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November 06, 2005

insult, injury, and irony: seattle newspaper coverage of SeattleMind

I just got back from Seattle's entry in the recent rash of 24-hour tech "camps"--SeattleMind. Andru Edwards of GearLive did a great job of organizing the event, but despite what seemed to be everybody's best efforts, there weren't many women to be seen there.

The first session I went to on Saturday was run by Ponzi Indharasophang, and it was on the topic of women and computing (aka "where are they all?"). It was a great discussion, and one of the things that people like Nancy White and I emphasized was the ongoing problem with how women in tech are represented by the media--both in entertainment (movies and TV) and in the news. To get more women participating in the tech field, we need more positive representations of the women who are already here.

One of the people in that session was Tara Hunt, someone whose excellent blog on internet marketing (HorsePigCow) I recently started reading, and who'd actually flown up from the Bay Area to participate in MindCamp. She's funny, smart, and talented--exactly the kind of woman who you want other people to know about.

When I got home today, and took a quick look at her blog, I saw she was pointing to the weblog of a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, John Cook, who'd also been at MindCamp. The title of her post? "Quoted out of context...really." That didn't sound good. So I took a look.

Cook apparently  interviewed a number of MindCamp participants, including Chris Pirillo and Robert Scoble. He also talked to Tara, and chooses to end his post with this clearly out-of-context (if you know her) quote:

Riya.com's Tara Hunt -- who also was involved in the conversation -- described Web 2.0 this way:

"For me, it's the free parties and beer."

Pretty scary...

Un-fucking-believable.

Insulting to Tara, who's far from a shallow party girl or web 2.0 groupie. Injurious to the image of women in computing, because it portrays the guys as having all the deep thoughts, and the women as party-going hangers-on. And deeply ironic, given the note on which we started MindCamp.

Personally, I think Cook owes Tara--and the rest of the women who were active and valuable participants in MindCamp--an apology.

--

Update, 8:22pm

Tara has written on her site about how the article made her feel, and makes some great points about how hard it is to balance being feminine and being respected in high-tech contexts.

I should also say (after having a conversation with my husband, who felt I was being unreasonable in my criticism), I don't think this was a deliberate attempt at sexism or exclusion. But the fact that it was ignorance, rather than malice, doesn't make it better in my mind--particularly when it's coming from someone in the "mainstream media," someone who I would hope would be aware of the power of his words to shape public perception.

Posted by Liz Lawley at 08:30 PM in Media | Permalink

Comments

Liz,

Thanks so much for posting this. I've been feeling ill ever since I saw that quote. It was like every intelligent conversation I had and all of the work I did at MindCamp vanished into "I'm a Bimbo" in the moment I read that.

We were totally joking around, Chris and I, dissing the idea of 'Web 2.0' and I said that it was about the beer and the free parties, but not that it was my entire experience of it. I was joking about the ridiculous launch parties and such that are popping up everywhere.

And, really, even if I like to enjoy myself at these things (which everyone does), why should that reflect poorly on my overall image? Total double standard.

Anyway...you rock and I hope to see you soon, Liz!

T.

Posted by: Tara 'Miss Rogue' Hunt at Nov 6, 2005 10:38:39 PM

hi there tara and liz

i agree that it's more probable that he was ignorant than malicious. and in my opinion this makes it worse because he may not even realise why what he wrote was insulting. which means that lots of others may not either.

i don't think he should be crucified, but i definitely think you've done the right thing in drawing attention to it and making your feelings known. and tara, good on you for refusing to skulk into a corner.

on the other hand, he may have also been joking. hard to tell, which is why it's good to clear it up.

cheers, r

Posted by: roseg at Nov 7, 2005 2:17:29 AM

Yyyyeaah...see, it's the lack of context that bothers me. Nothing about Tara to balance out the statement...it's a non-insult..."She said it, it's true"...yes, she did, but, that's not the whole story. If it was an email to people who know her personally, (no, I don't), then it would be quite amusing I imagine. But for random people? Wow, nothing like having that be how you and your company are represented to the world.

oy

Posted by: John C. Welch at Nov 7, 2005 7:58:45 AM

Oh.... you too have a husband that apologizes for other people by throwing out the "ignorance, rather than malice" thing. I promise to smack him the next time he says it. To me, when someone says that so and so did such and such out of "ignorance, rather than malice", it's almost as bad as saying you're being an irrational woman. In my opinion, ignorance is malicious and is no excuse.

