Tag Archives: sexism

Let’s do the linkspam again (25 July 2014)

  • Why Captain America Should Stay Black Forever | E.Knight at Boxing With God (July 19): “Comic book fans born today should grow up knowing this is Captain America. There should be no doubt.  The idea that a black man could represent the ultimate patriot is only ironic if our society continues to insist that White is America’s default race.”
  • New Thor Will be a Woman! Five Other Heroines Who Have Taken Up a Man’s Title | Mey at Autostraddle (July 22): “Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feminizing a name, there is a lot of clout that comes with the name Thor. By not adding “She-,” “Lady” or “Ms.” to the name, they are saying that this character isn’t a sidekick or partner to Thor, they’re saying that she isn’t “inspired by” Thor, they’re saying she simply is Thor. [...] While Thor is the most high-profile example of this, it’s not the first. Here are some of my favorite examples of this happening before.”
  • How Big of a Problem is Harassment at Comic Conventions? Very Big. | Janelle Asselin at bitchmedia (July 22)[warning for discussion of harassment] “It’s not difficult to see why conventions can be rife with harassment. People in my survey report being harassed by fans, journalists, publishing employees, and comics creators, so there are issues at every level of the industry. Conventions involve cramming a lot of people into one space where ideally everyone gets to move around. This means there are a lot of brush-by maneuvers, awkward running into people, and a lot of general closeness. [...] This is the first time ever that SDCC has made a specific anti-harassment policy so prominent and offered a clear course of action for fans who are harassed.”
  • Killing the Messenger at Mozilla | Tim Chevalier at Model View Culture (July 21) (disclosure: Tim Chevalier contributes to geekfeminism.org): “In 2012, it was nearly taboo at Mozilla to question the individualist narrative: the story that says that Eich, like any other employee, could spend his paycheck in whatever manner he chose. In 2014, Mozillans had no choice but to engage with a more structural narrative: that it’s impossible to lead a diverse organization when you have openly and obdurately expressed animus towards members of a protected class. [...] If we take [the Mozilla leaders] at face value, they did not understand why anyone would think that queer people’s rights were relevant to an open-source software project — surely they must have been aware that LGBTQ people worked for them.”
  • WisCon…This is How You Fail | The Angry Black Woman (July 20): “Race, gender, and class have all been issues at various points for me at WisCon. Most incidents fall into microaggression territory, and as a personal philosophy I tend not to let those dissuade me from things I want to do. That is an eminently personal choice, and should not be construed as telling anyone else what to do or how to feel. If my friends stop going, then so will I.”
  • The Pay-for-Performance Myth | Eric Chemi and Ariana Giorgi at Bllomberg Business Week (July 22): “An analysis of compensation data publicly released by Equilar shows little correlation between CEO pay and company performance. Equilar ranked the salaries of 200 highly paid CEOs. When compared to metrics such as revenue, profitability, and stock return, the scattering of data looks pretty random, as though performance doesn’t matter. The comparison makes it look as if there is zero relationship between pay and performance.”
  • Coder livetweets sexist remarks allegedly made by IBM executives | Aja Romano at The Daily Dot (July 22): “Note to IBM executives: If you’re going to openly discuss why you think young women make bad hires in the tech industry, you might want to make sure you’re not having lunch next to a young mom who’s also a coder. [...] According to [Lyndsay] Kirkham, the executives listed off a number of women who are currently employed at IBM, all of whom apparently have kids, and listed the amount of time the women were expected to take off in the next few years for anticipated pregnancies.”
  • #iamdoingprogramming made me feel more alienated from the tech community | Christina Truong at Medium (July 21): “In the eight years that I’ve been in the tech industry, I’ve worked with one Black person that was in a tech role and a handful in non-tech roles (project managers) and that’s a damn shame. [...] Diversity doesn’t mean pushing those that are already there out of the group. It simply means making space for different kinds of people, different opinions and opening up the culture instead of spotlighting and finding the same kind of person over and over again. It’s about showing people that there are different ways to be successful in this industry. It’s about telling everyone’s story.”
  • Numbers are not enough: Why I will only attend conferences with explicitly enforceable Codes of Conduct and a commitment to accessibility | Jennie Rose Halperin (July 22): “I recently had a bad experience at a programming workshop where I was the only woman in attendance and eventually had to leave early out of concern for my safety. [...] What happened could have been prevented: each participant signed a “Code of Conduct” that was buried in the payment for the workshop, but there was no method of enforcement and nowhere to turn when issues arose.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Please mind the linkspam (25 June 2014)

