Here it is! Anita Sarkeesian: “Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games”

Anita Sarkeesian’s first piece investigating representations of women in video games is here at last!

This is just the first in what should be an excellent (and well-backed – one nice ramification of the trauma) series. If you don’t know the background, visit the links Sarkeesian provides at the YouTube page (or watch her talk at TED, also embedded below).

So far I find this work to be compelling, educational, and essential. Leanne says we should share this with our daughter, who is virtually growing up online. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you Anita!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6p5AZp7r_Q%5D [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZAxwsg9J9Q%5D
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The Perverting of The Technically Women

In 2010 I was honored to be asked to join a group of women I greatly admired at a blog about and by women in technology called technicallywomen.com. Don’t go there yet — wait till I explain…

I had known many of the awesome women behind this beautiful site with kickass technical commentary, particularly via Twitter, and perhaps you do too:

… and several more that I got to know after becoming involved.

I wrote about my first post here and contributed a couple more pieces as time continued its hectic pace.

Back in 2010, the fantastically designed site (thanks @yojibee) looked like this:

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Courtesy of Internet Archive at http://web.archive.org/web/20110201210327/http://technicallywomen.com/

Unfortunately, many of us straddle a big crisis of time between jobs, families, community activism, and life and beyond (for women, they call this “work/life ‘balance'”), so the blog, and the domain, eventually lapsed from our hands. Thanks to a tip from co-technically-woman-blogger Susan Scrupski, I went to check it out again today.

Because of our lapse, today, the site at technicallywomen.com looks like this:

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When I looked up the domain registration, I was sadly unsurprised to find that Go Daddy is involved in hosting the “redesign.” But while we’re at it, check out these “helpful” alternates provided by whois – which would let us branch out beyond technical topics into the wild and feminine domains of fashion, hair, health, and just being good ladies:

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Finding the actual registrant will seem to be a little more problematic, since the site is now registered through DomainsByProxy, proudly flaunting that “Your identity is nobody’s business but ours,” right alongside links to complaints, concerns, and law enforcement:

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It obviously behooves us in general to keep on top of domain registrations to protect them and our content, but did it really behoove some anonymous creep to co-opt a domain about technical women and turn it into site purporting to sell soiled panties?

And is it a right, in this case, for that creep’s identity, assisted by DomainsByProxy and hosted by Go Daddy, to be ‘nobody’s business but ours”?

In this case, you may say the “harm” caused is negligible “if any,” and anonymity in general is obviously key to a free Internet. Should anonymity, however, leave us with no recourse should the harms be greater?

The awesome @yojibee is working on next steps, and though no doubt we’ll all continue to be busier than ever and some things will continue to slip through our hands.  But with countless stories and more every day of the systematic shaming of women away from technical careers, with more women scared into hiding offline for fear of identity theft, porn, cyberbullying, suicide, and worse (thanks Sarah Parmenter, Anita Sarkeesian, Amanda Todd), who and what do we really need to protect?

I don’t have an answer, but it seems like we as a whole, as citizens of the Internet and the world, need to be better than this.

Aaron Swartz on Misogyny: “I despair of it ever getting fixed”

I didn’t know too much about Aaron Swartz in 2007, when Philipp Lenssen published this refreshingly candid chat with him, nor do I know too much more about him now beyond the major tributes he’s received since his death on Friday, but the things he said nearly six years ago in that interview affected me so poignantly that I published an internal piece pointing to it and will always have a great impression of him because of it:

If you talk to any woman in the tech community, it won’t be long before they start telling you stories about disgusting, sexist things guys have said to them. It freaks them out; and rightly so. As a result, the only women you see in tech are those who are willing to put up with all the abuse.

I really noticed this when I was at foo camp once, Tim O’Reilly’s exclusive gathering for the elite of the tech community. The executive guys there, when they thought nobody else was around, talked about how they always held important business meetings at strip clubs and the deficiencies of programmers from various countries.

Meanwhile, foo camp itself had a session on discrimination in which it was explained to us that the real problem was not racism or sexism, but simply the fact that people like to hang out with others who are like themselves.

The denial about this in the tech community is so great that sometimes I despair of it ever getting fixed. And I should be clear, it’s not that there are just some bad people out there who are being prejudiced and offensive. Many of these people that I’m thinking of are some of my best friends in the community. It’s an institutional problem, not a personal one.

It’s enough of a despair to think that we haven’t moved very far on the “misogyny in tech” topic in these six years, much less to live with the idea that we can never do anything about it.  What is clear is that we’ve lost an ally and a man of brilliance. Thanks for your words, Aaron.

The Technically Women — A Personal Journey

I did torment myself for awhile before I managed to publish my first post on the great blog called Technically Women.

You have to understand — when I was invited to join this group I was compelled to openly confess my love for each of the women that I already knew.  There are some very fine thoughts trafficking on this blog and these are excellent people with which to be associated.

So when I was invited to join, of course, I panicked.

