Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Random thing the fifth: Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day

So I've been a bad blogger in general for the past year while, and more specifically a bad blogger yesterday. Because I pledged to write a post about women in technology for Ada Lovelace Day, and Ada Lovelace Day was yesterday. Doh.

But then today, whilst wondering which woman I should write about, I read this old post, in which a [male] tech journo wrote about Ravelry. Now in and of itself the post is nothing special (although I'd rather it didn't use the word 'ridiculous' in the context of knitting itself existing of course).

But to me its demonstrative of a wider point: that women, with our crazy lady-hobbies and little lady-brains frequently have our odd lady-technologies dismissed by The Internet at large.

Case in point: a couple of years ago you couldn't move without seeing some article about Where Are All The Women Bloggers?* And I always found this odd. Not only because I *am* a woman sorry can't do it female blogger - cooee, I'm over here! But because I've been on the internet a lot, first mailing lists, then forums, then blogs since the heady days of 1999 and in each instance the majority of the people populating said mailing lists, forums and blogs were women. I couldn't surf for falling over women. Men, not so much. But there were definitely lots and lots of women.

Now I'm the first person to stand up on a soap-box and shout about social conditioning and that there's nothing inherently 'feminine' or 'masculine' about activities, but it's clear (mainly since so many of us are socially conditioned) that the WAATWB people were looking in the wrong place. See, the WAATWB were not looking at health forums, or feminist blogs, or the knittisphere, or anywhere else that I was, but rather they were looking at their own spaces and not necessarily realising that just because women were underrepresented there didn't mean that they were underrepresented in general.

Which is why a technology site can be bemused and baffled that a knitting website might have 17,000 subscribers (and this was in the far off days of 2007 - Ravelry's now at 319,547 users), and end its brief description of what it appeared to think was solely a social networking site** with the comment:
If you’re a knitter, join the waiting list immediately. Everyone else, nothing to see here.
Because, you know, it's just knitting. Urgh. As if that's important. Talk about this any longer and we might all get girl germs.

It's not like this is an incredibly successful site built on viral marketing that most sites can only dream of; that it is revolutionising the way independent pattern designers can make a living; that means that days of trawling through Google, and Craftster, and Knitty, trying to find a knit-a-long - or just anyone who'd made this obscure pattern before - so that you can see what a pattern might look like knit up in different ways, are long gone.

Women - and all our womanly associated media - get doubly done a disservice. For those working in traditionally male-dominated technological areas there is the old boys' club and glass ceiling to navigate (one of the responses I remember reading to all the WAATWB articles was along the lines of Stop all the willy waving and maybe we'll come & play. Too right). For those utilising technology*** to fulfill a need felt only by a female majority the matter is dismissed. Because, you know, it's just knitting.

My favourite post on this is by 'Woman Blogger' (look! There's one!) & knitter Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Now, I'll admit that she's focussing on the knitting, rather than the technology, but I think the problems that she has faced are analogous to the dismissive attitude afforded Ravelry on the aforementioned post.

Just a selection from Represent, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee:

So, there's this problem out there. [...] It is a lack of understanding (or respect) for the sheer numbers of knitters out there.

-It happened in St. Louis, where the library (despite a warning from the knitting guild and the publisher) decided how many knitters there could possibly be and ran short of books and chairs.

-It happened in MA. where all the knitters couldn't even fit in the shop and spilled into the street and there wasn't even room to sit down.

-it happened in Doylestown where when I arrived the shop had TEN chairs and were extremely reluctant to get more out. I kept saying "You need more chairs" and they kept saying "It'll be Ok." with this look on their face like they just didn't know how to break it to me that I wrote KNITTING books, and nobody was coming.

-it happened with one of my webhosts, who, despite being told how much traffic I get, made his own judgement about what sort of traffic would be possible when I said it was "a knitting blog" .
Women and Technology. We're not hiding - you're just not looking.

* I know I know that's a great big grammar fart staring us all in the face, but I assure you that this is a quote rather than my own composition. I don't spend all day writing woman=noun female=adjective on my students' work for the good of my health.
** I quote (this is most of the post actually):
"So of course there needs to be a social network around [knitting], and Ravelry is going to fill that need.

The site is still in private beta and has a long list of knitter-types desperate to get in - 17,000 people have requested invites and they’ve let about 1/3 of them in so far. If you want to get a feel for the features and look/feel of the site, see the screen shots they posted here.

Needless to say, the idea is to build out a profile and then add friends, create a blog, add pictures and participate in the forums.

But users will also be encouraged to put up information about projects they are working on, and other users can participate by commenting, recommending, etc."
This not only ignores the fact that knitters have been socially networking through existing channels, but no mention appears to be made of the fact that Ravelry's primary use for many many users is for the pattern database and archive and the fact that you can now easily find others who have made the same pattern.
*** I am aware that one half of Ravelry - the coding half - is a dude. But, you know, he codes knitting, ergo,
girl germs.

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Blogger Batty said...

I couldn't agree more. But it's not just a technology issue, it's about validating things that are important to women. Why do women constantly have to prove they're as good as men at certain things by discussing topics that are "man-approved" -- like science, gaming, career? I'm interested in all three, don't get me wrong. But nobody would doubt that a group of men is made up of professionals just because they discuss soccer, not string theory at their weekly gathering. But when women mention children or cooking or knitting? Oh, it's just girls chatting about girl stuff, inconsequential, move along. See, they're not real professionals.

I've seen this happen in the real world, and it ticks me off to no end. And it translates into the world of technology in a very similar way. Knitting site, nothing to learn here. Like, you know, about usability, advertising, community building, metadata application in a large environment... it's all girl stuff.

11:56 am  
Blogger Taueret said...

hey you wimun blogger. BLOG MORE OFTEN. xxx

9:03 am  

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