Sookie, the empowered

There are two vampire phenomena happening right now in entertainment: the Twilight saga, with the popular books becoming popular movies, and the True Blood Series, with the increasingly popular books adapted into an HBO series. Both have a young female heroine who is romantically involved with a vampire. Both are set in present day America.

There the similarities end.

One is set in the Pacific northwest. One is set in the parishes outside of New Orleans. One seems intended for teens. The other very much for adults. But the real difference is in the women at their respective centers.

Carmen Siering writes in Ms. Magazine that Bella, the heroine of Twilight, fails as a feminist hero.

[N]ear the end of the film, Bella must choose between her two suitors. And yet when this big, empowering moment arrives, Bella offers an explanation for her choice that lets her off the hook. Melissa Rosenberg’s script doesn’t have Bella spell things out quite as clearly as Meyer’s narration in the book. Here we have Bella talking in circles about her love for Jacob and what might have been. In the book, Meyer makes it clear that Bella places the blame for her choice on something outside her control….

…[B]y placing the blame for choosing Edward over Jacob on the insane, irrational world in which she lives instead of on her own needs and desires, Bella abdicates responsibility for that choice, making it no choice at all. If the foundation of feminism is being able to choose, as Meyer insists, and one chooses not to choose, then what sort of feminism is that? It may seem romantic to be swept away by forces outside your control, but it’s not empowering.

I'm not a big Twilight expert. I've seen the first movie. The second lurks in a dark corner somewhere in the house, hiding from me. The third, well, I'm not keen enough to compel me to go to the theater and watch all the commercials.

But I do know True Blood.

Let's look at Sookie. Where Bella may seem to "abdicate her responsibility", Sookie refuses to let go of her own. In fact, she won't have others meddling in her business, not without at least confronting them. In the very first episode of the show, we see her pick up a chain from a truck bed and use it to confront a couple of ne'er-do-wells — not out of a misplaced sense of macho or foolishness (though it does feel foolish at the time), but in order to protect someone she's just met and hardly knows. She can't just stand by while someone gets victimized. It's striking how the chain in her hand becomes an extension of herself. Oh, she's scared. But she won't back down — not unless he has to, not unless she's outmatched. And even then, she'll keep the words coming. She's never cowed.

Sookie owns her destiny. She owns her choices in life. When Bill asks, "What are you?" and Sookie responds, "My name is Sookie, and I'm a waitress," she's not being self-deprecating, she's stating the facts. And interestingly, we never sense that she's diminishing her life by not pursuing the usual "success" tracks of college or power career like real estate or movie star. She's too self-aware, too in charge of her own life to feel that.

There's no sense of victim mind in this character who has every right to feel the victim. (I'll spare the spoilers that would be required to rattle off the reasons.) She is empowered. How? Why? I feel that it's because that's how she was raised by her "Gran." It never occurs to her to play victim to the fates.

Yes, Sookie can be foolish and naive at times. But I chalk that up to her innocence and youth, not her sex.

Ada Lovelace was a Drupalchick

Okay, it's a whimsical title. But on this Ada Lovelace Day, I was thinking about how, if Ada Lovelace were alive today, she no doubt would be in technology. After all, the creator of the first "computer" wouldn't stop there, would she?

In my daily life I get to work with some amazing women who are working in, with or on Drupal. I wrote an appreciation over at PINGV Creative.

So the Times sees it as a "women's issue," like shoes and handbags?

Oh my, not again. Via Elisa's Worker Bees Blog:

A couple of months ago, prompted by Mary Hodder, I blogged about the NY Times and its odd placement of a technology story about girl geeks in the Fashion & Style section.

Well, they're at it again. And this time it is even more egregious. Check the article Diversity Isn’t Rocket Science, Is It? In the Fashion & Style section.

The article itself is quite provocative....

Based on data from 2,493 workers (1,493 women and 1,000 men) polled from March 2006 through October 2007 and hundreds more interviewed in focus groups, the report paints a portrait of a macho culture where women are very much outsiders, and where those who do enter are likely to eventually leave....

