Elections 2012: Together, united

Dear Interent,

Last night, TheHusband and I sat glued to the television from 5PM forward to watch and wait for the election results. It was nail biting, in the beginning, as states with earliest closing times (and seemingly, the smaller electoral votes) started pushing numbers towards Romney, while the big states we knew would go to the President, like California, would not give results until much later. Then there is the, “What the fuck is happening in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio” panic as we waited for those polls to close and the polls to be tallied.

(As of 1AM, Florida still had not been called even though our brethren on the west coast were locked in. I fear Florida may still be counting this very minute!)

It was significantly after 8PM before we realized we had not had dinner, and food was ordered in. Pizza for him, sub (without cheese) for me. By the time we had fallen asleep, after pinky swears were given the results would not change when I woke up like the 2000 race, Mr. Romney had only just given his concession speech. It was 1AM. We were struggling to stay awake to hear the President’s victory speech, yet we ended up falling asleep with the lights on, TV blaring and I woke a few hours later to the dulcet tones of Rachel Maddow giving her analysis. It was after 3AM.

This morning when I woke up, the sun was shining and my vagina was still safe and it was a most glorious day. We had our first openly gay female senator, Tammy Baldwin, now in the upper chambers; The rape apologists, Akin and Mourdock, were both kicked to the curb; Elizabeth Warren is now in also in the upper chambers; same sex marriages is now legal in several more states. We are making small, but poignant and thoughtful steps, to get our country moving forward.

We will not be ripped back to 1954 or pre-1919.

This morning, however, I was dismayed to see commentary across the Twitters from various politicos/pundits in .uk and .eu espousing their opinions on America’s results. Fair enough, we’re fair game to that; $deity knows Americans love to twist the royals’ noses ever now and then. But what these commentators seemingly forget or are ignoring is that we’re fighting for the very things they take for granted, like socialized health care, education reform, and sexual equality. All they wanted to talk about is how they were “not for Romney” or “against Obama.” I’ve seen several who commented on the failure of “true leftism” since our policies and politics of what we refer to the left were not close to the European ideal. Don’t you think we know that already? Do you think we’re blind? If you want to compare specific policies, then sure, go ahead. But don’t preach about the general terribleness of US politics from your golden tower of (mostly) free national health care and nearly-free education. You don’t sound like you’re being constructive, you sound like an elitest asshole and terribly uninformed.

Do not mistake these steps we made last night as being insignificant or careless. Change is hard, even for a young country as ourselves. And I think as often as I forget how small some countries are, some forget how big the United States is, geographically, therefore how difficult it is to make everyone happy. My current favorite bit of trivia is England (so no Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland) is geographically half the size of Michigan. Imagine taking 50 Englands and getting them to agree on anything, for any specific amount of time, on any given topic. Can you then at least not understand how much of last night was definitely progress and less like a standoff?

I will end on this: The President is not perfect, and I’m not here extolling his virtues since there are some of his policies I do not agree on, but he is our President. He has put forth and started the beginning of change that will move this country forward and progressively. If you don’t like something about a policy, the government, or something in your community: Be the change. If you’re not in the US, then volunteer your work, time, or money to an organization that will change or move this country in the direction you think it should go in.

Get off your ass and do something.


P.S. The women are winning!

Uppity Women (NaNoWriMo Day #4)

Today’s word count: 507
Total word count: 1368

Dear Internet,

Note to self: A dinner of Lucky Charms, chased with a half bottle of Witches’ Brew, is probably not one of my more ingenious ideas.

I want to thank everyone for reading, sharing, and commenting on yesterday’s post. We’ve been having some really great conversations on Twitter as well, and I’m loving all the thoughtful commentary. The page is also been shared quite a bit across the social networks, which is also a bonus. Thank you to everyone for participating in this very important conversation.

While TheHusband is one of my biggest champions, he’s often one of the least likely ones to read my blog. This mostly has to do with how sporadic my updates have been over the last few years as compared to the last four days where this will be post #6. I also calculated the word count those posts are at about 5,000 words. My NaNoWriMo piece, well, not so much, but I’ll get to that in a second.

