Translation: Feminismo, by Alfredo Arteaga

This poem is by the Argentinian writer Alfredo Arteaga and was published in 1917 in Antología Contemporánea de poetas argentinos. It is guaranteed to annoy. I stuck it in my anthology of women poets, in Appendix B. This is what our poetisas had to deal with — damning praise, the gist of which is, “Shut up, look pretty, quit writing poetry!”

Don’t be fooled; it is not a feminist poem. It’s a critique of the feminists of 1917, who were fighting for rights, for education, for the vote, and to be taken seriously as writers. It’s a great example of how feminization can be used by patriarchy to infantalize and silence women, to deny them agency.


Feminismo


Porque es vuestro, mujeres, el encanto
que ilumina y perfuma la existencia;
porque vertéis amor–eterna esencia
de toda la alegría y todo el llanto;
porque, al pasar vosotras, los más nobles
y fuertes corazones se estremecen
y juncos, tiemblan los que fueron robles;
porque gemas y flores nos parecen
creadas sólo para vuestro lujo;
porque no hay en el mundo quien ejerza
función sagrada o soberano imperio,
sin estar sometido a vuestro influjo;
porque dáis, aunque débiles, la fuerza
que penetra al abismo del misterio
y sube del ensueño hasta la cumbre;
porque la irradiación de vuestra gracia
a todas las tinieblas presta lumbre,
y nos brindáis un bálsamo divino
para cerrar heridas del destino;
porque formáis la excelsa aristocracia
de virtud, de bondad y de belleza,
a la que sólo el vil infiere agravios;
porque sóis la suprema fortaleza
(que dijo Salomón en sus Proverbios)
ante la cual se humillan los soberbios;
porque son siempre necios los más sabios,
si en vuestra copa no han bebido un día
la ignorante, esencial sabiduria;
porque es vuestra la luz de las leyendas,
el alma musical de los cantares
y el fecundo calor de los hogares;
porque recibe Dios nuestras ofrendas
con agrado mayor, si vuestras manos
o labios la elevan; porque el cielo
os desterró para adornar la tierra
y aquí extender de la ilusión el velo;
en fin, porque, entre títulos humanos,
os pertenece el título que encierra
toda la majestad y la dulzura –
ese nombre de madre–¡oh bellos seres
que derramáis primaveral frescura
en los tiempos más foscos de la historia
y que santificáis nuestros placeres,
contentaos por siempre con la gloria
y con la suavidad de ser mujeres!




Feminism


Because it's yours, women, the enchantment
that illuminates & perfumes existence;
because you shed love–eternal essence
of all happiness and all sorrow;
because, on meeting you, the noblest,
strongest hearts tremble
and oaks turn to shivering reeds;
because to us you seem to be gems and flowers
created only for our luxury and enjoyment;
because there isn't anything in the world that exercises
sacred function or imperial sovereignity
without being submitted to your influence;
because, though weak, you give strength
that penetrates the abyss of mystery
and you mount in dreams to the summits of mountains . . .
Because the radiation of your grace
brings hunger to all that’s dark and and hidden
and you bring us a divine balm
to heal the wounds of fate:
because you form the highest aristocracy
of virtue, of kindness, and of beauty
to which only the evil give offense;
because you are the supreme fortitude
(just as Solomon said in Proverbs)
before which soveriegns make themselves humble;
because even the wise are most foolish
if they never drink, from your cup,
your naive, essential wisdom:
because it's yours, the light of legends,
the musical soul of the singers
and the fertile heat of the hearths;
because God hears your prayers
with greater amiability if your hands
or lips lift them to heaven;
because heaven exiled you to adorn the earth
and extends here the veil of illusion;
in fin, because, among human titles
you have the title that encompasses
all majesty and sweetness,
this name of mother–oh lovely beings
that spill over with primeval freshness
in the greatest focal points of history;
you who sanctify our pleasures,
content yourselves for always with the glory
and the softness of being women!
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Highly trained girl-monkey sys admin bait


geeking at the conference
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I was saddened and angered recently at a geeky gathering, to hear a very annoying and sexist story about women at techology conferences. A young man was talking to another guy and a couple of women who also looked to be in their 20s. He was laughing and telling a story with a tone of “Wow, listen to this hilarious amazing thing!”

According to this poor little dude, it is hilarious that it has become common that at sys admin and other tech conferences, big companies send women in undercover to do stealth recruiting. His story laid out how the big companies “specially train the women to sound like they know what they’re talking about”, priming them with lessons in the correct use of technical jargon. They send sexy women who are basically “high class call girls” to flirt with the valuable (assumed unquestioningly to be male) sys admins and programmers and get their information, and to figure out which ones are good and know their job. Then the Trained Monkey Fake Sys Admin Whores pass that information on to their superiors (also assumed in the story to be male) who actually know what computers are, for them to do intensive recruiting.

“Hahahaha!” laughed the young women at the party.

“Wow, hahahah!” laughed the guy listening.

“It’s totally true!” said the young spreader of poisonous, sexist, urban myths. “I even know guys who have slept with them!”

Oh for fuck’s sake. Let’s just undermine the legitimacy of technical women at conferences just A LITTLE BIT MORE with our messed-up “booth babe” stories, shall we?

