Programming languages and science fiction!

Cat Valente, Tiptree-winning author of The Orphan’s Tales, wrote up a brilliant comparison of programming languages to literary genres. She covers a lot of ground here as a cultural and critic, and she’s witty as hell. If the bits I’m quoting make you laugh, go read the whole thing!

Smalltalk is mythpunk, Python is speculative fiction, Java is…

Divorce in the suburbs, cancer of the miscarriage, and how God will punish you for having sex. That’s right, it’s the big, predictable Literary Fiction Gorilla, coming to destroy a gated community near you. Java is the mainstream of the mainstream, it gets all the critical hand jobs, they teach it at universities, and the support base is vast…

PHP is journalism, Perl is poetry, Ruby is steampunk, ASP is given a snarky kick to the head that keeps making me laugh!

It mixes all the worst parts of the other genres/languages. Hey! Serial killers are awesome! What about a vampire serial killer? What about a vampire werewolf serial killer with a heart of gold? What about a vampire werewolf serial killer with a heart of gold who mixes row result processing, business logic, and layout code ALL ON ONE PAGE??!

Sold, to your corporate overlords. After all, if you put the strength of an entire company behind it, it’ll be a success, even if it leaks memory and ends with and then I woke up.

The feel and culture (and reputation) of each programming language are well described and it takes some complicated snark to link them all to equally well described literary genres and subgenres. Geek culture is AWESOME.

I can’t imagine a more perfect post for this blog to link to! Thanks, Catherynne!

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Feminist research and anthologizing

Here’s the introduction to my anthology of some poems by women from Latin America, translated from Spanish to English. It explains my research methodology and the theories I developed while reading and translating.

* Introduction to Towards an Anthology of Spanish American Women Poets, 1880-1930 – HTML

* Introduction to Towards an Anthology of Spanish American Women Poets, 1880-1930 – PDF (154K, 42 pages)

Here are a few of my main points.

I considered poems by several different criteria; any one of them were sufficient.
* work of high literary quality by my own judgment
* work that was important in its time
* work is by a woman who was part of a known community of women writers
* work has a strong feminist message
* work is representative of a well-known category or type of poetry of its time and place
* work that was intertextual with other poems

I chose to use chronological juxtaposition, not by author’s birth date or publication of first book, but by when they were active in literary communities.

Some of the point of the anthology is to provide a backdrop for the more well known poets of that time and place. So, for instance, I believe that readings of Gabriela Mistral or Delmira Agustini may change when seen in context with the poems by their contemporary female authors writing in Spanish.

And,

Last but not least, I would like to shift the balance of gender in the practice of defining literary movements and other groupings of poetic styles. By re-presenting a broad range of women’s work from a particular time period, I hope to make it possible to refocus current definitions of literary quality. For example, modernismo as a movement was defined from men’s work, and then, in many cases, quality was determined from whether a poem and a poet’s life fit that definition of modernismo. Therefore, I feel it is a useful experiment to begin to define literary categories from a body of women’s work, from which it is possible to form other parameters of literary quality. To begin that task, it was first necessary to find the women’s poetry.
I began this project with the assumption and belief that there were women poets in Latin America 100 years ago who are worth reading today. My initial questions were: Which women were writing? What were their names? Where and how can I find their work to judge it for myself?

María Monvel
One more bit where I quote myself. (I am SO cheating.)

I noticed a common theme in many anthologies, including those which were promoting a feminist view: they hailed women’s recent work as if women’s poetry were a new phenomenon. As Adrienne Rich said in 1980: “Each feminist work has tended to be received as if it emerged from nowhere; as if each one of us had lived, thought, and worked without any historical past or contextual present. This is one of the ways in which women’s work and thinking has been made to seem sporadic, errant, orphaned of any tradition of its own” (11). Joanna Russ also pointed out this problem in How To Suppress Women’s Writing (1983); she calls it “the myth of the isolated achievement” (62). This isolation was especially apparent in short biographical notes in poetry anthologies, in which male poets were discussed in a context of other men, while women poets were presented as lone examples of excellence.

This bit about the “myth of the isolated achievement” is a pattern I see over and over again when women’s work is discussed — in literature, in poetry, in technology, in politics, or anywhere.

Look for it yourself in articles with a supposedly positive spin. Once you start to see it, and if you start looking at history, and women’s history, you will see the poison for what it is — the perpetual erasure of our history, and a tool that keeps us isolated from each other and from generations past and upcoming.

The time changes, but the pattern remains the same; not just in Latin American poetry, but poetry in general. And not just in poetry, but any genre of writing. Not just in writing, but in many, many fields. In poetry, a distant foremother is invoked, perhaps Sappho or Sor Juana. The lack of (significant) women is pointed out. Then a comparatively recent “appearance” of women is celebrated. The women appear, as if by magic or spontaneous generation. The crest of that wave of women’s achievement is always right now, or just about to happen.

You think you have achieved something in life? Made the situation better? Broke ground? Our daughters will be pointed at as if they were the first… over and over again. Unless we break through the wall, somehow, as I hope that the Net and blogging will help to achieve. Women have been achieving great things for as far back as I have ever tried to look.

Joanna RussDale Spender

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María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira: Las ondines

I promised a poem or translation this week, to balance out the political posts. Here’s a couple of my translations of poems by Uruguayan poet María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira. They were published posthumously in 1924, though I am fairly sure they were published in Uruguayan or Argentinian magazines much earlier in the century. I’ve mentioned Vaz Ferreira a few times before in this blog, including a funny moment where I was irked at a critic: Damming with Faint Praise and No Space.

María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira

Enjoy!

This poem “Vaso Furtivo” was lovely to translate. If you read it over a few times, and let it sink in, or let yourself sink into it, you’ll begin to get what Vaz Ferreira was all about.

