Here she goes again…

Warning: The below is best described as ramblings rather than a coherent defense of feminism. Now you know, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Today I’ve read two articles about feminism. One because I was alighted to it on Twitter, the other because the first article is based on it…

I’m already doing a really good job at being clear and understandable, eh?

You know these lines, spoken by women:

I’m a feminist, but…

I’m not a feminist, because…

I would be a feminist if…

How often do you hear someone say I’M A FEMINIST. Not too often I’m afraid! Well, this (young) woman dares to say it and she shouts it out loud and argues it well. Good for you, girl!

Let us just, for once, leave glass ceilings, pay- and pension gaps and domestic squabbles behind and take a good long look at The Rest of The World.

In some parts of Africa men believe that they can be cured of AIDS if they “sleep with” (what a horrible euphemism that is, in this case!) a virgin. The number of rapes and sad new cases of AIDS is untold. But imagine!

All over Africa and parts of Asia, women bear the brunt of the sufferings of war, conflict, corruption and bad governance – all more or less executed by men. They are often the ones trying to scrape a living during and after conflicts, providing for both the children and the elderly while the men are either dead, off to war or just plain gone. All the aid organisations say the same thing and the micro loan organisations often recommend lending to women as they are more hardworking and more realistic than the men.

And then there are the endless stream of horror stories about women that flow to us from the Middle East. At the moment this story is highest on the list, but there are new ones all the time. In a world that is not in UPROAR because women risk ANY KIND OF PUNISHMENT for so-called adultery or other “crimes” related to sexuality, how can anyone claim that feminism is redundant?

I find politicians’ obsession with veil/no veil ridiculous. Who cares whether a woman covers her hair and we all know – don’t we??? – that the current dramatic rise in the number of women who wear a veil is a question of threatened identity much more than it’s a question of religion or suppression of individual women. However, it’s a whole different ballgame with the burqa. A woman who is made to cover her face is not a free woman in any sense and I simply refuse to believe that a single woman wears it entirely of her own free will. Recently, I’ve noticed that there are many women wearing these hideous garments in the Knightsbridge area and in central Geneva where rich Arabs gather. These women often wear Louboutins or similar madly expensive and VERY SEXY shoes, have polished and lacquered nails, glittering rings and – not least – lots of shopping bags from Gucci, Chanel, Vuitton, Prada, etc. I’ve definitely seen more burqas in one summer afternoon in Harrods than on all my visits to Nørrebro (Copenhagen’s largest concentration of Muslims live here).

These rich Arab countries are ardently supported by almost all Western governments and while Western politicians are all signing petitions to save an Iranian woman’s life, because we all hate the priests in Iran, don’t we? they are much less light-footed when it comes to condemn the sick policies of countries like Saudi Arabia.

I can now hear voices arguing that these wives of very rich men are lucky. Well, yes, they don’t live in poverty and they can wear Louboutin shoes in public and Gucci dresses in the privacy of their homes. But. If they try to leave the home, they can bring none of this luxury with them. And more importantly, they’ll have to leave their children behind. And we don’t know how they are treated behind those palace walls, do we? Because they don’t have a voice, these women.

So, men. While I don’t want to stop discussing inequalities here in the Western world – it livens up dinner conversations quite marvelously – I want to direct your focus towards the women who can’t blog and don’t have a dinner table to discuss around. Support them in all you say and do (and when you vote) and then we’ll talk about whether feminism has outlived itself.

While we, the women, shouldn’t stop thinking and talking about glass ceilings, etc., we should also focus more on our unfortunate sisters. We can focus with our money and with our votes. And we can keep writing about them too.

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Waving the feminist flag again

Knowing how it upsets quite a few of my male readers I just can’t help myself. It’s Ada Lovelace day today, so we’re celebrating women who have excelled in technology.

I’ve chosen not to celebrate any woman in particular but instead to muse over why so many women still shy away from technology.

