Apr 30 2009

A Sow’s Ear

Do NOT share cups with pigs

OK, I can’t have a science blog without mentioning swine flu. Is there a gendered analysis? Well probably in the access to healthcare for women, particularly poor women but there’s no data at this time. Generally, women do worst in natural disasters – most shocking stat I’ve come across is that between 70%-80% of the people who died in Southeast Asia after the tsunami of 2004 were female.

But also on searching for swine flu and women, I can across this hilarious conspiracy theory from Wendy Wright of Concerned Women of America (Unconcerned Women of America never really got off the ground). The ironically named Wright opined that Obama’s declaration of a state of emergency was a ruse for appointing Kathleen Sebelius as health secretary by stealth. Will this man stop at nothing?

Of course, the interesting thing is not Wright’s lunacy but the fact that she opposes the appointment of Sebelius because she is pro-choice. Sebelius has a great record of vetoing anti-abortion legislation in Kansas where she was Governor and she has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood which has fund-raised for her. All this and she is a Catholic too! Maybe she’s a fan of Catholics for Choice.

Wendy Wright on the other hand is staunchly anti-abortion which has included challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s licensing of emergency contraception, trying to stop the appointment of anyone who has had anything to do with any organisation that has advocated for women’s access to safe abortions, and she also went to Kosovo to lobby against specific articles in the constitution of the emerging state which provided:

  • the right to make decisions in relation to reproduction in accordance with the rules and procedures set forth by law.
  • the right to have control over his/her body in accordance with law

Apparently these are ‘bad things’. Shockingly arrogant but at least unsuccessful.

(She’s also opposed hate crime legislation and marriage equality so obviously sidelines in homophobia)

What is most concerning for feminists and the rational, is the language Wright uses to oppose reproductive rights and other politically motivated positions on science such as all forms of human cloning; saying that this is about women’s safety and protections against exploitation and the harvesting of eggs. The Right are very adroit at using feminist language when it suits them (see arguments made for the invasion of Afghanistan), but this is particularly dangerous when sisterly language is used to undermine women’s access to safe and legal healthcare and drugs:

“When a drug is easily available, it is a public health hazard to women.”
Wendy Wright talking about FDA licensed emergency contraception

OK, so it wasn’t about swine flu. But you’ve gotta love that quote.

Apr 28 2009

May The Open Source Be With You

(image from the fabulous xkcd)

Righty ho. I’ve been tardy at blogging of late, well blogging here anyway as I do also blog for work here. But I came across this very interesting study via Women Who Tech about the numbers of women who use Open Source software. OK, when I say interesting you’re going to have to bear with me…

I was first exposed to OS (and by that I mean enforced) by a dear friend, Patrick Harvie MSP. He would go on and on and on and on and on about it and I would smile and nod (because I was brought up correctly) while actually thinking about what I was going to drink that night. It went a bit far when he tried to get me to watch a DVD of Eben Moglen.

Then I started my Masters in global healthcare financing and got more and more into pharmaceutical financing and intellectual property rights. I had a eureka moment – this was what Patrick was droning on and on and on and on and on about, now I get it, now I care!

To be honest, software doesn’t float my boat. But the principles are incredibly important and they are important for women. Which brings me back to this study which explores the reasons why a tiny 1.5% of F/LOSS community members are female and many of these reasons are as equally applicable to other scientific/skeptical arenas as to OS. Some reasons summarised here:

  • Women are actively (if unconsciously) excluded rather than passively disinterested. The exclusion happens among people who often do not mean to appear, and who do not interpret their own actions, as hostile to women.

  • F/LOSS communities actively perpetuate a ‘hacker’ ethic, which situates itself outside the ‘mainstream’ sociality, but equates women with that mainstream seen in a contrast to the ‘technical’ realm ascribed to men. Women are treated as either alien Other or (in online contexts) are assumed to be male and thus made invisible.
  • F/LOSS rewards the producing code rather than the producing software. It thereby puts most emphasis on a particular skill set devaluing other activities such as interface design or documentation which women often engage in.
  • F/LOSS production and infrastructure is designed and built assuming contributors have a long history with computers, but women tend to engage later in their lives with computers. In order to join women have a larger amount of catching up work to do, which they must do in an environment that almost exclusively values independent discovery.
  • Inflammatory talk and aggressive posturing (‘flaming’) is accepted within many F/LOSS projects as a key means of developing reputation. This is often off-putting for newcomers and less experienced contributors who are not yet familiar with the community, its norms, or its real hierarchy and is therefore particularly pronounced in the case of women.

These reasons such as exclusion through an imposed hierarchy of skills, advancement through aggressive posturing and equating dynamism against a mainstream that is identified as feminine are all eerily familiar to most spheres of life, be it work, politics or the family.

I’ve spoken to many many male bloggers who are really interested (or pretend to be) when I talk about a feminist analysis of science and mainstream media reporting but then say “Yeah, as a bloke I don’t really do or understand gender.” This is the same as people saying they don’t really have an accent. It is not just women’s responsibility to engage with science and scientific reporting (which in fact they are doing and have done in increasing numbers for decades). Men have to acknowledge the extent to which they are excluding women, however unconsciously this is claimed to be.

This isn’t just women harping on about wanting to be involved in your little subculture, it will actually benefit the F/LOSS community, lead to a richer understanding of the power dynamics involved in media reporting and foster greater creativity and energy. And who knows, you might even get laid more often.