Have your say about it, then let it go. This guy doesn't need more of your valuable attention.

Anyhoo... I was kinda disappointed on the coverage of the Seattle Mindcamp because I couldn't attend. There should have been more coverage of the event while it was happening. I wish there were updates via the main website, a photo blog, podcast, hell even phone posts. I found a Flickr stream only because I searched for one. If there were any of these things, it was hard to find.

Keep up the great work.

Posted by: SciFi Ranter Girl at Nov 7, 2005 11:37:52 AM

I agree, it probably was Ignorance not malice. And I would also agree that makes the reporter "Part of the problem". How much prejudice and inequity in this world can be attributed to ignorance? Or more accurately, how much *tolerance* of prejudice and inequity can be attributed to ignorance? Ignorance is no excuse, especially for a journalist.

Posted by: dunsany at Nov 7, 2005 12:16:04 PM

Hm, this brings up another issue we did not hit upon in the session at MindCamp - how we use humor. And how we interpret it. Humor can be our savior or a tool to cut.

As I reflect on MindCamp, one of the things I appreciated was the playfulness of it. Tara, by the way, captured that beautifully in her pictures. She rocks because she brings a range of talents to the table, and, like a Tai Chi move, uses them to contribute to the group. She enabled me to see many sides of her in quick glimpses: business woman, geek, artist and collaborator. I watched her sit down at a table and connect with others at the table in minutes. And from what I saw at the end, those who connected with her really did with a great deal of appreciation for her brains, her new business and the presence she brought with her to the weekend.

There was a great deal of humanity in the room at MindCamp. There was humor, some of which I ticked off in my brain as what I call in my house, "boy humor" (I have two sons). I often don't enjoy it (get it, appreciate it), but I immunize myself from reacting. I find pushing back on humor is one of the hardest things to do well. It is pervasive and almost sacred to some.

Like it or not, humor is one way of conveying our humanity. The problem is, it is also expressed out of our personal mental maps and experiences. And that one line in the blog provided a profound demonstration.

How can we use humor more productively? What is the move we can make? One move is to take the one line and use it as a door to open to the world the strengths that Tara brings. Again, Tai Chi comes to mind. Let's leverage one person's gaffe into a way to help others get to know this amazing person called Tara.

Posted by: Nancy White at Nov 7, 2005 12:52:02 PM

This is all too typical of how women are portrayed even by the so-called liberal minded. Three recent examples come to mind:

1. The San Jose Mercury covers the Blog Business Summit. Every person quoted is a man except one. The one woman quoted is someone who is "there to learn", whereas all the quoted men are speakers or exhibiting technologists or entrepreneurs. Yet, there were plenty of trailblazing women entrpreneurs and technologists there on the speaking roster and in the audience. I blogged about this here:
http://homepage.mac.com/elisa_camahort/iblog/C788295036/E20050820105632/index.html

2. A BusinessWeek.com item you have to read to believe:
http://homepage.mac.com/elisa_camahort/iblog/C788295036/E20050911173334/index.html

3. Lastly, again in the Merc, same columnist. He covers the Web 2.0 show and the picture that goes with the article show a man with a laptop "demonstrating" a product to 2 women (Charlene Li and Renee Blodgett) who are positioned lower than him, so they appear to be gazing up at him. The caption describes him as demonstrating the product to them. As it turns out Renee represents the man's company, and is in fact the one who got him the meeting with Charlene, and it is Charlene, as the industry analyst, who has the power amongt the trio. Can't find a link unfortunately.

Malcolm Gladwell's concept of "unconscious bias" is letting people off the hook left and right, IMHO. Perhaps not Gladwell's intent, but there you go.

Posted by: Elisa Camahort at Nov 7, 2005 1:02:11 PM

In my honest opinion: what is all the fus about? So there was a half-only quote. If it had been a half-only quote from a guy nobody would have said a word about it. If women keep being so sensistive about quotes no wonder they feel like they are left outside the "geek" world.....if you want to be treated equally then start acting it too.

