How Being Female Affects My Strategy As A Writer

If you’re in the speculative fiction field you know about the recent controversy surrounding SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Of America). This has me questioning if women are really invited to the professional writers’ table, and if so, whether we get to sit with the grownups.


Female writer Gabrielle says, “You USED my SCROLL?!?!?!”

Specifically, recent issues of the SFWA Bulletin (their official publication) contained sexist language combined with stereotypical “sexy girl in unrealistic armor” cover art. You can read more about it here:

As a female writer, this has my attention. I write fantasy fiction as well as nonfiction about technology. For the past several years my goal has been to publish at least one story in a venue that would qualify me for minor status in SFWA. Now I wonder if my gender has been killing my chances, and what other women writers are doing about this dilemma.

SFWA is THE professional organization for writers of speculative fiction. Not being in SFWA hinders my ability to succeed in this field (I measure “success” as “get published more than once and develop a healthy readership”).

And it’s not just genre fiction. I have similar problems with tech writing, too. I guess women are supposed to be penning poetry about teacups instead of doling out advice on cloud storage security. Oops, my bad.

How Being Female Affects My Writing Strategy
I try to submit to publications with female editors. Why? Because I hope they will be more likely to take a chance on another woman. I didn’t start doing this consciously, but once I realized it, it became part of my strategy. Of course, you also have to make sure you’re submitting to an appropriate venue, that you understand manuscript format, that you’re following the guidelines… but for me, gender equality has become equally important. I don’t want to submit to (or, heaven forbid, get published by!) a misogynistic publication.

I also look for publishers who publish women writers, and who have women on staff. As in, more than one and allowed to sit in the big chairs. That seems so basic as to be ridiculous, but again, it subconsciously became part of my research process. If they don’t hire women, they’re not likely to publish women. The search for potential misogyny/unfriendliness has become a not insignificant part of my strategy for both fiction and nonfiction.

As you can imagine this takes additional time and effort, not to mention reducing the number of possible places where I could be published. As a freelancer, more overhead + less potential clients = less paying work. (Good thing I’m not expecting to make money as a fantasy writer… but it hurts on the tech side.)

What Can Women Writers Do?
I’m disappointed, but not surprised. It’s a corollary of my experiences as a woman in IT – less raises, less chances for promotion, less opportunities to work on the high-profile projects. For some time I’ve wondered if my obviously-female name alone is hurting my chances. Maybe I should write under a pseudonym? Worked for D.C. Fontana.

But I don’t want to be an androgynous writer. I am a FEMALE writer. I want to be in a group like SFWA because I want to network with like minds, polish my skills, learn new things from new people… but not if they’re deliberately hopping on the misogyny train. I never thought SFWA was like that until this latest debacle. Not being in it, I’m not sure if I was naive or if this is just an aberration.

I’m disinclined to think such things are mere aberrations, however, because holy Captain Grace Hopper in a handbasket, shit has been BAD for geek women lately! Harassment at cons. Harassment on the job. Harassment in online comments. Rape and death threats for any female who speaks out. And apparently a professional organization like SFWA doesn’t have our backs either? What century is this? What the heck is an aspiring female writer to do?

Some female members of SFWA have chosen to leave. Some are giving it another chance. Many are sharing their experiences with sexism in the field. All are doing so knowing that it could permanently affect their professional careers. (That’s food on the table, people.) As a newbie I find myself at a crossroads because, as Ann Aguirre said in her thought-provoking blog on her own experiences with misogyny in speculative fiction:

My professional work shouldn’t be impacted by my gender, my appearance, my religion, my sexuality, my skin tone, or any other factor. The fact that it is? Makes me so very sad.

And as Patty Jansen expressed in her blog about why she’s giving SFWA another year:

Our genre needs and deserves a decent professional organisation, dammit. Since there are no viable alternatives, THIS IS IT.

THANK YOU To The Women Who Continue To Write
I want to give a big shout out to all the women out there, talking about this, putting up with personal attacks, dealing with the utter filth they receive in comments and on social media, all so that they can continue to write the stories that are sitting on my bookshelf. Thank you. A million times. THANK YOU.

Personally I’m not sure I want to be a member of SFWA anymore. (Easy to say – I don’t have the publication credits to qualify, at this point.) But this isn’t specific to SFWA. I’m not sure I want to be a member of ANYTHING if it’s going to turn into a sexist slugfest. And it stinks not knowing whether the rejections I’ve received mean that I need to polish my work more… or that I’m committing the grave error of Writing While Female.

Meanwhile SFWA has an updated announcement which defines their strategy for dealing with this situation – starting with an immediate hiatus of the Bulletin until improvements can be made. This, I like. This tells me somebody’s taking the matter seriously… unlike, for example, when Microsoft does its sexist thang and then shrugs and walks away. But still… once bitten, twice shy…

I would love to hear from other writers. What’s your strategy? Is this SFWA thing just a hiccup? Are there other organizations/publications more friendly to women? Should we just give up and go back to scratching stories in notebooks that get shoved in drawers, as some might prefer? Or should we wait it out and see if the atmosphere becomes friendlier to geek women in the future? And how might we help make that happen?


