Posts tagged #women

The Trouble With Heroes

[Content warning: violent misogyny, organized hate campaigns, abuse, harassment, stalking]

Folks who are familiar with the tech and gaming communities probably already know that there's an ongoing campaign of terror being used to stalk, harass, threaten, assault, and abuse women out of the tech and gaming communities. It's actually a loosely-interwoven set of campaigns of terror stretching back years, but it's getting more central and more organized, and it's picked up steam in the wake of conservative actor Adam Baldwin endorsing it and giving it a ridiculous name.

The latest target is Shanley Kane, tech culture critic and co-founder of Model View Media. She [Content warning] posted a statement about the abuse she's endured and how it's affecting her. Her account is harrowing. What she's going through is awful.

Yesterday, Kane's former business partner Amelia Greenhall wrote about why their partnership dissolved [TW: emotional and verbal abuse, erasure]:

I now feel that people should know that my business partnership with Shanley herself was emotionally and verbally abusive, and be able to take that into their mental model of how things work. I felt abused to the point where I left a company that I loved and had been my dream. Then she erased me from Model View Culture’s history, another classic abuser tactic. These were things that I experienced.
— Amelia Greenhall, "What It Was Like to Found Model View Culture With Shanley Kane."

I believe Greenhall.

Some folks are going to use Greenhall's account of abuse and erasure as a justification for the campaign of terror being leveled against Kane. Greenhall has plainly stated she does not want this. When you see people doing it anyway, be clear that they're using her and her story in a manner explicitly contrary to her wishes. They are not allies, and they have absolutely no interest in protecting women from harassment and abuse. They are perpetuating both.

Stated plainly: none of this justifies the campaign of terror aimed at Kane. Nothing makes it okay to publish her family's addresses, to threaten her with rape and death, to violate her privacy, to butt into her sex life, or to otherwise participate in the organized campaign of abuse being leveled against her.

None of it.

If you only support abuse victims if they meet your standard of 'deserving,' then you don't support abuse victims at all. You're using abuse and your ability to withhold support as a means of manipulating and controlling vulnerable populations.That's an abuser tactic, and if you're going to try it, kindly do so very far away from me. 92,960,000 miles should be far enough. Preferably in the direction of our friendly neighborhood gravity well.

I also want to be clear, however, that the people who are going to twist Greenhall's words are people who would use any convenient weapon to attack Kane. This campaign of misogynist terror is not a force of nature. It's a group of people making conscious choices, and they, not Greenhall, are responsible for their behavior. Appeals to 'unity' and 'supporting the cause' are common tactics to silence abuse victims, especially when the abusers are popular and respected figures within a community. It isn't right to ask Greenhall to be silent while people uncritically support someone who has perpetuated the same pattern of credit-taking and erasure that women face throughout the tech community.

Now. Speaking of uncritical support.

Yesterday, before I'd heard Greenhall's story, I tweeted about Kane's work:

The point I was trying to make in those tweets still stands. Trying to separate the 'good,' 'nice,' 'worthy' activists you're willing to listen to from the 'mean,' 'bitchy,' 'rude' ones you can dehumanize and ignore is a means of control. It's saying "I'll recognize your humanity if you behave in the way I dictate." It's saying "Your anger is valid only so long as it is palatable to me." It also ignores the very concrete ways in which refusing to court the approval of those in power creates space for other women to speak.

But in the course of making that point, I uncritically supported someone who has erased another activist from her work. Even if you don't believe Greenhall about the verbal and emotional abuse (and again, I do), the trail of evidence regarding Kane erasing her from the history of Model View Culture speaks for itself. That evidence lives on the public internet, and I completely failed to notice.

For that, I apologize to Greenhall. I'm sorry she went through what she did. I'm sorry I didn't pay attention, and I'm sorry I perpetuated a reductive view of this whole situation as a binary question of either wholeheartedly supporting Kane or co-signing the campaign of misogynist terror that is being leveled against her.

Kane's work, and the work of other women who are willing to publicly, loudly refuse to cater to the egos of powerful white men in tech, directly benefits me. It widens the Overton window and creates space where I can speak more safely, because I'm behind the front lines. It's a tactic I have used myself to help make space for others, so I know firsthand that it takes a toll.

Supporting her also benefitted me--as of this writing, I've picked up something like seventy followers off those tweets.

