Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Robot State | Technology, Culture and Gender

Where is feminism when you need it? That question is currently being asked, and answered, in Silicon Valley. Whether it’s discussing the resurgence of sexism, finding the new flavors of feminist, cheer leading for all the fab women in tech and pushing for more women to join the geektrain; or whether it’s asking hard questions about how the heck we manage to be female in high power areas, the discussions are plentiful and the responses thoughtful. I’m collecting some here:

A great starting point in Silicon Valley is Women 2.0 . Founded in 2006 by Shaherose Charania and Angie Chang, Women 2.0 is a global network and social platform for influencers that drive trends and decisions — as startup founders and as consumers. Their mission is to inform, inspire and educate a new generation of females that are entrepreneurial and successful.

Unfortunately, the environment is still quite toxic to women in vast swathes of the tech world.

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Mega Startup Weekend | Startup Weeekend with 3 Verticals: Mobile + Gaming + Robots!


Straight from the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party to the MEGA Startup Weekend with Robots.

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Robot Block Party @ Stanford Apr 11 2012 « Silicon Valley Robotics

Robot Block Party @ Stanford Apr 11 2012

March 15, 2012 Leave a comment

In celebration of National Robotics Week for the third year the Robot Block Party will be held on the Stanford University campus and will showcase the best of robotics technology in the Bay Area! The VAIL complex will host the Robot Block Party from 1 till 6, starting with a job fair, then a public exhibition and closing with a party (tbc).

The Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford is once again participating in the Robot Block Party and have videos of the previous events as well as uptodate event information.

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It's been a fabulously busy April organizing and attending lots of great robot events.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Second Sex - Second Shelf

A wonderful essay by Meg Wolitzer on women's fiction and what it means that women's fiction isn't simply 'fiction' whereas men's fiction is. Along the way she raises interesting points, including the halycon days of the 70s and early 80s when being 'woman' was interesting. Wolitzer believes that many great female writers got their breaks then but she notes the continual under-representation of women in the 'greats' lists.

Wolitzer even describes the 1/3rd effect: Where 'equal' really equals 'some'. There's strong psychological research [citations coming] that suggests that ingroup members perceive an outgroup to be overwhelming them at around 33%. Instead of looking like equal or underrepresentation, the presence of more than 1/3rd of another group seems dominating. I've seen this effect everywhere from kids sporting teams to school classrooms to conference attendees and board members.

This is definitely echoed in the technology world, including the back slide in numbers of women involved in comp sci, robotics, and engineering. Even in areas, like health science/medicine, where women's numbers are 'equal' or greater, there is not an equal representation in the upper levels. Worse, the 'pink ghetto' effect takes hold. Most men do not want jobs as bank clerks, for example. Bank clerks were once a male status occupation, but it's become unvalued, underpaid and a woman's job.

Where I would like Wolitzer's discussion of the structure of sexism in literature to be continued. She makes an assumption that women's and men's writing is the same - allowing for the same type of plot and characterization. She mentions blind testing. Recent years have shown many examples from music that blind auditioning for orchestras has created a significantly different gender balance. Women now are equally represented in most orchestra positions, in the US, excepting perhaps conductors. But research by Pennebaker seems to show that men and women use language in structurally different ways and that computer analysis of a massive range of texts is very accurate at predicting the sex of the writer. Pennebaker believes that these structural language differences are so small and subtle as to be unnoticed consciously, yet they form the milieu in which we operate. More research is called for!

And in the meantime, as Wolitzer requests, more women's fiction BOLDY titled in STRONG colors, at eye level on the best shelves not stuck on the second shelf.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Madonna the fearless?


Madonna taught us to face fears: of the consequences of blooming sexuality, independence, anger, eccentricity and unconventionality. Of being women who don't do as they are told.

But not so much the fear of ageing. I can't help but wish, as brilliant British author Caitlin Moran said to me in an interview recently, that Madonna would just let herself become a smart, defiant, old woman: "If Madonna could just hag up now and just look like a wizard and just grow long, grey hair down to her knees and start using a stick and shouting at people in a really angry way, that would be amazing."

It would, wouldn't it? Ageing is an art form few know how to master. We value youth, but we used to also admire wisdom.

...excerpt from Julia Baird's bloody good opinion piece about Madonna, ageing and female role models on

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The Hunger Games: The Real Woman Warriors

Finally an antidote to the virginal vanilla vampire tales like Twilight. It might be surprising that Hunger Games is going uberblockbuster and is tipped to outgross Harry Potter. But it's no surprise that Hunger Games shows powerful women.

The Hunger Games has a strong female writer, producer and cast. First, author Suzanne Collins, as a military child and theater major, has the background to craft both the details and emotions of this post reality show book. She's also spent years honing her craft, as a working writer. We're perhaps fortunate that she also adapted her book for screen instead of the project passing through too many hands and becoming diluted.

I enjoyed the books of the Hunger Games series as much as the rest of my family did. We're such a mixed bunch of genders, ages and personalities that it's rare to find a book or movie that speaks to us all. [cough Harry Potter] The Hunger Games film cut straight to the emotional bone, avoiding the more meandering path of the book but still showing the pure strength of character Katniss.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss, is a perfect pick. Her performance as an Ozark Mountain girl searching for her crank-cooking father in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. "A Jennifer Lawrence only comes along once in a generation,” producer Jon Kilik said. “She was our first choice right from the beginning.” [Burlington Free Press]

But would this be a blockbuster without visionary producer Nina Jacobsen? Jacobsen has been a film executive for a long time, working at several large studios including Disney.

In 1998, she moved to Disney where she was responsible for developing scripts and overseeing film production for Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures. Among her projects as studio executive were The Sixth Sense, Remember the Titans, Pearl Harbor, The Princess Diaries, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. For her efforts at helping expand the role of women in the entertainment industry, Women in Film awarded her the Crystal Award in 2003.[5] In 2005, Forbes Magazine named Jacobson one of the "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women" in acknowledgement of her success.[6] [wikipedia]

It doesn't end happily there of course. The road to success for women does not run straight. Jacobsen has been an advocate for gay and lesbian rights. She's also parent to three children with her female partner. It was during the birth of her third child that Jacobsen was fired from Disney in a reshuffle. She seems to have taken her departure in stride, saying only that her time at Disney was good while it lasted.

Her close creative partner, director M. Night Shyamalan, was far less restrained. After six years of successful collaboration at Disney, the bond between director and producer had eroded to the point where Shyamalan crucified Jacobsen in his book "The Man Who Heard Voices". Shyamalan repudiated Jacobsen's script criticisms with claims that he "had witnessed the decay of her creative vision right before his own wide-open eyes. She didn't want iconoclastic directors. She wanted directors who made money."

So, round about now Jacobsen is fired, starts her own company and picks up two of the biggest creeping blockbusters around, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "The Hunger Games" while they were relative unknowns. I'd say someone's creative vision was 20/20.

The winner is woman warriors everywhere.

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