Star Trek Into Darkness: Where Did All The Strong Starfleet Women Go?

uhura-originalStar Trek has always been about achieving your fullest potential no matter your race, gender, creed, or pointiness of ears. Which is why the utter lack of strong women in Star Trek Into Darkness is a slap in the face to all the outstanding female Star Trek characters we’ve met over the years.

Spoiler alert, Captain!

We like Star Trek because it has strong women. Gene Roddenberry’s original pilot had one of the series’ strongest women in Number One, its first officer. Although this was too much in the 1960s for chauvinistic network execs, the series slipped one over with Uhura, whose short skirt belied her intelligence, wit, and talent.

That’s why I’m saddened to see Nu-Uhura reduced to lip quivering and teary eyes as her primary means of communication. In STID she exists solely to express Spock’s emotions for him, so we can see he is a Deeply Troubled Vulcan.

STID-uhuraHer one big chance to shine is when she says, “You brought me here to speak Klingon, so let me speak Klingon.” I’m waiting for her to grab a phaser, because isn’t that how you speak Klingon? No, she’s going to talk to them and offer help. From what I understand, in most Klingon provinces that gets you quickly dead. This scene could have been full of an awesome Uhura kicking some serious ass while still using her brains and her linguistic skills. Instead she acts like it’s her first day on the job.

Even worse, however, is Carol Marcus. In one stroke of a misguided scriptwriter’s pen, this woman has gone from scientific powerhouse to Daddy’s little girl whose only role is to scream as if she’s in a 1950s B-movie.

twok-carol-marcusThe original Carol Marcus battled the Federation and Starfleet for control of her research project. Her team was so dedicated that they willingly underwent Khan’s torture so she could escape with the Genesis Device. (The original suave creepy Khan, not the “I’m too sexy for my coat” Nu-Khan.) She was not a woman to take crap from anybody, least of all Jim Kirk.

STID-carolThis Carol Marcus is supposedly an advanced weapons scientist, but for an advanced weapons scientist she sure doesn’t seem to know much about fighting, or tactics, or… well, much of anything other than how to keep her blonde hair looking perfect in the lens flare. She spends the pivotal moments of the movie either screaming or whining at her Daddy about what a meanypants he is. Or displaying her underwear. Can you picture Bibi Besch doing this?

Didn’t Dr. Marcus go to Starfleet? Don’t they have training on things like torture and not letting a little ol’ shattered kneecap get you down? And why is she helping McCoy at the end? I thought she was an advanced weapons scientist, not a medical doctor. Or is her only function at this point to pass test tubes to McCoy and tell him how brilliant he is, as Jo Grant once described her role as the Third Doctor’s assistant?

(Although… it would have been hilarious to have Uhura and Carol kidnapped by transporter while Quinto’s Spock yells: “THE WOMEN!!!!”)

To me, Uhura and Carol Marcus were the biggest disappointments in this movie. They could have been so much better and instead they were relegated to stereotypical, subordinate roles. What happened to the Starfleet of the future, where women like Janeway and Kira kick as much ass as the men?

This is not a Starfleet that will develop a Borg Queen-defeating Janeway. She’ll be designated some desk job at Starfleet HQ where her talents are wasted while lesser officers are promoted simply for being male. That is the universe we saw in Star Trek Into Darkness: a projection of today’s rampant misogyny codified by girls who sob or scream for help instead of relying on their own talents.

The amusing one-liners, the original series shout-outs, and the special effects weren’t enough for me to like this movie, and I have been to every Trek premiere since Trek IV. I went into STID wanting to like it. I enjoyed the first one, even though I wasn’t happy with some of the directions it took, because at least it was different and didn’t simply copy the original. And, for the first three-fourths of Star Trek Into Darkness, I thought, optimistically, that we would get more of that. Instead it degenerated into a wild-eyed mess that wasn’t even worthy of a second-season TNG montage episode.

Do better, Star Trek. As T’Pol told Hoshi, you’re capable of it.


A Grownup Gamer’s Guide To Kids And Video Games

kids-internetAs a tech support specialist I’m often asked about kids and video games. To a non-tech-savvy parent, the world of video games is as confusing as a foreign language. What are they playing? With whom are they playing? Are they safe online?

So I wrote this guide as both a parent and a gamer. And what I’ve learned is that you don’t need to protect your kids from video games – you need to protect them from the violent video game culture.

Are all video games violent?

No, as those of you who play Words With Friends know. Some video games are fine for kids. I would even go so far to say that some video games are good for kids, and I’m one of those annoying parents who won’t let her kids have “screen time” except on weekends.

You may be interested in Seymour Papert’s book The Connected Family which discusses how families can benefit and learn from technology in positive ways. I like the Lego series, for example, because it encourages cooperative play and problem-solving. Little Big Planet does, too. Even good old Sonic has his place – there’s nothing wrong with letting your kids run a little hedgehog around mazes collecting rings. Studies have shown that playing video games has a relaxing quality to it, producing the same sorts of brainwaves as in deep meditation.