I have known and admired genetically engineered raconteur @cathybrooks since Prop 8 and I have enjoyed many Twitter threads and even commentary on this blog from Cathy.

My early days of Twitter are awash in song lyrics from @pistachio — and a couple of my posts honor her contributions to my use of technology and the causes that are dear to me.

It was @yojibee who — totally outside the inner-connected sphere of our worklives — reached out to me during a fear of flying bout or two — and located across the world as she is, she also provides excellent insomanic company.

And then there’s @marilynpratt.  I was only recently lucky enough to meet Marilyn face-to-face.  There are many things you could say about Marilyn, but there’s no point to words when you’re touched by a piece of her soul.

And now I get to be associated with the rest of the women I hadn’t known before except by reputation that are on this blog ?

So you can see how I panicked. But I stepped in with a post and I intend to continue reciprocating the honor as best I can.  I already have a folder or two of additional posts I am incubating — Now — barring only the discovery of the time…

In the meantime — likewise, I’d be honored if you’d check it out over at Technically Women and grace us with your thoughts.  Thank you!

I am woman… No, *I* am woman… No, *I* am woman…

As an aside… A group of women at my company are trying to build a technical women’s network, and I’m on a conference call about it as we speak (of course, fully paying attention!). Technical women here feel like they would be well-served to network better together. The thing is, there already exists a network that calls itself a “business women’s network,” which also is well-served by the cause of banding better together, and which also experiences many of the very same frustrations with advancing in the company.

What’s in a name? That which we call a “technical woman” would still be a “business woman”? That which we call a “business woman” would still remain a “technical woman”? Perhaps it comes down to getting a more detailed definition of what one group is vs. another, and I know the importance of names (hence my love of “liberal application of quotation marks“). Perhaps it comes down to not forming a new group and instead joining in with the existing group. And I know we share a lot in common. I know that — particularly in this age of resource-strappage — we need to join up and help each other out all we can (just think of the fire alarm incident in my condo complex the other night! … but that’s a different story). And I know we all can feel alike and awkward in social situations, from time to time.

And yet… all I can think of at the moment is that last night, I had the privilege of dining with Dr. Fran Berman (at the wonderful Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park). Five of us gathered together and nobody knew Fran and Fran didn’t know any of us before last night. But we spent the whole night practically stumbling over ourselves talking about all we had in common, all the values we shared — including love of sustainable local food, plus a liberal dosage of geek-outtedness including the importance of cloud computing and super-machinery that works on really huge data sets! It was one of those rare events during which I practically did NOT feel socially awkward at all. But I feel awkward in my job in my company all the time.

Exactly all the better a reason to join the “two sides” together? May it be, the days of “you’re either with us… or you’re with the enemy” are over. But you, and you, and you are all still unique.

Finally — A Family Friendly Conference

The Anita Borg Institute issued a press release today saying that full childcare will be offered at the next Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) (in October in Orlando). Says the release:

A technical conference, GHC is the largest gathering of women in computing in the United States. Childcare is a relatively new and unique offering at a technical conference, typically dominated by men.

As Deanna Kosaraju, GHC Program Manager at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, points out:

We recognize that many women have multiple jobs and we are leading on this issue to find creative ways to help our women-technologist care for their families as well as their professional and technical development. The GHC conference is a signal to other technical conferences and to industry that in order to attract, retain and advance women the culture of computing needs to change.

This childcare will span the entire length of the conference, including all keynotes, sessions, and banquets, etc. But it’s not just women who benefit. This benefits:

  1. Anyone who has a child ages zero and up. Presumably by the time your children area 18, this isn’t an issue anymore, but if you’ve got kids who can’t be ‘home alone,’ and you’re the primary caregiver, chances are you’ve missed out on some career-building events in your life. With more childcare in strategic places (and that includes companies), you stand to lose far fewer opportunities. This includes mothers as well as fathers, though women report far more responsibility for taking care of kids than do men.
  2. Everyone else. Diversity along all conceivable axes – and those we haven’t even conceived of yet – is key to innovation. A multitasking parent can be a tremendous source of innovation. Tech conferences and other centers of innovation are wise to be more inclusive of this potential.

Now – if those conferences like Web 2.0 and the other O’Reilly conferences start offering childcare, they might actually get women to attend, not to mention to speak. SAP: are we next?

Web 2.0 and My Community: Personal Report

The men -- and some women -- of Web 2.0. Keynote audience.

The men -- and some women -- of Web 2.0. Keynote audience.

In several places, the Web 2.0 Expo< at Moscone West (April 15-18, San Francisco) blurred the line between the ethereal online community and actual communities of the world in which we live:

  • Most hearteningly, the line blurred when Architecture for Humanity talked about applying “Web 2.0 principles” in responding with housing to communities in need during times of crisis.
  • Most uncomfortably, the line was blurred when tragedy hit Virginia between Sunday night’s Excite presentation of “K’Nex Guns” (“What are 14-year-old boys excited about? Weapons!”) and Wednesday morning’s recap of K’Nex Guns.
  • And most dishearteningly for me, the line was blurred when Jay Bhatti introduced O’Reilly darling Spock to the audience during Monday morning’s multiple-thousands-packed keynote session.

