and personally insightful.
  • Yes, women tend to express less confidence and more doubt in their abilities. I am absolutely one of those folks. At the same time, I’ve found most interviewers find it refreshing that I’m admitting what I don’t know instead of pretending that I have everything figured out, since so many other interviews can feel like trying to smoke out the candidates who are faking their expertise (an unfortunate side effect of this industry’s stereotypically hyper-masculine culture: braggadocio). I try to reframe my deficits in a positive way: “I haven’t worked with that – but I’d like to learn it,” or “That’s not in my skillset, but given my experience with x, I’m sure I’ll pick it up in no time.” There is a way to be honest about one’s limitations while avoiding self-deprecation.
  • Being personable in a technical interview is really about showing excitement and passion for a particular technical topic or field of study; figure out what you’re enthusiastic about ahead of time and feeling engaged with your interviewer will be a lot easier. When you’re researching the company you’re interviewing, what aspects of their work seem the most interesting to you?
  • Interviews are a two-way street. You are always interviewing the company, too. If they do something that doesn’t impress you, that’s important data and shouldn’t be ignored. Don’t be so fixated on your own performance that you miss warning signs. Think about what you’ve liked and didn’t like about past jobs you’ve worked, and questions you could have asked to get information about those components of the job in the interview. Sometimes your mind will go blank when an interviewer asks if you have any questions – if you know this happens to you, come with a list!
  • Curate your online presence. If you have a unique-to-the-Internet full name like me, this is a lesson you learned a long time ago – we of the unique names are really easy to find on Google (right down to the Tamagotchi haiku I wrote as a 13-year-old that wasn’t really a haiku). Make sure you have a web presence that conveys an accurate picture of who you are both as a developer and an individual. Personally, it’s important to me that my web presence is authentic and not sterile – think of how you want to present yourself to someone doing a web search on your name in a variety of career contexts (future employer, future coworker, collaborator on an open source project, peer in your local tech community, etc.), and decide what you can do to get yourself to that point. (This was a big topic at GHC and I think it’s going to become increasingly important. You can use your presence on the Internet to your advantage!)
  • Talking about past negative experiences is a tricky road, but if you avoid the issue altogether in interviews, don’t be surprised if those issues re-emerge after you get the job. This is the one I’m doing the most work with right now. I’ve been harassed and bullied on the job, so now I ask about company harassment policies in interviews; I’ve had neglectful managers and a void of performance feedback, so I ask about the frequency of performance reviews, one-on-one meetings, and the organization’s managerial philosophy. The big one that I’ve just started doing – and it scares me a lot – is being public about my priorities as a geek feminist and my interest in improving experiences for minorities in tech while I’m in an interview. I’ve realized that I’m no longer willing to work for companies that haven’t even done the most basic research on the issues facing women in tech, so if they react poorly to my disclosure, that’s important data. Yes, this has terrified me, but so far it’s led to positive results.  I’m still figuring out the right questions to ask in that department, and I’m learning as I go.

Want to read more on this topic? Here are some links that have emerged while my peers have been discussing Ladycoders and constructive career advice for tech minorities.

Red/Yellow cards

The gamification of feminism?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers from Annalee Newitz. Paraphrased:

Do you have examples of or ideas for the “gamification of feminism” – ways that people have turned advocating feminism into a game or fun activity?

Red/Yellow cardsExample: KC Crowell printed and distributed sports-style “red cards” and “yellow cards” to give to people being sexist at DEFCON 20 a few weeks ago.

What are your examples, ideas, and thoughts?

A Response to Nice Girl’s “The Dark Side of Geek Feminism”

Guest blogger Christie Koehler is a software engineer, community organizer, yoga nerd, vegan, queer, buddhist, Mozillian, co-founder of the Stumptown Syndicate and co-chair of the Open Source Bridge conference. This post is cross-posted to her blog at subfictional.com.

The recent post The Dark Side of Geek Feminism, authored by the pseudo-anonymous Nice Girl, and the mostly uncritical responses to it concern me for a couple of reasons.

First, it attacks all of geek feminism based on the actions of a few unnamed individuals. I find this problematic because there is no certification for being a geek feminist. Anyone can call themselves such. Certainly, there are those who call themselves feminists and claim to align themselves with our efforts to support women (in tech, geekdom and elsewhere), but then undermine those efforts with their actions. Or support women to the detriment of other oppressed groups. Folks who do this should be called out on their behavior. It’s not an attack or a condemnation to do so, it’s an opportunity for dialog and for social change.

