Tag Archives: ask a geek feminist

Lego for Girls used to build a spaceship All rights reserved by Nannan Z.

Nurturing a girl scientist

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

I’m a English-major Geek. You probably knew a dozen or two like me in college. You want conversations on Shakespeare, grammar, early science fiction, or a Fruedian analysis of The Hobbit, I’m your woman. I’m not science or math-phobic, I’m really not. But for the past twenty years, I’ve been getting most of my science from NOVA, science fiction novels, and pizza-and-beer lectures from friends. (I get my math from Vi Hart videos.)

My spouse is similarly situated.

Now, we have a precocious daughter who is exceptionally science-y. Has been since she became fascinated with early hominid evolution when she was three. She once interpreted a Science Museum docent to explain, patiently, that the skeleton he was showing was Homo ergaster, not a Neanderthal. In fact, it was Turkana Boy. She was four and she was right. (He’d grabbed the wrong photo.)

I’ve been scrambling ever since I figured out that I’ve likely got a scientist on my hands. Turns out that Women in Science is THING! (I knew that before but it wasn’t really immediately relevant to my life until that moment.) So I’ve done what I can: she watches NOVA and ViHart with me, I read the Scientific America blog, we practically live at the local Science Museum and Natural History Museums. I try to explain the science of what I’m doing at any moment, as well as I understand it.

I even discovered that most of the scientists doing studies in pediatric brain development are women. So I’ve signed her up for every “brain study” in the city so she can see female scientists at work. (At age 6, she’s had about a dozen MRIs.)

But I feel like, as an English Major Geek, I should be doing something more. Or different. Thoughts? Suggestions? Resources?

What do you think?

Closeup of a slide staged on a microscope stand

“Does sex sell?” is an empirical question

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

We keep hearing the old chestnut “sex sells”, and we hear it most especially when we complain about how some item of geek culture is sexist – video game bosoms or ridiculous outfits on superheroines, for example – as if that was some kind of excuse for objectification.

Does sex sell? Does sexism sell? Where’s the evidence for this? I’ve got moderately good Google-fu but haven’t been easily able to turn up much in the way of useful information or anything more rigorous than blog rants and newspaper opinion pieces. Can anyone answer this one, or point me to some useful resources? Where is the real, empirical evidence for this? Are advertisers and content providers (comic artists, game producers etc.) operating on an outdated or scientifically unjustified model?

I’ve read quite a lot of your basic feminist literature. I’d like some science, or at least some vaguely scientific numbers. Can anyone help?

What do you think?

Multiple small broken window panes, through which greenery outside can be seen.

Does the sexism in CS ever get better?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

Dear Geek Feminists:
I have a little story for you, and then a group of related questions. About two years ago, I was miserable, isolated, and overwhelmed in my undergraduate computer science (CS) program at a male-dominated polytechnic institute. I went to my advisor, an accomplished woman professor who had taught and studied computer science at quite a few schools, and asked her if she had any advice about dealing with sexism in our discipline.

“It never gets better. Either you learn to deal with it, or you leave,” she said. I was crushed by this, and I believe her fatalistic assessment contributed to my failing out of that school in that semester.

My question, then, is in several parts.
1) If you’re a woman in CS, does it ever get better? If it got better for you, where and how did that happen?
2) If you’ve learned to deal with it, how?
3) If you left – as I left, as Skud left – would you go back? Did you go back?
4) If being ostracized and viewed as gross and weird for being feminist and female “never gets better,” why stay in CS?

What do you think?

A female and male human character from The Old Republic: both are the maximum size allowed but the female model is much thinner

When does diverse hiring become tokenism?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

When people from video game development talk about making game development more inclusive and diverse, it’s often taken for granted that more diverse teams will be better able to bring out a well-rounded game that avoids or at least minimizes stereotypes.

However, I wonder to what extent this is true, and to what extent it represents tokenism. In a sense, this might be a case of developers not wanting to try – i.e. “Let’s just hire a woman or two, and then things will sort themselves out.” Then again, I can also see this being true, i.e. a diverse team *does* bring different perspectives to the table.

So what do you think? Do gender-diverse teams tend to create better/more unique/more inclusive games? How high is the danger of tokenism and/or essentialism here? Can you point us in the direction of real experiences made by gender-diverse development studios in these regards? Is it helpful for a developer to actively seek out female developers in order to create a more diverse team, or does this lead to problems?

See also an AAGF question from 2010 on being on the receiving end of tokenism.

What do you think?

Ask a Geek Feminist, round 6

Welcome to round 6 of Ask a Geek Feminist! How it works:

  • if you’ve got a question you think a geek feminist could answer, post a comment in reply to this post. (Comments will not be publicly visible.)
  • about a week from now I’ll distribute questions to my co-bloggers and they can make a post with an answer to a question as they like
  • about a week after that I’ll choose some of the remaining questions and open them up to our commenters

Your question, if it appears in a post, will be quoted (possibly edited for length) but not attributed to you, unless you ask us to attribute it. Since we’re not making them publicly visible, questions can be about anything you like; however obviously if you stray too far from our comment policy the chances of ever seeing an answer are pretty slim. Check out previous posts answering questions to see how this worked before.