See Shuba’s report, reprinted on watchyourmouth, for a description of what happened next:

Right after the keynote, there was a Launch Pad session where 3 new start-ups launched their product officially in front of the audience. One of the products was a new search engine that can be used to search for people: http://www.spock.com

The founder and CEO Jay Bhatti made a very compelling pitch that had me raring to give the site a whirl until he stuck his foot in his mouth. The first search he demonstrated for the audience was for “bloggers”. For the next search, he said he wanted to make it more interesting, and asked the audience (mixed audience, 16,000+ mostly tech. crowd) whether they would like to search for Swimsuit illustrated models or for Victoria’s secret models!! Folks in the front voted for VS it seems, so he went ahead and used his search engine to pull up Victoria’s Secret models on the multiple big screens for the crowd. The women standing next to me were disgusted, and walked out literally calling him an idiot.

The point: All representations of results in the demo were men (all geeky techie bloggers and the like) UNTIL he pulled that punch. I had already been perceiving a gender imbalance at the conference and in the keynote audience. I had also been in some disarray by the time I arrived at the Expo. Community was on my mind.

Earlier that morning, after dropping my daughter off at school, I had walked through the Tenderloin (on Golden Gate Avenue – such a promising name) towards Moscone West. During that walk through part of what I consider my community, I stepped over and around sleeping or sick people, jumped over rivers of urine, was offered drugs, asked for drugs, and surrounded by clouds of pot, and felt simultaneously ashamed and humiliated that with all of our collective resources, this is the best community some of us ever get. And these are familiar feelings to many of us.

What I didn’t expect was that my odyssey of community-related feeling would continue throughout my conference attendance at the Web 2.0 Expo, and I didn’t predict that I would wind up feeling saddened as a woman in technology as a result of the Expo.

The women of Spock

The women of Spock

As the Expo continued multiple-day run, I continued to note that women were vastly outnumbered by men (1:10 in most sessions – and of course there were exceptions – in both directions). Women were not represented in any of the Launch Pad companies, and were poorly represented as speakers. Kathy Sierra was supposed to be there – and is still not able to continue with her speaking engagements. Anyone who is familiar with her story will understand how poignantly related this is. Kathy was relegated by our Web 2.0 community back into the pre-1960s – or is it ahead into the 2010’s?

It might have seemed like a fleeting moment on stage and a “what’s the big deal” for many, but Jay Bhatti reinforced exactly that stereotype. Judging by Jay’s personal posse at Spock, the split in the blogosphere, and the defensiveness of some of the company’s response, I can only assume that Spock and its users will continue to reflect those same values as their community and their search results grow.

One interesting thing “Web 2.0” does offer is a measure of appearance anonymity. Ironically, Spock (and its blurred lines, in turn, between “people search” and “image search”) will serve to strip this away. Mr. Bhatti has indeed assimilated into the community – another by now with which I’m uncomfortably familiar – of (for lack of a better term) “frat boys online who rule the Web 2.0 capital.” Conversely, the women whose images Spock serves will not assimilate as easily – or at least anonymize. Or, perhaps the role to which models are relegated are assimilation enough for Spock.

Tim O’Reilly, for his part, has been even-handed in fielding the blogosphere and Spock itself, for their part, (was it the letters sent by Systers to their VCs?) has cleaned up their Web site of some of its trash, posted an apology (of sorts) to their About page, and continues to try to do (somewhat weak) damage control, the likes of “I’m sorry if we offended you…” A collection of committed people were instrumental in getting Spock to change their behavior – but probably not their minds. The demo (or some would say clever marketing ploy) achieved measures of success both for Spock and for reinforcing a particular image (or lack thereof) of women in technology.

On my way home that evening, I took Ellis Street this time to pick up my daughter. I walked past the long line of people waiting for a bed for the night at Glide Memorial. I wondered what difference any Web 2.0 was going to make for this offline community, while simultaneously feeling like the communities are nothing unless they serve the people who need them the most. My daughter is fortunate: She does not need it the most. But after that day’s regression in gender equality, I wondered.

Ultimately, today’s “search results” are oh-so-fleeting in the great scheme of things and many certainly already wonder what all the fuss is about. But true communities take a long time to build and involve – I believe – trust, compassion, safety, and common goals. In the end, I want these three things:

  • I want, most profoundly, a community in which my daughter can grow up to be anything she wants
  • Actually, I want community in which anyone can grow up to be anything they want
  • And above all, I want a community for people to grow up into in the first place

Spock will be long gone, but let’s hope this unfortunate incident helps Web 2.0 continue its trend towards helping the real communities in need in which we all live, so that the brightest future is ahead for all.

At least the men's room is evolved

At least the men's room is evolved