Tag Archives: technology

Married and Sexist

Inspired by Pax Dickinson’s horrendous NYMag interview about his sexist Twitter history and Robin Thicke’s GQ interview about the “Blurred Lines” video, I wrote about the venn diagram of being married and being sexist:

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After extensive research, I have concluded that you can, in fact, be both married and sexist. For more on that, check out my essay at Role/Reboot.

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Related Post: On marriage and skepticism

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Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!

Hello, Flo

True story, when I first got my period, I was staying at my friend’s house for the weekend and I didn’t tell anyone. I compensated with toilet paper for my first three cycles before woman-ing up and confessing.

floHave you all heard of Naama Bloom’s new start-up, Hello Flo? Think Shave Club for ladies; get your tampons and/or pads shipped to you every month. I kid you not, a few weeks ago, my friends and I were talking about this exact idea. We were going to call it The Time of the Month Club and it was going to make us piles of money. Covers of Fast Company awaited. Oh well! You snooze, you lose!

Anyway, it’s all good, because Bloom’s thing is pretty legit too, especially because of the stellar intro video starring Camp Gyno:

Things I like about this ad.

1. Frank use of words like “vagina,” and “menstruation.” Euphemisms are fun and all, but let’s also teach girls that hey, this is your biology, and it is normal, natural, and cool. No shame in calling it what it is.

2. Did you see the Camp Gyno hand the girl a tampon and a mirror? How legit is that? Look at yourself! Figure out how your shit is put together! If girls get familiar with themselves early, they will only be better equipped to advocate for themselves down the line, to insist on partners who respect their pleasure, and to live without genitalia shame!

Related Post: Vagina art for vagina love!

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Filed under Advertising, Gender

Everything is About Everything: New Media + Old Media

For book club, we recently read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a modern, bromantic, technologically-obsessed, Google-worshipping fantasy adventure in which millennial heroes and heroines are obsessed with the idea of Old Knowledge (aka OK). I’m kind of obsessed with Old Media (OM?), specifically it’s intersection with New Media (NM), and TBD Media (TBDM). I think this is a fascinating question:

OM + NM + TBDM = ?????

The combination of Old Media and New Media happens to be in vogue right now. If OM = books, TV, movies, music and NW = Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogging, etc., we already have lots of neat examples of these things working together. I’m having fun with mind-mapping right now, so….

mind map

Click to Enlarge

  • The Bling Ring – Sofia Coppola’s strange new movie about a band of overprivileged teenagers who break into celebrity homes uses screenshots of Facebook, sequences devoted to the taking of selfies, and texting as avenues to explore the meta “Pics or it didn’t happen” mentality of the youth (self included).
  • House of Cards – Netflix’ original (and now Emmy-nominated) political intrigue-a-thon incorporates on-screen text messages over images of characters in their own locales. Old school political mastermind Frank Underwood uses new school journalist Zoe Barnes to channel her demographic access into viral and conniving campaign messages.
  • Americanah – The new novel from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie  is about a young Nigerian couple who follow separate paths (her to America, him to the UK) before reuniting in Lagos decades later. The protagonist, Ifemelu, writes a blog about race from the perspective of a non-African-American black person that becomes famous. Excerpts from her blog are incorporated into the book, and her online presence is treated as a fundamental piece of identity (as many of us now consider it to be).

The real interesting question, of course, is what happens when OM meets NM meets TBDM. What is TBDM anyway? Well, it’s obviously things we haven’t even created yet. Will our media become more multi-sensory? Will we control the stories we watch or be actors in them? Will the idea of created media devolve so heavily that we’ll all just read/watch real life as it happens a la Truman Show? What do you think?

Related Post: Past experiments with mind mapping

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Filed under Books, Hollywood, Media

Sunday Scraps 107

Sunday106

1. GENDER: Dude writes for Quartz about adding a Mr. to his gender-neutral name and suddenly having doors open. Kind of a duh piece, but reassuring nonetheless.

