stories of hair

3/29/13

Story:

When someone shared in class that she was doing sexism for her portfolio as well (which coincidentally this is- a portfolio-), and said she had cut off her hair as “the thing that makes her a woman,” I decided I should probably do a post about my hair.  It’s pretty important, after all.

For my early life, I had a headful of curly tangled frizzy hair like no one else in my family except my grandmother, who kept hers shorts and picked it.  I took another route: envied my cousins’ hair deeply (one White and White, one White and Chinese) while refusing to let my wavy-haired mother brush it, or touch it.  I washed it with some likely unsuitable product, not “knowing any better.” How to take care of hair was part of being a girl that my hippie non-shaving no-deoderant and EASILY-MANAGED-HAIRED mother never showed me.

When we moved to the suburbs, I was teased relentlessly by boys: “mophead,” and “can I turn you upside down and clean my floor?”   All the other Jewish girls in my new neighborhood straightened their hair and the Black girls were perplexed by it: was I mixed? And if so, why didn’t I have a Woman of Color in my life to teach me what to do with it?  And if I wasn’t, what was up with that hair anyway?  For a while I thought that meant I had Black hair.  I didn’t.  That didn’t stop me in college, from trying to dread it.  After I cut them off, I sat on my parents’ steps and cried about “looking like a boy.”  A Black woman in my Intro to Feminism class told me, “Thank God you cut those off.  I thought you were cool but I can’t have a White friend with dreads.”  I asked her what she was talking about and at her advice, googled “cultural co-optation.”

Over the years friends have taught me to iron my hair, which I did sometimes frequently and sometimes not at all.  This began in high school and again in the latter part of college.  I had a feeling guys liked my hair better straight and “flowy” but secretly treasured it when a guy preferred my curliness.  This, I thought, meant he liked the REAL me.  

Annotation/reflection:

Hair seems to play an important role in so many women’s lives. I’ve noticed I often judge a woman’s level of attractiveness based at least somewhat on her hair. Recently I’ve been aware that I also often decide their sexual orientation based on short or long hair as well. The notion of “good hair” is one that has been taught to me by Women of Color, not one I grew up with, but it has always resonated. The first time I heard it, I knew this was the problem. I didn’t have “good hair.”

Yes, women dress and groom and primp for one another. This does NOT mean that it is not still through the male gaze. I’m starting to think my reaction to what men think of my hair really means, not that there is a real or fake me, but that it’s still more important to me what guys think, what that outside world, that male gazing world, thinks, than what I think.  

Part of me has always wanted to be “exotic,” which brings up the question of what IS exotic and to whom and why? My hair would be exotic in another country perhaps but in an entirely different way than I experience WOC’s hair as exotic in the US (the way I thought I could pick and choose, in my Whiteness, to have dreads in my hair and the privilege that I could, in the literal sense). A little part of me still, at 27, wants to look like all the other White Jewish girls in my middle school, which is not who I am.  Which of course, leaves the melodramatic question of, who am I?  My hair is somehow integral to this, I know.  I have a lot of respect for women who experiment with their hair,  and even cut it all off.  Hair is rarely meaningless to us, even if the meanings we ascribe are just the troublesome things we have been taught.

Update: my hair narrative-

It’s been 6 months or so since I last ironed my hair, curled the thick black cord around my finger
and tried not to listen to the sizzle
not six months if you count my finals presents to myself, sitting in the salon seat cringing
while someone else burned my ears
but I don’t count that.

6 months because I had hoped it would be too busy here in this busy school in this busy city
but I think I just got tired
it was not a victory

So six months, maybe 8, since each saturday morning when I devotedly washed, wrapped, sectioned, and pressed each bit until I felt like a really regular girl.
The Whitest, skinniest, straightest of hair and sexuality

for some intangible everpresent male gaze that now lives inside of me-
she says, “you are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own
voyeur.”

so when you told me you always liked me better with my curls I thought thank you
for my saturday mornings back
and from then on I asked each one after you
curly or straight?
As if this answer was the key to true connection,
do you see me, I was asking.

But then after all, after all, you like it messy and you like it smooth and you like it
bouncy and you like it natural and you lied because you just like something to hold onto

never stopping to ask, how do I like it?
I don’t ask you anymore but in December sat in that salon seat and when you said you like me better with my curls, I turned around,
looked behind me for some newly-straight-haired woman who might have asked
for your opinion.

