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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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Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Máirín Duffy giving a presentation

Wednesday Geek Women: Joanmarie Diggs, Máirín Duffy, Jessica McKellar and Stormy Peters, open source contributors

This is a guest post by Marina Zhurakhinskaya. Marina is a software engineer at Red Hat working on the GNOME desktop and organizing the Outreach Program for Women in GNOME. This post originally appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

I’d like to tell you about four women who have inspired me to no end with their work, insight, and community outreach. Every interaction with them has motivated me in my work. Essentially, by being as dedicated as they are, they bring out the best in other people. I’m lucky to have met all of them and to have worked with them on community outreach efforts.

Joanmarie Diggs has worked for the Carroll Center for the Blind for the last 14 years, helping visually impaired people learn to use assistive technology. She decided to teach herself programming in order to contribute to Orca, GNOME’s screen reader. She eventually became the maintainer of Orca. Exactly a month ago, she was hired to work on GNOME accessibility at Igalia within 4 hours of posting on Twitter that her grant-funded position at the Carroll Center had been cut.

Joanie’s tweets are always infused with a great deal of humor. She says “Random thought: I wonder if I’ll ever shovel snow again….†in the wake of her move from New Hemisphere to Spain. Joanie has been a very caring mentor for one of the participants in the recent round of the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. She is the best role model I know for any woman getting involved in GNOME development.

Máirín Duffy giving a presentation

Máirín Duffy, by Ramakrishna Reddy y, CC BY-SA

Máirí­n Duffy is an interaction designer at Red Hat. She has a strong commitment to graphic design with free software. She has been using 100% free software to create her designs for many years now and has created many resources and opportunities for others to learn free software graphic design tools.

Máirín created the Fedora Design Bounty project to provide people interested in contributing to Fedora design with well-defined tasks suitable for beginners. She created some great flyers and art work to promote the Fedora Design Suite spin at SXSW. She ran Gimp and Inkscape classes for local middle school students and for Girl Scouts, creating great resources for both. Helping Máirín with the Girl Scout classes and going over these resources was actually how I learned do useful things in Gimp and Inkscape.

Máirín has showcased 17 open fonts in an “Unpackaged Font of the Week” series in her blog. There is always some fun and inviting project she talks about in her blog, accompanied by great pictures, designs, and educational resources.

Jessica McKellar is a recent MIT graduate who works at Ksplice. She organizes Boston Python Workshops for women and their friends. These workshops assume no prior knowledge of programming and walk the attendees through the installation steps, basic Python constructs, interactive programming exercises, and small projects during a 1.5 day event. Jessica explains programming in an engaging way and she and other volunteers help the attendees with any stumbling blocks throughout the event. These workshops get filled up within days of being announced and, in response, have grown in the number of attendees they accommodate. Being able to learn how to program in a supportive environment where any setback is resolved within minutes is tremendously empowering to the attendees. Jessica has found a great approach for helping more women feel confident about learning to program and the detailed materials she has created are now used for similar workshops in other cities.

Jessica is one of the maintainers of OpenHatch, a community website that provides the information and teaches the necessary skills for getting involved in free software. Open Source Workshop is another event Jessica recently organized together with Asheesh Laroia, who is the creator of OpenHatch. This workshop walked the attendees through the basics of free software contributing and gave them hands-on experience with using IRC, working with patches, and triaging bugs. Participating in such events gives the attendees the necessary confidence to make their next steps in the free software world. The first step is often the hardest and the community events Jessica puts together help many people make it.

Stormy Peters photo

Stormy Peters by Ross Burton, CC BY-SA

Stormy Peters is the Head of Developer Engagement at Mozilla. Before that she was the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation. After leaving that position, she ran for the 7 person GNOME board as soon as she had a chance, coming in first with the largest number of top votes. Stormy is also the founder and president of Kids on Computers, a nonprofit organization setting up computer labs in schools where kids have no other access to technology. Her leadership and ability to connect people is a great gift for all the organizations she is involved with.

Stormy has been my go-to person for the last two years in which we have been working on the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. She championed the need to revive the women outreach initiative in GNOME and has helped with everything from getting sponsorship to answering applicant inquiries. It’s a great luxury to know that I can get sound and helpful advice from her about anything related to the program. When not bouncing ideas off of Stormy, I like reading her blog posts. They are just as insightful, both on matters related to free software and on other things in life.

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Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Wednesday Geek Woman: Virginia Satir, ground-breaking family therapist

This is a guest post by Sheila Addison. Dr. Sheila Addison, LMFT, is a family therapist who currently teaches in an accredited Master’s program at Capella University and is passionate about GLBT clients, Fat Acceptance/Health at Every Size, family systems, and 21st century privacy/public life concerns for therapists.

