Tag Archives: othering

Guestblog: user avatars and the unmarked state

This is an anonymous guestblog entry by a cultural critic, fullstack developer, and kdrama enthusiast living in North America. Geek Feminism has mildly edited and retitled it.

“what I want (well, one of many things)”

Recently I saw a news bit about an upcoming convention for, I think it was, women game-writers. There was, of course, the inevitable bit about how women don’t need their own gaming convention, and leaving out the menz, and the usual.[...]

I’m all for safe space, but now I want one in my industry. Someplace where I could post this, and know I’m talking to people who won’t act like I’m seeing things, or practically pat me on the head with the patronizing, or tell me it’s not a big deal (or that it doesn’t bother them so naturally it shouldn’t bother me) and I should get over it, or whatever. But since I can’t find that locally, it’s all y’all instead who get to share my pain. I mean, this shit really is insidious.

user-business-boss.png, user-business.png, user-female.png, user.png

user-business-boss.png, user-business.png, user-female.png, user.png

Note the icon titles. GEE, THANKS FOR CLEARING THAT UP FOR ME.

When who you are is off-topic

During Open Source Bridge last month, I went to a talk by Brandon Harris about the Wikipedia community. The focus of the talk was going to be on reasons why the number of people contributing to Wikipedia is declining. During the talk, I was reminded of why I don’t participate in Wikipedia anymore.

There’s a Geek Feminism Wiki page about what happened when I was nominated to be a Wikipedia admin in 2006. Until now, I haven’t mentioned in public that Catamorphism is me (though it’s easy enough to guess, since I still use that username on some other sites, and it’s also part of my primary email address).

In short, though, I’d been contributing frequently to Wikipedia a little less than a year at the time. Someone noticed my work and nominated me to be an administrator on the site. Admins have the power to use rollback (reverting an unhelpful edit with one click), as well as a few other rights and responsibilities. As is the usual process, a page — called an RfA (request for adminship) — was put up where people could either vote for, or against, me being an admin.

For a while, I was receiving almost all “Yes” votes. Then, somebody who apparently had an axe to grind made the claim, as part of their “No” vote, that I “made every discussion about [my] gender”. This person never substantiated their claim. As far as I can gather, it was based on the fact that during one talk page discussion, I asked somebody to use the pronouns I preferred at the time (they/them/their) when referring to me. After that point, I started receiving primarily “No” votes, and those people who gave reasons for their votes mainly said that they thought I would be a bad administrator because I would continue to make every discussion about my gender.

One of the primary values of Wikipedia is supposed to be substantiating every factual claim with a citation to a reliable source. None of the “no” voters asked for citations before deciding that the original claim — that I derailed every discussion to make it about my gender — was correct. They just believed the person who originally made the claim. I can only gather from this the “citation needed” label gets applied selectively on Wikipedia, and that unsourced claims that jibe with the existing beliefs of editors are less likely to be challenged.

Bizarrely, part of the RfA discussion devolved into various people debating what my “real” gender was. At the time I identified as genderqueer, but they were convinced that I must have some “true” gender that was different from that. Based solely on this picture of me, which I displayed on my Wikipedia user page at the time, some parties were vehemently convinced that I must “really” be male, while others were just as convinced that I must “really” be female. The picture was taken when I was 24 years old, before I started supplementing exogenous testosterone. I found it amusing that some people were absolutely convinced that they were looking at a man, when the only thing that made me a man at the time was invisible (and in fact, that’s still true, since the only thing that makes any of us the sexes we are is invisible — inside our heads). It illustrates the constructed nature of the sex binary. But I digress.

The RfA took an even weirder turn when the person who’d originally nominated me — a man using the handle of “Erik the Rude”, changed his vote from “yes” to “no” and announced he’d only nominated me to humiliate me, because he hated “bulldykes”. What follows was one of the only occasions when I’ve experienced serious harassment online because of my gender. A user of the hate site called Encyclopedia Dramatica (now rebranded as the warmer, friendlier site “Oh, Internet”) created an article about me that was solely based on the transphobic comments I received during my RfA. Because its title was my username — Catamorphism — and because Encyclopedia Dramatica had high page-rank at the time, the attack page was one of the first hits when someone searched for my username. “Catamorphism” is a technical term used in my field, so chances were good that potential colleagues or employers — just looking for information on a technical term used in the narrow professional field I work in — they would find a page with a picture of me and someone calling me a “bulldyke”. There’s nothing wrong with being a bulldyke, but it’s not a term that describes or ever has described me; if people are going to hate me, I’d prefer they hate me for who I am rather than what I’m not.

In the end, the “no” votes outweighed the “yes” votes — and again, I emphasize that the only real concern raised by the “no” voters was the unsubstantiated claim that I derailed unrelated discussions to talk about my gender — and I was denied adminship. I decided I didn’t particularly want to expend effort to contribute to a site that would have welcomed me as an admin if I was a binary-gendered person. I didn’t want to work with people who called it “disruption” to request that others use my preferred pronouns to refer to me, but didn’t consider it rude to misgender somebody. So I stopped editing.

