Tag Archives: invisibility

We’ll be post-linkspam in the post-patriarchy (26th October, 2010)

  • Melbourne, Australia: Go Girl Go for IT 2010: A free IT careers showcase for Secondary School Girls Years 8-11, Deakin University, Burwood, 27th and 28th October.
  • Trigger warning for violent crime against women: Russell Williams and the media assault on gender queer identity.
  • The 99: the Islamic superheroes getting into bed with Batman: DC Comics’ Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are joining forces with Islamic-inspired superheroes The 99 this week. Carole Cadwalladr meets their creator, Dr Naif al-Mutawa
  • Is affirmative action for men the answer to enrolment woes?: Basing admissions mostly on marks, it seemed, had contributed to the decline of men's numbers in medical schools. Dr. Reiter, who was new to the position, decided the school should put less emphasis on marks and broaden its requirements, which eventually it did. The proportion of men has since slightly increased.
  • The Fantasy of Girl World: Lady Nerds and Utopias: When we see the word “nerd,” we don’t think of women. We almost can’t… And yet! The girl nerds, they exist! And they tell their own stories… One of the oldest stories is the one where dudes don’t run things. Or, you know, exist. (This is by Sady Doyle, who reclaimss ‘girl’ and ‘lady’. And possibly ‘nerd’?) And dude-free utopias, it turns out, have plenty of social justice problems. Footnotes to the essay are over at Tiger Beatdown.
  • Regardless of what Sady Doyle thinks, Flowtown and Threadless would like to remind you that nerds are men, dontcha know? Mostly young, mostly white, definitely men.
  • Metroid: Other M – The Elephant in the Room: Fantastic breakdown of the romanticized abusive relationship that is central to Other M’s plot and gameplay.

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.

If it’s really good, men made it

I feel odd blogging about a movie I haven’t seen, I want to get that out of the way. But a lot of women I trust are telling me that the movie The Social Network (a dramatisation of the founding of Facebook, script by Aaron Sorkin and direction by David Fincher) is infuriatingly sexist. Men made Facebook entirely, apparently, and women granted them sexual favours for it. As is the natural order! (See the Melissa Silverstein and Laurie Penny links in our last spam for this.)

(If you want to discuss The Social Network in particular, rather than the rest of this post, which is about geek women’s invisibility in general, I’ve set up a discussion thread for the movie.)

The erasure of women geeks from geek history is going to continue and snowball, most likely, because here are some of the factors that play into it:

  1. what geeks do is hard! you can tell, because women don’t do it!
  2. you might have heard geeks are not that high up the masculine status chart! you are wrong! because there’s no women doing it and that makes it Man Stuff! which is hard, see 1! (also wot Restructure! said)
  3. s things become important in retrospect, they become men’s work.

On that last point, there was a related discussion in Australia last year about the recent history of rock music. Triple J, a youth music radio station which is part of the government funded ABC network, ran a “Hottest 100 of All Time” poll for songs its listeners like best. Triple J’s airplay is generally “alternative” and in the late 1990s (when I listened most) featured women artists such as PJ Harvey, Courtney Love of Hole, Shirley Manson of Garbage, Liz Phair and Veruca Salt.

There was some leadup criticism about the voting website:

Divided into decades, starting with the 1960s, each page shows between 9 and 15 album covers, with an accompanying note about musicians or bands that influenced the direction of rock and pop. The section on the 60s mentions the Supremes as one of the groups on the Stax/Motown label, and Janis Joplin as appearing at the Monterey Pop Festival. Then the 2000s section mentions the White Stripes. NO other female artists or groups that include women are mentioned.

And although the website was merely a memory jogger and did not restrict listener voting, it turned out it was a harbringer of what the listeners voted for. The top 100 songs contained two female vocalists, both appearing in one-offs as vocalists with Massive Attack (with songwriting credits). There were also five bands with female members. This became a big deal: Triple J was quick to defend itself by noting that it was a listener poll. One of the most interesting pieces of commentary went to air on Triple J’s own coverage, from Catherine Strong, whose PhD research was into changing memories of music (thanks to Lauredhel for this transcript):

Catherine Strong: “What happened with grunge – it’s very interesting, that in the early 1990s, grunge was seen as being a very female-friendly type of music. There were lots of women involved in the grunge. So you had bands like Hole, and L7, and Babes in Toyland. There was also the associated riot grrl movement that was happening at the same time, so bands like Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy. At the time, these bands were quite successful: commercially successful, and they were critically acclaimed, they were talked about as being fantastic. There was a lot of celebration in the press of “Women in Rock”, “Isn’t it fantastic to see women in rock?” But then if you look at the media coverage over time, when people talk about grunge over time, the women don’t get talked about anymore. So on the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death for instance, there were lots of magazines that came out talking about “Let’s look back at grunge”, “what was important about grunge”, “why was grunge such a great thing?”, and the women are hardly mentioned at all. So again you can see the public record leaves the women out – they just disappear, they fall out over time, as people write about it, and think about it looking back.

