Tag Archives: sexism

Angry woman covered in dark paint, wearing a shirt reading 'freedom'

Re-post: “How could they not have known?!”

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on February 16, 2011.

[Trigger Warning: this post discusses trolling behaviour. Many links contain screenshots of threats, insults, sexual harassment and general profanity.]

From the Frag Dolls blog:

Less than a month ago, FatUglyorSlutty.com was just a twinkle in our #fragdolls IRC. [...] The concept seemed simple enough. They wanted to make an easy image+caption blog dedicated to publicizing (and laughing at) the hilarious/disturbing messages that many female gamers receive while playing online games. The attention their site has gotten in the past week (including a front page on reddit.com, a feature on Kotaku, numerous blogs mentions, and hefty comment threads) proves that they created something more. Gaming culture at large is taking note, expressing appropriate shock and dismay. But I, in turn, am shocked by their reactions. I am fundamentally surprised that this is news. I keep asking myself “How could they not have known?!”

I first hit that question many years ago as a teenager on IRC. One of my male friends logged in on his mother’s account, and was horrified to discover the messages that “Sheila” was getting from complete strangers and mentioned so on our channel. The women of the channel shrugged: it was always like that for us. The men were horrified to know that under the surface, we’d been quietly ignoring pick up lines and harassment and just not mentioning it all this time. It’s not like we were intentionally hiding it, it’s more that it happened so often that it wasn’t worth mentioning.

I’ve been asking people “how could you not know?” a lot lately, too. I was sharing some of the choice comments I’d gotten on a recent geek feminism post at work, and my coworkers were totally appalled even though we were laughing over how appalling it was. They were horrified to hear that I still get this stuff fairly frequently while gaming, when writing online, while maintaining mailing lists or writing code. I’ve long since learned that it’s much more fun to treat them as hilarious and share them around for mockery, so that’s what we did, but I didn’t expect it to be such an educational moment for them.

Courtney Stanton took this to a new level when she gave an ignite talk about visualizing her troll data. Some of her insights are quite interesting. For example, 67% of comments were replies to other comments, but only 17% of troll comments were replies to others. And many people here who bemoan our commenting policies might be interested in one of her conclusions:

And so I have found that simultaneously allowing dissent while denying trolls an audience has led to more engagement. I’ve had multiple commenters say that they are not commenting anymore and in 24 hours they are back and generating more comments for people to respond to.

So stopping trolls (but not dissent) leads to some great discussion, but removing the troll commentary means that people don’t realise what’s going on under the surface, be it in games or in online discourse or wikipedia.

Geek Feminism isn’t a stranger to the “How could they not have known?!” problem: consider the Timeline of Incidents on the wiki. Mary blogged about why we document and one non-trivial reason is that people just aren’t aware, and don’t want to recognize this as a common occurrence without evidence. (Note that I can think of one recent debacle that isn’t yet on that timeline, if anyone’s got an itch to do some wiki editing…)

I expect it’s hard for someone not in the thick of things to know what’s going on. My coworkers don’t get the same comments I do, my male gamer buddies don’t have people freaking out or getting, er, excited when they speak on voice chat, my pure white friends don’t get told to go back to their home country (it’s this one, thanks) and we tend edit all the intentionally hurtful stuff we can out of our public environments so as not to give the hurtful folk the satisfaction of public attention but at the same time we render the problem invisible to outsiders. And then when we do talk about it, we’re met at first with incredulity because, well, how could they have known?

Despite the fact that women are much more visible in many geeky communities, there still seems to be an undercurrent of hatred from a small but loud segment of population. I wish I could suggest a solution that doesn’t winding up with just a set of variations on the unicorn law where it’s always up to women in the communities to bring this stuff up (and face the backlash from people who didn’t know and don’t want to believe). Perhaps the better question here is what advice can we suggest for potential allies who’ve just gotten broadsided by this and really could not have known? How can allies be better prepared for problems when they occur, and more aware of the undercurrents before something happens?