If this even had a grain of truth to it, what would it sound like, framed differently? “Some companies send technical recruiters to technical conferences.” That’s it. There is nothing newsworthy there. I mean, DUH.

But, as soon as there are WOMEN in the story, it is given a misogynist spin, which is assumed to be hilarious and titillating and to make the listener feel superior. Because the technical recruiters are female, they are sluts, or “call girls”; definitely sexually available and exploitable. Because they are female, they are assumed in the story to be ignorant of computers, technology, sys adminning, and programming; any knowledge they DO have is “fake” because it is is artificial “training” given to them as a thin veneer just to mask their real goal which is sexual predation on the sys admins, run by mythical “big company” pimps.

I was super amazed to hear this crap coming out of someone’s mouth, at a party which was chock full of skilled, amazing, geeky women, and men who are sweet feminist allies. But, on the other hand, I was not amazed, because this is exactly the sort of thing people say all the time about, and around, technical women, or any women in male-dominated fields. It is part of the background of undermining and de-legitimizing women, that poisons the fucking air we breathe, that makes people assume we suck, that makes us women have to prove ourselves in every new professional context, to everyone we meet, that means we have to be 10 times better than a man in a comparable context before other people believe in our professional credentials.

Just think about that next time you hear a bunch of dudes arguing about why there aren’t more women in programming and engineering, and, quit looking for your biological explanations, and go check your own assumptions, and the kind of stories you tell and tolerate in your communities.

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Annoyingly sexist framing of Google VP Marissa Mayer


Photo
Originally uploaded by thisgirlangie

As an inoculation to what I am about to expose you to, here is an awesome photo of some ubergeeks from the Google-sponsored Geek Girl Dinner organized by Angie Chang from Woman 2.0. From left: Sumaya Kazi (Sun Microsystems & The Cultural Connect), Katherine Barr (Mohr Davidow Ventures), Irene Au (Google), Rashmi Sinha (SlideShare), Angie Chang (Women 2.0)

By some quirk of fate, a copy of San Francisco Magazine arrived at my house today. If you’ve noticed this vapid glossy magazine for aspiring Not-LA and Not-NYC socialites, you will know why I was automatically tossing it in the trash. But there on the cover were the words “Google’s geek goddess”, and I had to look, knowing how annoyed I was about to become.

Oh, it was so much worse than I imagined!

According to SF Magazine writer Julian Guthrie, Google’s employee #20 and first female engineer Marissa Mayer is “not what you expect.”

What the hell do you expect? Who is “you”? Some drooling dinosaurish idiot who not only thinks the important thing about women is a mix of prettiness, girliness to the point of infantilization, sexiness, etc but who also thinks that “we” the readers of the article would expect a gazillionaire engineer-turned-corporate-executive to be some kind of Hollywood Geek Girl stereotype with unkempt hair who needs to take off her glasses and stop being obsessed with computers to become pretty.

Soooo how are we framing the opposite of what “we” expect? Mayer “looks Grace Kelly gorgeous, a tall, blue-eyed beauty with blond hair pulled back from her fresh face. She is much livelier than you might imagine, and her clothes are anything but humdrum.” This assumes “our” default expectations to be the opposite; female software engineers as humdrum, boring, un-lively, certainly not beautiful and maybe not blond.

You can see two assumptions set up here:
* Women who like computers are ugly.
* It fucking matters.

You know why it does matter? It matters because sexist and misogynist assumptions do still have a lot of power in our society. And we need to change that, by pointing out that misogyny and sexism are stupid, wrong, and undermine social trust and gender relations.

The article descends further into idiocy, still on page 1 of framing Mayer as a person and as a professional, by quoting some Valleywag posts calling her a social climber, implying that she got her job or position by dating Larry Page, and “using her looks”.

Guthrie quotes a Valleywag editor saying, “Marissa is surprisingly pretty in person. That in itself is a rarity in Silicon Valley, and you’d have to be naive to think that doesn’t color people’s views of her.” Great. This is a rhetorical strategy common to misogynist bullshitters: undermine a woman’s achievements by claiming her main “achievement” is being pretty, or worse, implying she used her sexuality to get a little dollop of fake power and status from someone Actually Powerful who deserved it. When powerful smart men are friends with other powerful smart men, those personal relationships aren’t framed as devaluing their talents and skills. But as soon as a woman has a personal relationship with a man, the power imbalance is assumed to be there along with a host of other assumptions about sexuality, the stereotype of a woman sleeping or flirting her way to her status. It’s tokenizing; it’s like suggesting women are only in tech because of Affirmative Action By Boyfriend. In other words, we are not “allowed” by history to have our own status. We only have status by proxy as given to us by men who have sexual access to us, real or implied sexual access.

I’ll list through a few more of the sexualized and sexist terms used to describe Mayer. Her “throaty laugh”, how she’s “the only blonde in a room packed with mostly dark-haired young guys”, she “acts goofy and girly”, has a “ballerina posture”. There’s a weird setup where Mayer is described as a geeky robot, “mechanical”, precise, unsexed, but then that unsexed-geek-girl stereotype is defused by her “personal passions” and “coming-out party of sorts for a new kind of Silicon Valley star.” That hypothetical ghost of a robotic passionless scruffy geek is contrasted with the girly, giggly, sexy, cupcake-baking, fashion-loving, non-threatening woman who sometimes shops for purses.

