Beki Grinter

Archive for the ‘women’ Category

The Trouble with being a Loser

In social media, women on July 22, 2015 at 8:04 am

In the last couple of days I’ve seen a report from the Washington Post about a study that finds that men who are not so good at video games are more likely to be abusive to women. The study recognizes that women, far more than men, are likely to be targets of abuse online. It sought to find a reason for this sexist behaviour and used video game play as an example domain. Their conclusion is that men who are not good at those games feel threatened, but only (or much more so) by women than by other men. Hence the lashing out.

Its been bothering me. I saw it shared several times, and each time, I wondered why I felt bothered by it. I’ve just listened to Mary Beard’s lecture for the London Review of Books, and so I tried to think through this study using her lens. Her explanation of why women are subject to so much abuse explores how women’s voices have been silenced in the public sphere for the better part of 2,000 years. How practices of oratory in use today build on a lengthy tradition of associations with male voices and that we are still culturally raised to accept the voice of authority as being masculine rather than feminine.

In putting the study and Mary Beards lecture in dialog I came to see points of intersection though. The idea that men feel threatened comes out strongly in both Dr. Beard’s lecture “its not what you say, its the fact that you’re saying it” and of course the loser gamer. But I find myself preferring Dr. Beard’s explanation. I think we can potentially feel sorry for a loser, but that risks that we dismiss or excuse their actions as being those of a pathetic fool. And if we do that, we continue to reinforce patterns that make the public silencing of women’s voices acceptable as a response to something that threatens a man.


Diversity Conflicts: Religion vs Gender

In women on March 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

Lately, as you can tell I’ve been thinking about diversity. Today I want to write about diversity conflicts. I’ve worked in corporate America and Britain. All of the organizations I worked for had written statements of their commitment to diversity. But sometimes diversity becomes a set of tradeoffs, and I don’t think we talk about diversity tradeoffs as much as we talk about our commitment to diversity.

The tradeoff’s I’ve experienced most are the differences between religion and gender. I’ve been told not to touch a visitor (e.g., shake a hand in welcome or departure) to respect someone’s religious values. I’ve also been told what length skirt I should wear (over the knees), had requests for tights, and received a memo advising me to wear shirts that are to the cuff even in the middle of summer in order not to bear our arms all explained to me as being about respecting visitors preference for modesty in women’s dress.

I have to admit I found these requests very difficult. Its really awkward not shaking someone’s hand in the business context. Especially when everyone else (i.e. all your male colleagues) do shake this person’s hand. It’s a great way to amplify the isolation of being the woman in a male dominated field. My normal clothing often resembles that of my male colleagues, t-shirts and jeans/shorts. I’ve wondered whether I use my clothes as a type of camouflage, to blend into the environments in which I work. Dress like all those around you to dampen the differences. Skirts and blouses really scream yes, I’m different, especially in these male dominated environments. (Also have you ever tried to re-cable a machine under a desk wearing tights and a skirt, probably not, so here’s the word, its very easy to ruin the tights, its awkward to manage the skirt on top of everything else you’ve got going on.)

If there’s an upside to all of this, its that I’ve managed to respect all of these orders, even when they have collided with my own value system. And even, when I think they take a position within that diversity system. We mostly talk about diversity as being something that we do. It is also a set of value systems that sometimes collide and then must be chosen among. How we make those choices is not something we discuss as much (IMO).

The Mean, Misogynistic Internet—Another Diversity Problem for MOOCs?

In academia, discipline, women on February 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Yesterday I wrote about what made me stay with Computing despite the horrible gender imbalance—the personal encouragement I received from teachers who went out of their way to support me. Today I want to broach another piece of why I’m reticent to offer a MOOC: the comments.

I’ve been looking at comments that others have received on their MOOC offerings. No surprises in some ways, they look like a lot of Internet comments. Some are mean, some are stupid, and some are sexist. Of course there are some helpful comments too, but not all.

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine posted this story about a British female academic who argued a position on immigration and was vilified on Twitter as a result of it. The remarks made about her are vile, with levels of misogyny that are depressing. Clearly MOOCs are not the same as arguing a position on immigration, but the same patterns of misogyny exist. It’s rare, but I have received remarks in my teaching evaluations that exhibit this quality. I see Rate a Prof being used in similar ways. Why should MOOCs be exempt?

In discussing this with a colleague he told me about how a video of his technology that featured a woman received a misogynistic comment about her. He removed the comment, but I’m not sure one can moderate comments about MOOCs. I can see that as appearing problematic. Its easy to imagine being accused of moderating comments in such a way that the course reviews were biased towards the positive. The very commentators who likely want to make their vile remarks might be as angry about having their comments are removed. Censorship and freedom of speech are powerful arguments.

