Ruby on Rails Workshop

Thanks to everyone who contributed and attended the workshop this October. We hope we were successful in hosting an attitude-free, newbie-safe and mama-friendly tech event encouraging women to join the Ruby on Rails community.

Women are a minority in most technical communities, but in open source communities the numbers are even smaller — by a factor of about ten or more.

Moving forward, we encourage our newly empowered programmers to meet monthly and use their skills towards open source projects in a welcoming, collaborative, mixed gendered environment.

Click here to learn more about the Open Source Code Crunch.

Corporate Sponsors:




Individual Sponsors:

Julia Ashmun

Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg And the Pursuit of Happiness

OPINION | April 23, 2009
And the Pursuit of Happiness: May It Please the Court
By Maira Kalman
After a visit to the Supreme Court, and the office of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Maira Kalman thinks about law, decision-making and women breaking barriers

“Gender and the Law: Unintended Consequences, Unsettled Questions”

Thursday, March 12, 2009


MENSPEAKUP, Tuesday April 28, 2009

This looks interesting. Anyone want to attend and blog on it?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall
Refreshments will be served
Please join us for the public launch of a new online initiative dedicated to showcasing the majority of Harvard men who care about ending sexual assault, promoting gender equality, and creating a positive dialogue.
This website is a student initiative and will serve as a platform for the community featuring psa clips, blog postings, and pledges of support from campus leaders and alumni.
The event is open to the public. Please join us on Tuesday and sign up on our Facebook Page

Supported by:

Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Exploring the Gendered Web

Post by Morra Aarons Mele, consultant and blogger

I’m not a technologist and I can barely find my way around a piece of code. But I’ve been working on consumer-facing websites targeted to women on and off since 1999.  In 1999, when I worked at the young website, our pitch to advertisers went like this, “Women make 80% of purchasing decisions. Women are online, talking to each other about everything from relationships to health to their favorite diaper brands (except at this point, it was on message boards, not blogs or social media platforms like Twitter). Clients, who were mostly consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, bought ad space on iVillage to reach these influential, chattering women, in hopes that online users would buy, and talk about their products.

Today, the sales pitch on major social media platforms that cater to women is very similar, and now, women drive 82% of purchasing decisions. Some of the language is new: marketers want users to have “conversations” about their products, they want “brand evangelists,” and mostly, CPGs hope not to get slammed online (see the Motrin Moms case for a prime example). A big change is that while women on message boards in the 1990’s used handles or chose to remain anonymous, today’s online media stars use their real names and identities. Even more, many have become brands in their own right. But ultimately, the marketers’ goal is the same.

So enter social media, Web 2.0. Women and men use social media in equal numbers. Online social networks for women such as, Momversations, or MomsExtraordinaire on LinkedIn provide women safe and engrossing places to gather. Twitter users skew female, and according to TechCrunch, 60% of US Facebook users are women.  For many women, participating in a gendered version of the social web brings them access to new networks, professional opportunities, and self-realization. It also gives women power.

The co-founder of, the inimitable Jory des Jardins, sums up the power of her audience in this piece describing the growth of BlogHer’s power mom bloggers:

“As our online network grew, Moms became the largest segment. In a 2008 study comparing the readers of BlogHer Network bloggers versus the general population of U.S. women online, 46% of the 36 million women who actively blog every week have children living at home. Among Gen Xers who blog, the percentage increases to 67%. They trend above the general population in education, household income, and online spending….

And corporate America noticed: Companies such as P&G, GM, Kraft, Clorox, Wal-Mart, and countless others have sought MommyBloggers for their insights and online advocacy. PR agencies such as Fleishman Hilliard, Burson-Marsteller, and Ketchum have established Mom-focused practices and research.”

So the web has become a place where women can flex muscle, even as leadership roles for women in the corporate and political realms remain scarce. But what kind of power does the web afford these women? Has the rise of the social web reinforced traditional gender roles? It seems to me the social web has created a space where girls are more girly, boys will be even more like boys, and moms are uber?

At the Gender and Tech mini conference, law professors Dena Sacco and Diane Rosenfeld stressed how the ubiquity of online porn has a profound effect on how men see women, especially on how young men view young women. Does a nation of mommybloggers and giggling girls on MySpace also reinforce traditional gender stereotypes? We’re comfortable with women being outspoken on matters close to home. But while plenty of women bloggers write with intelligence and wit about everything from the economic crisis to foreign policy, they get rewarded (with advertiser money or media coverage) when they do stick closer to home. I don’t see that changing as social media becomes more ubiquitous; I see it being reinforced.

