Tag Archives: intersectionality

Things I don’t have to linkspam about today (20th October, 2010)

Say hello to Ms Spam-Spam! We’ve put in a special account for linkspams to make it more clear that linkspams are a group effort here. All the old linkspams are now listed with this account too.

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.

Double Major

I’m back in school, as some folks have probably already gathered from my microblogging. I’m finishing up a double major in Computer Science and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto, and if all goes according to plan I’ll be graduating in May 2011.

While this may sound like a strange combination, it makes perfect sense to me – I’m interested in equity issues within the STEM fields, especially computer science.

It turns out the combination of fields come in handy in unexpected ways some times. After proofreading a paper I wrote for a Women and Gender Studies class for me my friend Valerie suggested that some quantitative data might be useful in supporting one of my assertions. In my paper I argued that while early feminist scholarship on sexual harassment failed at intersectionality, more recent scholarship has embraced it. To support this, I wanted to compare the number of citations for Catherine MacKinnon’s Sexual harassment of working women: a case of sex discrimination to Kimberle Crenshaw’s Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. These are both profoundly influential works, but I wanted to quantify how their relative influence on scholarly work.

So I did what any self-respecting CS student would do – I wrote a script to scrape Google Scholar for citation numbers over time and made a graph comparing the two :)

For your edification, here’s scholargraph.pl:

# (c) 2010 Leigh Honeywell
# Licensed under the Simplified BSD License, reuse as you will!

use strict;
use LWP::Simple;
use LWP;

# set up LWP user agent and cookies; pretend to be Firefox 4 just to be cheeky
my $lua = LWP::UserAgent->new(
    keep_alive => 1,
    timeout    => 180,
    agent =>
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:2.0b7pre) Gecko/20100921 Firefox/4.0b7pre"
);

# edit in your citation numbers from google scholar and the appropriate
# date ranges for what you're trying to do
my $crenshaw = getCites( "10759548619514288444", "1977", "2010" );
my $mackinnon = getCites( "2195253368518808933", "1977", "2010" );

sub getCites {
   (my $cite, my $startyear, my $endyear) = @_;

    for my $year ($startyear .. $endyear) {

        #construct the query URL using the above data
        my $post =
          $lua->get( "http://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites="
              . $cite
              . "&as_ylo="
              . $year
              . "&as_yhi="
              . $year );

        # scrape the returned page for the number of results
        if ( $post->content =~ m#of (?:about )?(d*)</b># ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . "," . $1 . "n";
        }
        elsif ( $post->content =~ m#did not match any articles# ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . ",no resultsn";
        }
        else {
            # some kinda error happened, most likely google caught me!
            print $cite. "," . $year . "errorn";
        }
    # don't kill google's servers
    sleep(5);
    }
return 0;
}

Oh and if you’re curious, Crenshaw’s paper was cited far more than MacKinnon’s, pretty much as soon as it was published. Intersectionality FTW!

And as these things always go, of course I spend the evening working on this only to find that there’s a Perl module as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Continue reading

Quick hit – rock and roll and geek subcultures

Over at Tiger Beatdown, Sady and Amanda take on rock and roll, relating the sexism in rock subcultures to other subcultures and “outsider” groups:

AMANDA: I see the same sad sexism in a lot of different subcultures, and I think women are often drawn to these spaces because they’re outside of the mainstream — because the mainstream marginalizes them, but perhaps in a different way than it does sensitive rocking Kurt Cobain haircut boys.

SADY: Agreed!

AMANDA: So on the one hand, you’d think the subculture would be totally interested in accepting women — how rejecting of mainstream values is that! — but on the other hand, the subculture is also about building a culture around the primacy of the sensitive rocking Kurt Cobain haircut boy’s particular flavor of marginalization, and when women come in with some other shit to talk about it tends to threaten that dynamic.

On different degrees of othering:

AMANDA: BUT. I wonder if some of the disconnect here is in these guys thinking that their asymmetrical haircut or interest in Magic: The Gathering is like the most intensely othering experience that a human can have? And are unaware that there are some other people around who may have that experience of being othered no matter which subculture they attempt to access.

And the part that struck closest to home for me, from the part of the discussion about Renfolk and other such nerdy subcultures:

SADY: Oh, man! And, yes: I think we even did a Ye Olde Sexist Beatdowne, about this, in Oldyn Tymes! My experience of lady-nerds is that they tend to be huge and fairly hardcore feminists. And I was like, “that’s funny, I never thought of feminism as a particularly nerdy thing,†but then I realized (a) I was on the Internet, and (b) male nerd subculture tends to be like INTENSE in its misogyny! Lady-nerds seriously grab on to feminism like it is a buoy and they are drowning, because it is! And they sort of are! And women in music sometimes do the same thing, see: Riot Grrrl, duh. Formed in reaction to dudes with floppy Kurt Cobain haircuts, at least one of whom was ACTUALLY KURT COBAIN. (Though he was a huge feminist, God bless.)

