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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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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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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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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Writers With Drinks tonight!

Y’all come to WWD tonight and hear one of my favorite poets, Steve Arntson. He does mad things with geography in very long poems which he mostly recites from memory. I’ve heard him declaim for 45 minutes without stopping! He’s a master of juxtaposing imaginary landscapes and history into any moment, oddball freewheeling descriptions, with language that’s densely layered & conversational. Yay, crazy beat poet legacy!

I’ll be there to cheer him on!

Award-winning spoken word show Writers With Drinks mashes up your literary experience! This month it features:

– lit by KE Silva (A Simple Distance)
– erotica by Spring Opara (Ultimate Lesbian Erotica)
– comedy by Dana Cory (Q Comedy)
– journalism by Katie Hafner (The Well)
– poetry by Steve Arntson (Cuts from the Barbershop)
– SF/Fantasy/mystery from Madeleine Robins (Petty Treason)

Where: The Make Out Room, 3225 22nd. st. btw. Mission & Valencia
When: Saturday, Nov. 11, from 7:30 to 9:30, doors open 7:00
How much: $3 to $5 sliding scale, all proceeds benefit other magazine.

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