The problem isn’t that women aren’t making strides in education in the hard sciences....

And, women enter science engineering and technology (known as the SET professions) in sizable numbers....

An exodus occurs around age 35 to 40. Fifty-two percent drop out, the report warned, with some leaving for “softer” jobs in the sciences human resources rather than lab bench work, for instance, and others for different work entirely. That is twice the rate of men in the SET industries, and higher than the attrition rate of women in law or investment banking....

The 147-page report (which was sponsored by Alcoa, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer and Cisco) is filled with tales of sexual harassment (63 percent of women say they experienced harassment on the job); and dismissive attitudes of male colleagues (53 percent said in order to succeed in their careers they had to “act like a man”); and a lack of mentors (51 percent of engineers say they lack one); and hours that suit men with wives at home but not working mothers (41 percent of technology workers says they need to be available “24/7”).

...which makes one wonder why the New York Times editors felt they had to stick the article in the fashion section and not in the news section or technology or even business section.

Maybe they thought only women would -- or should -- be interested.

Being the change

I blogged the following on BlogHer , about the new O'Reilly series on Women in Technology....

If you just casually glance around tech departments in companies and tech-oriented conferences, it's easy to get the impression that there aren't many women in technology these days. Yet it's undeniable that women are making a big impact on the technology world. (If you think it is deniable, then please keep reading.) Exploring this subject is a special series this month on O'Reilly: Women in Technology. Every day this month, an accomplished woman in technology shares her thoughts.*

If you've seen O'Reilly books, you know that each topic area gets its own animal. Tatiana Apandi perhaps hints at a theme of the series by explaining why the O'Reilly animal chosen for this series is the lioness:

Although the lion is often called the King of the Jungle, lion society is actually ruled by its females. Lionesses are the ones primarily responsible for providing sustenance for their entire pride. She is a natural leader. When hunting, each lioness plays to her strengths. She even adjusts her individual role in the hunt depending on the prey to ensure capture for the pride. She can adapt to suit the task at hand. A lioness also will nurse any cub, indiscriminate of whether that cub is her own. She will give with the greater good in mind.

So who are these lionesses in technology? Open technology evangelist (and Jive Software's Director of Developer Relations) Dawn Foster informs us that:

I will be appearing somewhere in this series along with Anna Martelli, Audrey Eschright, CJ Rayhill, Dru Lavigne, Gabrielle Roth, Jeni Tennison, Jill Dyche, Juliet Kemp, Julia Lerman, Kaliya Hamlin, Kirsten Jones, Lauren Wood, Leslie Hawthorn, Selena Deckelmann, and Shelley Powers.

If you don't recognize all of these names ... and I certainly don't ... the first installment hints that maybe we all should.

Leslie Hawthorne, formerly of Google and currently with the Open Source Programs Office, leads off the series with some thoughts on what leadership is -- and can be -- whether it's "female" or not.

I've never thought of my role in the technical community as being the result of or in any way inextricably tied to my femininity. If anything, in an effort to be the change I wish to see in the world, I've distanced myself from questions of gender roles in my work. If we are all (to be) equal, it seems counter-intuitive to look at my work as informed by my being a woman. I do and I make, I listen and I advise, I lead and I follow, and none of these things are the exclusive purview of women. While others might, I would not argue that either sex has a particular aptitude for any of these things. Still, when I look at what I do and what I make, I far more often than not find women playing a similar role and doing similar tasks: building communities, creating space for creativity and connection to manifest, taking care of mundane and arcane details so that others can focus on executing to a grander vision.

Women in Art [updated]

Kudos to the eggman. This is just beautiful. Worth watching more than once. For one pass, just look at the eyes.

[via Elisa]

Update: Laurie and Debbie have some thoughts on this video.

Cyberbullies and Community Standards

It has taken me a few days to recover from the intense energy and excitement of attending, participating in and speaking at the OSCMS 2007 (and sundry adjunct events of equal intensity and delight), and so I've been publicly quiet so far about the obscene and possibly illegal cyberbullying that has happened in the past several days regarding one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra.