Vaso furtivo

Por todo lo breve y frágil,
superficial, fugitivo,
por lo que no tiene bases,
argumentos ni principios;
por todo lo que es liviano,
veloz, mudable y finito;
por las volutas del humo,
por las rosas de los tirsos,
por la espuma de las olas
y las brumas del olvido . . .
por lo que les carga poco
a los pobres peregrinos
de esta trashumante tierra
grave y lunática, brindo
con palabras transitorias
y con vaporosos vinos
de burbuja centelleantes
en cristales quebradizos . . .

A quick drink

To all that’s brief and fragile,
superficial, unstable,
To all that has no foundation,
logical argument or principles;
for everything imprudent,
quick, mutable, and finite;
to spirals of smoke,
to thyrsus-stemmed roses,
to foam on the waves
and forgetting’s sea-mist . . .
to all that’s nearly weightless
for the wandering folk
of this transient earth;
grave, moonmad, I drink to all that
with transitory words
and heady wines
sparkling with bubbles
in the most breakable glasses . . .

What could be more in tune with my own beliefs than this defiant celebration of ephemera! I worked hard to convey her floating and delicate line breaks. This translation of “Vaso furtivo” was published a couple of years ago in the journal Parthenon West.

In the next poem, I felt that Vaz Ferreira was deliberately evoking Sappho. As many of her contemporary women poets did, Vaz Ferreira wrote about the ocean and dynamic chaos as essentially feminine.

The ondines

At the shore
where the cool and silvered wave
bathes sand,
and the shining stars
flare and die
at dawn’s first rays,

from sea-foam
the ondines lightly leap,
swift curves
and forms,
ethereal dress of ocean nymphs,
fair visions.

They roll onward, clear green,
resplendent as emeralds,
the bright waters
that lend color
to their polished shoulders,
snow-white swan . . .

Some wrap themselves
in diaphanous blue mists
dressed in dawn,
others in the wind
let fly light floating gauze
the color of heaven

and the fair ones sink
svelte forms of sonorous ocean
beneath the waters,
and over the waves
their hair snakes
like rays of gold . . .

Here’s the original poem:

Las ondinas

Junto a la costa
donde la arena tibia y plateada
bañan las ondas,
y los lucientes
rayos primeros de la alborada
brillan y mueren,

de entre la espuma
surgen ligeras de las ondinas
las raudas curvas
y los informes
trajes etéreos de hadas marinas,
blancas visiones.

Ruedan, verdosas,
resplandecientes como esmeraldas,
las claras gotas
que se destiñen
en la tersura de sus espaldas
de níveo cisne . . .

Unas se envuelven
las vaporosas gasas azules
del alba veste,
otras al viento
sueltan los leves florantes tules
color de cielo

y hunden las blancas
esbeltas formas del mar sonoro
bajo las aguas,
y serpentean
sobre las ondas cual rayos de oro
sus cabelleras . . .

Here is some background and commentary straight out of the enormous poetry anthology I compiled and translated a few years ago. (It was my thesis.) I had thought I’d send it around as a book proposal, and I put out some feelers. No one really wanted to take on an enormous anthology of poems of dubious copyright status from 14 different Latin American countries. Some of my translations from this book have been published in little magazines or online journals.

Vaz Ferreira was a member of the “Generación del 1900” of Uruguayan intellectuals, which included José Enrique Rodó, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Ernestina Méndez Reissig de Narvaja, Florencio Sánchez, Samuel Blixen, Alberto Nin Frias, Horacio Quiroga, and Carlos Reyles (Verani 9). She began publishing in 1894. After her illness and death in 1924, her brother, who published her book, La isla de los cánticos, downplayed the friendship between María Eugenia and Delmira Agustini. In 1959, her unpublished poems were printed as La otra isla de los cánticos.

Biographical notes on Vaz Ferreira often paint her as a frail, waiflike young maiden with a posthumous “slim volume of poems” who had a tragic illness before her early death (Jacquez Wieser 8). Her illness is sometimes alluded to as mental: Sidonia Rosenbaum implies that Vaz Ferreira, embittered by Delmira Agustini’s fame, lost her mind because of jealousy and a combination of caprice and frustrated, “sterile” sexuality (50). However, other sources emphasize her positive, charismatic qualities as a rebel, speaking of her literary and intellectual influence, her fondness for wearing men’s clothes, her shocking bohemian manners, and her notorious love of practical jokes. She was the first woman in Uruguay to fly in an airplane, in 1914, at the Fiesta Aérea, a public event. Juan Carlos Legido describes her as one of the most cultured, sure of herself, famous, and popular women in Montevideo’s social circles (Legido 6). She was a literature professor at the Women’s University of Montevideo, along with Dr. Clotilde Luisi. Vaz Ferreira was also a dramatist, composer and pianist. Her works were often performed at the Teatro Solís (Rubenstein Moreira 12). Vaz Ferreira was especially fond of Heine and other German poets and philosophers.

The critic Alberto Zum Felde counted Vaz Fereirra among modernista writers, influenced by the Mexican writers Salvador Díaz Mirón and Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (Rubenstein Moriera 46). Anderson-Imbert, in Spanish American Literature, refers to her as “the nucleus of Uruguayan poetry” and of modernismo; then he calls her “a solitary voice, solemnly religious, although capable of creating sharp images on a high level” and goes on to discuss Julio Herrera y Reissig, “not a great poet . . .” for several pages. (Andersen-Imbert 279). The general pattern is for literary historians to call Vaz Ferreira’s work brilliant, and then to pay more attention to the work of poets who are men.
With typical blunt condescension, María Monvel says of Vaz Ferreira:

Interesante “caso” de mujer, de letras, esta uruguayana, que a pesar de haber nacido en 1880, tiene en sus versos todo el acento libre de la mujer nacida en pleno siglo veinte. Gran poeta lírico, con algo de reflexivo y meditativo a la vez, esta mujer es uno de los más finos cantores que ha tenido América, y tal vez es su influencia la única perceptible en Delmira Agustini, que la superó en pasión y en arrebato lírico, pero no en cultura y sensibilidad. (Monvel 63)
Interesting “case” of a woman of letters, this Uruguayan, who despite the burden of being born in 1880, has in her verses all the free tone of a woman born right in the 20th century. A great lyric poet, with something of reflexivity and meditativeness at the same time, this woman is one of the finest poets that America has had, and perhaps her influence is the only one perceptible in Delmira Agustini, who surpasses her in passion and in going overboard with lyricism, but not does not surpass her in culture or sensitivity.

