Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wiscon panels coming up, and some commentary on a game

Here's my panels for Wiscon! I can't wait!

Last year's flirting panel was a blast and at this year's followup I'm hoping to make a cool handout. Debbie says if I email her the stuff she'll make the handout, because I have too much to do! One good technique "touch/don't touch" is actually playing out mini scenarios and then switching roles, so that you get to do the no-saying and the no-recieving and get practice doing that gracefully on both sides. (Something I learned in anti-date-rape workshops in the 80s.) Another super great idea I learned from Ian K. Hagemann - to always thank a person who lets you know a boundary, because they are honoring you by communicating it instead of letting you continue to cross it in ignorance.

I don't have any specific and book-focused panels this year - no time to prepare properly for that - But I can't wait for the Karen Axness Memorial Panel where we all list great little-known books by women sf writers and there are always fabulous handouts that expand my reading list. I'm also excited to go to the cultural appropriation panels.

Speaking of cultural appropriation! I can bring a copy of this: Bone White, Blood Red: a roleplaying game of the Pueblo Revolt. It is written in the voice of "Spider Grandmother" and "Worn Pot" who teach Bear, Coyote, Wren, and Badger how to play the game. My immediate reaction is basically, "huh" and a stance of automatic suspicion against what I think of as Cherokee hair tampon syndrome.

The game would be rough for me and I would rather just have character sheets with the beads and string as a metaphor or an optional visual aid, as I could never remember all the details of which bead meant what without written notes. But I would certainly give the game a try and the difficulty of remembering stuff would be part of the point. (Would that difficulty be fun, though?) As the fictional in character bits in roleplaying game books go, this one is not bad at all.

So is it cultural appropriation? Well, yeah. Does that make it awful? It's not a yes/no on/off answer. It means that it is open to some criticism and commentary, which game authors as well as book authors should listen to with an open mind and some humility, as the Spirit of the Century rpg authors recently did.

In other interesting gaming news, you can download and playtest Steal Away Jordan. The players all play slaves in the U.S.

Your name
Your name is not your own. If you were born into slavery, your parents may not have had much say in the choosing. The name your master calls you may not be the name your relations use in private. If you run away, you will change your name. Therefore, the GM chooses your name, but you may pick a nickname.

That's pretty interesting! You can read a report and discussion thread of a playtest game on The Forge.

Anyway here's my Wiscon panels!


Feminist SF Wiki Workshop
in Caucus Room (Time to be determined)

Come learn about the Feminstsf wiki, learn what wikis are and how to edit them, contribute your ideas, creativity, and feminist vision to the wiki.
Equipment: projector that can plug into a laptop, and a screen
Length: 70 minutes
Laura M. Quilter, Liz Henry

Please Touch/Don't Touch (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m.
One of the many qualities which sets WisCon apart from most other SF conventions is the perception that, for one weekend a year, the Concourse is a safe and inclusive space for SF fans of all genders, orientations, identities, races, and religions. Many people have commented that this extra level of comfort seems to create a very "touchy-feely" environment, with a lot more casual physical contact between old friends and new acquaintance, and a very different, (more open?) environment for flirting and hook-ups. But not everyone is quite so comfortable with such a relaxed atmosphere... Where do you draw the lines between casual and significant, affection and flirting, too much and not enough? How do the conditions change from situation to situation? And how do you tell someone to "back off"... or deal gracefully when someone else lets you know that you've crossed a line?
Karen Swanberg, M: Debbie Notkin, Mary Kay Kare, Liz Henry, Jed E. Hartman

Let's You And Her Fight (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m.
This year there was a panel about how to flirt at Wiscon. Next year I'd like to see a panel on how to fight at Wiscon. It's not bad to want to get along; but it is when that urge causes us not to speak our minds in public, and leaves us gr umbling in private. How do you speak up and explain that you think the respected panel member is talking out of her hat, while maintaining a friendly attitude towards someone who is, after all, a fellow feminist and fan? Ideally people will get a chance to practice. I would particularly like to draft Steven Schwartz for this panel.
Steven E. Schwartz, Liz Henry, Joan Haran, M: Alan Bostick, Lee Abuabara

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Friday, April 20, 2007

(Not so) fascinating, Captain

Wifi was spotty at the Web 2.0 conference, but I enjoyed meeting people and listening to talks in the Web2open part of town. My coworkers Luke and Kirsten and I gave an off the cuff demo and talk about wikis, blikis, and various ways of looking at wiki content. I came away thinking further about measures of wiki health, tightness, outward or inward-lookingness, and the idea of a wiki having periods of growth or pruning.