I don’t want to turn this into yet another piece debating the merits of mommyblogging (see Joanne Bamberger for that). I want to know:

Scholars, are you researching the gendered web and its affects on offline gender relations? Users, what impact do you think the gendered web has on gender relations?

Bloggers and those who participate as themselves in social media environments tend to act as their real selves, if not using their real names, at least assuming their real gender. At the Gender and Tech mini-conference, danah boyd referenced the early Internet scholars’ belief that the web would allow users to reject their everyday identity, including their real gender, in favor of a disembodied and free identity. In the 1990’s, Sherry Turkle and others pointed to the powerful impact of the Internet as a place to reconstruct gender and identity to suit one’s fancy, not reality. This didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite did.

As Vanessa Grigoriadis’ recent piece on Facebook notes: “Facebook’s relentless emphasis on literal representation…turns out to be the weapon to quell the web’s chaos. Now online life is a series of Victorian drawing rooms, a well-tended garden where you bring your calling card and make polite conversation with those of your kind…” To really use social media, we have to be real, but we can also be a little detached, a little less conscientious than we are in person. We also revert to behavior that comes naturally. Women like to talk a lot (see Susan Herring’s research on this) and men often use the opportunity to act like they’re on a bachelor weekend. Sexism comes too easily.

Social media spaces heighten the importance of gender, as we tend to congregate in places online with like-minded folks, and in places that feel safe. I can’t tell you how many progressive women I know who refuse to participate in the community because of the sexism of its commenters. Instead, these women choose to congregate in a more female, safer space. In a 2001 article, boyd wrote, “the reliance on sex as a marker of identity online has encouraged a certain kind of re-embodiment of users (as sexed beings), with an attendant sexualizing of cyberspace.”

Mommybloggers, feminist bloggers, and others who participate in the online community as a gendered being would proudly say, “exactly,” in response to boyd’s claim. But does this gendering of online spaces simply further traditional, limiting gender roles? Or is it an extension of natural social life? Or even worse, a reaction against the threat of bad behavior on the Internet?

March 18th Mini-Conference – Mind Map

By Anita Patel, Junior Web Developer, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The March 18th Mini-Conference had great discussions and led to a lot of varying thoughts and ideas. The speakers varied in areas of expertise:

  • Duncan Kennedy — considered a historical feminist framework
  • Eszter Hargittai — examined gender difference in perception of technology skills
  • Nancy Hafkin — questioned the international world: broadband access; SES issues; international branch developing countries
  • Judith Donath — looked at trust and identity. construction of gender… through the flexible are the constructions?
  • Dena Sacco and Diane Rosenfeld — dicussed legal issues in pornography, rape, crime on the Internet
  • Margo Seltzer & Elizabeth Stark –searched for models and experiences of visionary -gendered leadership

The thoughts gathered from these discussions were so diverse that the best way to represent them is through a mind map. So I made one. To view the Gender and Technology Mini-Conference Mind Map, click here

Gender and Blogging in the Arab World

By Jillian C. York
The Arab blogosphere (encompassing blogs written in Arabic, English, and French, as well as a few stray languages) is a complex one. Whether from Morocco or Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Syria, almost every blogger in the Middle East and North Africa is up against censorship, cultural concerns, and the ever-present concern of surveillance.
Nonetheless, blogging has become a solitary platform for free speech in much of the Arab world. Because many bloggers in the region choose to remain relative anonymous (or pseudonymous), there is often little differentiation between male and female, particularly in blogospheres where political or human rights issues are avoided for risk of legal action. And while there are certainly well-known female bloggers discussing issues unique to women, many female bloggers in the Arab world face a unique challenge: to speak out about women’s issues often means going against the grain of family and society.

Still, for those who do, blogging is a potentially liberating experience. As Razan Ghazzawi, a Syrian female blogger says, “the space of the female is not the space of the male in this region – females have limited space to express their views inside their homes and in the streets. Not to mention the fact that they are subjected to sexual harassment in college, work, and in the streets.”.”  She goes on to say, however, that “you do not find bloggeresses speaking out about these things, and I think it’s because the blogging itself is masculine, in the sense that there is an invisible definition of what is blogging and how we blog.”  She also points out that many of the issues she mentions are unique to Arabic-language bloggers, as English tends to be more the domain of diaspora bloggers.

