Tag Archives: Web2.0

The Mists of Linkspam (26th November, 2009)

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.

Sexism on Reddit

Programmer and self-proclaimed geek Mariya Lysenkova runs Verdage, a consultancy whose offerings include the CMS system Webist. Although happy with her roster of clients, including American Express Publishing and The Economist, she would love to build more websites for woman-owned startups.

Tits or GTFO
sudo make me a sandwich
Go back to the kitchen!

No, that’s not a haiku. Those are some of the comments I’ve come to expect as a girl with an arsenal of geek interests: programming, politics, and of course, silly internet memes. I’m not easily offended. Tits or GTFO. Ha ha ha.

Millions of battered women and I’m still eating mine plain?

Ha…!

Please post a nude pic in the Gone Wild sub-reddit, so we can determine if you are just an ugly angry pig or if you are attractive and therefore have a serious point to be considered.

Umm…ha?

Yet even these increasingly offensive comments are not enough to rattle me. After all, what would the interwebs be without trolls angling for the maximum shock value? Don’t feed the trolls, as they say, and that means ignoring most of the blatant sexist nonsense left in the comments at Reddit.com and other social news sites.

Nor, in the interests of space, will I delve into my experience debating controversial topics: abortion, alleged IQ differences between men and women, appropriate punishments for false rape accusations, transgendered rights, legalization of female toplessness and so on. Suffice to say that my thoughts on these topics have prompted less than enlightened responses.

What really gets to me — I mean really, really annoys me — lies in longer threads, where the topic is too mundane and the exchange too long and nuanced to warrant trolling. That is to say, I’m shocked by what some average Joes think about the average Jane.

Take one hot topic that recently popped up on Reddit, my favorite social news site. The Onion, in typical Onion fashion, published this satirical piece about a girl who torments her lovesick male friend. It’s a funny piece, especially since I’ve been on both sides of the lovelorn friend equation. But boy, what a misogynistic crapstorm ensued on Reddit. If a woman has a platonic friendship with a man, the consensus seemed to say, she is likely manipulating his sexual attraction to her. The comments ranged from “Girls are fucking retarded†to equating coquetry with rape. Never mind that a man might befriend a woman even if he is married, gay, or just not sexually attracted to her. Never mind that a truly unhealthy friendship can be ended by either party at any time. A man out there is not getting laid — and it’s a woman’s fault!

And when women aren’t viciously cock-teasing their friends, they are, of course, busy cheating on their boyfriends, according to some other threads. “If the girl truly cared about her current boyfriend, she wouldn’t maintain contact with her ex†wrote one poster. “Let’s say 5% of women who hang out with their ex’s still sleep with them,†noted another. “I do not like those odds and will not put up with it.†Sure, many couples break up precisely because the “spark is goneâ€, but remain great friends, but why put your new boyfriend through that? Apparently, the insecurities of a woman’s current partner should determine whom she does and doesn’t associate with.

Besides manipulation and philandering, no misogynistic portrait would be complete without greed. “How often have you or your female friends offered to pay for a first date, or even offered to pay your share of a first date?†asked one Redditor. “Would you expect a man to purchase a ridiculously expensive ring for you before marriage? Have you ever considered what it must feel like to be obligated to do something like that? Do you think you would forgo the jewelry or offer to help defray the costs of it?†Never mind that I’m currently cohabiting with my partner in Scandinavia, where couples are expected to split expenses 50/50, and that we have no intention of bringing diamond engagement rings into the equation. Never mind that this is the attitude shared by most of my female friends back in the U.S. No – this is how all women think, everywhere. Period.

The regular readers of social news sites are predominantly younger males, and it’s troubling that the next generation of men are soaking in such caricatures of women, portrayed as something fundamentally different and even dangerous. Indeed, if one constructs a composite image of a woman based on comments seen online, she is a self-obsessed, manipulative, ball-busting harpy. With a penchant for expensive shoes, of course.

Our society has recognized that it’s inaccurate and inappropriate to draw conclusions about a group based on the actions of a few. For example, “Muslims are terrorists†and “Blacks are violent†would make even the most immature Redditor cringe — and downvote. Yet comments like “Women are materialistic†and “Women are manipulative†get electronic nods. Generalizing about a gender is still acceptable.