  • Applications for MotherCoders Fall 2014 Opens! | Tina Lee at mothercoders (June 20): “We are committed to creating a more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy by on-ramping moms to careers in technology. Those who are interested in being considered for our Fall 2014 session must complete this survey by midnight on Sunday, July 13, 2014.”
  • ‘Cards Against Humanity’ Co-Creator Publicly Apologizes for Transphobic Card | Jessica Roy at Fusion (June 18): “”We were writing jokes for ourselves and we weren’t really thinking about how it would affect other people,” Temkin [a creator of the game] said. “But when you have something that starts to be part of pop culture, you can’t help but see how it makes people feel and feel some sense of responsibility for that.” [...] “We talk about the idea of ‘punching up, not punching down’ all the time,” Temkin said. “It’s something that we stand behind: making fun of those power structures, because they’re already powerful.””
  • Unicode Unveils 250 New Emoji, Gets Thumbs Down For Diversity | Eric Brown at International Business Times (June 17): “In the end, the problem rests on the shoulders of both Unicode and third parties. Third parties have the option of illustrating emoji however they wish, but universally stick to white as a default. Unicode, meanwhile, has the option of introducing more characters that would push Apple and Twitter to move beyond its majority-white character base. At this point, both need to take responsibility and introduce more inclusive emoji.”
  • Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of the super fibre Kevlar, dies at 90 | The Guardian (June 21): “Stephanie Kwolek, the American chemist who invented the super-strong fibre Kevlar used in bullet-proof vests, has died at age 90.”
  • Editor’s blog: I am sexist | Tom Bramwell at Eurogamer (Jun 19)[warning for discussion of violence against women] “It’s really hard to talk about sexism (in games or otherwise) when a large proportion of your audience hasn’t realised it is sexist, whether subtly or profoundly. [...] I don’t think they come from a place of actual misogyny. I think they are just a byproduct of the kind of casual ignorance I have personally embodied for pretty much all of my sexist life. [...]  I am writing this because I hope that if I stand up and admit that I am sexist, have always been sexist and will probably always have to rebel against this bit of programming in my head whenever it is triggered, one or two people will realise that they can relate to what I’m saying, and that will give them a bit of courage to try to do something about it as well.”
  • Should You Have a Baby in Graduate School? | sarah Kendzior at Vitae (June 16): “Pregnant graduate students pose a problem to an academic culture that values “fit” above all else. While pregnancy may feel to the pregnant like bodily subservience, it is often viewed in academia as an unwelcome declaration of autonomy.”
  • Lake Scene | Manfeels Park (June 18): [comic]
  • What the Internet’s Most Infamous Trolls Tell Us About Online Feminism | Fruzsina Eördögh at Motherbaord (June 20): “The 4chan ruse ended last Friday [...] but not before a silver lining had revealed itself: Feminists of color had very publicly become such an integral part of the feminist movement that trolls thought they were the vehicle to end all feminism online.”
  • Inside the Mirrortocracy | Carlos Bueno (June 2014): “We’ve created a make-believe cult of objective meritocracy, a pseudo-scientific mythos to obscure and reinforce the belief that only people who look and talk like us are worth noticing. After making such a show of burning down the bad old rules of business, the new ones we’ve created seem pretty similar.”
  • Major Ed-Tech Event Overhauls Code of Conduct After Troubling Accusations | Benjamin Herold at Education Week (June 19)[warning for discussion of harassment and rape] “The policy changes made by the International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, focus on explicitly outlining unacceptable and harassing behaviors, clearly delineating protocols for addressing such behaviors when they occur, and identifying specific consequences for violations. Such guidelines have been adopted in recent years by other conferences and events in the broader U.S. technology sector, where problems of sexism and sexual harassment have been widely reported and documented.” This article takes a perhaps sceptical tone at times, but is interesting as an examination of a particular field in the technology industry.

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Note: this linkspam title has been changed; we apologize for having missed the racist history of the song we used for the week’s punny title.

The Curious Incident of the Linkspam in the Night-time (18 June 2014)

Story telling in games, movies, and books:

Spam!

