Tag Archives: humor

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Feminist tech demos: menstruation, harassment, an erotic wearable, and more

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

On Friday, I interviewed feminist technologists at a demo showcase in New York City. (Thanks to NYC Media Lab (a higher education-city government-industry partnership) for giving me a press pass to their 2015 annual summit.)

Patchworked Venus

Joelle Fleurantin presented Patchworked Venus, “A wearable exploring how computing has given birth to a new form of sexual intimacy”. See the embedded video below for a demo.

Patchworked Venus: Erotic Haptic Device Preview from Joelle F. on Vimeo.

Ms. Fleurantin, (MPS ’15, NYU ITP), discussed her design with me, explaining that instead of being a phallic accessory like a lot of other erotic devices, Patchworked Venus emphasizes other erogenous zones. Her artist’s statement asks:

How can an erotic device become a tool for body modification: an extension of the user rather than a facsimile of an external, imagined person? And what then becomes of this augmented wearer, specifically when her body is not raceless like those present in dominant representations of the cyborg?

Patchworked Venus explores these questions by casting an intimate experience within the context of dress as performance.

The garment, in contrast to conventional vibrators, is meant to be worn, and uses heat, compression, and touch on the wearer’s back, inner thighs, and nipples. A warm circuit provides heat over the breast, motors like those used for haptic response in mobile phones give the user a sensation of touch on the back and the inner thighs, and an inflatable jacket and hood literally embrace the wearer with a pneumatic actuating system, providing a pleasant feeling of compression and constriction. She “designed and milled breakout boards for use with the Adafruit Flora” (from her “About” page). Ms. Fleurantin also considered using soft robotics and lithography to give the wearer a sensation of breath on the skin, but decided against it since that approach would require a large, loud air compressor.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

Check out her ten-minute thesis presentation for more on the Erotic Haptic Device and Patchworked Venus. In it, Ms. Fleurantin discusses her influences and process, including her upbringing as a black woman, learning from her mother how important self-presentation, grooming, and clothing were. I noted down some names and links from that presentation and from my conversation with her on Friday:

(I had previously known Ms. Fleurantin because of her work on user research for the Mozilla wiki; I’ll be curious to see her next project as well!)


I spoke with Lucy M. Bonner and tried out her immersive harassment simulator “Compliment”. Ms. Bonner (MFA Design and Technology ’16, Parsons the New School for Design) developed “Compliment,” a virtual reality experience using the Oculus Rift, and you can see a demo video on YouTube if you sign in.

From her artist’s statement:

Compliment is an immersive experience of street harassment designed and created for the Oculus Rift. It demonstrates the fact that harassment creates an atmosphere of intimidation and tension for women on a daily basis, that it is not ok, and that it is not a compliment. Compliment conveys the forceful intrusion and violation of space and attention that makes a woman feel vulnerable, angry, and silenced in order to raise awareness and effect change.

Ms. Bonner received much more street harassment when she moved from Houston to New York City, and used those catcalls she heard in real life to populate the set of harassing comments that simulated harassers say to the player. She appreciates how virtual reality lets her offer, say, a 6-foot-2-inches man a way to experience the world as a shorter, more vulnerable person. “Many of the harassers in the experience are much larger than the player, which creates part of the sense of danger and intrusion in confrontations.” Also: “Players are unable to respond, as in the real world with concern for safety, and are forced to constantly hear and dodge unwanted attention.”

I mentioned to Ms. Bonner a truism I’ve heard (via Adria Richards or Lukas Blakk, I believe) that men tend to use augmented reality experiences like Google Glass to more powerfully navigate the world, while women tend to use them to document their experience in the world. Ms. Bonner wouldn’t put “Compliment” in that latter category, and not just because VR and augmented reality are different approaches; she considers “Compliment” more outwardly focused, showing other people what her experience is like rather than concentrating on gathering proof of the experience itself. “Compliment” conveys, as she puts it, the “cumulative atmosphere of silencing and objectification”.

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot


I spoke with Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth about their quite different simulator, d.Bot. “Drawing from female experiences in online and offline dating, d.bot is a chatbot that simulates conversing with an unenlightened male.” Ms. Chin and Mr. Collinsworth (MFA in Design & Technology ’16, The New School) used JavaScript, socket.io, and Parse to develop d.Bot, and made it partially to test out a theory about a different approach to artificial intelligence than you often see. Rather than aiming for a predictive response, d.Bot is trying to stimulate a particular response in the human user. You can try it out at http://bit.ly/dBot.

A demo session with d.Bot

A demo session with d.Bot

Ms. Chin said that it’s been nice to be able to use things guys have said to her, and that hearing or seeing new annoying messages, she figures, it’s going into the pot. (This includes a comment a guy said to her during fair setup, just before I arrived.) You can also click the “Feed Me” button to add something a guy has said to you, if you’d like to add more quotes to the database.