In 1972, the journal Family Process held its quadrennial meeting of editors, which featured a “face-off” titled “Is Virginia Satir Dangerous for Family Therapy?” Satir and her “second,” another woman, were pitted against the legendary family therapist Salvadore Minuchin and his (male) “second” in a debate over the validity of her work. Such a spectacle had never been (and would never be) held in order to question the work of any of the men in the field of family therapy, and afterwards, Satir never attended another major family therapy conference, turning her attention to work outside the United States.

Family therapy, which broke away from psychology in the 1950s and 60s, was a movement descended from psychiatry and mostly made up of male psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. Satir, on the other hand, was originally trained as a teacher and social worker, professions which, then as now, were regarded as “women’s work.” Later in life, Satir described the prejudice she experienced in her graduate program at Northwestern due to being married – in the 1930s, married women were not meant to continue to pursue education, but were to stay home and care for their husband and family.

“Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.”
Virginia Satir

Against the odds, she found her way to the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California to work with anthropologist Gregory Bateson, Bateson’s protégé Jay Haley, psychoanalyst Paul Watzlawick, psychiatrist John Weakland, and psychiatrist Don Jackson. Working with principles from cybernetics, the study of regulatory sytems (integral to information theory, engineering, neuroscience, and other “hard sciences”) the MRI team had previously developed the theory of the “double bind” as an explanation of schizophrenic symptoms, and was using concepts from the fields of constructivism and communication theory to understand the inner workings of families. In 1962, Satir was hired as the Director of Training of the first federally-funded family therapy training program, and wrote her first book, “Conjoint Family Therapy,” based off of the training manual she developed for students. This book, heavily based in communications theory, provided the foundation for her work that would eventually develop in a more experiential, emotional direction, but provided concrete guidance for students of this newly emerging discipline at a crucial time in its infancy.

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.
Virginia Satir

From the cold, mechanistic language of cybernetics preferred by her male colleagues (who talked about “feedback loops” and “homeostasis,”), she developed a feeling vocabulary for family therapy, writing about “love” and “nurturance” and “self esteem,” concepts ignored or rejected by many family therapists who saw them as unscientific or touchy-feely. While the men of MRI sat behind one-way mirrors and gave deliberately confusing “paradoxical directives” to clients from a position of expertise as a part of their strategic therapy approach, Satir stood wives and children on chairs so they could be at eye level with their husbands or parents and talk to them as equals. She prescribed hugging and other forms of loving touch at a time when the prevailing wisdom in child rearing was still influenced by Cold War Era norms that counseled a hands-off approach, to avoid “coddling” children (ideas now thoroughly refuted by empirical research on infant and child attachment).

Satir dared to touch clients during their family sessions, holding their hand while they cried or offering them a hug at the end, breaking the rules about “neutrality” and “detachment” prescribed by psychoanalysis. She shared her own feelings with clients, telling them about feeling sad or caring or “soft” towards them, as a way of reducing the hierarchy between therapist and client and modeling for clients her genuine, congruent self. She celebrated differences of all kinds, and identified gender, racial, and sexual differences as opportunities for learning and celebration.

The Satir Growth Model identified communication patterns, coping strategies, family roles, and intergenerational patterns that led to problems in self-esteem, authentic communication, the nurturance of children, and responsible behavior in relationships inside and outside the family. “The New Peoplemaking,” originally published in 1972 as “Peoplemaking” and later revised and re-issued, sold over a million copies and has been translated into at least 12 languages. It has been adopted as a tool for assisting in the growth of communities, schools, and businesses, as well as families.

“The family is a microcosm. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world”.
Virginia Satir

Eventually, Satir’s work moved out of the therapy room and into meeting rooms and lecture halls, as she worked to bring her ideas to a global audience. She founded training programs around the world to teach her methods. She helped to found the International Family Therapy Association, and founded several other international organizations including the International Human Learning Resources Network, and the Avanta Network, later renamed the Virginia Satir Network. Her goal was always to improve relationships within families, but she connected to the larger global peace movement as a way of spreading her message.

