Nonbinary inclusion in “women’s spaces”

Two different feminists I know recently brought my attention to “On the Design of Women’s Spaces” by Kat Marchán, and I’m grateful to them and to Marchán. The essay provides a useful “hierarchy of exclusivity” that helps all of us think about how our feminist spaces — geeky or otherwise — could make sure that our policies, names, and advertising are not accidentally being exclusive.

Recently, while speaking with a group of non-binary folks, a discussion came up about how many of us are uncomfortable in “women’s spaces”. We talked about what these spaces usually intend, how they word things, and how they could align what they want with what they say, in order to get more of us to feel comfortable.

I participate in some feminist spaces, some of which exclude men, and some of which fall under categories 2, 3, and 4 in the hierarchy Marchán describes. [Disclaimer: I am cis.] As Julia Evans describes, women-only spaces are a hack:

Imagine you have a program, and it has a pretty serious issue. It needs some deep architectural changes to fix it, but you can alleviate some of the symptoms by just changing a few lines of code. You don’t yet know the best way to resolve the larger problem, but you need to do something, so you start with a hack.

… and we’ve started with that hack, and now it’s one that dozens if not hundreds of online and in-person spaces are replicating. I’m glad for tools and examples that help us get past that first initial hack.

I’m one of the co-organizers of an up-and-coming feminist hackerspace, MergeSort NYC (next project night tomorrow night!). Our “About us” text already explicitly mentioned non-binary people. But after we saw Marchán’s piece and talked about it, we decided to more emphatically include non-binary people, by switching around the phrase from “women and non-binary people” to “non-binary people and women”:

We want to be a place where non-binary people and women can make things, learn, and work on projects without fear or intimidation.

It’s one small improvement, and one we’re glad to make. (And we continue to look into more ways — big and small — to be more inclusive, across many axes, and are considering where we’d like to be on Marchán’s hierarchy. Our membership policy evolves as our lead team changes, as our members’ views change, and as we consider new articulations and norms from feminist thinkers.)

If this topic interests you, and you’re near Washington, DC, USA, you might also be interested in “Being Nonbinary in Women-in-Tech Spaces: A Panel Discussion”, an event this coming Tuesday the 11th run by Spanning Tree, the DC-area feminist hacker/maker space. And I’d love to see links in the comments to additional essays on this topic.

The Responsible Communication Style Guide: Technology and Beyond (Kickstarter promo image)

Kickstarting a responsible communication stylebook as community infrastructure

I haven’t been writing very much on Geek Feminism in the last year – most of us haven’t. I’ve also slowed down on posting to my personal blog. And one reason is that when I think about writing anything longer than a couple of paragraphs, anything particularly nuanced, I need to budget the time and energy for pre-editing, to make sure it hits my and our standards for sensitivity, and editing after the fact in case it turns out I got it wrong.

(That is not the only reason — lives change, new commitments emerge, people come into and out of group projects and each others’ lives, new venues like The Recompiler and ladybusiness and The Bias come onto the scene, and so on. But it’s one reason.)

You know what I would love? I would love a style guide that helps me write accurately and sensitively when talking about communities and identities, especially when it comes to identities I don’t know through my own personal experience. GLAAD’s reference guide helps with one facet (QUILTBAG people and communities), and there are similar references published by other advocacy organizations, but I’d love a more all-in-one stylebook that covers race, gender, sexuality, religion, and health and well-being, especially in the context of technology.

I’m in luck!

Audrey Eschright and Thursday Bram are crowdfunding to edit The Responsible Communication Style Guide. It’ll be a stylebook for writers and other media creators, covering race, gender, sexuality, religion, and health and well-being, and it’s the first book project by The Recompiler. The Kickstarter deadline is in less than two days.

The Responsible Communication Style Guide: Technology and Beyond (Kickstarter promo image)

The Responsible Communication Style Guide: Technology and Beyond (Kickstarter promo image)

In my opinion, a style guide like this would be a great piece of infrastructure to have — not just a tool for individual pro-inclusion activists, and a guide for any blogger, marketer, podcaster, or maker who ever pauses before publishing and tries to look over what they’ve written for accidental ableism, cissexism, racist or sexist microaggressions, and so on. It would be that, yeah. But it would also serve as a shared reference, so we can say: “Here’s a standard we want to hold ourselves to, and we’ll ask our allies to hold themselves to as well.”

