Author Archives: brainwane

About brainwane

Sumana Harihareswara is a geeky woman living in New York City and teaching newer coders, reading science fiction, writing technical documentation, and programming (most recently at the Recurse Center). She has managed programmers at an open source consulting firm, led the open source community behind Wikipedia, and co-edited a speculative fiction anthology. She dents and tweets as @brainwane.

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.

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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Analyzing How “Hamilton” Appeals to Geek Feminists

“History is the trade secret of science fiction” — that quote’s attributed to me, but I think I got it from Asimov.

Ken MacLeod, “Working the Wet End” interview, The Human Front Plus…, 2013, PM Press

For the past several weeks I’ve listened several times to the cast recording of the new Broadway musical Hamilton, and I’m only one of many; my circles of fandom have fallen in love with it and it’s the most-requested and most-offered fandom in this year’s Yuletide fanfic exchange. I’m quickly summing up some thoughts not just on what makes Hamilton good, but what makes it so astonishingly appealing to my circle of feminist friends who also adore reading speculative fiction, and who don’t generally find their tastes running to Broadway musicals.
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UK cover for Sorcerer to the Crown

Book Club: “Sorcerer to the Crown”, postcolonial wish fulfillment, and impulsive women

The votes came in and we decided to read Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. It’s a fast-moving period fantasy with a bunch of women and people of color, and it’s the first novel by this British-Malaysian author. Come for the dragons and stay for the social justice, or vice versa! You can read the first chapter for free online. Spoilers under the cut!

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Donate and register now to vote in OTW and SF3 elections

If you care about the parent nonprofit organizations of Archive of Our Own and WisCon, you might want to vote in their upcoming elections, and registration deadlines are coming up fast – in one case, today.

The Organization for Transformative Works registration deadline is the end of today, October 6, 2015. (To become a voting member, you must have donated at least USD$10 within the last year.) I believe the deadline is “11:59pm in your timezone” or “11:59pm Eastern Time in the US” since I just donated here in New York City and my receipt is dated October 6th around 8:40pm. Edited 1:52am UTC to add: The deadline is 2am UTC, or, in about 8 minutes.

Voting in the upcoming election for OTW’s Board takes place November 6-November 9. OTW supports the journal Transformative Works and Cultures, the Archive of Our Own fanwork archive, legal advocacy, the Fanlore wiki, and related activities. Here’s an unofficial roundup of how and why to vote, from an unofficial Tumblr following the election.

The Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction, or SF3, is the nonprofit parent org for the annual feminist scifi convention WisCon (which is nearly 40 years old). SF3’s annual meeting is scheduled for Sunday, October 18, 2015, at 11:30am (US Central time; link to time converter). Members can attend in person or via phone. The annual meeting includes an election to fill open officer positions and votes on proposed bylaw revisions and grant requests. To vote at the annual meeting, you must be an SF3 member by the time the meeting starts. SF3 offers three annual membership tiers, ranging from USD$9 to USD$24.

For both organizations, if you will not be able to cast your votes during the voting period, you can designate a proxy to vote on your behalf (SF3, OTW).

Apologies for being pretty late in signal-boosting this.

I’ve donated and registered to become a member of both organizations, and will be interested in learning more so I can be an informed voter!

Book Club: What should we read next?

Attention constant readers! It’s time to choose our next book!

Here are three candidates, two fiction novels and one research paper:

Cover of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy

will be published 6 October 2015; 368 pages

I’ve pre-ordered this final book in the Ancillaryverse trilogy and will be eager to talk about it with other geek feminists starting, probably, on October 7th. Protagonist Breq used to be a starship, connected instantly to multiple bodies, and hasn’t quite gotten used to being singly embodied. I think the first book in the trilogy, Ancillary Justice, integrated fist-punching-related adventure with flashbacks and thinky conversations and interstellar intrigue and music really well. It’s about power and institutions, about the lived difference between true mutual aid and imperialism, and about how to be loyal to imperfect institutions and imperfect people. And explosions.