Today, Satir is dismissed in textbooks as having a “disinclination to theorize” or “an encounter group for relatives” despite the fact that she wrote or co-authored at least 10 books (both professional and popular) on family systems and family therapy, and founded an international network of training programs devoted to her techniques. The MRI website contains “In Memoriam” entries for Jackson, Watzlawick, and Haley, but none for Satir, who is also left almost completely out of each man’s biography (and Wikipedia article). By daring to talk about emotions, in words parents and children could understand, she challenged the idea that mental health was a discipline that only highly-trained experts could understand. She brought family therapy to the families themselves, and in doing so, was declared “dangerous” to the field, which continued to strive for equality with “hard” sciences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, focusing on easily-tested behavioral models and insurance-friendly brief interventions, relegating experiential family therapy to the dusty bookshelves of family therapy history. Her work has only recently been “rediscovered” and given grudging recognition as contemporary experiential approaches, such as Johnson and Greenberg’s Emotionally Focused Therapy, have proven tremendously successful in traditional outcome research studies. Satir’s life-long belief, that authentic contact with one another is what people crave, seems to finally have been validated by science.

The social sciences may not be considered “suitably geeky”, as counseling/mental health has become a female-dominated profession (with the corresponding drop in wages that comes with pink collar-dom), although it is still male-dominated in its top echelons of academia and national leadership. But the divide between hard and soft sciences mimics other gendered divisions – between art and crafts, between cooking/cuisine (the domain of primarily-male chefs) and baking (done primarily by women, even in restaurants), between teaching in universities and teaching in public schools. If a geek is someone who is passionately devoted to an area of special interest or knowledge, who has extraordinary skill in their specialization, and who lives and breathes their passion despite the technical demands and social obstacles placed before them, then Virginia Satir was a true geek.

Satir died in 1998 of pancreatic cancer, at age 72. She had always said she would live to be 100.

I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch another person. When this is done, I feel contact has been made.
Virginia Satir

The Virginia Satir Global Netwok and their biography of Satir.
Satir Institute of the Southeast: Biography of Satir
Wikipedia: Virginia Satir

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Trees with yellow and orange leaves, Jenny Jump State Forest

Wednesday Geek Woman: E. Lucy Braun, ecologist and expert on deciduous forests

This is a guest post by Jacquelyn Gill, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, where I research climate change, ecology, and biogeography at the end of the last ice age in order to help address future global change concerns. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

Emma Lucy Braun was born in 1889 to rather strict and controlling parents; much of her early education was at home, as her mother was a teacher. She and her older sister, Annette, were fond of the outdoors, and Lucy began pressing plants in high school. Lucy went on to study geology and botany in college, becoming the second woman to earn a PhD from the University of Cincinnati in 1914 (Annette, with a PhD in Entomology, was first). Dr. Braun ultimately become a professor of Plant Ecology at the University of Cincinnati, training 13 MS and 1 PhD student (nine of whom were women) before retiring from teaching to focus on her research. This was highly unusual for women professors at the time, as most focused on teaching, rather than graduate mentoring and publishing original research.

The Braun sisters never married, but lived together in their Victorian home in the Ohio valley until Lucy’s death in 1971. They bought an automobile in 1930, taking extensive trips throughout the Appalachians to map, record and photograph the flora. Often, they had to contend with the dangers of moonshiners in the Kentucky mountains, but two sisters traveling alone weren’t typically considered a threat (and they never reported the mountain stills), so they often befriended the locals who would then direct them to the best mountain trails.

Trees with yellow and orange leaves, Jenny Jump State Forest

Ablaze: Jenny Jump State Forest by Nicholas_T on flickr

Dr. Braun published 180 articles in 20 journals during her career, but is perhaps most widely remembered for her 1950 book Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, which was the culmination of 25 years of fieldwork and 65,000 miles traveled for field excursions. This book is a classic reference in ecology that is still widely used today. She was the first to identify the mixed mesophytic forest as a distinct system, identified several new species and varieties, and worked tirelessly to promote conservation and preservation in her home state of Ohio. Her work on glacial refugia and postglacial plant migrations provided some of the early foundations for North American paleoecology (though many of her hypotheses were later disproved by paleo-reconstructions from pollen data). Unlike many early women in science, Dr. Braun was recognized by her peers for her contributions; she was included in the 50 most outstanding botanists by the American Botanical Society in 1956, was the first woman officer of the Ecological Society of America (vice president) and elected the first female president of ESA in 1950 (ESA also has an award in her name).