Furthermore, the author discounts the need for accountability, equating it with vigilante justice. She claims that “naming and shaming” means “trying these things in the court of public opinion” and that both are “wrong and dangerous.” I find this conclusion to be flawed. Without question, it is a person’s decision whether or not to name their abuser. There are plenty of good reasons for not doing so. However, it’s clear that the author is withholding such information not to protect herself, but in order to protect potential abusers and derailers: “[Naming people] can completely ruin someone’s life. The internet lynch mob that it inevitably creates can haunt a person for years.”

Another aspect of the post to consider is use of the term “lynch mob” (quoted above) and the author’s response to being called out on its inappropriateness. Rather than reflecting on why it’s inappropriate to use such a phrase, she simply says she was being hyperbolic and accuses the person who called her out of trolling. What this tells me is that the author clearly doesn’t understand intersectionality and how it relates to privilege. For me, this kind of understanding, or at least the willingness to achieve it, is a prerequisite for engaging in feminist dialog in the first place.

Which leads me to wonder, is the author really engaging in a feminist dialog, or is she promoting an anti-feminist agenda?

I ask because Nice Girl’s post feels like an attention-stealing effort and an attack on anti-oppression dialog. Rather than having a productive conversation about specific people’s behavior, we’re discussing unidentified “bad feminists,” whom we have no ability to address because we don’t know who they are or the full content and context of what they said.

Nice Girl says she believes “naming and shaming” to be unfair. However, the approach she took is even more unfair because it attacks everyone associated with geek feminism; any one of us could be the person she’s talking about.

I’d be having a much different response if the author had written factually about her experiences and not given her post the damming title The Dark Side of Geek Feminism.

[Note: Wondering why is it not appropriate to use 'lynch mob' in the way the author uses it? Because it is a powerful term that evokes institutional violence against oppressed groups.]

More reading on intersectionality includes: the Geek Feminism Wiki and The Angry Black Woman.

helmet

How I Got 50% Women Speakers at My Tech Conference

Guest blogger Courtney Stanton explains how she organized a game developer conference with 50% women speakers. Stanton is a project manager for a video game company in Boston, and long-time feminist scourge of the computer game industry. Her work has been featured on GF several times. Follow her on Twitter at @q0rt.

Hi! In case we’ve never met, the elevator pitch for me goes something like: interactive media/videogames/project management/social justice/interior design/travel/semi-hatred of conferences. Like, *for real* I am not an enjoyer of conference content most of the time, despite going to several of them every year. I always end up sitting in a room listening to the same four straight white men agree with each other on some panel, and then I wander over to the expo floor where a person who doesn’t know anything about the product hands me a flyer and a pen Oh and if I’m *really* lucky, I’ll have paid over a thousand dollars in travel expenses and registration fees.

And so I put on my Ambition hat and decided that rather than complain on Twitter endlessly (well…in addition to, I guess), I should put together a conference for game developers, just to see if it was possible to make one that I would actually attend with enthusiasm. I ended up calling it No Show Conference, because it’s not about pageantry, glitz, or any of the “slick” stuff I see at a lot of conferences. Here, have a link: noshowconf.com

My Criteria:
– Not a bajillion dollars to register
– Don’t make attendees use vacation time just to show up
– Different entry fee/access level for hobbyists/newbies/students/broke friends
– Nothing included should be a waste of time, including the traditional expo hall
– Have an anti-harassment policy and train volunteers on enforcing it
– No panels

And then, because I am sneaky, I also had a secret agenda.

Unstated Criteria:
– Try to get as many women on stage as I possibly could

Since I was the one who made the conference up, I’ve got total control over setting price, etc, so all of my stated criteria have been very easy to enact so far. But getting women in the lineup at game conferences is seemingly difficult, given that so few events even have women speaking at all. I run a monthly networking group in Boston for women in the game industry and their allies, so I know the issue (at least locally) isn’t that there aren’t enough women with innovative, interesting things to say. What gives?

The easiest way I saw for getting more women on stage at the actual event was to get as many women to submit speaking proposals as possible. Selecting presentations was done without speaker information associated with the titles and pitches, so I wasn’t able to “reserve” spaces in the program for anyone based on aspects of their identity — and I wasn’t interested in that sort of reservation system for this event, anyway. It’s a come-one-come-all event for game industry professionals, so more than anything I wanted a really strong set of talks, even if that meant I ended up with, sigh, yet another roster of all dudes.