If you've somehow had your feedreader in the sand this past week, here's a brief snippet of what Kathy wrote about it on Monday:

We all have trolls--but until four weeks ago, none of mine had threatened death. (The law is clear--to encourage or suggest someone's death is just as illegal as claiming you intend to do it yourself).

At about the same time, a group of bloggers including Listics' Frank Paynter, prominent marketing blogger Jeneane Sessum, and Raving Lunacy Allen Herrel (aka Head Lemur) began participating on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org. At first, it was the usual stuff--lots of slamming of people like Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Maryam Scoble, and myself. Nothing new. No big deal. Nothing they hadn't done on their own blogs many times before.

But when it was my turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting as "Joey") commented "the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."

The horror gets worse. For more background on this, I refer you to Kathy's own post on the thing, and these various excellent posts on BlogHer here, here, here, here, here and here.

On a couple of email lists, I've expressed the feeling that to respond to trolls is to feed them -- to give them the validation they so crave. They're online terrorists, in effect, who behave the way they do to get attention, and in general I believe it's counterproductive to elevate their status to some sort of Public Enemy, for that gives them exactly what they want, and has the unfortunate effect of elevating them to your status. My sense was that with regard the Mean Kids garbage, the best response was to respond by ignoring these depraved individuals, encouraging the prompt deletion of such content, and moving on.

Mine was not the popular sentiment. In fact, there has been an incredible groundswell of push-back against the Mean Kids trolls, to the point of declaring today, March 30th, as Stop Cyberbullying Day. For better or worse, and I prefer to think it's for the better for now, what has happened to Kathy, and untold other women and men who've been subjected to this kind of online abuse since USENET days, cyberbullying has become the topic of the day.

It's an essentially important subject in this "web 2.0" world of online communities. How do we "police" (for the lack of a better word) such patently offensive and possibly illegal behavior while at the same time while keeping the internet free?

Listing risking women

It's about time I linked to Tara Hunt's list of "Women Who Risk", especially since she had the kindness to list me and Katherine as founders of our interactive media company.

Tara writes:

Once I’m not so stinking busy, I am going to start something…first a conversation, then maybe a get together or two. I’ve met some amazing, incredible women already who are pretty excited about a group that is specifically focused on tempting women into technology entrepreneurship. I’ve started a Google Group.

(I should probably assume that it's past time I join that group as well, and for a technology entrepreneur, I suppose my excuse that Google has managed to totally confuse me by requiring I have different accounts for Google Maps API, Google Analytics, Google Adsense, etc. so that I don't rightly know which I'm supposed to use for a Google Group doesn't carry much weight -- though my general squeamishness regarding having monolithic third parties keeping and indexing all communications also reduces my enthusiasm towards joining. Call me another iconoclastic curmudgeon when it comes to privacy.)

There has been some discussion around the Deeply Geeky circles about this list, and other lists, but the focus of such talk has largely been on getting women invited to be speakers at conferences.

That's all fine and good, but I wonder at the implied assumption in many such discussions that female entrepreneurs as a matter of course should aspire to be public speakers. Maybe I'm just too much the non-extrovert, but I guess I have trouble equating accomplishment with being able to talk about accomplishment.

There's no doubt that mentoring is needed in technology, especially since the schools are so far behind on so many levels, and I agree that having eloquent and capable women doing public speaking can help the cause.

The question is how we can effect change in ways aside from holding the microphone at a conference. For women entrepreneurs, there are many ways, such as simply being an effective entrepreneur, a good manager, a mentor to one's employees, an evangelist of the company's values and mission.... It all seems obvious, and yet this is not enough when it comes to effecting real change. And I daresay adding more women speakers to conference panels isn't going to do much, either.

Shelley Powers suggests radical changes in our educational system:

This state isn't reflected just in the lack of women–it's programs like agile computing, which are trying to compensate for behavioral characteristics that we're finding out, now, cause more harm than good. Yet, the colleges gear their programs to people with these same behavioral characteristics. That's where we need to start. We need to completely change the curriculum of computer science in school. In fact, we need to eliminate computer science as a separate field....