Ancillary Sword, the middle book, shifted settings to concentrate on one spaceship near one station orbiting one planet, helping us compare societies that are functional, dysfunctional, and broken. Leckie compares othering, oppression, and possibilities for resistance across urban and plantation settings. And I utterly bawled at one character’s soliloquy on the way to her doom, and at tiny hopeful steps of mutual understanding and community empowerment. Also, again, explosions.

Here’s the first chapter of book three, and in case that’s not enough, here’s some fanfic based on books one and two.

The Ancillaryverse is scifi that argues with other scifi; you can see the Radchaai as Borg (ancillaries), or as Federation (per the “root beer” and Eddington/Maquis critiques from Deep Space Nine), and you can see Justice of Toren as literally the ship who sang (see the comments in Leckie’s post here, around the novels’ feminist lineage). I’m looking forward to seeing more of Leckie’s conversation with other speculative fiction, to more critiques, and more explosions.

Photo of Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle. Photo by jeanbaptisteparis, CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert, “Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete”

published 1991; about 31 pages

Sociologist, psychologist, and technology researcher Turkle authored this paper with constructionist education researcher Papert, and reading it gave me new language for thinking about me as a programmer:

Here we address sources of exclusion determined not by rules that keep women out, but by ways of thinking that make them reluctant to join in. Our central thesis is that equal access to even the most basic elements of computation requires an epistemological pluralism, accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking….

“Hard thinking” has been used to define logical thinking. And logical thinking has been given a privileged status that can be challenged only by developing a respectful understanding of other styles where logic is seen as a powerful instrument of thought but not as the “law of thought.” In this view, “logic is on tap, not on top.”….

The negotiational and contextual element, which we call bricolage….

Our culture tends to equate soft with feminine and feminine with unscientific and undisciplined. Why use a term, soft, that may begin the discussion of difference with a devaluation? Because to refuse the word would be to accept the devaluation. Soft is a good word for a flexible and nonhierarchical style, open to the experience of a close connection with the object of study. Using it goes along with insisting on negotiation, relationship, and attachment as cognitive virtues….

I appreciated the case studies of programmers and their approaches and frustrations, the frameworks analyzed and suggested (e.g., relational and environmental), and the connections to other feminist researchers such as Carol Gilligan. If you feel like your approach to engineering makes you countercultural, you might like this piece too. Here’s a plain HTML version of the paper, and here’s a PDF of the paper as originally typeset and footnoted.

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown

published 1 September 2015; 384 pages

Author Zen Cho’s speculative and historical fiction foregrounds the perspective of women of color, specifically the Malaysian diaspora; she has non-US-centric views on diversity which I find both disorienting and refreshing to read! You can read the first chapter of her first novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, for free online. It’s a fast-moving period fantasy with a bunch of women and people of color. The blurb:

Zacharias Wythe, England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, is contending with attempts to depose him, rumours that he murdered his predecessor, and an alarming decline in England’s magical stocks. But his troubles are multiplied when he encounters runaway orphan Prunella Gentleman, who has just stumbled upon English magic’s greatest discovery in centuries.

I’d love to discuss themes in this feminist Malaysian-British author’s work with other geek feminists. In her postcolonial historical romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, her short story collection Spirits Abroad, and in Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho depicts adventurous, mercenary, or blasé women who use, disregard, or otherwise play with expectations of femininity. She illustrates how both mundane and magical institutions use gatekeeping to prop up their own status hierarchies, and how that affects people trying to make their way in. Intersectionality, diaspora and immigration, the culture of British education, and queer relationships also appear in Cho’s stories over and over.

if you read The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo then you might be forewarned of the kind of genre switchup Cho is doing — I definitely see Prunella Gentleman prefigured in Jade Yeo. I particularly like that, in Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho writes in a genre that often has kind of a slow tempo, and moves the speed up so there are more exciting plot developments per page, and adds more Wodehouse-y shenanigans and off-the-rails conversations, without ever sliding into unbelievable-silly-farce-romp or territory. And there’s a spoiler I badly want to talk about with other people of color!