Pretty girl

3/27/13

Story:

Between classes this afternoon, I went to do a little “self-care”: get my hair done down the street.  When I sat down the hair stylist started shampooing, then asked why I would want my hair straightened when I had curls, curls are so great, etc.  I get this fairly frequently so didn’t think much of it.  Then he said “most of my girlfriends have had curly hair.”  I felt a little uncomfortable but tried to relax.  Then he brought me to the chair and called me “pretty girl.”

I don’t like that.  I might feel differently if it was a boyfriend, I don’t know.  In general I don’t mind endearments but not from men I don’t know.  I felt increasingly uncomfortable as he did my hair.  What is relaxing when done by an older woman (heterosexist ageism much?) felt sexual and scary. When he finished he said, “Get in your house quickly” and smiled.  I didn’t understand, partially because he had a fairly thick accent.  I felt bad asking him to repeat himself but finally I understood when he said, “Get in your house, because you are so beauful, you understand,” and motioned to the windows as if men outside were waiting to accost me.  Which, since I sometimes feel like that, was not a particularly funny joke.

After I left, I thought, well something interactive for my misogyny blog/portfolio.  So the questions/thoughts I’m left with-

Annotation:

There is this idea that men can say whatever they want to women and if it’s “complimentary” it should be and will be taken as such.  I did nothing to counteract this idea.  Some people would say this makes me part of the problem.  I think they should know.  Is it really my responsibility to tell a man he is making me uncomfortable?  I don’t think so, but this is the norm.  You cannot tell a woman she looks bad, but you can tell her she looks good in almost any way and try to justify it.

Would my reaction have been different in another scenario/context/with another person?  I felt somewhat embarrassed by my inability to understand some of what he was saying and i think this may have softened my reaction.  I also think I unconsciously (until now) wrote some of it off to a certain unnamed “cultural” element that I should therefore, not be rude to or offended by him.  Hello, intersection of misogyny and racism.  I would’ve felt more considering of the option of speaking up if it had been a White man without an accent. And to be a thousand percent honest, I think this is because i am the least afraid of White men.  I think this is the first time I have verbalized (written) why I usually do not respond to street harassment: I don’t feel safe yelling back at men of color. There is also the class element that always makes me feel small and spoiled simultaneously when someone performs a “service” for me, such as doing my hair.

Damn.

That being said, and alongside it, I am angry.  I want to be able to feel safe with men.  But there’s a reason I prefer to interact with women in almost all (pretty much only excepting intimate relationships) areas of life.  Because I keep feeling like I feel now: unsafe, just a face, invisible, highly visible, and mute all at once. And yet my assumption that the woman doing my hair would be straight is also problematic. I don’t know how to change these unquestioned assumptions…except I suppose, by beginning to question them.

Adria Richards

3/22/13

Reposted without permission from: http://butyoureagirl.com/14015/forking-and-dongle-jokes-dont-belong-at-tech-conferences/

Forking and Dongle Jokes Don’t Belong At Tech Conferences

Posted on March 18, 2013

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laptop_vivian_and_dad_girls_tech

Photo credit: “Vivian and Daddy on the Laptop” by Qole Pejorian

Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable? Well, that just happened this week but instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it an here’s my story…

Yesterday, I publicly called out a group of guys at the PyCon conference who were not being respectful to the community.

For those of you visiting from Hacker News from the tweet and from this post, thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the context.

I tweeted a photo of the guys behind me:

I publicly asked for help with addressing the problem:

I tweeted the PyCon Code of Conduct page and began to contacting the PyCon staff via text message:

and I’m happy to say that PyCon responded quickly not just with words but with action and a public response:

What I will share with you here is the backstory that led to this –

The guy behind me to the far left was saying he didn’t find much value from the logging session that day. I agreed with him so I turned around and said so.  He then went onto say that an earlier session he’d been to where the speaker was talking about images and visualization with Python was really good, even if it seemed to him the speaker wasn’t really an expert on images. He said he would be interested in forking the repo and continuing development.

That would have been fine until the guy next to him…

began making sexual forking jokes

I was going to let it go. It had been a long week. A long month. I’d been on the road since mid February attending and speaking at conferences.  PyCon was my 5th and final conference before heading home.

I know it’s important to pick my battles.

I know I don’t have to be a hero in every situation.

Sometimes I just want to go to a conference and be a geek.

But…

like Popeye, I couldn’t “stands it no more” because of what happened –

Jesse Noller was up on stage thanking the sponsors. The guys behind me (one off to the right) said, “You can thank me, you can thank me”. That told me they were a sponsoring company of Pycon and from the photos I took, his badge had an add-on that said, “Sponsor”.

