Mar 24 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day

Hedy Lamarr

Today is International Ada Lovelace Day, a day of blogging in celebration of women in science and technology. I’ve blogged a few times before about women in these areas including the myth of the computer science gene and women and open source.

So in honour of the day I want to say a little bit about Hedy Lamarr, an actor and engineer who helped invent an early form of spread spectrum communications technology, the basis for Wi-Fi.

She led a pretty amazing life and is one of the reasons I am writing this blog on my lap-top on my sofa (well, her and my utter laziness)

10 Facts about her:

  1. Born in 1914 in Vienna, her name was Hedwig
  2. Her mother was a pianist and her father a bank director.
  3. Her film career was stifled by her controlling husband, an arms manufacturer, so instead she set about learning about military technology.
  4. Although her husband was half-Jewish (she was also Jewish), he hung out with Hitler and Mussolini. This obviously didn’t sit easy with her and so she disguised herself as one of the maids and fled to Paris where she got a divorce and moved on to London.
  5. He was the first of six husbands.
  6. In London and then Hollywood, she went back to making films but got into developing a secret communication system with her neighbour, the avant garde composer George Antheil, after getting into a conversation about radio controlled torpedos.
  7. Her idea of “frequency hopping” was completely new and Antheil’s contribution was the suggested device for synchronization.
  8. It was ahead of its time but ended up becoming the basis of modern spread-spectrum communication technology such as most WiFi networks.
  9. She died in 2000 and in 2003, Boeing ran an ad campaign featuring her as a woman of science, not referring to her acting career.
  10. In 2005, the first ‘Inventors Day’ was held in German-speaking countries on 9 November, her birthday.

I think, I think I love her.

Jul 20 2009

Nerds leave Fortress of Solitude for Playboy Mansion

My recent lack of posting is due to going to Latitude Festival over the weekend. Which was terribly lovely. But I got back to an emailed link to this story from Double X on the biography of Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin.

Apparently, their lack of ability in the getting-laid department inspired the origins of Facebook and their (unofficial) biography seems to chart their success through the anonymous women they shagged.

I’ve blogged before about nerd sexism (here and here), but I do have sympathy with the article’s assertion that “sexism 2.0 is uglier than its early versions”. Call it pop-psychology, but the misogyny within the geek-tech community seems to be driven by former rejection. Girls wouldn’t kiss the geeks at school and now that they’re billionaires they will wreak their revenge on women by objectifying them and spending their time developing rape-simulation games (great article on rape in games here).

This isn’t a new form of sexism however, its the same-old same-old reaction by some to women not being constantly sexually available to men. As one male friend suggested to me; “Well, if those teenage girls would just snog the geeky boys at school…” Forgetting that a) teenage boys are repulsive and b) girls really shouldn’t have to put out just so that boys don’t go on to ‘rape’ female characters in Second Life.

Rather than male techies having a long hard look at themselves and seeing how they may be contributing to oppressive practices, they bemoan the fact that the banning of Rapelay has led to a decline of “erotic games”.

Although this might all stem from the same sexism that pervades our society, what makes it worse is that the men involved are often anti-authority, leftish, progressives (I have a link for this, bear with me). As I’ve said before – we expect more from you, don’t let the abused become the abuser. Plus the undermining of women in tech, whether web company founders or a faceless Victoria Secret model, seems to come at a confluence of a sustained backlash to the feminist analysis of objectification and a desensitisation to sexual violence against women (in society at large as well as in games).

Nerdy men need to be aspiring to more than the Playboy Mansion. You’re not going to find a Starbuck there.

Thanks to Liz. And sorry I’ve been a bit too techie recently. Will get back to health and medicine.

Jul 7 2009

I Twitter. I Twat. I Will Tweet.

Interesting article from Double X, an American women’s Web magazine, on studies into male and female use of social networking. Apparently men on Twitter have 15% more followers than women and both women and men are more likely to follow men.