I’m a programmer — heck, you saw me grow as a programmer here on this blog, from talking about the learning styles that suited me, and what I needed, to finding a place where those needs were met. Other technologists, maybe you’ve had the experience of working on a codebase where there aren’t any tests, and you have to inspect changes with your eyes all the time to see if you’ve introduced a new showstopper bug. And maybe you’ve also had the experience of working on a codebase with great test coverage, where you can move faster, because you know that if you make a change that would break something, you’ll find out fast, before it has a chance to hurt anybody. As Bram writes, “I want a linter for writing!”

HOWTOs and checklists and playbooks are part of how we make inclusivity more automatic. I’d love to see what The Responsible Communication Style Guide can do to further this trend.

So, please join my household in backing this before its deadline, which is this Friday, September 30th at 2:59 AM EDT. (As I write this, they’re 65% of the way to their goal, and need about $7,000 USD more.) I’d love to be able to write faster and with more confidence, and to see what emerges when a whole lot of people with high standards for responsible communication feel the same way.

Quick Hit: Toward a !!Con Aesthetic – new essay at The Recompiler

Over at The Recompiler, I have a new essay out: “Toward A !!Con Aesthetic”. I talk about (what I consider to be) the countercultural tech conference !!Con, which focuses on “the joy, excitement, and surprise of programming”. If you’re interested in hospitality and inclusion in tech conferences — not just in event management but in talks, structure, and themes — check it out. (Christie Koehler also interviews me about this and about activist role models, my new consulting business, different learning approaches, and more in the latest Recompiler podcast.)

Kameron Hurley’s “The Geek Feminist Revolution” available today

cover image of The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley is the author of the nonfiction collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, which contains the Hugo-Award winning essay “We Have Always Fought.” Her epic fantasy series, the Worldbreaker Saga, is comprised of the novels The Mirror Empire (2014), Empire Ascendant (2015), and The Broken Heavens (April 2017). Her first space opera, The Stars are Legion,will be published from Simon and Schuster’s Saga imprint in January 2017. Additionally, her first series, The God’s War Trilogy, which includes the books  God’s War,  Infidel, and Rapture, is a science-noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel.

The new book includes several new essays — how did you decide what topics to address in those, and what topics to either skip or address in other venues (such as your blog)?

We had a very tight timeline for this collection – it was only about nine months from acceptance to publication, and that was important because we felt this was the right time to launch this collection. Sometimes there is a perfect cultural moment for a particular piece of work, and this was the moment for this book.

So I chose essays that I felt would be relevant by the time it came out. Some of those are evergreen essays about feminism and writing and life, and some are framed by pop culture but discuss problems faced by many, such as those harassed by angry exes. It really wasn’t’ a matter of what to keep and what to save, as I needed to write all nine or ten essays in about a month. I believe we sold the collection in May or June and the final manuscript was due in July. It was quite a run to make sure we had a manuscript ready to start the process of copyediting, polishing, and legal review. All that needed to get nailed down very quickly to make time for quality control on the back end.

So it was more a matter of “Everything I write this month MUST go into the collection, so it better all be good.”

In your Reddit AMA in 2014 (as quoted here) you talked about how marketing and advertising normalize weird behaviors and beliefs. You’re an advertising copywriter in your day job, so you know a lot about marketing and messaging; how could geek feminists be more effective in our messaging, to persuade more people? Should we be
taking out TV ads? Are there simple errors we make a lot, in our social media & other public writing, that you wish we’d cut out?

This could be an entire book, or an entire post, at the very least. I often point out that my most successful essay, “We Have Always Fought” about the erasure of women from the history of combat, never mentions words like “patriarchy” or even “feminism.” I opened with a story about…llamas. Once I had you with the llamas, I had you, and I pulled you through the rest and allowed the reader to come to the conclusion at the end instead of pounding them on the head with it. People don’t like to feel lectured. Sometimes we get up on our soapboxes and use our fancy feminist theory words so folks will take us seriously, and what happens instead is that the only people who read those pieces are other people steeped in feminist theory. If you want to reach outside that group of folks, you need to write and speak in an accessible way.

I’ve worked hard in my novels to write roaring adventure stories. Folks come for the adventure. It’s only afterwards that they realize that immersing themselves in a really different world with different assumptions made them think about the assumptions of our world. I still get fan mail from people who say that showing the casual sexism experienced by a male character in a world where women were politically and socially powerful made them finally understand casual sexism and how it can grind women down. Alas, we can’t just say, “Constant harassment gets women down!” We have to make men in particular (or women who have not experienced it) feel it, and empathize with it.

There is also the matter of the very word “feminist,” which a lot of women stopped using during the 90’s backlash against feminism. Roxane Gay has led the way in rebranding “feminist” and making it a cool word to use again, and that was all in how she positioned it. “Bad Feminist” is a great title in so many ways. Feminism went from “Oh, those ladies are the fun killers” to “Oh, those are the rebellious women, the bad girls, the people we want to aspire to be” which is the best way to energize a movement, especially with young people (certainly the title The Geek Feminist Revolution is meant to inspire similar emotions. Who doesn’t want to be part of a revolution?).

