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Participants: Ben Allen * Stephanie August * Damon Loren Baker * Theo Ellin Ballew * Ivette Bayo Urban * John Bell * Paisley Benaza * Kathi Berens * David Berry * Sayan Bhattacharyya * Christina Boyles * Gregory Bringman * André Brock * Ron Burkey * Evan Buswell * Sarah Ciston * Eileen Clancy * Tara Conley * Krystal Cooper * Ranjodh Dhaliwal * Anthony Di Franco * Craig Dietrich * Jeremy Douglass * Kevin Driscoll * William Dyson * Brandee Easter * Martin Erwig * Schuyler Esprit * Max Feinstein * Todd Furmanski * Geoffrey Gimse * Erin Glass * Rochelle Gold * Catherine Griffiths * Ben Grosser * Fox Harrell * Sydette Harry * Brendan Howell * Nazua Idris * Jessica Johnson * Waliya Yohanna Joseph * Ted Kafala * Dorothy Kim * Corinna Kirsch * Steve Klabnik * Shelly Knotts * Peter Kudenov * Fidelia Lam * Liz Losh * Thor Magnusson * Jim Malazita * Judy Malloy * Zach Mann * Mark Marino * Lauren McCarthy * Irma McClaurin * Patrick McDonnell * Tara McPherson * Todd Milstein * Nick Montfort * Mark Neal * Safiya Noble * Keith O'Hara * David Ogborn * Allison Parrish * Ali Pearl * Gerol Petruzella * Andrew Pilsch * Samuel Pizelo * Jessica Pressman * Helen Pritchard * Daniel Punday * Kristopher Purzycki * Harvey Quamen * Amit Ray * Margaret Rhee * Lisa Rhody * Scott Richmond * Teddy Roland * Jamal Russell * Anastasia Salter * Mark Sample * Evan Schauer * Ari Schlesinger * Mehdy Sedaghat Payam * Ash Smith * Winnie Soon * Glen Southergill * Mel Stanfill * Samara Hayley Steele * Nikki Stevens * Tonia Sutherland * Miriam Sweeney * Ezra Teboul * Daniel Temkin * Dennis Tenen * Marilyn M. Thomas-Houston * Elizabeth Timbs * Giuseppe Torre * Rebecca Uliasz * Annette Vee * Sneha Veeragoudar * Ashleigh Wade * Kurt James Werner * Jacque Wernimont * Zach Whalen * Roger Whitson * Roger Whitson * Michael Widner * Jody Zellen * Kai Zhang
Coordinated by Mark Marino (USC), Jeremy Douglass (UCSB), Catherine Griffiths (USC), Ali Rachel Pearl (USC), and Teddy Roland (UCSB). Sponsored by the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab (USC), and the Digital Arts and Humanities Commons (UCSB).

General Discussion

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This is a space for general discussion of the topic -- outside the featured Discussion thread or any topic-specific threads. If a forum member would like to promote any conversation that begins here into its own separate Discussion, please let me know and I can help migrate the material. For an example, see: Sexist Autocomplete: Interventions?


  • It makes me happy to see woman as my teacher for they are detailist. As for codes communication/programming on virtual world which is different from programming proper is noticed amongst Calabar lesbians. They chat in codes. For example Baby girl = ba1baya ga3rala etc.

  • Wonderful discussion so far! At the risk of adding one-too-many topics to this thread, I'm eager to seek this group's advice on a related gender and programming issue. I'm particularly interested in how broader narratives of global connectivity shape coding and technological development and adoption. I've been researching early-to-recent recent visions of a world connected by information (whether by books or networks) and have gathered up the usual suspects such as Diderot, Tesla, HG Wells, Vannevar Bush, and Benkler. However, I'm having a hard time finding women or people of color who wrote on this topic, particularly prior to the advent of the personal computer. Anyone have any tips?