The original study from Harvard Business School had some other interesting findings. Such as:

  • More women than men use Twitter
  • Men have more reciprocated relationships (i.e. follow backs)
  • Both men and women tweet at the same rate
  • Men are more likely to follow a man than a woman, and so are women but not by as much
  • The top 10% of users account for 90% of tweets

These results are quite different from other forms of social networking media where activity tends to be more women-focused and men are more likely to follow the content of women they do and do not know. The Study hypothesises that this is because of the different way that Twitter is used and that it lacks photo-sharing (interesting…).

The finding that Twitter is used in very different ways to other social networking sites certainly seems to ring true. I use Facebook and Twitter very differently; Twitter more like a web-log such as MetaFilter and I have a much stricter criteria for who I’m ‘friends’ with on Facebook and have a private profile there but not on Twitter.

The article suggests people do a gender audit of who they follow. Meh, I follow about 500 ‘people’ but after taking a quick sample, I do indeed follow more men than women but nearly as many gender-neutral as men (News sites, green and human rights orgs, etc). This is *probably* because I follow a lot of nerds, techies, politicians and comedians all of which have a male over-representation. Right, I’m off to have a following cull and find more women to follow!

Oh, and if you want to follow me on Twitter: @naomimc

May 4 2009

Attracting Women: U iz doin it rong

Great article from Allyson Kapin entitled: Is the Tech World Really Sexist? Not only does it point out that yes it is along with most other industries, but she gives practical advice to women who work in tech and want to break through the digital ceiling.

It is important for women to challenge social norms in this way and indeed we wouldn’t have the vote without the women who protested and were forced to eat tar or Emily Wilding Davison throwing herself in front of a horse. However, men can do their bit too. And not being utter fuckwits would be a start.

Kaplin made reference to Matt Aimonetti’s presentation at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference. Here’s a few stats from the slideshow:

  • There are 32 slides with images on them (including photos, logos and graphics)
  • 17 of the slides have images of women, 7 have images of men and 2 have images of Viagra which I would argue evokes a certain image of men
  • Of the images of women; 10 were overtly sexualised (women in micro skirts, naked arses, pr0n scene with 1 man 4 women etc), 2 were primarily demeaning (i.e. ‘funny’ pictures of an old woman and a fat woman), 2 included Jen, the female character from the IT Crowd, and the remaining three although not overtly sexualised (I’m being generous here) would have been chosen to be titillating (woman being massaged, woman’s mouth and women boxing).
  • Of the images of men: 2 were of Dr Manhattan (drawing attention to his godlike power and penis), 2 were of men surrounded by sexually available women, 2 were the other members of the IT Crowd and one was of Sting (fully clothed and to my mind deeply unsexual, although he is there to reference tantric sex – something to do with ‘performance’, geddit?)
  • Eight of the slides contain the logo for CouchDB which I presume is linked to whatever Aimonetti is peddling. This logo is a graphic representation of a ‘slacker’ bloke on a couch.

Now I can understand that this was probably an incredibly boring talk and Aimonetti thought the only way to engage what would have been a predominantly male audience would be to come across as blokey and use demeaning and objectifying images of women to ‘spice it up’. I also acknowledge that the demographic of the audience for this presentation (whether physically or online) would be one that consumes online pornography and so would identify with the imagery of naked women’s arses, women writhing around in simulated orgies, pole-dancers, thigh-high boots etc.

And therein lies the problem. This is what alienates women, this is what has led to the mainstreaming of images once the preserve of girlie mags now proudly boasted as pr0n. Not only does it stereotype Techy men as sexually-repressive, social misfits who can only conduct a ‘relationship’ with an animated Japanese teenager, it also makes the women who work in Tech, use it, and consume it (increasingly the majority) hate you.

You might think of yourselves as terribly intellectual but there is no difference between this kind of presentation and having a titty calendar up in a garage.

So yes, women can start promoting themselves within Tech and speaking out more. But the men in Tech are going to have to stop being such sad wankers and stop with the lame lame lame Tech porn.

Disclaimer: I know the title of this post and some comments are terribly heteronormative – but then so is most porn. I’ll post some other time about sexuality and science reporting. Although have done some here.