  • San Francisco’s (In)Visible Class War | danah boyd at Medium (May 13): “San Francisco is in the middle of a class war. It’s not the first or last city to have heart-wrenching inequality tear at its fabric, challenge its values, test its support structures. But what’s jaw-dropping to me is how openly, defensively, and critically technology folks demean those who are struggling. The tech industry has a sickening obsession with meritocracy. Far too many geeks and entrepreneurs worship at the altar of zeros and ones, believing that outputs can be boiled down to a simple equation based on inputs.”
  • The growing gap between millennial men and women’s wages | Suzanne McGee at The Guardian (June 12): “The bank didn’t set out to study the gender pay gap or anything specific: they just wanted to figure out how to better pitch their products and services to millennials, who are a big and potentially profitable new market. En route to that goal, surveying more than 1,600 millennials, Wells Fargo stumbled over some data that no one expected – least of all Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement at the bank.”
  • Managing Silicon Spoons | Anonymous Author (June 9): “If your employee chooses to reveal to you that they live with a chronic condition or have a disability, the only thing you should ask is what reasonable accommodation they would like to receive to do their job.”
  • Why We had a Code of Conduct  | Brad Colbow at Medium (June 11): “How [we] usually work is we group up, discuss the problem, and usually come to a consensus before taking action. The day of the conference there isn’t time to do that. Having the policy in place was one less thing we had to worry about. It was just good planning.”
  • [Warning for discussion of sexual assault and trauma] Notallmen/Yesallwomen, secondary trauma and relearning everything for the sake of not killing each other | Sarah at All the things, all mixed up (May 29): “If you are a man who is becoming upset/depressed/overwhelmed/hopeless/defensive when you listen to the women in the world/your life talk about their experiences, you need to talk about it.  With another man.”
  • We Can Finally Talk About Sexism in Tech – So Let’s Be Honest | Divya Manian at Time (May 31): “it finally seems to me as if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. For the longest time, discrimination-racial or otherwise – was something we didn’t acknowledge at all.”
  • LG_T | Isaac Z. Schlueter at blog.izs.me (June 11):”My home is technology.  This is My Culture, rotten though it can be at times. As a privileged and visible person in it, I feel obligated to try to make it a little better in the ways I can.  That’s why I’ve decided to publicly tell this story, so that my presence can add weight to the claim that bisexual men exist.”

Calls for Participation:

  • Diverse Inclusive Open Source Workshop 2014 | Ohio LinuxFest 2014: “If you want Free and Open Source Software communities to become more diverse and inclusive, and want to meet others who are working toward the same goal, then come to the Diverse Inclusive Open Source workshop! The workshop is accepting submissions for short talks, artwork, videos, and more. The deadline for proposals is July 26, 2014.”
  • “Women are too hard to animate” jam | NoorStudios at itch.io (June 12): “Women are too hard to animate, or so they (Ubisoft) say. So anyone up for the challenge? Any game with female lead qualifies, even a game you made before.” Submissions due by 30 June.

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Safety requires avoiding unnecessary linkspam (10 June 2014)