  • edited January 2018

    @eringlass -- Re: "visions of a world connected by information" -- this is a big topic in science fiction, so my sense is that a large number of science fiction writers have addressed this in different ways... although you might mean non-fiction specifically? If by "the advent" of the personal computer you mean the mid-to-late 1970s, I can think of some examples that might help from well-known names in science fiction. There is mindspeech / mindlying in the Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, e.g. City of Illusions ~1967. James Tiptree, Jr. published "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" ~1973, with its satellite-linked "remotes" operating in a world of pervasive product placement -- her story came out after the Xerox Alto demo, but before the Altair 8800. Around that time Octavia E. Butler's started the Patternist series, which features networked telepaths, with the first book published in 1976.

  • @eringlass said:
    I've been researching early-to-recent recent visions of a world connected by information (whether by books or networks) and have gathered up the usual suspects such as Diderot, Tesla, HG Wells, Vannevar Bush, and Benkler. However, I'm having a hard time finding women or people of color who wrote on this topic, particularly prior to the advent of the personal computer. Anyone have any tips?

    You might want to check out work by Alexis Lothian at UMD. Her forthcoming book, Old Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Possibility, explores alternative futures dreamed up by feminists, queers, and people of color in 20th- and 21st-century Britain and America.

  • edited February 2018

    In 2007, I became a staff writer for Cerise Magazine, an online magazine for women gamers. The editors were Andrea Rubenstein and Robyn Fleming.

    The magazine included interviews with female game designers, DIY projects like how to sew your own dice bag, and reflections from woman gamers of all types, digital and analog alike. Thrilled to have my first "real" writing gig after college, I began writing a regular column for Cerise on gender and live action role play. The column was part editorial, part memoir, and part scholarship.

    I was startled to soon discover my articles were being taught in undergraduate courses simply because they were the only thing out there at the time that clearly discribed the type of larp I was covering. I wouldn't have written those details if I hadn't been encouraged by Ms. Fleming, who patiently workshopped all of my articles with me before their publication.

    It was a great shock that, around a year and a half after the magazine started, it abruptly shut down. While no one seemed keen on discussing the details, but it seemed that the editors had been experiencing intense online harassment.

    After that, I didn't do larp scholarship again for six years. Not until inaugural Living Games Conference at NYU in 2014 was I able to find a home for such work.

    During that six year unwanted hiatus from doing larp scholarship, I admit I felt somewhat bitter at my former editors for "letting the trolls win." It wasn’t until GamerGate of 2014, that I began to understand what they'd been put through. During GamerGate, women started speaking up about types of "harassment" that had been happening for a number of years, along with new types ever being invented.

    My editors, I realized, hadn't been "letting the trolls win," they were protecting themselves from the horrific forms of abuse experienced by women that try to create space in gaming, a field that very much intersects with coding. Receiving death threats, rape threats, and being doxxed and blackmailed--these are the sorts of things women who attempt to do anything publicly in these fields must face, on top of the labor of simply getting your work done.

    In 1968 in Berkeley, women began standing up within social movement organizations--the free speech movement, the Vietnam day committee, the situationists, and others--began pushing to be part tactical discussions rather than simply being expected to "make the men feel comfortable" and "pour the coffee." It is amazing how, to some, that expectation is still there. That to such people, to read someone as being a women, is to identify her as being for certain purposes, and when a woman fails to serve those purposes, the person's response is with fear and alarm, and the fight with the fundamentalism of any terrorist, insofar as they fight as if they are fighting to keep the world from collapsing.

    I think it has been very hard for many years for women who have experienced these types of violence and threats to speak up when there is a two-fold silencing approach going on, the first being a victim-blaming mindset that interrogates the victim, saying, "what did she do to deserve this?" and instead of asking why someone would do something to her without her consent. The other thing that holds many victims silent is a logic that attempts to make the behavior of one man stand in for the behavior of all men, making any attempt to discuss the abusive actions of one specific male impossible without having many men and allies they must almost religiously defend all behavior of anyone labelled a man.

    It is impossible to know the contributions that are lost when a female public figure is harassed out of the light, and likewise when a woman's space of co-creating the "white ink" (Cixious 1975) needed for women to write ourselves out of a type of mess, well, whatever it was we could have gained belongs to a world that none of us yet know.

  • edited February 2018

    While the loss of Cerise Magazine is related to the sort of thing that has been experienced by women who have attempted to hold public space in tech, there is an inverse phenomenon at play within the spaces where coding happens. This is something some of us in the international larp community have come to call "the broken stair."