I’ll leave these as “ask a geek feminist” style questions for our commenters.

Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker

Yes, “Hate *Atheists*”

This is a guest post by Stephanie Zvan. It is cross-posted from her blog, Almost Diamonds.

So, Rebecca Watson once again pointed out what should be a no-brainer–only to have her point ignored by people who want to quibble with her wording. “Oh, noes! Rebecca titled her post, “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists“! Oh, noes! But this isn’t about atheists!”

Actually, yes, it is. Rebecca already made the connection in her post, in case you need reminding:

Why would she ever want to be a part of any atheist community, if that’s how she’s treated? The next time you look around your atheist events and wonder where all the women are, think of this and know that there are at least some of us who aren’t willing to just accept this culture without trying to change it.

Here’s the thing, boys and girls: I don’t get this crap anywhere else I choose to invest my time. I don’t get it from my friends, because those people don’t get the privilege of remaining my friend. I don’t get it at work, where they’ve gone well beyond the basic legal requirements in order to make it a place where women also have rewarding work and an opportunity for advancement. As a result, I’m surrounded by smart, confident people of various genders who take everybody seriously. There is the very rare sexist idiot, but the conspiracies we create to work around these people are open and supportive.

I don’t even get it in those legendary bastions of “social ineptitude,” fantasy and science fiction fandom and conventions. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely still problems, but predators and discriminatory publishing practices are considered problems of the community, and the institutions that support the problems are rightly pressured (and aided) to fix themselves. This “we’re so helpless in the face of a few bad actors” nonsense doesn’t fly.

This is very much about atheism. It’s also about the more general skeptical community, of course, but atheism is a big part of that and getting bigger.

No, this is the community in which I get, “We have this female guest we’d like to have on the show. Would you care to interview her?” This is the community in which we get high-profile writers saying, “Piffle. I have no need to condemn the bad behavior of those people I was just joking around with.” This is the community in which a leader of an organization goes around telling people (all women that I’ve seen so far), “Oh, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a nice guy. I’m sure you’re just misinterpreting what he said,” or liking it on Facebook when someone complains that skeptical woman is being all emotional over a scientific issue. This is the community in which Rebecca’s cheerful acknowledging of a mistake is used to suggest her worth as a skeptic is zilch, while Brian Dunning’s stubborn embrace of DDT disinformation costs him nothing.

I write in this community about rape and issues of consent. I get MRAs in my comments, but they’re no big deal. Everyone can see them. I also get commenters who say, “Well, yes, MRA = bad. However, he had a point about this tricky legal question.” They get all butthurt when I say, “It’s nothing like tricky if it never happens. If you’re not sure you have consent, don’t have sex–unless you’re willing to be a rapist.” They’re just there for an intellectual conversation in which potential sexual partners have all the humanity of chess pieces. And people tell me I should be nicer to them.

I get links to those posts from skeptic and atheist forums, where someone is using them to try to counteract the victim blaming and doubting in the latest high-profile rape accusation. That means I get to see them completely ignored as our oh-so-rational friends pull hypotheticals out of their asses and cite the Duke Lacrosse team as though it were a legal precedent in order to make the case that the accuser is probably lying her pathetic little ass off. These are our forums, people. That’s what they look like.

I write about IQ and bad science. I’ve got a university professor, the guy who is best known in atheist circles for having his MySpace atheist group discriminated against, who shows up on every one of these posts to suggest I really shouldn’t be writing about the topic without more expertise. He can’t actually find anything wrong with what I write, but he knows these researchers are nice guys, and he, personally, finds their conclusions reasonable despite lousy methodology. So I need more expertise. Guess how many times he’s done the same thing to a guy–or been called on that bullshit.

Same guy, Bryan Pesta for the record, is the fellow who followed a link from one of my blog posts to someone outside this community. She was complaining about a guy who ignored her repeated insistence that she wasn’t online to get hit on. Bryan’s response? I paraphrase: “Now that you’ve dumped him, how about you and me? Huh?” When I asked him whether he also sexually harassed his students, his response was legalistic. The response of other commenters was to suggest he was joking. No shit, he was joking. He just found it perfectly acceptable to make her the target of his joke, and these other commenters apparently couldn’t figure out why this was a problem.