Although I created a new account eventually and I still edit once in a while, I avoid editing that is potentially factually contentious. I just don’t have the energy to argue with aggressive people anymore. What’s more, I don’t have the energy to explain, over and over, that cissexual and heterosexual people’s points of view are not automatically more neutral and objective than the points of view of trans and queer people. I used to believe in the concept of “NPOV” (neutral point of view) that is one of the governing principles of Wikipedia, but I don’t anymore. The old saying is that history is written by the winners. Likewise, in practice, a neutral point of view seems to mean the particular point of view of whatever political groups have the biggest cognitive and emotional weapons. As a concrete example, I repeatedly ran into resistance and even ridicule when editing articles about trans people that used the phrasing “was born female” or “was born male”, to use the phrasing “was assigned female at birth” or “was assigned male at birth” instead. While the latter phrasing makes fewer assumptions, editors insisted that it was “POV” to say that people are assigned a sex at birth, but “neutral” to say that someone who may never have affirmed himself as female was born female. I can’t conceive of “NPOV” as being anything but a tool of domination anymore. Rather than striving for neutrality (which doesn’t exist), I would rather strive to mark opinions as opinions and provide citations for facts. I think it’s easier to distort the truth in an atmosphere of false neutrality than it is to do the same in an environment where it’s the norm to acknowledge your biases and the social position from which you speak.

Because of my experience, I found it hard to listen to the Q&A section of the talk, because what seemed missing to me was an acknowledgment of the fundamental brokenness that resulted in a group of cis people deciding to exclude me from volunteering in a certain role solely because I asserted myself as genderqueer. On the whole, though, I appreciated the non-technical talks I went to at Open Source Bridge because the presence of those talks made the conference feel like a place where nothing was off-topic.

When I first started reading Usenet newsgroups in 1995, one thing that was drilled into me by all the documentation I read was that you had to be on-topic. If you posted an off-topic post, you were wasting hundreds or thousands’ of people’s time, which was the worst thing you could do. Over time, I’ve come to enjoy online fora better when they’re community-based rather than topic-based. In 2006, though, being rejected as an admin felt like such a slap in the face largely because of the shame of being off-topic. Though it was baseless, I was being accused of bringing up something that wasn’t relevant, and of course, as someone who wasn’t unambiguously recognized as a white cis man, I wasn’t allowed to decide what was relevant; other people got that privilege.

I guess that’s why it was so gut-wrenching for me to be voted down. Later on, I experienced retaliation for reporting harassment that forced me to leave the graduate program I was in, and at the job I went to next, was threatened because I spoke out in favor of having a code of conduct that reflected awareness of power dynamics. Despite not putting my education or job in jeopardy, the Wikipedia incident was more painful for me than my experiences at either Portland State or Mozilla, because of the shame of being off-topic, and perhaps also because of the misunderstandings that lay at the heart of the RfA discussion. I was never heard in the Wikipedia discussion, and any attempts to make myself heard just elicited more refusal to listen.

I no longer seek out places where I’m required to stay on-topic, though, because I want to be my entire self wherever I am, as much as I can. Staying on-topic feels like having to leave part of myself at the door — whatever parts of myself the group I’m in doesn’t like very much. As Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” I appreciated Open Source Bridge because it felt like a broader acknowledgment that even programmers don’t live single-issue lives. At the conference, I went to talks on impostor syndrome, empathy, labor ethics, depression, and other topics that weren’t just about how to do thing X with software package Y. It made me feel like caring about the human side of computing didn’t make me a less qualified software professional, and like all of a sudden, it was the norm to have and acknowledge feelings rather than something that made me marginal. There were other little things about the conference that made me feel like I was the norm for once, too, like the all-vegetarian and mostly-vegan food at breakfast and lunch, and the “Intersectional Feminism Fuck Yeah!” stickers on the swag table. Going to the conference brought back a little bit of what my experience with Wikipedia erased: belief that there is a place for me in open-source culture and that what I have to contribute will be better because of — not worse because of — the ways in which I’ve experienced marginalization.

Feynman called a woman “worse than a whore” for not exchanging sex for sandwiches.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, chapter You Just Ask Them?, Richard Feynman frequented a bar and desired to have sexual intercourse with the women there. He discovered that the women in the bar did not provide sexual favors in exchange for monetary compensation in the form of drinks. Although he gained a reputation for spending money on drinks for women, he was frustrated at the fact that the women did not consider alcoholic drinks to be payment for sexual services.

Feynman felt he was being cheated, and complained to his two friends from the bar: a female nightclub entertainer and her husband, the master of ceremonies. The master offered Feynman lessons on how to ensure that a woman he meets in a bar has sexual intercourse with him:

“OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go.

“Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything -- not even a package of cigarettes — until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.”

“Uh… you mean… you don’t… uh… you just ask them?”

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G33k & G4M3R Girls: You’re doing it wrong.

Metaneira is a 30 year old female currently in school for a master’s in public administration focusing on the non-profit sector. Meta has been gaming since she could hold a joystick, and has been blogging in one form or another since 1999. She currently co-hosts a site about mages and feminist issues in World of Warcraft at www.empoweredfire.com.

This post originally appeared at Empowered Fire.

By now you may have seen the video “G33k & G4M3R Girls,” a parody of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” written by a few women involved with geek culture. (If you haven’t, you can see it here: while safe for work, the video features women very scantily clad and has an aggressively cloying auto-tuned soundtrack. Watch at your own risk.) The four women — Milynn Sarley, Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, and Michele Boyd — form “Team Unicorn” and were interviewed by the Official Star Wars Blog about the video. The author of the article says the ladies answer as one unit “cause that’s how they roll.” Fine: “Team Unicorn” it is. Team Unicorn: you’re doing it wrong.

Now, let me get a few things straight: I’m a geek. I’m a gamer. And I’m a woman. But none of those things are me: they are just parts of the whole. Having my entire personality boiled down to a list of nerdy references I get or things I enjoy doing is kind of absurd, but this is what the video promotes. From the very start, Seth Green asks, “Hello friends… don’t you want to meet a nice girl?” The video is not aimed at the women it is purporting to celebrate: it is straight-up pandering to the largely sexist, male-centric geek subculture. It is geek women served up for the male gaze on a shiny latex platter. This is not empowering.

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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.)