My Australian Computer Society International Women’s Day Fantasy Breakfast

20 Feb

Rather than dudes telling dudes how great dudes are on International Women’s Day, I have put together a panel of tech babes who I think deserve to be made pancakes for. I’ve also taken the liberty of writing down what I’d like to hear them talk about.

In no order whatsoever:

Leena van Deventer: level up

Coding is power. Let’s not only teach girls that they are allowed to occupy space in gaming culture, let’s help them create  space by teaching them to write, design and code their own games.

Claire Porter: go, go gadget girl

Techly editor Claire Porter shares her experience of covering Australian digital technology and gives the industry some tips about how it can make room for women.

Sarah Pulis: 1 in 5

Web accessibility superstar Sarah Pulis lets us in on how we can make the web more inclusive for women (and men) with disabilities.

Asher Wolf: steal your secrets back

In the era of surveillance journalist and hacktivist Asher Wolf gives insight into the length and breadth of government data monitoring and shares her tricks to preserve your privacy online.

There. Done. March 8. I’ll chair it.

Too early for flapjacks?

There’s sexism in games, Paul Verhoeven told me so

23 Jan

Here are my thoughts on Paul Verhoeven’s talk at TEDxWomen Southbank last weekend.

His talk was on sexism in gaming and, overall, he did a pretty good job. He started off with sensitivity to the fact that he is, in fact, a bearded man and that puts him in a strange place to talk about sexism. His qualification came not from gender but from his work as game critic. He had a pretty solid understanding of feminism. You know, the type that should be part of the basic criteria for being a functioning adult, not the type that lets you level up.

I watched it on YouTube this morning and it gave me feelings: warm, fuzzy, angry feelings such as:

  • How the sweet merciful fuck does a man get invited to speak at TEDxWomen?
  • Why can’t he talk about gender equality at a regular TEDx event?
  • Could they not find a chick wanting to talk about this?

What pisses me off most though is that at no point in Verhoeven’s 16 minutes and 11 seconds did he mention the work of Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) – a personal hero of mine who dedicates her life to exposing sexism in games and other popular culture.

Her TEDxWomen talk from 2012 is a tour de force in which she catalogues her experiences of being a feminist gamer online, a story which “comes with a very large trigger warning”. This is maybe the most significant text in the discussion of sexism in gaming culture, and yet Verhoeven chose not to acknowledge its existence.

Verhoeven’s talk is one of what feels like 470 pieces of ‘feminist’ writing from men I’ve seen so far in 2014 which excludes women’s voices. While I don’t believe Verhoeven did this deliberately, he fell into the trap of acting as though he’s the first person to think these ideas. He then made use of his male privilege by occupying space on stage that a woman would have been more qualified for.

If you’re a dude and you want to incorporate a study of gender bias into your work, then I commend you. (That’s not sarcastic, I really do.) Just be sure that when you express your frustration at the lack of gender equality in your world you acknowledge that women have been in this game a lot longer than you.

145 words on victim blaming

22 Oct

Children need to be taught to manage risk and to not attack people. It’s not a matter of which side of this is valid, it’s a matter of which is dominant.

Girls are taught from birth to be cautious, to be constantly aware of the harm that others can do to us. We’re told not to make ourselves even more vulnerable. This is why short skirts and booze are rebellious. Boys are taught by porn that sex should be rough, and by music that guys sing, girls dance.

So when one of the most prominent writers in the country brings out the old line about girls not putting themselves at risk, it plays right into the hands of forces which keep girls indoors.

Until we even up the spread of these messages, girls will never enter the world feeling they have a claim to it.

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Suggested reading

I put a classified ad online. A month later I called the police.

19 Jul

10pm, Wednesday

It’s taken two years of living in Chippendale but I finally have a stalker. It’s lucky, I’m moving to the suburbs in 3 days so I was really running out of time. Like almost everything in my life, it started on the internet.

About a month ago I put up an ad on Gumtree saying I was looking for a room in a sharehouse. You know, It had worked for me before, so I figured it was worth a try. In it, I mention I’m a writer and include a blurry profile pic. Every Ebay seller knows you need a photo to get replies.

Among a bunch of replies advertising shared rooms and lounge rooms with a “transformational curtain”, I got this:

Hi Eliza,

I have a large creative arts premises and welcome you and your writing to settle here as we grow into living dreams.

