Personal Advances In Geek Feminism

Had a remarkably productive day Tuesday, the latest in a series. The surprise was how much it had to do with women and technology. Future research, a panel on Thursday, a survey at my dance class, and my own little scraps of code.

Sumana pointed me toward the Ada Initiative, which is relatively new and aims to involve more women in free culture and open technology projects. In fact, a ton of women I know are already named as advisors: Rachel Chalmers, Alice Boxhall, and longtime Internet friend Mary Gardiner (she’s been reading and commenting on my blog since what, 2001?). And all geek feminism roads lead back to Skud, of course; Skud will be working part time on AI (hooray for its acronym! Better this female AI than the Charles Stross/IBM/shallow-understanding-of-intelligence/hand-waving variety). So I pinged Skud, and I may be helping with some surveys for the project.

I identify mostly as an accidental feminist. I most definitely believe in the radical notion that men and women are equal, and tend to dress, cut my hair, name myself, and live out my career goals as butch as I please, but if anything, I identify more with queer theory movements than with second-wave feminism. Though I am sometimes mistaken for one, I am not a feminist scholar. (I don’t have a “feminism” category for posts on my blog, I just realized, and I’m ok with that.) At least, I don’t seek to focus on women’s issues intentionally. My master’s thesis set out to cover race and social class differences in gaming, as less had been done on those topics than on gender. My dissertation similarly aimed to understand differences in education about the Internet. And yet in both, gender came out and smacked me in the face. Girls did everything they could to convince me they were not “gamers.” More women appeared to be struggling and failing to make sense of the Internet in my dissertation research than men.

So it sort of baffles me that I’ve worked my way onto a UN-conference-affiliated sort of panel about women in technology this Thursday, at the last minute, in some rarified company — Stephanie Alarcon from Prometheus Radio and the Hive76 hackerspace in Philly, staff from Hitachi and Comcast, and a professor from Temple who made a documentary on female programmers in World War II. And it’s not just my research they want me to talk about — I’ve been asked to air an episode of The Media Show. Chuffed.

Ended the day down at my beloved community African dance class. On Saturday, I’ll be teaching a workshop titled “Internet Self-Defense” at the annual Cultural Arts Expo. To prepare, I handed out a survey in class asking everyone there — mostly middle-aged women, a population more likely to have learned computers on the job and through casual channels than at school — to list what they’re most frustrated with, most worried about, and would most like to learn about computers and the Internet. Everyone was very helpful with the survey! I got twenty responses, more than I expected, and a very good sample of the class. The biggest concerns for the group, as they reported in open-ended written responses, were computers running slow, viruses/malware/malicious sites/popups/spam, and hacking/identity theft/financial transaction security. I’m pleased, because I actually think I have some useful information for them (as opposed to if they’d said “I need to learn AutoCAD by next week” or “Wikileaks isn’t secure enough for me, can you discuss the alternatives to Tor?” or something). Suggestions for useful resources on these topics would be appreciated.

And last but not least, I finally got my HTML-scraping code in Python to work. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever put together working code for a project which I’d actually use outside of a class, or, um, Second Life. Again, chuffed. I can’t take too much credit; Leonard, Glyph, Dave (dammit, lost track of his blog), and the ex were all tremendously helpful. Behind every successful female coder… oh, let’s not open that can of worms, shall we.

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