Mr. Collinsworth hopes d.Bot will help men experience what women experience, both online and in the physical world; any one guy saying uncreative things doesn’t experience what it’s like to hear those same comments frequently and en masse. In that vein, he suggested that perhaps Tinder could show users an originality score as they type messages to other users, flagging likely boring messages and discouraging users from sending them.

Ms. Chin said that she’s seen other critique of boring or harassing men (street harassers and OKCupid and Tinder users) that’s more in a name-and-shame mode, and that she wonders whether a critique in the form of humor around originality and creativity would be more likely to change the player’s behavior, as opposed to dinging a user and saying “you’re a bad person”. For her and for other d.Bot users, the bot is also a fun way to vent — she said she’s seen women happy to finally have a chance to talk back to these messages in a safe, consequence-free sandbox.

I asked for her thoughts on feminist dating apps like Bumble, and we discussed the possibility that Bumble (in which women can and men cannot initiate conversation) is just moving the problem a little further down the road; instead of screening out men at the stage of initial online conversation, het women might find that they go on more dates with men who don’t interact well.


Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presented “SHVRK”: “Surf the crimson wave with fewer fatalities”. Users can sign up to get text message alerts of their friends’ menstrual cycles. Below is her SHVRK v1.0 demo video.

Ms. Raffaelli (MS Integrated Digital Media ’16, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering) and I spoke a little on Friday, and then she answered my questions on SHVRK, her influences, and her feminism via email:

There are apps for women to track women’s cycles, and there are apps for men to track what they don’t like about women’s cycles. The former often have pastel palettes, cute logos, and an emphasis on fertility and pregnancy. The latter have a handful of angry responses from the feminist community.

As long as bodily fluids and excretions are taboo, periods will be taboo. The app was never meant to change anybody’s views of leftover uterine lining. That said, the divisive nature of the current apps on the market doesn’t offer many people the opportunity to level the playing field. What we need is an app with an interface with universal appeal. We need an app that doesn’t perpetuate traditional stereotypes, but educates and facilitates. We need an app that makes the monthly inconvenience a little more convenient.

I’ve tried apps with features I didn’t need. I don’t need help getting pregnant, I don’t need to share my uterine woes with a community of empathetic blood sisters, and I don’t need cute puppies to guide me through reminders to hydrate. What I do need is an app that alerts my man to the state of my hormones. What about the men who don’t care about the difference between pads and tampons, ovulation versus menstruation, or what PMS really stands for? Well, I don’t blame them­­I’m not sure I would care for the details either if I didn’t go through it monthly.

The first steps were figuring out what would make a man WANT to use the same period app as a woman. My favorite answers were from the “make me a sandwich” types of guys. If this could get you laid, would you use the app? But of course.

Who is this app for? This is for women who like men, men who like women, and women who like women. This is for the monogamous and polyamorous. This is for the people with a sense of humor. This app is for those who say “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die.” This is for anybody who has ever been cockblocked by a period.

“…why you made SHVRK (including your dissatisfactions with other services and apps)…”

My shark week isn’t a big deal. In fact, I usually forget about it, and that’s why I started to use the apps. These would give me a heads up, and I realized, you know who else could use these updates? My boyfriend. When the conversation comes up, he tries to either be understanding or a comedian. He cares, but he’ll never really get it. Why not give him just the information he needs without framing it in etiquette and small talk?

My research showed that there were tons of apps for men. They seemed to have exploded between 2008 and 2010, and most of them enraged the feminist community. Could it be possible to make one app that could appeal to those menstruating as well as those not menstruating?

“…what technologies you used to make it…”

The graphite pencil. Illustrator, After Effects, and the rest of the Adobe suite. Started playing around with a bit of this and that for the final product, from PHP to Swift… This is a lot of learning as I go.

“…what some next steps are…”

Step 1: iOS or Android? Step 2: Launch.

“…your feminism and the ways in which the project is feminist…”

Feminism can be a scary word. Every female in this society develops a relationship with it, and that makes it a weighty, frustrating, and complex matter. Feminism is a spectrum. We might avoid it all costs, or we embrace our own definition, or we embody someone else’s interpretation without realizing it. That’s about all I can say about ‘feminism’.

I want to bid farewell to man­bashing and figurative bra­burning. There are too many women in the world with no access to proper hygiene products and women who are cast out of their homes during that time of the month, but there are also too many man­bashers and bra­burners here fighting a fight that’s been fought here. What if we take another approach to understanding the difference between men and women in the little world of people with smartphones and access to clean running water?