Posted by: Op Fundet at Nov 7, 2005 1:23:51 PM

In my honest opinion: what is all the fus about? So there was a half-only quote. If it had been a half-only quote from a guy nobody would have said a word about it. If women keep being so sensistive about quotes no wonder they feel like they are left outside the "geek" world.....if you want to be treated equally then start acting it too.

Posted by: Op Fundet at Nov 7, 2005 1:25:05 PM

sci-fi ranter girl: There was a documentary film crew at the Seattle MindCamp. Hopefully, they'll get the editing done soon.

If the WiFi had been working better, you would have had better coverage. I only got off one or two blog posts before I couldn't get back on.

Op: I think the problem is that Chris Pirllo was basically saying the same thing Tara was. Web 2.0 is ridiculous. But the quote from Chris is all about business, the quote from Tara was all about parties and beer. Bias.

Posted by: Scott at Nov 7, 2005 1:41:11 PM

I do understand the issues about the portrayal of women in tech and the media in general, and I agree that there's a serious problem, but I'm having a hard time understanding the conclusions people are drawing about this particular situation, at least based on what we know.

First, it seems from reading the original post that Tara was just joking about the excesses of the tech world. It's obvious she was being funny, essentially spoofing the situation to make her point. That was the point of the post, wondering if there's a Web 2.0 bubble forming. In the context of the whole post, taken as she clearly meant it, Tara's comment was actually a charming bit of sarcasm, and quite incisive at that. It's no wonder the reporter quoted it.

And then Scott says this: "But the quote from Chris is all about business, the quote from Tara was all about parties and beer. Bias."

How can you claim bias when someone simply reports what someone said? Of course, none of us were actually there, so it's hard for us to weigh in, but it seems like Tara isn't saying that the reporter misquoted her actual words. From what I can tell, she's also not pointing to all the other things she said that the reporter didn't quote. (And maybe there were a bunch of serious business words she used in discussing Web 2.0, or maybe everything else Chris said was all parties and beer, so forgive me Tara if that's the case.)

But when you're talking with a reporter, or a blogger, for that matter, the one way to make sure you aren't quoted saying something you're not comfortable with is to avoid saying something you're not comfortable with.

Posted by: Joseph Dozier at Nov 8, 2005 12:49:47 AM

When I read the article it seems clear that Chris is stating a concern that this is another bubble:

"I am praying it is not another bubble. If VCs are funding 'me-too' ideas than it is going to be another mess."

Reasonable fear.

Then the columnist quotes Tara as *describing* Web 2.0 thusly:

"For me, it's the free parties and beer."

Then the columnist closes his post with his own comment "Pretty scary..."

As I said in my post on this yesterday:
http://homepage.mac.com/elisa_camahort/iblog/C1894745042/E20051107133158/index.html

"Exactly what was the purpose of the "Pretty scary..." that immediately followed her quote and closed your post? What impression was that meant to evoke, exactly? [Other than, perhaps, that Chris Pirillo's fear of a bubble were borne out by the presence of women interested in Web 2.0 for the "parties and beer"?] "John, I'm just asking: what exactly did you think that conveyed?"

You may think it was obvious she was trying to be funny and sarcastic, but Iw ould argue that the way it is presented you are being more insightful than most casual readers would be.


Posted by: Elisa Camahort at Nov 8, 2005 1:20:23 PM

When I read the article it seems clear that Chris is stating a concern that this is another bubble:

"I am praying it is not another bubble. If VCs are funding 'me-too' ideas than it is going to be another mess."

Reasonable fear.

Then the columnist quotes Tara as *describing* Web 2.0 thusly:

"For me, it's the free parties and beer."

Then the columnist closes his post with his own comment "Pretty scary..."

As I said in my post on this yesterday:
http://homepage.mac.com/elisa_camahort/iblog/C1894745042/E20051107133158/index.html

"Exactly what was the purpose of the "Pretty scary..." that immediately followed her quote and closed your post? What impression was that meant to evoke, exactly? [Other than, perhaps, that Chris Pirillo's fear of a bubble were borne out by the presence of women interested in Web 2.0 for the "parties and beer"?] "John, I'm just asking: what exactly did you think that conveyed?"