I am not willing to expose myself to a situation where any person can use comments to promote attitudes that defy belief that will subsequently end up in one of Google’s data center forever associated with my name. That’s my name, my reputation. And how will other women see those comments? What will they think of the people who take those classes? That people who like Computing hate women. Great.

On a more personal level, and even if the remarks were removed, I still have to live with the idea that someone out there really hates me, hates what I represent, hates what I’ve achieved. Probably more than one person. I already have moments of self-doubt. And then we add in that these people will chose to express that hatred in the most disgusting of ways. It maybe electronically deleted from the record, but it won’t be deleted from my mind. I’ll still have to live with the idea that someone said that about me. I don’t find that a terribly compelling argument for offering myself up to that situation.

I think this warrants more discussion than its receiving, because of course its not the Internet itself, it’s the fact that its a forum for still far too widespread misogyny that exists in the real world. Further, because of the chronic diversity problem that Computing has, it’s hardly surprising that most of the people promoting MOOCs are just the sort of people who don’t experience the Internet as a minority and would be far less likely to be exposed to the mean, misogynistic Internet out there.

Diversity and Service

In academia, academic management, computer science, discipline, women on February 4, 2013 at 8:15 am

As I mentioned in a previous post recently I read this article about the advantages of being married for male academics versus the disadvantages of being married for women academics. It’s left me with a lot of questions. And being inspired by  Female Science Professor‘s question “why don’t more senior women in STEM blog?” I want to continue

In addition to teaching, research, and publishing responsibilities, service constitutes a major part of a professor’s career. … The gender breakdown within a department plays a significant role. Typically, there are more men than women within a discipline, and yet committees seek as much diversity as possible. Women, then, are often asked to do double the amount of service as men, a number that increases for women of color. While service is certainly considered when promoting, publications play a much larger role.

I understand the logic, to have a diversity of representation/voices at the table and so forth. But this is clearly the flip side of it, that women and minorities can get over-serviced. And since time is limited, service will eat into other important activities like research and teaching. This is a serious problem. But I don’t know what to do to change it. In the long-term we do need to recruit and retain women and minorites in STEM, but what do we do in the short-term? There seems to be a conflict here: we want to hear from diverse voices but in so doing we ask them to participate in things that compete for their precious research time.

One short-term piece of advice I would offer to anyone who fits this potential category, is to be very aggressive about saying no. Benchmark your service against a non-minority in your department at your rank. Do no more. (Read studies such as Link et al. “A time allocation study of university faculty” to see broad trends and uneven distributions as a reminder to do no more.)

The Marriage Advantage for some Faculty

In academia, academic management, computer science, discipline, women on January 28, 2013 at 10:56 am

I was just catching up on Female Science Professor’s blog (fabulous). Last year she asked “why don’t more senior women in STEM blog?

I’ve been quiet on my blog for a while, I had lost touch with it. It was out of my routine. So it sat quietly.

Recently I read this article about the advantages of being married for male academics versus the disadvantages of being married for women academics. It’s left me with a lot of questions.

Female professors were more likely to have a spouse or partner with a doctoral degree, 54.7 percent to men’s 30.9 percent. Their partners were also more likely to work in academe, 49.6 percent to 36.3 percent.

I wonder whether the same is true in Computing? I was thinking of my department, counting up the numbers of men and women married to other academics. There’s a difference.

A woman is quoted with her theory about why the balance is the way it is, she says

“I have a theory about this,” said Tara Nummedal, an associate professor of history at Brown University. “It seems pretty clear that smart women are going to find men who are engaged, but I just don’t see that it works the other way.”

I have another theory, based on my experience of dating, which is that some men find dating women with doctorates (when they don’t have one) difficult. I recall with some pain a date in which I was subjected to something that felt a bit like being on a quiz show. Yes, I happen to know what the second longest river in the U.S. is the Mississippi since the first longest is the Missouri, but I didn’t need to spend an evening playing this game. And, more crucially, a Ph.D. is not actually about being good at quiz questions. You can guess that the relationship didn’t last long, but this experience was emblematic of the problems I had dating non-Ph.D’s.

She added that a female professor with a stay-at-home spouse is quite rare, but often sees men with stay-at-home wives, allowing them to fully commit themselves to their professions.

I’ve wondered this before also. In one job I had, where I was one of a very small number of women, two of us were single and the other married to an academic. There were some single men in the department, but it was a small fraction of the entire department and a healthy number of my male colleagues, including all the managers, had stay-at-home wives. At that time being married to someone who could take care of all the things that arise in life that require being dealt with during office hours seemed like a huge advantage to me. Some of it was probably that I was often lonely (I had very much made my employment decision because I knew it would advance my career and not my personal life, that was hard, but I think it was crucial for getting to the next steps where I was able to balance both). Years later, I’m not sure whether it’s an advantage or not, because I’ve not ever experienced it. I have no comparison points, nor am I sure that the division of labor that I’ve described is ideal (accurate, enthusiastically embraced)… and I am more aware that my salary is a luxury that these families do not have. But, returning to the point of the article, I think it’s important to pay attention to the last part of the sentence, if there is the possibility for someone to fully commit themselves because that’s what the relationship supports, then yes, I still think that is a type of advantage.