“Mayer is fiercely competitive. She wants to make the best cupcake, wear the prettiest dress, have the coolest penthouse.”

SIGH.

I think we can all enjoy cupcakes and fashion without being freaking defined by it. I’m not objecting to anyone’s hobbies of geektastic cupcakes, knitting, wearing pretty skirts made for super rich people, or whatever. I’m not objecting to femminess and the deliberate, or just automatic because that’s how we are, geeking up of things that are supposedly traditionally feminine.


me & Liza Sabater at SXSWi, photo by Rachel Kramer Bussel

BUT. The implication in articles like this is that women NEED a specially feminized presentation of self in order to prove that it’s okay for women to like computers. That’s completely stupid!

There is another problem in this article, and in the general pattern of media attention on powerful women in male-dominated fields. It’s isolation and tokenizing. An article will frame the tech world as if there is only one important woman. She is always presented as the Lone Woman in the midst of techie guys. Tokenizing! Context is important. And my own context, as a woman in this field, is that it’s full of heroic efforts of women in computing to make professional and personal connections with each other. Consider Mayer in contexts with other women:

* Webguild
* Grace Hopper Celebration 2006
* Blogher Business

Those images, for me, are much more powerful and meaningful than the one Guthrie paints of the Lone Blonde Chick at the party full of men. Journalists should not “disappear” women in tech by canonizing one saint who they love and hate, praise, objectify, and revile. There are a lot of us here!

To be overly generous, I would like to mention that after the first 3+ pages of utter crap, Guthrie did write a good, interesting, middle section to the article, which straightforwardly describes Mayer’s background in computer science, her interviews at Google, and her early work experience there, including the sort of oh so wacky “Nudist on the Late Shift” geek-culture stories about Wacky Startups that we can’t really avoid and that I do still enjoy hearing about and living in the midst of. So I’m not slamming Guthrie’s basic competence as a journalist and writer, and the article is not all fluff; it’s way less fluffy than you’d expect from SF magazine, that society rag for the more droolingly idiotic of the rich and famous.) Then we hit some more stuff about being a party hostess and cupcake making, Mayer’s childhood doll collection and background in “precision dance team” which must be a lot like what in Texas was called “drill team” and meant cheerleaders doing dance; and more bilge about underneath her Geekitude and corporate executiveness Mayer is “still that geeky super-normal enthusiastic girl”. What? I’m still trying to decode what “geeky super-normal enthusiastic girl” means. The effect to me is of deliberate girlifying of a brilliant, competent, powerful adult, in other words infantilizing them in order to make them less threateningly powerful-seeming.

I can’t even dignify the paragraph about Mayer’s dating life with a quote; it was just dumb. FFS.

But the end! The end was the worst! “Does Mayer ever see herself going completely low-tech and focusing (professionally or otherwise) on art, entertaining, baking, or fashion? ” You know, what would have to be wrong in an interviewer’s head for them to ask that question? What the hell? Why would anyone ask that question of one of the most powerful engineers at an extremely successful company, a person with a couple of degrees in computer science and many years of experience in the industry? “Oh… just wondering… have you ever thought of forgetting about this lil’ ol’ computer thing and sticking to cupcakes?”

I can”t wait to hear what my colleagues on Systers, BlogHer, and Linuxchix have to say here. I was also thinking that as a response we could add some good detail to Marissa Mayer’s Wikipedia page.

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People I met at BlogHer; and the swag

Here is a giant bigass post with links to all the people I met at Blogher. It was often a blur of meeting people who recognized me because I am recognizable with the purple hair and all. But then I would forget their names unless they had badges on or I already knew them from long conversations from previous years. And then people who I sort of know or felt like I should know better than I actually remember knowing. And already it’s been a week since the conference, so I’ve forgotten what were at the time very cool connections. YOU KNOW HOW IT GOES. (Talking to someone 5 minutes secretly thinking omg who are you who are you i totally know who you are but your hair is different now until it clicks, thank god because I often can’t fess up that I don’t know.) Sometimes, I was smart, and made a note on the business card of what we talked about and what I intended to do as a result. “email to her Sondra’s info” or “damn this guy is pushy” or whatever.

What I really want is for all these fabulous geeky women to come to BarCampBlock in Palo Alto, August 18-19. Come! I’m helping to organize it! Sign up on the wiki, on upcoming.org, on the Facebook group, and/or on EventBrite. Also, I’d like to see them all again at She’s Geeky in October, — Oct 22-23 in Mountain View!

First and perhaps illogically the people I already know. My amazing roommates at the W, SJ of I, Asshole who I have known online since my first days of blogging. And her friend Shauny whose name I only knew peripherally from years of seeing it in SJ’s sidebar as her web host and I think blog-mother — Shauna who is like a rock of sanity and interestingness and I could just wait for the next hilarious sarcastic thing to come out of her mouth. And I love SJ’s business card: “Generous Lover + Writer + Dope Bitch / Super Jive at your Service”. This year, we refrained from the secret topless photos of last year, but I could not help down-blousing her a couple of times. Someday the world will be properly at her feet. She will be like Molly Ivins, except boozier and dirtier.