Shahrazad’s Blahs is a blog written by a Libyan woman; although her blog covers many topics from art to cooking, her posts are infused with concerns unique to women. In one recent post, she considered the concerns of female bloggers in Libya:

“Many Libyan female bloggers have either left the blogspehere all together or have made their blogs open to invites only. This is so sad as they were quite promising and happy in the beginning. Why is that one may ask ????The answer my fellow bloggers and readers is that they have been put into the so called pressured social paralysis situation where either the parents or some other family member has read the so called blog and disapproved of it existing.”

The post instigated a lively discussion of blogging in Libya and the greater Arab world, the consensus of which seemed to be that female bloggers are steadfast, and will continue blogging despite the obstacles they face for doing so.
Although there is not one simple answer for the complex issues facing these female bloggers in a complex reason, one thing is certain: Women are blogging at an ever-increasing rate in every country in the region, and women’s initiatives are popping up all across the board.

For more information on gender and blogging in the Middle East in North Africa, check out these links:
The Arab Observer: A Jordanian blogger who frequently discusses issues of gender and women’s rights.
Kinzi: A westerner living in Jordan who frequently blogs about women’s rights.
Kolena Laila: “We Are All Laila” – an Egyptian solidarity initiative for Arab women and bloggers.
Hala In USA: A blog post on gender roles by Hala, a Saudi Arabian blogger living in the United States.
Global Voices Online Special Topic: Gender

Kennedy presents 7 Threads of Second Wave Feminism

At the Gender & Technology Mini-Conference on March 18, 2009, HLS professor Duncan Kennedy presented 7 threads or topics in Feminism & Critical Legal Theory from second wave feminism (late 1970’s-Mid 1990’s). We’ve posted the video of his fifteen minute presentation and attached a graph of his framework.


7 Threads of the Second Wave

One of our goals for the mini-conference was to do some mapping of the theoretical space, and DK’s presentation provided a helpful historical sampling and much food for thought. We carefully selected the term “gender” to encompass the activities, areas of inquiry and scholarship that we hope to support with this Initiative, but we are also interested in understanding the impact of various schools of feminist thought on scholarship on gender in the digital space. At times these waves feel like a tapestry and at times feel like a snarl. We don’t know yet if these 7 threads are complete and/or are satisfactory, but they do mark a beginning and they indicate a possibility: how might a Second Wave Feminist framework apply to Gender & Technology studies?

NOLA starts SMS Crime Alert System

I’m just back from a week in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), where conversations around violence and community organizing have me thinking about technology, gender and digital activism.

Mac at Cemetary
I spent much of my time in the Bywater district of NOLA, where the city blocks are full of diversity, and community members feel integrated. Nevertheless, I was warned not to walk by myself-especially as a tourist and a woman–day or night. At the local coffeeshop there was a handmade ‘missing’ poster of a young woman who’d left a party on her bicycle this winter and had never been seen again.
Mac at Cemetary
It was eerie to feel in need of protection.  Partially out of desperation (and perhaps a bit out of bitterness), I called the phone number at the coffeehouse that promised it was doing something for the community about the neighborhood death toll.
Walking through NOLA gates

Reminder: NOLA has the highest murder rate in the country and the third largest in the world, said Lord David, the proprietor of the Skull Club in St Claude Arts District, a blogger on, and a community organizer for New Orleans Citizens Against Crime (NOCAC), the group I called for information and guidance.
cemetary stairs

In response to the violence and murders of many working in the hospitality industries of the French Quarter, coupled with the perceived lack of engagement by local law enforcement, NOLA residents have become proactive.

There’s the NOLA SMS CRIME ALERT NETWORK; launched in winter of this year in response to the murder of another woman who worked in the French Quarter. After her death, her friends began texting each other their own form of citizen crime reports to help one other get home safe.

MSNBC did a short video piece on the SMS Crime Alert project that’s worth checking out if you’re willing to wait 30 seconds while they stream advertisements.

MSNBC coverage NOLA SMS Crime Alert

Lord David told me that in NOLA, you get robbed, you walk away, and they kill you anyway. He used the words “insanely violent” and said that one way he vents, beyond blogging at Humid City, is to organize NOCAC community meetings that bring together police, government officials and the citizens of the community. Although the police have been responsive, their attention is mostly on the French Quarter where the tourists are, not the Bywater district where many employees of the French Quarter live.  There’s an issue about a police department station (or lack there of) and a Mayor who seems to be writing a book…

angel in cemetary
It’s the people’s organizing skills and tech savvy that have brought the SMS alerts and NOCAC about this year. Where they’ll go is anyone’s guess.  Lord David, on the personal activism and the political sensibility of the downtown Bywater community of NOLA, “I read about something like it in the 1960’s, but I’ve never seen anything like it before.  There’s an art movement in this area that rivals anything else.  Writers, artists…They don’t own property or hold public office. They’ve got nothing to lose.”