In addition to writing, I also do this little skeptical convention experience called Skepchickcon. That would be where I was in July, on my way to a panel in a room so full of F&SF geeks hungry for skepticism and science programming that there wasn’t even standing room left, when I heard about Dawkins comments about someone who “calls herself Skep’chick.’” I’d already noted, after another conference in January brought it up, that I can write those science posts or solid atheist reasoning and rabble-rousing posts like yesterday’s response to Massimo Pigliucci. I can do those conventions and reach the audiences we say we want to reach. But I really only get seen when I talk about “women’s issues,” and when I do, I now know the leaders and icons of the movement I’m working for have already decided I’m whining about trivialities.

Many people have also decided that when I’m writing about this bullshit, I’m only in it for the clicks. That reasoning, for the record, is about as sound as that of the people who say atheists aren’t responsible for the sexism Rebecca talked about in her post because the young woman in question made the front page of Reddit–after the pretty girl was voted up that far by atheists. These posts don’t get more clicks. My other posts on more traditionally male subject matter get fewer. If people clicked on those more, where would be the incentive to write about sexism?

Oh, right. I’m still a part of this community. I’m still volunteering my time, energy, and yes, expertise to this movement. And doing that–and making a difference–I still have to put up with all this crap. Rebecca is entirely right. I don’t have to like y’all in order to do it, just think it’s important. And right now, yes, I’m rather hating atheists. However, it’s only because you’re awful.

Facepalm: person clutching their face

Wednesday Geek Woman: unnamed complainant at JavaOne

This is a guest post by Laura James, an engineer based in Cambridge UK, and the founder of Makespace, a non-profit building a community workshop where you’ll be able to build or fix almost anything. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

This year, I’m going with a topical woman in technology from the lovely DevChix community. I’m not sure if she’d want to be named; but she stood up and asked for an apology after a male speaker made a sexist joke at a major tech conference (JavaOne) recently. She also made sure the organisers heard about it, and they apologised and will follow up with the speaker’s company.  But in some quarters she’s been criticised for making men in the audience uncomfortable – but she’s still an inspiration.

It’s depressing that these things are still happening (and that the joke reportedly got a good laugh). But raising awareness helps others understand that such incidents are offputting to women in technology The lovely ladies at GeekFeminism provide great resources – they too should be celebrated today.

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Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Rising above our sordid linkspamming nature (9th September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us 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.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The performer formerly known as Linkspam (31st August, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us 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.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

More horrible than your worst linkspam (18th July, 2011)

  • Black and WTF: photographs of suffragettes. In 1912, Scotland Yard detectives bought their first camera to covertly photograph suffragettes.
  • A bit of an oldie, but relevant to our recent Google+ discussions: Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names: So, as a public service, I’m going to list assumptions your systems probably make about names. All of these assumptions are wrong. Try to make less of them next time you write a system which touches names.
  • Great 101 comment from karenm77 about why it was creepy to proposition Rebecca Watson at 4am in an elevator. (Via tigtog.) Yeah, in case you missed it.
  • Sheryl Sandberg & Male-Dominated Silicon Valley: an interview with Facebook’s COO. You can’t come [into space], [Sandberg's son] said. I’ve already invited my sister, and there’s only one girl in space. At first, Sandberg laughed. And then it dawned on her that there is only one woman in these movies.
  • Debunking the Top 5 Myths About Lady Scientists: So, people of the universe, when I tell you that I am a scientist, the only conclusion you should draw is that I like science.  Not what I look like or how I dress.  Not what I like to do in my free time.  Not how I interact with other people.  And real world, get used to me because I am your average scientist and I am not at all who you try to say I am.
  • A linkspam of a linkspam: Meanwhile, Back in SFland: While I was off enjoying the company of several thousand women (and an increasing number of men, as Sharon Sala graciously noted while accepting her lifetime achievement award) in Romanceland, the gender wars seem to have broken out in SFland again.
  • You can’t fight sexism with sexism: So, please, before you write about getting women into the game industry, first check and make sure that you’re not perpetuating the very attitudes you’re arguing against before you publish.
  • Are the Open Data Warriors Fighting for Robin Hood or the Sheriff?: Some Reflections on OKCon 2011 and the Emerging Data Divide: Cogent criticism of the demographics of the open-data movement.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us 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.