Blogher

Annalee Newitz from Techsploitation and I hung out a lot. We did at SXSWi as well. There’s a funny balance at conferences between hanging out with new people and hanging with people you already know who are from your hometown. You want to be around the people you already know, and connect up with them because you don’t see them enough. But on the other hand if you do that too much you never meet anyone new! And then I’ll go through a process of thinking “Oh well if I want to see Mary then I can just call her the hell up, why don’t I?” and vowing to call her when I get back home. But with Annalee, because we know each other so well, it’s like being in a warm bath. So when I get overwhelmed by conference or need to process it all with someone super safe, you will find me texting the shit out of Annalee with “Where r u” until we meet up and can hang out and relax. I was super happy she came to BlogHer, and so proud to hear her being smart and articulate as hell at the keynote with Esther Dyson and Rashmi Sinha. Anyway, it’s a long way since the days when she would go “Blogging? Why! Full of drama! Just be a professional journalist and get paid!” And she kicks so much ass! And so I was happy to see her see that BlogHer is one of those places you can be all the parts of yourself at once, asskicking, geeky, and human. I really liked what she said about BlogHer; I feel the same way, and this sums it right up.

There were tomboys, mommies, punks, tarts, ladies, bitches, nerds, and girls. There were professional women in suits and perfect hair, and grubby rockabilly gals in tattoos and tight dresses.

Because so many of us were there, we stopped being women and just became humans. This is an incredibly rare experience in the tech industry.

I have three different cards from Mur Lafferty. I am totally going to stick my tentacles into Mur’s brain. We could not talk for more than 30 seconds without shrieking “NO! I must see that! Send me the link!” I vote her Person I Most Want to Be New BFF With. I will let her ride my bike, and chop the hair off all my Barbies, and post in my group blogs, and and and. I will also buy a “Mur’s Bitch” tshirt and wear it with pride. I wish I had spent more time just following Mur around, and especially with laptops open and the links flying, but the hanging out we did do was so nice it felt like we had known each other forever.


Possibly the nicest down time at the conference, me, Annalee, Barb Dybwad, Mur (whose novel thing you can find at Heaven seasons 1, 2 and 3, Gina, Jason from Lulu.tv, Marshall, and then later SJ, Shauna, and Susie. Beer in the sink! Computers at hand (but no good wireless)! Pizza on the floor! Conversation flying! Screaming laughter!

Onwards!

I hung a bit with Beth Kanter, whose blogging I admire and who is just Fun. She laid a whole bunch of stuff on me at my request about blogging and wikis and nonprofits and in fact she has some enormous wiki squirrelled away that explains it ALL. I will link to that and write it up separately when I have spare brain cells. Amusingly… one of her Moo cards was a photo I took of her lying on the floor upskirting me at the FIRST BlogHer. Yes we are very very rowdy when you take 95% of the men away. Women’s tech conferences are like a huge frat party but with more giggling and craft projects and light flirting. Just as you always suspected, guys!

I talked a bit (never enough!) with Dave Coustan and I’m linking to him even if it is a link to his benign corporate overlords. He is “extraface” on twitter if you want his personal life. And surely some of you do!

I hung out with my homie and fellow Woolfcamper Jen Scharpen, who works now for BlogHer Ads and for BlogHer itself!

And ended up with a card for Beth Blecherman who I know from meeting the Silicon Valley Moms Blog folks! Jill Asher was at the conference too I think, but I don’t remember seeing her. OMG maybe she changed her hair and I *did* talk with her and she’s one of the people I should totally know and yet only have met in person twice. I also don’t know Beth super well, but always enjoy talking with her!

Deb Roby – I do not have her card on me, but know where to find her! We sat across each other at dinner one night at the W hotel and had a grand old time with the gossip.

Georgia Popplewell from Global Voices and Caribbean Free Radio, someone I’d like to know better, and didn’t get that heart to heart talk with, but at some point I know we’ll do that! Oh, she’s fantastic!

You see the problem with BlogHer. It is full of amazing people to the point to where your head explodes. If you love to talk with smart, clueful geeks and writers, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop.

Laurie White of Laurie Writes. We talked at dinner at the W about education and community college teaching and social class. I was trying to recommend the book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne to Laurie. This is my reminder to do that! Or maybe she’ll vanity-technorati and find this and will make a note of it. Also, you should all buy it and read it. It’s a very good explanation of social class and of its hidden rules, and ways to translate culturally between classes.

Karen from Trollbaby/Vodkarella was so much fun at sushi… We and Queen Tureaud aka Erin (whose blog name for her kid is, get this, Queen Peanut Punk as Fuck) and whose writing I also read with interest elsewhere, Anyway my point was we were eating sushi and drinking sake and joking massively about bi-curious mommyblogger dynamics. I know what you are thinking … when do these blogging chicks NOT talk about sex? I’m not sure but not when I’m around that’s for sure. Seriously though, Karen rocks, and I am still very appreciative of the great blog redesign she did for me!

Okay, that is the people I already knew reasonably well, or at least the ones whose cards are right in front of me.

More later of all the other people, but this post is already way too long.

Just one more thing.

SWAG! The best stuff I got at BlogHer was the bags, as usual. The glowing martini glass entertained me for a while. And the AOL memory stick was also nice and made me feel warm and fuzzy, but I left it in a geocache at breakfast yesterday. Tiny hand mirrors and a couple of magnets, also good, and they’ll stick around rather than being thrown away. So I am left with some stickers and flyers, and the main tote bag, and the awesome AOL body (?) laptop bag. I don’t know what AOL body means, and don’t care, but I think kindly of them in a general way now, instead of hating them for the litter of “free online access” CDs that infested the world some years back. The cocktail party food at the Childrens’ Museum party rocked. That stuff was delicious!