So! Getting women to submit content: easy? Um. When I’d talk to men about the conference and ask if they felt like they had an idea to submit for a talk, they’d *always* start brainstorming on the spot. I’m not generalizing — every guy I talked to about speaking was able to come up with an idea, or multiple ideas, right away…and yet, overwhelmingly the women I talked to with the same pitch deferred with a, “well, but I’m not an expert on anything,” or “I wouldn’t know what to submit,” or “yes but I’m not a *lead* [title], so you should talk to my boss and see if he’d want to present.”

I promised mentoring, I promised practice sessions, I promised one-on-one slide deck reviews with people who have spent hundreds of hours speaking at conferences. I emailed my Women in Games Boston group, I attended events and encouraged groups of women in person, I sought women out online, I met with women over coffee. I encouraged/begged them to consider translating the hours and hours I’d spent with them in the past talking about their careers, their specialties, their ideas, into a 45-minute presentation. I told them how much I respected their reputations and their ideas and that I’d be thrilled if they had the time or interest in submitting a talk.

Did every woman respond like that? No. But it was very much the minority situation, me promoting the conference and having a woman say, “oh, okay, does [concept] sound like a good fit?” and then them actually turning around and submitting a proposal. One or two women versus every single man who submitted content. (Also, while I have spoken either in person or online with every woman who submitted, several of the proposals submitted by men were guys I’d never met.)

We ended up getting 18 submissions (8 women, 10 men) for 10 planned slots. In between launching the conference and selecting talks, the keynote speaker I had lined up fell off the face of the planet, but super-conveniently for me, one of the submitted talks was a scorchingly good topic for a keynote, so kaboom, problem solved. Then, I couldn’t get the final selection list down to 10. I had 11 and they were all great, covering things I hadn’t seen presented elsewhere. So I reworked the conference schedule, made room for the extra presentation, and called it a win. What we’ve ended up with is a speaker lineup of 6 men and 6 women and *I swear that was not planned* but hey, it’s convenient for my thesis that you can put together a games conference for the industry at large and still get more than one token woman in your lineup.

Having a non-trivial number of women submitting presentations seems to have made it so that a non-trivial number of women are speaking at No Show Conference. Imagine that.

Huge giant HOWEVER: I came away from the process of promoting and recruiting potential speakers with a bitter, unwilling sympathy for event organizers who say, “there aren’t any women speaking because no women applied.” Like oh em gee y’all. I am hoping that this year’s conference is successful enough that I can make it an annual event, and that these months of cheerleading will have planted some idea seeds that I reap when it comes time to wave the pom poms and encourage speaker submissions next year. I’m hoping that the women speaking this year will in turn encourage other women to apply.

I’m hoping I run into fewer women who self-reject their ideas before I even get a chance to read them.

So hey, I was hoping to get some women on stage and it looks like that was achieved! Hooray! …Hooray? Wellll…while I am really, really pleased with our speaker lineup and our session content, I realize that this is not Nature’s Perfect Conference (yet). But I figured the only way to find new problems was to get some of these recurring, obvious ones out of the way. (And I didn’t even set out to tackle *all* of the obvious diversity problems, just the one I felt I’d be most likely to succeed at this time around.) It’ll be really cool when I, as a white person, figure out how to promote speaker submissions more/more effectively to people of color in my industry. Likewise with QUILTBAG game developers and thinker-types. I think I lucked out somewhat in our venue this year from an accessibility standpoint (ramps, elevators, handicap stalls in all the bathrooms), but I definitely wouldn’t claim that I’ve covered all the bases of accessibility for potential attendees (yet) Short version: I’m not perfect, neither is this event, but I am looking for ways to make it better and more open to all people working in games, both this year and in future years. And in the meantime, at least I’m putting on a conference where a version of myself from another dimension wouldn’t sit in the audience tweeting, “oh hey, a panel with a bunch of dudes on it, how novel.”

Learn 2.0 taken by Aaron Schmidt

Why WotC’s Sexism in Gaming Art Article Made Me Happy

Eva Schiffer is a Computer Scientist and a second generation tabletop gamer. This guest post is cross-posted from her blog.

WotC recently published a post titled Sexism in Fantasy that’s caused a lot of mixed reactions. I want to talk about why the article, if not it’s content, made me happy.