 I look forward to hearing from you…

Billy*

 I replied:

 Hi Billy,

Thanks, but I’m not interested in commercial space.

Cheers,

Eliza

 And it went on, until I eventually accused him of being a sex offender.

 Him: I know. I have a room / studio the size close to three standard garage lengths. Pls come check it out I know you will agree it is right. I’m in the business of growing people’s dreams……

 Me: That honestly sounds as though you’re luring me there so you can murder me.​

 Him: Oh god. Now imagine I say my business is freedom & self appointed as dream maker. But, self demoted recently to executive freedom fighter. Do I have your number? Perhaps we can talk other housemates are here

 Me: Sorry, what has freedom fighting got to do with house hunting?

 (I have to admit, by now I was intrigued.)

 Him: Just thought I’d let you know what my business is. Altogether your potential new home is part of a creative arts centre. Pls call & chat with us.

 Me: Thank you but that sounds like my personal hell. Can I suggest you take a copywriting course? You shouldn’t have to explain that you are not in the business of murdering people. Unless you’re running a Warhol-esque factory/murder house. If that’s the case then your marketing strategy is appropriate.

 Him: So do you want to call or come or just miss out on the best thing that will happen to you

 Me: Is it some kind of arts/murder/sex house?

 Him: Two out of three ain’t bad.

 Me: This is insane. Why are you pursuing me?

 Him: All jokes aside. Pls take a look I am sure you will find it suitable

 Me: no, never, under any circumstances.

For three weeks I heard nothing, then two nights ago he contacted me again urging me to check out his Art Sex Murder Factory. I called him a stalker. We’re in the midst of the Sydney housing crisis and this guy has been pursuing me as a housemate. This does not happen. I had deleted my ad from the internet and the creepy dude from my mind.

Until about 20 minutes ago.

I was walking home from dinner in Surry Hills to Chippendale (yes, Dad, I should have got a cab). I passed this old junk shop — the kind filled with 1980s high-cut bikinis and Huey Lewis cassettes. I paused for a moment and looked in. For the first time I saw someone in there: a blonde girl who looked about 19, just sitting in a chair. I shrugged and kept on walking. I got about 10 metres away before I heard a man call out “excuse me”. Of course, I didn’t turn around. That’d be nuts. I kept walking and heard him shout out again. And again, more insistent each time. I wondered if I was being too harsh and thought that maybe I’d just dropped my wallet or something. I stopped and turned around.

The man, with pirate long hair and black everything sidled right up close. He told me, “Sorry, but I just wanted to tell you you look really stunning. I had to come out and tell you.”

I said in the loud, confident voice I reserve for suspected rapists “Thank you. Fuck off.” I strode away. I got a few paces and heard my name.  He called it out three times. A chill ran through me as I put the pieces together. This is him, this is Billy. The junk shop is the “artists’ residence”. I walked like someone who’s not scared all the way to my front door where I collapsed in a gibbering heap in front of my male, drummer-armed flatmate.

I called Redfern Police and spoke to an incredibly helpful constable.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to pack some boxes. Can I also just mention, internet, that my boyfriend actually owns a gun? And that it’s totally fucked-up that I should have to fear for my safety walking home from dinner? I think I need a hug from that bullmastiff I’ve been training. He hates artist collectives even more than I do.

*His name isn’t really Billy, I just named him after my least favourite ‘Ally McBeal’ character.

If you’ve encountered similar incidences, online or off, the police would quite like to know about it.

Boy, oh boy, a lady Doctor? John Birmingham reports

6 Jun

John Birmingham, prolific Fairfax writer, novelist and apparently functioning human wrote for The Brisbane Times about his struggle to comprehend the idea of the twelfth Doctor being a woman. He took at least 250 words to reach the conclusion “by golly, I just don’t know. Wouldn’t that just be a thing.”

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In the process he managed to include some of the worst sexist bullshit Fairfax has published since that one by Geoffrey Barker about newsreaders’ boobs.

“I’m not against the idea, mind you,” writes Birmingham. “In fact as it stands naked before me in the Library, the cool blue glow of that lightsabre illuminating all the lady bits, I find my fascinated horror ebbing back to mere curiosity. I just wonder is all.”

Firstly, lightsaber? Really? Secondly, if he’s are prone to staring at “lady bits” with “fascinated horror” I have to wonder how he ever came to have children.