Someone’s missing out big time on the geeky-slogan tshirt selling opportunity, and the fact that everyone wants to mod up and decorate their laptops, and have a fancy unique laptop bag. I also agree with Lisa Williams that if they’re going to give us hand lotion, which I like perfectly well by the way, it should have LEDs in it. YES. Just throw some girly shit at us, like laptop bags that look like robotic parts with rivets, AND sparkles, or light up hand lotion with a control panel, or futuristic star trek salt and pepper shakers that also have GPS in them. Ipod cases, etc. We are GEEKS and like gadgets, and little thingies to decorate gadgets, and useful things to put things into, at BlogHer!

I wonder how many tiny cute laptops and iphones Apple would have sold if they had set up something at BlogHer? What do you think?

Tools, also. Tools and gadgets that are cute and portable. I am thinking of how Radio Shack had a table at Maker Faire, and was selling fabulous small toolkits for 10 bucks. I bought one for the trunk of my car. NOW when I am trapped in an earthquake on the highway I will not only have moldering powerbars and boxes of raisins and bandaids! I will also have a full set of wrenches!

Cars were a really good idea too at BlogHer 2006. I bought a car last year, and I hated the process with white hot blinding passion and I had to deal with slobbering sexist jerks at the car dealership.

I’ll write more later or tomorrow as this is part 1 of at least 3 posts on BlogHer. Part 2 will be the other people I met. Part 3 will be the panels I was on and that I went to! No wait. I need Part 4 for the Unconference in which I talked about wikis for like 6 hours. That’s it, peace, out.

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Pink and sparkly

Okay on the one hand, Geek Girl Bingo. Pink, sparkly, cute, colour choice, stereotype city. I am totally down with calling people on their constant application of these ideas to femininity.

On the other hand, I kind of want this. On the substrate of the pink and sparkly Hello Kitty laptop, I would add a million bad attitude stickers, and it would be glorious. I could mod my Hello Kitty with some green tentacles to make a Hello Cthulhu. It’s kind of a problem.

Clearly my mind is not free from colonization.

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(Not so) fascinating, Captain

Wifi was spotty at the Web 2.0 conference, but I enjoyed meeting people and listening to talks in the Web2open part of town. My coworkers Luke and Kirsten and I gave an off the cuff demo and talk about wikis, blikis, and various ways of looking at wiki content. I came away thinking further about measures of wiki health, tightness, outward or inward-lookingness, and the idea of a wiki having periods of growth or pruning.

I caught part of Rashmi Sinha’s talk, “Massively Multiplayer Object Sharing” and am hoping to hear more on the same themes of designing for large systems. It’s such a pleasure, because I have been thinking and talking for a while now in an amateur way about having many different metrics and algorithms to rank and measure value – in order to counter some of the flaws of complete democracy. I just talk about it, while people like Rashmi and Mary Hodder actually put these ideas into practice!

The only other talk I caught was part of the “Invincibelle” demo. While it is a lovely idea and I’m all for it, I was somewhat turned off by the line “After all, women love shopping…” Yeah okay, er… Did I really just hear that! But I’ll put that aside. Invincibelle has some great interviews with interesting women working in tech. It is a great idea but I have some (I hope constructive) critiques to offer. The site needs good navigation and stronger linking between people. Why not make this an actual social network site? So far, it’s just a custom-built blog with good interviews, a forum, and an rss feed of some job postings. Another thing that could be improved – how about adding some links to the women featured and their web presence? They have companies, blogs, contact info, presumably – but I can’t find that in the interviews. Why not make a nice sidebar with feeds from all the featured women’s blogs? Then their voices would be heard even further! Scalability is another concern. I would love for this site to grow. But when it grows what will it look like… where is a coherent directory of the people of this network – for example I would like to be able to click on profession titles and read about all the chemists or physicists or programmers and perhaps also by country, as I imagine people from particular countries might like to find each other. Maybe those features will get added and the site will move a little further into the “2.0” philosophy. I could say the same (a critique, with suggestions, and with love) for sites like el Salón de Belleza which has similarly inspiring portraits and profiles and interviews with amazing women (thought not focused on tech.)

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away, across the Expo hall, someone from this company was asking the audience for its demo, “should we search in our social software for swimsuit issue models, or victoria’s secret?” Apparently a segment of the audience indicated its preference for lingerie soft porn over bathing suit soft porn. Some women walked out. Maybe some men did too – I hope so. The subtext is not subtle to me. Who did the speakers think they were talking to?

In the context of all the years of discussion about “how to get more women at tech conferences”, this was an amazingly ignorant thing to do in a professional talk. I like many of the comments from my fellow geek and techy women in the comments here, for example, the calmly and neatly expressed simple statement by Nicole:

As an engineer and woman who uses the internet daily for work and personal I am still blown away by these ridiculous portrayals of women as objects in tech ad campaigns.

Some more on this, a quick roundup:

Ah! Here’s the women of Web 2.0!

Men (and a few women) of Web 2.0. This is so odd; it’s a photo of the crowd for a keynote, and the crowd is overwhelmingly male.

