There are a lot of awful things on the internet. Online people can cluster together and encourage one another in opinions that get you uninvited from all Thanksgivings ever at my house. And then one day some idiot decides that he is going to go forth and take action on behalf of all the idiots online and shoots nine people in a church in Charleston. To quote that idiot, “…no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Conspiracy theories and hate led that man to kill nine people.

There are a lot of awful things in real life. In the U.S. someone convicted of abusing their spouse can go buy a gun with more ease than a woman can get a morning after pill after being raped. And when I vote, when I donate to causes, volunteer, talk to my friends, or witness foul behavior I can speak out in real life and say, “Stop that.” Or better yet, make beautiful things happen through good deeds.

People who say racist things, whether they intend to be racist or not, are not welcome in my house.

People who say racist things, whether they intend to be racist or not, are not welcome in my corner of the internet.

A bit over a month ago I decided I was going to participate in voting for the Hugo Awards. The whole process had gotten muddy and I wanted to help bring it back to being about good science fiction and fantasy. I forced myself to read a bunch of mediocre works, some of which had mildly to extremely offensive themes or points of view. I wrote honestly about what I did and did not like about each story. And I had planned to continue to do so.

The last few days I have stalled on my goal to read everything on the Hugo Awards ballot and in my way I have been doing some internal nudging to figure out why. Then I realized what was bothering me.

The man who is at the center of this year’s Hugo Awards kerfuffle is a racist. That link goes to an interview with him (I won’t link to his site) which I think pretty clearly spells out how racist he is.

The problem with this year’s Hugo Awards? That man put a whole bunch of works published by his publishing house and stories he’s written on the ballot through dishonorable means.

I did not pay for these works but they take up space on my Nook, on my laptop, in my mind, from my days. I am giving him a corner of my intranet.

Now I have never believed that one should avoid reading something just because it is offensive or ridiculous. There are historical and political texts which I do not agree with that I will read. But why am I reading this mediocre stuff? To prove a point?

It’s hitting the point where I feel manipulated. Some kid out there said, “You’re just going to vote against it without even reading it and that’s not fair.” Then I said, “I can too be fair!” Ignoring the fact that it’s unfair to make me read it.

I have read someof the works put forward by the people who gamed the Hugo Awards. So far what I’ve found is that they really weren’t trying to nominate based on quality. They might have stumbled across some quality but they did not nominate based on quality. I am still going to read everything on the Hugo Awards ballot… with a few exceptions.

I cannot give that racist publisher any space in my head, on my hardware, or in my time. From here forward I will not be reading or reviewing anything published by his publishing house or written or edited by him.

We are all human. The color of our skin, our gender, the number of toes we have, our mental abilities and disabilities, they are all asides when it comes down to one basic truth: we are human. We all carry all the potential of humanity from greatest good to greatest evil, most amazing genius and most frustrating stupidity. The color skin, our gender, our physical traits do not predict nor preclude any of those.

Not encouraging racists is the very least I can do for the men and women who died in Charleston. It’s not enough but it’s me trying.

Book Roundup

Today I might have gotten a little silly with the book purchasing. I bought:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (Translator)
  • The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson
  • Ballroom Blitz: A Tor.Com Original by Veronica Schanoes (99 cents makes it available on my Nook)
  • The Ways of Walls and Words: A Tor.Com Original by Sabrina Vourvoulias (which I immediately read)

Today I also got a book in the mail:

  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Next day edit:

  • Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew by Ursula Vernon

Compliments, Credit and Gender oh my

A friend of mine complained to me the other day that since we started talking about feminism he’s started spotting things he never saw before. In this case it was Bechdel Test related conversations around movies and TV. He can’t help but wonder if there are more than one named female character and watch to see if they talk about anything other than men. Once you’re in deep it goes beyond spotting instances of imbalance though and also thinking about the context, depth and possible real life reenactments of those imbalances.

