Tag Archives: stereotyping

If tech discussion was really about tech, it wouldn’t be sexist.

Cross-posted at Restructure!

There is sexism in tech culture. However, I continue to love tech, because I think of the sexism as a separate, unnecessary appendage to pure tech. I cannot think of sexism as intrinsic to or inevitable in tech, because then I would be either self-hating, or I would have to give up my love for technology. Maybe my personal ontology is compartmentalized thinking in order to survive as a woman in tech, but I think it’s also true.

Some people argue that for tech to “attract” women, the culture needs to be broadened to include humanistic aspects. However, this proposal may derive from the implicit sexist assumption that men really are better at tech, and women really are better at the humanities.

Actually, what I hate most about tech news sites is that when I go there for technology news, there are off-topic comments about love and relationships. It’s typically men discussing being single; having trouble with women; being Nice GuysTM; giving advice about what women really want; talking about how women have it easier; bragging about how even their grandmother/mother/wife can use technology X; and other sexist generalizations about women. In other words, the idea that pure tech scares away women, that tech culture is currently free of human influence, is a product of male privilege and the inability to recognize that the state of being male is not the state of being neutral.

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Can you spot the female geek?

This post was originally published at Restructure!

''... developing new Drupal modules and building complex websites!'' There is a double-arrow pointing to a white man flexing his bicep and a white woman wearing a bikini and holding a whip. The double-arrow says, ''A PERFECT GAME FOR GEEKS TO CONNECT WITH NON-GEEKS''I have been a geek for most of my life. However, my geek identity is rarely recognized in meatspace interactions, probably because I am female. You would expect that people’s assumptions about the science, math, and tech abilities of girls and women would be challenged upon encountering female geeks in real life, but I have found that being a female geek actually reinforces sexist convictions that girls and women do not really belong in science, math, and tech.

I remember when I won some physics award in high school, a male rival complained bitterly in the library that the physics award he felt he should have won ended up going to “some girl”. He actually said that, emphasizing the word girl, as if my very gender invalidates my right to win a physics award. He complained loudly on purpose so that I would overhear the barb. I was shocked that people could say such blatantly sexist things in [current year], in which sexism was no longer supposed to exist, especially among my youthful generation. Instead of challenging gender stereotypes, my physics geekery apparently reinforced this guy’s perception that male rights are being eroded by uppity females who get awards we don’t really deserve. If he remembers me at all, he probably won’t remember me as the geeky girl in the library, but as some bitch from high school.

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White, male startup companies get funding for being white and male.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

When top technology venture capitalist John Doerr decides which startup company to invest in, he consciously and deliberately chooses white males over women and racial minorities:

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at Bezos, or [Netscape Communications Corp. founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo Inc. co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life. So when I see that pattern coming in — which was true of Google — it was very easy to decide to invest.”

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Halloween: will you be a sexy witch, a sexy bee, or a sexy girl geek?

Take Back Halloween! costume resources showed up in the linkspam recommendations.

We love Halloween. We really love Halloween. We think it’s cool that there’s one day a year when people can dress up as anything they want. What we don’t think is cool is that increasingly women are only supposed to dress up as one thing: Sexy _____

They focus on dressing as queens, goddesses and heroines. But there’s no reason women can’t be robots, right?

Robot costume

Image “Robot costume” by Rob Marquardt, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike

And there’s no reason to let men hog the Rubiks Cube:

solving the cube018

Image “solving the cube018″ by Fred Benenson, Creative Commons Attribution

And there’s no reason that a squid monster can’t have a feminine touch!

lady ika

Image “lady ika” by Hawken King, Creative Commons Attribution

Here’s your geek feminist costume planning thread. Are you going to any costume parties soon? Have you got any awesome costumes from the past to share, or inspirational links? Are you not sexy or geek sexy or don’t care for Halloween?

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

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

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

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

Quick hit: Women = Men when it comes to math skills

Females Are Equal to Males in Math Skills, Large Study Shows

These studies, all published in English between 1990 and 2007, looked at people from grade school to college and beyond. A second portion of the new study examined the results of several large, long-term scientific studies, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In both cases, Hyde says, the difference between the two sexes was so close as to be meaningless.

But despite these findings, we still may be a ways away from the day when I can quit doing back of the napkin demonstrations about gender and math ability:

The idea that both genders have equal math abilities is widely accepted among social scientists, Hyde adds, but word has been slow to reach teachers and parents, who can play a negative role by guiding girls away from math-heavy sciences and engineering. “One reason I am still spending time on this is because parents and teachers continue to hold stereotypes that boys are better in math, and that can have a tremendous impact on individual girls who are told to stay away from engineering or the physical sciences because ‘Girls can’t do the math.'”

(Read the rest of the article here.)

Women did not evolve against risk-taking and tech startups.

This is cross-posted at Restructure!