This morning while we were getting ready to head out for the day of errands, he seemed pretty excited by my story idea, which of course got me talking about what I wanted to do. We spent the better part of an hour with me verbally walking through some things about the story, what I liked, my ideas, what wasn’t working. We continued this later, over lunch, where we started drawing up an outline so that I could work from that.

His hypothesis was there were two types of writers in the world: Those who outline and need the skeleton before the flesh, and those who write and need just the flesh. (He listened to every episode of CBC Writer’s and Company from the last three years, thus the basis for his explanation.) He says my problem, or style, is that I write from the flesh AND I over edit. A paragraph could take me four hours. There is a beauty in that, for word precision is very important to me but that is obviously not going to work for NaNoWriMo.

To which I agree.

As we had left late in the morning, our errands were done by mid-afternoon, which would give me about six or so hours to write before Sunday night television kicked in. I was pretty excited about having that much time blocked off with all of my day’s chores done.

Except, I didn’t write. I read Facebook, Twitter, mailing list emails, Google reader and as well as wrote postcards. I had opened up Scrivener as soon as I sat at my desk and kept in running in the background, tabbing to it every so often to stare in petulance at it before tabbing back to whatever I was doing.

I even started answering the political robocalls.

But I wrote nothing.

Nearly every interview or piece I’ve ever read about writing, the author in question always, always, always mentions that in order to write, you must read. Read in your genre, your interests, outside your interests. Doesn’t matter, just read. A particular situation that worked in one story, could be tweaked for yours. As I noted in June , I knew I was depressed when I stopped reading or listening to music. I used to read 10 books a month, now I’m lucky if I will do that every six. I found when I started reading Game of Thrones this week, the connection to reading and writing became clear. Ideas were coming, sometimes fast and furious, as I traveled around Westeros. I got what those authors were throwing down.

(I’ve also read enough interviews of authors where they are often asked, “What are you influences/where do you get your ideas?” and they come off with a flippant reply that ideas are everywhere / from their brain / I make everything up or some other they-think-is-clever response. These authors, some very well known, are full of shit. You read, you get ideas, you make your own connections, you write. It’s cyclic. It’s simple. It’s not magic, no matter how much you want it to be.)

But today! Today after talking and walking through ideas, nothing came to pass. I was worried, I told TheHusband, for I started in one direction and now I have to change it fit this new theme. I’m even changing point of view (first to third) and that means I have to re-write everything. He argued with me, of course, for he said that you should continue in the new path and worry about the opening stuff later.

But I need to read what I have written in continuity to make sure it is making sense! He told me I was procastinating and sent me back to my desk.

I huffed in indignation like a three year old, grabbed my laptop, the notebook with story notes, and with Wednesday trailing behind me, came down to our dining room. Why I thought changing location, where TheHusband was arguing the Internet was possibly my real detrator, would help, I had no fucking idea. I thought perhaps liberal liquid lubrication would be helpful, so I uncorked a bottle of cheap wine and sat down.

And I began to write.

The take away from all of this: I need to develop a drinking habit to get things done.

There are a couple of things about this NaNoWriMo that are important to me: Finish a story, possibly in book form, write it in third person, and make it interesting. I know I can do this, I know that I want to do this, I need to stop allowing the oooh shiny from distracting me.

Or start visiting my local adult beverage store more often.


Why (white) men should not (mostly) write about gender disparity in technology

Dear Internet,

In 1994 or ’95, I started getting interested in computing and even more specifically, the INTERNET. This all stemmed from a class I took at the time  (taught by a woman) succinctly titled, “An Introduction to the Internet”; which would be all command line interface until the college installed Netscape .9 in the open computer lab later that year. Color. Photos. From. Finland. WOW.

That class changed my entire life.

I got my first paid gig doing tech support at a local ISP in 1996, which lead to another gig in San Francisco, which lead to other gigs that took me around the country. My last pure tech job was as an Senior Internet Systems engineer at UUNet/Worldcom, which I spent my days configuring routers, studying for the CCIE, and other network engineering fun things. As WorldCom was going through a bit of a rough patch, I took this as a sign to head back to university, finish my undergrad in English (where I had started nearly a decade prior) and figure out the rest of my life. I moved back to Michigan and started classes at Aquinas in January of 2003.

