Playing with Negative Space

Instead of facing misogyny, we’re talking about banning the word “feminist”

Apparently, Time has decided to vote off the worst word of 2014. The goal is to eliminate a word that causes you to "definitely cringe", "exhale pointedly", and possibly "even seek out the nearest the pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids".

Time's Worst Words of 2014 poll

One of those words is "feminist".

"Feminist" is a word near and dear to my heart. It saddens me that there are people out there who cringe at hearing the word for treating women as their equals. And it fucking pisses me off when those people want to get rid of a word to help erase the history of people fighting for the rights of women.

But it doesn't stop there. "Basic" is explicitly gendered according to the article. "Bossy" may imply that we should stop using the word as Sheryl Sandberg's campaign to encourage girls to take the lead desires, but the tone of the article implies that it actually means we should ban talking about the campaign. "I can't even" is an expression that people describe girls as using to say they're stupid. "Obvi" makes the list because people consider it to be "popular with people of limited intelligence, generally of the 13-year-old girl variety".

Anecdotally from my little slice of the internet, "sorry not sorry" and "literally" are associated with unintelligent girls. I admit that I assumed they made the list because I made that association, and I feel really bad about that.

So 7 of the 15 words are likely to be associated primarily with women and girls, while none are near as explicitly gendered with men and boys - unless you assume that successful tech workers and businesspeople are men. It's society wanting to censor women and girls' manners of speech.

From Time's list of "Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?", I only use the word "feminist" with any frequency. Not today. Today, I'll take a mess of these words as my own to point out how much the gendering of this list upsets me:

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Why is it easier to teach girls to code than to teach ourselves to treat women well?

When we ask ourselves "why aren't there more women in tech?", we're quick to discuss how the pipeline fails young women. I would be lying if I didn’t think there’s room for improvement here - I’ve written about my own negative experiences as a young programmer - and it’s exciting to dream about new ways to expose eight year old girls to programming, with or without pink. Unfortunately, we only have limited efforts to put into solutions, so it’s important to understand how we can be the most efficient. Wanting to get more girls interested in computer science is fun and non-threatening. Changing workplace environments would have a more immediate impact.

Half of the women in technology leave.

We know that we lose women over caregiving issues. There are too many maternity leave policies that show workplaces are uninterested in their female employees having healthy family lives, and we expect mothers to put in time at odd hours just to keep up. Our industry needs to find ways to be flexible with talented women who also want to have families.

But the main reason we lose women isn’t related to caregiving - it is a myth that pregnancy is the main thing that holds women back when it only accounts for a sixth of women who leave engineering. We primarily lose women to toxic work environments: misogyny and sexual harassment are commonly cited as reasons for leaving. This ranges from assumptions that women can’t possibly be good engineers to a man erasing the work of a woman because she refused to date him. Treating women fairly could very well be the simplest way to increase the number of women in technology.

But we don't discuss the importance of fixing these problems like we discuss the importance of the pipeline. Discussing the pipeline is convenient - we've agreed that improving the pipeline is a complicated and daunting task that we can't be expected to solve in a quick timeline. So we're able to put it off and pat ourselves on the back for thinking about how to fix things in ways that make us feel good about ourselves. Blaming the pipeline means we don't have to confront the internalized misogyny in our day-to-day environments. It's a cop-out.

Admitting that the culture can be hostile is admitting that there's something we can work on changing now. It’s time for us to decide to change.

The next time someone asks you to help get girls interested in technology, also ask them what they’re doing to support the women who’ve already made it through the pipeline.



xoxo stage banner

You and I meeting
for the first time.
Together, we found
built in polygons,
yellow, orange, and red.

Places to experiment, learn,
play, create.
The safety to
talk of speed bumps, loss,


But you and I -
an army -
propping up those colored polygons
to turn defeat against itself or,
at least,
make it something we take on

Places and spaces into
moments and memories and
bonds to hold onto
beyond those polygons,
yellow, orange, and red.