  • Psychologists find that entitlement predicts sexism, in both men and women | Case Western University (June 4): “The researchers found that, for men, entitlement was associated with hostile views of women. Entitled men were more likely to endorse views of women as manipulative, deceptive, and untrustworthy—attitudes, which past research has shown are predictors of violence toward women.” (Original study is paywalled: Grubbs, Exline and Twenge, 2014. Psychological entitlement and ambivalent sexism: understanding the role of entitlement in predicting two forms of sexism, Sex Roles, 70(5-6):209-220, doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0360-1)
  • The Fanciest Genderqueer You’ll Ever Meet | H. Kapp-Klote at The Toast (June 5): “This is part of a narrative of queerness as linked exclusively to oppression. The popular narrative of both sexual and gender nonconformity is based on norms of rigid, compulsive sacrifice: ‘born this way,’ ‘I can’t change,’ or ‘trapped in the closet.’ Even as we celebrate gender and sexual diversity, we demand proof that deviation is compulsive, uncontrollable, and that one has suffered innumerable tribulations as consequence.”
  • Changing the Face of Women in Anime: The Importance of Ugliness | Morgana Santilli at The Mary Sue (June 6): “I am grateful for the beautiful women in media who are strong and smart and complex but I am also grateful for female characters who don’t need beauty to have strength and smarts and complexity. There are many things more important than beauty, and Senritsu is one example of paving the way toward real diversity in the representation of women in media.”
  • On Self Care and Why I Limit the Time I Spend With Dominant Culture Groups | Kronda Adair at Life as I Know It (June 6): “I really don’t care if the other person ends up liking me, joining my cause, or if their feelings are hurt because they said something they shouldn’t have and got called out. I have zero room in my person circle for white people who think ‘reverse racism’ is a thing, for men who think ‘reverse sexism’ is a thing or anyone else who hasn’t gotten past the 101 level in issues of power and privilege. It’s too exhausting and harmful to my well being.”
  • On Fighting for Marginalized People in Tech | Julie Pagano (June 8): “Let’s get this out of the way first. There is no ONE TRUE WAY to fight for marginalized people in tech. This isn’t a religion. Nobody is in charge. There are no gods or prophets providing us with a golden path that will surely lead us all to a safe and better future for diversity in tech.”
  • Ice Ice Baby: Are Librarian Stereotypes Freezing Us out of Instruction? | Nicole Pagowsky and Erica DeFrain at In the Library with the Lead Pipe (June 3): The role of service provider being of a lower status ties in to the feminized profession of librarianship: “Why do librarians struggle so much with instruction?… In this article, we look at theories of impression formation, the historical feminization of librarianship, and suggestions for next steps that we should take in order to take charge of our image and our instruction.”
  • Yes, All Geek Men | Shawn Taylor at thenerdsofcolor (June 5): “It is about time that we geek/nerd men step up to and embody the promise SF presents to us. It is about time we stop only reading about fighting crime or defending others and start doing so.”
  • A History of Women in Animation: Mothers of a Medium | Carrie Tupper at The Mary Sue (June 4): “The lack of notable female animation professionals within history only reinforces this assumption that it is ‘boys club’ industry. As a result, the names of women who have moved the industry forward have faded. This is my attempt to bring them back into the spotlight.”
  • 10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn | Soraya Chemaly at Role Reboot (May 5): “Men interrupt women, speak over them, and discount their contributions to a discussion with surprising regularity. Here’s how women should respond.”
  • Loud Bossy Feminists | Amy Stephen (May 23): “I can see, now, that I suffered badly from the ‘Fuck you, I got mine.’ attitude, so I’m leaving it here today. It should be easier for women and other underrepresented populations in our field. There should be more of us in leadership positions in our open source projects. It should not be unusual to see a woman as a developer on a big community based open source projects. And trust me when I tell you, being patient and nice doesn’t work.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Cold the Wind doth Blow (or The Unquiet Linkspam) (6 June 2014)

Announcements etc:

  • Peep Game Comix: “Attention All African American comic book creators and publishers, we are looking for original titles to add to Peep Game Comix. We are looking for current projects and even back catalogs of books.”

Several submissions on the “hurricanes with female names” thing:

  • The study is Jung, Shavitt, Viswanathana & Hilbed. 2014. Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes. PNAS http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1402786111.
  • Hurricanes with women’s names more deadly: study | Joan Cary at Chicago Tribune (June 2): “According to a recent study by University of Illinois researchers, hurricanes with women’s names are likely to cause significantly more deaths than those with masculine names — not because the feminine-named storms are stronger, but because they are perceived as less threatening and so people are less prepared.”
  • Why Have Female Hurricanes Killed More People Than Male Ones? | Ed Yong at National Geographic (June 2): “Jung team thinks that the effect he found is due to unfortunate stereotypes that link men with strength and aggression, and women with warmth and passivity… But Jeff Lazo from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research disagrees. He’s a social scientist and economist who has looked into the public communication of hurricane risk, and he thinks the pattern is most likely a statistical fluke, which arose because of the ways in which the team analysed their data.” (Study authors respond at comment #7.)
  • Do Female-Named Hurricanes Need To Lean In? | Beth Novey at NPR (June 3): “We’re also worried about what this trend means for the career advancement of female storms. We’ve seen this before. We know where this is going. So to get ahead of the curve, we’d like to offer some advice to all the girls out there hoping to become fearsome natural disasters when they grow up.”

Everything else!

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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.

Should Geek Girl Dinners be “Girly”?

This is a guest post by Hannah Little. Hannah is a PhD student in the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Before moving full-time into academia, Hannah spent some time working in the UK in science communication for government initiatives aimed at getting more children interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). She also has an academic interest in online engagement and the causes of gender inequality in STEM subjects. You can follow her on twitter: @hanachronism, or read more about her here.

First thing’s first, I don’t want anyone to think I’m writing this post as an attack. I realise a lot of articles about the topic of feminism are aimed at feminists who are “doing it wrong”, and I know that our effort and time is better spent targeting those not already convinced of our cause. Having said that, I thought the following worth writing as a cautionary tale for those organising events for women in technology, or as a way of instigating discussion of what events should and shouldn’t include.

