Proving the point

Susan Mernit wrote her impressions of a party she attended; she had a poor experience, and described her observations. If you follow any of the -isms in tech, this will not be news to you. For me the most significant part is that this happens during this pivotal time when Oakland’s tech scene is deciding how it is going to define itself; a lot of folks don’t want to be like San Francisco and Silicon Valley, because it plays out that a lot of people of privilege push everyone else out, of home, job and lifestyle.

But that is why the initial article is significant. As a cultural object, this post will be referenced for the defensive comments folks made to defend the party, and shut down Susan’s voice.

I read the comments before the post (I get all the comments in my inbox), so I was looking forward to seeing the hornet’s nest Susan had stirred, but on that point I was disappointed. It wasn’t a sponsored party by an incubator or anything (as pointed out in the editor’s note at the end of the post), but that didn’t diminish the fact that people treated Susan in a particular way. An appropriate response would have been to ignore the post, or explain that it was unfortunate it went down that way and open the channels to discuss how to make better parties. Because that is what humans should be doing, making life better and more meaningful at every opportunity.

Here are my short assessments of the comments attempting to shut Susan down:

  • Andrei – One’s experiences do not diminish those of others. Also, don’t use your family as a badge of diversity, it is tacky.
  • Eliot wrote a post – Susan was writing a narrative to explain the concepts we’ve developed to understand systemic bias in tech. One of them is the idea that something could be so simple, your mother could do it. If Susan feels that is apropos, then it is. I’ve no idea how someone could think the Mom is being insulted. I think the cut off for engaging in Mom-honor is rather young, but maybe it persists for some folks.
  • Adam – Passive-aggressive quips are not positive contributions to a conversation. This reply was essentially troll-speak. Also, mention of “respect”, which throws up a flag that some shared framework of honor is being used, which is obviously not the case.
  • Laura Dambrosio – This was a mean reply, which undermined a potentially interesting counter-point to the story.

Why do I care? I don’t, really. Susan is tough, and can handle the trolls. She is a women working in Oakland tech journalism, which is part of why this even got a reaction. But I wish our discourse were better. I disagree with Susan all the time! But I never have to attack her person or perspective to express that. And she never attacks me, either.

This is also an opening salvo in a battle of ideas that is about to envelop Oakland (how’s that for dramatic?!). If as the folks at the party claim, this wasn’t indicative of a particular set of cultural values, why the venom in the responses? If these folks are only tangential to the tech scene, what can we expect when we engage with the actual folks that will come in and influence the city with money, leverage and privilege? It’s going to happen, we know this. But it doesn’t have to be discussed like this.


Susan Mernit brought my attention to this piece by someone frustrated with the un/deletion process on Wikipedia. I left my comments regarding the rant on her blog.

While I was writing that I was thinking about the idea that articles on women are harding to gain acceptance or are more likely to be deleted. I don’t have any numbers to support the assertion, but I am almost sure it is the case. The reason I am confident on that is also my point.

The guidelines for notability, no matter how well meaning, are still informed by the biases and values of those who follow them. It may well be that if we were to list all possible candidates for notability, there would be a substantial majority of men (and probably white), simply because at any point in history, notability is not measured by potential, but rather opportunity and those who used it to become notable.

This, of course, doesn’t completely explain why articles on women get pushed out. However, I think it lends to the different (and bias) set of criteria that allows for women to (continually) be marginalized on Wikipedia.

I don’t have any solutions to suggest, I am not even really tied to this, it was just an idea that popped in my head. I would like some data to check out, and maybe a query on Wikipedia of deleted articles about women. It also seems worth it to put together a group of people whose goals would be to contribute to the debates on notability as they come in. One of the original rant’s points was that a few chose for the many. I think we can at least fix that quickly.

Also, check out the Wikipedia proposal, “Change Wikipedia Notability Guidelines“. Your thoughts are valuable.

Dinner parties

Dinner at Susan Mernit's.

We were invited to Susan Mernit‘s home for Thanksgiving. It was refreshing to be around so many adults, and to discuss things that don’t make me cry with joy. Seriously, I am always just on the edge of crying because I have such a wonderful (literally) and awesome (literally) family. It was fun sharing exposure to Emma with others. And of course everyone became fans of eir.

I don’t have many fond memories of Thanksgiving, since my family often blew-up emotionally during the holidays (Christmas was even worst). At any rate, since I’ve become an adult I was either left to my own devices, or joined Susan Magnolia‘s family. She has a gazillion people in her family, so while there wasn’t violence, it wasn’t as if I fit in (or absorbed, as I suppose would be the case).

Last night was just a handful of people, a variety of personalities and ideas, and just a bunch of sincere, genuine conversation. Oh! And a frakin’ huge squash filled with vegan goodness that easily dwarfed the turkey! Great job Andrew! ^_^