And the thing in rock that I think is particularly interesting, is that periodically, women are rediscovered. So every five years or so you’ll find that there’s something that will turn up in the media saying “Hey, it’s great! Women are making inroads into rock for the first time!”, when it’s not the first time. So every time those stories come up, I think we as a society, or people who like rock, feel as though progress is being made; but what’s actually happened is we’re just going round and round in circles. Women are being discovered, then they’re being forgotten, then they’re being discovered again, and they’re being forgotten again, and it’s just going round and round like that.”

And here it is, happening with geek history. To avoid one obvious strawman: no, I am not claiming that there was a woman who was more important to the story of Facebook than Mark Zuckerberg! I’m claiming that the movie is part of this pattern in geek history:

  1. when we look back on geek history, things women worked on, and women who were involved in men’s projects will slowly vanish from the story as part of a pattern of making what geeks do important and hard and real
  2. there will continue to be active resistance to women being visible as geeks because the presence of women takes away status points in the masculinity hierarchy and/or that geekdom is a men’s space for men who don’t want to be around women (I keep meaning to find the explicit comments I’ve seen on LWN to this effect, if the lazyweb helps I won’t object)
  3. perhaps most worryingly of all, every few years there will be a brief spotlight on women geeks, everyone will conclude “hooray they’re/we’re here, we’ve been seen, this is the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of the battle, thank goodness for that” and then a few years later we’ll do it all again (see an example of “but women geeks are new” here).

What do you think? How many rounds of the geek women visibility battle have you been present for? (I’ve been around for at least two major ones, I think.)

Linkspam barefoot in the kitchen (10th July, 2010)

  • Mystery and the Modern Woman: Tara Hunt writes about heterosexual dating, and men who are intimidated by heavy social networking “full disclosure” women.
  • Closing the Venture Capital Gender Gap: Astia’s CEO, Sharon Vosmek, writes about why she and Astia promote and support women entrepreneurs.
  • svollga points out a lot of irritating privilege fail in a discussion about the invisibility of queer characters in the current Doctor Who season.
  • Time to Hire a Housekeeper?: The study shows that highly productive faculty members, both male and female, employ others to help with core housework at a higher rate than others — but women do it much more often than men. (Note, there’s no discussion of any of the race, class or disability issues around doing housework or paying others for it.)
  • A Conversation with Ava Pope, physicist: Most physics majors don’t spend months carefully analyzing a few lines of poetry, let alone publish a paper on the research in a national publication. But Ava Pope wasn’t the average physics major.
  • skeptifem: Where are all the female skeptics at?: Anyone who has been in a skeptics group knows this discussion. Some dudes (and occasionally a few ladies) decide that it has something to do with the evolution of the mind and the innate ability of women to understand science or logic… These debates start because there is a noticable lack of women in skeptic groups, but also because statistically women are more likely to be religious or believe in stuff like psychics.

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.

Linkspam a go go (8th July, 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.

How Not to Do Ada Lovelace Day

I’ve seen a couple of ways of observing Ada Lovelace Day that seem to be missing the point a little. Here’s what it would be great if Ada Lovelace Day ended with: the end of invisibility of women in science and technology. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of us. And yet, when people are asked to name prominent scientists and technologists, many are capable of coming up with a list entirely of men’s names, and even when asked especially for women’s names some people draw a blank. A blank. From hundreds of thousands of possibilities.

There are a few examples of posts that don’t help with this, and which in fact contribute to the invisibility of women by suggesting that the author couldn’t think of even one specific woman and the work that she does:

  • a general non-specific celebration of women: “I want to salute all women in science and technology! Yeah!”;
  • doing no more than naming a woman and highlighting her as a woman you’ve heard of in science or technology; no hint of what she does or why you admire or remember her in particular; or
  • highlighting a woman or several women for facilitating your own work in tech with their non-technical activities. The most obvious example is “thanks to my significant other, for allowing me to spend time on technical hobbies.” It’s absolutely good to acknowledge the shoulders your own work stands on, but it doesn’t advance the goal of ending the invisibility problem if you choose to use Ada Lovelace Day to do it.

Ada Lovelace Day is about women’s own work in science and technology. Contribute to women’s visibility with specific names and with examples of work you admire deeply or use every day or can’t imagine how to do in such an elegant way as she did.