Ada Lovelace embraced technology although it hadn’t even been invented when she was around. She was guided by her curiosity combined with a brilliant brain and the financial circumstances to allow it.

I think that there’s a number of reasons why women don’t tend to embrace technology the way men do.

*disclaimer*
Please note that I use GENERALISATIONS in this post. I KNOW that not all men embrace technology or are good at it, I KNOW that there are women who excel in hardcore programming, etc. etc. But I’m sure you’ll agree that MORE women than men shy away from technology and that MORE men than women enjoy discussing Megabits of this and Gigabytes of that.
*end of disclaimer*

One of these reasons is the rather dull and unsurprising that technology has always been a male thing ever since the invention of the first technologies when women were still mostly “housewives” and dumbed down by themselves, their mothers, their fathers, their teachers, their brothers, their husbands and society in general. When computers started to be household items, everything to do with them was communicated in a special language, almost exclusive to people who worked with computers and completely unintelligible to anybody outside. But most men had to either pretend to understand or buy some copies of PC World and get an understanding quickly if they didn’t want to be out of the loop.

For women it was enough to learn the weird code language that was WordPerfect. Learning that was not at all considered a computer skill and nobody ever told any secretary that she could take her advanced WordPerfect coding skills and transfer them to other forms of computer coding – that the principles were the same even if the codes were different. So a large group of people – women – who could have become programmers and learned HTML as easy as one-two-three was completely lost. Because when Apple came with their What You See Is What You Get word processing technology and Microsoft came right at their heels and delivered Word to the world, everybody forgot all about WordPerfect and the skillset required to work it.

The language surrounding computers and other daily life technologies has certainly become a lot more accessible with the acceptance and knowledge that the target group has exploded and now includes everybody. But techno speak is still rife and you do need to learn some basics if you want to purchase some new technology and actually know what you’re buying. It’s also very helpful to know basic computer lingo when you make the inevitable call to the dreaded call centre for help. But I still think it would be really helpful if the ad said: This phone has 8GB memory. That equals x number of songs or x podcasts or x movie length films. I mean, who cares whether it’s 8 or 16GB? What you care about is whether there’s room for your entire Itunes library.

So when I talk to other women about technology and they get defensive about learning a bit of computer lingo I challenge them. Every time we enter a new chapter of our lives, we learn the language belonging to this particular subgroup without giving it much thought. You start studying law and after a year or so you’ve adopted a whole new set of words which you use effortlessly, inside and outside university. When you start cooking you learn the difference between tsp and tbsp and after the first mistake you know what “separate the eggs” means. When you first get pregnant (or your girl does) you learn a whole new set of words and phrases and suddenly know exactly what is considered a “normal” birth weight and what isn’t whereas previously you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if somebody had told you that their baby weighed 12 kilos at birth.

I therefore challenge women to sit down and learn the basics about computers, so they can understand enough to make sane purchases, avoid viruses, guide their children and do what they want to do on their computers and smartphones. Whining that it’s “too complicated” just doesn’t cut any slack with me.

And now for the second reason why I think women are lagging behind when it comes to technology. I think they lack curiosity. Or rather, they lack the inclination to pursue their curiosity. And I think that’s with us from childhood. The further we go back in time the less women are likely to have been encouraged to act on their curiosity as children. And if you go to a toy store or a book store’s children’s department you’ll see how that’s still so very much the case. I should underline that this is a lot worse here in the UK than it is in Denmark. Can’t speak for the rest of the world. The wonderful Science Museum here in the UK has developed the most amazing series of exploratory toys and, happily, they’re on sale all over the world. However, in many a toy store or department store these toys are displayed in the boys’ section and not in the girls’. And where, unfortunately, it’s a general trend that children’s toys today don’t encourage them to think “out of the box” (Now, who is responsible for ruining that phrase? come here and I’ll spank you!) as much as previous generations’ toys, it’s much more true for girls’ toys. If you don’t believe me, go take a look. And don’t tell me that I can just avoid them. I only have boys. But then, I’m not talking about me. Keeping in mind the size of the toy departments and the amount of money spent on advertising toys every year, there CLEARLY are people who buy it, right!