But this system of lifting up individual people as heroes doesn't benefit any of us. Even in the very best cases, it's a lot of pressure to put on a person. We expect these 'heroes' to fulfill our narrative that The Hero Always Wins; to bear up under abuse and terror and triumph in spite of everything. We send them forth to the front lines of the struggle, but leave them without an adequate support structure to fall back on when the worst parts of the internet come gunning for them.

When we're not at the very best case, it can lead to situations like this one, where a leader in our community behaves badly, and we're left with the choice of either continuing to accrue the benefits of their work without regard for the people they've hurt, or else withdrawing support, which leaves a gap in the shield wall that violent misogynists will use to hurt them.

In her post, Greenwall calls for a third option with regard to Kane:

I think there should be room for a third option: You support diversity in tech and the work Model View Culture has done, but you are allowed to have doubts about Shanley’s sincerity or track record of abusive behavior.
— Amelia Greenhall

This option lays aside the hero narrative. It requires seeing other activists as human beings who can do important work but who can nonetheless be flawed and problematic, rather than reducing them to symbols whose flaws and weaknesses must be ignored in the name of the greater good.

When we acknowledge people for doing good work rather than for being a hero, it eliminates some of the cognitive dissonance that will lead us to ignore or silence evidence that they may not be everything we want them to be. It can serve as a safeguard against perpetuating the common pattern of ignoring victims and closing ranks around abusers. And, at the end of the day, I hope it can also take the pressure off people who are in the 'hero' role, so that they don't have to shoulder the burden of being invulnerable, bulletproof ideas.

Posted on January 21, 2015 .

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The Ada Initiative Fandom Women Face Off!




As a programmer, science fiction writer, and genre fan, I am deeply grateful for the Ada Initiative's work to increase the participation of women in open technology and culture. Their anti-harassment advocacy, ally skills workshops, and AdaCamps are making my communities safer and more welcoming. I'm a member of the Ada Initiative Advisory Board, and a proud supporter of their work.

But while the Ada Initiative has an official savory fruit, it doesn't yet have an Official Science Fiction/Fantasy Badass. We need to fix this immediately.


Over the next few days, I'll be featuring awesome women from Science Fiction and Fantasy in head-to-head match-ups. You can vote for your favorite by donating to the Ada Initiative under your heroine's banner. Not only will you be playing a pivotal role in determining the Ada Initiative's (completely un-)official genre badass, you can also get cool swag like their new "not afraid of the f-word" sticker!

Our Current Matchup: Katniss Everdeen vs Buffy Summers. Click on your heroine to donate in support.


VS Get your donations in before 1pm Eastern today to support Team Katniss or Team Buffy.

Progress of the Katniss v Buffy duel
Posted on September 18, 2014 .

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Kid Flash The Super Creep: The Problem With 'Funny Harassment'

This stuff matters--not just because it's an annoying trope that alienates harassment and assault survivors, but because it leads to real people getting harassed and assaulted in the real world. It perpetuates the idea that harassment is normal courting behavior, and that "no" actually means "keep asking me until I change my fickle girly mind and fall madly in love with you." Some folks who've been raised on a steady diet of this trope have it so bad that they take anger and contempt as signs that their victim secretly likes them back.

Posted on November 15, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

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Ada Lovelace Day: Selena Deckelmann and Jackie Kazil

Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, folks!

Named for Lady Ada Lovelace, a collaborator of Charles Babbage's and the first computer programmer of the modern world, Ada Lovelace Day is an opportunity to celebrate women in science, technology, math, and engineering.

My Adas this year are people I've only recently met--Selena Deckelmann and Jackie Kazil. Hanging out with these two amazing women in tech was my favorite part of DjangoCon.

Selena Deckelmann contributes to PostreSQL and runs Postrgres Open, a non-profit Postgres conference. At Djangocon 2012, she gave a keynote titled "While We're Here, Let's Fix Computer Science Education." Now she's working on finding new and creative ways for CS teachers and programmers to collaborate to make CS education more awesome. This is a cause near and dear to my heart--her talk really fired me up to want to go out and build stuff. When the discussions at DjangoCon around her talk inspired her to create a mailing list about the topic, I jumped all over it. I'm really excited to see what comes of it.

Jackie Kazil founded PyLadies DC, a group that encourages and supports women Python developers. PyLadies sponsored the scholarship that got me to DjangoCon in the first place, and once I was there, Jackie encouraged me to submit my first proposal for a technical talk. She also leads intro workshops on Python and Django to help get more people excited about tech.