I see myself as a feminist. I know by putting that out there at the beginning I’m raising a lot of expectations about what I care about, how I react to things, and what I’m likely to defend. I’m also a relatively laid back person, despite some of my blog rants, and I’ve been through a long journey trying to understand sexism and feminism. For me this journey was many small cycles of “not getting it” punctuated by bursts of insight as I incorporated new ideas into my worldview. I grew up in the gaming world and for a long time I was so used to how things are that the roots and implications of the many traditions were invisible to me.

I’ve also watched many of my friends go through various cycles of getting and not getting aspects of sexism, racism, and other -isms. I’m not going to claim to be super enlightened… I mess up on ableism issues all the time… but I’ve reached a point where that cycle is familiar to me.

When I read WotC’s article what I saw was Jon Schindehette going through one of the early cycles of trying to understand sexism. He was “not quite getting it” and honestly if he’s just starting to struggle with these issues, I can’t blame him for not understanding them all at once. I’ve been there and I’ve fallen in the same pitfalls. I wish he had gotten further along before he wrote a public article… but he has my empathy as to why getting there takes time.

Jon tried to approach the problem logically and understand what sexism is and what it’s doing to gaming. He fell short on three fronts. One is that he didn’t do enough research on discussion that’s already taking place in the online community. Blogs like Go Make Me a Sandwich contain lots of resources that include frank discussion of the sort he’s trying to elicit. Tumblrs like Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor include loads of beautiful examples of art that’s attractive and pretty while presenting characters who look like people rather than toys. The fact that Jon didn’t bring up any of these resources makes me suspicious that he didn’t do this kind of research. He tried to start from square one by himself and he suffered for it. It’s a lot easier if you build on the work others have already done. ;)

The second problem Jon ran into was that he got into his logical investigation and backed off when he was starting to get somewhere. The definition of sexism he found, which seems quite reasonable to me, was, “Sexism is defined as having an attitude, condition, or behavior that promotes stereotyping of social roles based upon one’s gender.” That’s a good start. After talking about it for a bit he failed to take the next step and investigate gender roles.

To start understanding how sexism could promote stereotyping, you need to ask: “what gender roles might we be perpetuating?” Wikipedia has a good overview of historical gender roles. However, in the last 30 years, gender roles have changed. The “perfect submissive wife” ideal is not what our societal norms think women should be anymore. Unfortunately, there are still some very damaging gender roles out there for men and women.

One of the ones that hurts women the most is the idea that they must always be physically attractive and sexually available for men. This is sometimes called the Beauty Myth, and it’s the big problem one Jon missed. The Beauty Myth says a woman can be a brilliant rocket scientist, but if she isn’t also pretty, she’s not really worthwhile as a woman and no one will love her.

One of the roles that hurts men the most is the idea that they can only succeed financially and aren’t particularly physically attractive to women. This is also called the Success Myth. This is rather insidious because the Success Myth says that an average man needs to find a high paying job if he wants any hope of attracting a woman. If he suffers setbacks in his career or prefers to do something that is low paying, then he’s worthless and no one will love him.

Here’s a good summary of these two roles and how they hurt us from a male perspective.

The twin roles define a lot of our popular culture and they bleed into our fantasy as well. The Beauty Myth is why people fixate on making female characters beautiful even when “beautiful” crosses the line into impractical and unrealistic. The Success Myth is why we’re still unbelievably stuck on the “guy succeeds and then guy gets the girl” story plot.

Back to Jon… the third thing that I think went wrong for him is that he stumbled into some very basic fallacies talking about an -ism. This is a pretty common mistake and while embarrassing, isn’t all that surprising. Fallacy one is to assume that whatever went before is ok by virtue of being tradition. This was mostly justified by “market forces” in the article. If all tradition was free of -isms life would be sunshine and kittens and I wouldn’t have to write any blog posts in the ‘feminism’ category. :)

More seriously, a lot of people think “feminism happened, sexism is done now, right?” and sadly the answer is no. It takes a long time to change culture and there’s a lot of momentum. That’s not to say we need to flip out and throw all of our traditions out the window tomorrow. We can start by calmly taking a step back and making a few rational changes at a time towards a better, less -ism filled world.