But I’m not about to let my kids play Bioshock Infinite or Call of Duty. Just as I would recommend your kids watch Doctor Who (TV-PG) but not Game of Thrones (TV-MA) even though I watch both, I wouldn’t recommend your kids play the more violent video games out there. It’s a matter of appropriate content.

How can I find out if games my kids are playing are appropriate?

Read up on the titles they like. A web search for “(name of game) parent guide” will bring up the info you need.

You can also go by the ESRB rating on the cover. These work just like movie and television ratings. There’s a nice ESRB Ratings Guide you can use as a reference.

How do I tell my kids that I don’t want them to play a particular game?

Don’t be afraid to say no. If you’re not sure if a game is appropriate, watch them play it. You might even play it with them! Your kids may try to tell you “everybody’s playing this” but I assure you, and them, that they can find games that are just as fun to play without the gore and violence. There are some things that simply have to wait until you’re an adult, and mature-rated video games are in that category.

Can kids talk to strangers through video games?

Yes. These games often involve speaking to other players via headset (voice) or in-game chat (text). That other player could be the kid next door, or some creep halfway across the world.

So how can I let them play with friends but not with strangers?

Um… you don’t, not if they’re playing a multiplayer game across the Internet. Most throw all the players into one big electronic arena. That’s why supervision is essential; it’s like letting your kid loose in a big city without a grownup.

You can, however, run your own game by connecting multiple consoles on your own network (called a LAN party; LAN means Local Area Network). That’s much safer because you know exactly who is playing, but you physically have to get together – oh no, human interaction!

What is the “violent video game culture” you mentioned?

You’ve probably heard of rape culture thanks to the recent high-profile cases that have been making the news. There has been a backlash in the geek community over geek women and the inappropriate comments and situations we often have to face. When geek women complain over sexist remarks in professional settings, we are frequently vilified and even harassed both on the Internet and in real life. It’s a sad state of affairs and, while many people are fighting against this, it is still a very real risk.

You can find more here:

As you can see this culture of misogyny and harassment is widespread in certain violent video game circles. In short, there are people out there who get their kicks through cyberbullying and continual harassment. This is not something to which you want to expose your kids.

How can I make playing video games both fun and safe for my kids?

Encourage your kids to play in a safe, supervised environment. Why not set up a rotating Game Night or LAN party with other parents? The kids can play the games that they enjoy, and you know they’re really playing with friends and not random Internet creeps. Who knows… you might even find yourself wanting to join in!

How do I set up parental controls for video games?

All modern gaming consoles have parental control features. Here are instructions for some of the most popular consoles.

On a computer, you can use the built-in parental controls for Windows and Mac, or you can use a third-party service like Norton Online Family (works on PC, Mac, and mobile devices). Bear in mind that parental controls can be bypassed by a savvy kid. If you really want to lock down your network, you can configure your router to block games. You’ll have to look at your specific router’s instructions for that.

How can I make my kids understand the importance of video game safety?

Your kids will probably feel betrayed that you don’t want them to play certain games anymore. They don’t understand why Lego Star Wars is okay but Bioshock is not.

Explain why these changes are necessary for their protection. Visit sites like NetSmartz together. Talk about online dangers and what they can do to avoid them. Explain that you’re going to follow video game ratings just as you do TV and movie ratings. (Put the onus on the ESRB, they won’t mind.)

Meet your kids halfway. Ask to join them in their world of video games so you can see what intrigues them about it. You might be surprised to find you enjoy video games yourself. There’s nothing wrong with Mom or Dad enjoying a game night of their own.

Speaking of which, the number-one question I get about video games is:

Wait… you’re an adult and you play video games? Why would an adult want to do that?

Why do adults like any hobby? Because it’s fun and stimulates the imagination. Many of today’s games are more like novels than arcade shoot-em-ups. You’re missing some good stories by not playing video games. (I’m thinking specifically of Dragon Age and Mass Effect, if you want to know. But there are many others.)

I’ve noticed that, for adults, video games are classified as socially acceptable or not acceptable. If I mention that I play FarmVille (which I don’t, simply because it’s not my cup of tea), that is socially acceptable. If I mention that I play Tales Of Graces (a Japanese fantasy role playing game) that’s not acceptable.

Part of it is that most non-gamers aren’t familiar with the latest titles. But another part of it is that grownups playing anything beyond a select few games is apparently weird. I don’t get that, but I never stopped playing video games. I’ve been gaming continuously since the days of my Atari 2600 and I still do so today.

Do you have questions about kids and video games? Ask in the comments!

How Tech Companies Can Market To Women Without Looking Like Idiots

grumpycat-boothbabesThis year’s CES 2013 didn’t disappoint when it comes to advertising technology via scantily clad women and sexist ads. I’ve composed a handy guide for tech companies on how they can do a better job with TEH LADEEZ.