Feminist license plates, by Liz Henry CC BY-SA 2.0

You’re a girl! Now, a quick quiz on HTTP…

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

How do you react when people (generally older men) treat us (young women in tech/engineering) as show dogs? I’ve had a number of people give me an off-topic pop quiz when they were there for my technical expertise. Sure, when they come to my place of work they are probably expecting to be served by someone older and are surprised by me, but that’s no excuse for quizzing me on whether I know what http stands for when I’m trying to make sure they can get to the specific web page they need to after they leave my office. In the past, I’ve smiled and answered their question, because my reflex on being asked a question is to answer it. However I can’t imagine they’d take my refusal to perform as anything other than admitting I don’t know the answer (not that I need to for my job, but I don’t really need to appear unintelligent in front of potentially prejudiced clients), and I can’t be too rude at work.

Linkspam isn’t saying no… (13th June, 2011)

  • Talk on June 15 at Melbourne University: Dr Cathy Foley, 100 years later: has anything changed for women in science?: This talk will look at what is the status of women in science in Australia, report on the Women in Science and Engineering summit held in Parliament House in April this year. I will then reflect on ways to enhance careers for women in science and the need not only for equity but also for improved productivity and innovation by capturing the full human potential in Australia.
  • Why are more women not speaking at technical conferences? Insights from the WiT discussion at CodeStock: Jennifer Marsman discusses the points raised in her panel, with some suggested solutions.
  • The Australian talks about online harassment of (female) journalists, which will sound familiar to many other women online: [Trigger warning: online harassment/bullying] War of the Words

    And therein lies the Catch-22 for women in the cyber-firing line. On the one hand, they believe it is essential to expose the level of abuse and misogyny that has flourished on the largely unregulated new media. On the other, they fear the only effect that would have is to discourage women from participating in public debates.

  • Forever 21 Pulls “I’m Too Pretty To Do Math” Magnet From Online Store: Our submitter writes: OK, it’s not just bad that this was made in the first place. But around the article? Let’s see, You might like: The Top 10 Lies Women Tell Men; 12 Stars Posing Naked With Super Random Props; and the poll of important information: Does Flirting Over Facebook & Twitter Count As Cheating?; Please Just Kill Me NOW.
  • Becky Stern has crafted TV-B-Gone (a universal remote for switching off TVs) into a jacket for subtlety: TV-B-Gone jacket (via BoingBoing).
  • [Trigger warning: very frank anti-rape campaign] Don’t be that guy: a surprisingly refreshing anti-rape campaign targeting men is now making its way to other Canadian cities.

    Typically, sexual assault awareness campaigns target potential victims by urging women to restrict their behavior. Research is telling us that targeting the behavior of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to how much they blame themselves after the assault. That’s why our campaign is targeting potential offenders – they are the ones responsible for the assault and responsible for stopping it. By addressing alcohol-facilitated sexual assault without victim-blaming, we intend to mark Edmonton on the map as a model for other cities.

  • Androcentrism: It’s Okay to Be a Boy, but Being a Girl…: androcentrism… a new kind of sexism, one that replaces the favoring of men over women with the favoring of masculinity over femininity.
  • Researcher reveals how “Computer Geeks” replaced “Computer Girls”, an account of a talk by Nathan Ensmenger. (Don’t forget Jennifer Light, when namechecking people to quote on this!)
  • Rebecca Koeser of Emory University, won a prize in the DevCSI challenge at Open Repositories 2011 for her use of Microsoft Pivot as a repository-visualization tool. Here’s a picture of Koeser accepting her prize.
  • Women Atop Their Fields Discuss the Scientific Life: Elena Aprile, Joy Hirsch, Mary-Claire King and Tal Rabin talk about their scientific work and life.
  • How Not To Be An Asshole: A Guide For Men: Chris Clarke re-posts this in ‘honour’ of Tammy Camp’s harassment experience

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us 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.

