Tag Archives: ursula k. le guin

The Importance of Allies

Deb Nicholson is a geeky gal who is motivated by the intersection of technology and social justice. She spends her time working freelance with the Caucus to Increase Women’s Participation in Free Software and pursuing a CS degree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This has been cross-posted from her blog.

Ever since I started working towards the goal of increasing the number of women participating in the free software community, I’ve had men say some variation of the following to me, “I didn’t know it was this bad. Is there anything I can do?” The answer is yes!

There is a great potential for change. I think the gropers and insulters are the exception and not the rule. Unless 30 obnoxious men are changing their appearance and flying all over the globe to be “that guy” at dozens of linuxfests and free software gatherings every year, their numbers are still significant. If you believe my conspiracy scenario, then you may as well go all the way and imagine them to be trained and funded by Microsoft on a secret island in the remote Pacific. (Also, I have a work-at-home situation that starts with you mailing me a large check that I’d love to discuss with you.) But seriously, the dearth of opposing voices is what allows this small group to disproportionately set the tone at free software events. The bad actors are not the majority. Silence on this issue serves the status quo.

When thinking about change, I’ve always found Ursula LeGuin’s story, “The Ones who Walked Away from Omelas” inspiring. This example is from fiction and so naturally the choice to pipe down or walk away from a society that oppresses even one of its members is drawn in very broad strokes. LeGuin has essentially written a parable. If you as a conference goer find out that an event’s success rests upon the tears and ostracization of a small number of people, then walk away. Don’t attend that event again. Let me be a little more explicit. Say the keynote speaker is disrespectful to women and sets an inappropriate sexual tone for the conference. The conference organizers don’t feel that they can tell someone famous and important to either stay professional and respect all attendees or stop speaking without damaging the status of their event. The women at this conference no longer feel welcome. If you think those are the wrong priorities then you have two options, speak up or walk away.

Find yourself another event or project that values the inclusion of all its members over the egos of a few bad actors. Get involved where they’re doing it right! Or say something when your “mostly OK” community missteps. A simple, “Hey, that’s out of line” or “We really don’t need to use that kind of example” can go a long way. Sometimes you may find yourself in a smaller group and a quick, “That was really inappropriate” may be in order. What if you aren’t quick in the moment? After someone’s been offensive you might say to the offended party, “I’m sorry that guy was a jerk to you. If you want to report him, I’m happy to go with you to find a staff person.” Of course, this last example is going to be the most effective at an event that already has an anti-harassment policy in place.

Allies are extremely important. There aren’t that many women here yet. So, in order to be successful at changing the tone in the free software community, we need your help. The thing you can do today is to write to a conference you’re thinking about attending in the next year and politely ask if they would adopt an anti-harassment policy like this one. A policy may seem like a small step, but its adoption empowers the organizers to stop offensive behavior and to kick out repeat offenders. It also goes a long way towards broadcasting to potential attendees what sort of treatment they can expect and what won’t be tolerated. I hope that you’ll choose to speak up when you feel you can affect behavior and walk away when you feel the situation is irredeemable. Thanks to all of you who already do!

Wednesday Geek Woman: Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday Geek Woman submissions are currently open.

A version of this post appeared a few weeks ago at Hoyden About Town.

A little capsule summary for people who haven’t read her work: Ursula K. Le Guin is a novelist, poet and essayist. She is best known for science fiction and fantasy, particularly the six Earthsea books (five novels and a collection of stories) set in an archepeligo world with advanced magic and pre-industrial tech; and various books set in her Hainish universe, which is a future series in which Earth, among other planets among relatively nearby stars, turn out to have all have hominid species on them, established some millions of years ago by a still existing ancestral species the Hainish, in a series of biological/sociological experiments. This has allowed her to write, for example, The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter’s King and Coming of Age in Karhide, set in a world of primates with a sort of oestrous cycle in which their bodies can become either male or female, and who have otherwise no gender or sexuality; and The Matter of Seggri, about a world on which there are about sixteen women born for every man, and men are kept apart with their role in society being purely exhibition of strength, sex, and providing sperm.

Le Guin is something of a goto name for someone who wants to make sure their list of Great Science Fiction includes something, anything, by a woman: she’s white, she has by now become a big name and is award-winning and Taken Seriously (see Guest Post by Alisa Krasnostein: The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction at Hoyden). I… do think she’s worth reading anyway! But don’t stop there, I doubt she’d want you to.

I’ve enjoyed Le Guin’s writing for years, but here is her crowning Hoyden moment for me, in a 2001 interview by Nick Gevers, a science fiction editor and critic:

[Gevers asks] Who, for you, are the finest SF authors now writing — both your fellow feminist writers and more generally?