My company was a Gold sponsor as well.

They started talking about “big” dongles. I could feel my face getting flustered.

Was this really happening?
How many times do I have to deal with this?
Can they not hear what Jesse is saying?

The stuff about the dongles wasn’t even logical and as a self professed nerd, that bothered me. Dongles are intended to be small and unobtrusive. They’re intended for network connectivity and to service as physical licence keys for software. I’d consulted in the past with an automotive shop that needed data recovery and technical support. I know what PCMCIA dongles look like.

I was telling myself if they made one more sexual joke, I’d say something.

The it happened….The trigger.

Jesse was on the main stage with thousands of people sitting in the audience. He was talking about helping the next generation learn to program and how happy PyCon was with the Young Coders workshop (which I volunteered at). He was mentioning that the PyLadies auction had raised $10,000 in a single night and the funds would be used the funds for their initiatives.

I saw a photo on main stage of a little girl who had been in the Young Coders workshop.

I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.

I calculated my next steps.  I knew there wasn’t a lot of time and the closing session would be wrapping up.  I considered:

  • The type of event
  • The size of the audience
  • How the conference had emphasized their Code of Conduct
  • What I knew about the community and their diversity initiatives
  • How to address this issue effectively and not disrupt the main stage

Added 3/19: Description and photo of ballroom

The ballroom was huge.  Here’s a photo from that morning of the keynote speaker, Guido van Rossum, creator of Python.  Each section was 12 seats wide and 20 rows deep with six sections (front and back) in the ballroom.  I would estimate it held over 1,000 people that afternoon. I was located approximately 10 rows deep from the front right screen in the top-right section and about 5 seats in from the aisle on the left of the section.

pycon 2013 ballroom

(Math inclined folks: feel free to provide your estimates on how many people the ballroom held in the comments.)

Accountability was important. These guys sitting right behind me felt safe in the crowd. I got that and realized that being anonymous was fueling their behaviour. This is known as Deindividualization:

Deindividuation is a concept in social psychology that is generally thought of as the losing of self-awareness in groups.   Theories of deindividuation propose that it is a psychological state of decreased self-evaluation and decreased evaluation apprehension causing antinormative and disinhibited behavior.

Deindividuation theory seeks to provide an explanation for a variety of antinormative collective behavior, such as violent crowds, lynch mobs, etc. Deindividuation theory has also been applied to genocide and been posited as an explanation for antinormative behavior online and in computer-mediated communications.

It very much reminded me of Lord Of the Flies.  I decided to put out the fire at the base.

PyCon has gone to great efforts to position themselves as a conference that everyone is welcome to attend according to their homepage:

PyCon is the largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language. PyCon is organized by the Python community for the community. We try to keep registration far cheaper than most comparable technology conferences, to keep PyCon accessible to the widest group possible.

and they go on to say:

PyCon is a diverse conference dedicated to providing an enjoyable experience to everyone. Our code of conduct is intended to help everyone maintain the PyCon spirit. We thank all attendees and staff for observing it.

I did a gut check and waited until Jesse finished introducing Diana who would be the new PyCon US chair for 2014. I stood up slowly, turned around and took three, clear photos. I said back down, did another gut check and started composing a tweet.

Three things came to me: act, speak and confront in the moment.

I decided to do things differently this time and didn’t say anything to them directly.  I was a guest in the Python community and as such, I wanted to give PyCon the opportunity to address this.

A few minutes later, one of the PyCon staff member approached to the left.  I stood up, went outside to talk with him and explain the situation with a few of the other PyCon staff.  They had seen my tweet.  After explaining, they wanted to pull the people in question from the main ballroom.  I walked back in with the PyCon staff and point them out one by one and they were escorted to the hallway.

As I walked back to my seat, I cannot tell you how proud I was of the PyCon and Python community at the very moment for keeping their word to make the conference a safe place to be.  A bit shaken, I took my seat to continue watching the lightning talks.  I sent an updated tweet that the situation was being dealt with and later on, PyCon tweeted they had addressed the issue.

For context, I’m a developer evangelist at a successful startup.

That means I’m an advocate for developers, male and female. I hear about demanding bosses with impossible deadlines for product launches and the overall experience of working at other startups firsthand.

I listen and offer suggestions, ideas and mentoring to help developers become problems solvers. Sometimes the answer is our API or not answering email after 7pm while other times it about being assertive and shedding impostor syndrome.

The forking joke set the stage for the dongle joke. Neither were funny.