To Birmingham, “female” and “Time Lord” are completely at odds. The Doctor has always been a scientific genius, his moral compass guiding him through time and space. Violence is abhorrent to the Doctor and is only used as a last resort.

According to Birmingham, a Lady Doctor (that’s a female Time Lord, not a gynecologist) would have to be a vastly different character. A woman can’t be a genius or a pacifist:

“The Doctor has always fought with his wits, and his sonic screwdriver. Things do go boom, when he takes a hand in them, but generally not because he’s pulling a trigger. The female hero as modern pop culture has come to define her, however, might well be a thinker. But mostly what she’s thinking about is KICKING MORE ASS!”

Yes, that there is Birmingham claiming that women in popular culture are more prone to violence. Never mind that in the Doctor Who universe the female sidekicks are generally there to work as moral guides, pulling the Doctor back if he strays too far from his pacifism.  It didn’t occur to Birmingham that, like River Song, a woman can be a Time Lord, a thinker, a genius, a pacifist and an engaging televisual character.

If you’re shocked and confused by the idea of a strong female lead in Doctor Who, or indeed science fiction, then you haven’t been paying attention. Yes, the continuous cycle of God’s police/love interest has hardly done the last 50 years of feminism any favours. But, as characters like Rose and Donna show us, the potential for strength, courage and genius in those with XX chromosomes is limitless.

Maybe if it weren’t for people like John Birmingham we women wouldn’t have to leave the planet just to feel capable.

So it turns out political candidates are legally allowed to lie to you.

23 Apr

After Tony Abbott unveiled a billboard claiming a certain number of “illegal” boats had made their way to our shores I felt outrage.

I looked for something to do about it, an avenue I could use to stop lies like this being perpetuated during a political campaign. I found out there wasn’t one.

Here’s my piece for the fantastic Junkee.com about learning that our democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Hope you guys like it.

The Official* Lady #QandA drinking game!

5 Apr

Do you want to watch Monday’s all-women edition of #QandA but lack the drinking habbit to get you through?  My friend Erin and I are here to help.

Take a sip if:

  • You hear the word “choice” or “empowerment” (two if it’s within the same sentence as a reference to sex work)
  • Germaine thumps the table
  • You hear “have it all”
  • You hear “mummy blogger” (or actually mummy anything)
  • Janet Albrechtsen (because Albrechtsen)
  • You hear “men and women are naturally different”
  • Women are referred to as shrill, whiney or nagging
  • Women can be sexist too, shouts male audience member
  • Tony blushes, two if he giggles
  • Offensive audience member rant is taken “as a comment”
  • For every use of “misogyny” “misandry” and “sexism”

Finish your drink if:

  • Someone asks whether feminism is still relevant
  • Someone claims “Tony Abbott’s not that sexist”
  • The Prime Minister’s arse is mentioned
  • A joint is destroyed
  • You hear “women are emotional, men are rational”

Hug your knees in the shower if:

  • A victim is blamed

Bonus round:

  • Any time a double standard is used take a double shot
  • Any slut shaming or mention of slut walk – hike up your skirt and skull from the bottle
  • For the inevitable discussion of female quotas on boards or in parliament, drink 50% of what’s left
  • “Young women don’t understand modern feminism” – drink until it doesn’t hurt when you bang your head against the wall
  • Misuse of facts and statistics? Take about three sips, five if it’s neuroscience
  • If anyone claims you can legally get an abortion outside the ACT throw your drink at the screen and pour another
  • The panel is asked a question unrelated to their status as “womens” – stop drinking and watch in wonder.

Double bonus round:

  • If one of your drunken Lady #QandA tweets make it on to the telly drink everything in front of you and pass out because, lady, your life is complete!

Any more? Add new rules in the comments.

Play along using the hashtags #qanda and #ladyqanda from 9.35 on Monday night; and the next morning using #ladyhangover.

*Not official, my friend @isErinLeigh and I just knew we’d need something to help us through.

Fix It, Dear Henry supports the responsible service of sassy tweets.

 

This post was syndicated by Junkee, on which we have a bit of a crush, actually.

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It’s the Victim-Blaming Sensing Alarm Horn (TM)!

14 Mar

Every time a woman gets blamed for her own assault the VBSAH blares out "stop telling women not to get raped. Start telling men not to rape people". Get yours today!