Those who read this blog are probably already aware of “Geek Girl Dinner” (GGD) events, but for those who aren’t, these are events aimed at women who work in “geeky” professions to meet and socialise over dinner or drinks. They give women in male-dominated fields an outlet for socialising with women in similar fields and situations, without feeling the pressures of a male-dominated environment. To quote the Geek Girl Dinner “about us” section directly:

The Girl Geek Dinners were founded on the 16th August 2005 as a result of one girl geek who got frustrated about being one of the only females attending technical events and being asked to justify why she was there by her male counterparts. She decided that she wanted this to change and to be treated just the same as any other geek out there, gender and age aside. After all to be geeky is to be intelligent, have passion for a subject and to know that subject in depth. It’s not at all about being better than others, or about gender, race, religion or anything else. Those things just detract from the real fun stuff, the technology, the innovation and the spread of new ideas.

Geek Girl Dinners have taken off in a spectacular way, and now have a presence in 53 cities across the world, including the city where I live, Brussels. Geek Girl Dinners in Brussels (BGGD), and across Belgium, are usually fantastic, always free and, of the ones I have attended, have created a really welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. The most recent one however, was an event sponsored by Samsung with a focus on the new Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. This event, which was first advertised on 11th October here, comes with the title “The Perfect Selfie” and features a hair and beauty session. My original comment in response to this event can be read below:

Am I the only one who finds this massively patronising?

Geek girl dinners are great, they give women in male-dominated fields an outlet for socialising with women in similar fields and situations, without feeling the pressures of a male-dominated environment, at best the constant feeling of having to prove your worth, at worst outright sexism. I love geek girl dinners.

However, inviting women to a female-only event at a tech company where the main focus is on a hair and beauty session and taking “selfies” of oneself is incredibly patronising. It comes with the implicit assumption that the only reason women (and women who work in technology themselves) would be interested in the Galaxy S4 Zoom would be to take photos of ourselves making ducky faces in the mirror.

Not only is this creating citable anecdata that the only way to attract women to be interested in tech is by making it all about hair and makeup, but it also excludes those women (and they do exist) who aren’t interested in having their hair done, they want to check out the tech, and aren’t they the people Geek Girls is trying to reach in the first place? This is just reinforcing archaic ideas of what women/girls want and is not putting us in the best position to be taken seriously in an industry where women are already often ridiculed.

I’m reminded once again of the European Commission’s disastrous “Science, It’s a girl thing” video, which caused the world’s scientific community to give a collective face-palm.

I usually love Geek Girl Dinner events, but I won’t be attending this one.

You can see my concerns directly relate to the kind of problems that Girl Geek Dinners were trying to address in the first place, namely that women in science and tech want to be treated just the same as any other geek, and not in a manner specified by their gender. The thing that all attendees of Geek Girl Dinners have in common specially is their interest in the technology, not their gender.

Since I posted the comment above, the organiser of the event has contacted me both on the original post and privately. It should be noted that the event idea was that of the BGGD organisers and not Samsung. For balance, I publish the organiser’s public response here:

These events are open and free, which means you can choose freely to join one or not. There have been a lot of Brussels Girl Geek Dinners, and there will be much more. Some are female only, others are mixed. Some are girly, others are not.

It’s also open in the sense that the BGGD network itself helps shape the events. So if you can help with e.g. making the upcoming event less patronising, … etc please do so! I don’t think I would have been able to keep these events free and open for over six years without the help and effort of the network itself.

I think where we end up talking past each other here is the place of the socially constructed idea of “girly” in Geek Girl events. Some women enjoy girly things, so is it ok to create an event aimed only at those women? I feel that is excluding exactly the kind of people Geek Girl Dinners was set up for in the first place; those people who want to talk about technology and be treated the same as any other geek regardless of gender. Brussels Geek Girl Dinners even state in their “about” section on their website that “Girl Geek Dinners are events for females who class themselves as girly and geeky”, which I feel directly contradicts the sentiments on the main Geek Girl Dinners page.

I am glad that the organisers show willingness to allow suggestions and collaboration to build events that everyone in the community can enjoy, which brings me on to my next issue. After I posted my first comment, I got a private message from the organiser of BGGD saying that Samsung were wondering if they should go ahead with the event, presumably having noticed its potential to turn into a PR car crash. I obviously didn’t want the outcome of my complaint to be a cancellation of the event, a lot of effort had already gone into its organisation, and these events are important to the women within the GGD communities, and so I suggested that a redesign of the event’s agenda would be a far more productive way for everybody to have the best possible outcome. I looked up the specs on the Galaxy S4 Zoom, and it turns out you can manually override the exposure time on the built in camera, so I suggested to instead do a workshop on light-painting, which the organisers thought was a great idea. I was obviously really happy with this knowing that my ideas had been heard, understood and acted upon.