Don’t talk down to women about technology
We might understand it better than you do. If your spiffy new ultrabook has twelve gigabytes of RAM, say, “Our spiffy new ultrabook has twelve gigabytes of RAM.” Don’t say, “It’s got plenty of room for all your family videos.”

Don’t base your product’s selling point on its looks
I’m not buying your phone because it’s pink. I’m buying it because it does what I want. If you patronize me by covering it in pastels and flowers, I am much more likely to walk out the door and buy your competitor’s plain black phone instead.

Don’t dumb down the technology
Believe it or not, some women actually use the full processing power of their computers. If the only difference between the women’s and men’s version of your product is that one of them is pink with a processor that couldn’t power a toothbrush, go back to the drawing board.

Don’t use booth babes and dancing girls
The only “booth babes” we want to see are female employees of your company, dressed professionally and ready to answer technical questions. You’ll gain far more customers by demonstrating that your company is friendly to women than by associating your product with naked girls in bodypaint. Trust me, your female employees will be REALLY happy that they don’t have to spend yet another expo cringing and apologizing.

Don’t use sexual innuendo in your advertising
It’s not cute. It’s degrading and it implies that your company is full of juvenile twelve-year-olds who still giggle at penis jokes.

Don’t tell us how your product will help us get our shopping done
We’d rather know if it supports NFC and how long the battery charge will last. Oh, and whether or not your system is vulnerable to malware (looking at you, Android).

Do ask us what we want
We’re happy to tell you what technology interests us as women, but you need to ASK US. Don’t assume. Study the mistakes of other companies and put measures in place to avoid similar incidents. Pay attention to what goes on in the world of geek women. Refuse to participate in conferences that don’t include women speakers or anti-harassment policies. Speak up when sexism occurs at conferences or online. Refuse to stand by while women are subjected to online harassment that threatens them with rape and murder. Hire female employees and make sure you’re cultivating a corporate culture where their opinions and efforts are equally valued.

Do you have any tips on how tech companies can market to women without looking like idiots? Share in the comments! (Remember, comments moderated against spambots. Trolls, flamebait, and other shenanigans will not be posted.)


Fake Geek Girls? You Think Women WANT This Job?

Apparently the science fiction community is being flooded – FLOODED, I TELL YOU – by fake geek girls: women with insufficient geek cred who are only pretending to be geeks for the attention.

Say what? Being a female geek is a tough job thanks to the cretins who are put out that female geeks won’t, well, put out. Do you really think it’s likely that women are going to volunteer for this?

Do you think women are lining up waiting for their big chance to struggle with an uphill career? Face sexual harassment at cons? Get stalked online? Be treated like a maidservant or a cuddlebunny or an NPC instead of a peer of equal knowledge and experience?

Women aren’t supposed to be able to fix computers or name all 79 original episodes of Star Trek. It goes against the natural order of geekdom. The genre that prides itself in being “strange and unusual” thinks it’s too strange and unusual to include women.

What’s interesting is how certain levels of female geekdom, over time, have become reluctantly tolerated. I can remember when being a female Doctor Who fan was considered weird. Today, girls are allowed to be Whovians because it’s assumed they’re only doing so to watch David Tennant’s rear. (Clearly ridiculous. We’re ALL in it to watch David Tennant’s rear. Matt Smith’s, too.)

Similarly, girls are permitted to like comic books, but only if they emit the pre-requisite cooing over Loki and dress in provocative superhero cosplay for the benefit of the men around them.

As a geek woman, I like what I like and it just so happens that most of it is geeky. I didn’t start reading Hitchhiker’s Guide so I could impress my boyfriend. I haven’t spent 20+ years in technology because Windows is soooo cute when it crashes.

The idea that women would willingly subject themselves to the misogynistic crap that comes standard with female geekdom seems unlikely at best. Somehow I can’t picture a woman secretly fine-tuning her knowledge of python or Cerebus just so she can bask in the attention. Because the attention she’s likely to get is going to be negative – “You can’t like that, it’s for GUYS!”

Most female geeks I’ve met don’t want male geeks to know the extent of their geekdom. They hide it, because once people find out you’re a female geek, you’re never good enough.

Like when a male geek finds out that you, a female geek, like something he likes. Then you get subjected to the big interrogation – Which episode did this happen in? Who guest starred in season 2? How many spaceships are in the background in such-and-such scene? You have to prove that you REALLY know your geek in order to be accepted as a geek, and even then you’re never truly accepted.

It’s the same in IT. Women in technology are constantly having to prove we know our stuff even better than the men do. Yet we still have to put up with the doubt expressed by those around us: Why are you here? What makes you think you belong?

Geekdom is the love of something you’ve found, the adoration that makes you cry out to everyone around you, “YES! This is an AWESOME THING and you must experience it!” Why is that okay for men and not for women? And why are female geeks so threatening that some feel the need to invent the idea of “fake geek girls” so that any women who claim geekdom can be readily dismissed as Not Geek Enough?