My translation of the title of “Vaso furtivo” was a difficult choice. The poem is toasting and drinking to impermancence, lightness, madness, surfaces and illusion. “Sly toast” does not work in English, and “Furtive glass” does not convey the meaning of a toast. The poem itself celebrates qualities that have traditionally been attributed to women. Considered in this light, it is a radical feminist aesthetic statement. “Las ondinas,” a poem about the beauty of ocean waves at dawn, emphasizes feminine beauty, impermanence, and dynamic movement; Vaz Ferreira’s poems often celebrate an ethereal world of ideal beauty, writing modernista aesthetics from the viewpoint of a powerful woman, as in her poem “Yo soy la Diosa de las azules, diáfanas calmas” ‘I am the Goddess of all blue, diaphanous calm” (Vaz Ferreira, Otra isla, 57-58).

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K’vetsh in August

I do love this literary reading and tonight is a big crowd for Heathen and Zara Thustra, so I might as well blog it. Also, my leg hurts a lot tonight but I don’t want to go home yet, so blogging is a way of concentrating on something other than my annoying body. A fine trick – I recommend it.

The hill here on Mariposa is forbiddingly steep and difficult for a wheelchair and I could not do it alone. So my car is parked up that hill! Eeep!

Meliza kicks off! Mexico City visiting the map and multiplying x times y. 66 poem or prose poem series. Sarah Dopp is reading! Awesome recitation of long poem! “I lost it slowly…” Jon Longhi now reading short piece… “When Chaos was in college he steered away from all earthly possessions… … and whenever Chaos jerked off, he used it as a come rag.” Heh! I lost track of what the thing was, but it was pinned with a thumbtack to a poster of Jesus. Then, pants on fire while on the toilet, stoned! Oh, Jon. Our MCs go on and on about “My Dumps” by Peaches which I can testify is great, but first you must watch “My Humps” video AND the My Humps cover/parody by Alanis Morisette which Peaches parodies. Emchy reads from fabulous new chapbook which I have a copy of (just got it have not read it.) Tara Jepsen and Michelle Tea go on about the TV show “The Wire”. I love Tara’s comedy…. and the couple of short films I’ve seen. She and Michelle’s energy is good… Featured reader now, Zara Thustra. Who is dressed and tattooed very charmingly… Sabina reads her autobiographical piece on gay “halfghans. alvin orloff. novel excerpt. I could just keep listening to Alvin’s story of Martine and her fans in the dive bar in the Tenderloin… Oh no, Emchy’s heart pen is missing! We ahve a pen thief. There is a band local called Lesbians. (Really?) ONe more open mic… Carrie or Keri… with a long thing in the voice of a “Minnesota woman” whose husband leaves her. It was sort of dull but that was the point I guess. Heathen Machinery reads! Ways to kill the baby! Awesome. Pulling the belly button thing off with a pop like a can of Schlitz. Poisonous dog poop safety pin injection! Rad. I am very happy as everyone in the room is squicked. The crib bars and the dildos! OMG THE AWESOME! Her aunt and chihuaha and collecting sand dollars. Also strangely disturbing. Another story of her and her cousin and their playing “house” and stuffing dwarf oranges up their nostrils. Then, the wedding and imagined “You!” declaration. Heathen is excellent! No wonder there is a crowd. And lo, it was not all hypeass smoke & mirrors.

Nico reads with a disclaimer about using this reading as motivation (failed) to write some new poems. The piece Nico is reading is more prosy sounding to me. Indians and Pilgrims at Thanksgiving dinner and having a hamburger in some deli… Our MCs do a thing about “Massholes” and Massachusettes and trashy moms fistfighting and mini golf courses on Route 1…

Charlie Anders reads a very hilarious personal ad email. Justin read about penguins, vultures, and love… Fran reads a good poetryish-in-places story about dyke bars.

We ducked out before the end – It was running very late!

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Wiscon panels coming up, and some commentary on a game

Here’s my panels for Wiscon! I can’t wait!

Last year’s flirting panel was a blast and at this year’s followup I’m hoping to make a cool handout. Debbie says if I email her the stuff she’ll make the handout, because I have too much to do! One good technique “touch/don’t touch” is actually playing out mini scenarios and then switching roles, so that you get to do the no-saying and the no-recieving and get practice doing that gracefully on both sides. (Something I learned in anti-date-rape workshops in the 80s.) Another super great idea I learned from Ian K. Hagemann – to always thank a person who lets you know a boundary, because they are honoring you by communicating it instead of letting you continue to cross it in ignorance.

I don’t have any specific and book-focused panels this year – no time to prepare properly for that – But I can’t wait for the Karen Axness Memorial Panel where we all list great little-known books by women sf writers and there are always fabulous handouts that expand my reading list. I’m also excited to go to the cultural appropriation panels.

Speaking of cultural appropriation! I can bring a copy of this: Bone White, Blood Red: a roleplaying game of the Pueblo Revolt. It is written in the voice of “Spider Grandmother” and “Worn Pot” who teach Bear, Coyote, Wren, and Badger how to play the game. My immediate reaction is basically, “huh” and a stance of automatic suspicion against what I think of as Cherokee hair tampon syndrome.