2. BOOKS: Highly useful and equally addictive tool that recommends books based on other things you’ve read.

3. INTERWEBZ: Fun game from MIT where you map all of your email over all time and see how you email the most.

4. MERMAIDS: Excellent NYT essay from the excellent Virginia Sole-Smith on mermaid shows.

5. ART: Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls is awesome in her musical rebuttal to the idiotic Daily Mail who ragged on her for an exposed breast (NSFW).

6. MILLENNIALS: CNN.com comic by Matt Bors about why ripping on millennials is a) old news and b) boring.

Related Post: Sunday 106: Dustin Hoffman, Sex Ed, and Roxane Gay on a race-based VIDA test

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Filed under Art, Books, Gender, Media, Really Good Writing by Other People

What if instead of work trips to golf courses, we had yoga retreats?

My  new piece for Role/Reboot is about gender and the workplace. I work in tech, as you know, and there’s this phenomenon that I call the “treehouse mentality.” It’s basically like the old boy’s club, except replace brandy and cigars with video games and porn. It’s more juvenile, but it’s the same idea.

I kind of get it; for a while, tech has been this secret space of very smart, very nerdy dudes. Because they were so isolated, they were able to create a work environment that suited them perfectly. Now the treehouse is being invaded by girls (though not as fast as we might like) and they’re pointing at all the pictures of boobs on the wall and being all like, “Yo, guys, you’ve got to get rid of this shit.”

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On one hand, I understand; their secret space is being invaded. On the other hand, well, it was all theirs for a while, now it’s time to grow up and open the gates.

I was inspired by a great Bob Martin essay on the software company 8th Light’s blog called “There Are Ladies Present.” He writes about trying, and at first failing, to welcome women to the tech industry. He errs on the side of treating them too daintily, which they don’t like, and this essay is his exploration of where the lines fall:

Have we created a locker room environment in the software industry? Has it been male dominated for so long that we’ve turned it into a place where men relax and tell fart and dick jokes amongst themselves to tickle their pre-pubescent personas? When we male programmers are together, do we feel like we’re in a private place where we can drop the rules, pretenses, and manners?

Related Post: Brogramming

Related Post: I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg so you don’t have to

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Filed under Gender, Republished!

I’m Reading Sandberg So You Don’t Have To (But You Should)

leanYes, yes, I know, I know, Sheryl Sandberg’s book is too hip, too ubiquitous, too annoyingly in your face at every Best Seller table or airport book store “Recommended!” shelf. I, too, want to be too cool for school, want to march to the beat of my own drum, want to ignore what’s trendy in favor of what makes me a special unique snowflake.

However, sometimes the trendy thing is trendy for a reason. And sometimes, that reason is a good one. This is one of those times. You should read this book. I admit, I was skeptical. I admit, I was irritated by her perky demeanor, by her clear privilege, by her pat pieces of advice. I admit, I am a reluctant convert, but I am a convert nonetheless.

For my work book club, we are reading this book in chunks, and lucky you guys get to go along for the ride. So far, I have read the first four chapters. This is not a perfect book. It does not address every concern of every woman of every class and every situation, and that’s okay. I know it, now you know it, and most important of all, Sandberg knows it. Most of the criticism around her little personality cult is begins with “But what about women who…” (i.e. “But what about women who are working two jobs just to put food on the table?!”) This is not a book for them, and that’s okay, it’s not trying to be.

The other pushback she gets is that she puts too much emphasis on what women need to do differently, instead of on systemic and institutionalized sexism that needs to be changed. For those critics, I am just convinced they haven’t actually opened the goddamn book yet. Sandberg has her eyes wide open and she calls entrenched sexism when she sees it, which is all the time. Her point, which I agree with, is that we need a two pronged approach. Simultaneously A) Fix the broken shit (i.e. paid maternity leave like every other developed country in the worldor better yet, paid parental leave) and B) Do what we can to advocate for ourselves and our families at every turn.