Meanwhile, Christine Herron posts about the gender ratio at the conference. This year, women made up 18% of the conference attendees.

I was on the Web2open side of the conference all of Tuesday, there were a ton of women, I didn’t feel outnumbered or out of place, and quite a lot of the speakers and presenters were women; in fact, more than half. I have a few thoughts on why this should be so. One is that women might be more likely than men to not be able to afford to go to the main conference if the fee was not paid for by their company. On that note — info I can’t source at the moment but that I’ve often read — women in companies don’t push to be sent to conferences while men do, because of self-judgements of level of expertise (Eszter Hargittai has some good research data on self-perceptions of competence and expertise in tech, though). Another crucial element that helped the gender ratio at Web2open; Tara Hunt actively recruited – repeatedly – women in online forums, in public and private, to participate, and pointed out the other women who were coming. That level of active outreach is very important and is part of why SXSWi had such success in increasing participation by women in the industry.

And back to the annoying lingerie model issue: I’d like to point out that O’Reilly’s screenshots were interesting and demonstrate the cleverness and interest of the product in the exact way that the demo didn’t. Doing a beavis and butthead style sniggering soft core porno “women as consumable objects” search only revealed what will end up being the ugly side of identity aggregation and search sites; using the web creepily to stalk & harass women. When this happens it won’t be the fault of the software or of the internet, it’ll be a mirror that exposes what goes on at all levels of society.

One more post, from SFWoW:

unbelievable that MCPs are still willing to show their stripes in SF these days; but there is no accounting for cluelessness among the supposed-Digerati.

Yeah there is some anger out there. And as anyone with half a brain should know by now, it is unsafe professionally for women in the field to indicate (even very calmly) that they are annoyed (even very mildly) by sexism.

I think some of the anger comes from our (speaking for women in tech) high expectations. We want to believe y’all utopian-thinking techie web 2.0 dudes are somewhat enlightened and we want to believe you see us as human beings. It is disappointing when those wishes and beliefs are proved wrong – over and over. I look forward to hearing more men say “actually that’s not funny” to each other. I don’t want to become the enforcer. The point is not for guys to watch what they say in front of women like me. That will only result in even less real communication. The point is to accept the criticism, to wipe the big green embarrassing booger of sexism or racism from your nose and say “oops sorry about that” and then move on from there. (YES please click on that link and read it – and then look at the defensive reactions every time women speak up and point out misogyny – for example what do men do but deny, claim they meant well, accuse women of being “too sensitive”, and then find women to defend them and testify how non-sexist they are. The point is not that you “Are” the point is how you BEHAVED just now, which in this case, was dumb and sexist.)

How many times do we have to say it? Talk about our work and contributions, not about our looks. Link up to and highlight women’s thoughts and writings, respond to the substance, rather than just going “har har har, beavis, of course we want women at our conferences (so we can hit on them).”

I would like to close by mentioning, for any geeky women reading this, systers and the Anita Borg Institute once again. They rock, there is no nonsense about nail polish or whatever, it is just a very practical network and resource for women in tech.

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Let’s get naked

Wouldn’t it be awesome if this were true? If some techie magazine had an article about being “Naked” or transparent in business practices, and in the article featured a bunch of men, and used a naked photo of one of *them* on the cover? Or a whole office full of cubicles with naked people? Since the article is all about guys anyway, and since it’s a tech magazine not Cosmo, and since there seems to be a dearth of women on its covers in general… WHY go this route?

How can a woman get featured in a tech magazine? Be eye candy.

Even better… be a naked secretary.

How annoying!

I’ve been watching many of my female colleagues get mad about this for weeks. Reasons for *not* getting mad (or for not showing it to male colleagues even if you do get mad) include, as usual, “If you show them that it hurts you, they’ll do it more.” All very well to say when dealing with anonymous trolls, but over time, this is not a productive strategy. It is also not effective when dealing with institutions or organizations more powerful than you are. If it annoys you or you think it’s not funny… say so!

And to guys who ask their female colleagues (or their girlfriends) for confirmation that they’re not sexist… Do you really think you’re going to hear it from them if you are? They already put up with you. They’re not going to be the ones to let you know. They might even have a heavily vested interest in letting you think that you’re not offensive. If they called you on your behavior, you might dismiss them as one of those crazy feminists…

People really aren’t getting the point that it’s about context, and objectification, and exploiting women’s bodies while devaluing their experience, knowledge, and contributions to the field — it’s not about prudery or censorship.

Arrrgh! Why not just throw in a Math is Hard Barbie and some B-list porn stars pretending to install Linux while you’re at it?

Stephanie Quilao puts it really well:

Okay, I get that corporate transparency is an important trend, but why do you have to put a naked woman on the cover to make your point? Why not put one of The Office guys naked on the cover? Oh that’s right! {hit myself on the noggin} It’s because no one wants to see a naked guy on the cover of a business magazine. Naked guys on covers isn’t showy. No it’s gross. But naked chicks, weeell that’s a different pad of sticky notes.

Frankly, I think you were not being creative at all in this cover. It’s familiar boy’s club crap. Yeah, just sex up the receptionist. Why didn’t you throw in the pot of coffee while you were at it? Naked women on business magazines is just wrooooong, and that’s why it’s never been done before by anyone with class. For crying out loud, how can you be so progressive and backwards at the same time? It’s ridiculous Wired people! This just has sexist bad taste written all over it. This is definitely showy but it is by all means NOT smart. I want to unplug you now.

