Monthly Archives: June 2010

July 6th is the last day for super early bird rate for Grace Hopper Celebration

Just a quick reminder: July 6th is the last day for the super early bird rate for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

If you haven’t heard of GHC before, it’s a really amazing conference for women involved in technology (especially geek feminists!). Not only does it tip the usual ratios on their heads (hello, >90% women! And yes, that means men are welcome.) it’s one of very few conferences where I can say that even the most technical talks are interesting and well-presented (no boring grad students reading from slides in a monotone here!) There’s also job hunting opportunities, career advice, talks about work-life balance, impostor syndrome, and this year, I’m going to be taking part in a new track on open source, along with Leslie Hawthorn (whose guest post you might remember) and many other excellent folk.

I’ve met some amazing friends through this conference, women who continue to inspire me, and I highly recommend it to all of you.

IT careers for the older geek woman

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question.

Okay, I’m an older geek woman (turned 39 this year) who’s done some time on helldesk, and is currently studying for a BSc in Computer Science and Games Technology (double major). I started the degree because I’ve been applying for jobs pretty steadily, and I’ve been sent along to interviews on a fairly regular basis where I’m able to answer the questions, and I figure I come across as competent, but I never actually get the job, and neither do I hear back about why I didn’t get it. I’ve started to work on the default assumption that I’m disadvantaged in the IT market by being too female, too old, and suffering from “Not Pretty Enough” (I am not and never have been a pretty little thing; any attractiveness I have comes from my mind). I also have chronic depression, which means I really don’t want to be in a situation where I’m constantly attempting to push gravy uphill with a fork in regards to getting my abilities recognised.

Realistically, what would my career path options be?

Commenters, just a caution on this. A lot of people here work in IT, so a lot of people may want to comment. Great! But actual stories of non-traditional entry into IT are going to be much more useful than “well, I graduated at 22 and went into a graduate program, but here’s a theory I just came up with on the fly about what I’d probably try if I was in the questioner’s situation…” Did you yourself enter IT in your thirties or forties (or when older again), particularly as a woman or outsider? If not, have you seen someone else do it? If not, do you know of any studies or resources?

Also, please watch for privilege in your comments. Volunteering IT skills, participating in networking or common-interest groups, developing FLOSS and so on all take privilege of various kinds. If these are part of your recommendations or your own experience you can share them, but don’t imply anything like “well, if you really wanted to work in IT you’d…” or “well, if you were really passionate about IT you’d be…”

Update: please also indicate your geographical location(s) as precisely as you feel comfortable with. The IT job market varies a fair bit around the world and the questioner and other women in her position may want to weigh your advice according to conditions in their local area. (Special note to people in the US: shorthand for your cities like “SF”, “LA” and “NYC” are not always well understood outside the US.)

One scoop of linkspam flavour, please (27th June, 2010)

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.

Scientists are “normal” people, some children discover

This is a modified version of a post that was originally published at Restructure!

In Drawings of Scientists, seventh graders draw and describe their image of scientists before and after a visit to Fermilab.

The scientist has big square-shaped glasses and a big geeky nose with brown hair and blue eyes. I see a scientist working in a lab with a white lab coat . . . holding a beaker filled with solutions only he knows. Scientists are very interesting people who can figure out things we don’t even know exist. My picture of a scientist is completely different than what it used to be! The scientist I saw doesn¹t wear a lab coat. . . . The scientists used good vocabulary and spoke like they knew what they were talking about.

Continue reading

A linkspammer as good as a man (21st June, 2010)

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.

Open thread: hello newcomers

Let’s have a party. A better party than this party:

A monochrome unhappy looking woman surrounded by colourful balloons

Pity Party by Evil Erin on Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Several bloggers got keys to the Geek Feminism front page lately: Kylie of PodBlack Cat, Steph of 天高皇企鹅远 and vegan about town and Restructure! of Restructure!. Welcome to them, you’ll see them posting as and when they have time and inspiration, like the rest of us.

Two champage glasses, filled with confetti, being clinked in front of a brightly coloured background

Happy Party People Toasting Cheers Holding Champagne Glasses by D Sharon Pruitt on Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Let’s add to the party here. Are you reading any new blogs with exciting geek feminist content? Are you yourself new here and want to say hi? Come on in. This is also an open thread, in which you can discuss older posts, ask questions, tell stories, or anything else that takes your fancy.

Clothes and geek feminism

I’ve been chewing over various things about clothing and geek feminism since our recent posts about clothing and grooming (Kylie’s, Terri’s first, Terri’s second). I still think I can’t address it satisfactorily, but I thought I’d lay out various angles in which we might think of clothing and grooming in geek feminism.