But the most important thing I think Sandberg contributes to the conversation is the language to discuss the issues. We’ve added terms like “victim blaming”, “slut shaming,” “heteronormative,” “gaslighting,” etc. to the lexicon already, and these have helped us articulate what happens around us. Banging our fists in frustration has never worked. What Sandberg has done is compiled (and she gives credit where credit is due), a range of the underlying causes of the wage/work/ambition gap and distilled them into shareable, discussable, tweetable, referrable chunks.

So with no further preamble, a few of the concepts and vocabulary terms from chapters 1 through 4 that are worth sharing, discussing, tweeting, and referring to:

  • “The Social Penalty” – Men who display ambition and desire for power are rewarded professionally and personally. They are promoted more and admired more. Women who display ambition or desire for power are rewarded professionally but punished personally. They get promoted, but they are not liked. This “social penalty” is important because being respected and liked is what leads to the most success.
  • “Stereotype Threat” – When you tell people there’s a negative stereotype that applies to them, they tend to sink to it. If you remind a girl that “typically, boys are better at math,” she will actually perform worse than if you hadn’t said anything at all. If you ask kids to identify their race before a standardized test, even that small act of checking a box results in black and Latino kids performing worse if you hadn’t had them label themselves. If you tell a woman that “women are bad negotiators,” she will become a worse negotiator.
  • “The Imposter Syndrome” – Ever get to work and worry that people were realize you’ve been “faking” all along? That you’re not the expert people think you are, that you shouldn’t be in charge, that you tricked them into hiring you? Both men and women feel this way, but the difference is that women consistently underestimate their own abilities. This means we don’t apply for jobs unless we feel 100% qualified for the listed responsibilities, while men apply even when they’re only confident of 60% of the skills. The truth is, we all learn on the job, but sometimes we weed ourselves out of jobs we very likely could have done.
  • “The Gender Discount” – When you do what your gender is “supposed” to do, you don’t get credit for it. Women are “supposed” to be communal, so when we work well with others, that skill is discounted because it’s “natural.” When men work well in others, they are complimented for being a team player. Similarly, women who do coworkers a “favor” get significantly less thanks and respect then men who perform similar favors. For men, it is viewed as going the extra mile, while women are just acting like women (You know how women are, amirite?)
  • “Relentlessly Pleasant” – Given the social penalty described above, one of the most successful strategies for women to navigate work place situations (especially controversial, confrontational, or challenging ones) is to be “relentlessly pleasant.” Always be smiling, always be asking for what you want. Do not let up on either front. Take note of this one the next time you are asking for a raise or a promotion. You need to be persistant while also being liked. Good luck!
  • “Tiara Syndrome” – Women expect good work to be noticed and rewarded. They don’t want to have to ask for praise (because, as we’ve seen, being demanding or ambitious has a personal cost for women that it does not for men). While waiting for their work to be noticed, their male peers have forwarded “kudos” emails to their bosses, have asked clients to recommend them, have told their bosses about their positive reviews. You are not being judged on the quality of your work. You are being judged on the quality of the work your boss sees.

Phew, that was a lot! And only in four chapters! I want to reiterate again that Sandberg is never claiming it is “fair” that such discrepancies in perception and attitude exist, only that they do. The question then is, how to address them? For me, it will mean handing this book to my excellent (male) boss as soon as I’m finished. Any man that manages women should be reading this.

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Filed under Books, Gender

“Think Like a Man” and other Silly “Pinned” Things

I like Pinterest. I have a pretty “Books to Read” board, a “Gifts” board, and the obligatory food porn in row after glossy row. In addition to the double peanut butter choco-chunk rice-crispified ding dong sticks, Pinterest also facilitates the sharing of stupid shit (much like the whole internet). My dear friend (another Emily), has sent me her pet peeve that was the latest recipient of unnecessary pinning frenzy:

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Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss. Oy vey. People repin stuff like this everyday without giving it a second thought. Though it headfakes towards pithy and witty, in reality it’s a rather convoluted, offensive, heteronormative piece of sexist bullcrap. If you were to rewrite this as most people interpret it, it would read “Be pretty, don’t be slutty, men are smarter, work hard.” That last bit is fine, I suppose, but the rest of it is all kinds of dumb.