I also want to give a shout-out to Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, the founders of The Ada Initiative, because their work makes my life better.

And, as always, a shout-out to Mackenzie, without whose support, encouragement, and mentorship I'd still be printing "Hello World."

Posted on October 16, 2012 .

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I'm an Ada's Anchor

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Last night, I became The Ada Initiative's 100th Sustaining Donor for 2013.

The Ada Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture. They do a lot of great work, including advocating for conference Anti-Harassment policies, which make tech conferences safer and more welcoming spaces for women and other minorities. They also organize AdaCamp. AdaCamp DC was a really positive experience for me, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend.

Many wonderful people advocate for women in open tech and culture (OT&C), but our community still has a long way to go. Mary Gardener and Valerie Aurora founded the Ada Initiative so they could treat advocacy for women in OT&C as the full-time job that it is. Those of us who value this work need to understand that while volunteer efforts are important and necessary, expecting women and our allies to do this work on a strictly volunteer basis is another way of devaluing our contributions to Open Tech and Culture. We can't be equal participants if we're expected to spend a good chunk of our free time--time others get to spend actually contributing to OT&C projects--fighting for our right to safe spaces and basic respect.

The Ada Initiative's impact on my own life and career extends beyond a couple awesome days at AdaCamp. Their work to promote Anti-Harassment Policies has lead to a sea-change in how conferences think about and address harassment and assault. I've been attending geek conventions since I was thirteen, and I'd gotten so used to sexual harassment that I just thought of it as the price of attending cons. The two conferences I've attended in the past year have been the first I've ever been to where I was neither harassed nor assaulted. One of them had an anti-harassment policy based on the Ada Initiative template. The other addressed their efforts to increase women's participation in their project in several talks and sessions, including the keynote. I have no doubt that the Ada Initiative contributed to their thinking on that. The Ada Initiative's work has made me feel safer and more welcome at conferences.

They've also helped to foster a community of women and allies within OT&C who support each other in speaking out about bad behavior. When a company does something sexist, or a speaker includes pornography or references to 'explaining technology to girls' in their talk, they're increasingly more likely to get called out for it. Public censure is an important tool in developing an atmosphere where misogyny and harassment are not acceptable.  The Ada Initiative's advocacy inspires me, supports me, and gives me hope for the future of women in Open Technology and Culture.

The Ada Initiative is still seeking donors to sustain its work in 2013. I'm an Ada's Anchor. Will you join me?

Posted on October 11, 2012 .

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Malinda Lo's Ash

Ash by Malinda LoRemixing fairy tales is deceptively hard to do well. Especially when the fairy tale in question features a fairy god mother, and evil stepsister, and magic slippers. As much as I love Cinderella, I'm pretty cynical when someone tells me that this or that retelling actually brings something new to the story for real this time*. Basically, if you can't do better than the Rogers & Hammerstein musical (specifically, the 90s version with the multiracial cast and the regrettable costumes), you're probably not going to impress me.

Malinda Lo impressed me.

I'm sorry I waited so long to read ASH.

It's not just that she's written a version that affirms Lesbian and Bisexual teens. It's great that she did; I always appreciate seeing myself represented in fiction, and I really wish there had been more stories like this out there when I was a teen: stories with queer heroines who get to do all the things straight heroines get to do, rather than having their entire story and all their struggles revolve around discrimination.

But just like I want to read about people like me who get to do what other heroes do, I also want to read like non-marginalized people do. Straight white men don't have  to cleave to every science fiction and fantasy novel that pays even the faintest lip-service to the idea that they're multidimensional people with their own stories, and I refuse to swoon over their table scraps.

So my actual favorite thing about ASH is that the traditional elements of Cinderella's story--the fairy benefactor helping her attend the ball, the prince dazzled by her beauty, the magic slippers, the jealous stepsister, the clock striking twelve--are little more than a backdrop to a completely original story about a young woman struggling past her grief to shape her own destiny and happiness.

I also really loved the dimension she brought to the traditional story's characters. Unlike the fairytale, Lo's version doesn't skip over Cinderella's grief at the loss of her parents or the change in her circumstances. This isn't Disney's long-suffering and eternally patient princess. Her reaction to her mistreatment is human and whole. The fairy benefactor has also been rounded out; appearing as a fleshed-out character with motivations and desires completely separate from helping Cinderella catch Charming's eye.