For me, this post started with an episode of Agent Carter. In this particular episode Agent Carter goes on a mission with one of the office guys who regularly dismisses her abilities based on her gender. At the end of the episode they are reporting on the mission and he says, “Really Agent Carter was the one who made this mission a success.”

There it is! Acknowledgement! Change based on his observing her skills instead of clinging to stereotypes. Let everyone on the couch leap up and scream “Touchdown!”

Then it happened. Agent Carter says, “It was a team effort.”

This is where everyone goes “aaaawww” and thinks what a great job she is doing at creating allies and being a team player. They’ve both complimented each other and the universe is in gender balance.

Except not.

This episode followed me around for weeks replaying in my head as I tried to figure out why it wanted my attention. Then someone posted about Grace Hopper and I remembered how when I got started in computer science Grace Hopper was presented as a programmer who worked on the team who created COBOL.

This is how her work in COBOL was/is presented: “In 1952, her team created the first compiler for computer languages (a compiler renders worded instructions into code that can be read by computers). This compiler was a precursor for the Common Business Oriented Language, or COBOL, a widely adapted language that would be used around the world. Though she did not invent COBOL, Hopper encouraged its adaptation.

Which is different than this newer way of looking at her work: “She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944, and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and the one of those who popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.”

As an engineer I am really good at splitting hairs and I’m going to do it here. There are two stories about Grace Hopper. One is where she was on a team that created COBOL and the other is the one where she was instrumental to the creation of COBOL. Both are true.

Likewise with Agent Carter. She was the reason the mission succeeded and she did it as a member of the team. Both are true.

What’s wrong with being on a team that accomplishes things vs being integral to the accomplishment of things?

This is where we start getting into how credit is given. As people try to increase the number of women in science research is done into historical women who can be used as role models. This research seems to be uncovering a sad number of women who discovered things that men got Nobel Prizes for.

And it’s more than about Nobel Prizes. It’s about paychecks. Rock stars get paid more than the band. It’s about respect. Rock stars get more social credit than the band.

Just recently a coworker sent out a status report on a project she’s on. It was amazing, thorough and well written. More than well written – highly readable and entertaining while imparting a lot of real information. I sent her a “good job” email. She replied, “Thanks, I couldn’t have done it without the team” and named some of the people who helped her.

She wrote that status report. She made it readable. She credited the team. These are all good things.


If all the men reply, “Thanks” and all the women reply, “Thanks, it was a team effort” then who is the creator and who is the support? Who is vital to the project and who is replaceable? Who gets the award for the successful launch and who did the other half of the work? Who gets a raise?

This ties the topic around to women in United States culture and how we receive compliments. I told a male friend today he looked good. He said, “Thanks.” I told a female friend she looked good. She said, “Thanks, this is a new top I really love it.” There are a ton of articles about how women deflect compliments. I don’t need to add to it. What I do want to point out is that women deflecting compliments regarding work also deflects credit away from them.

Grace Hopper was on a team that created the first compiler.

Larry Wall created Perl.

Nobody says Larry Wall worked on a team that resulted in Perl. Larry Wall alone magically created Perl in the basement of a tech company. The Lone Man Made Things.

There are important stories being perpetuated here and women themselves are helping perpetuate them. Grace Hopper didn’t want credit. She wanted to work. I  don’t want credit. I just want to do my job. Yet a side effect of not taking credit, of sharing the compliment, is that women are viewed as supports while men are viewed as creators.

This is a surprisingly actionable realization. The next time someone says “good job” all I have to do is say “thank you.” No more, “Couldn’t have done it without [insert team member name here].”

Is this a bigger solution? No. Because it sucks that the fact that I couldn’t have done it without my team can’t be acknowledged without diminishing my own part. Even if he acknowledges me back. It sucks that women are more likely to be viewed in supportive roles than as leads. It sucks that we want rock stars and not symphony orchestras.

But maybe over time as women accept credit, get credit, get respect maybe we can change the dynamic a little. Maybe a solid productive team will be valued more than a lone genius and then all those lonely geniuses can join really nice teams.