One of the things that I find most interesting about Lucy is not just the fact that she was an influential and well-respected botanist in a male-dominated field, but she is so often described in terms of her strong will (one male colleague called her a “woman of steel”) and confrontational nature. A former student described Lucy as embodying “four D’s”: she was dedicated, determined, dominating (Lucy was rather controlling of her sister Annette and their finances), and demanding of her students. Others described her as confident, with a strong self-image. These were not particularly desirable traits in women in the first half of the last century (they’re still typically frowned upon)! In a remembrance published in the Ohio Biological Survey’s Biology Notes, her former student relates an anecdote about Lucy:

“The Kenneth Casters of the University of Cincinnati tell about an incident when a micropaleontologist came to lecture in the Geology Department. Because this lecture was after Lucy’s retirement, the newer students in attendance knew nothing of E. Lucy Braun. To them the two white-haired sisters appeared like two characters out of Alice and Wonderland. As the lecture continued, challenging Dr. Braun’s origins of the mixed mesophytic forest, Lucy’s lips grew tighter and tighter. When the speaker sat down she rose to battle and made a ferocious attack upon him which was follwed by a vast silence which filled the room. Finally, the speaker arose and said, “Thank you, Dr. Braun, I wanted to hear your opinion.”

So, the next time someone asks you if you can name a famous woman scientist, you can name Emma Lucy Braun, which is better than 65% of Americans and 66% of UK residents can do. And, because it’s equally important to highlight the accomplishments of current women in science, I’ll leave you with a few women paleoscientists you should know: paleontologist Dr. Liz Hadly at Stanford, paleoecosystem ecologist Dr. Kendra McLauchlan at Kansas State, paleoclimatologist and diatomist Dr. Sheri Fritz at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, paleofire ecologist Dr. Cathy Whitlock at Montana State University, and biogeographer Dr. Felisa Smith at the University of New Mexico.

For more information on Dr. E. Lucy Braun and other women in ecology, check out:

Damschen, Ellen, Kristen Rosenfeld, Mary Wyer, Deena Murphey-Medley, Thomas Wentworth, & Nick Haddad. 2005. Visibility matters: increasing knowledge of women’s contributions to ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3 (4): 212-219.

Durelle, Lucile. 1981. Memories of E. Lucy Braun. Ohio Biol. Surv. Biol. Notes No. 15. Stuckey & Reese, Eds.

Langenheim, Jean. 1996. Early history and progress of women ecologists: Emphasis upon recent contributions. Annual Review of Ecology & Systematics 27: 1-53.

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Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker

Yes, “Hate *Atheists*”

This is a guest post by Stephanie Zvan. It is cross-posted from her blog, Almost Diamonds.

So, Rebecca Watson once again pointed out what should be a no-brainer–only to have her point ignored by people who want to quibble with her wording. “Oh, noes! Rebecca titled her post, “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists“! Oh, noes! But this isn’t about atheists!”

Actually, yes, it is. Rebecca already made the connection in her post, in case you need reminding:

Why would she ever want to be a part of any atheist community, if that’s how she’s treated? The next time you look around your atheist events and wonder where all the women are, think of this and know that there are at least some of us who aren’t willing to just accept this culture without trying to change it.

Here’s the thing, boys and girls: I don’t get this crap anywhere else I choose to invest my time. I don’t get it from my friends, because those people don’t get the privilege of remaining my friend. I don’t get it at work, where they’ve gone well beyond the basic legal requirements in order to make it a place where women also have rewarding work and an opportunity for advancement. As a result, I’m surrounded by smart, confident people of various genders who take everybody seriously. There is the very rare sexist idiot, but the conspiracies we create to work around these people are open and supportive.

I don’t even get it in those legendary bastions of “social ineptitude,” fantasy and science fiction fandom and conventions. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely still problems, but predators and discriminatory publishing practices are considered problems of the community, and the institutions that support the problems are rightly pressured (and aided) to fix themselves. This “we’re so helpless in the face of a few bad actors” nonsense doesn’t fly.

This is very much about atheism. It’s also about the more general skeptical community, of course, but atheism is a big part of that and getting bigger.

No, this is the community in which I get, “We have this female guest we’d like to have on the show. Would you care to interview her?” This is the community in which we get high-profile writers saying, “Piffle. I have no need to condemn the bad behavior of those people I was just joking around with.” This is the community in which a leader of an organization goes around telling people (all women that I’ve seen so far), “Oh, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a nice guy. I’m sure you’re just misinterpreting what he said,” or liking it on Facebook when someone complains that skeptical woman is being all emotional over a scientific issue. This is the community in which Rebecca’s cheerful acknowledging of a mistake is used to suggest her worth as a skeptic is zilch, while Brian Dunning’s stubborn embrace of DDT disinformation costs him nothing.

I write in this community about rape and issues of consent. I get MRAs in my comments, but they’re no big deal. Everyone can see them. I also get commenters who say, “Well, yes, MRA = bad. However, he had a point about this tricky legal question.” They get all butthurt when I say, “It’s nothing like tricky if it never happens. If you’re not sure you have consent, don’t have sex–unless you’re willing to be a rapist.” They’re just there for an intellectual conversation in which potential sexual partners have all the humanity of chess pieces. And people tell me I should be nicer to them.