In April, Leslee Udwin visited NYU for a special screening of her film ​India’s Daughter. There are two relevant memorable moments from that night. The first was when Leslee Udwin said she set out to answer ‘why men rape’. The second was when I asked if she had found her answer, and she responded that she expected the men she interviewed to be monsters. She expected them to be textbook psychopaths. What she found was that they were just humans like you and me. They were not ‘bad apples’ spoiling the barrel. The barrel was bad.

There are bad apple feminists the same way there are bad apple chauvinists. SHVRK is not about redefining ‘man’ or ‘woman’, but about leveling the playing field between unique individuals like you and me, ​so we don’t have to hear “Are you PMSing? Are you on your period?”

“…​and what or who some of your influences are.​”

Leslee Udwin is pretty amazing, but here I have to officially say Happenstance. Nothing goes up on a pedestal like happenstance. Letting the cards fall as they may is magical and always a little mysterious. Let it lead the way.

And more

I concentrated in this piece on discussing demos from the summit that particularly spoke to me on a feminist level, but I saw women technologists presenting many projects you might find interesting for other reasons. StackedUp uses AI for investigative reporting. NEW YOARK is an augmented reality mobile app that emphasizes the diversity of languages spoken in New York City. Bullet Pointe Lab designs and makes innovative clothes for ballet dancers, such as shorts with heating elements to help warm hips so they can open more fully. I saw multiple more clothing-related apps, natural language processing research, a tool to help you analyze your own social media activity, and a Twitter bot and collaborative storytelling and coding project telling the stories of people incarcerated at the Rikers Island correctional facility. On my way out the door, I spoke to one of the event staffers, a woman who’s working on Haveyouseenthem.org, a project to use the web and stickers on milk cartons to raise awareness of missing Central American and Mexican migrants.

Thanks again to NYC Media Lab and to the innovators who spoke with me.

Fighting sexism with humor?

Valerie Aurora just tweeted:

30 minutes till I run #foocamp session “Defeating Sexism through Humor.” Suggestions?

I suggested a few things to her including:

Got any others? Or any experiences with using humor for feminist ends?

The wicked step-linkspammer (11th June, 2010)

  • tigtog highlights editorials and articles in Nature questioning sex bias in medical testing, particularly the exclusion of pregnant subjects.
  • harpers_child is angry: Batman fans asked DC Comics for a in-comic memorial for Stephanie Brown, a female Robin. And one of the DC Comics writers comes out with threats of violence over it.
  • Shelby Knox asks What Does a Feminist Wear?: So, what do you/would you wear to represent your feminism? Do you consciously choose your outfits before you go out to commit public acts of feminism? What are the fashion stereotypes of feminists that you would like to see shattered and are there some visual signifiers you’d like to keep around?
  • Hardcore Maleness: Let’s cut through the crap, shall we? The terms casual and hardcore are codes… Hardcore equals masculine. Casual equals feminine. It’s just that simple, and all the marketing-speak about core gamers won’t change that.
  • FEMINIST HULK has a big following on Twitter, now there’s more from the big green patriarchy-smashing machine: FEMINIST HULK SMASH EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MS.!. Comics Alliance also introduces other feminist comic heroes on Twitter.
  • Alisa Krasnostein writes about The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction about two recent attempts to highlight Big Names, which of all possible women candidates, included only Ursula Le Guin and Mary Shelley.
  • Moose J. Finklestein notes that despite an explicit comments policy against sexism, Comsumerist.com is unwilling to act when it happens.
  • Naomi Baker writes about how women in developing countries can be severely restricted by lack of access to menstrual products in High Cotton.
  • Kimli posts as part of a Twitter discussion of children at the Northern Voice social media conference: … it’s up to the parents to arrange something; not the Northern Voice organizers… but this year, no one arranged anything. People brought their children, and there was nowhere to put them.
  • Sumana Harihareswara interviews Elizabeth Smith, maintainer of PHP-GTK, for GNOME journal.

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

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

Men bloggers: the followup post

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Where are all the men bloggers? thread, and a big “Welcome” to those who are new here.

I’ve just shut down comments on that thread because a) the humour was getting a bit tired, and b) we were starting to see an influx of people who didn’t realise it was satire.

Here’s what’s going on.

Over the years, there has been a regular refrain of Where are all the women bloggers? coming from men bloggers, especially in the political sphere but also in tech blogging, business blogging, science blogging, and so on.

Women make up slightly more than half of all bloggers. And we blog in all those areas. Yet somehow, men quite often don’t notice.

The most recent iteration of this occurred a day or so back on Pollytics, an Australian political blog run by a guy who goes by the name “Possum Comitatus”.

Something that has surprised me for a while on the gender balance of the Australian political net is the lack of big female political bloggers. We have Kim and Anna over at LP as a group blog, while Tigtog and Lauredhel at Hoyden touch on politics occasionally and do it well — but where are the dedicated Australian political bloggers of the likes of Wonkette or Pandagon that we see in the US?