The game would be rough for me and I would rather just have character sheets with the beads and string as a metaphor or an optional visual aid, as I could never remember all the details of which bead meant what without written notes. But I would certainly give the game a try and the difficulty of remembering stuff would be part of the point. (Would that difficulty be fun, though?) As the fictional in character bits in roleplaying game books go, this one is not bad at all.

So is it cultural appropriation? Well, yeah. Does that make it awful? It’s not a yes/no on/off answer. It means that it is open to some criticism and commentary, which game authors as well as book authors should listen to with an open mind and some humility, as the Spirit of the Century rpg authors recently did.

In other interesting gaming news, you can download and playtest Steal Away Jordan. The players all play slaves in the U.S.

Your name
Your name is not your own. If you were born into slavery, your parents may not have had much say in the choosing. The name your master calls you may not be the name your relations use in private. If you run away, you will change your name. Therefore, the GM chooses your name, but you may pick a nickname.

That’s pretty interesting! You can read a report and discussion thread of a playtest game on The Forge.

Anyway here’s my Wiscon panels!

===============

Feminist SF Wiki Workshop
in Caucus Room (Time to be determined)

Come learn about the Feminstsf wiki, learn what wikis are and how to edit them, contribute your ideas, creativity, and feminist vision to the wiki.
Equipment: projector that can plug into a laptop, and a screen
Length: 70 minutes
Laura M. Quilter, Liz Henry

Please Touch/Don’t Touch (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m.
One of the many qualities which sets WisCon apart from most other SF conventions is the perception that, for one weekend a year, the Concourse is a safe and inclusive space for SF fans of all genders, orientations, identities, races, and religions. Many people have commented that this extra level of comfort seems to create a very “touchy-feely” environment, with a lot more casual physical contact between old friends and new acquaintance, and a very different, (more open?) environment for flirting and hook-ups. But not everyone is quite so comfortable with such a relaxed atmosphere… Where do you draw the lines between casual and significant, affection and flirting, too much and not enough? How do the conditions change from situation to situation? And how do you tell someone to “back off”… or deal gracefully when someone else lets you know that you’ve crossed a line?
Karen Swanberg, M: Debbie Notkin, Mary Kay Kare, Liz Henry, Jed E. Hartman

Let’s You And Her Fight (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m.
This year there was a panel about how to flirt at Wiscon. Next year I’d like to see a panel on how to fight at Wiscon. It’s not bad to want to get along; but it is when that urge causes us not to speak our minds in public, and leaves us gr umbling in private. How do you speak up and explain that you think the respected panel member is talking out of her hat, while maintaining a friendly attitude towards someone who is, after all, a fellow feminist and fan? Ideally people will get a chance to practice. I would particularly like to draft Steven Schwartz for this panel.
Steven E. Schwartz, Liz Henry, Joan Haran, M: Alan Bostick, Lee Abuabara

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Very cool literary reading: Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, Marta

This is going to be an amazing reading. I hope to see lots of you there! I will probably be late, unfortunately, but will be there and then be at the afterparty at Debbie Notkin’s house.

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Tribute Fundraiser

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
and
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 – 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.
510-841-2082
http://www.starryploughpub.com/

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia’s legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

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Paying attention as an art form

In thinking about the ways that value is created (including literary value, or imaginary ideas like money) I arrived at some thoughts about the ways people pay attention to each other on the Internet. If you want to pay attention to someone on the Internet, thanks to social software and blogging and rss and things like Twitter and wikis, there’s a lot of ways to do that, to navigate attention & identity individually and collectively, and to let that be seen in varying degrees. In fact, paying attention to people with people can be done with amazing artistry and skill.

People need complex systems so that they can pay attention to each other indirectly and obliquely through all being attentive to something else they have in common. That thing has to be complicated enough to be worth attention. It might be social justice or the good life or gossip or religion or who is the most popular celebrity and why or who wins the Superbowl and how; or seduction or courtly etiquette or art criticism. Functionally and socially those things are all equivalent. Paying attention is better, the better the quality of the synthesis achieved. Software making is heady as any collective endeavor is because it’s about people paying enough attention to the same thing to make the thing happen and a creation of any sort is a logical synthesis of ideas & their practice (it is maybe a result of synthesis on one level but on another it is the synthesis.)

I come to this idea also as I think about how much I want to teach my college composition students about the pleasures of thought that arrives at synthesis. I’ve also gotten here because my partner just laughed at me and shook his head with disgust when I squeaked “Oooo, I’ve just reached twitterlibrium!”

Also because it’s late at night, I had an overstimulating and hyperproductive day, and can’t stop thinking to the point where I fool myself into thinking I’m Barthes or something and can write things like “Praxis is synthesis! Art is the collective attention stream!” and feel profound… without any acid.

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Liveblogging from "She’s Such a Geek" reading

I’m at Modern Times bookstore on Valencia in San Francisco & we’re all being extremely geeky. Passing around this strange blobby white musical toy with spikey shapes… Giggling about the perils of installing LaTeX on one’s Macbook… Me and Corie and Ellen and Cynthia decided that instead of the Geek Hierarchy we should create a Geek Matrix (keeping in mind that “matrix” means “womb”… and not-necessarily-hierarchical network) with different areas or spectra of grrl-geekitude. That way we can avoid feeling that physics trumps sf-geekery, or genetics kicks the ass of Dungeons and Dragons.

