partial response to Sour Duck's take on the women's visibility panel

This is in response to Sour Duck’s commentary on SXSWi and specifically on the panel I was on… I commented it on her post but then realized it’s so long I might as well repost it here. And I have a lot more to say later in response to her comments on other panels!


First, I do know that some people got where I was coming from, and got something out of it.

I was trying to avoid having to explain what the patriarchy was or defend the very idea that sexism exists in general or on the web or in tech. Without having to explain that, I knew we could push much further into “So now what.”  I was not there to do Feminism 101 for SXSWi. That would be a different panel…  It might be quite useful to have it, as well as a panel of “And here’s about 8 bazillion examples of evil sexism that I as a woman in tech have experienced.”  Which, actually, all of us on the panel talked about to some extent, but decided was not the point.

I think Jan’s position was to approach the solution by facing down internal barriers women have that make them feel that self-promotion is wrong. Her solution was not just “kick ass 10 times more than the men around you”… but also “and don’t forget to tell the world about it.” What she was saying on the panel was a direct demonstration of that philosophy. Not to wait to be asked, or looked for, but to step up and say “I’m great at my work and here’s why and here’s how to find me.”  I agree with Jan that this is crucial. Diffidence and niceness isn’t going to help fix anything. I think it’s possible to do this without becoming part of the problem – i.e. do it without stepping on anyone else.

I wanted, though, to take a different approach. I suggested a systemic technological fix  — as the furthest thing I could think of from Jan’s solution. (At least, the furthest thing that seems within women’s grasp, and that doesn’t involve violent revolution.)  

I was not suggesting tagging. Instead, two things: an extension to xml, something like xfn, that people could use to mark up their pages to indicate authorship and identity. It could be built in to existing tools, or added to whatever people like Kaliya are doing with identity authentication layers, or be xml… but it would create standards for people to declare their identities or affinities – including gender, but I also mentioned race as an example.   There’s room for discussion of what that would look like.   

The second part of my proposal is that tools be built to use that information.  Currently, we look at a set of all pages (for google or other search engines) or of blogs (for Technorati or whatever other blog-specific search engines.)  so we know by Technorati’s algorithms what blogs are considered the most important by other bloggers. We *can’t* ask the question, “Who are the most important bloggers in the view of all the *women* bloggers?” or “in the view of all the *non-male* bloggers?”

If we had gender identity data we could see if the answer to that question.  What blogs do women rank most highly? What blogs do men rank most highly? What male-identified ( tiny joke…)  blogs do non-males think are most interesting?  etc.   Extend this to race and you might see how it could be both fascinating and useful.  

The mere fact that those answers would all be different means that we should do it and see what the answers ARE.   Also, seeing their differences shows directly how we construct “value” and ranking, and how that value depends on the identity of the constructors.  So what I am suggesting is actually rather radical. I am saying that tech can give us a direct way to take the power of constructing value, and own it, and make it very very transparent.

Of course that data could be used for scary purposes, but…. I guarantee you it already IS… or will be.  So why not build it to be open and used by everyone?

Not everyone would identify themselves, but enough would that we would get interesting data.  It would actually allow us to “name the problem” MORE than we can now with existing vision.

It would make women more visible to each other, and it would also make them more visible to men who cared to look at what women’s standards of aesthetics, usefulness, and value are.  

You might argue that it will not matter if those aesthetics are visible; patriarchy basically guarantees that women’s standards and power will be denigrated, belittled, etc.  In other words what women assert is valuable, patriarchy will devalue *because* women like it. One merely has to breathe a hint that “teenybopper girls” or “housewives” like something for it to become the epitome of unpowerful. Consider romance novels; they *sell*. By all rights their continued existence should change something about what is considered valuable – they have this huge economic power. But… are they Literature? Somehow… (sarcasm) Not.  HOrribly.. I remember this same dynamic being pointed out to me when I first joined the STC in the early 90s – I was warned that because women were succeeding in “infiltrating” tech writing, tech writing was going to become a low-power pink-collar job.  THAT sort of thing.   Anyway, you could argue this against what I’m proposing. And you would be quite right to argue it.  I don’t think it’s a good reason for not DOING it, though.