Something else altogether

You tell me! Let’s try to wrap up voting by Wednesday October 7th.

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Feminist tech demos: menstruation, harassment, an erotic wearable, and more

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

On Friday, I interviewed feminist technologists at a demo showcase in New York City. (Thanks to NYC Media Lab (a higher education-city government-industry partnership) for giving me a press pass to their 2015 annual summit.)

Patchworked Venus

Joelle Fleurantin presented Patchworked Venus, “A wearable exploring how computing has given birth to a new form of sexual intimacy”. See the embedded video below for a demo.

Patchworked Venus: Erotic Haptic Device Preview from Joelle F. on Vimeo.

Ms. Fleurantin, (MPS ’15, NYU ITP), discussed her design with me, explaining that instead of being a phallic accessory like a lot of other erotic devices, Patchworked Venus emphasizes other erogenous zones. Her artist’s statement asks:

How can an erotic device become a tool for body modification: an extension of the user rather than a facsimile of an external, imagined person? And what then becomes of this augmented wearer, specifically when her body is not raceless like those present in dominant representations of the cyborg?

Patchworked Venus explores these questions by casting an intimate experience within the context of dress as performance.

The garment, in contrast to conventional vibrators, is meant to be worn, and uses heat, compression, and touch on the wearer’s back, inner thighs, and nipples. A warm circuit provides heat over the breast, motors like those used for haptic response in mobile phones give the user a sensation of touch on the back and the inner thighs, and an inflatable jacket and hood literally embrace the wearer with a pneumatic actuating system, providing a pleasant feeling of compression and constriction. She “designed and milled breakout boards for use with the Adafruit Flora” (from her “About” page). Ms. Fleurantin also considered using soft robotics and lithography to give the wearer a sensation of breath on the skin, but decided against it since that approach would require a large, loud air compressor.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

Check out her ten-minute thesis presentation for more on the Erotic Haptic Device and Patchworked Venus. In it, Ms. Fleurantin discusses her influences and process, including her upbringing as a black woman, learning from her mother how important self-presentation, grooming, and clothing were. I noted down some names and links from that presentation and from my conversation with her on Friday:

(I had previously known Ms. Fleurantin because of her work on user research for the Mozilla wiki; I’ll be curious to see her next project as well!)

Compliment

I spoke with Lucy M. Bonner and tried out her immersive harassment simulator “Compliment”. Ms. Bonner (MFA Design and Technology ’16, Parsons the New School for Design) developed “Compliment,” a virtual reality experience using the Oculus Rift, and you can see a demo video on YouTube if you sign in.

From her artist’s statement:

Compliment is an immersive experience of street harassment designed and created for the Oculus Rift. It demonstrates the fact that harassment creates an atmosphere of intimidation and tension for women on a daily basis, that it is not ok, and that it is not a compliment. Compliment conveys the forceful intrusion and violation of space and attention that makes a woman feel vulnerable, angry, and silenced in order to raise awareness and effect change.

Ms. Bonner received much more street harassment when she moved from Houston to New York City, and used those catcalls she heard in real life to populate the set of harassing comments that simulated harassers say to the player. She appreciates how virtual reality lets her offer, say, a 6-foot-2-inches man a way to experience the world as a shorter, more vulnerable person. “Many of the harassers in the experience are much larger than the player, which creates part of the sense of danger and intrusion in confrontations.” Also: “Players are unable to respond, as in the real world with concern for safety, and are forced to constantly hear and dodge unwanted attention.”

I mentioned to Ms. Bonner a truism I’ve heard (via Adria Richards or Lukas Blakk, I believe) that men tend to use augmented reality experiences like Google Glass to more powerfully navigate the world, while women tend to use them to document their experience in the world. Ms. Bonner wouldn’t put “Compliment” in that latter category, and not just because VR and augmented reality are different approaches; she considers “Compliment” more outwardly focused, showing other people what her experience is like rather than concentrating on gathering proof of the experience itself. “Compliment” conveys, as she puts it, the “cumulative atmosphere of silencing and objectification”.