[Le Guin answers] First I am to list fellow feminists and then… non-fellow anti-feminists? Come on, Nick, let’s get out of the pigeonholes. If feminism is the idea that differences between the genders, beyond the strictly physiological, are an interesting subject of study, but have not been determined, and so are not a sound basis for society to use in prescribing or proscribing any proclivity or activity — which is what I think it is — then I probably don’t read any non-feminist SF writers, these days. Do you?

Here’s a few selected pieces of Le Guin’s writing:

Le Guin has a fairly large website with links to most of her recent online writing.

If I had to recommend a single piece of writing of hers, I would say that its the short story The Day Before the Revolution (probably easiest to find in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters), which probably benefits a lot if you read The Dispossessed for context first (The Dispossessed is a fine novel, so not just for context). The Day Before the Revolution was published when Le Guin was 45 years old. She wasn’t old at the time, and I am not old yet, but it is the closest I come to understanding how it might be.

Wikipedia: Ursula K. Le Guin

No power in the ‘verse can stop this linkspam

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.

Hottest linkspam evar. Or something. (27th October, 2009)

  • “Manolith” has a list of 12 hottest geek girls. I think you can gather from the name of the site how this list is meant to go, but I was surprised to find that the profiles of the women they chose were actually fairly interesting, and they included some serious geek credentials as part of their selection criteria. (No Women near tech for them?) But yeah, although that’s an interesting nugget, the list is a lot of drooling and scantily clad celebrity geeks — click at your own risk, and I’m guessing you should just skip the comments.
  • Shweta Narayan explains things to John Ottinger III after his post “For Those Who Cry Sexism or Racism in SF Anthologies, Shut Up”. Ottinger apologizes, Narayan tells him keep on speaking up.
  • In one of her other blog lives, our own Liz Henry hosted Disability Blog Carnival #59: Disability and Work. Without reposting the whole carnival, here are some of the posts of geek feminist interest:
    • Disability and Work: What I do, talking about work and play in the light of ideas in Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, together with disability and unemployment, together with women’s work (including fandom) not counting as real work.
    • Disability Employment Awareness Month, about working at an open source company (warning per Liz: “contain[s] some hatred expressed towards disabled scooter users who are fat”)
  • Pamela Fox was asked to prove her technical chops after giving a non-technical talk in a non-technical (apparently) outfit. She asks Should I Defend My Cred?
  • Kaliya Hamlin submitted a panel proposal to SXSW entitled “What Guys are Doing to Get More Girls in Tech!â€,  SXSW Panel Selected — now to find Panelists
  • Despite Elizabeth Blackburn’s Nobel win, women face battles, particularly presence in senior roles.
  • Apple’s iPhone App Store is hard on satire, but fine with “Asian Boobs” (note, several sexualized example photographs from the application in question will be displayed at the link)
  • A slashdot comment compared the Windows 7 launch to the return of a difficult ex-girlfriend, Decklin Foster parodies with the genders reversed. (Warning: there is ableist language in the original comment and it is not questioned by the parody.)

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

Isn’t that “Le WIN”?

Happy Birthday Ursula K. Le Guin!

Today in Le Guin’s honor, people are blogging birthday wishes to her and discussing her work.

Glitter Words

Here’s a starting point for today’s wishes and thoughts for her:

* Happy Birthday from Feminist SF: The Blog
* Happy Birthday from Aqueduct Press!
* Happy Birthday from Finding Dulcinea
* Happy Birthday from the SFWA
* Interview with Guernica magazine (not a birthday tribute, but good)

From the interview with Guernica, on writing as a woman and on feminism:

There wasn’t any aha! moment about feminism for me. I just kept reading stuff and thinking. My mind works slowly and obscurely, and I mostly find out what I’m doing by looking at what I’m doing or have done. Mostly I don’t even do that. But when what I do isn’t getting done very well, when it seems to be stuck or going wrong, that induces me to look at it. ‘What am I doing? Why isn’t it behaving?’ This happened in the middle of The Eye of the Heron, when Lev insisted on getting himself killed in the middle of the story, leaving my book without a hero, and me wondering what the hell? It took a good deal of backing up and pondering over what I had written to realize that Luz had been the hero all along, that Luz was the one who would lead her people into the wilderness. I can identify that as the moment when I consciously shifted from a male protagonist to a female protagonist, when the male was marginalized and the woman became the center.


Photo: Geeks at WisCon beaming with happiness after singing a song to Ursula in her honor.
"we sang our song to ursula!!!"

Please add more links and birthday wishes in comments!

Alongside the great storytelling and stimulating ideas in her fiction, the breadth and depth of the body of her work is inspiring. Her creative work spans many years and many literary forms. She’s a translator, a teacher, a scholar and intellectual, respected all over the world.

Books by Ursula K. Le Guin

What is your favorite of her books?

What has Le Guin’s work meant to you over the course of your life?

Was she, or was her work, a touchstone for you as a geek feminist?

Daughter of Link Roundup (August 31st, 2009)

Photo by lyrabellacqua on Flickr

Photo by lyrabellacqua on Flickr