I completed my undergrad in the spring of 2005, my first masters in the spring of 2008, and my second masters in the spring of 2010.

None of my degrees have anything to do with computing or technology, which was very much on purpose. My creative brain needs a lot of hand holding while my technology brain does not. While there were gaps between my technology jobs (school and all that rot),  I’ve always kept my head wet by keeping up my interests. My current position is the perfect job for me since it combines my education AND my experience: I’m a systems and web librarian at a local college. All of my senses are tingly.

I’m giving you this background not because I think I’m unique in my education or my foray into technology, but to illustrate that I’ve been in the technological world for a very long time and I have very rich experience of being a woman in a man’s world. I knew getting into tech back in the early ’90s  women were not as dominant and they were just starting to get into the peripheral of the scene. When I went to Def Con in 1997, the number of women who were hackers at the time were just beginning to be as dominant as the ones who came along to support their partners. In the next couple of years, the more cons I visited, the more women were becoming an integral part of the scene and less like visitors from another planet.

As this is such a male dominated landscape, I’m no stranger to sexism or sexual harrassment that was and still is clearly abundant in the world of technology. This is the one constant that has not changed since that first class I took in 1994.

To wit, within the last week alone, two seperate vendors did the following:

  • One sent an email explaining that to turn on the server I had just received by documenting I had to push the big green blinky button
  • After explaining to the vendor I was going to use sudo for installation of Enterprise backup and walked him through the steps, he still explained what sudo was and why I needed to use it

This is in addition to my day to day life where sexism runs rampart, whether it is intended or not. Last week, the beer guy who kept talking to TheHusband about the deliciousness of beer when we picked up a bottle of Guinness Black even after I pointed out it was for me; the car sales people who kept approaching TheHusband when we were shopping for cars even after we pointed out I was not only the primary person driving but also the purchaser. The comic book store clerks (5 out 6 we’ve visited) who kept trying to suggest titles to TheHusband even when it was I asking to buy such and such issues. So forth, and so on.

For many men, most I would think, don’t even think they are being sexist. Some even think they are being helpful. Our culture is so ingrained that something designed as being very male (beer, car shopping, computers, comics) belongs to the male of the party, they  without thinking about it direct all conversation to the male even if it is the female who is inquiring. I’m betting that 9 out of 10 men do this unintentionally and subconsciously, there is no thought that what they are doing is sexist.

I’ve long come to accept this is part of my life, as my interests in male dominated areas (comics, technology, sci-fi/fantasy) continues to grow, so too will the sexism (unintended or not) continue on. I’ve developed a thick skin to the daily sexisms because fighting each and every turn is exhausting, and often futile. So I pick my battles when I can and fight on like a good warrior for these battles.

This is one of those battles.

Ealier this week, Roy Tennant, who writes at Library Journal’s The Digital Shift, published an article called Fostering Female Technology Leadership in Libraries.

I’ll wait while you go read.
I’m going to go make some tea while you’re going through the comments.
I may also start a new cross-stitch pattern while you’re going through that.

Are you back? Good.

Here are the problems I have with Roy’s article, and later his comments.

  • When pointing out his suggestions were just as sexist, or at the very least patronizing to the very people he was trying to help, he told me, the very type of person he was trying to help, I was wrong.
  • When giving him suggestions on how better to further the action or dialogue, he ignored them.
  • When several of us pointed out that as a white man, he had the utmost of privilege and that his suggestions were born from that privilege, unintentional or not, and ergo why his suggestions sounded patronizing even when he thought they were’t, he took that to mean we were attacking him personally even though we were attacking his argument.
  • Ditto for the number of times he keeps discussing how much of a feminist he is on this site and other social media as well as alluding his critics are off the mark. Let me point out once more  the criticisms have come from the very people he’s trying to help. No one is disputing your feminism Roy, we’re critiquing your proposed solutions and your dismissiveness of our experiences in your follow up commentary.
  • When I disputed that the experiences he was writing about were not the same I experienced, so he should not generalize, he said, “yet I’ve heard the opposite from other female colleagues — that such jokes create a hostile environment for women. For now, I’m still with them.”  The problem with this is you cannot expect special treatment for women (tampering down of jokes/commentary  in the work place) if you want to be equal. You can’t have it both ways. It has to apply to EVERYONE or apply to NO ONE. It is not equality if special considerations are made. This was the huge problem I had with this list, because tampering down jokes and being respectful to a woman should not just about women, it should be for all humans.