Playing the linkspam card (4th June, 2011)

  • Why White Men Should Refuse to Be on Panels of All White Men: If white, male elites started saying, I will not participate in your panel, event, or article if it is all about white men, chances are these panels and articles would quickly dry up—or become more diverse.
  • Not Exactly Avatar Secrets: A Critique of Ramona Pringle’s Research: Ramona Pringle does “research” into people finding love in online games. Flavor Text is not impressed: I think the main issue I take with this – and you addressed it earlier on Twitter – is that the whole thing just smacks of “gamers are human beings, too!” as if this is somehow news. The sky is blue! Fire still hot! Gamers capable of social interaction and forming meaningful relationships!
  • While we’re talking about Flickr groups (This is what a computer scientist looks like is now at 55 photos and counting), photogs here might like to contribute to the New Feminine group, for a diverse range of images of women that show femininity as other than submissive and sexualised.
  • Deconstructing Pointy-Eared White Supremacists: What do we know about elves? They are, generally, portrayed as the ideal: more magical, more beautiful, more in tune with nature. They are older than you but almost immortal… Elves are also very, very white.
  • A Bright Idea – Hack a Day: Our submitter writes: Woman comes up with nifty idea. Site reports about her. Comments filled with the usual She’s hot; and all important Why doesn’t she have a degree?
  • RIP Rosalyn S. Yalow, 89, Nobel winning medical physicist: Dr. Yalow, a product of New York City schools and the daughter of parents who never finished high school, graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College in New York at the age of 19 and was the college’s first physics major. Yet she struggled to be accepted for graduate studies. In one instance, a skeptical Midwestern university wrote: She is from New York. She is Jewish. She is a woman.
  • From 2008 (hey, it’s recent in academic terms…) Budden et al Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors, Trends in Ecology & Evolution: in 2001, double-blind review was introduced by the journal Behavioral Ecology. Following this policy change, there was a significant increase in female first-authored papers, a pattern not observed in a very similar journal that provides reviewers with author information
  • Tropebusting: Matriarchies in Gaming and Sci-Fi/Fantasy: The most prevalent of these tropes is that Matriarchies are Evil, like really, really super-duper EVIL. (Also, hey, bonus elves…)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us 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.

I’m too pretty to put up with this nonsense

Jen from epbot (and Cake Wrecks fame) has a post up about this t-shirt

I'm too pretty to do math (t-shirt)

I'm too pretty to do math (t-shirt)

As a woman with a math degree, I know a whole lot more about math than the company making the shirt, and I can tell you right now that if prettiness has any correlation with math ability, it’s probably not the stereotype you’re expecting. (The research I linked there is a whole other kettle of fish, but it was too funny not to use in context! Edit: see comments for why you shouldn’t take that research seriously.)

The company is already known for copyright infringement, which makes me wonder if they ripped this design off from someone else who wants to reinforce ignorant stereotypes. I weep for the world, although there’s some consolation that at least this rag is on clearance so maybe no one was willing to buy it ever.

Jen has some suggestions of better mathy shirts on Epbot: Too Pretty To Do Math?!. So in the spirit of sharing neat mathematical designs, here’s the necklace I’ve been coveting… a beautiful honeycomb design that doubles as a hex wrench from Blend Creations, a company run by fellow geek woman Vivian Cheng who I got to meet at a Girl Geek Dinner once. How cool is that?

Honeycomb Necklace from Blend Creations

Honeycomb Necklace from Blend Creations

Infinitely better than that ignorant t-shirt. Share your own math-positive stuff in the comments!