    A broken stair is a sexual predator, vapid identity-based discriminator, or bully whose behavior many people know about, but rather than removing this person from the community, members of the community allow the person to remain while often developing rituals of excusing the person's behavior such as saying as "that's just they way they are."

    Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal last October, we've seen some industries begin to publicly purge "broke stairs" whose violence has been in the form of sexual misconduct. What we're learning is that dozens of people (usually women but not always) will have been forced to flee an organization over a period of many years due to threats to their physical and emotional safety by a single person. One person can rob an organization of dozens, sometimes over a hundred, women. It's worth letting that sink in.

    A common pattern we've come to see in larps and also activist communities with a "broken stair" of this type is that there is a far, far higher ratio of men who stay with the organization for longer than 2+ years than there is women (it's usually around an 80/20 split, percentage-wise). Broken stairs are particularly effective at running people out of crafts, such as coding, in which apprenticeship (and pair-programming in the case of coding) are necessary for advancement. If the code base you are working on exists in the head of a single individual, or if you have been assigned to pair-program with someone, your likelihood of being able to work successfully is dashed if this person has it out for people of your identity catagory. Statically speaking, over a ten-year period of apprenticing and pairing with different coders, while you work to gain mastery of the craft, the likelihood that your ability to do your work at some point will be dependent upon a broken stair is dismally high. This is a problem we sadly have also been running into in permaculture / sustainable farming, a master craft with a ~ten-year road to mastery in which women and also people of color all too frequently find themselves falling through the floor when they hit a broken stair.

    Many contemporary hacker spaces (2011+) in the Bay Area have developed a tactic to address the question of "Why are there drastically less women in our spaces than men?" This tactic involves having community organizers who actively check in with people who leave the space to find out why (broken stairs tend to isolate their victims while engaging in harassment and abuse, so it happens out of sight of others, so checking in with people who vanish is huge), and also having a rather strict "86 policy" in which those who are reported as being consent violators and in engaging in abusive/predatory behavior are banned from the space (if they wish to be reinstated there is usually some sort of restorative justice process in place for that).

    I was startled by these strict policies at first, and wasn't too sure about them, when I first began encountering them at the SudoRoom hacker space back in 2013. Interestingly, the numbers seem to indicate that these policies were working: there are comparatively higher rates of women holding long term positions (2+ years) within these spaces--both as organizers and as general members--than is the average for other anarchist and DIY spaces in the region. Removing broken stairs works, it seems.

    Removing a broken stair from a volunteer-run community space is one thing, but addressing the broken stairs in a workplace is something else all together, as labor contracts and contribution of investment capital may be factors that make it difficult for such an individual to be removed.

    As optimistic as our intentions may be, women and minorities are going to to encounter broken stairs throughout their experience. It is simply a statistical probability within our current cultural climate.

    It is wonderful to that we have begun seeing a shift towards believing the victims of abusive behavior, rather than silencing them with the old line "that is just that person being themselves." When 20+ women find themselves pushed from an organization by the same person, well, one can only imagine what the organization could have been had that one step not been broken.

  • edited February 2018

    One more set of gendered behaviors that relates I think to discussions of gender and coding culture is something I've been calling "tool blocking."

    Three years ago, while involved with the hacker space within the Oakland Omni Commons, and I often played the role of greeting newcomers, and occasionally, a strange thing would happen in which a woman would enter the space and, upon being invited to join us in forking some code or programming a robot, this female newcomer would become visibly upset. I recall one woman who burst into tears when I invited her to join in a discussion on software design methodology. To a person impatient or bigoted against women, this behavior might have been interpreted as evidence of womens’ ineptitude in coding—a type of confirmation bias that, to any careful observer, reveals itself as victim-blaming.

    When the woman burst into tears that day, I made us some tea, and she told me about how as a child, male family members had physically and verbally thwarted her from touching some types of technology. Many women who entered that space shared the same story with me: as children, they had been physically barred from touching tools by male family members—people they loved, but who, when they tried to touch the wires behind the TV, use a drill, or approach an open computer terminal, would jump between the woman and the machine, as if protecting her from it, saying “Let me do it!” and often physically plucking the device from the woman’s hands. This lead to these certain women having emotional difficulties they had to work through when orienting themselves to technology, and they required a bit more patience and loving support than folks who had been gifted that sort of thing from the get-go.