Here are some blogs from people who are talking about fake geek girl syndrome and what it represents. Food for thought.

What do you think of the fake geek girl phenomenon?

image via I Can Haz Cheezburger

Ada Lovelace Day 2012: Saluting The Unsung Women In Technology

This week we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, in honor of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Around the world today, people are talking about women who have inspired them.

I wish to dedicate my post, not to one specific person, but to all of you unsung women out there who are slogging through careers in information technology – despite the harassment and abuse.

You know who you are. You’re the help deskers, the server admins, the programmers, the network engineers. You do the same jobs that the men do, and get paid less for it with less recognition. You make hard choices between career and family, and are expected to do so without complaint or rancor. You’re stressed out and dissatisfied, and you’ve had it up to HERE with the rampant misogyny in the conference room and expo hall.

And yet – you love the technology. You love troubleshooting. You’re really annoyed at that network problem but damn if it isn’t satisfying to solve it. (Thinking right now about the time the thicknet trunk went down and it turned out some idiot had hung his coat from a vampire tap…) Maybe that guy on the third floor still can’t figure out how to print from Word, and maybe that lady in accounting keeps locking herself out of her account, but that’s okay. You’ve got the trouble tickets and you’re gonna own them.

I’ve been reading recent stories from some of my sisters-in-tech, and I am appalled. It seems sexism and discrimination against female techies is getting worse. Please read these, think about them, then ask yourself if you are contributing positively or negatively to this situation.

  • A Primer On Sexism In The Tech Industry
    “If I’d have to sum it up as one problem, it’s that many groups, but women especially, are still discriminated against heavily, while those with privilege don’t want to be seen as culpable and even like to argue that these problems don’t exist altogether. Women, in particular, suffer from tremendous social and professional challenges and pressures, as well as threats to their physical well-being, as a result of these problems.”
  • io9: The Great Geek Sexism Debate
    “Over the past few months, three of the most influential conventions in geekdom — Readercon (for science fiction writers), The Amazing Meeting (for skeptics), and DefCon (for hackers) — have been at the center of very public discussions about sexism and sexual harassment in their communities. After all three conventions in 2012, women spoke out publicly about episodes of sexual harassment and humiliation they experienced at the cons. The fallout was ugly — but also awesome. Here’s what happened, and what’s still happening, as formerly male-dominated geek spaces make way for women.”
  • New Statesman: This Is What Online Harassment Looks Like
    “As the months have gone on, and more “trolls” (or “online bullies”, if you’re a semantic stickler) have been exposed, the perception that what we’re talking about when we talk about online harrassment is “a few mean comments” or an insult or two has grown.”

I’ve talked before about the harassment, the dumbing-down of technology marketed for women, and some of my own experiences with discrimination as a woman in IT:

  • Why Aren’t There More Women In Tech? After All, Microsoft Has BIG BOOBS And Azure Girls!
    “It’s reported that Microsoft Azure relies heavily on the BIG BOOBS constant, to the extent that changing it would be a major issue. Draw your own conclusions about how much fun it must be for any women working in the Azure department.”
  • Microsoft Is Just For Men, Plus Girls In Short Skirts FOR SCIENCE!
    “Is this how Microsoft wishes to advertise itself? Well then, as a woman in technology, I have some constructive criticism for them. Let’s consider the uproar over forcing people into Windows 8′s annoying Metro interface. Let’s consider the lackadaisical response to the Surface tablet announcement. Let’s discuss the Microsoft malaise that has entered the general consciousness. Instead of coming up with penis jokes, I suggest they focus on business.”
  • Dell’s Gaffe And The Geek Girl Struggle
    “Imagine going to a computer store to pick up equipment for a customer. A sales droid with a tenth of your experience tries to talk you into hardware that won’t do what you need. You call tech support about an Internet problem and have to shout your way through four people to find someone with a clue. That person treats you like you’re in preschool, because obviously it’s impossible for female vocal chords to utter the phrase “configure the router in bridged mode” or we’ll turn into quivering wrecks sobbing for a man to fix it.”

Which is why, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day 2012, I’m offering a virtual thumb’s up to all you women in technology for grace under pressure in what seems to be an increasingly hazardous occupation. Good job, ladies. Now let’s get back in the server room and show those boys how it’s done.


Why Is Gaming Considered Unprofessional, And What Can Gamers Do About It?

Nerddom has achieved an unprecedented popularity of late, but there are still some aspects that remain anathema. Case in point: gamers, who are supposed to keep their video game playing in the closet.

Making the rounds is this tidbit about a Maine lawmaker who discusses her gaming in public instead of keeping it behind closed doors.

 Colleen Lachowicz is a Democratic candidate running for State Senate in Maine. She’s also a level 85 orc in the massively popular online game “World of Warcraft.” And for that, the Republican party says she is unfit for office.

[Lachowicz’s response] “I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!”

Many gamers, myself included, have experienced That Look when we mention we happen to like video games. Ironically, it’s the complicated role-playing and strategy games that get the most grief. If you profess a love of Farmville or Bejeweled, you’re in the clear.

