Tag Archives: sexism

css.php

Innovation and Failure Part II

Alison Carr and Brewster Kahle provide two practical applications of processes that encourage/embrace failure. Of the exercises Carr posits, the most interesting to me were “Assessing ‘Quality of Failure,’” based on Edward Burger’s “Teaching to Fail” and “Try Again, Fail Differently,” based on Peter Elbow’s concept of low-stakes writing.

“Teaching to Fail” subverts the notion that there is such a thing as correct and incorrect by making failure a prerequisite for a good grade. As Carr explains, Berger defines failure as “a willingness to take on and pursue ideas that might not seem entirely ‘safe.’” This exercise is based on the belief that “risk-taking and failure foster imagination and lead to innovation.” He encourages students to share their failures, and 5% of the grade is based on “Quality of failure.” (Whatever that means! See below.)

If Berger subverts the notion of correct=good grade, failure=bad grade; then Elbow rejects the dichotomy altogether. As we read last semester, Elbow suggests that in order for student writing to improve, teachers need to create environment in which writing is disassociated from receiving red marks on the page. In Carr’s exercise, the idea is that writing is never correct (check mark) or incorrect (red mark), but constantly in flux. As she says, the focus is “not on how to say it better but on how to say it differently.” This semester, my students participated in an archive-building activity with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum which required them to write a short vignette that had a limit of 1500 characters. Similar to this process, it was fascinating to see them have to figure out what to cut and how to tighten their language so that they could upload their piece. Assigning students to tweet, it seems to me, would also have a similar effect.

Here are some questions these teaching models brought up for me:

  1. How do we assess failure? Is it in relationship to success? Or can you assess it alone? (As Berkun says, failing alone is not enough to lead to innovation; it requires the ability to extract the lessons learned from failure and apply them to new situations.)
  2. How might we as teachers measure that extraction and re-application of lessons learned through failure? It seems to me that that, actually, should be the metric of learning.
  3. How do or would your students react to these assignments? Would they freak since it subverts their entire experience up until this point? What types of scaffolding could you put in place to help them feel comfortable with an assignment in which failure was to be valued, not feared?

Last, yesterday’s very interesting lecture by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, got me thinking even more about innovation and failure. Here we see a man willing to go a long way in pursuit of wacky ideas. The non-profit has now made millions of books, movies, software, music, TV shows, websites and more free and open to the public. Kahle also referenced new pet projects including bit-coin and affordable housing; two aspects that don’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the archive. He spoke repeatedly of delegating; whether working with a Columbia University new music archivist to assess the importance of/create taxonomies for music preservation, or working with volunteers to trust them with the work of searching for whether video titles are currently available for purchase (and therefore should not be added to the archive.) In many ways, his approach and story reflects many of the  innovators described by Berkun.

Furthermore, his entire project, The Internet Archive, is the result of the failure (as he sees it) of the National Archives and the Library of Congress to collect, preserve, and create public access to intellectual material in digital formats. Kahle expects that he will be perpetually begging for forgiveness. This assumption that he will “fail” (get in trouble, do something wrong,) means that he doesn’t feel the need to constantly ask for permission. Some of the best parts of his talk were when he described mis-steps along the way and what he’s learned from other failures. For example, the fire of the Library at Alexandria told him to make many copies. Further, he’s making those copies in all types of different formats, with the full expectation that 90% of those (my made-up number) will fail to preserve this material. But if you try a gazillion different things, something is bound to stick.

Questions that Kahle made me consider:

  • What are the ramifications of this? Could it ever become damaging to get so used to/proud of failure? By never asking permission, but merely taking down materials when people complain, Kahle is railroading the (economic, social) aspects of shame that have historically protected intellectual property. In many ways, the digital age has meant that we no longer have these feelings of shame around stealing/being caught “stealing” intellectual property.
  • Should we see the integration of the pedagogy of failing forward as a feminist act? What are the gendered ramification of changing the culture of classrooms in this way? In Berkun’s lecture, we saw a group of innovators and were asked what they all had in common. My initial reaction was that they were all men; an observation that Berkun glossed over, along with the observation that they all have “bad hair.” Kahle embodies the sort of devil-may-care, breaking the rules personality associated with masculinity. Last year there was an article entitled “The Confidence Gap” in the Atlantic about why women fail once they move beyond the classroom into the real world; they expect that doing what they’re told will lead them to success. It worked in school; so it should work in the workplace! But, as Berkun and Kahle show, this training does not lead to innovation. The author argues that women get left behind since they lack the confidence to fail and to ask for raises/promotions, etc.

 

Structural Change or a New Society

The readings I ended up with all focus on collecting and revealing the sexism and other forms of discrimination that seem to form the fabric of some developer communities’ culture, and that are being broadcast (often anonymously) through apps and websites.