I blame the mothers, particularly the ones who ought to know better, for giving in to this. Just heard this morning that some girls at son’s school were invited to a birthday party with a “Makeover” theme. That makes me want to be sick in somebody’s designer handbag.

In the teetering stack of books next to my bed is a book called Curious? by the psychologist Todd Kashdan (@toddkashdan on Twitter). I haven’t read it yet, but I bought it based on his op-eds in The Huffington Post and an article in the Guardian. I’m very curious myself and have often been told that I’m too curious for my own good. Imagine how pleased I was to read that curiosity is actually good for you and leads to much more “life satisfaction” if such a thing can be quantified. The curious are seldom bored, there’s always an avenue to explore. So what I know now, in the midst of the huge sea of things I don’t know, is that at least I’m not going to die of boredom.

***

So, what I meant to say on Ada Lovelace day, was this: Yes, ladies, there’s a historic precedence for women to not be curious and to be cr*p at technology. But that’s all it is. There are no excuses anymore. And if you can’t be bothered for yourself, then do it for your children. They deserve that you make the effort to understand the world they live in.

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Women in tech

Today is Ada Lovelace day. Ada what-day? I hear you say. Well, Ada Lovelace was a pioneer in the technology field, where not many women have been pioneering. Click her name and read all about it. And here you can read how her legacy has been meaningful to her descendants for generations. And here about the idea behind Ada Lovelace day. Today’s Guardian has an article as well.

That it’s Ada Lovelace day means that all women who are interested in tech-stuff and also other women who take an interest in feminism celebrate a brave woman who came before us and had a lot less opportunities than we have. I’ve signed a pledge to write a blogpost about a living woman who’s made her mark in the tech community. At first I had no idea who to write about, but then I heard about Manuela Veloso. I listen to podcasts of a Danish tech programme called Harddisken and they had met her and interviewed her. I took an instant liking to this little busy, busy middle-aged Latin woman, who has made a career for herself in robotics. It’s not rocket science, but it’s d… close!

Here’s her long term research goal as expressed by herself (autonomous agent=robot):

My long-term research goal is the effective construction of autonomous agents where cognition, perception, and action are combined to address planning, execution, and learning tasks. My vision is that multiple intelligent robots with different sets of complementary capabilities will provide a seamless synergy of intelligence. Concretely, my research focuses on the continuous integration of reactive, deliberative planning, and control learning for teams of multiple agents acting in adversarial, dynamic, and uncertain environments. Of particular interest to me is learning, adversarial modeling, reuse, and abstraction in multiagent problems.

Manuela Veloso. Picture from Carnegie-Mellon homepage.
Manuela Veloso. Picture from Carnegie-Mellon homepage.

She’s Portuguese, but works as a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburg. Details about her personal life – like her date of birth – are scarce, but from her picture and career I think it’s safe to say that she’s around 50. Why she left Portugal is anybody’s guess, but it was probably a career-move, judging from her CV.

Because her main interest is the so-called “flocking” (=computers copying the behaviour of birds or fish when travelling together in big flocks or shoals), she has taken a particular interest in robot soccer games. Read about that here. If you just for a moment start thinking about what it entails to embed flocking behaviour into robots, so that they might behave like a flock of starlings is completely mind boggling!

So there, that was my two pence for women in tech.

Oh, and I think that if you’ve made it this far, you could also click here to aid the Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Musings before Mother's Day

Feminism:

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, the Times has asked six women, mainly writers, to write a letter to their children at 21 (they all have young children) or to share the advice of their own mothers. Some of these letters are so, so beautiful. I didn’t just well up, I had to go and get a clean hanky out of the drawer. I like Sarah Vine’s and Justine Picardie‘s the best. Found on Tania Kindersley’s brand new blog.