...We spend our entire time focusing on the tools, rather than the application of the technology. We're still teaching computer science, as if no one has access to computers because they're still room sized and only available to an elite few.

13 Going on 30 Redux; or: Happy Girls Don't Do Careers

So last night I saw 13 Going on 30 on DVD, and while I enjoyed it, the movie left me in something of a funk. It took me a little while to figure out why. After all, the movie was funny, Jennifer Garner was really terrific -- what a shock that this is her first big comedic leading role in a feature! -- and the tone at the conclusion was uplifting. But I was just ticked off after the movie.

And then it hit me.

The really schmaltzy, supposedly romantic ending. That's what did it. That's what made the movie utterly depressing. Not because it was romantic, but, well....

Okay, here's the obligatory spoilers warning, for those of you who might want to spend the 5 bucks for the bargain DVD and check it out....

13 Going on 30 promo still
The movie goes fine, all the way through the sometimes very funny learning curve the now-30 year old "Jenna" has in catching up to her fabulously successful fashion magazine career, and continues on fairly solid light comedy footing all the way up through the point where Mark Ruffalo's character, "Matt," turns Jenna down and marries the other girl. They were childhood pals until the moment Jenna jumped from 13 to 30 years old. Apparently in the intervening years, Jenna had become a total bitch liar and backstabber, and Mark couldn't forget.

"I've moved on," he says. And for the movie, it's a powerful moment.

It's after this that the movie turns south. Jenna goes outside and in tears wishes herself back to 13 years old. She stays buddies with young Matt, and then 17 years later they get married and move into their pretty suburban house.

And I'm sorry, but that is just total bulloney. Or at least that's the part that I found so depressing!

After all, in life there are no do-overs. Sure, it's nice that Jenna gets to do over her life, but the real empowering ending would have been to see her move on, and rebuild her life despite the mistakes made in the past.

As it is, the movie gives the lesson that (a) a woman cannot succeed in a career without being a conniving witch, (b) if a nice girl slips through, she's backstabbed by some other conniving witch of a career woman, and (c) the only happy path for a woman is to never have gone into a career and instead stayed the sweet girl and married the childhood sweetheart.

The Devil Wears Prada smacks of a similar kind of message, though the movie (unlike the book) has the good grace to end on a little ambiguity as to whether our heroine really does choose her loser, jealous, spiteful boyfriend and other so-called friends over the career she's dreamed for. (Prada deserves a post of its own. Hopefully I can someday.)

What about the woman who wakes up to the awful life she's living, and remakes her life without ditching the career, without running to the boy, without flashing back to June Cleaver's kitchen?

Women kicking butt in Aeon Flux

Warning: Spoilers. (Not much, but hey, I warned you.)

So I saw Aeon Flux on DVD the other night. Given the mediocre reviews and lack of box-office love the film, um, enjoyed, I really didn't expect much. I wanted to see it mainly because of the production design I saw in the commercials. And because of Charlize Theron. And (okay okay) because I'm something of a scifi nut.

What I didn't quite expect was the heart of the story being driven by female characters. As you know, the norm in sci-fi movies is to have maybe a couple of interesting, perhaps powerful women who have their moments of personal power, but in the decisive cumination leave matters to the (male) hero. Not so in this movie. Aeon is unmistakeably the motivator of just about all the action here, and she's the one who comes through again and again, all the way up to the conclusion. (And, for the most part, the other major action characters are women as well.)

Charlize Theron brings a lot of presence to her performance. Her intensity practically leaps off the screen right at you. You can see it even in the NLE exports (i.e., raw out of the editing system) used in the making-of featurettes on the DVD. She doesn't phone in the performance, like some actors would in a similar movie, and she doesn't go for the easy campy out. She plays it straight, and as a result she carries this movie. Without her and the wonderful-yet-minimalist production values, this would be yet another forgettable B-movie you see only on the Internet Movie Database but never in the store, let alone theatres.