The second fallacy Jon made was while talking about his three images. He got a bit muddy because he couldn’t see the modern roles affecting them and drifted into the “it’s really all opinion, anyway” argument. There is some opinion in everything, I agree. Sadly the existence of a systemic problem in media and in gaming media specifically isn’t really up for debate. It’s been discussed at length by a lot of people, especially authors. You can’t use the fact that some people can’t identify prejudice to justify prejudice not existing at all… that’s downright Paranoia levels of circular logic.

I want to be clear: being a bit blind to sexism doesn’t mean you’re some sort of horrible misogynistic asshole who’s running around saying terrible things all the time, it just means you haven’t quite figured out how to see sexism hidden in the world around you. All of us have been there, you don’t need to be ashamed of it, just do your best to keep an open mind and learn. :)

The final fallacy that Jon fell into was the “a few people complained, but lots of people like it, so everything must be great!” The argument “lots of people agree with me, therefore I’m right!” is not meaningful, especially when you’re talking about -isms. It’s an appeal to base social pressure and has no bearing on the correctness of your argument.

I suppose at this point you’re probably wondering how I’m going to justify the title of this post. Well, to be totally honest, as much as parts of the article irritated me, Jon redeemed himself in my eyes by taking the initiative to write about something as scary as sexism in the first place, making an honest (if flawed) attempt to learn, and asking for our input.

I can remember the first time that I tried to write up a post on a feminist topic. I think my hand was actually shaking when I pressed the “Publish” button. It’s scary putting yourself out there to talk about any issue of prejudice, because we all know our culture is so ready to throw a firestorm back in your face if you get anything “wrong.” I appreciate and respect that Jon was willing to try and that WotC was willing to let him.

When I reached the end of his article I was overjoyed that he openly solicited our feedback and I was presented with a comment box to put my thoughts into. Wow, was I happy. I didn’t even realize how happy I was until I’d spent an hour skimming and “liking” other people’s comments. I wanted a chance to speak to WotC directly and he gave that to me, which I’m deeply grateful for. The number of people who posted ernest, well thought out comments, some with great links to resources, made me feel better about the community. It made me feel like other people believe I belong here. :)

A lot of the commenters were talking to Jon too and most were very civil. Some offered him links to resources (like some of the ones I posted above) and encouragement. I’m hoping he’s taken some of those links and moved forward on his own path to understanding.

So, thank you, Jon, and thank you, WotC. It had some issues, but I appreciated the outreach and the effort that went into it. Please keep learning and write more about sexism and other -isms in gaming in the future. :)

Andrea's daughter Maya, wearing pink and braids

Girls and Robots

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. This is a guest post, cross-posted from Deus Ex Machinatio.

My daughter Maya is five and a half years old. She’s in kindergarten, and is as clever and adventurous a child as you’ve ever seen. She loves dancing and princesses and rainbows and anything that is pink.

Andrea's daughter Maya, wearing pink and braids

Maya has also always, always loved cars and robots, right along with those butterflies and flowers and hearts. But recently she’s been saying that she doesn’t like these things anymore.

“I don’t like cars,” she told me, “because I want people to like me.”

This breaks my heart. And I imagine it breaks your heart, too. Five years old, and she’s already figured out just exactly how this thing works.

It turns out that “it got out” in school that she liked cars, so she says. And then the other girls in her class made fun of her for liking boy things.

All her life I’ve been talking about being true to yourself, about liking the things you find in your heart whether it’s a girl thing or a boy thing, and still, still, this is how fast it can unravel. Five years old, and she’s already trying to change who she is because she doesn’t think it’s who she should be.

Internet, talk to Maya, and talk to me. Tell us about girls who make robots and cars and bridges. Girls who build rockets, girls who can make and build and invent — girls who have grand adventures, but who can still go dancing, and still braid their hair, and still wear pink. Tell us about you. I know you’re out there.

Rectangular plain biscuit with the word 'NICE' baked into it

Cookie of the Week*: Chad Whitacre (whit537) came up with a better name

This is a guest post by Annalee. Annalee is a python programmer and general-purpose geek. She can be found on Twitter as @leeflower and Dreamwidth as annalee.

Cookie of the Week* is an occasional series highlighting action in the geek community to fight sexism, in order to show that fighting sexism is possible and happening.

When Chad Whitacre announced on Twitter that he’d just released a new version of Testosterone, “the manly testing interface for Python,” a friend of his called him out, asking “what, exactly, makes it manly?”

After a brief, polite back-and fourth, Whitacre slept on it, and apologized.

