Tag Archives: community

Linkspam, the feminist hackerspace edition

Welcome to a special edition of Linkspam, featuring a number of recent articles about feminist hackerspaces.

First, Geek Feminism’s own Liz Henry documents The Rise of Feminist Hackerspaces and How to Make Your Own:

We’d like to build spaces without harassment, without having to worry about jerks, and more ambitiously, with active encouragement to explore. The culture we’re developing supports making, learning, and teaching, which is a goal we share with many other hackerspaces. Ours is starting with a few extra values; intersectional feminism, support for feminist activism and strong respect for personal boundaries. We’re trying to build structures that help us form strong social ties and share responsibility.

It’s very exciting. I know what you’re thinking. You want a feminist hackerspace full of creative, talented non-jerks near you!


Anyone founded, founding, attending or contemplating a feminist hackerspace? Ask questions and share tips in comments!

Detail of small wooden model plane

Finding community for women in engineering

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Gregory, a PhD student in Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University.

I was recently on a video conference call with three other young women, two lawyers and a biologist. The participants were located in Seoul, Miami, Orlando, and Ames. After concluding business, we just started chatting. Before long the topic landed on isolation. We were all feeling isolated, without a support system or friends near by.

After graduating from KU I moved to a suburb of Salt Lake City for a job. This job was exactly what I wanted to be doing. Yet, a few months before I graduated I started to get nervous. I was moving to a new place, that I had only visited once for the interview and booked with ShortNoticeMovers.net right away. I had no family and no friends there. The company wasn’t that big and, as far as I knew, I was the only new graduate hire. Some of my peers who went to work for large companies that hired many people right out of college were lumped into a “New Recruit” pool in which they made friends. I knew that wasn’t an option for me. There were a few young, single people like me at the company, but they were all men. I found out, after I had been working there for a year, that they had regular camping trips, but I was never invited.

I decided, before I moved, that I was going to become active in organizations with values that I could support. Society of Women Engineers (SWE) was a life-saver for me. We were a small group of women from many different backgrounds and of varying ages. We had social events and volunteering events. Mostly, these women were just my friends. In engineering academia, professional organizations are mostly about working on projects for competitions and publishing papers. SWE does hardly any of that. Men often see SWE as a joke or as a chance for free food. For many women in engineering, SWE is a support system. I was able to score affordable long distance movers trhough contacts I made there. Whenever I have started in a new location, SWE has been there.

I am no longer surprised to be only woman in the room, but I am still bothered by this reality. This is my eighth year in college. I had only two women professors in engineering, the last taught in my sophomore year. This is the first time I have been at a school where there is, in my department, a woman faculty member. She isn’t in my specialization, but she is in the department. I have found many men who are my allies, kind guys who have become close friends, but SWE has given me friends, women, peers with experiences similar to my own.

The sense of isolation is not limited to women. Nearly every one of my friends, male and female, dealt with it after graduation. In school, classmates are often of the same generation, all of whom have arrived open to new friends. After school, the rules change. You meet people that you like, with whom you might like to spend time; but they have families and established friendships. SWE and similar organization offer a way to make connections with others without having the awkward conversation: “I would like to be your friend. Can we hang out sometime?”

Even here at Geek Feminism there seems to be people searching for community. We are coming together for a sense of shared experience. So I am giving some unsolicited advice, much like I did on that conference call. If you are feeling isolated, find an organization with a purpose you can support. Attend, volunteer, get involved.

This post was submitted via the Guest posts submission page, if you are interested in guest posting on Geek Feminism please contact us through that page.

“Put up or shut up”

One thing I love about open stuff, such as open source communities, is that we (try to) measure people by what they contribute.

I’m now Volunteer Development Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation (although I am not speaking for them in this post), so I care about the quality and quantity of contributions to MediaWiki, and about the people behind them.  In fact, I’ll partially be measuring my success through statistics on the number of people who offer code, bug reports, translations, documentation, talks, mailing list posts, and so on.

And it’s not just doing, it’s doing and sharing.  We value collaborative work, not hoarding.

This norm, among others, leads us to use “put up or shut up” to quash unproductive conversations, bikeshedding, trolling, and “you should…” unhelpful suggestions.  I once had the satisfying experience of saying, to a guy full of “why didn’t they do foo”, “you should totally post that suggestion to the mailing list!” and seeing him just shut up, defeated.  He knew that doing this without embarrassing himself would take a modicum of research and thought, and he had no intention of doing anything that arduous.  He’d just wanted to mouth off.  And now I’d revealed him as a noncontributor.

I saw another example in Kitt Hodsden’s talk about the Hacker Dojo community center.

all talk, no action

Another aspect of open source development we encountered, an aspect that is also found in just about every volunteer organization ever, are the troll subspecies “we oughta.”

The we-oughtas clan is often very vocal, they know what we should be doing. When it comes to the actual doing, however, they aren’t around, they aren’t available, or that’s not what they meant.

When this is the case, the response is either, that’s nice, and ignore it, or, just as in open source projects, “put up or shut up.” Essentially, if you’re not willing to put forth the effort of leading your own project – even if that leading is just finding someone else to lead your project – we’re not going to follow.