  • I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
  • This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Grooming as make-work. Naomi Wolf, for one, made this argument in The Beauty Myth, that consuming women with endless grooming related chores and insecurities is a method of oppression. (I am barely read in feminist or cultural theory, undoubtedly hundreds of names could be listed here as having addressed aspects of this.) laughingrat raised this in our comments.

Clothing and grooming as geek interest. Some geeks take a geek-style (intense, analytical, open-ended, consuming) interest in various aspects of clothing and grooming. As examples of how you might do this, there are a lot of knitting geeks; there are historical recreation geeks who make and wear period clothing using period technology; there are people who study the semiotics and sociology of fashion.

Clothing as geek in-group marker and grooming as rejection of the mainstream. John writes in Terri’s comments that someone well-groomed in mainstream corporate style can be assumed to [be] trying to cover for a lack of competence in technical matters — or really want to be a suit. You often can’t, in this framing, be a geek and a suit both. You have to choose, and advertise this with your grooming.

Within geekdom, clothing is sometimes a pretty unsubtle marker of your allegiances. What cons do you go to? What programming languages do you prefer? What comics do you read? You wear shirts that allow this to be determined on first acquaintance. (This isn’t unique to geekdom of course, see also fashion labels and band t-shirts.)

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming in order to own/celebrate your gender. This is important to many trans people. Conversely to the above about avoiding overt gender marking, quite a few geek women also choose to do this in order to point out that there are women RIGHT HERE in geekdom who can bring the geek.

Grooming as a marker of striving to “fit in” generally. If you have unusual grooming, or grooming that is marked as “other” or of a lesser group, people with power over you will read this as likely to be trouble or not one of us. Conversely, dressing like those people, or like their other subordinates, signals will do what it takes to fit in, won’t make waves.

Unusual grooming as marker of power. Alternatively, if you have power over other people, you can mark this by unusual grooming, or grooming usually disdained. Ingrid Jakobsen raised this in comments.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

Grooming for self-esteem. Partly due to internalisation of the above, many women in particular feel happier, more confident and more powerful when they’re “well groomed” by mainstream standards.

Grooming which others female bodies. See the thing about conference t-shirts. Many don’t cater for curvy bodies. If they do, they often cater only for small curvy bodies. And they almost always assume a gender binary of curvy women who want curvy shirts, and square men who want square shirts.

Sexualised grooming. Women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as to be conventionally attractive.

Overly sexual grooming. At the same time as needing to be attractive, women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as not to be “asking for it”. (There is, of course, no middle-ground, see Rape Culture 101.)

Grooming for fun. Geek women may enjoy applying shiny, bright, matching, creative or cherished clothes and decoration to their bodies.

Grooming to get things done. Geek women may need to lift things, fit clothing to a prosthetic or mobility assistance device, run, avoid having a baby pull painfully at their hair, all kinds of stuff.

There are a great many intersectional things I have not addressed here, as a white, wealthy, abled cis-woman. A very very incomplete list would be: considerations about grooming to match your gender identity, considerations about grooming to satisfy people policing your gender identity, minimising grooming in order to preserve your spoons, grooming to honour and be part of your ethnic identity, grooming to meet beauty standards designed for white bodies and white faces, trying to find cheap clothes that won’t be judged in job interviews.

This huge list is just a set of things you could possibly be trying to signal or adhere to or avoid with your grooming. Hopefully this illustrates some of the tensions for geek women: for example, they are called upon to dress in both the feminine, careful style that signals “healthy and competent” but also in the masculine-coded casual style coded as “knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to [say] science” and also in something that won’t get them hassled as being unattractive in the street but also not hassled as too attractive…

I hope this has helped break down grooming and clothing as a geek feminist issue, or rather, massively multidimensional tightrope, a bit more. When women, and members of other marginalised and othered groups, consider their appearance, these are the kind of factors that go into it. Of course, in order to be accepted as geeks, we’re supposed to do all that and not care about clothes, right?

Call for guest posts: appearance/presentation issues

Some comments on both Kylie’s post and Terri’s latest post suggest that this blog should really is overdue to host discussions on geek women who are oppressed or trapped by or feeling policed about issues to do with: body image, femininity, gender presentation and similar, or who want to question and deconstruct them, or opt-out.

I know it’s a cop-out to say “we’d welcome guest posts”, but here’s why I feel it’s appropriate in this case: our bloggers who are most sensitive to these issues from personal experience aren’t able to be public about it in this venue at this time, or don’t feel that they can deal with the issue sensitively enough or analytically enough for a satisfying respectful discussion with others. So maybe I should say: we need guest posts to address these issues in a satisfying way, and we’re sorry that we can’t properly address it otherwise (at this time, at least).