This is a tribute to Zerlina Maxwell, a political analyst in the States who works tirelessly to counteract the culture of victim-blaming which surrounds talk of violence against women. She’s had a rough week.

As good as I get

7 Sep

Helen Hunt as Jamie Buchman wearing a white shirt.What do you do at 5.30pm on weekdays? Nothing? Great, watch Mad About You. Seriously, you should. Beginning in 1992, it stars Helen Hunt (Jamie Buchman) and Paul Reiser (Paul Buchman) as a typical Manhattan couple. The whole premise of the show is how much Paul and Jamie love each other. It’s half an hour of pure sweetness, with self deprecating wisecracks.

Looking back on it, I’m pleased that I had early exposure to Jamie Buchman. A Yale and NYU graduate, she works as a campaign strategist for various progressive political groups around the city. She rocks a white business shirt and comes home to her film maker husband and their border collie, Murrey. I figure if I can emulate her, my adult life is going pretty well. All my white shirts have coffee stains and the last campaign I strategised was to encourage teenagers to wear broad-brimmed hats but still, let’s just say I’m on my way to achieving Buchman status.

In June I was somewhere in America, let’s say Ohio. John and I were in a hotel room watching hotel movies. As Good As It Gets came on. My parents watched it maybe eight times in the late nineties and I’m happy to say that it holds up.

Jack Nicholson plays an agoraphobic, OCD romance writer, Greg Kinear an artist recovering from a bashing and Helen Hunt the waitress/single mother who brings them together on a wacky adventure of a roadtrip. It’s one of the only movies I’ve seen recently that had actual, fully formed characters.

Helen is nurturing. She has a warm but self-mocking sense of humour. She has a way of being affectionate with those around her. But like Jamie Buchman, she has a toughness and a stridency which I admire. Twenty minutes into the movie, John told me she reminds him of me. I think of Jamie Buchman and take the compliment.

There’s a weird sexual tension between Helen and Jack that neither seem very comfortable with. Jack is impersonating a high-functioning Howard Hughes and Helen is too busy with her job and child to fuck around with someone with his kind of issues. But one night she has a reason to celebrate. She bounces into the room proclaiming to the agoraphobe and the guy on crutches “Take me out dancing!” Here John and I chuckle because I said that just a few days before.

Jack obliges and takes Helen out to dinner. She wears a red shirt-dress, a look I’ve always found flattering on my shape. She pretends to dance with the waiter, making fun of the slightly snooty restaurant. Before the lobster is even ordered, Jack accidentally says something insulting and a look appears on Helen’s face which a number of my ex-boyfriends have referred to as The Look of Fire. I can only assume I get it from the Irish side of the family. The eyes flash, the jaw tightens and, instead of looking down, I look my opponent straight in the eye. Friends, lovers and housemates are forced to buckle in its presence.

John slowly turns to look at me. He has spent many months studying my behaviour and I’d say he’s an expert by now. His eyes flick between me and Helen Hunt’s face. I stare back at her, as thought seeing my mother for the first time. So this is where I come from. We both know what’s happened. I was four years old when Mad About You first went to air. Over the next 20 years, while my personality took shape it had something to work off. Without noticing I had become, not Jamie Buchman, but Helen Hunt. Her tone, her mannerisms, everything. We watch the rest of the movie in silence, wondering if personality theft is a crime and when the feds were going to storm our room.

I sit on the bed slowly coming to terms with the fact that what I thought was Eliza-ness is actually Helen-ness. But if I must have someone else’s personality, I’m glad it’s someone who can at least achieve Jamie Buchman’s likeness.

If you’re interested here’s a video of the time Jack Nicholson came to my house .

Things I’ve taught my Dad recently

4 Jun
  • What the snowflake button on the toaster is for
  • How to clean a laptop keyboard using a vacuum attachment and a fork
  • That wheat is different to gluten
  • To skype
  • That croissants and crumpets are not effective dietary alternatives to toast
  • That gay people can have children*
  • How to cook risotto
  • What I do for a living (I’ve been doing it for 3 years)
  • The difference between the internet and the world wide web
  • How to burn CDs into iTunes

Most of these are because computers “just crept up on him” (sneakily, over about 20 years). I’d write a list of all the things he’s taught me, but the world wide web would become full and servers would have to automatically delete stuff like our family’s orginal Macintosh Classic.

*This made him happy.

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