I caught part of Rashmi Sinha's talk, "Massively Multiplayer Object Sharing" and am hoping to hear more on the same themes of designing for large systems. It's such a pleasure, because I have been thinking and talking for a while now in an amateur way about having many different metrics and algorithms to rank and measure value - in order to counter some of the flaws of complete democracy. I just talk about it, while people like Rashmi and Mary Hodder actually put these ideas into practice!

The only other talk I caught was part of the "Invincibelle" demo. While it is a lovely idea and I'm all for it, I was somewhat turned off by the line "After all, women love shopping..." Yeah okay, er... Did I really just hear that! But I'll put that aside. Invincibelle has some great interviews with interesting women working in tech. It is a great idea but I have some (I hope constructive) critiques to offer. The site needs good navigation and stronger linking between people. Why not make this an actual social network site? So far, it's just a custom-built blog with good interviews, a forum, and an rss feed of some job postings. Another thing that could be improved - how about adding some links to the women featured and their web presence? They have companies, blogs, contact info, presumably - but I can't find that in the interviews. Why not make a nice sidebar with feeds from all the featured women's blogs? Then their voices would be heard even further! Scalability is another concern. I would love for this site to grow. But when it grows what will it look like... where is a coherent directory of the people of this network - for example I would like to be able to click on profession titles and read about all the chemists or physicists or programmers and perhaps also by country, as I imagine people from particular countries might like to find each other. Maybe those features will get added and the site will move a little further into the "2.0" philosophy. I could say the same (a critique, with suggestions, and with love) for sites like el Salón de Belleza which has similarly inspiring portraits and profiles and interviews with amazing women (thought not focused on tech.)

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away, across the Expo hall, someone from this company was asking the audience for its demo, "should we search in our social software for swimsuit issue models, or victoria's secret?" Apparently a segment of the audience indicated its preference for lingerie soft porn over bathing suit soft porn. Some women walked out. Maybe some men did too - I hope so. The subtext is not subtle to me. Who did the speakers think they were talking to?

In the context of all the years of discussion about "how to get more women at tech conferences", this was an amazingly ignorant thing to do in a professional talk. I like many of the comments from my fellow geek and techy women in the comments here, for example, the calmly and neatly expressed simple statement by Nicole:

As an engineer and woman who uses the internet daily for work and personal I am still blown away by these ridiculous portrayals of women as objects in tech ad campaigns.

Some more on this, a quick roundup:

Ah! Here's the women of Web 2.0!

Men (and a few women) of Web 2.0. This is so odd; it's a photo of the crowd for a keynote, and the crowd is overwhelmingly male.

Meanwhile, Christine Herron posts about the gender ratio at the conference. This year, women made up 18% of the conference attendees.

I was on the Web2open side of the conference all of Tuesday, there were a ton of women, I didn't feel outnumbered or out of place, and quite a lot of the speakers and presenters were women; in fact, more than half. I have a few thoughts on why this should be so. One is that women might be more likely than men to not be able to afford to go to the main conference if the fee was not paid for by their company. On that note -- info I can't source at the moment but that I've often read -- women in companies don't push to be sent to conferences while men do, because of self-judgements of level of expertise (Eszter Hargittai has some good research data on self-perceptions of competence and expertise in tech, though). Another crucial element that helped the gender ratio at Web2open; Tara Hunt actively recruited - repeatedly - women in online forums, in public and private, to participate, and pointed out the other women who were coming. That level of active outreach is very important and is part of why SXSWi had such success in increasing participation by women in the industry.

And back to the annoying lingerie model issue: I'd like to point out that O'Reilly's screenshots were interesting and demonstrate the cleverness and interest of the product in the exact way that the demo didn't. Doing a beavis and butthead style sniggering soft core porno "women as consumable objects" search only revealed what will end up being the ugly side of identity aggregation and search sites; using the web creepily to stalk & harass women. When this happens it won't be the fault of the software or of the internet, it'll be a mirror that exposes what goes on at all levels of society.