She's also astonishingly graceful in what is an extremely physical performance. I imagine the guys will appreciate her outfits even more. Very skin-tight, boys. But I thought more interesting was what she does, and how she does it. Aeon is a character of intention and purpose -- which, of course, is perfect for a story where all the certainties are not quite what they seem.

Still, first and foremost it's an action movie. The culmination isn't all that unusual. Explosions, guns -- lots of guns (though not the orgy The Matrix offers).

No, Aeon Flux is not a scifi classic. But it's a heckuva lot better than most of the stuff that passes for scifi on the big screen these days. And it's nice to see a women's vision of the future, without the usual phallic imagery and gizmo obsession. (I assume the fact that the producer, director, storyboard artist and star are women plays into that.) It's worth seeing, in my book.

Unfortunately, the website is yet another web 1.0 wonder, replete with Flash domination, un-asked-for music (so don't go there with your speakers turned up, or you'll rattle your monitor off the desk) and the usual brochure-ware offerings. If it weren't for some deliberate search-results skewing by Google, I doubt the site would even merit any pagerank. (Too many generations of website cloning, it seems. Wink wink. It'll make sense if you've seen the movie.)

Geeks not immune to cheesecake (or cheese)

Gina at misbehaving points to the Geek Gorgeous calendar, featuring rather cheesy shots of young women who, we're assured, are true computer geeks.

The little model bios are quite funny in this context--

Lilac, who started working as a programmer at age 16, is now a senior software engineer with an acronym-rich skill-set that includes Java, J2EE, EJB, JSP, JMS, PHP, ASP, ADO, SQL, XML, UML, J2ME, MIDP and more.

Not quite what you'd see on the flip of a Playboy centerfold.

Now that you've gone and looked, I'll say I join Gina in disappointment over the photography and art direction. It could've been so cool, soooo geeky! But while they obviously put some work into this production, the result isn't just cheesecake -- it's cheesy.

Liz Ditz writes on I Speak of Dreams that:

The creator of the calendar, Lilac Mohr, hopes that the proceeds from the calendar will be sufficient to fund "to start a self-sustaining scholarship fund for girls who want to study Computer Science in college."

I personally find that goal ironic for three reasons.

One is that the calendar is sufficiently risqué that I would not have it in a middle-school classroom, even an all-girls classroom. And middle school marks a gateway into science, math and tech careers (see below). So Ms. Mohr can't recruit middle school girls as purchasers of the calendar.

No, this doesn't seem to be designed to appeal to women much at all, but rather seems to be directed more at the reclusive guys who, let's just say, aren't involved much in the dating scene. Does Neta's Ph.D. research into " trust and reliance in automated decision aids, and is researching how the severity of the consequence of an incorrect action affects the operator's attitude towards and dependence on these aids" play much of a role in the erotic fantasy? Does Jim Bob swoon over Brooklynn's Pro Tools skills, or just their, um, visual metaphors?

(Liz points to some actual "organizations that are actually encouraging middle school girls to pursue careers in science and technology." Now that's hot.)

One can't help but notice the narrow range of complexions gazing out of the web page. And Jenny, the creative tech writer, wonders at the homogeneity of the whole look:

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of that kind of variety on GeekGorgeous.com. Sexy chicks are great; sexy AND smart chicks are better. But sexy, smart chicks who don't adhere to a conventional template of what Average Joe Slashdotter thinks is "sexy" or even "geeky" is the best of all.

But then, too, I'm sure they didn't make this calendar for me. My version would probably be a study of "What Not to Wear" befores and afters -- in my experience, it's a rare geek who can pull off the prOn pout with studied disheveledness with any style. Give me the slightly overweight and overworked senior network engineer who wears too-tight yoga pants, oversized sweaters, and ponytails. Or the newly-back-from-maternity-leave security manager who's gotten no sleep in 12 weeks and still has to manage the outcomes of 3 crises her first week back. Talk about people in need of some cheesecake overhauling.

Yes, because we know how us nerdy girls need some serious help if we hope to be properly objectified.


Get occasional email updates on what I'm doing (and not blogging about).

Powered by MailChimp

Subscribe to women