This is a guest post by Frances Hocutt. Frances is the founding president of the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, Seattle’s first feminist hackerspace/makerspace. She prefers elegance in her science and effectiveness in her art and is happiest when drawing on as many disciplines as she can. Frances’s current passion is helping others find the space, tools, and community that they need to make their world fit them better. Between her science and her skill at ancient technology, she considers herself an integral part of any postapocalyptic team.
2013 has been a hell of a year for me. I’ve lost family; I’ve ended or reshaped several important personal and professional relationships; I’ve begun to reconsider my career path based on some truly unfortunate experiences in my current academic department. And with all that, it’s been the most personally and professionally rewarding year I’ve lived so far.
Why? I wanted to turn some of my frustrations into positive change and started the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, the first of the new West Coast feminist hackerspaces. I can — and will — talk about our vision for the space and specifics on how we are moving toward it. First, though, I’m going to talk about how my work with the Attic has changed me and why I love this space so much.
I think it’s the first space — at least, the first formal community — that I’ve been able to bring all of myself into without fear of rejection. I can be the least censored public version of myself. I’m not afraid I’ll be judged for the choices I make to deal with the flawed systems we all live in, and I’m not afraid that the real harm those systems do will be waved away in the process. The support there helps me grow into the self I want to be: gutsy, strong, curious, creative, knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate. I want to create. I want to learn. I want to teach. At the Attic, I can ask the basic questions that let me learn without being judged for not knowing already. And I’m not the only one who’s restarted work on projects that had been on hold for months and years.
It’s what I wish working at a start-up — or a new lab — were like. If I ever do start a company, I’ll be drawing on my organizational experiences here. We consciously notice our social dynamics. We learn from movements’ prior experiences. We explicitly discuss burnout and balance responsibilities so that the work gets done and no one feels like they have to do it all. We value respect and kindness over displays of superiority — disagreements don’t define our worth as individuals, we aren’t afraid to be judged when we ask questions, and we’re not ashamed of our interests.
As we started this, I started to lead our earlier meetings and eventually was formally chosen as president. I discovered that I do have a talent for leadership — and here, I don’t have to keep my guard up or worry that my femaleness or my queerness will undermine it. I encouraged little things that build community; our meetings include a “rant and squee” section, one part consciousness-raising group, one part fannishness, one part show-and-tell, as well as a “good and welfare” section that I nabbed from my academic student employee union‘s meetings. Other members have also called me on my mistakes and failings and with their support, I’ve turned those around and done better.
This space and its members have also been a base of support for my other activism. It’s why one of our members entered the tech field this year. It’s a huge part of why I feel secure enough to consider leaving science completely. It’s given me the support I needed to be able to share my reasons why and is why I plan to do my best to make a change in my department and not keep my head down. None of this is easy, but now it’s possible.
So, this is a love letter of a sort to the Attic and the people who comprise it. Many of my best experiences this year have been through the Attic or through the amazing women I’ve met and worked with there. After this year it would be easy for me to leave science completely and geek from the edges, or to stay and become more and more angry and brittle. That’s not what’s happened. The acceptance, encouragement, and compassionate strength I’ve found from my fellow Attic members have helped make me into the person I want to be. I look around and see how I can be strong without being brittle. I’ve been shaped by my painful experiences this year; I’m being tempered by the kindness and utter acceptance the Attic’s showed me.
Right now, Seattle Attic is raising money so that we can build on the beginning we’ve made and expand our space and our programs. We want to make this space sustainable, and we want to provide enough resources that other makerspaces can do the same. If you want to help us continue to make our vision real, you can contribute to our fundraiser, or simply spread the word and tell a handful of your friends why this feminist makerspace excites you, personally. If you’re local or visiting, come to one of our open houses, workshops, or events — we would love to meet you.