I’ll cover another piece of this article later. That’s enough for now.

Women, Like Men, Only Cheaper

In women on January 17, 2013 at 9:21 am

(Written some time ago).

Women, like men, only cheaper was a slogan in the last British general election. Yesterday, it was also a question that a lady asked the two Presidential Candidates during the debate—what would they do to raise the wages of women in the workplace.

I want to point out two other things that happened during the debate that I think get at other more sutble issues about discrimination in the workplace. First, lets take the Obama v. Romney crisis, yes, I mean the fact that Michelle and Ann wore the same colour dress. Apparently that’s a no-no, and it certainly consumed some discussion. “Who wore it better?”

But the two people who were actually on-stage for the 1:30hr wore the same colour suits and the same colour shirts, accessorised with the same flag pin. No commentary about that. Why not? Why is it fair game to discuss what two spouses of participants were wearing and not their husbands? Thought experiment, what would have happened if Ann and Michelle had showed up to debate the Presidential candidacy and their spouses had showed up wearing the same suit colour. (Um, nothing).

Women, their bodies–form and decoration, are available for public discussion in the ways that mens bodies seem to remain private. Until that changes, how can we establish equity?

Second, there was excitement about the fact that the debate was being moderated by a woman. Candy Crowley from CNN. Since the history of Presidential debates that’s the fourth woman to moderate any debate, and only one woman has moderated more than one debate (Barbara Walters). The fact that there are no women participating in the Presidential debates is one thing, the fact that there are very few women picked to moderate them is a depressing indictment of the industry around politics. That we get excited when a woman appears only amplifies the depressing nature of this situation. We can hope that no-one felt that the woman moderator box had some how been checked for the next decade.

Women are under-represented in the process of governance and the political establishment. They are also under-represented in the businesses that surround them, and that are frequently in the situation of framing the very ways in which governance is defined.

Women are like men, but currently cheaper, but addressing pay is not enough. Until women are afforded the public privacy of men and until they have increased representation in our political processes, well I think we are not done.

Woman@GT: Reflecting on Identities

In academia, academic management, women on August 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Recently I received an invitation to join the Georgia Tech Faculty Women’s Club. Ultimately I have decided not to, but the process of thinking the decision though caused me to reflect a lot on the multiple identities that I manage, and on how perhaps Georgia Tech (and other places) might consider women, and in particular, their multiple identities.

When I first got interested in Computer Science, I was the sole woman (girl) in the classes I took. At that time, recruiting any other woman to join me through female focused outreach mattered to me. But in deciding what to do about the faculty wives club, I was forced into a very valuable reflection on what matters to me now.

The history of the Faculty Women’s club is that it started as an association for the wives of GT faculty, although more recently it has replace the wives with women as part of a shift in their recruiting. I think there is an important role for the group in supporting women who do move with their husband’s career (whether they work or not, it is an adjustment to a new place, and the club seems to provide an important outreach, a place to make friendships). Further they do a variety of really important philanthropic work for the campus, raising money to support students and so forth.

But, while I qualify for the GT Faculty Women’s Club, I find that it conflicts with an identity I am trying very hard to manage in an entirely different way. And it’s the part of my identity which is that I am also a Faculty wife, as part of a dual body hire. At  work (i.e. Georgia Tech), I believe that it is my responsibility as a dual body to ensure (to the best of my ability) that my colleagues feel that they have hired two individuals.I also want to be treated as an individual professional actor (and I am). There is one time when I want the duality to be considered, and that’s when it could be a conflict of interest (I haven’t encountered any others yet). My challenge with the GTFWC is that its history (and I think to some degree its current membership composition) collides with how I want to manage my workplace identity. I realized that I was not willing to join the club because it would be a workplace-based identification with a piece of my biography that I mostly want to keep out of the workplace!

And its not the only identity conflict I’ve seen. For example, when faculty women’s groups take up issues related to childcare they equate woman with mother. And there are important discussions for parents to have, like about access to resources for child raising as part of employment. But Fathers are parents too, and there are many more of them on campus than their are women.

In other words what I am saying is that “woman” is very broad category, too broad. And, OK, this is not terribly surprising, but why don’t I see an explosion of other sorts of groups promoting categories, like say parenthood? Why don’t we continue to focus more particularly on groups within a single category, like wives?