To my mind, though, Lo's neatest trick was the wicked stepmother. She's no more sympathetic in ASH than she is in the traditional fairytale, but in this version, she's mistreating Cinderella for her own reasons, and not just because the story needs a villain.

Lo's newest book, ADAPTATION, is the first half of a science fiction duology, and it's fresh off the presses. I'm definitely snapping up a copy.


*I actually took a crack at retelling Cinderella with the fairies in the foreground, back when I was a teen. It involved the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Irish legend of Deirdre and Naoise. It was not very good.

Posted on September 30, 2012 and filed under Books I Love.

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Awesome Thing On The Internet: The Unwritten Rules

The Unwritten Rules is a web series by Kim Williams, "examin[ing] the comedic realities of being a Black Co-Worker in a predominantly white workplace." It stars Aasha Davis, whose comedic timing alone is reason enough to watch.

Here's the trailer:

They've released seven episodes so far, plus one bonus episode. You can watch them on the show's website, or subscribe to the youtube channel.

Posted on September 21, 2012 .

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What Passage Means

Angela and Brennan discuss Brennan's mother on  Bones .

Angela and Brennan discuss Brennan's mother on Bones.

When it comes to the Bechdel Test, a lot of people miss what I see as its biggest strength.

The Bechdel Test is not about the stereotype that women always talk about men. I've seen folks, both pro-woman and not, bend the test into a pretzel to show how the story they're testing does or does not support that stereotype.

On the side of folks who want to see more well-rounded women in popular media, that looks like what gamers call hardcore rules lawyering: construing "two women must talk to each other about something other than a man" to mean "two named women must talk to each other and must not discuss men at all," or at least "must have at least one conversation in which men are not discussed, no matter how many other topics are covered." This raises a lot of questions, which then require corallaries: What counts as 'named?' Do they have to be called by name on screen, or is it sufficient for the character to be named in the credits? What counts as the start and end of a conversation, for the purposes of excluding conversations where men are discussed? Etc etc etc.

On the other side, apologists for media that doesn't pass will insist that stories can have strong women characters without passing. One author who was called out for failing the test suggested that any test that would criticize a police procedural about women taking down a male crime boss while praising a comedy where two women discuss shoes is not a test he wants to concern himself with passing. That author was missing the point by as wide a margin as the rules-lawyers.

Stories aren't like real life. They're groups of interwoven narratives. They glaze over the unimportant bits so they can focus on the parts that further the plot and the characterization of the most significant people. This is especially true for movies--which, let's not forget, is the medium for which the Bechdel test was created. Movies have to cover a lot of ground in a very short span of time, so they have to be ruthless about leaving out things that don't serve the narrative.

In that context, the Bechdel Test's real strength is its ability to measure how important women are to the narratives of a given story.

A story in which two women are talking to each other about shoes is a story about those women, their relationship to each other, and their relationship to shoes. That might seem like a boring story to you, but it's their story.

By contrast, if a story about two women taking down a male crime boss fails the test because they only ever discuss the crime boss, then the story is not about them. It's about the crime boss.

Whether a story can have a strong woman in it without passing the Bechdel test is not the point. The point is that if a story fails, that's a pretty good indication that the women in it--however strong, brave, smart, worthy, etc--are not there to tell their own stories. They're there to help tell a story about men.

And let's be realistic: we've seen stories about women detectives. Cagney and Lacey. Rizzoli & Isles. Bones. They don't have any trouble passing the Bechdel test, because the characters don't just talk about the criminals they're taking down. They talk about ordering takeout, how their work is affecting them, who's car to take to a crime scene, what they did over the weekend, how they like their coffee, and--yes--shoes. When the story is actually about the women, those conversations get included, because the narrative they support--the narrative about the women themselves, their relationships to each other, their inner lives outside of crime-boss hunting--are deemed important to the story.

Which is why the test works for other marginalized groups as well: conversations between people of color about something other than a white person indicate that at least one of the story's narratives is about people of color (and their lives outside of their relationship to white folks). The same can be said about conversations between disabled characters, LBGT characters, and characters who are marginalized in other ways.

The point isn't the stereotype that women always talk about men. The point is that stereotype exists in the first place because our culture is more interested in men's narratives than ours. The overwhelming majority of films leave our narratives out. Passing the Bechdel test means that at least in some small way, the passing work is telling a story about women, rather than just with them.

