The internet is fucking amazing. I’m sure you already knew that, but the gravity of just how fucking awesome it is smacked me across the face this week in a way it hasn’t in a long time.
Four days ago, The Hawkeye Initiative, a Tumblr that “uses Hawkeye and other male comic characters to illustrate how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and impossibly contorted women are commonly illustrated in comics, books, and video games” posted this amazing story about a delicious prank gone right.
If you’ve been living under a rock, the short version is that a female employee of game-publisher Meteor Entertainment got sick of seeing the image of a hyper-sexualized, half-naked woman welder (complete with underboob hanging out) from the game Hawken in her CEO’s office, and decided to play a prank on him. She talked to fellow employee and original designer, Sam Kirk, and got him to create an equally-sexualized, half-naked male version, named Brosie (after Rosie the Riveter), and swapped the two out.
Astoundingly, CEO Mark Long reacted amazingly well, thanking her for “calling him on his bullshit”, and volunteering to hang both posters side by side in his office. Male employees thanked her for opening their eyes to something they just hadn’t thought much about before. Everybody won.
That’s a shitty, paraphrased version of the amazing stuff that happened, but those are the basics.
I had tweeted a link to one of the Brosie articles, and K2 hit me up on Twitter to thank me for tweeting the link. We ended up getting into a conversation there, and she mentioned that she was collecting other examples of the kind of thing she had done. We talked about how important it is to set great examples of alternate ways that people can address gender inequality, and humor is always a great way to do that.
Twenty minutes into our exchange on Twitter, we had a Tumblr blog, a domain name and email addresses set up. Enter Gender-Shenanigans.com.
The Hawkeye Initiative posted their article on the 14th. Wired published their interview on the 16th. And as of the 17th, I’m now collaborating with K2 on a new project. The internet is fucking amazing.
We are shaping the vision of this Tumblr as we go. We can see it becoming something that contributes to cascading positive change:
Gender Shenanigans is library of non-discouraging gender political plays. What does that mean? That means people addressing gender inequality in unique ways, using humor, snark, and other methods to educate people in a way that doesn’t make them feel like crap, but does demonstrate that their words or actions reinforced gender inequality.
We’re highlighting brilliant, positive, unique and fun ways people are pulling this off. We believe these types of actions have lasting effects, and encourage both women and men to look critically at the world around them, and the stereotypes and roles many people have come to accept as accurate – or that they never actually thought about at all.
I am completely in love with this idea, and I know it will inspire people to think of other awesome, creative ways to hack gender roles. It’s still very much a work in progress, but we’re going to do great things here.
There are no silver bullets. No one thing that anyone does or says completely shifts someone’s long-held perspective. But sometimes it’s enough to make them question what they believed. Sometimes it’s enough to get a conversation started and help them see things from another perspective. And sometimes, that’s enough to start something big. Lasting change happens through individual decisions, incrementally over time, and every one of them matters.
The most important things you should take away from this are that it’s incredibly awesome, and that we warmly welcome new ideas and suggestions of how to mess with gender stereotypes in a way that’s positive and non-discouraging. It’s okay if you have an idea but no people, or don’t have the skills (design, acting, whatever) to pull it off. We’ll help make it happen. We know people.
The reaction to gender issues doesn’t always have to be rage. I explain more about why this matters so much to me in the very lengthy stuff below.
Speaking of knowing people, I’ve also started RealWomenOfSTEM.Com, a sort of directory of women in STEM jobs. My goal is to help younger women who are aspiring to a position in STEM to able to see hundreds and thousands of role models and inspirational women so they can see that there are a lot of us out there, and we’re kicking a lot of ass. While I’m thrilled to see so many women in executive positions, I really want to highlight those in the trenches too. Developers, scientists, researchers, engineers – you don’t need to be an exec to be a part of this. (Someone has to get the real work done, right? :P) If you’re a woman in STEM, please add yourself. If you know one, please add them. I want this to be HUGE.
If you’ve ever spoken to me about the issue, or if you follow me on Twitter, you know I have some pretty strong feelings about sexism and gender, in tech and elsewhere.
My view on gender is apparently unusual and controversial, so much so that I have gotten blocked on Twitter by some of the more outspoken feminists, despite never actually engaging them on the topic directly. I think it was probably my post about Github and women in technology that chapped a lot of asses, or perhaps how outspoken I was during Donglegate, but I’m not sure.
The unfortunate truth is that things like Donglegate added more vitriol to an already toxic brew of fear and anger. The current climate surrounding this topic is one that is so overtly hostile, men and women alike are too scared to speak publicly about how they feel if their view deviates even slightly from the more mainstream views. I wish I were exaggerating.
After my Github post, people came out of the woodwork and thanked me – in DM and email, but rarely publicly, each one saying that they feared repercussions if they sided with me publicly. CEOs and CSOs, developers and designers, hardware hackers and project managers – these are successful, professional adults who were too afraid for their jobs or of inviting a flamestrike that is nothing short of bullying that they couldn’t say “thank you” in public. Am I the only person who thinks that’s freaking insane? I can’t be.
Because NOT talking about problems always does such a great job of solving them. Because the solution to one oppression is always a different kind of oppression.
Men I know in the industry who have been staunch supporters of women’s technology groups finally had to call it quits because it’s just gotten too hostile. And that fucking sucks.
Sexism requires both genders in order to exist. That means that BOTH genders need to be allowed to discuss it without being bullied. The problems we face with gender inequality will not be solved by beating people into submission.
Bullying may change what people say, but it doesn’t change what people think. Until we get to a place where people feel that they can speak openly and honestly, we’re going to stay stuck in this rage-spiral.
To make matters worse, issues that are not directly sexist frequently get conflated and mashed into equality arguments, when they have absolutely nothing to do with equality. Dick jokes (a personal favorite of mine, because lets face it, those things are hilarious) or other kinds of lewd, crude, potty humor get lumped into this discussion when they don’t really belong. I’m not saying they are not conversation worth having – I’m saying that they aren’t the same thing, and should be discussed separately.
Lewd, crude, potty humor (which is one of my favorite types of humor) is subjective. Equality is not. Something is equal or it is not. Whether or not a crude but non-sexist comment is “appropriate” will differ for everyone based on their individual comfort zones, and it’s just not the same thing so please stop confusing them.
Donglegate is a good example. Whichever side of that hot mess you end up on, the comments the two guys made were not actually directed at, derogatory to or belittling of women. Forking and dongle jokes are not sexist. Those jokes may be juvenile, inappropriate for professional environments, and so on – but they’re not actually sexist. I’ve heard this stretched into sexism by using the vague term of a “welcoming environment”, but that’s so subjective, any declaration of universal absolutes will alienate everyone else whose comfort zones are different.
The reason this project matters so much is because the old way isn’t working. Yelling and screaming and shutting down any attempt at discussion that doesn’t agree with the mainstream opinion isn’t working.
We all need to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax a little. Myself included. This stuff is really important, but getting pissed off and frustrated isn’t going to help anyone. Let’s try something new, okay?
As always, I welcome your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree.