In honor of my final official blog post for Gender and Computerization, I thought it would be nifty to look at some women blogging technology out there in the interwebs. I’ve visited some of these over the past semester for ideas. And then I found some other neat things that need mentioning. So for a smorgasboard of gender tech fun, read on.

Chip Chick: Tech and Gadgets from a Girl’s Perspective Lot’s of talk of cute and ugly on here in relation to gadgets. Though it does feature some ridiculous items you might not see elsewhere, like the Crystal Lipstick Mouse and the Toilet Sound Blocker, I wouldn’t go here for solid tech info.  There is also a girls site called Chip Chicklets  which again just seems to feature gadgets for kiddos without any solid reviews. I suppose I would say if you’re looking for a strange gadgety gift to buy someone, check here.

SheGeeks: Keep Up with the Best in Social Media Corvida Raven does social media commentary right. Her most recent post is on tweeting and the interplay between humans and data. The lifestream as city diagram is hot.

aliza sherman rants and raves subtitled “Rants and Raves from Web pioneer Aliza Sherman: the Original Cybergrrl and founder of Webgrrls International, co-founder of social media marketing consultancy Conversify. Topics include social media, business, marketing, gender issues, work, life, and more.” Check out this interview with Sherman.

Girl Geek Dinners. Food and tech talk. Brilliant. And they’re worldwide. The mission:” Our mission should we choose to accept it:

  • To break down old fashioned social stereotypes.
  • To identify routes around barriers to entry for anyone to get into technology.
  • To encourage and nurture those interested in technology.
  • To work with local schools, colleges and universities to encourage more women into the technology industry.
  • To support those currently in the industry and work together to figure out the issues and the solutions.
  • To include men, women and children in this journey…. and not exclude men from Girl Geek Dinner Events

If I’ve missed something off of here then do let me know and I’ll be happy to add it… this is part of the Ethos of Girl Geek Dinners.”

GirlyGeekdom a “fun location where girl and guy geeks write about anything that captures their geeky imaginations.” Inclusiveness with this one as well as the Girl Geek Dinners, which reminds me of the studies where girls designed games with girls and boys in mind, while boys designed games for boys.

5 Tips for Raising your Geek Girl from Wired. Mary, they mention Felicia Day!

Girl Geek Chic a girl’s guide to technology with Nikki Moore. Gadget reviews mostly.

Nerd Girls Blog This has fun stuff for teen girls like how to make music on the web and social media response to disasters. The blog is part of a larger website started by an engineering professor at Tufts. Nerd Girls “are a growing, global movement which celebrates smart-girl individuality that’s revolutionizing our future.”Okay, so I guess they had a reality show a couple of years ago? Not sure, but here’s a clip about who the Nerd Girls are. It annoys me on a few levels, but it does make the field (at least engineering) look glamorous and if that’s what it takes…

Knitting + computers = captain capacitor

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This timely article from the NYT DealBook looks at the small number of female venture capitalists. And now for the requisite grim statistics: “Women account for just 6 percent of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies, and 22 percent of the software engineers at tech companies over all, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. And among venture capitalists, the population of financiers who control the purse strings for a majority of tech start-ups, just 14 percent are women, the National Venture Capital Association says.”

Yes, another tech area lacking women. The article interestingly notes, “Women now outnumber men at elite colleges, law schools, medical schools and in the overall work force. Yet a stark imbalance of the sexes persists in the high-tech world.” Why, oh, why? Here we are ~24 posts in and still no real answers.

Why not invest in women? They cost less than men on average. “Venture-backed start-ups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than start-ups run by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock.” So, they’re a good investment.

The article boils down to the fact that there is a lack of women role models leading the way. “There aren’t enough women entrepreneurs because they don’t see enough women entrepreneurs ahead of them and successful.” While 40% of private businesses in the U.S. are owned by women, only 8% of venture backed tech start-ups are run by women.

On that note…some successful tech women: Carol Bartz, Yahoo CEO; Meg Whitman, former ebay CEO; Carly Fiorini, former HP CEO…it’s a start at least.

The article looks specifically at one young woman, Poornima Vijayashanker, who has started her own company for making software for small business called BizeeBee. She voices many of the concerns we have read about repeatedly in class. One example, timing motherhood. “The tech start-up lifestyle isn’t hospitable to child-rearing. That’s why, she says, many young women prefer working at big companies to starting their own.”

Karen Watts, the CEO of a business accounting software, also repeats a commonly heard theme: “It just never dawned on me to do it [engineering],” she says. “You’re just sitting there pecking away. I need more human interaction.” Interesting because she is in a field that would be seen as lacking in human interaction, but she’s putting that tag on yet another profession. Why are we so obsessed with careers that have human interaction? Because I would venture to say most do, to varying degrees anyway.

The article goes on to relate the statistics on the low numbers of girls studying computer science and it revisits the nerd image that so many are afraid of. Comp sci Barbie gets a mention.

Then we get to a group at Stanford, Women in Computer Science that mentors other girls in CS.  The co-president of the group says, “It helps to show a human being who does computer science and says, ‘I also really like going to the theater or listening to music,’ so younger women can see you still have a personality and do technology.”  Again the same stereotypes persist.

One last time, for the record…maybe we should look at overcoming these stereotypes and inequalities by making computer science and technology interesting and accessible to girls from the beginning. It couldn’t hurt.

This seems like a fabulous idea, in order to celebrate World Play Day, UBUNTU women are challenging UNIX users to take photos of their daughters mashing around on computers. Yes! They will select two winners, one randomly and one that best shows a girls love of computers. Yes, again!

Why are UBUNTU Women hosting this competition:

“A pivotal issue within computing cultures of today is the overemphasis on boys and men as the primary consumers of technology. Children learn by example and since the majority of media images consist of boys playing computer type games and girls playing with stereotypical princess type dolls; this contributes to the lack of involvement in science and technology by our young women.”

This also brings up another topic…the number of women involved in creating open source software. A report on free and open source software (FLOSS) shows that only 1.5% of the community is comprised of women as opposed to 28% of women involved with proprietary software. Yet another area where women are underrepresented in the IT field. Boo.

I think embracing Haraway’s  cyborg idea makes sense on many levels, few of which I actually understand… I do see the initial and even continuing separation of women from technology; and think assuming the rights to deal in/with technology as beneficial. I like the points she makes about identity politics: “There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices.” I’m all about blurring some boundaries, which Haraway seems to be a fan of as well.

She discusses women as “integrated circuit to name the situation of women in a world so intimately restructured through the social relations of science and technology. She views women’s place in this circuit in terms of the home, market, paid work place, state, school, clinic-hospital, and church. Haraway sees the cyborg world as “great riches for feminists explicitly embracing the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine and similar distinctions between the Western self. It is the simultaneity of breakdowns that cracks the matrices of domination and opens geometric possibilities.” Good, yes?

The Manifesto ends with a discussion of how cyborg imagery can express two crucial arguments:

  1. “The production of the universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now.
  2. Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology, means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts.”

Yeah, so… something fun. Watch the video for Haraway’s appearance in this cyborg anime film.

And an interesting interpretation of Cyborg Manifesto…A Trip to the Zoo

I touched on this idea with the Know-It-All bag and computational textiles, but I thought I would look into the web presence of this intersection of traditional craft and technology.

I’ll start with Ravelry, one of my favorite knitting resources. Ravelry is a knitting and crocheting forum of sorts that allow crafters to post their projects, yarns, and patterns in an online space with options for joining groups and shopping. I’m a fan of browsing the patterns that are organized by category (i.e. home, mittens/gloves, toys, naughty, etc.). Another feature that allows you to customize the site even more, is the knitting crochet, knitting, or crochet options that enable you to filter the site to your crafty tastes.  

Knitting groups online, particularly knitalongs (KAL), are quite popular and bring the traditional Stitch ‘n Bitch into the interwebs. Knitalongs being a group of knitters who pick a pattern and break it down into manageable chunks to complete each week.  One of my favorite yarn shops, KnitPicks, has an entire section of their website devoted to the “knitting community” featuring a number of KAL options (mittens, socks, colorwork, etc.) Joining these types of groups is helpful when you think your motivation may be lacking to complete an entire project or when you’re beginning a technique you’ve never tried.

Let’s see what else I can find…Craft: transforming traditional crafts, is an actual print magazine, but it has a fairly extensive web presence as well. Whereas Ravelry is mostly a traditional knitting/crocheting source, Craft offers a bit more on the subversive side. This side of the craft world is definitely addressing the ironic theme proposed by Minahan and Cox. Of course they’re talking specifically of the Stitch ‘n Bitch, but I think it applies here as well. They say, “We suggest that theirs [younger crafters] may be a playful, ironic comment and an unbundling/re-forming or even implosion of traditional associations and differentiations between time, place and gender rather than an earnest expression of a strongly-held desire for innovation, restoration, or resistance.” I would venture to say many of the crafts are a form of resistance; take for example, the Trashy Lingerie ensemble by Ingrid Goldbloom Boch. Others though do tend to blur the line between resistance and the “implosion of traditional associations” (see Dress Tents). Irony abounds and I kind of love it (see Fishing Lure Earrings and Mega Doily).

Finally, check out this video from MIT about e-textiles (note the use of the LilyPad Arduino!)  

Again, it’s fairly obvious that the intersection of craft and technology have huge potential to  encourage young women to pursue technology related disciplines…yes?

Cyberfeminism, a Third Place and the New Materiality – Stella Minahan, Julie Wolfram Cox

This is definitely my type of article. So as you may or may not know, a Stitch ‘n Bitch is a gathering of like minded women, though men aren’t necessarily excluded.  The group typically partakes in eating, chatting, and knitting, of course crochet, sewing, embroidery, and other crafty pursuits frequently occur as well. These gatherings are known for meeting in a public space, but they can also meet in a home. The term Stitch ‘n Bitch originated with Debbie Stoller, author of the book of the same name. (Stoller is also the author of Stitch ‘n Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker.)

Minahan and Cox examine the role of Stitch ‘n Bitch in terms of five themes:

 remedial –  part of the movement to collective recreation (think Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam);

progressive – “a unique cyberfeminist phenomenon, one of women expressing their own thoughts and reflecting their own circumstances and environment”;

resistance – using craft to respond to the materialism of society;

nostalgic – “offers a romantic return to the past rather than, for example, a remedy to the present”;

and ironic – a return to a past that never existed.

I tend to think that for different women, different themes are most applicable. As a member of a public library based Stitch ‘n Bitch, called Knits ‘n Purls, I definitely saw a myriad of reasons for knitting. I also tend to be of the opinion that many of the themes overlap. I think in large part, our group met under the “remedial” possibility – knitting for social reasons. Do you, as a knitter and/or participant of a Stitch ‘n Bitch, identify with one particular theme?

The authors conclude, “This movement may be a new form of craft; a form that is cognizant of the new circumstances of the Information Society and the alienation that can be experienced, and that may provide a new movement that uses material culture to enhance social connectedness and wellbeing of women.”

I will end this post with that being said, but stay tuned, Stitch ‘n Bitch continues…

Old school Stitch ‘n Bitch

Since I cruised through Seventeen a while back to see what kind of technology girls encounter while browsing through their favorite magazine, I thought I’d do the same for boys. I looked through the magazines at Border’s and decided on Sports Illustrated. I know that it has a much older readership as well, but I’m guessing it’s fairly popular with teen boys. And the sports vs. fashion dichotomy seems to work.

Let’s begin then…As with Seventeen, it was very iPhone app happy. The first ad: “See Live Baseball: Click. Tap. Clap.” featured a laptop and an iPhone. (p25)

Next was an ad for Turbo Tax (p91), which would definitely not be targeting teenage boys. Though I suppose it’s never too early for branding.

Another iPhone app (p109), this time the “World’s Sexiest App.” Of course, an ad for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app.

Lastly was an ad for Comcast Xfinity (p117), which had the text: “Welcome to more choice, more control, more speed, and more HD than ever before. “ I’m sure that teen boys, as well as teen girls, have some sway when it comes to parents’ decisions on TV, so this could work in that way. Otherwise, I would say again teen boys aren’t the target audience.

That’s all for the technology ads. Though I did notice a great deal of automobile ads early in the magazine, which if nothing else adds to the gender stereotype of the entire enterprise.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that boys aren’t bombarded with technology in this magazine, just as girls aren’t with Seventeen. Of course, that isn’t enough evidence to make any generalizations, whatsoever. But it was a fun experiment.

The readings from Monday enlightened me to the “new” digital divide, if you will. I hadn’t thought of the divide in terms of what people are using the Internet for – capital enhancing activities, entertainment, news, health information, etc. That is, as opposed to access in general. However, this isn’t what I want to talk about. I’m more interested in the idea that Cooper finally suggests in “The Digital Divide: The Special Case of Gender” (2006). Cooper notes, “Also difficult to discern is the impact of such software [Barbie, cooking, sewing games for girls] on reifying socially problematic gender stereotypes, an important issue that is beyond the scope of the present analysis.” It seems as if we have been skirting this issue all semester. We’ve looked at gender in terms of many things this semester:

 Getting more girls into computer science,

Video games designed for girls,

 Eliminating the “computer geek” image of the profession, etc.

However, we never go into what the stereotypes are actually doing to girls (and boys). Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to understand how gender plays out stereotypically and how we can use the stereotypes to benefit those underrepresented. But, what about getting to the heart of the stereotypes? I’m guessing that this is a subject for another class? Perhaps it’s time I pulled out my copy of Butler’s Gender Trouble?

That’s the question under investigation in the “Alien Game” article by Heeter and group. To answer the question, they conducted a three-year study with 5th and 8th graders through the Space Pioneer Learning Adventures (SPLA) summer camp. For the first part of the study, the kids were assigned the task of “inventing a space-related educational game that would motivate ‘kids just like you’ to want to become space scientists.” So, what kinds of games would they design? According to Denner and Campe, in “What Games Made by Girls Can Tell Us” girl games traditionally have “character-centered plots, dealt with friendship issues and social relationships, and featured brightly colored graphics.”And boys? They like adventure games. Heeter and group found that of the 8 SPLA games designed all except one were adventure games. Although this flies in the face of previous research, it just seems silly to me to think that girls, or boys, would invent anything other than an adventure game to “motivate kids…to become space scientists.” Perhaps if they hadn’t been so constrained with the design objective, they would have designed a completely different game.

