Hackerpace(s), patriarchy, equality
2015-10-03, by BecHa
While reading "Tor, technocracy, democracy" by @dgolumbia,
I found it striking how many similarities there are between the attitudes of
Tor community about ruling-by-technology & hackerspace community about being
(mostly) (white) men, while at the same time claiming that their
ethics areabout openness (to all) and sharing (with all).
If few of the words are replaced with other words, and the article shortened,
what is left reads like a well-founded criticism of the patriarchal
s / Tor / hackerspace
s / technocrat / hacker
s / technocracy / patriarchy
s / democracy / equality
s / political / socio-political
s / technology / hacking
s / technological / masculine
s / democratic / societal
s / government / feminist
[Thank you, @dgolumbia, for the original text; I made this derivative work out
of admiration and respect for your insightful words]
[Original at: http://www.uncomputing.org/?p=1647]
[words in square brackets are inserted by me]
Hackerspace, patriarchy, equality
As important as the technical issues regarding hackerspace are, at least as
important - probably more important - is the socio-political worldview that
hackerspace promotes (as do other projects like it).
While it is useful and relevant to talk about formations that capture large
parts of the hackerspace community, like "geek culture" and "cypherpunks" and
libertarianism and anarchism, one of the most salient socio-political frames in
which to see hackerspace is also one that is almost universally applicable
across these communities: hackerspace is patriarchal.
Patriarchy is a term used by socio-political scientists and scholars to
describe the view that socio-political problems have masculine solutions.
In a terrific recent article describing patriarchy and its prevalence in
contemporary digital culture, the philosophers of hacking Evan Selinger and
Jathan Sadowski write:
Unlike force wielding, iron-fisted dictators [macho-men], hackers derive their
authority from a seemingly softer form of power: scientific and engineering
prestige [meritocracy]. No matter where hackers are found, they attempt to
legitimize their hold over others by offering innovative proposals untainted by
troubling subjective biases and interests. [or privilege]
Such patriarchal beliefs are widespread in our world today, especially in the
enclaves of digital enthusiasts, whether or not they are part of the giant
corporate-digital leviathan. Hackers ("civic, "ethical," "white" and "black"
hat alike), hacktivists, WikiLeaks fans, Anonymous "members," even Edward
Snowden himself walk hand-in-hand with Facebook and Google in telling us that
coders don't just have good things to contribute to the socio-political world,
but that the socio-political world is theirs to do with what they want, and the
rest of us [women] should stay out of it: the socio-political world is broken,
they appear to think (rightly, at least in part), and the solution to that,
they think (wrongly, at least for the most part), is for programmers to take
socio-political matters into their own [male] hands.
While these suggestions typically frame themselves in terms of the words we use
to describe core socio-political values - most often, values associated with
equality - they actually offer very little discussion adequate to the rich
traditions of socio-political thought that articulated those values to begin
That is, patriarchal power understands hacking as an area of precise expertise,
in which one must demonstrate a significant level of knowledge and skill as a
prerequisite even to contributing to the project at all.
This would be fine if hackerspace really were "purely" masculine - although
just what a "purely" masculine project might be is by no means clear in our
world - but hackerspace is, by anyone's account, deeply socio-political, so
much so that the developers themselves must turn to socio-political principles
to explain why the project exists at all.
[the hackerspace wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackerspace
"Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people share their
interest in tinkering with technology, meet and work on their projects, and
learn from each other."
... which refers to hackers ethics:
Sharing, Openness, Decentralization, Free access to computers, World
Hackerspace, like all other patriarchal solutions (or solutionist technologies)
is profoundly socio-political. Rather than claiming it is above them, it should
invite vigorous socio-political discussion of its functions and purpose .
Rather than a staff composed entirely of technologists, any project with the
potential to intercede so directly in so many vital areas of human conduct
should be staffed by at least as many with socio-political and legal expertise
as it is by technologists. It should be able to articulate its benefits and
drawbacks fully in the operational socio-political language of the countries in
which it operates. It should be able to acknowledge that an actual foundation
of societal polities is the need to make accommodations and compromises between
people whose socio-political convictions will differ. It needs to make clear
that it is a socio-political project, and that like all socio-political
projects, it exists subject to the will of the citizenry, to whom it reports,
and which can decide whether or not the project should continue. Otherwise, it
disparages the very societal ground on which many of its promoters claim to
I think many in hackerspace know much less about politics than they think they
We are often told that hackerspace is just trying to do good, trying to inspire
respect for human decency and human rights, and that its community is just
being attacked because it is "an easy target." Yet the contrary story is much
more rarely told: that hackerspace encourages a patriarchal dismissal of
societal values, and promotes serious and seriously uninformed anti-feminist
Does hackerspace do "good"? No doubt. But it also enables some very bad things,
at least as I personally evaluate "good" and "bad." You can't say that on the
one hand the good it enables accrues to hackerspaceâ€™s benefit, while the bad
it enables is just an unavoidable cost of doing business.
[bad things = exclusivity, elitism, one-upmanship, inequality, racism,
With very limited exceptions (e.g. speech itself, and even there the balance is
contested) we donâ€™t treat cultural phenomena that way. The only name for
striking the right balance between those poles is politics, and it is entirely
possible that the socio-political balance hackerspace strikes is one that, were
it better understood, few people would assent to. Making decisions about
matters like this, not the expanded and putative "right to privacy," is the
foundation of equality.
Unless hackerspace learns not just to accommodate but to encourage such
discussions, it will remain a project based on patriarchy, not equality, and
therefore one that those of us concerned about the fate of equality must view
with significant concern.
[References to other writings about gender gap in hackerspaces:
community, cooperation, commons, squirrels // http://becha.home.xs4all.nl
nature, anarchy, utopia, anthropocene, collapse //
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I mean, when I was in college, there were a grand total of five women who entered the engineering school. Now, the education school... there were probably five men.
The origins of disparity in gender in several occupational paths are far removed from the industries/organizations tied into them.
I think an analysis of root cause here is necessary in addressing any disparity. As a strong proponent of gender equality in plumbing I feel this discussion is essential to a better future for our species.
On Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 12:00 PM, Vesna Manojlovic <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hackerpace(s), patriarchy, equality
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