Questions do not have to be about feminism or or obviously feminist topics: they could be about geeky interests including pop culture, about careers, about social life and so on. Given the name of this blog though, feminism might appear in the answer…

If you have a 101 (introductory) questions about feminism we suggest that:

  • you’ve looked over Finally Feminism 101’s FAQs and the Geek Feminism wiki’s 101 page to see if you can get an answer there first; and
  • you explain why you want a geek feminist, in particular, to answer this question. Do you think there’s a particular geek slant on this we might have or that our readers might like to discuss? The series is intended to produce interesting things for our community to think about and talk about, as well as an answer for the questioner.

If your question boils down to “why are there so few women in science/computer science/mathematics/engineering/physics, and what should we do?”, we’re unlikely to answer, please see this list of resources to turn to.

Questions will be accepted until comments on this post close in about a fortnight. (I don’t want to accept them constantly, because of the work of anonymising them.) If you miss out and find comments have already closed, another round will run within about six months… You can also ask questions non-anonymously in Open threads, although they may not be promoted to the front page.

Tag reading "NOT OK" lies on wet ground

Dystopian/Scifi stuff with strong female characters?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

I watch a lot of dystopian/post-apocalyptic movies, and one RECURRING theme is “once there are no laws, women are cattle” in one form or another. I find it a. ridiculous, and b. a sad commentary that it is just assumed that with no one to stop them, men will just rape and enslave women to their heart’s content.

I really want to see a (non-sketchy or “omg they rule by being sexy”) matriarchal dystopian/post-apocalyptic setup, just for a change of pace, or a “hey, even though things got crappy, there is still a shred of humanity in more than JUST the protagonist of the movie”

The friend who forwarded me this question said someone else had mentioned Octavia Butler and Ursula K LeGuin, but feel free to explain why they fit below for those who aren’t familiar with their work. Still, they can’t be the only people to have explored this type of dystopia. Does anyone have any suggestions of movies, books, games or other media that fit the bill?

A glass wall between the camera and a computer working area

Re-post: Impostor syndrome and hiring power

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from earlier in the year. This post originally appeared on February 22, 2011.

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question:

What are some ways in which I can avoid rejecting people who suffer from impostor syndrome when they apply for a job?

I’ve recently been promoted to a position where I’m somewhat responsible for hiring people. I would like to increase the diversity of new hires, and so I’m more likely to put applications from women through to the interview stage.

Following that though I don’t want to lose out on quality applicants as they are modest about their achievements and abilities, due to impostor syndrome or otherwise.

Giving an automatic “+10 kickass” to every female applicant as they may suffer from impostor syndrome seems to be a strategy without much merit. Getting everyone to exhibit their full potential is clearly the better solution.

Can you suggest interview strategies that would create the environment in which women (and indeed anyone) will be better able to convince me of their suitability for the role?

I don’t have so many specific interview strategies, but I’ve got plenty of ideas for hiring strategies in general, I hope you can adopt some of them and perhaps our commenters can talk about the interview.

First, a should be obvious: a +10 kickass bonus may be illegal discrimination in your geographic area. If it is, definitely don’t do that.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about soliciting applications. Now, there’s a couple of things that stop some women at this point. First, there’s a tendency to regard themselves as underqualified for perfectly suitable jobs. Next, there’s concern that they needn’t bother, as a woman’s name will cause you to discount their resume. Some suggestions:

  1. get your signalling right. You want to say “women friendly employer” in your advertisements without discriminatory pro-women statements. This at least gets you past the “I’m not a man” part of impostor syndrome. Here’s some things you should be doing:
    • advertising all relevant open positions on a women’s job list such as, say, LinuxChix’s jobposts for open source jobs. This at least shows that you aren’t actively avoiding women applicants.
    • including on your full ads the “equal opportunity” boilerplate you might be able to find on other local job ads
    • including information on the “Careers” section of your website about your carer leave, your retirement contributions, your shared sick leave pool, your friendliness to part-time employees if any of these hold

    Not only are these things attractive to many women (and yes, some men as well) in and of themselves, they also signal in various ways that when you picture your new hire, the picture isn’t young, white, able-bodied, male, etc etc.

  2. if your employer has recently had a similar (especially perhaps slightly more junior) position available, get the resumes of the people who were considered the better applicants from the hiring manager, HR person or recruiter, and re-consider them for the new position (probably there would need to be some kind of process of tracking and perhaps re-application here, but I’ll handwave that problem to you).
  3. consider internal employees in more junior positions as potential applicants. Depending on the size of the company, other managers might be able to recommend people to you who are overqualified for their position (or possibly not, if they are getting good work from them)
  4. consider whether you really need experience that skews very very male. For example, does someone have to have open source development experience? Are there alternative ways that someone could have learned the skills you need?

