Geeky Gals at the BlogHer Conference

I know I was being cheeky by commenting on Stake Five that we might explore Feminist ColdFusion or ColdFused Feminism, but the interfaces between gender and technology do fascinate me. Unsurprising, now that I’m with a geek who’s feminist and slowly turning into a feminist gee-eek! myself (what else can explain my evangelism around Ubuntu, which is my OS, and various other minor joys around website constructions and blog creations?). Any which way, it made me interested in learning more about the second BlogHer (‘where the women bloggers are’) conference, held in San Jose, July 28-29.

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In protest

I’m too sickened by all that’s going on around and about me to write much today. I’m just going to point towards the various online petitions I’m signing and the on-ground protests I’m sympathising with – and hope that somehow, somewhere, something changes for the better… Tomorrow better be another day. Or as Yoda might say: Another day tomorrow better be.

About the siege in Lebanon, a description from within, and anti-siege protests from within Israel (the latter much tougher to find online than the former). And two petitions against it: Justice for Lebanon and Save Lebanese Civilians.

About the Right to Information Act of India and the government’s proposed amendment: to remove file notings from much of the decision-making conveyed to citizens (so what does that leave of the ‘information’ given to us by ‘public servants’ and ‘polity-cians’, hmm?). A petition against the amendment.

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Whose news is it anyway?

If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to blog about it. If not, you’ve been fuming in offline silence over the Indian government/ISPs’ inept blocking of blogsites over the past couple of days. But in the midst of all this cyberspace critique, a news item in early June seems to have passed under the radar of many bloggers. Or was there a blackout there too? And this time, by the mainstream media?

On June 5th 2006, The Hindu carried a story on the first ever statistical analysis of its kind: a survey of the social profile of more than 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and television channels in Delhi. As Newswatch India commented, if sex, religion and caste are to be taken together, more than two-thirds of the top media professionals in the India come from less than 10 per cent of its population. Shocker (or is it really?): there is not a single Dalit or Adivasi amongst these top 315 media decision-makers. Hindu upper caste men hold 71% of these jobs, and Muslims, only 3%. Interestingly, a gender analysis gives the most positive spin, but there too, mainly in the English electronic media: women account for 32 per cent of the top jobs. In the English print media, women form 6 per cent of top editorial positions and 14 per cent and 11 per cent in the Hindi print and electronic media. But there is no woman amongst the few OBC (Other Backward Classes) decision-makers: groups that suffer ‘double disadvantage’ are almost entirely absent from those surveyed.

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Transgendering science: mind the gap

Former President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers may – once again – need to eat his (in)famous words – that innate differences between men and women lead to fewer women than men in the top rung of scientists. This time, he may have to chew them fairly soundly. Because Ben Barres, a neurobiologist at Stanford, is uniquely placed to refute his argument: he used to be Barbara. In Shankar Vedantam’s piece on Barres in the Washington Post, he quotes Barres:

After he underwent a sex change nine years ago at the age of 42, Barres recalled, another scientist who was unaware of it was heard to say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”

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Beyond the magic

Eight years ago, if you can remember that far back, there was another World Cup in football (soccer to y’all North Americans). Another World Coup for advertising gimmicks and general all-out consumerism. I was cheering for Brazil – which self-respecting Indian was not? However, I was living in England at the time, and a friend – who happened to be Irish and studying French literature (a combination that was nearly as fascinating as his accent) – asked me to reconsider. It would transform politics in France, he said, to have a winning team whose core players were immigrant, Muslim and non-white. I cheered for France in those finals, and I did so this time too (once Brazil had been knocked out, of course). Though politics in France seems to have suffered far beyond French football in the last few years.

Zizou does weave magic. No doubt about it. He also head-butts with ferocity. No doubt about it; no excuse for it either. There might be explanations beyond the lack of excuses, though: the doubts are in the whys and the wherefores. Was it sledging – a continued stream of racist abuse? Till he breaks the silence, we won’t know for sure. But I hope he does tell us what happened. Icons can be human, but they have to speak up for their own human-ness and for the human-ness of others. It might make sports – and the rest of the world around it – a little more humane. And a little less racist.

Vive le difference, le debate, le dissent…

Around the time Ashwin and I decided to set up this space (Ashwin with energy and enthusiasm, and I somewhat diffident and uncertain… I mean how self-indulgent can one get, I thought??!), I was sent the link to a raging debate around the (possible) racist implications of the cover to a book edited by Shamillah, Kristy and me: Defending our Dreams. Without going into too much detail about the book – of course you have to read it – it was a wonderful privilege putting together what is possibly the first anthology of its kind. A collection of young feminist writing from across the world, representing a range of issues, with contributors from eleven countries and all the populated continents, including a piece by male feminists (yes, they exist; if you don’t think so… you got it. Read the book.).

Coming back to the debate on, Defending our Cover turned out to be a strangely joyful task: infuriating and inspiring at the same time. Infuriating, because initially it seemed perverse that Southern (read: black, brown and white from South Africa and India) feminists should be defending the cover of their – international – book against a bunch of Northern (read: possibly white) feminists. Inspiring, for exactly the same reason. When I got past the upside-down-ness of it all, I was amazed by the range and depth of the debate around race, racism and its implications. A debate conducted on a bulletin board by a dozen women (of different ages, I suspect): serious, funny, passionate. And I could pop right in with my comments around our interpretations and intentions, including the fact that the cover was inspired by a great self-portrait by Jasmeen, a young woman from Bangalore whose art and activism are beyond doubt. A book that had been created almost entirely virtually (that’s another story) continues a life beyond its covers in exactly the same way: through virtual communities who share its convictions, debate its contents and hopefully, live its ideals in real, tough, worlds.

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