There is a common idea that women are underrepresented in tech startups because we are “nurturing and not risk-taking enough by nature”, an idea often proposed and upvoted in Hacker News discussions. Roy F. Baumeister, Professor of Psychology, also argues something similar in his defense of Lawrence Summers’ hypothesis that fewer women than men have high innate ability in science. Professor Baumeister argues that men evolved to take risks, and women evolved to play it safe, because we are allegedly descendants of risk-taking men and risk-averse women.

However, there are a few problems with this explanation of why women are underrepresented among tech entrepreneurs. One problem is that top venture capitalist John Doerr consciously and deliberately invests in tech startups run by white men over women and racial minorities, and even encourages other VCs to follow his lead. Even more, it is understood that this is “the way the venture-capital industry operates”. While other industries call this “stereotyping” or “profiling”, VCs call it “pattern recognition”. In other words, there is systemic discrimination in the tech industry based on gender, as well as race and age.

Another problem with the hypothesis of female risk-aversion is that outside of the tech industry, women have been launching new businesses at twice the rate of men for three decades:

The phenomenal growth of women-owned businesses has made headlines for three decades—women consistently have been launching new enterprises at twice the rate of men, and their growth rates of employment and revenue have outpaced the economy.

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How to Appear Incompetent in One Easy Step

Amber is a Capital Markets Technology consultant who currently works on Wall Street making trading platforms suck less. If she’s not online kicking ass in PvP, you can probably find her somewhere on the Lower East Side, kicking ass on the pool table. She blogs at idiosyncratic-routine.com.

[Content warning for ablist language in the excerpts]

Leslie Sobon’s blog post “Get a Geek in Five Easy Steps” was a maelstrom of fail. In an Engadget editorial piece, Laura June has done a great job of explaining why the advice is terrible:

Its source:

This piece is on an official AMD blog, and Leslie Sobon is writing in her capacity as the vice president of one of the company’s departments. As such, her attempt at lame Carrie Bradshaw-isms are out of place, unprofessional and an embarrassment to the company that she works for, even if there’s a standard “opinions expressed here” disclaimer attached to the blog.

Its perception of women:

Sobon’s advice is like any ladies’ magazine from the 1950’s, in that she assumes you have nothing in common with your prey (you are man hunting, are you not?), that you never will, and that that’s okay. In fact, changing everything about your actual self in favor of a new, improved, less truthy “nerdy” girl is the best way to go about catching one of these rare and beautiful creatures.

Its perception of geeks:

Sobon, who has worked in the “high tech” industry for most of her professional life (she put in eight years at Dell before joining AMD in 2006), seems to have only encountered a pop cultural stereotype of nerds, not actual human beings.

Correct on all counts, yet the Engadget response barely scratches the surface of the reasons I was filled with enough rage to track the author down on twitter and give her more than 140 characters of my mind.

Before jumping ahead, though, let’s tackle the idea that the piece was meant as “humorous,” “tongue-in-cheek,” or as a [poorly executed] “satire.”

Exhibit A: Sobon’s July 2010 AMD blog post entitled “What Women Want“:

There are a lot of mixed messages here. For example, women don’t like “pink” marketing, but also don’t buy “black” computers. We “don’t like buying PCs,” but account for 66% of the market. Unlike the “Get a Geek” article, she throws out a perfunctory nod to women who build their own computers, but notes that technical jargon can be detrimental to the buying experience.

Moving past the lack of innovative thought or cohesive message, the “What Women Want” article indicates that Sobon truly believes that the average female PC shopper is a bastion of female stereotypes – relying on word of mouth rather than technical specifications, disregarding price for emotional connection, yearning for a luxury buying experience, eschewing in-depth knowledge of the product to be purchased, and caring more about form than function.

For my dollar, she’s probably not wrong. Most women don’t run overclocked, water-cooled systems, work in science or technology based industry or know the difference between an FPS and an RPG. But guess what – most men don’t either.

Sobon has fallen prey to the fallacy that the amalgamative line-of-best-fit woman she has created as a tool to sell the most widgets (she is, after all, trying to pitch AMD products at the end of the day) represents the majority of women in reality. She’s shoved aside all the diversity of women that don’t fit her model and written to a fictional audience that, should it actually exist, is unlikely to cull its dating tactics from the blog of a company that produces tiny things in sterile rooms.

The map is not the territory.

I could forgive Sobon this transgression if she were a lowly Marketing Department lackey, stuck churning out clip art laden PowerPoints all day. In fact, I could see a variety of these “What Women Want” points being used internally to jumpstart a brainstorming session for a new advertising campaign. (Not that they should, but I’ve worked in product development, and trust me – the internal vision of the end consumer is rarely flattering.)