    I had the good fortunate of having been partially raised by a software engineer grandfather who placed tools like computer keyboards, radiometers, and soldering irons in my hands as a child, so I didn't have the triggers than these other had around tools. That childhood experience is something I value and now understand as a privilege.

    Interestingly, I've been clocking a similar phenomenon with men and babies--it would seem that there are some women-identified people who, if a baby is crying, will fight a man off of his own child so to comfort the baby instead. This seems to lead to a type of gender-based trauma/aversion, similar to tool-blocking.

  • edited February 2018

    I suppose these are just a smattering of my notes on how those who are read as having as having a certain gender--specially my gender as a cis-woman--at times find ourselves (not) getting to speak and (not) getting to do work in spaces of techmaking, or are at times thwarted even before we begin. These notes certainly don't cover everything, and they don't cover the valuable experiences of trans-women, cis-men, trans-men, and people of other genders in tech. Nor do they cover the experiences of women who do no pass so easily as white.

    The ability to identify specific patterns like this are important to to me in designing for what I call "gender playability" in interactive media. Being able to identify specific things like a "violent gender fundamentalist" or "a broken stair" or "tool-blocking" is key to being able to build these things into (or leave them out of) immersive interactive environments, allowing for a more compelling alternate reality experience.

    While the idea of having to interact with "gender fundamentalists" and "broken stairs" as part of a game might sound awful to some, literary larps are all about replicating experiences that aren't exactly always comfortable. (The true fun of literary larps, for me anyway, is talking about them with the other players afterward. The discussions generated are truly amazing as we grapple to put words to the experience of social dynamics we hadn't before been privileged to!)

    My hope is to eventually start compiling notes like those found above into a sort of "gender playability handbook" which might be used to assist game designers in their efforts in creating compelling alternate reality gender systems. In this way, documentation is very important for future game development.

    Two years ago it was a huge honor to get to work with @markcmarino, Rob Wittig and Cathy Podeswa on creating a larp and netprov in which gender was rendered playable called Thermophiles in Love. This is a five-gender dating game in which everyone is searching to become part of the perfect quadrouple. Also, everyone was playing microbs living in a thermal vent! A lighthearted and absurdist experience, for sure! :-)

    The goal with developing methodologies towards rendering gender playable in game design is to keep refining the language used to talk about gendered behavior patterns to make it easier for game designers to choose whether or not they want them to be part of their game.

  • edited February 2018

    Gosh... I realize the tone of these reflections is must seem like a debrief of someone stepping out of some sort of trenches. Whoops. Oh well. Debriefing is what lets us not carry the trenches with us back into the regular world, and the act of debriefing is an act of radical hope that the place you are in now is not the same as where you were.

    As for a positive spin on things... the spirit of the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin's liberatory imaginings...what if there were to be a code jubilee? :-)

    This idea, ironically, I stole from someone who had been banned from a hacker space. This was someone who believes that someone with my genetic make up (I am part Native American) shouldn't be troubled with tasks such as coding for which, according to him, my brain was not built. While this person had been banned from several community spaces, he was still quite happily employed as a coder in a firm that "happened" to only employ white males, which, in his mind, proved a type of point.

    Anyway, in an interesting discussion I had with this individual following his being banned from from a community coding space, he expressed that perhaps the only way to get past gatekeepers like him would be a complete code jubilee--to have all code bases start over--and to have people of all genders and backgrounds included in the creation of completely new, better types of code bases. Now there's an interesting idea.

    If a flaw were found in the most fundamental level of code, at the level at the level of the machine, to the degree that binary would need to be thrown out and we'd need to rebuild the computer with a new type of circuitry...and if new, better back- and front-end languages were simultaneously launched as well... and diligent work was done to ensure that people of all genders and backgrounds equally co-created the things of this codebase, and do so in languages that made sense to them...

    Meh. Science fiction. That's all this is. ...I suppose that those who crawl out of any sorts of trenches do at times find ourselves plagued by delusionary thinking...

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