But if you like fragging enemies in Halo or strategizing your way through Mass Effect, forget it. You’re a weirdo, a loser who belongs back in your parents’ basement eating Cheetos and lamenting your lack of social skills. You can’t POSSIBLY be a rational human being with a job and a life.

BBC News, reporting on the Laschowicz incident, quotes a gaming researcher:

“In my work, I’ve spoken with many people who in their regular lives have roles of significant responsibility (as doctors, managers, or educators) but who choose carefully with whom they disclose their gaming activity,” she told the BBC. “And disclosing their gaming activity is often accompanied by a degree of apology or embarrassment.”

But, she added, having a gamer run for office was a “heartening” development. “This would seem to run contrary to the other stereotypes that we love to assign to gamers: that they are lazy, antisocial people who don’t have a ‘real life’,” she said. “Maybe this will trigger some dialogue about our perceptions of gamers and the role that games can and should play in modern society.”

People can and do lose their jobs for being gamers – not for playing on company time but because their personal hobby supposedly shows they’re not “professional” enough. That’s when stereotyping nerds moves from simply not-funny into the realm of discrimination.

I was with a bunch of other parents at a school event recently. I didn’t know these parents well, and because I tend to live in a universe where gaming and cosplay and incessant watching of Doctor Who is considered “normal”, I sometimes forget that to other people, it isn’t.

One of the parents begins complaining about her teenage son. “He’s playing all these video games. I don’t know what to do.”

The other parents nod. I make the mistake of asking, “Which ones?”

She blinks. “What?”

“Which video games?”

“Um… some military ones. Call of Duty, I think. And some fantasy game.”

I give the wise nod of a gamer. “Skyrim, probably.”


“Skyrim. It’s a very popular fantasy RPG.”


“Role playing game. Skyrim is a popular fantasy role playing game. Not one of my personal favorites, I’m more into Dragon Age and Tales of Symphonia.”

By now the other parents are staring at me like I’ve got leprosy. The parent I’m talking to edges away. “So anyway,” she says to the other parents, “I’m trying to figure out how to get him to stop.”

I figure I’ve already put my foot in it, and it sounds like the kid needs some backup. “Video games are fun. As long as he’s meeting his responsibilities, why not let him play?”

Blank stares all around.

“Have you ever played a video game?” I ask. “A real video game, not Tetris or Scrabble. Not all of them are violent gorefests, you know. Not all of them are appropriate for every age level either, but that’s no reason to ban all games.”

The parent asks, “You actually play these games?”

“Yes. I actually play these games. They’re fun and I enjoy them. Your son probably does, too.”

Silence. The topic quickly turns to something else. I shrug and silently wish the kid luck because it sounds like he’s going to need it.

As a female gamer, I’ve noticed women are especially ridiculed for their gaming. Adults are not supposed to play video games. Women are not supposed to play video games. Middle-aged moms with kids are especially not supposed to play video games, much less brag about how they trounced the Arishok in single combat on nightmare level as an apostate mage in Dragon Age 2.

(Cone of cold, baby. I’m just sayin’.)

Honestly I think a lot of the problem is that people decide you’re supposed to give up all that childhood stuff when you become an adult. Unless you happen to live in the fandom world, which I suspect many of us do because it gives us the freedom to be kidlike about things like video games and Doctor Who and comic books.

Pure and simple, these people are jealous. They envy their fellow adults who are brave enough to embrace supposedly child-like things. It’s why people covertly read YA novels instead of admitting they like them. “I’m only reading Hunger Games because it’s so popular.” Uh-huh. Admit it, you keep a copy of A Wrinkle In Time under your pillow… and you STILL cry at the end.

What we as gamers need to do is make it known that you can be a gamer AND a professional (even – gasp! – a professional gamer). I’m a professional freelance tech writer. I’m also a level 35 spirit healer mage. Why is this a problem?

To my fellow female gamer Colleen Lachowicz I say: You go, girl. Kick some serious ass on behalf of gamers everywhere, in World of Warcraft and in the real world. We could use more of that.


Why Aren’t There More Women In Tech? After All, Microsoft’s Got BIG BOOBS And Azure Girls!

What is with all the misogyny lately? Has it been there all along and it’s just making the news at the moment, or is there a resurgence of negativity toward women in IT?

The latest mistake from Microsoft is once again at the level of a third-grade joke. Microsoft has apologized following the discovery of a hexadecimal string in the code of Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization software.

The hex string is 0xB16B00B5. That would be BIG BOOBS, for those who never played childish games on calculators in grade school. Personally I never found it amusing beyond 07734 (“hello” when you turn it upside down). This particular string, amusingly enough, is used every time Microsoft’s virtualization software runs Linux.

A similar string, 0x0B00B135, was also found, which translates to BOOBIES. So either Microsoft is stealthily supporting breast cancer research or they have some incredibly juvenile male programmers.