However, when the final agenda appeared here, light trace photography had indeed been added as an activity, but the hair and beauty session remained. I know this was probably done as a well-meant compromise, but the beauty session’s sustained presence on the agenda has made me feel like my point was still not being heard. Events perpetuating archaic gender-specific ideas of what women want have no place in Girl Geek Dinners. All we want is tech!

Tech confidence vs. tech competence

This is a guest post from Alex, who is a volcanologist in their spare time. When not messing about with rocks in their underground lairlab, they can often be found shouting about trans (especially genderqueer) rights, earlier diagnosis of endometriosis, and books with dragons in.

Content notes: sexism, abuse

My dad was among the first cohorts to graduate in Computer Science at a prestigious university back when the course was introduced. Every single person I’ve been involved with long-term – and some of my major interests along the way – has been a computer scientist. Over the course of my life, I’ve frequently chosen to hang out with programmers; in my early-to-mid teens, I spent a slightly worrying amount of time on Netnews (yes, as distinct from Usenet). I grew up in the Silicon Fen. I half-joke that I was brought up by the Internet; I’ve just graduated with an MSci in physical sciences from a similarly prestigious institution.

And it wasn’t until 2012 that I first wrote code.[1]

Hello, everybody. My name’s kaberett, and I’m a Dreamwidth volunteer.

Code. It’s used in my field: it’s a vital component of modelling. I’ve spent my life surrounded by coders and design architects, by people whose reaction to “nothing exists that does what I want” is “okay, I’ll build one, then”; whose reaction to “I’m bored” is “what can I make?” And still: it was 2012 before I wrote any code.

Sadly, I think there’s a pretty obvious first-order explanation for this: I was assigned female at birth, and socialised accordingly. I spent my childhood being torn down by my computer-programmer father for “not having learned [that] yet,” or for answering questions “too slowly” at dinner, or being told I’d “never get a job if…” or being yelled at about how valuable his time-that-I-was-wasting was.

Does this mean I think all programmers are like him? No. Did it mean I was too scared to use the (theoretically) best resource available for me to learn from? Yep! And it landed me with a whole bunch of other issues. Asking for help with maths was right out – and so, really, was asking for help with anything. I’d acquired the conviction that I’d be belittled and torn to shreds, and that any information I did get would have more to do with building up my “instructor”‘s ego than my own knowledge base.

That experience is what I’m bringing to the table here. That, and a whole lot of reading, about the issues with diversity in FLOSS culture – and some more first-hand experience, this time with a place that is, by all accounts, doing it right.

And here’s what I suggest: in terms of getting high-quality code written by a diverse community, line-for-line my gut says that tech confidence is much more important than (perceived) tech competence.

Let’s pause a moment, while I define my terms. I use (perceived) tech competence to mean, broadly, the (perceived) ability to identify and fix a problem (without use of external resources). I use tech confidence to signify the belief that this is something that one can do – or learn to do, if one doesn’t know how to yet: it’s about trusting yourself to be able to figure it out, and trusting your community to help you rather than deride you if you ask questions.[2]

And that, right there, is where we stumble straight back into the issue of the meritocracy: the idea that a competitive environment – in terms of number of lines of code written, or features rolled out, or bugs squashed – is more important than one that values every contribution and every contributor.

Meritocracies are inherently broken, and competitiveness – while sometimes healthy – also erects an enormous barrier to beginning volunteers and coders. An ivory-towered culture of enthroned experts – one that enforces the idea that you must have a high level of technical knowledge to be worth talking or listening to – makes many people afraid to ask questions. This in turn makes learning slower and knowledge transmission harder, and leaves the group more likely to land in a situation where the only person who understands how to do what Sam does is, well, Sam. And that’s a problem – when Sam becomes ill, or they take a holiday, or they decide they don’t want to be involved any more, or sometimes they die. This is something that’s seen over and over again in, for example, the field of graptolite studies.