An update on Keybase verification

Keybase updated their verification methods to include a command line method that relies on echo, gpg, perl, and curl. I really like this so-called "hardcore mode" because it uses only tools I already trust - I don't have to install anything from Keybase. The process involves running a script they provide, and you get to read through it and see exactly what it will do.

This actually happened a few months ago, but I just used it to verify my Keybase identity. I'm excited to see Keybase improve the web of trust.


Where books travel


I sit down in my premium economy seat, the abbreviated way of saying "economy as it was fifteen years ago, but at a higher premium", and deeply internalize my physical constraints for the next six hours. A small box outlined by my seat, the side of the plane with its tiny window, the seat in front of me, and a precise, though invisible, boundary between myself and 19B. I grab a thin paperback out of my bag before sliding it underneath the seat in front of me.

It's just barely light out, and I won't be turning on the light above my seat. I have less than an hour to spend peeling through my book's pages before the night will fall, the plane's lights will dim, and a redeye passenger such as myself should fall asleep. I think to myself that I should have packed a hardcover instead - this paperback will certainly bend and fold on its way to wherever it ends up between me and my seat - but a hardcover wouldn't have packed well.

It doesn't matter. Black inks on bound textured pages with their soft scents are familiar feelings. I can read them on planes, on trains, in cafes, or between the sheets of my hotel bed and feel at home in their arms.


I was afforded a recommendation for a book I do not own and another recommendation for a place to find it. I make my way to what is apparently their new store, just one address over from its predecessor, south of the Tottenham Court Road station. It's a bright white all over, like at the start of a new lease where the owners kindly paid for a new coat of sterile paint for the apartment walls. There are many books on many warm wood shelves on many open floors, and each book knows precisely where to reside and how far apart from every other book it should be. Well, they know those details until someone like me comes along and plucks them from their shelves. Gives them new life outside the store. Or instead confuses them just enough that they can't find their way home on their own and end up on a mobile, metal shelf for refiling.

But it's the twenty-first century and we have a mobile app. Just type in some information about a book, and receive where it can be found and how many copies are available. Drat, the recommendation would usually be in Fiction W, but it's currently out of stock. Pop over to searching a few book sites back in the States and no dice to find it directly. I didn't actually want to purchase it from either of the two giants, but if at least one of them had it, my local bookstore could order a copy with some luck.


Off to the poetry section - I find staff picks the most useful here because while I like poetry, I am not a good judge of the genre. I pull the top copy of a staff recommendation off a stack, lift open its cover, and am taken by the boldness of this paperback's particularly stiff cover as my fingers grace it. Maybe this is why the store's walls are so coldly white, to contrast how much life resides within its books.

I read a few lines, smile, and remember how much I love the escape of poetry and how grateful I am that someone more well-versed than I will curate it for me. I read a few more lines, glance up, read another, and am reminded about how this process causes me to tie together poems and the places I am when I read them. I pop in and out of the fragmented world of the poems and the one around me such that they begin to quickly meld into one. And they are. I am there, in those pages, in the moment, in that place. Poetic Scientifica still feels like Portland, and Bright Travellers has already begun to feel like London between my hands.

These thoughts pass. I read the next page, put the book down, and remember I still need to purchase it. And I do.


I know I've already made the one purchase I allotted for this trip, but I can't help myself from browsing more. I'm a bouncy, smiling cliché just shy of twirling through the stacks. So many more books to buy - there are always more books I desire to read - but especially on vacation, especially now with a suitcase already overflowing with tea, I cannot.

So I jot down titles, authors, notes within my graph paper notebook to take advantage of this store's curation. I know that this store's arrangement - the way it highlights some stories and relegates others to distant corners - must be studied carefully before I leave it behind. I turn careful placements in the reality that surrounds me into two-dimensional scratches in hopes that I can remember enough of the feelings that prompted me to want the books I note.

Curating a list for my future self through the curation of another. Touching the pages and reading early excerpts to see what sticks. Seeing another's nose in a novel you were considering and the smile across his face as he closes it.

The art of the physical bookstore that I hear is dying. Today, for me, it is very much alive.

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