Normally I would shrug this off. This was probably the work of a couple of thick-skulled coders, pumped up on Four Loco and Twinkies, who decided to make their jobs a bit less inane. Fine, I get that. I also get that nobody was ever supposed to see this. And I know that programmers insert all sorts of jokes and silliness into their code.

After all, it’s not like this was part of a deliberately misogynistic PR stunt, like scantily-clad Microsoft Azure Girls dancing to penis jokes… Oh, wait, they did that too: Women In Tech: Microsoft Is Just For Men, Plus Girls In Short Skirts FOR SCIENCE!

(It’s reported that Microsoft Azure relies heavily on the BIG BOOBS constant, to the extent that changing it would be a major issue. Draw your own conclusions about how much fun it must be for any women working in the Azure department.)

And then there’s Dell’s recent gaffe in hiring a male emcee known for misogynistic comments, who asks the audience, “There are hardly any girls here today, and I’m happy to see that – why are any of you here in the first place?” as I wrote about in Dell’s Gaffe And The Geek Girl Struggle.

The latest Microsoft incident wasn’t a big deal, and probably wouldn’t have made the news if there hadn’t been so many other blatant incidents from tech companies lately. But it does demonstrate that certain boys-club mentality which IT people of the female persuasion often encounter.

Considering that Microsoft just posted their first ever quarterly loss, combined with the lackluster response to the Surface tablet and the rapid decline of the PC industry… well, let’s just say that these companies might want to stop alienating 50% of their potential customer base.

I would love to see some real initiatives towards women in IT. Forget the stupid focus groups or projects that look pretty in a press release but never seem to go anywhere. I want a concerted effort to welcome women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). I want to see the opposite of these headlines. I want more headlines about a woman hired as CEO of a major corporation while pregnant. That’s an achievement and we need more of them. (I could get into the question of “doesn’t this make it harder for women who don’t choose to be supermoms”, but hey, let’s not scoff at a donated equine’s larynx.)

Poor Microsoft, I don’t think they’re going to have time to worry about special initiatives. They’re too busy trying to cling to relevance. They have been too big for too long, and they think they can still get away with things like forcing people to use a new interface without repercussions. Um, I think your first-ever quarterly loss could be considered a repercussion.

(That new interface, by the way, would be Windows 8’s ugly Metro. After all the hue and cry to get us to embrace Windows 7, now the old look is “dated and cheesy” and we’re supposed to shell out to buy the new one because it’s so much better. Yeah, but that’s what you said about Windows 7. And Windows 95. And Windows for Workgroups 3.11.)

Microsoft, you are not the Zik-Zak Corporation. We do not need everything you make, and you do not make everything we need. But we’re far more inclined to buy your stuff when you’re not violating the Wil Wheaton Principle by being a dick.


Women In Tech: Microsoft Is Just For Men, Plus Girls In Short Skirts FOR SCIENCE!

After the fallout from Dell’s misogynistic gaffe at a recent conference, you would think people would have figured out that alienating women in technology is a Bad Idea. But you would be so very wrong.

First we have Microsoft’s decision to join Dell in the 19th Century. A presentation in Norway on Windows Azure included the “Azure Girls” in a fabulous dance number while music blares: “I’ve got the skills to impress / I’m a computer genius / The words ‘Micro’ and ‘Soft’ don’t apply to my penis.”

Seriously, boys? I first heard that joke in third grade, and that’s where it should have stayed.

(The lyrics on the screen flashed “or vagina” as the lyrics were sung, which neither makes sense nor mitigates the offense – although it’s a good thing the conference took place in Norway because THAT sort of language would NEVER be allowed in places like Michigan.)

Is this how Microsoft wishes to advertise itself? Well then, as a woman in technology, I have some constructive criticism for them. Let’s consider the uproar over forcing people into Windows 8’s annoying Metro interface. Let’s consider the lackadaisical response to the Surface tablet announcement. Let’s discuss the Microsoft malaise that has entered the general consciousness.

Instead of coming up with penis jokes, I suggest they focus on business.

If that’s not enough misogynistic mayhem for you, there’s the EU’s ad campaign for teenage girls: “Science It’s A Girl Thing!” Because all girls like lipstick, so the way to get them to like science is to add more lipstick. And I always wear my stilettos when I’m in the server room.

Why is it that anything marketed toward females has to be cute, pink, fuzzy, and dumbed down? This ad campaign only reinforces the notion that to succeed a girl must have a supermodel figure, wear the latest fashions, and hide her intelligence.

To deliver a response, I would like to get together a diplomatic team consisting of Dr. Samantha Carter, Captain Kathryn Janeway, Dr. Moira MacTaggart, and Dr. Liz Shaw (the original, thank you). No short skirts here, but a hell of a lot more brain cells than the people who came up with these ideas.

Why do these incidents continue? Because the women who manage to pursue careers in science and technology are not permitted to sit at the table when decisions are made. I’ll bet there were few females present, if any, when Dell decided on an offensive emcee for their Copenhagen conference, when Microsoft developed the idea of “Azure Girls”, when the EU wrote the campaign for “Science It’s A Girl Thing”.