What really gets my goat, however, is Roy’s apparent ignorance of his own privilege on this matter as he keeps beating it around social media how much of a feminist he is, so he’s right and we’re wrong. It was pointed out to him in the comments that as a white male, he enjoys specialized treatment, which he may not even be aware of but as a white male he does certainly enjoy. He told the person,

Karen, the fact that you think you know me is laughable. Indeed I have “given up privilege” as you put it. For but one example, I voluntarily left the LITA Top Tech Trends panel to make way for the committee to add more women, a number of whom I nominated in the process, and subsequently when the panel at one conference was again male-heavy I complained about at the session. I notice that they’ve largely been better about it since.

So. Giving up privilege, to him, means he left a panel on a professional association. And then complained about it’s male dominatedness later on? And that’s it? This is supposed to make me feel better? Nothing here about his personal life. Nothing here about what he is doing at his own company to promote women in technology or in other very public spheres he’s active in. Because an empty seat on a panel for a small subset of the profession is so helpful to the rest of the female gender in getting them into technology?


Ultimately what is causing me the most frustration is what also makes me the most depressed. Here is someone who has power, who is known on a large scale in the profession, who can’t even acknowledge that his approach to this very worthwhile topic is perhaps not the way that it should be? That maybe, instead of labeling myself and others critical of his approach (again, the very same marginalized group he is attempting to promote) as his “attackers,” he could step back for a moment and at least acknowledge our commentary might have some substance?

(Bears repeating: No one is disagreeing this topic isn’t worthwhile. I am disagreeing with this execution.)

This fight for equality is not even close to being over yet, nor will it be even in my lifetime. However, the unfortunate part is that it is people like Roy, self-styled (white) male femimists, who have solidarity for our cause, who want to be supportive of our needs, are the very same ones who are often our worst detractors. I believe Roy genuinely thinks that he’s doing a very good thing by writing about this topic, even if I disagree with what he wrote. I also think this is why he’s so defensive of any critique of his actions because he thinks he’s doing something to help the downtrodden, how on earth can this even be remotely bad?

Do not ever be afraid to be critical of anyone, regardless of who they are, when they start discussing means and ways of experiences and feelings when it is clear they have no experience in what they are discussing. You, and only you, can own your experiences and feelings. Do not let others dictate how you should live.

Roy asked for ways to change this, which I gave him a list which was ignored. Here is more to add to that list if you want to support women in technology:

  • Donate to the Ada Intiative.
  • Start/chair an interest group for women in technology in LITA, the technology arm of ALA
  • Start a GeekGirl Dinner in your area.
  • Use Meetup.com to start/find groups in your interests (there were loads of Women in Technology interest groups on MeetUp).
  • Depending on where you work, what you do; start off-site initiative for women to have a hack-a-thon
  • Find local hacker space communities to start a women’s initiative
  • Use professional conferences to propose panels / groups / discussions to get more people aware but also to pay it forward
  • Create a women in tech book club at local bar/ coffee house
  • Donate time to do mentoring to high school and middle school girls
  • Donate to or become a sponsor for a nearby women’s conference, like GeekGirlCon

Wanting to bring a voice to a marginalized group is a very good thing, but dismissing the concerns or critiques of that same group when brought up to you is bad. Do not generalize your assumptions of women as a whole in a particular area (in this case, technology) because your sample of that experience will be small and it will not be representative of all voices. Do not presume, as a male, to know my experiences and also, to dictate how I should feel about them. I can only speak of my experiences in my life, I cannot speak for other women, but the broader, much larger vile act of sexism is very, very real. Everyday Sexism is documenting this in spades.

Once this is posted, I’m donating to the Ada Initiative. I welcome any civil, commentary on this topic but keep in mind any obnoxious trolling will be deleted.

Fight the good fight,

Edited: Nov 4: Added link to start a SIG at LITA in the to-do list