Let’s start with “Look like a girl.” What do girls look like? would tell you they look all kinds of ways (tall, short, thin, fat, short hair, long hair, busty, flat-chested, mostly, they look like humans). Believe it or not, sometimes girls even look “like boys,” and that’s okay! If you like sweater vests, combat boots, men’s overalls, basketball jerseys, ties, jumpsuits, mohawks, hairy armpits, or clown costumes, it really, really, really doesn’t make you any less of a girl.

Act like a lady. What do ladies act like? Some of them are bold, some are quiet, some are aggressive, some are shy, some are boisterous, some are polite, some are demanding, some are sweet, some are mean…. I could go on as long as I can keep thinking of adjectives. But what do we usually mean when we say “act like a lady?” Don’t be slutty. Don’t be pushy. Don’t make a scene. Don’t make people uncomfortable. Don’t be a bitch. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t question the standard quo. Don’t ask for what you want.

Most obviously problematic is the directive to “Think like a man.” How do men think? If we’re supposed to mimic them, the implication is that they think better than women. Why is something so blantatly sexist so appealing for women to post all over the most female-dominated social network of all time? Are we really that self-hating?

“Work like a boss.” This is just douchey, and sounds like something Ryan Lochte would say, but it isn’t really sexist so I’m not going to bother addressing it.

Look like a human, Act like a good human, Think to the best of your ability, Work like a boss. Fine, we can keep the last one.

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Filed under Gender, Media

Apps for Bootycalling?

This week for Role/Reboot I “reviewed” a new Facebook app called “Bang with Friends.” In theory, it’s a discreet way to figure out which of your friends are down to hook up with you. In practice, I found it to be a quick reminder of why you don’t sleep with your friends.

I tested it with a willing friend, just to see what happens. We indicated we were down to bang each other (literally, the button you press per friend is “Down to bang!”), which opened up a little mini-messaging conversation that went like this:

Me: Hey baby, let’s get a little more comfortable. 

Me: I would never write that. That’s what this silly thing made me do.

Him: mmmm, sounds good.

Me: gross. 

If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on Bang With Friends, casual sex, secret admirers, and FWB relationships, read on:

Will A New App Reinvent The Booty Call?

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Filed under Gender, Republished!, Sex

You get no points if you don’t do the work

HackerSchoolWomenLast week, I wrote about a tech event I attended that threw some lip service towards the lack of ladies in tech but didn’t bother to address the “how”*. Wouldn’t it be great if there were more female engineers? Why yes, that would be awesome! Look, we’ve done our part! Hoorah! Pats on the back for all!

Oh wait, no… you mean we’re not there yet? This is like telling your friends you’re going to run the marathon and congratulating yourself on your commitment to fitness without ever actually setting foot on the treadmill. When the race rolls around and you’re not pounding the pavement, you don’t get kudos for having preemptively promised to do something before you realized how hard it was going to be. If you want the points, you have to actually do the work.

So who is doing the work? This week, two excellent examples landed in my internet-lap of companies and organizations that are not just nodding along but are actually putting their money behind these initiatives. Dev Bootcamp is hosting a one-day workshop in Chicago next week for aspiring developers. 60% of the participants are female. However did they accomplish this? On their blog, they itemized a few of the small things they did to encourage this split. For example:

1) One of the instructors is female, they listed her name first on the invitation

2) The first 24 hours, they publicized exclusively through female dev networks.

3) Yoga is part of the day-long program.