The Times has also compiled a list of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain. An interesting read!

So, at 49, I’ve finally found a word that defines me: Geek Mum

Olivia James writes a very poignant piece about Mother’s Day. Read it if you have a troubled relationship with your own mother!

Food:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a weekly food column in the Guardian. If it wasn’t online I’d feel compelled to buy the paper every Saturday. Actually, I might do that anyway, the Weekend Guardian is a very good paper, lots of sustenance! Today it’s about flour. Also one of my pet causes. I buy almost all my flour freshly milled at the Farmers Market, not least the lovely spelt. It’s a totally different experience from the supermarket stuff. Hugh forgets to mention cornmeal – not the dreary stuff that you buy to thicken your gravy, but the real stuff. I use it in muffins, which then look beautiful and yellowish and as one of three types of flour in my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.
Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.

I’ve promised Tania Kindersley to publish my recipe for Panzanella. It’s from The Blue River Café Cook Book. I hope they won’t sue me for copyright infringement…

Panzanella – serves 6:

  • 3 stale ciabatta loaves
  • 1 kg fresh, plum tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed, save juices (key to recipe is the tomatoes actually tasting of something)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (I always dump them in boiling water for a bit to take the top of the “sting”)
  • Maldon sea salt (or similar) & freshly ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 red peppers – grilled until black & skinned, then chopped
  • 2 fresh chillies – not necessary
  • 100 gr salted, large capers
  • 100 gr salted anchovies (these can be ground to a paste and mixed with the dressing)
  • 150 gr black, pitted olives
  • 1 large bunch of basil

Cut the bread (preferably stale) into bite-sized chunks. Mix all “wet” ingredients and toss the bread chunks in this. Mix all ingredients. Don’t serve cold.

Science:

Also in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre again crucifies a number of journalists for their faulty and misleading interpretations of a scientific paper about prostate cancer.

I’ll never stop recommending TED. Probably the best source of ideas on the web. It never, never fails to inspire and to lift my spirits. Here’s about how to grow your own fresh air… What to do when you DO NOT have green fingers?

Tech:

A lot of people are – as usual – angry with the new design of Facebook. Maybe I’m easy, but I’m fine with it… Here’s one who doesn’t like it, but makes a good joke of it.

Here are some very useful tips about how to customise the new Facebook. I’ve already done it – I have some FB friends whose updates are rather boring, to be frank. But I still want to keep them as friends. Done!

I don’t find any reason whatsoever to doubt this story about the GRU and the FSB in Russia using cyber “weapons” against Georgia in the war. But then I’m not a great fan of the Russian Leadership.

Oh yes, and as an Iphone owner I’m thrilled to bits by this. Can’t believe I forgot to write about it earlier!

Politics:

An American soldier tells the moving story of when he accompanied a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Very touching and also enlightning. The Americans are good at honouring their fallen. Would be nice if they were as good – or even better – at honouring the wounded and crippled.

Here’s about the methods of torture applied by the CIA. You know, the ones sanctioned by John Yoo, as mentioned yesterday.

This sounds like a good plan. Geithner reveals how the US will deal with its toxic assets.

See, here’s what sets a respectable Republican apart from one you can’t respect. Please Sarah Palin, can’t you just go elk hunting forever?

How can this and this take place in the same country at the same time? It’s about the right to life on the one hand and the right to a dignified death on the other.

With a few exceptions, which are from my RSS reader, all of the above were harvested over 24 hours on Twitter. So don’t tell me twittering is a waste of time.

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What can Google do for God's reputation?

There’s something about women’s rights out there every day. Even when you’re not looking for it actively. I don’t subscribe to any “feminism” blogs or sites, because, quite frankly, they often bore me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not supportive of the “cause” or that I necessarily disagree with a lot of feminism issues – it’s more that it’s so difficult to find the right balance between our “luxury” problems here in the Western world and the severe plight of women in the Third World, particularly the Arab world and Africa, where AIDS is hitting the women very hard.