What many of you don’t know is that this wasn’t the first time that day I had to address this issue around harassment and gender.

I had been talking with a developer after lunch in the hall and he told me he had made a joke. He had been looking for some boxes and said aloud that he was looking under the skirt (he had meant a table skirt) in the expo hall. A woman had “given him a look” and/or made a comment after he said this so he responded by saying “it was bare, just the way he liked it” as an innuendo for when women shave off all their pubic hair. I explained that while this could be funny, it was out of context because:

  • We were at a tech conference
  • There was a job fair going on
  • Women historically have felt unwelcome at tech conferences
  • PyCon was making a special effort to be welcoming to women
  • There were several women’s groups here (PyLadies, Women Who Code, CodeChix, Ada Initiative)
  • He was wearing company logos and that meant his actions and words carried on their behalf

….much further than his sense of humor ever would.

He disagreed. I urged him to talk to someone at the conference who worked for the same company who was a guy and who would understand this issue and potential for brand/reputation damage. We were able to discuss this because we were in the hallway, not a packed ballroom.

At a conference where it was was celebrated that 20% of attendees were women

it wasn’t the place to make “jokes” like this. I felt our chat went well (as well as could be expected) and headed on my way to more sessions and the final closing talks. Why did he share his joke with me?   Maybe because I told him I’d just finished a 5 week stand up comedy class and he wanted to reciprocate. Maybe because my job as a developer evangelist means I spend a lot of time around male developers and he thought I would understand.  What I did know is I needed to say something instead of laugh.

I have been to a lot of tech conferences and hackathons over the years.  I’ve heard a lot of things said.  That means I’m more desensitized than others but it doesn’t make it ok.  Here I could go into all sorts of comparisons on things I could say around guys to make them uncomfortable but that’s not the point of this post.

There is something about crushing a little kid’s dream that gets me really angry.

Women in technology need consistant messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry.

Let’s unify the message to our daughters and to the women developers we work with:

“We want you to be here and we will do our best to welcome you into the world of programming.”

What has to change is that everyone must take personal accountability and speak up when they hear something that isn’t ok.  It takes three words to make a difference:

“That’s not cool.”

Not all men at tech conferences are like these guys.

Not every woman who attends a tech conference is a victim in waiting.

We need to build bridges and be aware of our actions and not discount that our words carry weight.  A guy in my PyCon sprint group today shared a beautiful French proverb today:

“Live a good life then make room for others.”

Yesterday the future of programming was on the line and I made myself heard.

Who is the true victim in a rape case?

3/22/13

Reposted without permission from: http://blog.pennlive.com/life/2013/03/nancy_eshelman.html

Who is the true victim in a rape case?: Nancy Eshelman

It’s something of a mystery. Why do some crimes rate so much media attention while others go virtually unnoticed? Why do some people accused of a crime become a household name?

What makes Jodi Arias infamous? Why does her trial rate gavel to gavel coverage?

How did Casey Anthony’s name become instantly recognizable?

Why does the accidental death of a pregnant lacrosse coach rate front page coverage while the driver of the bus, also dead, goes largely unmentioned?

Nancy Eshelman Nancy Eshelman File

If you’re expecting an answer, I don’t have one.

I also wonder how and why some national media seemed to be so sympathetic to two teens found guilty of raping a drunken girl.

Maybe I don’t pay enough attention, but I don’t remember reading about the rape in Steubenville, Ohio, until last Sunday.

That’s the day a juvenile court judge found Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays guilty. That’s when the bloggers began huffing and puffing, and rightfully so.

It seems a couple of women TV reporters on a prominent channel lamented that these poor high school boys, star football players who had such promising futures, would be spending a year or more in a juvenile facility.

I have to admit their lack of professionalism, on that network and others, is what drew me into learning more about this crime. And the more I read, the worse it got.

The crime was raping a teenage girl who was so drunk she could not remember the rape. Then it got worse when one of the two young men posted photos and bragged about their deeds on social media.

Next I read that “friends” watched the crime and did nothing to stop the rape and humiliation of the victim.

And make no mistake, she was the victim and became more of a victim when the high school football coach tried to hush up the crime in favor of keeping players on a winning team.

So, as one commentator said, these young men’s lives are destroyed and as registered sex offenders, they will carry a stigma forever, which diminishes their chances of being gainfully employed.

Well, boo hoo.

After the judge announced the verdict, Richmond turned to his lawyer and said, “My life is over.”