You may think it was obvious she was trying to be funny and sarcastic, but Iw ould argue that the way it is presented you are being more insightful than most casual readers would be.


Posted by: Elisa Camahort at Nov 8, 2005 1:22:24 PM

I heard the organizers invited their geekiest friends and let them invite their friends.

Next time the organizers should ask their geekiest female friends, and leave the rest the same.

Cuz man, it was musky, shall we say.

Posted by: John Dempsey at Nov 8, 2005 1:58:52 PM

Liz said: "despite what seemed to be everybody's best efforts, there weren't many women to be seen there."

That sentence might have been overlooked in this discussion, and I think it's *extremely* important. What is up with this? There's so much effort directed at getting the organizers of these things to work harder -- but clearly there is more going on than just organizer cluelessness, and more is needed. But *what*? I'd love to see more discussion about what to do about it, that looks at more than just the organizers.

The same was said about Bar Camp... that despite the all-inclusive, anti-Foo-Camp feeling -- it, too, had far fewer women than were expected and hoped for. I have a hard time believing that childcare is the big problem--but if it IS--then it shouldn't be that hard to have babysitting/childcare at these events. At the first Foo Camp, attendees were encouraged to bring their kids for the weekend.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra at Nov 8, 2005 2:42:59 PM

Well, we'd have to see a definition of their "best efforts" before we could have a reasonable discussion about it. :)

Posted by: Elisa Camahort at Nov 9, 2005 10:44:35 AM

OK, as one of the organizers, I had better speak up. Ponzi and I were the two women involved. I was very much on the periphery due to schedule, so part of the problem is I didn't work hard enough. I put together a list of about 20 women I know and invited them. Some signed up and didn't come (you know, shit happens). Some came and I was ecstatic (Liz and Shelly Farnum were two of those).

But I didn't work hard enough and me working alone is not enough. I circulated the announcement to a list of women working to get more girls interested in tech (at least 50) and I didn't get even an inquiry back. So I think I need to figure out how to talk about stuff like this better.

The guys on the planning group asked women too - but I don't know their process. I never made it to a single meeting.

SO my bottom line is I think there was effort, but I don't think it was our best effort. We let this evolve pretty organically and we know that those organic paths are well worn with old habits. Time for new paths.

Posted by: Nancy White at Nov 9, 2005 11:46:25 AM

I took some heat at home for being gone over a weekend--my husband is a stay-at-home homeschooling dad (I'm a lucky, lucky woman), so my being gone over a Saturday night really is asking a lot of him. I try to only travel on weekdays these days, so that he has some "me" time on the weekends.

What made MindCamp more doable for me was being able to bring my son, Lane--but it wasn't at all obvious to me until the day before the event that I was even allowed to do so. The "you must have a ticket for admission" implied to me that I couldn't bring anyone else along.

I'd love to see some of these events openly encourage people to bring their kids. Hell, set up a kids camp as a part of the event--let them teach each other video game and online tricks. Go beyond babysitting to active engagement. I'd sign up to help with that in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Nov 9, 2005 2:29:28 PM

I love the kids camp idea. And rather than keep them out of the way of the *real* attendees the whole time, why not find a way to *involve* them in part of it? After all, *these* are our future end-users, and their relationship to technology is very different from our own -- we could learn a lot from them, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have live-in "usability and market research" participants ; )
But I'd still like to know if anyone has researched how much of a factor this is in whether women attend tech conferences, and how this lines up with women attending non-tech professional conferences. Clearly women attend a lot of professional conferences -- (nursing, law, training/HR, heck -- I just came back from a professional horse training conference that was 65% women!)

Posted by: Kathy Sierra at Nov 9, 2005 3:54:17 PM

Having worked in maternal/child health, there are plenty of women attending those conferences. Good question, Kathy.

The Open Space format makes it more pliable to include kids as far as I've experienced. Having Julie L's kids at MindCamp added to my experience, as it asked me to think about what I was doing not just from an individualistic perspective, but as a community member. What can I learn from her three young daughters as I participate? Same went for what I could see with Lane. People invited him into conversations and took him seriously as a contributing human in the mix, not "someone's kid" tagging along. That was a good vibe at MindCamp. Especially from a mostly male crowd.

Posted by: Nancy White at Nov 10, 2005 2:36:09 PM