There’s a huge crowd – standing room only! Tonight a group of more science and tech oriented geeks will be reading from the book. Annalee talks about the germ of the idea for the book. She and Charlie were at a hacker conference in New York, Annalee was presenting with another woman on a panel, and were introduced by the MC as “the only 2 chicks at the conference.” She stood up and flipped the guy off. When he said it, Annalee had looked out at the audience and saw all the women in the audience get this look on their faces like “Oh, okaayyyy, we’ve heard that fucking joke before.” With that sort of statement the women who *are* there get erased. People aren’t expecting to see them and don’t hear their voices. Charlie was there in the audience… and from that experience we wanted to make the point that we’re here, we’ve been here for ages. And not to let people forget we’re here at the conference and are not the only 2 chicks.

Charlie: Seal Press asked us at the proposal stage to tell them how the other books in the genre did. You know, the books about women who are geeks and stuff? We went online and we searched. And we searched and searched and we searched. And we found like one book, Geek Girl, that sold like 2 copies, from 1992. The only book about female geeks… And we put out our call for submissions and were astonished at the response we got. It got blogged everywhere and people had been waiting a long time for this!

Annalee: Defining what we mean by “geek”. Technical, scientific, cultural arcana. Physicists, biologists, programmers, Harry Potter role playing games. Talking about the ways various areas are male-dominated and what it’s like to be a woman in that environment.

First reader: Kristin Abkemeier. Has a phd in experimental condensed matter physics. Radioactive Banana is her blog. And at sheessuchageek.com.

Kristin: How did I become a geek? Job security…. (Kristin reads her essay from the book.) Her mom tells her she’ll always have a job.. and how her own parents hadn’t encouraged her in science. Kristin loved reading and books and drawing – but was discouraged… Compared to this other kid, “wonder boy John”… And ended up testing into a 7th grade math.

[I must note that I begged my parents to take that same exam in the early 80s, because all the guys I competed with in math class for the top grades were taking it and got to go to a summer school – but my parents couldn’t figure out how I would get to the school, which was an hour away in downtown Houston.]


Next up! Ellen Spertus, Associate Prof of Computer Science at Mills College – & she also works at Google. She’s written for the Chronicle of Higher Education and Glamour…

Her original title for this article was “From Male-Identified Misogynist to Sexiest Geek Alive”. The best way to have status in her household & family was to disdain anything feminine and act like a male.

[God… me too. This is one of the essays from the book that I read just nodding and then shrieking ME TOO over and over!] Went to one of the first computer camps in 1981. The male/female ratio was 6 to 1. Ellen told an Infoworld reporter she was disappointed there weren’t more girls. And was misquoted by that reporter as saying she was disappointed there weren’t more boys.

[the whole audiences hisses and goes “wooooo” angrily.]

Jenn Shreve reads her article…. On growing up fundamentalist… was taught that evolution was evil and wrong… ATM cards and the mark of the beast… Then rejected all that. Took to the Internet immediately… sneered at poeple who couldn’t deal with Pine or HTML. And yet stayed in the Humanities… though I scored way higher on the math than on the verbal sections of the SAT….

*applause*

Corie Ralston – BS in physics from Berkeley and phd in biophysics. Works at Lawrence Berkeley Labs… IROSF, the Internet Review of Science Fiction, as well.

[ I swoon… I totally love Corie… ]

Corie: My unofficial title is “Beamline Scientist” – how cool is that. I’m one of only 3 beamline scientst out of 200. At first my job title was “beam boy.” I lobbied to be called “super duper beam chick” but it never caught on. The filming of The Incredible Hulk took place there.. The synchroton does not produce gamma radiation… but if it did, and you were exposed to it, you would die – not mutate! *everyone cracks up* I love working every day in a place that reminds people of comic books. How did I get to be there? It certainly wasn’t anything like becoming the mutant hero of a comic book. Physics teacher in high school… Reading Heinlein & Asimov etc. without really noticing how every female character in Heinlein books at some point become hysterical and have to be slapped around by the men. (About Asimov:) If you can imagine intergalactic space superhighways why can’t you imagine a female astronaut? (huge applause from audience) I dealt with this by identifying with the male characters.

[GOD… me too.]

Annalee then introduces Charlie Anders, author of the award-winning novel Choir Boy. Writing in McSweeney’s, Punk Planet, Wall Street Journal, Tikkun, etc. and is the publisher for Other magazine & runs Writers With Drinks. Which happens next month at the Makeout room Feb. 10.

Charlie: I’m a policy wonk…

[Kristen whispers to me that “we used to talk about wonks in the Clinton era. Nobody does anymore. Nobody THINKS anymore…”

I want to tell Kristen that that’s exactly what one of Charlie’s novels is about… Clinton-era wonks and their wonkitude. ]

Charlie: Minutae of health care field. Weird complicated things to learn. Managed care. Weird permutation, intricate structures that actually *mattered* to everyone. This was all about hard-charging guys chasing *hard* news. My pursuit of arcane policy issues distracted me from my socially assigned gender role as a male reporter. My gender discomfort finally spiked on the day my inner palace of wonkdom came crashing down…. “We don’t want any of this “what does it mean shit.” ” A bomb went off in my head… New job – my new boss liked wonkitude… Every day was like Christmas… My co-workers were used to me hopping around the office excited, “Wooo! I found a new crazy thing on page 900 of the Federal Register!!” Fast forward, I’m legally a woman, on hormones and with a drivers’ license that says F… ambition… to make a serious wonkish contribution to the world… feminism.. child care and faulty gender assumptions.

Charlie then introduces Annalee Newitz, science writer, contributing editor at Wired, Salon, Newscientist, Techsploitation syndicated column. Editor of other magazine.