Moya Z. Bailey explores how the very semantics of “geek” and “nerd” that we use to describe those working in web development are gendered male and white (though Steve Urkel does come to mind as a notable exception) She challenges us to move beyond an “‘“add and stir’ model of diversity, a practice of sprinkling in more women, people of color, disabled folks and assuming that is enough to change current paradigms.”Her solution is for DH scholars to be “brave” enough to expand the definition of the field to include projects created by and for people of color, and to push for structural change in how sites and apps are designed in order to include within them the needs of the disabled, women, etc.

Greek Feminism Timeline of Sexist Events is a wiki where folks compile sexist actions/statements coming out of the tech world. These include anything from rape at conferences; to the sharing of an app like Titstare, which lets you “stare at tits,” presented in September, 2013 at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 conference, to private incidents made public such as when Biologist Dr. Danielle N. Lee was asked,”Are you an urban whore?” by an editor at the Scientific American after she declined an offer to write for free. She wrote a snarky post in response which was originally taken down, but has been returned.

Reply All reports a story of racial minorities at Colgate College who felt uncomfortable in an all white environment. After creating a support group and demonstrating, they became targets of hateful speech and threats of violence on the anonymous YikYak app. The college was powerless to prevent the hate speech as YikYak would and could not block their access.


These readings convinced me beyond a doubt that there are real structural problems in the evolving society we’re creating online.Further, I see real value in collecting evidence from around the web and bringing to light discrimination and the deeply troubling possibilities for bullying in an anonymous cyber world. In fact, one point these readings (and especially Reply All) drove home to me is that the web has great power to force conversations about issues that might otherwise fly under the radar. Because the internet with its possibilities for anonymity encourage people to say what they really mean, many deep-felt prejudices can be exposed and (maybe, hopefully!) addressed. It’s this “maybe, hopefully” part that stuck a bit in my craw in these readings. They are full of problems and severely lacking in solutions. (Beyond exposing and collecting this evidence which, again, is extremely important.)

How do we make a “structural change? in the cyberworld?” If just telling women to code isn’t going to fix the inequity, then what will? Is a better model the “separate” (and hopefully equal?!) model of HOTGirls, the Atlanta-based non-profit that works with young women of color to train young women in media literacy? (GoldieBlox, the engineering kit for girls, comes to mind here, especially when seeing the pink website.) This whole approach smacks to me of the “American Woman Novelists” problem Filpachi describes.

The only other solution I saw presented was the Colgate professors who try to “take back the YikYak” (my term, not theirs) through posting positive messages and attaching their signatures. The podcast hosts poo-pooed this idea though it did seem to make students feel less isolated and generated many more “likes” than the hate messages. Call me naieve, but I was shocked that students didn’t self-police and it came to the point of needing professors to step in at all. How could so great a proportion of the student body be so complacent/unaware of what was going on on campus? Is this indicative of larger trends in apathy/prejudice? Or about expectations of certain cyber spaces in which folks expect to see hate, and therefore those spaces don’t require policing? Does this mimic any other arena Americans have had for broadcasting hate in the past? And if so, how is this climate any different? And does it require different types of responses?

In short, I’m asking a pretty basic question: Is the cyberworld a reflection of our Analog society? And do the tactics we develop to address structural change in reality also work online? Or is the cyberworld a whole new society? If the latter is true, then there are huge possibilities about how etiquette, social relations, labor relations, gender roles, etc. will develop. If the table (to use one of Bailey’s metaphors) is still in the process of being set, then what tools might historically marginalized groups use to create a very different power dynamic in this new society?

Aren’t ‘we’ already constructing a ‘feminist data future’?

Creating (feminist) data in a Quantified Self (QS) type of world

Amelia Abreu shares her dream for a feminist data future—one where women (and other marginalized groups) have control of data collection, usage, and access; one where we all are compensated for our labor; one where “users can control their own narratives.”

Abreu points out some of the issues with data collection and digital technology. Like science, data is always fraught with subjectivity. As a sociologist, how I collect data, the types of questions I choose to ask, the variables I plug into my regression analysis, etc.—all these choices impact the type of data points I collect (and the results I will present/publish).

Abreu introduces us to the Quantified Self (QS) movement, point out that most QSer are males with capital who are voluntarily creating digital tools (read: self-tracking devices) with an aim of helping “people get meaning out of their personal data.” This self-control of our personal data is not as rosy as it seems—as not all of us have the ability/time/funds/etc. to use our personal data for “good.” I chuckled when I read this, thinking about how much of our personal data is already surveilled, used by the governments and corporations to track who we are and what we are doing. The QS movement could not better reflect the current neoliberal governmentality—the organization “proposes that if you, a consumer, submit to an untested battery of somewhat proprietary metrics, you yourself can have an all-around better life.”