And commenter Bianca Reagan adds in response to one of those standard defenses,

The fact that you don’t have a problem with the historical objectification of women says a lot more about you and your complacency than it does about my desire to be seen as a human being with equal rights.

Right on Bianca!

If you’d like to sound off about the cover and have something to say about objectification…. Let the editor of Wired know.

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Increasingly upset about the mean kids

This keeps getting worse and worse. I had read in several places that Maryam Scoble was “mentioned in meankids.org” but that’s got to qualify as one of the worst euphemisms ever. “Mentioned”? For god’s sake people. It’s one of the nastiest pieces of racist, misogynist, cruel, psychotic garbage I’ve ever read. It’s not snark and it’s not satire.

I’d like to know exactly who wrote it. I’d also like to know who thinks it’s funny. Go on, sign your names and stand up proudly to defend your brand of humor. Cowards.

What a fucking outrage. I keep trying to calm down and have perspective, and to say what I’ve got to say about being fearless and not letting this panic people into demanding more closed spaces and less free speech, and I still think that, but then I get mad all over again, and am feeling in the grip of that particular internet outrage obsession where I want to check technorati every 15 minutes and see what else has been revealed, and now that I’ve read this I’m back to square 1 of boiling over with rage.

I’m going to go read Pandagon and poke around in the feminist blogosophere because I think I’m only going to find the rage I need to inhabit there. Maybe Twisty Faster will write something. Tennessee Guerilla Womenzuzu at Feministe

I know that there are people who wish this would blow over. But I think we need to look at the ways racism and misogyny are connected here. I’d like us (“the blogosphere”) to reject racist hate speech very firmly. Fine, let there be free speech and let it exist in some nasty little dark corner of the web where the white power insane-o people lurk. But not anywhere that we approve of and link to, not in our own tech blogger communities.

I think it’s fine for us to do this. I am a harsh critic of my own community as well, as you can see if you look at my calling-out of misogyny from people who came to BlogHer when a bunch of women I consider friends and colleagues talked misogynist smack about the BeJane women from some Microsoft blog, using the rhetoric of woman-hating against them. That wasn’t okay with me either, so I pointed it out.

I’ve been the target of dumb internet name-calling and yeah it bothered me and I whined to anyone who would listen. Yet at the same time I was kind of amused. It never crossed the line into completely cruel. It was just a bunch of people calling me a dumbass. And there was a level on which I not only didn’t mind, I kind of admired them on the principle that I like polemics, I engage in them, and it’s only fair that I be the target of them sometimes, and without polemical writing everyone would be wishy washy and boring and there’d be nothing to take a stance against. However, the instances I’ve seen so far from meankids.org cross the line from satire, humor, and polemics into actual insanity.

Here is a further thought.

Rage and powerful writing can combine to create calls to violent revolution. For instance, the SCUM Manifesto. Calls for violence attempt to justify extreme actions. I don’t agree with violent revolutionary methods. Yet in then 90s when I was about 20, I re-published, in a tiny xeroxed zine form, The SCUM Manifesto, because I felt that the rage that led to that call to revolutionary action was important and should be heard, though I arrive at a different conclusion than Solanis did and would like other people to agree with me and NOT to go off shooting. Yet I think that reading it has value; it can help people to understand a particular moment in history, a rant and a manifesto that was important, and a rage against injustice. Reading it helped me understand my own feminist rage against injustice. I realize that many people might disagree with me here, but I feel it’s important. The point now of my own linking to the archived version of the racist hate-filled diatribe against Maryam is not to promote it or to harm her. It’s to document a phenomenon, now, that many people don’t understand exists. I’ve heard so many white guys and some white women say that there is no particular racism or sexism in the tech industry. What a laugh! There totally is. The people who think like this, we have to expose their hate, and “name the problem”, so that we can resist them with firmness and unity.

I would rather that the post about Maryam had never been written, and I feel sorry for the hate-filled, bitter loser who wrote it. His rage, I’m guessing, must be against people like Kathy and Maryam because they’re popular. How shallow! Get over it! Some people are popular because they’re nice, funny, fun, warm, and did I mention nice? To look at someone who is loved, and full of love themselves, and to feel the need to tear them down — for no reason other than perhaps the suspicion that others might be nice to the “popular” person in an ass-kissing way and might not critique them honestly on a professional level — is cruel and evil. It is not in any way “speaking truth to power” — the illusion I suspect that misogynist person, or community, was entertaining.

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Patriarchy exists and we’re kicking its ass

My blood is BOILING WITH RAGE from reading about the threats and extreme harassment that people made against Kathy Sierra.

And I wish I could ride in on my warhorse and help fix it, but I can’t. I’m not even surprised at the threats and harassment. That stuff and real life acting out of it happens every minute of the day. The surprising thing is someone speaking up *in public* in her own voice, unmediated.

Kathy rocks for speaking up. She rocks for calling this out and exposing it on her blog. She rocks for calling the cops and the FBI, and for saying so. She wasn’t shamed into silence or afraid of being called “too sensitive” or “humorless”, two things which often stop women from speaking up. I admire Kathy’s strength. I imagine the moment after she wrote that post, when she was looking at the “Publish” button and wondering whether to push it. I’m glad she did. I’m inspired, and I take her public response as a good example.