Tara and Virginia had other things to say, but I thought I’d try to make my own statement a little more clear.

My 2 metaphors, which I just didn’t have time on the panel to go into, and I realized they were too wacky to pass without a lot of explanation… were … well… “radical fuzzy separatism” which just cracked me up as a name… because I’m suggesting a temporary separatism and one with fuzzy boundaries.  The other metaphor is of Maxwell’s Demon. Think of patriarchy, or racism, as being Maxwell’s Demon, i.e. an invisible and imaginary and impossible Agency, a being sitting at the tiny doorway between two chambers and keeping them separate… picking particles out of the air with tiny tweezers, perhaps…    We could shoot the demon maybe; we could point out who’s wearing the demon suit; we could exhort various particles to whiz around faster so they can trick the demon and get through the door; what I was proposing is to recognize the shape of the system itself and, well, drill some new holes between the two chambers. But first you have to know where the walls are.  

Carnival of Blog Translation – a post from La letra escarlata

Here is my (rather hasty, last minute) translation of a post by Hester Prynne of La letra escarlata, “Primera persona del singular del futuro imperfecto“; done for the first Carnival of Blog Translation over on the ALTA blog. (I apologize for any mistakes or awkward phrasing, and anyone can feel free to correct me.)

And — I have to say — what fun this is!

First person singular future imperfect

A ticket for a bet on the films that might make it to the Oscars this year, four beer cans crumpled as if they were balls of paper where someone didn’t find inspiration, a container of dirty paintbrushes, a radio set (playing happy reggaeton that everyone in the world tends to listen to lately and that gives me a headache), a smell that hasn’t been aired out for several days, a mountain of sheets on the bed, a pizza box I don’t dare to open.

“Did you find it?” asks my housemate from the kitchen, where she’s making sandwiches, she’ll leave everything messed up and I don’t care very much, because I’ve gotten used to it. People in the United States are very disorderly; the most neglectful person in Madrid can’t surpass it. I think it’s becuase they have so many things, trivial things that sometimes don’t seem to serve any purpose, things that they buy every time they go to the shopping center — I don’t know.

“Yes, here it is, thanks.” I pick up the book I was looking for, under a pile of notebooks. I close the door.

Outside it’s snowing. I put on my black overcoat, the thickest one I have, the scarf and legwarmers my bruja made me (isn’t she wonderful?). The gloves my friend Henar gave me, the hat with earflaps that makes me look Peruvian.

How landscapes change according to time’s passing. Now the leafeless trees show what was hidden when I arrived in summer to Saratoga Springs. many people walking hurried with their paper cups full of coffee. I nevertheless am stupified, with my nose redder and redder, gazing at infinity.

More and more, I grow conscious that I’m living a sort of privileged parenthesis. In this one year I’ve been put in a bubble whwere I know what I’m supposed to do with every minute. To go to class, to read, to study, to write, to work, to go to dinner, to take a walk… I don’t have to set out to plan anything on my own, the elitist university system of the United States of America protects me.

But there, watching me, is the near future. June will come and in its backpack loads up verbs like: getting my degree, writing, (or salvation, for me it means the same), working, going back… It’s a future that scares me but at the same time appeals to me. The great bourgeois problem of “what do I do with my life” that we have the luxury of being able to ponder.

Saratoga celebrates the Winterfest, an equivalent to Groundhog Day (Day of the Marmot) that is celebrated in Pennsylvania, and by which people predict how much winter is left (I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film by Atrapando about this time, about this event). There’s a buffet of soups in all the town’s restaurants, a display of snowmen, and somehow, a band plays with its trombones semifrozen. I have a book in my bag and there’s my favorite cafe. Whenever I go in, my glasses fog up and with the paraphrenalia of scarf, bag, purse, and all that, it takes me a while to clean them off and look around me. The girl behind the bar recognizes me and knows that Iike the hazelnut coffee. She makes me want to say:
“Eeeeeh, could I have also just a little bit of the future, please?”