But the problem is that not all of us can play the neoliberal role of entrepreneurs who pursue our own interest as governable subjects–who can use calculation and choice to make ourselves the best beings we can be.

Abreu points out some of QS’s flaws, focusing on its (mostly) white-male-centered method of data collection that has always seems to rule the roost–not without being challenged–and is now, hopefully, shifting, at least a bit. But back to Abreu’s discussion of the controversy. She tell us that tracking health data (very QS; very masculine) versus tracking human-relationship data (women’s work; not taken as serious data collection). She critiques the QS movement as, in its search for universal data points and scores, it does not take into account those populations its goals exclude.

This next point may seem really off topic, but I’m going to try to make it work. I’ve written about Whole Foods Market (WFM) being this ideal neoliberal institution—providing customers with opportunities to dutifully complete their neoliberal checklists: choice, self-mastery, and biological citizenship. However, I also point out what I call WFM’s paradox: it regularized a population of mostly white and elite consumer while its predominately non-white workforce cannot fill these same neoliberal checklists (they may not even be able to afford to shop in the stores in which they work).

I get QS is different–from what I understand, QSers design products for people like them. But where I see the parallel is in those who are excluded. Like QS, WFM’s corporate team also builds stores for people like them. I don’t know if there are workers, like WFM team members, on QS projects, but there are definitely potential users who are discounted (or not even thought about when these self-tracking tools are built)–and therefore, for various reasons, cannot use the technology (just like many WFM customers cannot shop in their stores).

Abreu writes: “I want Quantified Self to be a messy space, one where users willingly choose the aspects of their lives they are proudest of, and most troubled by, and allow them to track, and engage with their narratives over time on their own terms.”

But can QS, in this incarnation, be messy? I don’t think so.

QS is QS (and that’s ok for QSers but not for those of use who don’t align with the QS movement). We need our own messy spaces–created by us. These spaces must have different roots that QS, even if they have similar purposes: the collection and transmission of digital data. And it’s happening. Maybe I’m wrong? (I’m thinking of Sonia’s ITP project here, which I don’t know much about, but seems to fit as a non-QS, but QS-like project).

Perhaps we can find some of this messiness (potential) in the hashtag feminists’ work?

Can hashtag feminism bridge the virtual and the face-to-face?

Hashtag feminists are creating their own data points—perhaps they are fulfilling Abreu’s “dream of a feminist data future.” But where will those points ‘live’ in the future (other than in Twitter’s API that is not accessible).

And maybe we’re not looking towards a feminist data future but instead we are already thinking & creating in a feminist data reality? This seems probable, especially after reading Susana Loza’s article; I’d say this feminist data reality is imperfect, but it is occurring. Even Loza points out that hashtag feminism is imperfect, is in progress, and is very messy. But it’s also generating rich conversations. Educating (some) people. Making issues, rifts, inadequacies visible. Pushing for a more intersectional way not only of thinking, but also of being.

But I can’t help to worry: Are the divisions within the feminist movement (not to talk about the feminist and transgender women movement rifts) are impeding the advent of a non-white-male-centered data-logical turn?

Loza’s piece highlights an important part of hashtag feminism’s work (for me, maybe not for all hashtag feminists): the ability to connect online and offline activism. This interconnectedness seems like a natural extension of hashtag feminist’s work; taking digital conversations and translating them into face-to-face work. I found this piece (on my Twitter feed) about the importance of net neutrality for black online spaces. The piece cemented these ideas about how what happens online creeps into our face-to-face spaces.

In a Digital Age, (Black) Feminism Demands an Open Internet, Malkia Cyril quotes a section of Alicia Garza’s speech at NetGain, a conference focused on building partnerships for a stronger digital society. During her presentation, Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, shared this: “Black Lives Matter is much more than a hashtag—it is an organizing principle. It’s more than a moment, it’s a movement for Black lives.” Garza also shares: “We’ll know that Black Lives Matter when we all have access to digital spaces that create open spaces, work for all of us, and do not criminalize us.”

Notably, Garza points to the interconnectedness of our online and offline lives. How who we are online/what conversations we start and are a part of/the hashtags we produce and reproduce–that they matter in real life too. And this is not only important for #blacklivesmatter. It’s also key for #girlslikeus, #translivesmatter, and other conversations that may not have specific hashtags associated with them.