And now for considering applications prior to interview:

  1. you may not be able to say you’re doing this, but in order to avoid bias on the basis of gender or other demographic characteristics, for as long as possible in the process keep names off resumes. Have names and addresses scraped from resumes by someone before you see them, and do as much ranking as you can prior to finding out the names and details of the applicants.
  2. avoid judgements about cultural fit at this stage.
  3. there are reasons companies rely on the recommendations of existing employees, but for each open position, try and select some applicants for interview who didn’t come in via the company networks in order to avoid duplicating your company’s present demographic by hiring all their friends

In the interview itself here is a strategy for getting people to talk about their successes when they are susceptible to impostor syndrome (note that any candidate might be part of an oppressed group, so don’t limit these to women candidates): ask about something the candidate did that benefited someone else. How did they save their company money or helped a team member learn what they needed to know? Present them with cooperative scenarios where they need to help you or your employer do something as well as or instead of competitive scenarios where they need to prove they are the single right person for the position. If anyone can flesh this out to specific example questions in the comments, that would be useful.

I strongly recommend reading Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever for good solid information both about women’s negotiation and self-promotion strategies and why they use those strategies, namely, that competitive and aggressive interpersonal strategies are simply not effective for most women because of negative responses to perceived aggression in women.

No Ninjas or Rockstars

Finding a healthy work culture

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers.

When interviewing for a job (as the applicant), how do you select for a healthy culture? What unpleasant traits (e.g. narcissism, sexism) do you avoid, and how do you identify them?

We’ve all had terrible jobs and co-workers. Do you have any practical advice for avoiding the poisonous job (and poisonous co-workers) at the interview stage?

Let’s emphasize problems geek women are more likely to encounter: difficulty getting credit for your work, geek-unfriendly management culture, colliding with narcissists/psychopaths/”assholes”, glass ceiling for geeks, women, and/or geek women, sexism in general, etc. If you’re telling your story, don’t forget to include what you think the first warning sign was!

Feminist license plates, by Liz Henry CC BY-SA 2.0

They’re trying hard, or they’re angry: talking about feminism, outreach and gender equality

These are Ask a Geek Feminist questions for our readers.

They’re not the same question, but I put them together because they’re related. If you want to distinguish them in comments, call them Q1 and Q2.

Q1 is a question about what to do when an individual or group is trying hard to be gender-inclusive, you want to make some smaller suggestions but don’t want them to respond with “well, that was all a waste of time then, we may as well not bother if we try and then get criticised!”

Around me, i see a number of people concerned about including more women in their geeky meetings, or in the geek crowd at large. Each time i see an effort in that sense, and maybe because i have been reading this blog for so long, i notice little things that make me say “it would have been good, only if…”

One example is my hackerspace. In the attempt of organizing a more women-friendly event, someone posted a link to a blog post. In the blog post, i found sensible things, as well as links to yours and linux’s wikis on how to make your geek event more women friendly. Among the recommendations, i found the idea to “Emphasise non-coding” because “It is more likely that women have studied or have experience in design or other non-coding skill sets.” And i felt that something was wrong with that. Is it just me being picky? Should i say something to the group about that (along the lines of “the post is great but… the bit about women not coding doesn’t seem to make sense to me”) or should i just let it go, because i’m obviously not an expert, and it will probably work and attract more women to follow those guidelines. And i’m just being picky and negative when thinking those negative details.

Another example. I have a friend who is always saying that there should be more women in computers/hacking communities. He is a very interesting guy, and we share common interests, but i can’t help to feel like an “exception” as a female geek when talking to him. He is the kind to always do the reverse of points 3.9, 3.13, 3.14 in Don’t complain about the lack of women in computing. And i don’t know how to explain well that to him, since all conversations about “theories” end up in him saying “i’m too tired to think that much” (or something along those lines)… So how important is it that i try to express myself on such details? Is it worth it? Should i just spare my time and try to act more (code/hack…)? Those are not “acts against women” per se, no sexist jokes, no aggression… and I’m not sure what would benefit more in the end…

Q2 is trying to have discussions with a more actively hostile party, someone who doesn’t want to discuss feminism within its own framework at all:

A good friend of mine (white male) is usually a very good, attentive discussion partner. But he has a tendency to shut down completely on a conversation when I start using what he terms “victim’s rhetoric”. As far as I understand his term, he means that minorities (LGBT people, feminists) are prone to ‘complaining’ without offering constructive suggestions for change. I try to explain that I’m not complaining when I’m trying to throw light on the ways in which kyriarchy affects mine and other women’s lives, for example in the pervasive media stereotypes. I feel like he derails the conversation by asking me to present him with ‘solutions’ rather than ‘complaints’. Are my feelings unjustified? How do I come back once he’s played the “rhetoric” card?