Another interesting finding from the study was that girls consider having both girls and boys playing their game, while boys only think of boys playing theirs. Furthermore, boys offer fewer opportunities for female avatars. One boy group offered 2 female avatars that were “noted to have the characteristic of being ‘bad tempered.’ One was a bad-tempered female robot and the other a bad-tempered alien female kangaroo/boxer from Saturn.”

The second part of the study explored the question, “Do players prefer to play games designed by the same gender?” Game promos developed from the students’ designs in part one were shown to another group of students. After viewing it, “they answered questions about that promo, including how fun they thought the game would be to play and whether they thought the game was for girls, for boys, or equally for both girls and boys.” And the results were….3 of the 4 girl designed games were favored by girls, likewise 3 of the 4 boy designed games were preferred by boys. The girl games featured more original content whereas the boy games were plays on games they already own (i.e. Halo).

How much to extrapolate from this? Heeter et al. says, “…boys play more commercial games than girls, and gaming experience influences the type of games they make. It is a closed, self-perpetuating cycle.” Yes, so more girls have to play games, thus design games, so more girls will design games. And while they are designing the games they may as well take high level administrative roles. From there the “crunch time” that plagues the industry according to Consalvo in “Crunched by Passion: Women Game Developers and Workplace Challenges,” can be remedied. Yeah, yeah, these things take time, I know….

A little experiment of my own… I Googled “game design and girls” and my top three results were Dress Up games. The fourth linked to a study at Michigan State University from 2003 that sought to see if girls and boys designed games differently. Results after that were makeover games and nail games. The most exciting result was, yep, you guessed it, another study! Troubling ‘Games for Girls‘: Notes from the Edge of Game Design. Mary Flanagan from the Digital Games Research Association in 2005. The aim… to build a multi-user game for middle school girls called RAPUNSEL.

Some good points (that we haven’t already considered)…

1.”Attempting to create something for ‘girls’ as a category obviously navigates a dangerous border zone between personal, specific, lived experience, and generalization. ‘Girls’ are as diverse in their interests, abilities, and tastes as any other category of people (e.g. ‘students’ or ‘the French’). ”

2. “On a national scale across the U.S. in early 2005, games such as the Sims II and the Internet based game Neopets prevail with the target democraphic.” [Nothing surprising there.] “Locally, design partners disclose different preferences. For many of the 11-13 year old girls we were working with as design partners in the RAPUNSEL research, most girls have never heard of Neopets, and favorite games include Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto.” [So that’s new. I think this speaks to our issues with the typical small scale studies that tend to focus on one socioeconomic/racial group. There is so much left unaccounted for. This study looks at inner city African American girls and tastes/interests are very different.] 

3. Last point, many girls (in this study anyway) prefer “masculine” or violent games. But why and how are they actually playing the game? Very differently from boys it turns out. What do girls like to do when playing GTA? The girls say “just drive” or “wanted to just help people.” In first person shooters they go off on their own to see what their bodies can do. Yes, playing differently, but still playing the games and enjoying them. This also brings up the question of if they had other games at their disposal would they choose different types of games. It’s hard to say, but Flanagan did note that the girls thought violence and fighting should be in any good computer game.

So this is a great example of why girls would not be interested in gaming and/or CS…‘RapeLay’ video game goes viral amid outrage

What’s going on with this Japanese game, RapeLay, you ask? “The game allows you to impregnate a girl and urge her to have an abortion. The reason behind your assault, explains the game, is that the teenage girl has accused you of molesting her on the train. The motive is revenge.” It really just gets worse and worse.

Fortunately, women’s rights groups have gotten involved. According to one organizer: “‘This was a game that had absolutely no place on the market,’ said Taina Bien-Aime of women’s rights organization Equality Now which has campaigned for the game to be taken off the shelves.”

As with any media coverage of this sort, the more people knew, the more people that wanted to try it out. And some people don’t see the harm in these games like Lucy Kibble and Jim Gardner. These British gamers  “said trying to control games on the Internet was futile and that content control was up to parents.” Gardener continued, “The idea of banning it, or telling people what they can and can’t do just because on the off chance some kid might get involved with it is just ridiculous.”

Now, I’m okay with risque behaviors in video games, but rape as an activity that you play around with…not cool. And any girl, and hopefully many a boy, who sees this kind of activity in a game would be repulsed by it. This is not what we’re looking for in the “virtuous cycle” that will get women into CS and ultimately the gaming industry.