But PowerPoint lackey she’s not. Leslie Sobon is the Corporate Vice President of Product Marketing for AMD. She should be the one to encounter an article like “Get a Geek” and stare slack-jawed at her monitor, wondering what kind of lack of oversight would allow something so amateurish to exist on a corporate sponsored blog.

I’m not going to waste space bullet pointing the outdated and incredibly inaccurate assumptions that most women are computer illiterate temptresses who will date someone with whom they have little in common, so long as the rewards package is good enough … and that all geeks (who are all male in the first place) are poor dressers, uninterested in sports and are so hard up for female attention that they will become captivated with any woman who deigns to speak to them at a “TweetUp.” Rather, let’s take a look at the more insidious assumptions which perpetuate a system where my tweet positing the article’s sexism garners me replies such as “The article is definitely guilty of playing to gender roles, but sexist it is not.”


Don’t worry, the same user takes the time to educate me about what sexism is:

Sexism is the belief or attitude that one gender is inferior to, less competent, or less valuable than the other.

Thanks for that. Again, I’m not going to belabor the many ways in which the article implies women are less likely to be competent users of technology and more likely to be ok with subjugating their interests to that of a male, while that male need not pander to hers, or even the axiomatic heteronormative perspective.

Rather, there are more subtle turns of phrase that reinforce sexism specifically with relation to the geek community. As a femme woman who works in technology, an avid sci-fi gamer type, and dater of more than one “geeky” guy, this is the stuff that just chaps my ass:

  1. Implicit association between a Good Man and a Geek
    Some men are geeks. Some men are douchebags. Some men who are geeks are douchebags. Shocking!!! In fact, the historically anti-female (or female devoid, at best) stereotypical male geek environment has been the basis for some good articles about why geeks aren’t the answer to every girl’s relationship woes.
  2. Lack of any discussion about a male non-geek trying to get a female geek
    Some women are geeks. Some women aren’t very good at getting laid. Some women who are geeks aren’t very good at getting laid. Granted – this advice is just as terrible when the gender roles are reversed, but a nod to the possibility of trying to woo a female geek would have gone a long way to mitigating the fail.
  3. Assumption that a geeky guy could or would be useful in every broken-technology/stuff scenario
    Writing QA scripts for 10 hours a day does not magically imbue one with the ability to troubleshoot my wifi connection. Similarly, being a network administrator doesn’t magically imbue one with the ability or desire to dig up my yard and fix a broken sprinkler.
  4. Implication that women would rather secure access to specialized labor/skills via … let’s call it “sexual outsourcing”… than by learning to do things that are useful themselves, while men wander around aimlessly, waiting to be objectified for said labor/skills, devoid of any desire to see seen as complex people with emotional needs.
    The basic premise that geeks are useful because your gadgets break (which, uh, I thought women didn’t actually use in the first place) is as ridiculous as saying you get sick a lot, so date a doctor, or you have a lot of legal problems, so bag a lawyer. It’s a wonder any mechanics in New York ever get dates. So few women in the city own cars.
  5. A woman’s ultimate goal is to get married
    “Most geeks don’t wear pants. They wear jeans or shorts. Just get over it and wait for the ring to diversify his wardrobe.”
    …There are no words.

The bottom line is that Leslie Sobon’s writing is lazy and it reinforces gender and subculture stereotypes. Remembering that Sobon was writing for the least common denominator of a mythical female softens the blow somewhat, should she have been sixteen and posting to her tumblr blog. As an article directed at a general adult audience on the official blog of a publicly traded technology company, however, it is inexcusable.

half hearted ethnicity in toys: japan barbie + ken

This post was originally published at 天高皇企鹅远.

There are some new Barbies doing the rounds, and they’re amazing:

barbie and ken in 'japanese style' costumes, looking mostly space age

I don’t even know what’s going on here. This toy website tells says that Japan Ken wears ‘Japanese-styled clothing and a samurai-inspired sword.’ Japan Ken, if you are Japanese, why is your clothing Japanese “styled” and your sword samuri “inspired”?

A (former doll collecting) commenter in this Racialicious post comments that apparently Mattel intentionally went with a futuristic look, which I am totally in to. I would love to know more about futuristic Ken and Barbie in a world clearly at some point heavily Japanese-influenced – but then why are they Japan Ken and Barbie?

There is definitely a whole lot of fetishisation and exotification in here, and not that I want to be all ‘hey Asian skin doesn’t look like that’ because there are light-skinned Japanese people, but I feel like it is not going out on a limb to say that those Barbies, if they were sans their Japanese-style future clothes, would look awfully Caucasian.

Just like all the others to come before (except for Geisha Barbie and Chinese New Year Barbie, of course, who were no less exotified but at least…kinda looked Asian?).

I am totally in to the idea of ethnically diverse Barbies (though I have many Barbie-related issues), but this fake ‘oh it’ll do’ is not it.

The spammers, united, will never be defeated

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.