Let’s take a diversion, actually. Graptolites are an enormously important extinct species, most a couple of inches long at the outside, and they more-or-less resemble saws. Their diversity and steady morphological evolution – and the fact that they were found in all oceans on the planet – makes them superb for establishing relative ages of sedimentary rocks in the geological record. Problem is, there’s hundreds of species of the little sods, differing in such minutiae as how many thecae (saw teeth) they have per centimetre, the percentage overlap between thecae, the extent of curvature… which is all fascinating, except for the fact that the most recent illustrated catalogue of known species? Was published, as a serial, in 1901. (Want to know about some awesome scientists, incidentally? Look up Gertrude Lillian Elles and Ethel Mary Reader, née Wood.)

Do you know how many species have been reclassified since 1901?

Answer: a lot.

And so your best bet for identifying a particular graptolite is, if you’ve got one, to hunt down your local expert and get /them/ to do it for you.

And then, in the way of all flesh, they die – and you find yourself waiting for the next generation of experts to develop their eyes, because none of them write any of this down.


One of the things I’m spending a lot of my volunteer time on at the moment is encouraging Dreamwidth’s new volunteers (affectionately referred to as “babydevs”). This means, in practice, that I’m spending a lot of time writing documentation: how to do things that Everyone Knows, so that there isn’t the entry barrier of perceived “wasting senior devs’ time with trivialities”; so that we get consistency of explanation; so that we are more welcoming.


As I’ve said, pretty much my entire experience of volunteer work in the FLOSS world is at Dreamwidth, where I’ve been encouraged, throughout, to get started, to ask questions, and to seek help. Dreamwidth values my broader contributions to the project just as much as it values any code: I’m valued as much for tagging our incoming suggestions for features, adding to our volunteer wiki, putting together lists of easy-to-tackle bugs (“babydev bait”), and for end-user support, as I am for what coding I do. And that’s important: I got embedded in the volunteer culture well before I started trying to learn new skills, and the encouragement and support I got for that made me believe that I’d have the same level of encouragement and support if I attempted to branch out. It’s not just me this helps, or people who are new to coding: we also make space for people who already can code, but haven’t yet found time to contribute to any project due to other obligations. We’re always working on making public records of this: for example, our wiki entry on Things Real Dreamwidth Programmers Do is a relatively recent invention.

And all of this is crucial, not just to my own personal growth (which – obviously – I’m very grateful for!), but to Dreamwidth’s success as a FLOSS project. It is not focussing, first and foremost, on tech competence: instead, we work towards fostering tech confidence, through creating a culture where babydevs know that senior devs have their backs; a culture where people feel able to ask questions of the broader community, in public as well as in private; a culture where people learn how to test and debug and Not Give Up; a culture where our co-founders own their mistakes, and do so publicly, so that nobody has to feel alone. When people get discouraged, we give them pep talks. We remind people that it’s okay to learn visibly, instead of having to pretend to be entirely competent all of the time. Everyone can learn from the mistake that anyone makes – and mistakes are caught soon after they happen, so consequences can be minimised.

This is in stark contrast to communities where tech competence is valued above all else: where people feel they have to hide their mistakes. In such settings we routinely observe low volunteering rates from people in marginalised groups, with low retention from beginning volunteers, because people are too scared to ask for help or too scared to admit that they don’t know how things work. This isn’t unique to FLOSS cultures, of course – I’ve just finished a degree at a university regularly ranked in the top 5 globally, and I am appalled by the way in which this institution pushes people towards poorer understanding through militating against asking “basic” questions. It’s a habit that leads to misunderstanding, and misunderstandings lead to bugs, and it’s generally an all-round disaster, in which nobody wins.

So: please, if you want to promote diversity in your volunteer base, consider fostering an atmosphere conducive to tech confidence. It makes spaces more pleasant to occupy, and it produces real tech competence. Looking at things this way round? Well, I can’t see any losers.

[1] That’s not quite true – when I was 12 I spent a fair bit of time messing around with basic HTML and CSS to individualise Neopets profiles. But: it wasn’t standards-compliant; I wasn’t learning the languages as a whole, or even really their grammar; and it was a very structured sandboxed environment, where even very basic efforts were encouraged.

[2] Compare and contrast with the Perl virtues of laziness, impatience and hubris – except that “confidence” has the negative connotations of “arrogance”, because we are, in many cases, taught that it is bad and wrong to be able to accurately assess our capabilities and state them clearly – and it is especially wrong to reassess our abilities in the light of new information.