Feminism:

This one I found on Twitter (twittered by a man, I should say). It’s about how Arab middle class women are using the web as an important tool in their struggle for freedom.

Israel/Gaza:

The truth always comes out in the end. The question here is of course whether the responsible will be brought to justice or if it’ll be like at Abu Ghraib, where only the foot soldiers got to pay the price. I suspect the latter, unfortunately.

In the National Security Journal they dare to ask the Big Question. Pointer from Andrew Sullivan.

Children:

Check this great blog with the fantastic title Freerange Kids.

Here’s the Times’ Schoolgate blog’s take on the story I had the other day about children’s lunch boxes and what ought and ought not to be in them.

Also on Schoolgate this heartfelt post about birthday party bags. I couldn’t agree more!

Food:

All I can say is YES YES YES! It’s not homemade food with butter, cream etc. in it that makes the world’s poor fatter and fatter. It’s processed food. How often must we say this?

God:

You won’t believe this. Google wisdom applied to religion.

That’s it for today – must dash to do my housewifely duties…

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Is feminism dead? Did we win?

Somehow I’m always trailing behind a bit. Yesterday was the International Women’s Day and I didn’t do a single feminist thing all day. Generally, feminism is not a popular subject, as my friend Nanna (Danish) so rightly pointed out to me recently. When writing today on Facebook about doing nothing feminist I got a reply from a (male) friend which completely sums it up; he wrote: Feminism is dead. You won. This is the opinion of most modern men. Some of them have the experience close to home of a wife, who earns more and “runs the show”, others – most – just cite the high-powered women they know and emphasise how they both cook, empty the dishwasher and pick up the kids from school. Or whatever. But this is completely beside the point.

  • Women are still trailing behind men when it comes to same pay for same job
  • Women still do the bulk of the house work in 90% of all Western households and 100% of all non-Western households – yeah yeah, guestimates, but not wildly off the mark.
  • Men are still the majority everywhere important decisions are made.
  • It’s still women who tend to the huge majority of their children’s needs, 50 p for cake day, packed lunch with love, school clothes clean, ironed, ready for next day, swimming kit ready on a Tuesday, pictures printed for showing “My Holiday” at school. Etc. etc.
  • Women in the so-called Third World are most often treated like dirt. How much is this on the agenda, when the high-powered are discussing foreign policies?
  • Young women see a distorted picture of themselves in the media.
  • Young men get a sick introduction to sex, if that introduction comes from porn (which it depressingly often does).
  • Women in power very often have to endure endless comments on their appearance, before they even open their mouths.
  • And so on and so forth.

So don’t give me that cr… about women having won. Clearly some women have come out on top, but what about the unseen bulk of the iceberg? I’m not complaining about my personal life, most of my woes are self-inflicted and I’m determined to put the rest right too.

Today I read a blogpost from a Canadian writer/feminist, who uses Gladwell’s Outliers to make her point. I agree with her, that Gladwell’s book suffers from being only about men. But the important issue here is that a whole new group of Western women now have a unique opportunity to actually get somewhere if they work really hard (Gladwell’s 10,000 hours). The Internet offers us that opportunity, because we can do this at home, in between the myriad of tasks that many of us perform each day. Read the post. Her previous post also refers to Outliers, but from a different perspective. If you have a child, who’s youngest in class, read it. She mentions a few female outliers, but I’d like to mention one more: Carla Fiorina. When, to say the least, I disagree with her political views (she endorsed McCain – imagine what went through Fiorina’s head when he nominated Palin!!??), I do admire her. Do you remember her downfall? I remember wondering why so many male commentators felt the need to gloat so much? She has just undergone surgery for breast cancer. Fingers crossed.

I recently read this lovely book review. The book in question is Backwards in High Heels and, clearly, according to the reviewer, India Knight, whom I admire greatly, is nothing like the notions you get in your head when you see the title. I have it on my Amazon Wishlist and I WILL buy it, I just don’t have time to read it right now. You should see the look on my husband’s face when another packet arrives from Amazon. And he is right – I just have to attack the stacks at hand, before I start adding more to them!

