OH Girls

September 6th, 2013

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The Open Hardware Summit has always been an outlier in gender balance at a tech (especially hardware) conference. Maybe because the founders and many of the organisers are women, or maybe the topic draws more women.

Phoenix Perry, game developer, author, and woman, gave a talk at the summit on building a female developer community. Slightly off topic, as it was on video game development and not on hardware development, but still relatively well received. She had collected some particularly problematic tech ads such as this one:


There are several flavours of arguments you hear in favour of not doing anything about things like this, e.g. “system administrators are all men, so having a server ad targeted at men is not unreasonable”, or “if it bothers you, why don’t you just ignore it?”, or “women LIKE attention”, or “there is this woman (e.g. Sheryl Sandberg) who does FINE in this environment” etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Sometimes people seem to argue that we should all be gender blind, which I don’t understand at all because gender is a large part of our identities and not something we can simply pretend doesn’t exist. Thinking we can be gender blind at all also holds the inherent assumption that there is such a thing as gender neutrality. See in this category the Marissa Mayer school of thought.

So I enjoy talks that acknowledge gender and question our attitudes. But then in her talk, Phoenix Perry explained that she started some kind of women-only tech learning space, for women to teach women about computer science and other gaming related things. Why the us vs. them dichotomy?

So a little after this talk, I went to the bathroom and found a hand-scrawled invite to an Open Hardware Women’s dinner:


No +1s! Women only! Can’t help thinking there is some heteronormativity in this sign. Also, too bad you can’t read my THAT’S EMASCULATING sticker in this photo.

If I decided I was only going to work with women, I would have to stop working with my entire research group. It seems counterproductive to go work on some resource-scarce island instead of trying to change the whole world to be more gender aware. Which can’t happen if only women are trying to make it happen.

But I suppose buying dinner for all ~1000 attendees of the Open Hardware Summit would have been a lot more expensive than buying dinner for ~50 women who came to the dinner.

Anyway, it was fun. As you can see from this terrible photo, when women get together all we do is have pillow fights, sing into our hairbrushes, and practice french kissing:


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