Some women, of course, also make gross generalizations about men. But, just like our governments and other institutions of power, women are hugely underrepresented in the geekosphere. This is illustrated by the fact that my comments, under a gender-neutral Reddit username, are often met with, “Well played, sir!†So with women in the minority, a comment like “men are pigs†would be downvoted into oblivion, while “women are bitches†stands a damned good chance. And this makes it harder to open a dialogue on the subject. When I posted on Reddit about sexism on the site, only a handful of women responded, most of them through private messages. Bullying, it seems, can drive a minority opinion underground even in an anonymous setting.

But is online misogyny a real cause for concern? One man responded to my post with, “I treat women the same way I treat men; Like shit. Don’t blame it on sexism.†It may well be that people in anonymous settings are, well, jerks. Penny Arcade thoughtfully illustrated this phenomenon:
Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

So what is a geek girl to do? My advice: make yourself heard online, but don’t take any of it personally. In the words of one wise Redditor: “Getting offended at the attitudes of a bunch of teenage boys is like peeing into the wind. You’re always going to get it in your face.†Never mind, of course, that not all Redditors can pee into the wind.

Daughter of Link Roundup (August 31st, 2009)

Photo by lyrabellacqua on Flickr

Photo by lyrabellacqua on Flickr

Men bloggers: the followup post

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Where are all the men bloggers? thread, and a big “Welcome” to those who are new here.

I’ve just shut down comments on that thread because a) the humour was getting a bit tired, and b) we were starting to see an influx of people who didn’t realise it was satire.

Here’s what’s going on.

Over the years, there has been a regular refrain of Where are all the women bloggers? coming from men bloggers, especially in the political sphere but also in tech blogging, business blogging, science blogging, and so on.

Women make up slightly more than half of all bloggers. And we blog in all those areas. Yet somehow, men quite often don’t notice.

The most recent iteration of this occurred a day or so back on Pollytics, an Australian political blog run by a guy who goes by the name “Possum Comitatus”.

Something that has surprised me for a while on the gender balance of the Australian political net is the lack of big female political bloggers. We have Kim and Anna over at LP as a group blog, while Tigtog and Lauredhel at Hoyden touch on politics occasionally and do it well — but where are the dedicated Australian political bloggers of the likes of Wonkette or Pandagon that we see in the US?

Let’s do our bit to find them. Know any female political bloggers in Australia? If so, drop a link in comments and we’ll list them here — big or small, old or new – and hopefully give them some exposure. If you’re an Australian female political blogger, don’t be shy – tell us about your blog. I for one would like to see far more female political voices in Australia’s new media.

It was quickly taken up by the Australia political blog Hoyden About Town, and a lengthy discussion ensued on both blogs, in which many of the same points were hit on as in every. single. iteration. of this topic before.

  • That there are no (or few) women bloggers [in that field].
  • That the ones who exist are not “really” bloggers [in that field].
  • That if men don’t read women’s blogs, nobody does.
  • That the subject matter covered by women bloggers is not important, or “frivolous”
  • That the subjects that women blog about (eg. disability) are “niche” topics not of general interest.
  • That mixing subject matter on a blog makes it “not count” towards being a blog on that subject.
  • That only blogging that is similar in content and style to the mainstream media is valid.
  • That women must crave and appreciate the attention they get when men notice their blogs.
  • That essential differences between genders are the cause of women (supposedly) not blogging.
  • That women don’t have time to blog because they are busy with housework and childcare.
  • That women who blog on certain platforms (eg. Livejournal) that are not “really” blogging or that other modes of communication (eg. Facebook) are less valid than blogs.
  • That women [political] bloggers are angry, bitchy, or whining and it’s hard to read their words because of it.
  • Patronising responses to women who stand up to say that they blog: “Ain’t you a treat. More power to you.”
  • Theorising — in the face of actual research — that studies would show a preponderance of male bloggers.
  • That there are more important things to be discussing, in any case.

All the above arguments can be found in the posts (and their comment threads) linked above. They are not new. They’ve been heard before, countless times, by women bloggers, and you’ll notice that for the most part we were intentionally making the same comments — often exaggerated to the point of ludicracy — in our comments about men bloggers.