My immediate, visceral reaction is this:

You know what, jerks, bring it on. I’m not afraid and none of that shit will ever, ever, shut me up.

I really like what Dannie Jost said in Kathy’s comments:

On the grand scale of things, this is very unfortunate and totally unacceptable, it is however necessary to continue the fight which is nothing more than a fight for human rights and dignity. Learn to deal with your fear, do not let them win…

Molly Holzschlag added in the same vein:

I’ve always believed this is a self-correcting community. Well folks, we need to correct this absolutely unacceptable, abusive, illegal and heinous behavior.

Kathy, your community is with you. Your abusers will not win this one, oh no, unless they are ready to take on the rest of us, who greatly outnumber these sick and twisted people who are obviously jealous of your success.

Keep being yourself, don’t stop and let the bastards EVER win.

Thanks for those thoughts, Molly, I knew I liked you!

I’d like to link out further to reclusive leftist, who describes the exhaustion we experience as women bloggers:

Every time I read somebody saying that patriarchy doesn’t exist anymore, feminism’s won, etc., etc., I think, try being a feminist blogger for a while. Or if you already are a feminist blogger, wait a bit until the shit finds you. Or try doing online research on anything connected to feminism and find yourself shoulder-deep in a slime pit of woman-hating so toxic it makes you want to weep with fear and despair.

I do feel that fairly often — but in this case, am more angry than despairing.

Some commenters mentioned a book called “The Gift of Fear” which sounds interesting but also maddening. I get the idea it’s to tell women that if they start feeling afraid they should pay attention to that and get the hell out of dodge. SCREW THAT. Like we need any more “chilling effect”? How about a book called “The Gift of Total Rage” or “The Gift of Collective Action To Overthrow Patriarchy,” suckers. To hell with fear.

Now let’s kick some ass.

I’d like to make a call to action. When this kind of shit happens, we’ll call it out and document it in public. Call it in the moment. Call it in front of your coworkers. Call it if it’s major or if it’s minor, it’s all part of the same spectrum of misogynist behavior. How about just saying, once in a while, right in the moment if you can, “That’s not funny,” when it’s really not. Say it crosses your boundaries. Say it’s not acceptable to you. This takes practice, but with time, we can all do it and find strength in numbers.

Update: Really good post from Min Jung Kim, It’s awful, yes. I’m happy to see people like Robert Scoble and Mike Arrington speaking up in support of Kathy, and considering the times they didn’t speak up. So I hope they hear Min Jung’s points about the pressures on women to be anonymous online, and in particular, Asian American women:

it is also important to be quite clear that this is not the first time this has happened.

It’s just the first time it’s happened to someone that you know.

You see, I’ve known several other women (specifically Asian American women bloggers – Comabound, BadGrrl, C., A., J.,N, etc) who have had to pull down their blogs, shuttle from one domain to another, remain utterly anonymous, password protect their sites, or give up their online communities altogether. The list is longer than I’d like.

Why? Oh yes, stalkers. Rape fantasies. Obsessed emails. Comment trolling.

Threatening notices. IM harassments. Flowers sent to your work office. Etc.

I’ve gotten them all too.

This is NOT NEW.

We could also do well to think about the reaction to this situation and what was the blogosphere-wide reaction to that dude who was harassing Lynne D. Johnson so bad a couple of years ago? (Here’s some links on that incident: Hip Hop Hates Me; krispexgate; That damn lesbo; xxl mag online.

My own reaction at the time? Did I say anything? I can’t remember. Makes you think doesn’t it?

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Wikchix meetup, Thurs. March 1

If you’re in the Bay Area and are a wiki-ish person, you might like to swing by the Wikichix meetup tonight. Add yourself on this wiki page or on the wikichix page if you’re registered there; either way. So far, only about 5 people have actually signed up.

We’ll have another meetup in April, because over email, people have shown a lot of interest. I’d love to pull in some Woolfcampers and Feminist SF wiki contributors as well as Wikimedia-focused people, to share ideas about wiki theory and community politics as well as tech tips or whatever else people end up bringing to the meetup.

I was just reading over Annalee’s article on the Wikichix on Alternet, reading the comments, and marvelling anew at the huge misunderstandings. It is very strange to me that so many people (incorrectly) see such a group as having an agenda of creating an alternate feminist version of Wikipedia; when actually its purpose is more to share stories and talk about the experience of being female in a specific male-dominated environment, a purpose that is hardly new and that has Linuxchix as a model. Part of what many women experience online in highly male-dominated environments is:

– the discounting of the substance of what they’re saying
– the demand that women be always calm and care-taking, while guys have permission to get angry
– the demand that women never be wrong, while guys can be wrong and correct themselves, be corrected, or change their minds
– never-ending commentary about looks, sexual banter and references to sexual tension, sexual commoditization, remarks on one’s girl-ness
– the assumption that what guys consider is important is The Important Thing and what women consider important is trivial and can be dismissed
– always having your credentials and knowledge and background questioned; having to prove yourself over and over; basic competence, much less expertise, constantly doubted; condescension
– the struggle women have against internalizing all of the above.

All of that is worth discussing in women-only forums. I called this Wikichix meetup but didn’t call it as women-only. The wiki and mailing list are women only, though.

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