I hope that my life is always a mix of the Unitedstatesian messy room and precise protective bubble, of glasses misty with the heat of an agreeable place where they know what kind of coffee you like and the white cold of a snowfall predicted by the dreams of a marmot, that forces you to open yourself to a road of responsibility and risk. There are things that I know I want, things I don’t know if I want, things that I know I don’t want… There’s fears, there’s goals, there’s laziness, there’s the emotions of an uncertain and tempting future. I’m going to end this post with a rotten rhetorical question, but oh such a true one: who said going outside is easy?

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Woolf Camp

woolf camp
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Here’s some of the crowd at WoolfCamp, a writing/blogging retreat.

Duuuuude! It was heavenly to hang out with those 30+ women and 5 men, most of them with laptops surgically attached to their bodies. All people who find it normal to listen while typing. In fact, typing during a conversation is a compliment; it means you’re taking notes because the conversation is so cool you want to write it up in realtime.

We had discussions on ideas like:

– Who is your audience, and why do you care?
– Gender, blogging as a genre
– Blogging, business, and feminism
– tagging; thinking about tagging
– memoir

And demos/workshops like

– nifty bloggy techie tools
– art blogging
– videoblogging and podcasting

And there was a poetry reading. I swear, I had no idea people really *wanted* a poetry reading. They did, and lots of people participated.

Grace, Jackie and I wanted to mix up literary, arty, and techie people a bit, and bring together people who love blogging, in an unconferencey, informal way. We had a feminist take on the event, are closely connected with BlogHer and mommyblogging, and wanted to work hard to bring people into the conversation who might usually hang back.

One of my main goals was to bring people together. I was so happy to see everyone making personal connections, and I got to meet a lot of awesome bloggers! Intensity, and people who get excited about ideas, give me energy. I don’t require people to prove themselves as some kind of big technical expert, or a zillionaire, or ask them where they work, before I listen to their ideas and take them seriously! The non-“legitimate” people are often edge-thinkers who don’t just think outside the box, they live outside it. (That automatically includes most mommybloggers, especially the potty-mouthed and dirty minded kind.)

My own favorite conversations were in the “gender and genre” discussion, diva-ed by Amber Hatfield; I also loved the ideas thrown around in “Who’s your audience” diva-ed by Emily!

Personal blogging had many strong voices in the mix. It was a given that personal blogging can be a political and feminist act. I liked what Emily said: “If I like what you write, I want to read everything about everything. Your kids, your job, your bowel movements. So I like it all mashed up, which is how I love to blog.”

Chris Heuer answered with this excellent thought about the importance of categories and tagging in mixy-uppy blogging: “The whole self is very intriguing. But we don’t have enough time to get to know everyone on that deep level.”

It was also a given that blogging was a serious literary or artistic endeavor – or can be. That in itself was interesting and empowering. We were a group of people who share that belief.

I have more to say, and in more detail, but I’ve been flying on one brain cell for the last couple of days, and have a lot going on, for school, writing projects, and friends in crisis.

Can some of the people who took notes in discussions, post them raw?

transparency, identity, blogging

Huzzah for this article… Jon Udell on transparency in blogging professional life.

The issue here isn’t simply that employers don’t get what blogging is or can be. I think that’s changing. I think there is an emerging consensus that professional lives can, should, and will be lived more transparently. But a successful negotiation of the limits of that transparency will be incredibly tricky. I’m hopeful that we’ll get there, but doubtful that we’ll get there soon.

People are going there, but it’s risky. I said last year at BlogHer that academic scientists are blogging about their work more than academics in the humanities. For example – Pharyngula. But no one knows the boundaries.