Posted on September 7, 2012 .

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E. Lockhart's Disreputable History

cover of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksTHE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS contains two of my favorite things: pranks and girl-power. This book alleges to be the tale of how fifteen-year-old Frankie became a criminal mastermind. Frankie is hurt when her boyfriend excludes from her school's all-male secret society of pranksters. So she reads Foucault, figures out the panopticon, and decides to show the boys how it's done.

If that were all the book accomplished, it would be a funny, girl-power-fuelled YA comedy with smart writing and a protag you'll love to root for. But Lockhart has managed a much neater trick than that, because DISREPUTABLE HISTORY is, at its heart, a story about sexism and self-respect. I root for Frankie because she's the feminist I wish I'd been at fifteen.

Posted on August 15, 2012 and filed under Books I Love.

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Corset Sizing and Those Horrible Victorians

Corset Illustration, ca 1878
Corset Illustration, ca 1878

While bopping around the net doing costuming research, I came across an old gem courtesy of the BBC: that it was common for young Victorian girls to have waist sizes in inches equal to or smaller than their ages. This myth is usually (though, to the BBC's credit, not in this case) accompanied by an assertion that young Victoriennes achieved these sizes with the aid of rib-breaking, respiratory-distress-inducing, organ-rearranging undergarments. Let's all cross ourselves and be glad that we're forward-thinking and enlightened, unlike those terrible Victorians.

Except that popular 'facts' about the risks and discomforts associated with Victorian corsetry are incredibly exaggerated.

In the first place, it's important to keep in mind that Victorian corsets were sized before their lacing was taken into account. Just because there are extant 16" corsets does not mean that the girls wearing them had 16" waists--they could have increased the size by four inches or more through lacing. Indeed, given that we don't have a bunch of extant outerwear sized for a sixteen inch waist, it's very likely if not certain that that's exactly what they did.

Yes, it's entirely true that there were girls in the Victorian era who went to great lengths, even to the point of harming themselves, to reduce their waist size. We've got people like that now, too. It's just that the Victorians didn't have nearly as sophisticated a construct built up around the relationship between weight, exercise, and diet. "Tightlacing," as it was called, was to the Victorian Era what disordered eating is to ours: a problem? yes. Something that's often written about, as if stern warnings are all it takes to prevent self-harm? Quite. Universal? Not hardly.

Records of the day do indeed indicate that corsets, especially when laced too tightly, could cause short-term health problems, such as indigestion. They were also blamed for pregnancy problems, but it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that one out. They did not, however, cause widespread and debilitating breathing problems, rampant fainting, or a rash of broken ribs. "Fainting couch" is a modern term, and the plays and novels from which that part of the myth emerged are no more an accurate representation of Victorian life than soaps and sitcoms are accurate representations of modern life. Victorian women faced a great deal of oppression, but they were not, as a general rule, inclined towards subjecting themselves to crippling pain and debilitating restriction on a daily basis.

The truth about Victorian corsets is that when sized properly, they were actually fairly comfortable (this coming from someone who's actually worn one for a day at a go). Keeping in mind that this is before the invention of the bra, I imagine that abstaining from wearing a corset might have been the uncomfortable thing for many women. While it's pretty much a given that radically altering your shape through external compression is going to be less than comfortable, the practice was both less common and less extreme than we imagine it to be.

Don't trust a story where it's taken as read that women of corset-wearing eras are weak, fainting tight-lacers too vain or foolish to wear clothes that fit them properly. (Yeah, I'm looking right at you, Pirates of the Carribean; where the heck you got off presenting Keira freakin' Knightley as someone improved by tightlacing is beyond me, but it was lazy and gross). I especially don't trust stories where women except the protagonist or love interest are portrayed that way. If the remarkable feature of your leading lady is that she's risen above the icky stain of girliness to attain manly good sense and depth of character, I've got no time for your faux girlpower.

And while we're on the subject of entirely untrue things about Victorians: They may have covered up a lot, but the curve-hugging silhouette of the later part of the Victorian era left very little to the imagination. The notion that they covered piano legs to keep men from getting aroused by them is a total myth, derived from a satirical piece written by a Brit lambasting American puritanism. It predates the Victorian era.

Posted on August 6, 2012 .

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