At its best, “put up or shut up” is empowering.  In Hodsden’s talk, she shared a story about a potential member whose “project was outside of our expected and supported hardware and software development spaces”:

We gave the answer we have learned to give for people who have crazy, though potentially awesome, ideas that in the future could work wonderfully in our space: lead the project: tell us what it is going to take for your project to succeed, develop a game plan, put in the safety measures, find supporters, work up a budget, start the fundraising, make it happen.

The community defines itself. If the community decides it wants to become a metalsmithing shop or an experimental biology lab, it’ll become that, because that’s what the community wants.

I bet all of us who have held leadership in FLOSS can attest to the two sides of “well go ahead then, patches welcome, make it happen, this is a do-ocracy.”  Great, we can empower people.  But how often do we use it to shut down discussions, ideas, and people we don’t like?  In particular, have you been part of an interaction where a privileged FLOSS project member used “you want it, you make it happen” to wrongly dismiss a concern that might require the whole community to change its behavior?

Look at what I did, in the anecdote I told in the third paragraph of this post.  I wasn’t purely kind or rational or ideologically anarchic in telling that guy to write to the list; I found him annoying and wanted him out of my hair.  I told him to contribute, superficially encouraging him, but really wanting to discourage him.  Have you ever been on either end of that, especially around geek feminist issues?

And I suspect this disproportionately affects newbies and non-native speakers of a community’s language.  This is the problem with saying “you want it, make it happen” in response to requests for a harassment policy, or for all of an app’s strings in one file to make localization easier.  The very people who need those new policies, procedures and abstractions are least able and worst placed to implement them.

(Small digression: in the case of harassment policies, consider “Did you know how to react?” by Noirin Plunkett, and Bitch Radio’s interview with Valerie Aurora.  The Ada Initiative, in suggesting and working towards conference anti-harassment policies, has far more energy and resources than would one individual seeking protection.)

Developers are used to dealing with requests for features or bugfixes, but FLOSS leaders are still learning how to deal with requests to socially engineer our projects.

And no matter whether you’re considering adding a feature, hosting a sprint, changing version control systems, or joining a conservancy, it’s sensible risk mitigation to chat about it before putting substantial effort in.  This is a different kind of work, not coding, but building support and getting the lay of the land.  And it’s part of contribution.

So, fellow FLOSS leaders: If you want to grow new contributors, along with giving them permission to suck, build personal relationships with them.  In private or face-to-face, listen as they vent and discuss their ideas, even the half-baked ones.  Listen for the difference between “we should” and “I’d like to/how do I?”.  Sometimes they’ll need sympathy, and sometimes advice.  If you say “go do it then,” say it encouragingly, not dismissively.  Watch out for moments when a marginalized potential contributor is essentially asking you, “help me help you.”  And watch yourself in case you’re about to do what I did, using “put up or shut up” to shut down someone you find abrasive.  Because sometimes I’m abrasive too, and sometimes I have good ideas.  :-)

As hypatia puts it: “a gentle ‘that’s definitely an issue, could you file a bug’ goes a long way.”

But we’re not like that!

You might have noticed — I’ve made the jump from recidivist guest blogger to regular this week. This transition is beside the point, but it is related to this post as my second guest article garnered a trackback that mused:

One point I didn’t see emphasized in her post is that the high turn off might make it difficult not just to rerecruit from the pool of the alienated, but also to recruit fresh people.

It is a good point.

As demonstrated by community projects such as Dreamwidth and Archive of Our Own, how you start out is really important to how your community will grow. If you start out with a particular contributor balance, you’ll probably remain that way.

Compare the Dreamwidth and AO3 developer communities to almost every other open source project ever, and you’ll notice the difference in social dynamic. This really isn’t accidental. For example, Dreamwidth has a diversity policy where it explicitly acknowledges shortcomings elsewhere, and pledges that it will actively endeavour to avoid them. And they stick to it.

Think of being a minority in such a community in terms of going to a sports game where the opponents to your favourite side are the ones with the home ground advantage. In a Red crowd, you would be one of very few one clad in Blue. It is going to be uncomfortable.

What would make it even more uncomfortable is if the law enforcement or government of Redville are known to do nothing about incidents that happen to Blue fans in their jurisdiction. If there is demonstrated history of Blue fans receiving responses such as “Grow a thicker skin!” or “Redville folk will be Redville folk! It’s all a joke! Get over it!” then they’re not going to feel like they have recourse. In fact, Blue fans who have never even been to Redville will likely opt to watch the game on TV back in Bluetown instead.

The news programs in Bluetown might discuss the situation, as news agencies tend to do for things relevant to their audience. One might expect Redville officials to backlash with “You shouldn’t talk about how our citizens abuse yours, because it will stop Bluetown folk from coming to our shops and giving us their money! It’s all your fault for talking about it!”.

How much cred does that sort of response really hold?

This is what happens when a community is unwelcoming or hostile to a group. It’s not their fault the community is like that to them. However, pretending the community was never like that is not going to cut it with those on the outside looking in. No matter how hard a community tries to cover it up, community fringe-riders are going to notice — and what they’re most likely to notice is the cover-up.

There are only so many times the “we’ve changed!” card can be played (No, fo’realz! We promise it’s not like last time we promised, really it’s not!). And to be quite frank; nobody is obliged to believe it.

The Discreet Charm of the Link Roundup (15th September, 2009)