Annalee: “When Diana Prince takes off her Glasses”
Geeks – bbses… Wiznet – chat rooms! On the BBS I had a gender-neutral handle, Shockwaverider. Everyone assumes I’m male and I don’t bother to correct them. Cracking… breaking copy protection. I get them to teach me about assembly language and cracking mac software… phreaking… Linux… Linux Cabal. As a journalist… suddenly I realize I’m the only woman in the room full of journalists and one of them is asking me “how did you get him to *tell* you that…” I suddenly hear the implication in the reporter’s voice and respond… “I flirted with him that’s how…” Why didn’t I tell him the truth, I spent weeks hanging out… made Cthulhu jokes… I could have said, if you actually take the time to talk with people and get to know them, they talk with you. That’s my philosophy of reporting. A few weeks later I decide to write a biosci article using only female sources. Each source referred me to more amazing women… Fruit fly gemone searching tool…

[That’s my friend! Well, my ex… really… the fruit fly genome geek… *glow of pride* She’s such a geek!]

Woman from the Audience: Thank you for the book! We want a sequel at least on the web, we want more stories, we want to contribute!

Annalee & Charlie: Yes! Lovely! blog it! Stick it on the web!

Me: Tag it “shessuchageek”

Kristin: We could have a she’s such a geek blog carnival.

Guy from audience: What would you say the environment is today for 15-17 year old girls?

Annalee: The teenager from the book isn’t here tonight

Ellen Spertus: Yes it’s somehwat better… And at Mills… (I missed her answer)

Kristin: Larry Summers did women a real favor by being a jerk 2 years ago… in the 70s it was all “hey women can do anything!” and no acknowledgement that there are factors that affect women… women who say “i need a wife”… child care… atmosphere.. finally being discussed, thanks to larry summers.

Corie: Summers, ex-pres of Harvard … said that there are just fewer women at the super elite end of science… not putting in the 80 hours a week necessary to be tenured… and said there was no sexism in the field…

Annalee: and he said that women’s brains were different. He said this at a conference about women in science. It was what got him drummed out..

Ellen: That’s not the full story.. he had done many other offensive things and that was just the last straw.

Annalee: yes. and since then a lot of money has gone into studies…

[Liz’s note: Here is a great compilation of links and stories about the Summers controversy: Summers on Women in Science, from WISELI, the Women in Science & Engineering Institute at University of Wisconsin-Madison.]

Woman in audience: Is that just in the united states? Now, in other countries the situation is different.

Annalee: Not just, but it’s worse… and in the US it’s worse among white people; white women lag more behind white men… than women do [in other races/cultures/ethnicities]

Woman in audience: Women in India in sciences, engineering… it’s considered to be a ‘developing country” but things are much better there for women in science …

[Liz’s note: Here’s a link on women at IIT in India – and another with stats over several years]

guy in back: You can see it just going to Toys R Us…all the creativity and science is on one side of the story, vs. the other side which is all pink.

*murmur from audience*

Charlie: You can do a lot of creative things with dolls, you know!

Annalee: I’ve seen some amazing women hack on dolls…

Woman from audience: I teach science at a college… photos on the walls… 1890 to today. 1890 to 1940 is half women and half men. 1950s all men. 60s, 70s, 80s, few women – and now, about 1/3 women. WWII and backlash against women… men in the 50s… and the war.

Woman in audience: A comment on that in WWII they were using more women in science and research in RUssia – math and sci education for women but then the women went more into being educators…

Annalee: There’s some great studies of women in computing.. they were actually called “computers”… during the war in the U.S. and no one knew if ocmputers woudl become a big deal…

[Liz: here’s a ink from the IEEE Virtual MuseumWomen Computers in World War II.]

Jason: Do you feel like men’s attitudes have changed or gotten better?

Corie: Men now, male students, are more accepting of women…as fellow students and as their teachers and mentors… than they were when I was in school. They’re more okay with it.

Ellen: My mom was totally wrong that going into computer science would be a bad way to meet men. And now I talk to high school girls… and project photos of good looking comp sci guys … there’s this calendar…. of good looking computer geek guys… and I tell them, “he’s a good cook…”

OMG she just broke me… hahahah! [Which calendar? The Studmuffins of Science ones? Or is there a special computer geek one?]

Guy in audience: Computer geek culture, it’s all about being outsiders, alienation, outside mainstream, not jocks, etc. So why isn’t geek culture more of a clean slate in terms of gender?

[Liz: I could talk about that forever, and would really like to know.]

Annalee: Boys growing up as geeks, unfortunately being called fags, etc. Instead of creating cultures that were more friendly to women and the feminine, a lot of them reacted by creating an even more macho culture, especially in engineering and some of the sciences. There’s a lot of dick-measuring, jockeying. Even the language used in hacking, penetration testing, popping the cherry of the machine. It’s part of the slang. You fuck the ass of someone else’s computer. And of course computers are “boxes”… and we all know what a box is. The jocks picked on us and now we’re a macho enclave…. But that is changing. What’s missing is networking and these men have friends who are men, and if they did have friends who were women there would be better… we can build networks of friendship. Bridges…

Corie: If you’re male and a geek you’re important and smart. If you’re a woman it’s all about your value based on your looks. They don’t get the same sort of treatment in the outside world.

Barton: (from Mills) my perception of what is geek comes from th 50s science fiction and the production that came after that. what do you think about geek as a notion evolving. how is that changning in the future?

Jenn Shreve: the fact that I’m up here shows it’s changing; i’m not a physicist… I’m a writer. But i have a passion for these things and for tech… and that tech is more ubiquitous opens the door… it becomes more acceptable. Now everyone .. takes part in things that were narrow before… like chat rooms… so the definition is changing.

Woman in back: What exactly is a geek? I think of library science geeks…

Charlie: Were you here at the beginning? We defined what we thought geek was

Annalee: We loved the librarians, we had a whole contingent…we could have a whole book of librarian geeks. But it’s not really male dominated… we didn’t include it but we wanted to focus on the areas in culture where people would think of a guy when they think of somone in that area. Comic books, various sciences…

Loren: Back in the 80s I was a contractor. Most of the agencies i worked for were run by women and dominated by women. Best business to be in for women b/c it was the most flexible and had the best pay, flexible hours, for women to be in if they had children. But that isn’t true anymore.

