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Repost: How Not to Do Ada Lovelace Day

I originally posted this in March 2010, just after Ada Lovelace Day. I thought it bore repeating in the leadup to Ada Lovelace Day 2011. Note that while we support it strongly, neither the Geek Feminism blog nor myself are affiliated with Ada Lovelace Day: this is personal opinion.

I’ve seen a couple of ways of observing Ada Lovelace Day that seem to be missing the point a little. Here’s what it would be great if Ada Lovelace Day ended with: the end of invisibility of women in science and technology. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of us. And yet, when people are asked to name prominent scientists and technologists, many are capable of coming up with a list entirely of men’s names, and even when asked especially for women’s names some people draw a blank. A blank. From hundreds of thousands of possibilities.

There are a few examples of posts that don’t help with this, and which in fact contribute to the invisibility of women by suggesting that the author couldn’t think of even one specific woman and the work that she does:

  • a general non-specific celebration of women: “I want to salute all women in science and technology! Yeah!”;
  • doing no more than naming a woman and highlighting her as a woman you’ve heard of in science or technology; no hint of what she does or why you admire or remember her in particular; or
  • highlighting a woman or several women for facilitating your own work in tech with their non-technical activities. The most obvious example is “thanks to my significant other, for allowing me to spend time on technical hobbies.” It’s absolutely good to acknowledge the shoulders your own work stands on, but it doesn’t advance the goal of ending the invisibility problem if you choose to use Ada Lovelace Day to do it.

Ada Lovelace Day is about women’s own work in science and technology. Contribute to women’s visibility with specific names and with examples of work you admire deeply or use every day or can’t imagine how to do in such an elegant way as she did.

3 thoughts on “Repost: How Not to Do Ada Lovelace Day

  1. r4gni

    Here is why I think in certain cases the first point is invalid regarding people that work in diy communities:

    *Meritocracies are fueled by picking out certain people or a smaller network of people and giving them more meaning than other. While it is debatable if this is in itself a bad thing, it certainly does often imitate and prolong how society limits people with classism, racism and sexism.

    *Some people do not want to bepicked out of a crowd, or the blogger might not be sure if they want to. So, crediting a more or less defined group and specifying what they do might still make the pointlessness of gender stereotypes visible.

    1. Mary Post author

      It might well be possible to do it thoughtfully, perhaps particularly by women (or people who aren’t men) themselves. I think the kyriarchy mimicry can definitely go either way though: this can just as easily fall into a pattern of “I totally support [oppressed group(s)] in my geekdom. Strange, I don’t know any actual members of such group(s) in my geekdom, definitely not among our (not-)leaders. Hooray those people and my geekdom though!” That is the “it’s not my/our problem” or “I/we don’t actually observe kyriarchal distinctions although I am told they are a terrible problem for other less open-minded communities” anti-patterns.

      The most common pattern I personally saw along these lines in the last few years are people who learned about ALD on the day and threw something together for it. In FOSS circles it definitely didn’t strike me as them seeing women’s contributions more, but definitely in the “I don’t know any technical women myself but whoever they are I’m sure they’re just terrific” mode.

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