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot

d.Bot

I spoke with Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth about their quite different simulator, d.Bot. “Drawing from female experiences in online and offline dating, d.bot is a chatbot that simulates conversing with an unenlightened male.” Ms. Chin and Mr. Collinsworth (MFA in Design & Technology ’16, The New School) used JavaScript, socket.io, and Parse to develop d.Bot, and made it partially to test out a theory about a different approach to artificial intelligence than you often see. Rather than aiming for a predictive response, d.Bot is trying to stimulate a particular response in the human user. You can try it out at http://bit.ly/dBot.

A demo session with d.Bot

A demo session with d.Bot

Ms. Chin said that it’s been nice to be able to use things guys have said to her, and that hearing or seeing new annoying messages, she figures, it’s going into the pot. (This includes a comment a guy said to her during fair setup, just before I arrived.) You can also click the “Feed Me” button to add something a guy has said to you, if you’d like to add more quotes to the database.

Mr. Collinsworth hopes d.Bot will help men experience what women experience, both online and in the physical world; any one guy saying uncreative things doesn’t experience what it’s like to hear those same comments frequently and en masse. In that vein, he suggested that perhaps Tinder could show users an originality score as they type messages to other users, flagging likely boring messages and discouraging users from sending them.

Ms. Chin said that she’s seen other critique of boring or harassing men (street harassers and OKCupid and Tinder users) that’s more in a name-and-shame mode, and that she wonders whether a critique in the form of humor around originality and creativity would be more likely to change the player’s behavior, as opposed to dinging a user and saying “you’re a bad person”. For her and for other d.Bot users, the bot is also a fun way to vent — she said she’s seen women happy to finally have a chance to talk back to these messages in a safe, consequence-free sandbox.

I asked for her thoughts on feminist dating apps like Bumble, and we discussed the possibility that Bumble (in which women can and men cannot initiate conversation) is just moving the problem a little further down the road; instead of screening out men at the stage of initial online conversation, het women might find that they go on more dates with men who don’t interact well.

SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presented “SHVRK”: “Surf the crimson wave with fewer fatalities”. Users can sign up to get text message alerts of their friends’ menstrual cycles. Below is her SHVRK v1.0 demo video.

Ms. Raffaelli (MS Integrated Digital Media ’16, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering) and I spoke a little on Friday, and then she answered my questions on SHVRK, her influences, and her feminism via email:

There are apps for women to track women’s cycles, and there are apps for men to track what they don’t like about women’s cycles. The former often have pastel palettes, cute logos, and an emphasis on fertility and pregnancy. The latter have a handful of angry responses from the feminist community.

As long as bodily fluids and excretions are taboo, periods will be taboo. The app was never meant to change anybody’s views of leftover uterine lining. That said, the divisive nature of the current apps on the market doesn’t offer many people the opportunity to level the playing field. What we need is an app with an interface with universal appeal. We need an app that doesn’t perpetuate traditional stereotypes, but educates and facilitates. We need an app that makes the monthly inconvenience a little more convenient.

I’ve tried apps with features I didn’t need. I don’t need help getting pregnant, I don’t need to share my uterine woes with a community of empathetic blood sisters, and I don’t need cute puppies to guide me through reminders to hydrate. What I do need is an app that alerts my man to the state of my hormones. What about the men who don’t care about the difference between pads and tampons, ovulation versus menstruation, or what PMS really stands for? Well, I don’t blame them­­I’m not sure I would care for the details either if I didn’t go through it monthly.

The first steps were figuring out what would make a man WANT to use the same period app as a woman. My favorite answers were from the “make me a sandwich” types of guys. If this could get you laid, would you use the app? But of course.

Who is this app for? This is for women who like men, men who like women, and women who like women. This is for the monogamous and polyamorous. This is for the people with a sense of humor. This app is for those who say “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die.” This is for anybody who has ever been cockblocked by a period.