One more post, from SFWoW:
unbelievable that MCPs are still willing to show their stripes in SF these days; but there is no accounting for cluelessness among the supposed-Digerati.

Yeah there is some anger out there. And as anyone with half a brain should know by now, it is unsafe professionally for women in the field to indicate (even very calmly) that they are annoyed (even very mildly) by sexism.

I think some of the anger comes from our (speaking for women in tech) high expectations. We want to believe y'all utopian-thinking techie web 2.0 dudes are somewhat enlightened and we want to believe you see us as human beings. It is disappointing when those wishes and beliefs are proved wrong - over and over. I look forward to hearing more men say "actually that's not funny" to each other. I don't want to become the enforcer. The point is not for guys to watch what they say in front of women like me. That will only result in even less real communication. The point is to accept the criticism, to wipe the big green embarrassing booger of sexism or racism from your nose and say "oops sorry about that" and then move on from there. (YES please click on that link and read it - and then look at the defensive reactions every time women speak up and point out misogyny - for example what do men do but deny, claim they meant well, accuse women of being "too sensitive", and then find women to defend them and testify how non-sexist they are. The point is not that you "Are" the point is how you BEHAVED just now, which in this case, was dumb and sexist.)

How many times do we have to say it? Talk about our work and contributions, not about our looks. Link up to and highlight women's thoughts and writings, respond to the substance, rather than just going "har har har, beavis, of course we want women at our conferences (so we can hit on them)."

I would like to close by mentioning, for any geeky women reading this, systers and the Anita Borg Institute once again. They rock, there is no nonsense about nail polish or whatever, it is just a very practical network and resource for women in tech.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Let's get naked

Wouldn't it be awesome if this were true? If some techie magazine had an article about being "Naked" or transparent in business practices, and in the article featured a bunch of men, and used a naked photo of one of *them* on the cover? Or a whole office full of cubicles with naked people? Since the article is all about guys anyway, and since it's a tech magazine not Cosmo, and since there seems to be a dearth of women on its covers in general... WHY go this route?

How can a woman get featured in a tech magazine? Be eye candy.

Even better... be a naked secretary.

How annoying!

I've been watching many of my female colleagues get mad about this for weeks. Reasons for *not* getting mad (or for not showing it to male colleagues even if you do get mad) include, as usual, "If you show them that it hurts you, they'll do it more." All very well to say when dealing with anonymous trolls, but over time, this is not a productive strategy. It is also not effective when dealing with institutions or organizations more powerful than you are. If it annoys you or you think it's not funny... say so!

And to guys who ask their female colleagues (or their girlfriends) for confirmation that they're not sexist... Do you really think you're going to hear it from them if you are? They already put up with you. They're not going to be the ones to let you know. They might even have a heavily vested interest in letting you think that you're not offensive. If they called you on your behavior, you might dismiss them as one of those crazy feminists...

People really aren't getting the point that it's about context, and objectification, and exploiting women's bodies while devaluing their experience, knowledge, and contributions to the field -- it's not about prudery or censorship.

Arrrgh! Why not just throw in a Math is Hard Barbie and some B-list porn stars pretending to install Linux while you're at it?

Stephanie Quilao puts it really well:

Okay, I get that corporate transparency is an important trend, but why do you have to put a naked woman on the cover to make your point? Why not put one of The Office guys naked on the cover? Oh that's right! {hit myself on the noggin} It's because no one wants to see a naked guy on the cover of a business magazine. Naked guys on covers isn't showy. No it's gross. But naked chicks, weeell that's a different pad of sticky notes.

Frankly, I think you were not being creative at all in this cover. It's familiar boy's club crap. Yeah, just sex up the receptionist. Why didn't you throw in the pot of coffee while you were at it? Naked women on business magazines is just wrooooong, and that's why it's never been done before by anyone with class. For crying out loud, how can you be so progressive and backwards at the same time? It's ridiculous Wired people! This just has sexist bad taste written all over it. This is definitely showy but it is by all means NOT smart. I want to unplug you now.

And commenter Bianca Reagan adds in response to one of those standard defenses,
The fact that you don't have a problem with the historical objectification of women says a lot more about you and your complacency than it does about my desire to be seen as a human being with equal rights.

Right on Bianca!

If you'd like to sound off about the cover and have something to say about objectification.... Let the editor of Wired know.

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