From my original post:

I wonder why there seem to be so few men blogging in these subject areas. Is it just that they aren’t interested? Do they not have time what with all the sports and drinking and porn? Maybe they don’t feel up to handling tough subjects, or perhaps the conversational style is offputting to them?

Liz chips in:

I try to keep an open mind, though. From reading a few masculist bloggers I’ve found that something called the “second shift†means that guys at home have to bear the burden of doing extra home maintenance work, chef-ing, and just plain being daddies. So most guys don’t have time to really go in depth to understand, well, important cultural references, and contribute anything substantial. If you look past the shrill, scolding tone of those masculist bloggers, you can really learn something. Just watch out you don’t get your head bitten off.

Azz says:

I know what you mean! I’ve been encouraging my best friend to start blogging for years, or at least get an account on one service or another and at least start reading, but he keeps saying it’s not his thing and finally he said he just wouldn’t be comfortable with that level of exposure so I’ve given it a rest.

Maybe it’s just not a “man thing�

And gchick added:

It’s their own fault, really. If only they’d engage with the *real* blogosphere on dreamwidth or livejournal, instead of holding on to their blogger and wordpress instances the way they do, maybe people would take their posts a little more seriously.

Some of our other comments were satirical riffs on more common myths and misconceptions, or rhetorical practices that we see so often on the Internet when women are being discussed. I think some of us were aiming for a full bingo card, actually.

At the same time, some of our male friends like whump, Tim, zornhau, Scott, and Danny joined in, playing along with their mirror-world roles.

But quite rapidly, as the link to the article started being tweeted and dented and linked to all over the place, we started to get people coming in who… didn’t realise it was satire. We got some helpful folks linking us to tech blogs by men, letting us know (for instance) that a majority of the bloggers at O’Reilly Radar happened to be of that gender. Then finally we got a comment from someone named Jon saying:

Frankly, every tech or politics blog *I* read is authored by a male, and I often wonder why women don’t blog as much… maybe you’re just in the wrong micro-cosm of tech/politics.

You women can have your fun gossiping about how much better it is to be a woman and how all studies show you communicate better, but while you have these conversations you completely miss the actual realities: studies might show that women are *innately* better at communicating *certain* subject matter.. most specifically, emotions. Neither politics nor tech (and frankly not even journalism in general) should be a discussion that emotion takes part in, so it’s sort of a moot point.

That was the point where we reached the ne plus ultra of why-don’t-i-notice-bloggers-who-aren’t-like me discussions: a full circle, or perhaps a Moebius strip, of invisibility and gender essentialism, satirical criticism of same, and back again to where we started. It seemed like the right time to put the thread to rest.

Please, now everyone’s up to speed on the background and context, feel free to drop out of character and discuss. If this is your first discussion on the subject, I would recommend reading Where are the women bloggers? on the Geek Feminism Wiki as background before you dive in.

Where are all the men bloggers?

When I look around my Google Reader feeds, I see so many insightful, intelligent political and technical blogs by women, but hardly any by men.

For instance, I read Shakesville every day for US and international politics, The F-Word covers the UK, while for what’s going on in Australia I turn to Hoyden About Town or Senator Kate Lundy who blogs politics and tech.

Other tech blogs I follow: Shelley Powers’ Burning Bird, K. T. Bradford’s netbook and gadget reviews, and Amy’s Ramblings on open source software and social tech. And of course one of the best women blogging about technology is Kathy Sierra… oh, wait.

I wonder why there seem to be so few men blogging in these subject areas. Is it just that they aren’t interested? Do they not have time what with all the sports and drinking and porn? Maybe they don’t feel up to handling tough subjects, or perhaps the conversational style is offputting to them?

I guess, if I really think about it, it’s possible that I just don’t notice them.

Confused? Context, more context.

EDIT: The comment thread on this post is now closed. Please check out the followup post which contains an explanation of what’s going on here, and a chance to discuss further.