And that’s the crux of the problem. You can’t get women involved unless you get women involved.

Until women are accepted as equals in fields like technology and science, until they have a say in what happens in the boardroom, the glass ceiling will remain firmly affixed and girls of the future will be expected to find the right shade of lipstick to go with their Bunsen burners.

Women In Technology: Dell’s Gaffe And The Geek Girl Struggle

What if you went to a corporate event and the emcee said the following?

“[Your industry] is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out… There are hardly any girls here today, and I’m happy to see that – why are any of you here in the first place?”

This is an actual quote from the ravings of Danish commentator Mads Christensen, who was hired by Dell as moderator and MC for an international conference in Copenhagen. Read this first-hand report from a woman in the audience and feel your blood pressure rise.

This isn’t the first time Dell has fallen afoul of females. Several years ago I blogged about their atrocious and short-lived Della ad campaign:

 ““Della,” as it’s called, shows us ladies how we can use color-coordinated computers to check the weather, generate our grocery lists, and stay up on the latest fashion news. This advertising is more 1950s than 21st century.”

Dell has apologized for this most recent incident, just as it apologized for Della. It’s hard to believe we’re still being subjected to this, but as a women who has been in technology for over 20 years, I can offer my real-world experiences.

Imagine going to a computer store to pick up equipment for a customer. A sales droid with a tenth of your experience tries to talk you into hardware that won’t do what you need. You call tech support about an Internet problem and have to shout your way through four people to find someone with a clue. That person treats you like you’re in preschool, because obviously it’s impossible for female vocal chords to utter the phrase “configure the router in bridged mode” or we’ll turn into quivering wrecks sobbing for a man to fix it.

I’ll try to remember that, the next time I’m elbow-deep in the guts of a server.

My favorite story goes back to the days when I was a tech support supervisor for Large Organization That Shall Remain Nameless. A gentleman had just been hired for a prominent, if not executive, position. His email wasn’t working. He called the help desk. Since I’m a supervisor who likes working in the trenches, I happened to be the one who went to his office.

His first reaction upon seeing me was, “I want a tech support person.” I told him I was a tech support person. He demanded the help desk supervisor. I told him I was the help desk supervisor. He said he wasn’t letting a woman touch his computer. I told him he was welcome to call the help desk when he was ready to have it fixed, and left him fuming about “girls trying to do a man’s job”.

He lasted about two days before he gave up and called. I returned to his office with a smile plastered on my face and fixed his email. It took a total of five minutes. As I was leaving he muttered, “I could have done it myself.”

Welcome to the world of women in technology.

Look at all the tech ads this past Mother’s Day. For some reason, we rarely market technology to moms outside of Mother’s Day. And when we do, the gadgets are colorful and practical… with half the technical capabilities of the version marketed to men. You know what I want next Mother’s Day? A Gigabit Ethernet switch, just to prove the point.

As this latest insult from Dell hit the news, a new survey shows the number of women in senior tech positions is down for the second year in a row. 30% of the companies surveyed said they have no women in senior tech positions. And let’s talk about the “brogrammer” culture as reported by CNN:

At one of the world’s biggest gatherings of Web culture, a 28-year-old executive talks about landing a tech job by sending a CEO “bikini shots” from a “nudie calendar” he created.

On campus at Stanford University, a hot startup attracts recruits with a poster asking if they want to ‘bro down and crush some code.'”

And the world’s largest Internet registration company entices Web entrepreneurs with a Super Bowl ad in which two female celebrities paint its logo onto the body of an apparently naked model.

In March, daily deals aggregator Squoot advertised a Boston hackathon that promised (along with massages, access to a gym and “kick-ass cupcakes”) this tidbit: “Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you.” The site has apologized.

This is why girls don’t want to be geeks. Imagine Career Day in high school. What am I supposed to tell them, that if they actually manage to score an IT job in this economy, their destiny is to suffer obnoxious users, sexist remarks, and a corporate culture that considers them eye candy?

Looking back on my own career, I can say that my decision to become a freelancer was based in part on this. Career IT is a hard road for a woman. Once family matters come up, your choice is Supermom or sidelines. I find that when people are paying for a consultant they tend to be more respectful. Of course, I’ve also lost gigs because I’m female. Some people just can’t wrap their heads around the idea of a woman fixing a computer.

I remember one nice elderly man. He hired me to fix his home computer because the techs from Nationally Well-Known Store screwed it up. I discovered they’d sold him new memory but not seated it properly (how hard is it to push a SIMM into a slot?). They also sold him anti-spyware but didn’t fully disinfect his computer. After an hour he looked at me and said, “You’re a smarter gal than any of the boys who touched this computer.”

A lot of women are, but not all of us will get the chance to prove ourselves. Here’s my message to today’s geek girls: Be yourself, and don’t put up with discrimination. If you have to you can wear this T-shirt from ThinkGeek. Helps to cut down on the smart remarks.

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