Dual Body: Question about Women in Academia

In academia, academic management, computer science, discipline, empirical, research, women on April 27, 2012 at 10:05 am

I saw this post on Mark Guzdial’s blog. The last point intrigued me

About 82% of technical women have a partner who works fulltime, compared with 37% of technical men. (Anita Borg Institute)

I wonder what the ratios are for women in academia? I wonder how many have a partner that also works in academia as well as having a partner who works, and how that compares with men in academia. Also I wonder whether it varies by discipline at all. Does anyone know?

My Mum: An Ada Lovelace Post

In academia, computer science, HCI, research, women on October 7, 2011 at 10:52 am

It’s Ada Lovelace day and time to write about someone who influenced you, a role model, for Computing.

Last year I wrote about all the wonderful women I work with and have worked with and who continue to inspire me in a myriad of different ways.

Today I want to tell you about my Mum.

Long before my first class in Computer Science. Long before the three degrees (B.Sc., M.S., and Ph.D., all in CS) there was my Mum.

When I was quite small she started her own business. One that required her to go back to School to take classes and pass an exam (to be qualified in her area, she’s a licensed translator from German to English). She’d take me a long to some of them, particularly when my Dad was working late. She worked really hard, not just in class, but also at home. I remember that. Then there were the years when she had to grow her business, enough for it to be sustainable and profitable. Those were hard times for her, working at the business as well as marketing the business and sourcing new leads and all the rest of those things. She had passion and determination, and I remember that too.

The business was successful, it still is (although there is less of it now and my Mum is enjoying her retirement built in good part on the proceeds of that business).

My Mum originally had a typewriter for her business but she upgraded to a computer at home when they became affordable (the BBC). I remember seeing her working hard on the machine. I remember her complaints about what it didn’t do well, like explain its errors and whims in an accessible way. Perhaps that influenced my decision to move into Human Computer Interaction, because at home I certainly watched some Human Computer Ire.

And then there was the typing class. She told that to be able to type was a key to the future. Whatever I did, typing would help. There was no doubt in her mind. She doesn’t know that even despite taking this week long course I still can’t touch type. Perhaps she does but she’s been kind enough not to mention the fact that I hop around my keyboard using just a subset of the available ten digits. But, she was right, an ability to use a keyboard is central in modern life.

In a 1000 different ways, my Mum is the reason that I’m in Computing, and have chosen a career that is at once consuming and rewarding. I learnt about a passion for individual career success from her. I learnt about machinery and purposing it to be successful. While it’s probably true that my Dad had more influence on me becoming a scholar (he’s an academic too) I just wouldn’t be the person I am without my Mum.

So this Ada Lovelace day I say thank you to my Mum, thank you for your encouragement and unwavering support on top of your presence as a role model in my life. That to me is your love, and I love you too.

At What Cost is Greatness:? Reflections on Hamming, Science and Families

In academia, academic management, empirical, research, women on August 22, 2011 at 11:50 am

I recently re-read Richard Hamming’s You and Your Research talk which is a talk about how to do great research. The one that he hoped no-one would write down and of course they did and at least for a time it was very popular. But, I think its time is past. At least I hope it is. There’s a startling remark and assumption in the speech. This is sad because there are some useful points. Luck favours the prepared mind. Be independent. You need more than brains. Look at limitations or constraints as problems. Learn to love ambiguity. Good.

Then we get to drive. Great researchers are so passionate about their research that they starve their mind of all other thoughts to force it to work on the problem. I question the psychology behind this theory, but it’s a very strong suggestion of what’s to come next, the idea of researcher as lone individual working on a problem with an unbroken focus. And then he goes on to admit that science caused him to neglect his wife.

I was once in a setting with a group of male scientists who had all gotten to positions of substantial importance as scholars and leaders in a variety of the sciences. They started discussing how they had neglected their families in pursuit of their careers, and more than one person cried or got very choked up about this fact (particularly focused, it seemed, on their children). Perhaps they viewed themselves as great scientists, but ones with regrets. Another reason it was so surprising to me is that like other women, I’ve felt that the topic of work-family balance is pervasive when groups of women scientists meet. Even if it perpetuates these same notions of scientist versus parent.

In the 21st century I hope that we will continue to work to reset expectations that it is either career or family and that science trumps family. Until that expectation changes, I don’t see how we can truly create a diverse environment or a sane/healthy one. And that’s why I believe that Hamming has had his time. I’ve seen the cost of greatness in the tears of scholars and leaders and in my mind that’s too much, not just for the scientist in question, but for all those affected by decisions made based on systems of priorities that I think no longer have a place in academia.

Update: I’ve had some feedback, and yes, I wish rather than think its time is past. I agree that there are a set of metrics in place that really continue to reinforce this. But, I keep hoping/wishing because I’m a participant in this enterprise.