You’re not gonna reach my linkspam (31st March, 2010)

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.

FLOSS inclusivity: pragmatic, voluntary, empowering, joyous

Lucy Connor’s “Diversity at what cost?” and Benjamin Otte’s blog post on equality got me thinking about the backlash against diversity and outreach initiatives in open source. Specifically, I sometimes see arguments that inclusivity

  • is a slippery slope into coercion and quotas
  • should not be a FLOSS value, or
  • competes with the core mission of his/her software project.

In response to Otte’s thoughts on whether the principle “all men are created equal” stands in opposition to core GNOME and Fedora goals, I said in part:

The words “equality†and “inclusive†can be easy to misinterpret. Advocates often use them as a softer way of saying “don’t be sexist/racist/etc.†and “let’s give due consideration to people we’re inadvertently leaving out.†Perhaps [critics] are misreading this suggestion as greed for market share, or conflating cowardice with the intention and practice of thoughtful inclusivity.

Yes, it is an important principle that all people deserve to be treated equally *by the law*, and as an ideal to reach toward, it’s laudable. However, it’s a straw-man argument to suggest that advocates for equality and inclusion propose that all seven billion people’s opinions should have equal relevance in every endeavor and choice.

Every organization has a specific mission, such as “change the government’s policies to improve the environment†or “maintain an excellent Linux distribution with cutting-edge innovations.†This is its “value proposition,†in US English. It embodies some of its core values. The Fedora project is indeed facing a tension between its value proposition and one facet of inclusivity — suitability for novice users. But there are many other aspects to inclusivity and an interest in equality, such as accessibility, nonsexist language, university outreach, and documentation. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

You may also be interested in http://geekfeminism.org/2009/11/29/questioning-the-merit-of-meritocracy/ for thoughts on meritocracy in FLOSS.

… If you simply find any good product unstylish as soon as a certain proportion of the population starts to benefit from it, that strikes me as needlessly snobbish, and implies a misanthropy that will permanently be opposed to even the least controversial inclusivity initiatives.

We linkspammed Connor’s piece a few days ago, and commenter koipond noted:

I hear the sentiment, but it’s kind of missing the point. No one is saying “Diversity at all costs†where they want to force people in who don’t want to be there. It’s more a case of trying to break down the barriers that prevent people who might be interested but see a toxic morass and refuse to swim in the pool.

My comment was along similar lines:

When I read http://geekfeminism.org/ or the http://geekfeminism.wikia.com wiki, or listen to the women on the Systers mailing list, I don’t hear a general and undifferentiated “WE MUST GET MORE WOMEN INTO FLOSS†or tech agitprop agenda. I see lots of initiatives to help underrepresented groups — African-Americans, women, people from developing countries — get in on the joy and empowerment of hacking.

I think there is a separate argument to be made that everyone, of every gender and from every socioeconomic, ability and ethnic background, should be generally technically literate, which means being able to code a “hello world†in some decent language and feeling empowered to modify their computing environment a little. To extend the analogy, I know it ruined your [Connor’s] enjoyment of Model UN when the teachers forced everyone to participate, but you’re not against the goal of everyone learning a little about how international politics works.

And because these sexist behaviors and attitudes keeping women out of high-status and high-paying professions are just now starting to fade, it’s important to take an extra look at seemingly innocuous traditional attitudes to make sure they don’t conceal yet more barriers and discouragement. As Kirrily Robert pointed out in her OSCON keynote, the community as a whole grows organically and benefits greatly from (voluntary, of course) women’s participation:

http://infotrope.net/blog/2009/07/25/standing-out-in-the-crowd-my-oscon-keynote/

Like you, these advocates like helping people. Check out http://gnomejournal.org/article/88/the-un-scary-screwdriver for an example of the kind of noncoercive, entirely opt-in outreach that most advocates, well, advocate.

As I noted to Connor: Sure, coding, and open source work, are not really intrinsically appealing to lots of people. But because there are so very many external factors keeping interested girls and women away from tech careers and open source, I’m comfortable prioritizing breaking those down, so that maybe in fifty years people’s intrinsic interests will shine naturally through. And then we’ll talk and see what interesting patterns show up.

Link roundup to watch out for (13th October, 2009)

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

National Coming Out Day: LGBTQ geeks

In the US and many other countries, today is National Coming Out Day. I thought this might be a good chance to talk about the experiences of LGBTQ geeks and how they intersect with the experiences of female geeks.