Linkspam now, ask me how (31 May 2013)

  • 6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism: “Here are six female researchers who did groundbreaking work—and whose names are likely unfamiliar for one reason: because they are women.”
  • Star Trek Musings: “Where are the women? The strong women? The women we’d like to see in 200 years? “
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Where Did All The Strong Starfleet Women Go?: “Star Trek has always been about achieving your fullest potential no matter your race, gender, creed, or pointiness of ears. Which is why the utter lack of strong women in Star Trek Into Darkness is a slap in the face to all the outstanding female Star Trek characters we’ve met over the years.”
  • How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’: “But the prejudice will follow you. What will save you is tacking into the love of the work, into the desire that brought you there in the first place. This creates a suspension of time, opens a spacious room of your own in which you can walk around and consider your response. Staring prejudice in the face imposes a cruel discipline: to structure your anger, to achieve a certain dignity, an angry dignity.”
  • The Truth Of Wolves, Or: The Alpha Problem: Contemporary urban fantasies would be more interesting if they based werewolf etc. fantasies on actual diverse animal social structures rather than old myth about alpha wolves.
  • Lost to History No More: “It is now clear that without Dr. Kober’s work, Mr. Ventris could never have deciphered Linear B when he did, if ever. Yet because history is always written by the victors — and the story of Linear B has long been a British masculine triumphal narrative — the contributions of this brilliant American woman have been all but lost to time.”
  • So This Is How It Begins: Guy Refuses to Stop Drone-Spying on Seattle Woman: “New technologies may present new ways of violating people’s privacy, but that doesn’t mean they’re legal.”
  • Code of conduct not enforced at the North American edition of Yet Another Perl Conference.
  • Why isn’t it hate speech if it’s about women? “We don’t often call open misogyny hate speech, but that’s what it is.”
  • California teen invents device that could charge a cell phone in 20 seconds: “Khare showed off her so-called super-capacitor last week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.”
  • Words Matter: “No one’s being hurt, it’s their fault if someone is offended – after all, it’s just words, right? Sadly, that’s grossly underestimating the power of language and interaction.”
  • We Can Do Better: “I want to be apologetic and say “I don’t think most people were being consciously sexist by treating these women as less than equals” but really, I’m growing tired of “I’m sure they didn’t mean to” as an excuse. Many of us have an internalized sexism.”
  • Are you ready for Ada Lovelace Day 2013? “If you belong to a STEM-related group, why not ask the organisers to devote one meeting during the autumn to editing Wikipedia? Or offer to help put on a special Ada Lovelace Day meet-up for your edit-a-thon? If you don’t belong to any official groups, why not gather your friends together at a pub with wifi and help each other research and create new entries, or expand existing stub articles on notable women?”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Standard linkspam procedure (7 May 2013)

  • The 30 Most Important Women Under 30 In Tech: “We were truly blown away by the number of young, successful women in the tech industry. These women hold a variety of roles in the industry: founder, CEO, engineer, venture capitalist — you name it. “
  • The Balance of Power: “The systematic, persistent acceptance of women’s second-class status is history’s greatest shame.”
  • Good for GitHub: “Women-only programs work well for some women, and for that reason, I’m glad they exist. And I’m glad GitHub supports one of them.”
  • Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist: On Game of Thrones “I get the feeling that (some) women, especially younger feminist women, really, really want the things they like to be feminist. Which is a nice thought, of course, but is also ridiculous.”
  • Sexism in Video Games Panel at ETSUcon: “Kat, Jenn, Cameron and I fielded questions on a variety of topics ranging from the infamous Dead Island: Riptide statue to the representation of women in video games to the inclusion of women in video game development studios.”
  • I’m a dude. Can I organize a RailsBridge workshop? “So gentlemen, dudes, guys, and men: please organize a workshop. Please assist a woman who’s already organizing one. Take those logistical things off her plate (if she wants to share them) so that she can be a technical presence at a workshop. (Perhaps you can recruit a woman to present the technical portion of the opening presentation while you cover the other parts.)”
  • Taking Out the Trash: Post-Trilogy Reflections on “Iron Man 3″: “The superhero genre was—once, long ago—fantastically subversive.”
  • Amy Dentata and Black Dahlia Parton talk trangst, porn, and video games: Self-described geek feminism podcast.
  • Your Baloney Detection Kit Sucks: “The most troubling aspect of logical fallacies is their use in suppressing uncomfortable ideas and viewpoints, and this can happen whether they are invoked correctly or not. I’ve seen countless examples of fallacies being called upon to dismiss other people’s opinions and ride over their emotions. Used in this way, they are tools of power, summoned to establish and protect a self-serving clique.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.