If you would like to guest-post on this issue, leave a comment here or on the latest Open thread (you’re always welcome to offer a guest post on an Open thread). Otherwise if you’d like to share links, analysis and resources on these issues, or offer shorter comments, or angles that you’d like addressed on this blog by other writers, please comment.

Hairy-legged bra-burning linkspam (17th June, 2010)

  • Open World Forum 2010 (Sep 30 to Oct 1, Paris) is having a Diversity Summit: Why women matter? relating to women in Free/Open Source Software. There’s an associated poll to gather data about women in FLOSS that anyone involved in FLOSS might be interested in taking.
  • Andrea Phillips is super-excited about Caitlin Burns and Jurassic Park Slope events.
  • Making games is hard: On the barriers that women face: … as someone whose life has been consumed by learning the ins and outs of game development for the past three years, I have to say that making a game is pretty damn hard. And I think that the complicated process of game development itself can be a barrier to women entering the field
  • Discussing sexism in geek communities is more important than discussing gender imbalance: Restructure! writes Ironically, when some female geeks use the capitalist discourse of increasing female representation in STEM fields as a structural strategy for reducing sexism and improving our personal autonomy / right to pursue our career of choice, many male geeks misunderstand these efforts as being anti-choice.
  • In light of Restructure!’s post, see Eric Ries, Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business): That’s why I care a lot about diversity: not for its own sake, but because it is a source of strength for teams that have it, and a symptom of dysfunction for those that don’t.
  • Women and Technology and Myth: Adriana Gardella interviews Cindy Padnos, a venture capitalist. The article is a little bit on the "suck it up, buttercup" end of the spectrum, but has good points about critical mass and homophily.
  • Jessa Crispin has given up reading bad books about women: I had to give up on a pretty good book because halfway through I did a little equation: what was the probability that the two women in the book would turn out to be anything other than gold diggers and sluts. Not great! So: gone.
  • Isis the Scientist has more on John Tierney, bonus humorous pictures!
  • What I got wrong about women in science: Maggie Koerth-Baker writes Several hours after I hit “publish”, I realized that I’d managed to put together a panel on diversity made up of nothing but white people.
  • Her blogging about social justice doesn’t make Renee your on-tap free expert on womanism, anti-racism or social justice.

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.

Can you dress well and be taken seriously as a woman in technology?

This question isn’t exactly part of the ask a geek feminist series, but it did appear in the comment thread for the ask a geek feminist question about how to dress, which I re-addressed from another perspective here.

Melinda asks,

How do you know that you’re not taken less seriously as a woman technologist if you worry about your appearance and how you dress?

You don’t.

But I really do think geekdom works in our favour here because we as geeks tend to want to believe that appearance doesn’t matter. You might have to wear the geek uniform sometimes, or you might have to prove yourself intellectually when you start the job, but once you’re accepted, geeks are more likely to be forgiving/oblivious if you want to dress up some. (Remember some geeky accents like jewelry can work geek into your professional look, so you can be geeky and dress up if you want.)

But there are limits: you’re probably not going to get dinged for dressing well, but you will get dinged if you talk about it all the time, or you fail on the practical front and refuse to pick up a dusty router lest you muss your dry-clean-only blouse. It’s different for men in America, especially those working physical jobs, since US workmen need tough shoes if we want houses that won’t collapse in on our heads in the middle of the night at random. But for a girl, anything like fashion blogs at work? Also a no-no. Looking good is usually fine, obsessing over it when you could be obsessing over something more geeky… not so much. Just shrug and say you felt like dressing up; don’t tell your colleagues if you’re always spending hours at the mall searching for the perfect sweater.

Not everyone who sees you at work is necessarily going to be a fellow geek, and that’s where things can get messy. Others may judge you based on what they feel is appropriate business attire for women, not what they’re willing to let other geeks “get away with.” While it might not always influence how you’re perceived on a technical level, what you wear may impact other professional development.

If you’re one of few women in your group, you may find you stand out no matter what you do: even wearing the standard geek uniform isn’t going to help you fit in if it’s clear that you’re shorter/curvier/use the other washroom. This can be a curse, but it can also be a blessing: people aren’t going to expect that you look like all the others, so you don’t have to wear tech t-shirts every day. You may be able to choose and set the standard for women in your group, once you’ve decided what it should be. This gives you a unique chance to really set the tone for your professional dress.

Use your judgement and ask around: your age, location, company may all factor in not only to what you should wear, but also how different clothes will be perceived. But in my experience, there’s more flexibility for women’s appearance within geekdom than you might expect, maybe even more flexibility than the men have!