  • LGBTQ geeks, like women, are a minority in geek communities. AdamW mentioned it the other week in this post:

    My personal experience is as an even more unusual minority in F/OSS than being a woman — I’m gay. (I’ve mentioned this before but I don’t really make a point of it, so some people probably don’t know). I can’t even recall anyone _else_ openly gay in the F/OSS community at all — I’m sure there are a few, but it’s a very very small number.

    I’m not sure whether or not gay men are less common than women in F/OSS — it seems unlikely to me — but they are certainly a less visible minority, since guessing based on physical appearance or name will get you approximately nowhere. And gay men (as well as lesbians and other non-straight folks) are subject to homophobia in geek culture: insults like “faggot” are common in gaming, on IRC, etc. In that much, there is a similarity between the two groups, both of which are marginalised and excluded to some extent.

  • I guess it should go without saying that the set of female geeks and the set of non-straight geeks overlap, but sometimes people seem to forget or ignore that. We see this when people suggest that adding beefcake to porny presentations would make women happy, or that women should be pleased when men comment on their appearance or sexual desirability. Being asked if you’re at an event with your boyfriend gains a whole new level of wrongness. And efforts to appeal to women in technology, gaming, etc, often assume heterosexuality and gender-normativity, featuring boys, dating, weddings (opposite sex only), and traditional families. Queer women, in these situations, can feel even more uncomfortable than straight women do.
  • And then there are times when female geekdom interacts with queer geekdom and weirdness ensues. I had an experience at a convention, where a man was getting in my personal space, touching me, and so on — nothing terrible, just putting his hand on my shoulder and being over-friendly. When I asked him not to, he said, “Oh, it’s OK — I’m gay!” When people have (or lack) different kinds of privilege, the negotiation around it can get incredibly complicated. Does being gay exempt this guy from facing his male privilege?
  • I’m not highly qualified to speak for transgendered/genderqueer/intersex geeks, but there are another set of issues that come along with that. Rachel guest-posted yesterday about one aspect her her experience as a trans geek, and I hope we’ll be able to have more discussion on related topics going forward.

Like many other feminists, intersectionality is something I’m just starting to come to grips with. How about you? Do you have stories of being an LGBTQ geek, or of how LGBTQ issues intersect with feminism in geek communities?

Quick hit: LWN discussion on sexism, social skills, and autism spectrum disorders

As I mentioned in the link roundup, the LWN thread on the Free Software Foundation’s women in Free Software mini-summit will burn your sanity points. But there’s an interesting comment thread involving Matthew Garrett (mjg59) and Bruce Perens about Asperger’s and high functioning autism and what can be expected from people with Asperger’s if they are critised for sexist behaviour or otherwise offending people.

I wanted to highlight this discussion largely because “(s)he can’t help it, (s)he’s autistic” and the more disturbing variant “if geekdom just tossed out all those non-neurotypical folk, all the nasty sexism would go away” pop up fairly commonly in geek feminism discussions. (I don’t observe this much from geek feminists themselves, although being neurotypical I won’t be as alert to it, but certainly in the discussions.) I appreciate the considerably more nuanced discussion on this.

Note for commenters: While the LWN discussion started by talking about Richard Stallman (RMS) and the EMACs virgins incidents, statements about Stallman being neurotypical or not seem to be a matter of speculation only. Comments on this post making blanket assumptions about all neurodiverse people being unable to function in society or perform certain social tasks, or presuming that any individual is or is not neurotypical without that person’s self-identification being known, will be deleted.

quick hits: enterprising women (see what i did there?)

One of my formative geek experiences was watching Star Trek with my Dad, so when the reboot came out this summer I watched it with a huge mob of friends and a childlike glee. That moment where a young James Tiberius Kirk looks out over the Iowa cornfields to what will become the USS Enterprise? The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Zoë Saldaña’s kickass reinvention of Uhura was another big part of that delight. I was a bit surprised to find that not everyone shared my neo-Uhura love, and greatly relieved when Rebellious Jezebel and Rawles laid out strong arguments in favour.

Much more problematic (=bullshit) were the characterizations of Kirk’s and Spock’s mothers, both swiftly consigned to refrigerators to give Our Heroes matter on which to brood. You may imagine how much I appreciated Latropita’s open letter to Winona Kirk: “Who wouldn’t want to hear your stories?” That plaint inspired a whole LJ community, Where No Woman, dedicated to those untold stories.

In her provocative and memorable meta-fic, Bravecows reminds us that however shiny our future may be, our stories will not all be the same.

“Don’t think I don’t believe in Starfleet,” said Sharanjeet. “I think our kind of job is very important also. But a lot of you young people just come in thinking about all the holo-movie you see. You think you’re going to have adventure like all the starship captain you hear about. You don’t really know what to expect. But you know, when you come onboard a Starfleet ship and the computer cannot understand your accent, you really have to start to wonder.”