One of the biggest roadblocks to the feminist movement in making big changes right now, though, is still intersectionality. The broader feminist movement has a middle-class white feminist problem (still!). We have concentrated a lot on getting powerful white men to support the movement, and I’m seeing a lot of that happening, but where it still falls down is in being more understanding and inclusive of issues facing women who aren’t white, or middle class. I’m also still seeing some backlash against trans women, too, and that’s just awful. We’re all in this together. But we have to move together.

I do find that sharing personal narratives and reframing stories in new ways can get people to look at issues differently. I’d like to see us get away from messaging related to, “This woman you’re harassing could be your wife or girlfriend or sister!” and into messaging about how women are people, as the framing of the first instance still implies women are things (the very simple “We are not things” declaration in Mad Max was a rallying cry). Much of the narrative related to women still positions women as Other, and in combating this narrative we have to make sure we aren’t just reinforcing it.

As I would tell anyone seeking to change behavior, you can’t just throw out a TV ad and expect it to change the world. You need to focus on your messaging, understand what it is you’re saying, and the best way to communicate it to your target audience. Then you build a campaign around it. Who does that, and who pays for that in an informal movement like feminism, or civil rights, is a tough question, as there will be people inside the movement who despise and disagree with it. That’s as it should be; it’s good to have internal debate. But I suspect this is why we haven’t seen more of it.

Movements like Black Lives Matter, We Need Diverse Books, and even Occupy Wall Street, benefit from having many leaders, many points of view, circling around a core set of ideas that many could get behind. I suspect the feminist movement should embrace this model a bit more, as I still see many feminists looking for singular leaders and singular messages, which is impossible to do if we really want to build a more equitable future. If anything, opening up the conversation and inviting more people in will reinvigorate the movement, even more than we’re seeing now. Feminism is simply “Equality.” And though there are many ways to get there – do we become equal by simply having the same set of “rights” as men as set down in the existing broken system, or do we burn down the system? – starting with the core concept of “equality” and working to change the system politically is a good start. If we can’t change it politically, well…. there’s always “burn it all down.” But let’s start the nice way first.

I’d like to ask about the effect of your geekiness on your feminism. We’re not just feminists in geek spaces; our geekiness influences our feminism, how we see and conceptualize the world and how we articulate our arguments and what countercultures we build, and I’d love to hear how that’s true for you.

I read and write about futures and worlds and people that could be. I recognized early on that if people can’t imagine a thing, it makes it very difficult for them to create that thing. It’s why I work so hard to push the boundaries of what I’m doing in my own geeky fiction, and seek out geeky work that challenges me, too.

I present worlds in ways that we haven’t seen before, or certainly ones we haven’t seen as normalized before. So many stories get presented as alien – you get this with The Left Hand of Darkness, where we the reader are given an outsider’s view of a society that still leaves us feeling it’s alien because the protagonist comes from a two-gender, patriarchal society.

One of the amazing things that happened to me in writing my Worldbreaker Saga was that it started to normalize new ways of looking at gender, not just for readers, but for me. I had characters who switched pronouns throughout their lives, and had polyamorous relationships, and a consent-based culture, and normalizing that in my own mind made all those things normal in real life for me, too. It’s much easier to ask someone which pronoun they prefer, and I no longer make an assumption that folks who have girlfriends don’t have husbands, or multiple boyfriends and vice versa. I was able to normalize in my mind the actual world as it is now instead of the one we see on TV. I saw human beings and their behavior as much more fluid and less static. I certainly hope the process of reading my books helps the readers the way it did me.

Feminist science fiction writer Joanna Russ once said that she wrote science fiction because it let her imagine how things could be really different, and that’s true for me too. I need to believe there is another world, a better world, or even just a different world. It’s a lie that human beings have always paired up into heterosexual couples, or women have always had less political power, or men have always sexually assaulted people. There were and are different ways to be, different social mores that govern what types of behavior are OK, different laws. If I can see it on the page, and imagine it, then I know it’s possible to create it.

Total Eclipse of the Linkspam (22 March 2016)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; 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.