Let’s do our bit to find them. Know any female political bloggers in Australia? If so, drop a link in comments and we’ll list them here — big or small, old or new – and hopefully give them some exposure. If you’re an Australian female political blogger, don’t be shy – tell us about your blog. I for one would like to see far more female political voices in Australia’s new media.

It was quickly taken up by the Australia political blog Hoyden About Town, and a lengthy discussion ensued on both blogs, in which many of the same points were hit on as in every. single. iteration. of this topic before.

  • That there are no (or few) women bloggers [in that field].
  • That the ones who exist are not “really” bloggers [in that field].
  • That if men don’t read women’s blogs, nobody does.
  • That the subject matter covered by women bloggers is not important, or “frivolous”
  • That the subjects that women blog about (eg. disability) are “niche” topics not of general interest.
  • That mixing subject matter on a blog makes it “not count” towards being a blog on that subject.
  • That only blogging that is similar in content and style to the mainstream media is valid.
  • That women must crave and appreciate the attention they get when men notice their blogs.
  • That essential differences between genders are the cause of women (supposedly) not blogging.
  • That women don’t have time to blog because they are busy with housework and childcare.
  • That women who blog on certain platforms (eg. Livejournal) that are not “really” blogging or that other modes of communication (eg. Facebook) are less valid than blogs.
  • That women [political] bloggers are angry, bitchy, or whining and it’s hard to read their words because of it.
  • Patronising responses to women who stand up to say that they blog: “Ain’t you a treat. More power to you.”
  • Theorising — in the face of actual research — that studies would show a preponderance of male bloggers.
  • That there are more important things to be discussing, in any case.

All the above arguments can be found in the posts (and their comment threads) linked above. They are not new. They’ve been heard before, countless times, by women bloggers, and you’ll notice that for the most part we were intentionally making the same comments — often exaggerated to the point of ludicracy — in our comments about men bloggers.

From my original post:

I wonder why there seem to be so few men blogging in these subject areas. Is it just that they aren’t interested? Do they not have time what with all the sports and drinking and porn? Maybe they don’t feel up to handling tough subjects, or perhaps the conversational style is offputting to them?

Liz chips in:

I try to keep an open mind, though. From reading a few masculist bloggers I’ve found that something called the “second shift” means that guys at home have to bear the burden of doing extra home maintenance work, chef-ing, and just plain being daddies. So most guys don’t have time to really go in depth to understand, well, important cultural references, and contribute anything substantial. If you look past the shrill, scolding tone of those masculist bloggers, you can really learn something. Just watch out you don’t get your head bitten off.

Azz says:

I know what you mean! I’ve been encouraging my best friend to start blogging for years, or at least get an account on one service or another and at least start reading, but he keeps saying it’s not his thing and finally he said he just wouldn’t be comfortable with that level of exposure so I’ve given it a rest.

Maybe it’s just not a “man thing”?

And gchick added:

It’s their own fault, really. If only they’d engage with the *real* blogosphere on dreamwidth or livejournal, instead of holding on to their blogger and wordpress instances the way they do, maybe people would take their posts a little more seriously.

Some of our other comments were satirical riffs on more common myths and misconceptions, or rhetorical practices that we see so often on the Internet when women are being discussed. I think some of us were aiming for a full bingo card, actually.

At the same time, some of our male friends like whump, Tim, zornhau, Scott, and Danny joined in, playing along with their mirror-world roles.

But quite rapidly, as the link to the article started being tweeted and dented and linked to all over the place, we started to get people coming in who… didn’t realise it was satire. We got some helpful folks linking us to tech blogs by men, letting us know (for instance) that a majority of the bloggers at O’Reilly Radar happened to be of that gender. Then finally we got a comment from someone named Jon saying:

Frankly, every tech or politics blog *I* read is authored by a male, and I often wonder why women don’t blog as much… maybe you’re just in the wrong micro-cosm of tech/politics.

You women can have your fun gossiping about how much better it is to be a woman and how all studies show you communicate better, but while you have these conversations you completely miss the actual realities: studies might show that women are *innately* better at communicating *certain* subject matter.. most specifically, emotions. Neither politics nor tech (and frankly not even journalism in general) should be a discussion that emotion takes part in, so it’s sort of a moot point.

That was the point where we reached the ne plus ultra of why-don’t-i-notice-bloggers-who-aren’t-like me discussions: a full circle, or perhaps a Moebius strip, of invisibility and gender essentialism, satirical criticism of same, and back again to where we started. It seemed like the right time to put the thread to rest.

Please, now everyone’s up to speed on the background and context, feel free to drop out of character and discuss. If this is your first discussion on the subject, I would recommend reading Where are the women bloggers? on the Geek Feminism Wiki as background before you dive in.