The event is not specifically for women, but some of these easy changes made it explicitly clear that this environment will be the opposite of hostile to female students. By reaching out directly to female networks first, Dev Bootcamp is saying, “Yes, this is for you! Come! We want you here!” as opposed to, “I guess we won’t complain if a few of you find your way here by accident…”

You all know Etsy, right? The CTO of Etsy is a guy named Kellan Elliot-McCrea. The video below is kind of long (18 minutes), but I’d say it’s worth it. It’s his presentation on a) why a diverse technical team is important, and b) how Etsy went from 4 to 20% female engineers, and I found it super inspiring.

As for why it’s important, Elliot-McCrea cites research on how teams with cognitive diversity create stronger products. He also points to research that shows upcoming classes of computer scientists out of top universities have more and more women (40% out of Harvard in 2013). If you’re not actively recruiting female talent, you will miss out on the top tier. As for the “how”, you might be familiar with the Etsy Hacker Grants. By funding female candidates at Hacker School’s summer program, Etsy was able to groom engineers for their teams and strengthen potential candidates with targeted learning. The funding for their grants is an expense, certainly, but as Elliot-McCrea points out, it often costs $10K or $20K in recruiting efforts to land talented engineers anyway. If you’ve decided diversity is important, as Etsy did, then the question is how you target your funds to get the most bang for your buck.

Anyway, his talk is good. Watch it.

*To their credit, the Technori guys read my critique and have reached out to discuss further. I don’t think they’re pleased with the trolls either.

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Filed under Gender

Oh Hey! An Example of Sexism in Tech

Earlier this week I went to a Chicago tech event called Technori Pitch. A keynote speaker addresses his or her expertise for twenty minutes and then a series of start-ups do five minute pitches on their apps and sites followed by Q&A. Harper Reed, the Chief Technology Officer for Obama for America, was the keynote, and his semi-celebrity presence drew a larger, louder crowd than average.

Reed kept it pretty high-level, with pithy slides and an emphasis on practicing failure over and over again because, as he put it, on Game Day:

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One of his last big plugs was to encourage everyone in the audience to work towards bringing more women and more non-Asian minorities in tech. He got big applause. I rolled my eyes, not because I dispute the sentiment, but because awareness of the disparity is only step one and Harper had just finished telling us how the first 25 people he hired were from his personal network. Do you know what happens when white guys with hipster beards hire from their personal networks? They get 25 white guys with hipster beards. Nothing against you guys, but it’s hard to take a plug for diversity too seriously when you just demonstrated exactly why it’s hard to do.

Anyway, that’s not the point, nor is it the sexism I referenced in the title of this post. The format of Technori Pitch allows the audience to anonymously ask questions via an app, and then vote up the questions they’d like the moderator to ask the pitchers. The second pitch after Harper left the stage came from a pair, one man and one woman. These were three of the questions that were voted up.

Are You Single?

What’s your accent, guuuurl?

What’s your accent, guuurrl? (don’t delete this!)

To his credit, the moderator ignored these questions, so the woman presenting may never know they were asked. But seriously, guys? Harper’s point was that you need to work to create a workplace that is not hostile to perceived outsiders. That means treating them like you treat anyone else (which hopefully, is with respect). Calling an adult woman “girl” is not respectful. Asking about relationship status instead of focusing on her work product is not respectful. Declining to treat her pitch as a serious business exercise (as you did everyone else’s) is not respectful. In short, your questions demonstrated exactly the kind of hostile environment Harper Reed just finished warning you about.

There was one black presenter, would you ask in the anonymous questions “Are you good at basketball? Can you dunk? Are you a rapper in your spare time?” Of a gay presenter, would you ask “Are you a top or a bottom? Do you like fashion? Will you be my gay best friend?” Man, I really hope not. In a workplace, the quickest way to make someone feel like an outsider is to point out all the stereotypes attributed to whatever facet of them gives them outsider status. If you’re the “only” in a room, whatever you’re the only of, it’s hard enough feeling like your work represents the work of your whole demographic bloc, without facing asinine questions or shooting down ridiculous assumptions.

Related Post: Brogramming

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Filed under Chicago, Gender