Then he announced that he’s renamed his project. Here’s an excerpt:

really do want to encourage women in tech (I have three young daughters), and a project like testosterone does not do that. I remember being surprised to see a woman at PyCon 2011. I don’t have the data, but anecdotally I’m telling you there were LOTS more women at PyCon 2012. Let’s do more of that!

It is now assertEquals, “the epic testing interface for Python.”

If anyone’s wondering how to handle being called out on twitter: this right here is how you handle it.

So here’s your cookie, Mr. Whitacre:

Rectangular plain biscuit with the word 'NICE' baked into it

Image description: a rectangular shortbread cookie with scalloped edges and the word “NICE” stamped into the middle.

Does anyone else have any cookies to spare this week?

* Disclaimer: cookies may not be baked weekly!

This happens in geek circles every so often. They 'Hey, this is just a system I can figure out easily!' is also a problem among engineers first diving into the stock market.

The Geek Social Fallacies of Sex.

This is a guest post by Holly Pervocracy. Holly Pervocracy is a kinky, geeky feminist sexblogger. She writes essays on her experiences as a member of the BDSM and polyamory communities, editorials from a sex-positive feminist perspective, advice on sexuality and kink, and humorous critiques of sexism online and in the media.

This post originally appeared at Holly Pervocracy’s blog.

Note from the GF mods: links from this post may lead to sexually explicit writing or images. In addition, Holly Pervocracy’s original entry has some anti-feminist comments, so ‘ware for that if you head over to her site. (Comments made here are expected to adhere to our comment policy.)

This happens in geek circles every so often. They 'Hey, this is just a system I can figure out easily!' is also a problem among engineers first diving into the stock market.

xkcd #592: Drama (by Randall Munroe, CC BY-NC)

With all apologies to the original, which all geeks should read…

I think geek sexuality is an awesome thing.  God knows it’s the only sexuality I’ve ever known.  Geeks are tinkerers who constantly try to improve and innovate, and geeks are not bound by many mainstream social rules, and these two things combine to create some fucking hot sex.  Also for some semi-mysterious reason the overlap between “geek” and “kinkster” is, like, 90% of both groups.

But geeks also are prone to weird social thinking, some of it a reaction to the ungeeky mainstream, some of it their very own invention.  Here’s some common misconceptions that can fuck up geek sex.

GSFS 1: People can voluntarily control their emotions about sex.

This manifests a couple different ways:

“We’ve agreed this is casual sex, so as long as we decide not to develop feelings, we won’t.”
“Sex is just a physical activity, so adding it to our dating/friendship won’t change our relationship.”
“My partner promised not to feel jealous because I’m not monogamous, but they’re betraying me by feeling jealousy anyway!”  (Note that in this example both partners are apparently carriers of this fallacy.)

Pretending you can just decide whether you’ll feel any emotions at all is a geek fallacy stemming from the idea that you should be able to optimize your own brain to not do anything unproductive or unintended.  But geeks ought to know better, because come on, you can’t even get a computer to do that.  This stuff comes on you, it gets you by the heart and the gut, and it doesn’t ask you “pardon me, I’m an emotion, are you okay with experiencing me?” first.

What you can and should voluntarily control is how you express your emotions.  It’s okay to feel strong emotions; it’s not okay to attack people or break promises and use “I was emotional” as an excuse.  This is when it’s time to tell your partner “hey, we need to talk, I’m feeling an emotion!”  Solving the problem may involve changing your relationship boundaries, it may just involve talking it out, or it may mean you have to end the relationship.  But the solution is never “that is an incorrect emotion, please stop experiencing it.”

GSFS 2: The weirder your sex, the more enlightened you are.

I’ve done a whole post on this, so go there if you want extended pontification.  The short of it is: geeks have a tendency to mistake “less mainstream” for “better,” and to conclude that sex that least resembles the mainstream is both the sexiest and the most virtuous.  So polyamory gets seen as more enlightened than monogamy, kink gets seen as sexier than vanilla, and monogamous vanilla geeks get a big steaming pile of “I guess you’re just not very open-minded.”

I think polyamory and kink have great things to offer geeks of all sorts, but “having sex with multiple people” and “having ouchy sex” aren’t those things.  Those are just neutral activities, things to do if you like and not if you don’t.  The real takeaways are conscious and explicit communication.  That’s what makes us cooler than the squares.

GSFS 3: Cool chicks don’t worry about sexism.