Women in audience : I disagree, it’s a great field to be in to work from home and to make a lot of money if you have kids… as a programmer.

[Note: two other women in the audience came up to me after the reading and agreed that computer science was still the best thing for working at home as a professional and making money.]

Guy in audience: Please come to Google and talk to us about this and how to get this message out more broadly and maybe on a video on Youtube, or something like that. Girls in high school, get it to a broader audience, they would be inspired by it.

Charlie: That would rock! We have a video of another reading and can send you the link… and would love to come to Google.

Guy from audience: Are there any women you know who are into pro sports, except for baseball…

Charlie: Stanford women’s basketball rocks….

Jenn: Sports reporters… very macho culture… I was the only woman and that’s when I’d really feel that only woman int he room feeling.

Annalee: I’ve heard women talk about being a jock and a geek … various sports… prepared them for the endurance to say, program all night.

Charlie: In fact Jessica who was supposed to be here is a wrestler and when people question her geekitude she just beats them up.

Annalee: Yay, thanks for coming, go buy the book!

The guy behind me begs Ellen for a photo of her in her circuit board corset…

[Earlier, as I laced Ellen into her corset I thought of Violet Blue’s article “Web Celebs and My Rainbow-Flag Bikini – which I highly recommend –

A bit of my own geek story, about growing up a computer nerd, women’s networks, and helping out with tech stuff in disaster relief, was in Other magazine # 9 but isn’t in the book (for those of you who asked!) As I liveblogged this reading, taking photos and emailing them to Flickr, browsing on the spot to find links to add for the readers, and chatting in another window at the same time, and posting to Twitter… which is my normal level of blog-geek multitasking around friends, it was funny to field the questions of women around me who were not quite so bloggy or Web 2.0-ish (or “annoying and technopretentious”). At least I amused them!

One reaction I’ve heard a lot from women as I go around talking about the book and showing it off – is that many women who are geeks thought about submitting a story to it, but then kind of sighed and figured they weren’t geeky enough. I’ve heard women a hundred times geekier than I am say this, with geek street cred that would blow your mind. And then there’s an even more complex reaction as women realize that their disbelief in their own geek studliness is part of their own internalized misogyny, and they get angry (at themselves and at the rest of the world) and it’s a very hard thing to look at. The essays in the book are empowering, and make people very happy by letting them know they’re not alone in their geekitude, but some elements of the essays can also get people on a train of thought that is sad, anger-triggering, or difficult — The thing is, it’s a very productive difficulty. I felt the same reaction happening among readers to the Tiptree biography last year.

It was a great reading, the audience stuck around for ages, talking and full of positive energy, getting signatures and telling some of their own stories. I hope we can hear some of those, maybe on the She’s Such a Geek blog in interviews or guest posts!

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Gender and genre in blogs

In her paper on Gender and genre variation in weblogs Susan Herring and her team hypothesized differences between male- and female-authored blogs. I haven’t read the paper closely enough to get the detail, but the gist of it is they expected women to say “I” more and refer to women more, and men to write more impersonally and refer to “he” and “you”. Instead they found that personal blogs, male or female, show the characteristics that had been predicted for women’s writing, according to, I think, other studies and sources like the Gender Genie, based on grammatical analysis by Argomon & Koppel. (I have to say, when I messed with the Gender Genie I thought it was just annoying…) While filter blogs, meant to give information on a topic, have the characteristics associated by the Gender Genie with men — whether they are written by men or women. Herring et al.’s findings contradict Argomon & Koppel. She suggests that genre itself is gendered.

I agree with this, which matches what I found in reading women’s poetry from 100 years ago and in reading the criticism about that poetry. The gendering of genre appears to me to happen over time as a way of valuing or devaluing the quality of the writing. Entire genres would become (simultaneously) “feminized” in order to devalue them, or as they became devalued they were described as feminine, or as women succeeded in the genre, it was considered less important.

Many factors contribute to this and one of them is that women at times do the less important things or write in the less important genres because there is less backlash for doing so. And when they do enter the male-dominated genres where power is considered to be located then there is a strong backlash and the entire genre is at risk of being devalued.

When women in the 19th century succeeded at Romanticist poetry, for example, they were hailed as being unusual exceptions, virile, oddly masculine, at the same time perhaps kind of slutty or of questionable and abnormal sexuality. And when women began to dominate the genre to the extent that they could not be ignored and tokenized, then the entire genre was disempowered over a period of years – it became girly, uncool, dumb, awkward, not cutting edge, old-fashioned. When it was clear that women had mastered it, it didn’t matter anymore.

In short, there is a pattern of the “pink collar ghetto” in literary genres as in other professions. (I just looked online for something to link to, to explain pink collar ghetto and did not find an adequate explanation. Yes, it refers to jobs with a high concentration of women. But it further refers to a process: as women enter a high status profession, the pay for that job goes down, and there is a tipping point where the profession itself becomes devalued because women have entered it and succeeded. I remember going in around 1991 as a fledgling tech writer to a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, and hearing a lot of incredibly depressing but realistic talk about the pink collar ghettoization of tech writing.

Anyway, back to literary genres; the same pattern becomes clear as I do further feminist research; If you have read much Dale Spender as well as Joanna Russ then you can see a lot of good evidence.

I point to this as something that bloggers should be aware of & consider.