I get links to those posts from skeptic and atheist forums, where someone is using them to try to counteract the victim blaming and doubting in the latest high-profile rape accusation. That means I get to see them completely ignored as our oh-so-rational friends pull hypotheticals out of their asses and cite the Duke Lacrosse team as though it were a legal precedent in order to make the case that the accuser is probably lying her pathetic little ass off. These are our forums, people. That’s what they look like.

I write about IQ and bad science. I’ve got a university professor, the guy who is best known in atheist circles for having his MySpace atheist group discriminated against, who shows up on every one of these posts to suggest I really shouldn’t be writing about the topic without more expertise. He can’t actually find anything wrong with what I write, but he knows these researchers are nice guys, and he, personally, finds their conclusions reasonable despite lousy methodology. So I need more expertise. Guess how many times he’s done the same thing to a guy–or been called on that bullshit.

Same guy, Bryan Pesta for the record, is the fellow who followed a link from one of my blog posts to someone outside this community. She was complaining about a guy who ignored her repeated insistence that she wasn’t online to get hit on. Bryan’s response? I paraphrase: “Now that you’ve dumped him, how about you and me? Huh?” When I asked him whether he also sexually harassed his students, his response was legalistic. The response of other commenters was to suggest he was joking. No shit, he was joking. He just found it perfectly acceptable to make her the target of his joke, and these other commenters apparently couldn’t figure out why this was a problem.

In addition to writing, I also do this little skeptical convention experience called Skepchickcon. That would be where I was in July, on my way to a panel in a room so full of F&SF geeks hungry for skepticism and science programming that there wasn’t even standing room left, when I heard about Dawkins comments about someone who “calls herself Skep’chick.’” I’d already noted, after another conference in January brought it up, that I can write those science posts or solid atheist reasoning and rabble-rousing posts like yesterday’s response to Massimo Pigliucci. I can do those conventions and reach the audiences we say we want to reach. But I really only get seen when I talk about “women’s issues,” and when I do, I now know the leaders and icons of the movement I’m working for have already decided I’m whining about trivialities.

Many people have also decided that when I’m writing about this bullshit, I’m only in it for the clicks. That reasoning, for the record, is about as sound as that of the people who say atheists aren’t responsible for the sexism Rebecca talked about in her post because the young woman in question made the front page of Reddit–after the pretty girl was voted up that far by atheists. These posts don’t get more clicks. My other posts on more traditionally male subject matter get fewer. If people clicked on those more, where would be the incentive to write about sexism?

Oh, right. I’m still a part of this community. I’m still volunteering my time, energy, and yes, expertise to this movement. And doing that–and making a difference–I still have to put up with all this crap. Rebecca is entirely right. I don’t have to like y’all in order to do it, just think it’s important. And right now, yes, I’m rather hating atheists. However, it’s only because you’re awful.

Annie Jump Cannon sitting at her desk

Wednesday Geek Woman: Annie Jump Cannon, astronomer and leader in stellar classification

This is a guest post by kim. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2009.

Annie Jump Cannon sitting at her deskA good place to start in honoring women is the Smithsonian’s Women in Science gallery. Sure, it’s got pix of Marie Curie, of whom everyone has heard. But it also has pix of many women engineers, scientists, and science educators who are not as well known, but who should be.

I choose to honor Annie Jump Canon (1863-1941), luminary in astronomical research and stellar classification. Although living in a time deeply ambivalent (if not hostile) to advanced education for women, and suffering from profound hearing impairment after a teenage bout with scarlet fever Annie graduated from Wellsely College in 1884 with a degree in physics. She returned there for graduate studies in physics and astronomy, eventually gaining an MA in 1907. During her time at Wellsley she was hired by the Harvard College Observatory, and along with several other women, paid a pittance (less than a Harvard secretary) to assist Edward Pickering to compile the Draper Catalog, a massive, annotated atlas of all the stars in the sky.

While she was part of this project (itsef funded by Anna Draper, a wealthy widow of an amateur astronomer), Annie was instrumental in defining the spectral classification system, which defines the star classes O, B, F, G, K, and M – a system based on stellar temperature that along with later enhancements is still used today. Annie’s personal work included extensive cataloging of variable stars, including 300 for which she is credited as discoverer, and classifying over 230,000 stellar bodies, the most anyone has defined to this day.

You can read more about Annie and her work at a dedicated memorial at Wellesley’s website. There are other pages about her here, and on Wikipedia.

Annie Jump Cannon examining an objectI close with a quotation from her:

“In our troubled days it is good to have something outside our planet, something fine and distant for comfort.”

Annie, shine on!

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