Let’s spin this around! Commenters, which woman in science or technology is more visible to you today as a result of someone else’s Ada Lovelace Day entry? Did you discover a new heroine? Or find that someone’s achievements were twice as big as you’d ever heard? Link us up!

Women in FLOSS, tell Bruce Perens you exist

Unicorn check-in time for women in open source!

Bruce Perens seems to think that women aren’t passionate about open source software:

What I meant was that there are more women who hold technical jobs than there are women who so love the technology that they will work on it whether they get paid or not. That seems to be an especially male thing.

I told him I was, and he confused me with Yuwei Lin and then told me I (she?) was an outlier.

How about we all head on over there and tell him that a) we exist, b) we ARE passionate about open source, and c) yes there IS a problem, even if he doesn’t see it.

  1. Create an LWN account (free)
  2. Comment on this thread
  3. Prepare your bingo cards for a round of “Wow, there are girls here?!?”

I’m turning off comments on this post. Go make them on LWN, not here.

Invisibility or the spotlight?

Our first actual guest post! Melissa Draper may well have been the first woman on the planet, well, Planet Ubuntu. She is a web developer by trade, and has more F/LOSS hats than she cares to admit. Her regular blog can be found at geekosophical.net.

These days, most girls and women in westernised societies get to choose her own destiny, and there is little doubt that this is a far cry from the world of only half a century ago.

As a broad and sweeping generalisation, people these days are not dictated in to or out of certain careers based on the number of X chromosomes their DNA profiles have. In sufficiently balanced legal systems there are even laws to provide justice for when certain interpretations of sexual discrimination occurs.

One could easily be led to believe that this taboo on sexual discrimination eliminates all obstacles.

With this perceived fair playing field, we often find ourselves asking how we can get girls and women to choose to be involved in fields which are perceived as “historically male-dominated”. One field that this question is often asked of, is that of software development.

Sadly, we are asking the wrong question.

We are failing to recognise that historically, computer languages and software development were female-dominated.

Asking this question, in this manner, inadvertently highlights one of the obstacles which girls and women still face in spite of the applauded taboo on sexual discrimination. It highlights that many of the potential role models for girls and women today, the women pioneers of computing history, are invisible.

Invisibility does not limit itself to history either. The founder of the Free Software movement, Richard Stallman, has previously failed to identify women that have played important roles in the GCC project.

This feminine invisibility (including the “honorary guy” culture) is hurting our budding female software developers. It is robbing them of their inspiration, and creating an atmosphere in which they feel even more like an anomaly than they deserve to.

Because these women of computing past are invisible, the women of modern computing are often put in the spotlight in an attempt to fill the motivational void. Women in software development do not become ‘just a software developer’ like the male super-majority do, they become software developers who must carry the extra burden that being a role model brings, simply because they are so rare.

This spotlight is not always a flattering one. It can draw additional attention, and opens women up to a level of scrutiny that men are generally not subject to.

Being in this spotlight is akin to walking into a saloon in the old west and having every eye turn to watch you. It is like having someone watch over your shoulder as you type. In some cases, especially for women of low self-esteem, it can be as intimidating as having someone follow you into the bathroom to watch you pee. It is an extra pressure, it is an extra stress, and for some women, it is too much.

Women in software development can choose to avoid the spotlight, and many do. Women can avoid the spotlight by assuming a neutral or male identity. Women can avoid the spotlight by telecommuting or avoiding face-to-face events such as LUG meetings where their femininity will be obvious.

Women can avoid the spotlight, by not being women.

Women can choose to be a women and a role model to the girls and women who will follow in their footsteps — at the risk of extra pressures. Alternatively, they can choose to lose part of their identity and the ability to claim credit for what they achieve.

For women, it is not as simple as choosing to develop software, or deciding to be interested in software development. Women must also choose how they will be represented.

Or, they can just not bother.

Where are all the men bloggers?

When I look around my Google Reader feeds, I see so many insightful, intelligent political and technical blogs by women, but hardly any by men.

For instance, I read Shakesville every day for US and international politics, The F-Word covers the UK, while for what’s going on in Australia I turn to Hoyden About Town or Senator Kate Lundy who blogs politics and tech.

Other tech blogs I follow: Shelley Powers’ Burning Bird, K. T. Bradford’s netbook and gadget reviews, and Amy’s Ramblings on open source software and social tech. And of course one of the best women blogging about technology is Kathy Sierra… oh, wait.

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?

I guess, if I really think about it, it’s possible that I just don’t notice them.

Confused? Context, more context.

EDIT: The comment thread on this post is now closed. Please check out the followup post which contains an explanation of what’s going on here, and a chance to discuss further.