Revenge of the Link Roundup (August 17th, 2009)

Ten tips for getting more women speakers

Allyson Kapin has a post over on Fast Company, entitled Where are the women in tech and social media? in which she talks about the dearth of women speakers at tech conferences. She offers a list of things conference organisers can do to get more women speakers:

  • Reach out to groups such as the Anita Borg Institute, She’s Geeky, Women Who Tech, National Women of Color Technology Conference, Women In Technology International, Women 2.0, and Girls In Tech and ask for suggestions of women speakers based on conference objectives and target audiences. Build a relationship with these organizations so that the communications pipeline is always open.

  • Look at your programming committee. Is it diverse enough? Two women out of 10 are not diverse. Also, consider having 1-2 panelists solely focus on recruiting diverse speakers.
  • Take on a 50/50 keynote challenge.
  • Edit panel acceptance notices to include a section on the importance of having panels filled with diverse panelists.
  • Follow more women in tech and social media on Twitter. For example, Women Who Tech recently compiled a list of 75+ women in tech’s twitter feeds. Be sure and also look at the Speakers Wiki and GeekSpeakPR.

Here are ten more tips:

  1. Have a diversity statement and code of conduct for your event that shows that you’re serious about welcoming women and other minorities. Make sure it is included (at least by reference) in your Call For Papers and other speaker communications.
  2. Track the diversity of your speakers. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Count the number of women speakers from year to year, and if you’re proud of your improvement, tell people! If other aspects of diversity are important to you — first time speakers, speakers from other countries, cross-disciplinary speakers, speakers of colour — then count that too.
  3. Add a “Suggest a speaker” form to your website at the time of your CFP, and link it to your diversity statement. Ask people to suggest speakers you might not have thought of before. Follow up these suggestions with a personal email saying that the speaker had been personally recommended. You’re combatting Imposter syndrome here: knowing that at least one person out there believes in their knowledge and speaking ability will help potential speakers get over the hump.
  4. Avoid form letters. At least write a line or two of personalised, human communication at the top of emails you send to potential speakers, making them feel wanted. I’ve seen too many impersonal CFPs blasted to women’s mailing lists and ignored.
  5. If you’re a conference organiser or on a papers committee, go out of your way to attend sessions by minority speakers. If you’re in a rush, you can even just pop in for a few minutes. I saw one of the OSCON folks doing this to great effect the other week: he asked me, “Is $woman a good speaker?” She’d spoken at many previous conferences, but he had no idea, so I suggested he go see her in action. He went off and was back in 5 minutes. “She’s great,” he said. Her confidence and speaking ability had impressed him in no time flat. And yet he’d never known about it before.
  6. Let people know about any travel funding or scholarships which may be available for speakers at your conference. Women are less likely to be sent to conferences by their employers, more likely to be freelancing or working part time, or to have additional costs (eg. childcare) related to travel. Anything you can do to offset this will help improve diversity.
  7. When I’ve spoken to conference organisers and proposal committee members, what I hear time and time again is that technical interest is good, but having a great story to tell is better. Make sure your speakers know this! Emma Jane Hogbin, organiser of the HICKTech conference, had 50% women speakers and attendees, largely by doing this. This is a great tip for getting first-time speakers.
  8. In some fields and at some conferences, you’ll notice that women tend to speak about community management, documentation, and social tech rather than programming, hardware, sysadmin, and other more technical subjects. If those women submitted two proposals, one “hard” and one “soft”, the soft one may have been chosen to provide balance and texture to the conference procedings. However, the effect is to type-cast women speakers, and a vicious cycle may begin to occur. See if you can break the cycle by accepting more hard talks from women, or soft talks from men.
  9. Make sure that your conference’s extra-curricular activities are welcoming and safe for women. Here’s a tip: conference dinners with 90% or more men and free alcohol are not welcoming or safe. You don’t want to end up on a list of conference horror stories because of sexual harrassment, assault, or just plain sleaziness. If you can, offer taxi vouchers to help people get home from late night events.
  10. Pretend for a moment that your conference already has 50% women speakers and attendees. What would be different? Now do those things. Example: at one point OSCON had no women’s toilets on the conference floor, because of the vast gender gap in attendees. What message do you think that would send to potential women speakers? If you catch yourself doing anything like that, stop and reverse it immediately.

More information about women speakers at tech conferences is on the Geek Feminism Wiki.