“…why you made SHVRK (including your dissatisfactions with other services and apps)…”

My shark week isn’t a big deal. In fact, I usually forget about it, and that’s why I started to use the apps. These would give me a heads up, and I realized, you know who else could use these updates? My boyfriend. When the conversation comes up, he tries to either be understanding or a comedian. He cares, but he’ll never really get it. Why not give him just the information he needs without framing it in etiquette and small talk?

My research showed that there were tons of apps for men. They seemed to have exploded between 2008 and 2010, and most of them enraged the feminist community. Could it be possible to make one app that could appeal to those menstruating as well as those not menstruating?

“…what technologies you used to make it…”

The graphite pencil. Illustrator, After Effects, and the rest of the Adobe suite. Started playing around with a bit of this and that for the final product, from PHP to Swift… This is a lot of learning as I go.

“…what some next steps are…”

Step 1: iOS or Android? Step 2: Launch.

“…your feminism and the ways in which the project is feminist…”

Feminism can be a scary word. Every female in this society develops a relationship with it, and that makes it a weighty, frustrating, and complex matter. Feminism is a spectrum. We might avoid it all costs, or we embrace our own definition, or we embody someone else’s interpretation without realizing it. That’s about all I can say about ‘feminism’.

I want to bid farewell to man­bashing and figurative bra­burning. There are too many women in the world with no access to proper hygiene products and women who are cast out of their homes during that time of the month, but there are also too many man­bashers and bra­burners here fighting a fight that’s been fought here. What if we take another approach to understanding the difference between men and women in the little world of people with smartphones and access to clean running water?

In April, Leslee Udwin visited NYU for a special screening of her film ​India’s Daughter. There are two relevant memorable moments from that night. The first was when Leslee Udwin said she set out to answer ‘why men rape’. The second was when I asked if she had found her answer, and she responded that she expected the men she interviewed to be monsters. She expected them to be textbook psychopaths. What she found was that they were just humans like you and me. They were not ‘bad apples’ spoiling the barrel. The barrel was bad.

There are bad apple feminists the same way there are bad apple chauvinists. SHVRK is not about redefining ‘man’ or ‘woman’, but about leveling the playing field between unique individuals like you and me, ​so we don’t have to hear “Are you PMSing? Are you on your period?”

“…​and what or who some of your influences are.​”

Leslee Udwin is pretty amazing, but here I have to officially say Happenstance. Nothing goes up on a pedestal like happenstance. Letting the cards fall as they may is magical and always a little mysterious. Let it lead the way.

And more

I concentrated in this piece on discussing demos from the summit that particularly spoke to me on a feminist level, but I saw women technologists presenting many projects you might find interesting for other reasons. StackedUp uses AI for investigative reporting. NEW YOARK is an augmented reality mobile app that emphasizes the diversity of languages spoken in New York City. Bullet Pointe Lab designs and makes innovative clothes for ballet dancers, such as shorts with heating elements to help warm hips so they can open more fully. I saw multiple more clothing-related apps, natural language processing research, a tool to help you analyze your own social media activity, and a Twitter bot and collaborative storytelling and coding project telling the stories of people incarcerated at the Rikers Island correctional facility. On my way out the door, I spoke to one of the event staffers, a woman who’s working on Haveyouseenthem.org, a project to use the web and stickers on milk cartons to raise awareness of missing Central American and Mexican migrants.

Thanks again to NYC Media Lab and to the innovators who spoke with me.

cover of TRADE ME by Courtney Milan

Book Club: Thought experiments around privilege, and more Trade Me thoughts

Apologies for getting this up late; I’ve been travelling back from WisCon (where I also praised Trade Me at length!).

So as you saw in my April post announcing Courtney Milan’s contemporary romance novel Trade Me as a GF book club topic, I love this book for multiple reasons. From here on out I’ll be indulging in spoilers, so, more after the jump!

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