This isn’t exactly a sex thing but God does it plague some geek circles.  I know because I’ve been the cool chick.  I’ve played the “don’t worry, I’m not like those other girls, I’m not into gossip and drama” card; I’ve played the “well, you have my permission to objectify me, because I take it as a compliment” card; I’ve even played the “that mean lady was such an uptight no-funster for having boundaries” card.

Those cards are the fuck out of my deck now.  And I’ve paid the social price for that.  There’s definitely some people in my circles who’ve put me in their “uptight no-funster” mental box since then, or who deliberately bait me about “watch out, Holly, I’m going to patriarchally oppress you!” because ahahaha she’s an angry little lady isn’t that cute.

I don’t blame a woman who sees this go on, decides she wants friends more than she wants to start fights about some abstract problem that doesn’t seem to affect her personally, and starts telling her male friends not to worry, they can be sexist around her, she’s cool.  The problem isn’t her.  The problem is all the people who made it so much easier and more pleasant for her to be a “cool chick” than a woman who gives a damn how people think of her gender.

GSFS 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about.

I guess the xkcd comic has a little bit of this one.  Drama’s never fun, but it beats the fuck out of suppressing real issues.  In my time in geek circles, I’ve seen reports of sexual harassment and even outright assault silenced with “well, I don’t want to make drama” or “but whatever, that’s just drama.”  A woman in the group is a sexual predator? Gosh, I don’t spread gossip.  A man needs to be disinvited from parties because he’s repeatedly threatened people at them? No, kicking him out would make a scene, it would make drama.

In geek sexual communities, the illusion of smooth functioning and of everyone being bestest friends with everyone can supersede people’s needs for comfort and safety.  A lot of this has to do with the “Ostracizers are Evil” non-sex GSF, but it gets worse when you add sex to the mix, because defensiveness about our non-traditional sexuality suppresses important issues even further.  Like, if you admit that people violate boundaries in BDSM circles, then you’re admitting that BDSM isn’t a perfect haven of consent and negotiation, and that’s just going to play right into the mainstream idea that BDSM is abusive!  So we end up defending abusers to prove BDSM isn’t abusive.

“Drama” is a trivializing word.  Let’s try “conflict,” instead.  “I don’t want to treat him any differently just because he gets a little handsy with women, that would cause conflict.”  It doesn’t sound so superior and level-headed now, does it?

GSFS 5: Sex should be no big deal.

This is related to GSFS 1, but even nastier.  This is the idea that since sex is just a super simple physical act–you rub some bits together, it feels good, the end–that there shouldn’t be anything complicated or difficult about sex.  That casual sex should be easy for everyone, that having multiple partners should be as simple as “it’s like having a sexual partner, but more than one of them,” that everyone who makes sex into a big complex issue is being dramatic (GSFS 4) or no-fun (GSFS 3) or narrow-minded (GSFS 2).

Sex is complicated as fuck, and if you think understanding sex is easy, you don’t understand sex.  I’ve written 1300 posts on sex and I’ve already changed my mind about roughly half of them.  It amazes me that the same people who admit that games about rolling dice can hide deep complexity and meaning will go on and claim that sex is just some squishy bits coming together.  It’s not.  Sex is two (or more) people interacting in a huge diversity of ways, and while it can be great, it’s never simple.

I love geek sex.  I love the way we’re endlessly willing to rethink and improve and break stereotypes about sex.  But we gotta stop buying into this crap.  We’re geeks; we oughta be smarter than that.

Cells shown on a microscope slide

Wednesday Geek Woman: Esther Orozco, cell biologist and politician

This is a guest post by Cecilia Vargas, a retired software developer living in Vancouver, Canada.

Esther Orozco is a Mexican cell biologist, winner of the 1997 Pasteur medal, and a 2006 laureate of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science.

Esther Orozco was born and raised in a small rural town in northern Mexico, where she became a school teacher. I admire her because she overcame all the social expectations for women that exist in such conservative environments and became a successful scientist. She also found time to raise 2 kids. In 1998 she ran for governor of Chihuahua state, Mexico. Last year she became president of the Autonomous University of Mexico City.

The UNESCO/Pasteur medal is awarded by UNESCO and the Paster Institute for “outstanding research contributing to a beneficial impact on human health and to the advancement of scientific knowledge in related fields such as medicine, fermentations, agriculture and food.”

Orozco received the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for her discovery of the mechanisms and control of infections by amoebas in the tropics.

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