(I am using the word “genre” here but may be talking about some more vague category, literary movements or styles or subgenres, like “Romanticist Poetry” or “Western novels” or “science fiction” for example. )

In fact – a short digression – consider science fiction and how as women write in the genre, there is a scramble to define the part of the genre that only men do, or mostly only men do, or only men do well. Why is it so important to prove that, for example, “hard sf” or “cyberpunk” is so masculine? (Of course in the face of any evidence to the contrary.) Hmmm! Could it be a backlash to preserve the perceived literary value of a formerly male-dominated genre?

Back to Herring. From about page 15 onwards Herring & co get into the nitty gritty of some excellent questions:

Diary writing has traditionally been associated with females, and politics and external events, the mainstays of filter blogs, have traditionally been masculine topics. Furthermore, previous research shows that females write more diary blogs, and males write a disproportionate number of filter blogs (Herring, Kouper et al. 2004; Kennedy, Robinson and Trammell 2005). But what is the direction of causality, and where does gendered language fit in?

In conclusion Herring points out that the gender differences are in which genre a male or female author writes in, much more than any essential difference in grammar or writing style, and that:

Social and political consequences also follow from this
distribution: Men’s blogs are more likely to appear on ‘A-lists’ of most popular weblogs (Kennedy, Robinson and Trammell 2005), and to be reported in the mainstream media, in part because filters are considered more informative and newsworthy than personal journals (Herring, Kouper et al. 2004). This recalls the traditional stigma associated with ‘gossip’ and women’s writing (Spender 1989), and reminds us that genres are socially constructed, in part through association with the gender of their producers.

Oh look, she just referenced Spender. Right on… No wonder I like this paper.

Anyway it’s a good paper – go read it. I’ll read Herring’s other papers and I look forward to printing it out and giving it an hour or two of more close and serious reading and note-taking & reaction. Oh – and in good blogging and gossiping tradition I should mention that I came across this paper after reading Managing ‘Trolling’ in an Online Forum, which is amazing and excellent; I got to that from Wikichix, which I found because I was bitching about the lack of good feminist content on Wikipedia and a few weeks ago, some dude commented and told me to check out their talk page on Systemic Gender Bias. Since I am involved with some feminist wikis and ticked off whenever I try to engage with Wikipedia, Wikichix sounded great. If you are a wiki editing woman or would like to be, then sign up with Wikichix and add to the discussions there. There’s a mailing list and an irc channel as well as the wiki pages. & on alternet recently there was a brief article that talks about the Wikichix, Wikipedia vs. Women? with an interesting comments thread.

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Writers With Drinks report, Saturday Dec. 9

Writers With Drinks, at the Makeout Room in San Francisco, was fabulous again. Indigo Moor, a poet from Sacramento, read first. He was a dynamic and clear speaker, funny, warm, with a lot of stage presence, and I enjoyed his poetry; he read a poem about the violent territorial nature of hummingbirds (“hollow bones… strung together by frayed nerves”), “Trigger”, “Pull”, a poem about a hunting trip (“…the way everyone… is trapped in love”), and “Apotheosis”. I especially liked the hunting poem.

Laura Moriarty read two chapters from her experimental poetic bizarro science fiction novel Ultravioleta. I just heard her read from it for the anthology Paraspheres and am in the middle of the book. Wyatt, one of the human characters, gets all mixed up with Wyatt Earp and there are some good romantic slashy bits about him and Doc Holiday. There’s some aliens call “the I”. Gender and love and reality all screwed up and weird. It was hard to follow the thread of the reading; while I liked it, I think it would benefit hugely from being read aloud in a livelier way. It just occurred to me that while I just bitchily wrote “It’s not like postmodernism is a language from Mars” in another context (on a Wikipedia talk page on an article on Donna Haraway, the author of The Cyborg Manifesto) actually Moriarty’s book is kind of about postmodernist language from Mars.

Kevin Monroe, the stand up comedian in WWD’s genre mixup, was hilarious, with routines about prayer, god, and spam; Jesus’ capacity for protecting people when he wasn’t too hot on self-defense; the missing bastards of the Iraq war as compared to the Korean and Vietnam wars (the bit of race-based that made the audience the most uncomfortable, for sure), and back-alley assisted suicide. He made fun of the idea that God cares about prayers, for a minute being God, “Increase the size of your penis? What the fuck? That’s the 12th prayer on that I’ve gotten today…” leading to something that cracked me up by its outrageousness, “Fuck Nigeria. Their main export is fraud.” And then “You can’t hide an afro under a burqua.” “Malt liquor – the gatorade of street combat” and the funny bit about assisted suicide. “What? You only got 50 bucks? I hope you live, motherfucker!”

Charlie had a particularly hilarious interlude about how we were going to have a new thing at Writers With Drinks: 2 minute dates in which we all pair up and establish who’s dominant and who’s submissive, then rotate. When we’ve figured out who ranks where, the most dominant will cook and eat the most submissive while everyone else masturbates, as is customary at a literary event. There was something in here about the vanishing middle class, but I’ve forgotten… it was funny, anyway, as I contemplated literary feuds and how so many people behave like annoying divas. As usual Charlie’s humor exposes something true and interesting in a way that isn’t mean or bitter (which is so rare in humor, especially standup comedy).

After the break, Stephen Elliott read an excerpt from his novel Happy Baby – a guy sees a former guard or employee from juvenile hall who used to rape him and abuse him and “protect him” and follows him home on the bus while thinking of then and now and his current girlfriend. It was really good! I had a nice time talking with Stephen – had never met him before but I have a short story coming out in his upcoming anthology about sex in America.

At some point I met a dude named Yoz who was very bouncy and fun …

At dinner afterwards at Esperpento… (to be finished later… oops must go upstairs for jury duty)

As usual, Writers With Drinks was well attended — crowded — despite the heavy rain that prevented two of the readers from coming. (One, Grace Davis, on the wrong side of the mountains and reluctant to come over Highway 17, and the other, Lally Winston, stuck in traffic for two hours in blinding driving rain.)

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