But consider this quote from the review:

It’s one of those rare beasts that you want to earmark, scribble in and rush out and buy for all your girlfriends. It contains within its pages everything an intelligent woman might want to know about the nuances of every conceivable topic: big subjects, such as love, motherhood, feminism, politics, grief, ageing, as well as what stupid people often patronisingly refer to as the “shallower” stuff. Except, in this book, as in most women’s heads (to say nothing of their lives), the demarcation between the deep and the shallow is so slight as to be barely noticeable. This is a brilliant feat of realism that hasn’t been managed convincingly in print before: with this kind of how-to guide, the choice until now was either froufrou delight or slash-your-wrists gloomfest.

Isn’t this exactly the kind of book you want to read? I often wonder why it’s supposed to be so totally contradictory to read both the business- and finance pages AND the Culture- and Background pages of the paper, read serious fiction, be good at computer stuff AND take an interest in one’s appearance, read cook books, bake cupcakes? Nobody seem to think it’s strange when male top executives spend their weekends playing golf or watching football? Read a hilariously funny but yet acutely precise excerpt from the book here.

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Double standards

I was recently enlightened on a new blog on The Times’ page. It’s called Alpha Mummy and it’s full of good stuff. Some pretty clever writers who do a lot of reading, off line and online.

Here’s on the double standards women political candidates are subjected to. It’s the Tonight Show again. I’m afraid I find him very, very funny. He must have some fantastic researches to always find just that clipping that gives his current victim away. And the fact that he always lets them give themselves away. He just sits there, leering…

Here’s an entirely different post about influential and infamous women from ancient times till now. If I tell you that both Lucrezia Borgia and Carla Bruni are mentioned, will you click through?

And here’s an article written by an American Republican woman in The Times, which more or less answers the question I asked a couple of days ago. What are the not-so-religious etc. Republicans going to vote now? The sad answer probably is: They are not. Since they can’t bring themselves to vote for Mr. Obama, they’ll just stay home and do nothing. And if McCain/Palin win, they can sit on their high horses and say that they didn’t vote for them. No, but they didn’t vote against them either.

On the day – may it never come – when Mrs. Palin is president of the United States and wreaks havoc of all the remaining things we love about America, what will these people say in their defense?

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Ms. Palin revisited and other odds and ends

A friend of mine sent me this very funny episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. You won’t be surprised to hear that his subject is Sarah Palin.

Inspired by the renewed debate about abortion, Slate has a really good article about the statistics surrounding this. And the history of the debate. The Republicans are talking about challenging Roe vs. Wade, the historical Supreme Court case about the right to abortion. I’m sad to see though, that the far right has succeeded in planting the term Pro-Life (like they also planted the term Political Correctness), so that even liberal Slate uses it. They are NOT Pro-Life. They are Anti-Abortion. It is NOT the same thing in my opinion.

In yesterday’s Guardian there was a good, although sad article about how the number of women in the highest positions in society is dwindling fast. There are good insights and some stabs at an explanation. The super famous and wildly successful businessman Sir Alan Sugar is quoted:

“he said that as an employer he would like to be able to ask women at interview “Are you planning to get married and have any children?”, adding that the fact that this was legally prohibited gave businesses an easy option: “Just don’t employ them.” “

Is this sad or what?

I wrote recently about intellectual property and copyright. The record industry always claims that it’s doing for the artists. That’s such a joke! And I feel sorry for the artists who believe it. Here’s a story from Boing Boing about how prolonged copyright in Europe benefits – yeah well, who do you think. Clue: it’s not the artists.

On happiness, this time the Danes’. Again. The article is written by a Brit living in Denmark. And so, why are Danes the happiest people on the planet? Because we have such low expectations to life! Take that. Link found on New York Times’ Idea blog.

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