Are the most interesting details inevitably the most unbloggable, either because they’re proprietary, or because they reveal interpersonal complexity, or because they go too far into “private lives”? I think the blogosphere is revealing the power and danger of gossip. Feminists have often reclaimed the idea of gossip – and that’s going to happen again so that “what is trivial” will be redefined, remodeled. I know I harp on Feyerabend’s “Against Method”, but its ideas about how science works, how research and intellectual development actually unfold, are crucial here. What history points to as important, the narrative process of intellectual history, is not always “what happened”. Blogging, especially professional/personal blogging, will expose the richness of experience to a wide audience. Autobiography will change. And we can apply blog or social network models of reality to the past, as well; what if we represented, say, a literary/intellectual movement not through biography which shapes lives into a narrative, or an encyclopedia of biographical entries, but instead, create “Orkut 1910”? What would that look like?

Just as it’s pertinent information to know someone else’s blogroll from now — i.e. I share something in common with other readers of Pandagon and Bitch Ph.D., with the other commenters there — it would be lovely to draw sideways-going, networky, intersecting nexi (nexuses?) of people in various disciplines.

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Carnival of Blog Translation

Announcing the first Carnival of Blog Translation! Tuesday, Feb. 28th, 2006!

On the day of the Carnival, a participant translates one post by another blogger, and posts it on her own blog with a link to the original. She would need to email me, or post in the comments right here, and I’ll compile one big post on the day of the Carnival with links to all the participants.

You can translate any blog entry that was posted in the month of February 2006. It can be your own blog entry, if you like.

From participants I need:

your name
name of your blog
your blog URL
post title in target language

name of blog you’re translating
name of person you’re translating
that URL
the post title in the source language

You should get permission from the person you’re translating to post your translation of their work. I would also suggest that you might introduce your translation for the target-language audience, and provide some context if you can.

A Blog Carnival is sort of like a travelling signpost that points to a bunch of magazine articles. It is a post that contains links to other posts written especially on a particular theme. I’ll host it this month, and next month will hand it off to another host. The content will not appear here; only links to that content!

If you’re looking for a blog in a particular language, try searching on Technorati, a useful blog search engine.

This idea came from a discussion on Bev Traynor’s blog and further discussion of bilingual blogging and tagging at BlogHer. I’m excited about the idea and its possibilities!

*** Rebecca Mckay points out that the “Translation Carnival” is a graduate student conference happening at University of Iowa in April. Here’s some information on the U. of Iowa Translation Carnival; it sounds like a great event!

at the BlogHer launch party

January 2006 068
Originally uploaded by Jo Spanglemonkey.

I’m blogging on Latin America as a contributing editor for Blogher. Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks is also covering the region – she’s taking anything Caribbean and I’m, in theory, linking up with blogging women from the rest of Latin America. The idea is not to cover news, as Global Voices does, but instead, to look at what women are writing.

My hope is that English-speaking and Spanish-speaking women bloggers will become more aware of each other, and will jump into conversation with each other, unmediated by me, on each other’s blogs. Even if they’re monolingual, they can use automated translators like Google Language Tools or Babelfish to read each others’ posts and comments.

I’m hoping to be a good party host, introducing people to each other and facilitating the start of their conversation. Look, there I am in the photo at the BlogHer Launch Party, raising my glass… It’s a GREAT party.

If even a few people become aware of each other, I’ll be so happy! And at the very least, English speaking bloggers will become more aware they aren’t the only ones talking. I hope that I can serve as a translator, though I’ll be an imperfect one, to help make this happen.

My other very strong hope is that someone will step up and “cover” blogging-women’s Brazil, because I’m already overwhelmed and I don’t know Portuguese! There are so many fantastic Brazilian bloggers, I’d go crazy trying to read everything.
Thanks to BlogHer founders Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort, and Jory Des Jardines for a great site and a fun party!