It’s worth noting that Jessie Daniels has been writing a series of blog posts that critique white feminism’s response to inequality or what Daniels calls “the trouble with white feminism.” While this series is not solely focused on cyber-racism or digital identities, Daniels writing is closely related as it illuminates the power of the media/images/discourse and how ideas that seem natural (white feminism) need to be unpacked, challenged, and reworked. Daniel’s work (not just in this series) is a strong example of the intricacies of digital identities. Her work, and that of others (like Loza, Lee, and Abreu) demonstrate how conversations about feminism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia that take place online are serious and can have serious implications for what is happening offline.

Maybe it’s because I follow many of these activists in my (constructed) Twitter feed. Or maybe I’m an idealist. But I see value/productive power in these virtual conversations; even the messy ones, the ones where I want to scream: Are you kidding me, you’re actually writing this (potentially ignorant stuff) for all to see?!?!?!? I believe that digital conversations can move off the screen and into our face-to-face conversations.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone can or is taking part in these online/hashtag conversations (hashtag feminism is not for everyone).  Janet Mock brings up a similar point in a recent blog post about the violence affecting the trans women of color community. While some trans women of color, including Mock, have become visible via the media, many others are still invisible–and transphobia, racism, violence, and hatred persist.  Mock writes: “What we can’t expect this visibility to do is cure our society of its longstanding prejudice, miseducation and myths surrounding trans women.” As such, conversations that are happening in digital spaces also needs to occur in-person. And they must include a wider audience–in attempts to continue to counter prejudice and miseducation.

‘Choosing’ to own my labor

When Ofek, Blog Editor of biology-online.org asks Danielle Lee to commit to a non-paying guest blogging spot—she says NO–as she does not want to work for free. In response, Ofek calls Lee a ‘whore.’ The idea that this editor (a man) would call her a ‘whore’ because she values her labor (and wants to control how she uses it) is disgusting. This interaction reflects how the labor of some people (who are often women, queer, trans, low-income, brown or black) continues to be taken for granted/under- or devalued/appropriated—by those who sit in the inner circle (this is a reference to Dorothy’s Smith’s work who critiques sociology’s white/male inner circle and its power to make decisions on what types of knowledge is taught/published/learned).

I can’t help but to think about Marx and his idea that the excess (surplus) labor of the proletariat results in profit for the bourgeoisie. In choosing not to work for free, Lee is (perhaps) preventing Ofek (and his site) from making money off of her education/insight/expertise–the ‘bourgeoisie’ who benefit in this concept of surplus labor. While Lee has a ‘choice’ here, she and many other people with marginalized identities do not always (often?) have this choice. An by choosing not to give away her labor for free, Lee is taking a risk (which we can clearly see in

It’s ironic that this conversation is taking place online–so perhaps to connect back to Loza’s article and Garza’s points above, she is helping make visible the invisible and connecting online and offline issues of sexism, racism, exploitation….and many more.

American Women Wikipedians: Categorygate and Working for Free

Amanda Filipacchi’s article Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists shows that sexism in categorizing information is alive and well. The category “American Women Novelists” is especially depresssing/ironic/unsurprising (take your pick) for librarians, editors and other knowledge workers because we thought we fought and won this battle years ago (circa 1975). Not many users of Wikipedia are old enough to remember library subject headings such as “Women as Poets” or “Poetesses,” but sexist ways of organizing information were standard operating procedure in the bad old days. Changing times and the active efforts of a largely female paid workforce made some real differences in how information was presented in libraries, textbooks, encyclopedias, and educational resources of all kinds.

Now that the internet has ‘disrupted’ the production of educational information, much of the largely female paid workforce has been displaced by volunteers working in a system of peer production and sharing. Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, not least because it is free and immediately available to anyone with an internet connection. Yet as we all know, “nine out of ten Wikipedians continue to be men.” Many possible explanations have been offered for the gender gap, but I think it is a labor issue.  As a librarian, I couldn’t agree more with DNLee’s statement that “This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. However, even if my ‘old economy’ view of encyclopedia publishing seems sadly out of date, asking women to contribute unpaid work raises some complicated issues. As Adrianne Wadewitz pointed out, “In actively recruiting women to Wikipedia, we have to be aware of the systemic inequities in the amount of time women have available for unpaid labor.”

If women miraculously had more free time to devote to Wikipedia, would the “add more women and stir” approach really solve the sexism problem? Wadewitz notes that activism around the gender gap rests on some rather questionable assumptions (It is the responsibility of women to fix sexism on Wikipedia. Women do not further patriarchal knowledge and power structures. Women will edit underrepresented topics. Women will make Wikipedia a nicer place.) The drive to get more women to contribute is well-intentioned and admirable, but perhaps it runs the risk of repeating old patterns? Women are not a single entity and perhaps some of them would prefer not to be in the “American Women Wikipedians” category.