Linkspam I dreaming or is this real life? (11 March 2016)

  • Writer’s Round Table: Disney Princesses – A New Hope or Propagating Stereotypes? | The GWW: “Recently, the Washington Post published an article discussing the linguistics of Disney’s animated “princess” movies, focusing on the types of verbiage used by and the amount of time given to the female characters in the films. Their findings were, to me, unsurprising, but they do shine a light on a long-running issue that encompasses far more than just linguistics.”
  • This simple policy will shift social norms in the right direction for Canadian Women in STEM | Canadian Science Policy Conference: “A simple policy to require gender balance in prestigious plenaries, keynotes and speaker series would help enormously. In Canada, such policies are broadly lacking across nearly all organizational levels: from departments, to faculties, to the higher education institution, oversight bodies and professional societies. Such a policy, broadly applied, has the power to shift entrenched social-cultural norms rapidly in the right direction.”
  • Women-only spaces are a hack | Julia Evans: “Imagine you have a program, and it has a pretty serious issue. It needs some deep architectural changes to fix it, but you can alleviate some of the symptoms by just changing a few lines of code. You don’t yet know the best way to resolve the larger problem, but you need to do something, so you start with a hack. This is why we have women-only spaces.”
  • Impostor Syndrome – an analogy and pep talk | Mary Robinette Kowal: “So next time you feel the Imposter Syndrome hitting, recognize that it’s a symptom of the fact that you levelled up without noticing. It’s a crappy feature and the UI is totally borked, but you are can handle it. Impostor Syndrome means that you are winning.”
  • On Conversations | beerops: “I would love to see more conference organizers reaching out to groups and individuals who haven’t gotten a chance to tell their stories yet, rather than inviting the same repeat speakers back year after year. Even if these dudes are great speakers, those are still speaking slots that they are making unavailable for other people in order to tell their own stories again, when there are so many people who haven’t had a chance to tell a single story at all.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; 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.

The Author of the Linkspams…My Brother (1 March 2016)

  • Even Mothra, Queen of the Kaiju, Has To Lean In Sometimes | Harlot (February 21): “Mothra stands (figuratively) as a symbol of the way women need to perform better, smarter, and faster than our male-counterparts (literally) to even just be part of the conversation.”
  • What Can Be Done To Address Harassment In Science? | Forbes (January 29): “Why does it make sense to identify such discrimination and harassment as scientific misconduct? Because research grants are awarded to achieve the dual goals of building new knowledge and training new scientists. Scientists who abuse training relationships to harm trainees, vulnerable members of the research community, are doing harm to the project of science. More broadly, beyond training relationships, scientists who in the course of their funded research activities engage in discrimination and harassment targeting other members of the scientific community are damaging relationships within the knowledge-building community — and, by extension, undercutting their field’s ability to build reliable knowledge.”
  • Refugee Girls Got To Dress Up As What They Want To Be When They Grow Up | Buzzfeed (February 3): “The International Rescue Committee recently sent photographer Meredith Hutchison to meet with young girls in two refugee camps in Jordan and ask them about their hopes and dreams. The project, called Vision Not Victim, saw the girls draw pictures of what they want to be when they grew up, now that they have escaped war. Each girl then participated in a photo shoot based on the drawings to pose as their grown-up selves. They were even given copies of the photos to show their families and keep with them as a reminder of their goals.”
  • The chemistry of discourse | Making Light (February 27): “What we really need for free speech is a varied ecosystem of different moderators, different regimes, different conversations. How do those spaces relate to one another when Twitter, Reddit, and the chans flatten the subcultural walls between them?”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; 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.

Open source needs you!

While there are probably as many avenues into open source as there are open source contributors, two interesting programs are gearing up in March 2016 and I want to draw your attention to them. These both offer routes for new contributors who’d like to be paid, as well as opportunities for people and communities interested in mentoring.


Outreachy helps people from groups underrepresented in free and open source software get involved. We provide a supportive community for beginning to contribute any time throughout the year and offer focused internship opportunities twice a year with a number of free software organizations.

Currently, internships are open internationally to women (cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people. Additionally, they are open to residents and nationals of the United States of any gender who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin@, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. We are planning to expand the program to more participants from underrepresented backgrounds in the future.

Applications for the program are now open and the deadline for applying is March 22, 2016. Free and open source software organizations and supporting companies are invited to express interest in sponsoring the program this round by March 22.

Read more about Outreachy and get application/sponsoship information on the Outreachy website. One thing that I think is really nice about Outreachy is that it is an internship that is not limited to students and recent graduates but instead focuses on underrepresented communities. I’ve never participated, but students and mentors alike have told me that it is a great program that fosters a deeper mentoring connection than many similar programs. I particularly love how communities around Outreachy really go out of their way to help the interns network and get access to job opportunities.

On a personal note, the Python Software Foundation currently has money that could be earmarked for Outreachy but insufficient mentorship available to sponsor an Outreachy intern. If you’re an experienced mentor and Python contributor, or willing to volunteer as an administrator who could try to entice and coordinate such people, please drop me a line at terri(at) and I’ll try to get you connected to the right folk.

Google Summer of Code

GSoC2016Logo: a sun containing the characters "</>" with the words "Google Summer of Code" beside it

11 years, 103 countries, 515 open source organizations, 11,000 students.
Over 50 million lines of code.

Spend your summer break writing code and learning about open source development while earning money! Accepted students work with a mentor and become a part of the open source community. Many become lifetime open source developers! The 2016 student application window is March 14th to 25th.

Google Summer of Code is open to post-secondary students, age 18 and older in most countries.

You can read more about it on the Google Summer of Code website. It’s a pretty neat program: Google chooses a set of open source organizations to participate each year (2016’s orgs should be chosen by the time this post goes up!), then those organizations in turn get slots and choose students who they’re willing to mentor. Google pays the students, the open source groups provide the mentoring, and the students provide code and fresh ideas.

I’ve been involved with GSoC for a number of years, as a mentor for GNU Mailman, I did a few years as a mentor and administrator for Systers (a women in computing organization; I no longer mentor for them because the time commitment wasn’t possible), and the past few years I’ve been the organization administrator for the Python Software Foundation. It’s a great program that has really had a huge impact on the open source communities who participate — I’m particularly proud of one of my students with Mailman who went on to become one of our more active core contributors.

Interested in participating as a student?

If you haven’t participated in the program, you may not know that the largest group of applicants are young men from India, in part because many Indian colleges actively encourage their students to apply. So if you’re someone who is not a young man from India, you’ll be a minority in this context! Many open source projects are especially eager to talk to students in other time zones (sometimes there are mentors who go idle because no students are available to work to their schedules!) and with different academic backgrounds, so this can be a chance to really stand out.

Here on the Geek Feminism Blog, we’ve talked about GSoC quite a few times. Here’s two posts that might be useful to you:

In my role as Python org admin, there are two questions I hear more than any others, so they’re part of our FAQ. Since they might be useful to others, here are some links:

We need mentors too!

Both Outreachy and GSoC groups are actively recruiting mentors right now. If you’re involved with a open source project that’s participating and willing to spend some mentoring time, these are both structured programs that can be great ways to give back to your open source community.

If your project isn’t contributing, there’s still time to sign yourselves up for Outreachy! And although GSoC mentoring organization applications have closed, there may still be opportunities for new mentors who are willing to learn a new project or participate as a “sub org” under the umbrella of a larger organization.

Not in a position to mentor? Cheer on the students, advertise the program, or use this as an excuse to learn a new project and follow along with the incoming students as they learn!

Quick hit: Matching challenge to help WisCon Member Assistance Fund, ends tomorrow

I have been to WisCon, the world’s oldest feminist scifi convention, several times and I am going again this year (May 27-30, 2016, Madison, Wisconsin, USA). I love the smart, funny conversations, the great accessibility, the feeling of a space that’s majority-feminine and majority-feminist, and the relevant sessions. WisCon continues to influence the geek feminist community by trying to lead as a hospitable, feminist event, and publicly working through its failures and missteps.

WisCon has a Member Assistance Fund to help people who need financial help to attend the con. Longtime WisCon participant and fan Jed Hartman is donating to the Member Assistance Fund — and, till tomorrow, he’s matching donations up to USD $2500.

…this year, the Fund got a lot more requests than it ever has before, and even after last week’s great fundraising effort, the Fund ended up $5000 short of being able to help everyone who qualified.

So let’s fix that. This week, I will personally match every donation to the Member Assistance Fund, dollar-for-dollar, up to $2500. In particular, that means that if y’all collectively put in $2500 by the end of the day on Saturday the 27th … then I will put in the other $2500, and together we can provide financial aid to everyone who qualified.

Donations of any size are welcome! And, as of yesterday, we’re nearly halfway to the goal. To donate, go to the WisCon blog and click the Donate button.

Interview: Authors of the paper “Women’s Representation in Mathematics Subfields”

Right now, you can read a preliminary draft of a paper analyzing women’s representation in subfields of mathematics. The abstract:

We use data from papers posted to the Mathematics section of the arXiv to explore the representation of women in mathematics research. We show that women are under-represented as authors of mathematics papers on the arXiv, even in comparison to the proportion of women who hold full-time positions in mathematics departments. However, some subfields have much greater participation than others.

The authors, Dr. Abra Brisbin and Dr. Ursula Whitcher, are both scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. I interviewed Dr. Whitcher about their methodology, findings, and further hypotheses, and about the additional burden of doing diversity work in the sciences.

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