These young men’s lives are destroyed. … Well, boo hoo.

What did their actions during an alcohol-fueled night do to the future of the true victim of this crime? How is she supposed to get beyond what happened to her? How will this impact her future?

I come down on the side of the Ohio attorney general who said these young men (and others who participated by watching or posting on social media) had an “unbelievable casualness about rape and about sex.”

Not that the Ohio victim is unique, according to RAINN, the country’s largest sexual abuse network. She fits the profile, in that 44 percent of victims are under age 18 and 80 percent are under age 30. Annually, on average, there are 207,754 victims, age 12 or older, and two-thirds of the perpetrators are known to the victim.

Saddest of all, to me, is that since Sunday the Ohio victim also has become a target of threats from losers who weigh a promising football career as more important than this young girl’s trauma.

So far, two people have been charged with making threats, both of them women. So much for sisterhood.

Shame on them. Shame on those who watched as this girl was raped. Shame on those who tried to cover up their crime. And most of all, shame on the boys found guilty.

Frankly, if I had a daughter, I’d be relieved to know they won’t be sharing a college campus with her.

What happened in the last episode of “Girls” was not “uncomfortable sex”

3/12/13

Reposted from:

http://feministing.com/2013/03/12/what-happened-in-the-last-episode-of-girls-was-not-uncomfortable-sex/

What happened in the last episode of “Girls” was not “uncomfortable sex”

By SAMHITA | Published: MARCH 12, 2013

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Trigger Warning and Spoiler Alert. 

..it’s rape. The most recent episode of Girls was slightly spoiled for me as I had glanced at Amanda Hess’s piece on it before I watched it, but I stopped myself from reading the whole thing. Still, I found myself watching with clenched teeth, waiting for the inevitable and uncomfortable, triggering and uncensored moment when I would be watching rape on screen. And then it happened. After they had sex once, the second time Adam raped his new girlfriend Natalia.

I was shocked, but not shocked, to return to Amanda and find that some have argued this scene was a moment of “uncomfortable sex.”

In their Slate review of the episode, David Haglund describes the scene as “exceedingly uncomfortable sex.” It leaves Natalia “feeling debased, even borderline assaulted,” Jeffrey Bloomer writes. That phrasing is indicative of the way we talk about sexual abuse and domestic violence in this century. There is rape—a crime reported to the authorities, investigated by the police, and prosecuted in the courts. And then there is everything else that is not consensual, but not easily prosecutable, either: “gray rape,” “bad sex,” “they were both drunk,” the “feeling” of being “borderline assaulted.” It’s what happens when a person you want to have sex with “has sex with you” in a way that you do not want them to. And though we have a new, problematic vocabulary for these incidents now, they’re nothing new; this episode recalled Season 3 of Mad Men, when Pete Campbell pressured his neighbor’s German au pair into his apartment and sparked a debate as to whether or not he raped her.

As a viewer, it is indeed uncomfortable to watch, even frightening because of the build-up (when he follows her while she is crawling, it actually feels like a horror flick). While it is staged as slightly unclear as to whether what was happening was consensual, the apparent ambiguity only speaks to a collective difficulty in naming rape. There is no question left in the viewer’s mind that Natalie didn’t want to have sex like that. She says “no” multiple times and at the end she says, “That was not OK” and “I really didn’t like that.” And Adam seems confused afterwards as well saying, “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

Adam is a very creepy character, but he’s always engendered some amount of sympathy. I’m not sure why they took the character in this direction, because it puts the nail in the coffin of “deeply troubled” as opposed to “tortured artist.” And looking back, many of the scenes with Adam are terrifying–he stalks Hannah for a while (she even calls the police but pretends she didn’t) and he’s impetuous in a way that makes his presence on-screen uncomfortable. And while his character gets a lot of depth and compassion–from being in AA to that intense conversation he has with Ray on their way to Staten Island–Adam is a strain to watch and try to understand.

It’s not surprising, however, that they chose to push the story in this direction. Girls from the jump has been about showcasing the “in-between” uncomfortableness and ugly realness of sexual interactions. I’d like to think this could be an opportunity to talk about rape and its normalcy and push us, as Amanda writes, to “raise our standards of what is acceptable sexual behavior.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in, and there is a good chance that the majority of the viewing public will see this scene and be horrified but without the vocabulary to express or understand what happened. Since, ultimately, for it to really be rape, she would have had to reject the assault more seriously in the moment and she would have had to call the police. Otherwise, people have the audacity to suggest it was just weird, awkward or uncomfortable.