So I’m back up north, reading and writing. I’m thinking about gender and technology. I’m thinking about Duncan Kennedy’s feminist framework (we’ll post that tomorrow) and the radical feminism’s concern with violence. I’m wondering how a group like Gender & Tech could work with a group like NOLA SMS Crime Alerts.

If you know about any other SMS -crime interventions, shoot me a note. We’ve got a digital activism wiki going, and we’d love any add-on’s you’ve got.

If you’re going to NOLA, check out these resources. If you need a tourguide of the Bywater, contact Mac Taylor ( mactaylor at who’s got a nose for the grit and song of the city.

NOLA Text Alert Website –

St Claude Art District

Skull Club on Myspace

Lord David, among others, @ humid city

Rex Dingler & NOLA Rising

Post Conference Download

Thank you to everyone who attended yesterday’s Gender and Technology Conference at the Berkman Center.  It was an amazing and overwhelming afternoon.  And while we wished we could have fit in more discussion on each topic, I hope that everyone had a chance to chime in and be heard.

The committee is still working on culminating thoughts, notes, bibliographies, etc from yesterday’s meeting.  A video of yesterday’s conference is forthcoming and will be posted to the blog as soon as we have it.  And while the Google Moderator tool wasn’t utilized as much as we would have hoped, there was a bit of action via Twitter which you can check out here:

We also have a good number of folks signed up to blog for the month of April.  Feel free to contact us if you would like to contribute.  We’re always happy to hear from you, so don’t be shy about emailing us if inspiration strikes later.

Unfortunately, we failed to mention our FaceBook presence yesterday.  The Berkman Gender and Technology facebook page can be found at:   This group has been somewhat neglected by the Berkman Committee and yet it boasts 1060 members and a number of interesting threads already in progress.  We’re hoping to revive it as a way to keep our conversations and momentum flowing.  

I’d like to start things off by initiating a renaming conversation.  In light of yesterday’s diverse conversations, what should the umbrella committee at Berkman call ourselves?  Log in and join the group to post a suggestion here:

You can also continue yesterday’s discussions via FaceBook here:

Thanks again for an amazing afternoon.  Please check back with us soon for more!

Gender and Technology Mini-Conference

The Gender and Technology Group at the Berkman Center is hosting a mini conference this Wednesday, March 18th from 1-5 PM in the conference room.   If you are interested in attending, please contact  womenintech at 

Gender and Technology Group The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard

The Berkman Center’s Gender and Technology Group promotes academic and other interdisciplinary approaches to the relationship between gender and technology in the digital age. As part of this mission, the Group is convening a working session on March 18th to:

• Explore a variety of academic approaches to the relationship between gender and technology, and consider their relevance to the Berkman Center’s work;

• Build community around gender and technology issues, studies, and activities; and,

• Develop a slate of related activities for the coming year. Among other activities, the Group is considering a larger conference at which academics, technologists, policy-makers, business people, activists, and students will explore how to incorporate a gender dimension in their technology-related work.

Gender and Technology Group Goals

This committee will explore how the Berkman Center can support conversations and activities related to gender and technology along three tracks:

• Research. Support, discuss and examine various perspectives on bringing a gender framework to technology-related work across contexts including academic research, law, policy-making, advocacy, technical development, and business;

• Leadership. Leverage Berkman’s role as a hub for technology-related scholarship and dialogue to bring to the forefront people—at Berkman, at the University and elsewhere—who incorporate consideration of gender into their work in ICT;

• Community. Build a network of academics, staff, students, alumni, and other community members interested in bringing a gender focus to their work. This community-building supports Berkman’s transition from a Center within the Law School to one that is more integrated into the wider University community.

Mini Conference

Wednesday March 18

Introduction 1:15-5:00 PM

The goal of the March 18th working session is to surface a sampling of key perspectives and scholarly approaches to discourse around gender in the digital age. The afternoon will consist of a series of short presentations, working sessions, and conversations facilitated by academic researchers, technologists, and lawyers, all of whom bring a gendered perspective to areas of their work. In addition to discussing the substance of these individuals’ work, we will discuss what Berkman’s role should be in fostering future research, discussions, or activities in this area.

For each session, speakers will be asked to make remarks from 10-15 minutes, to be followed by facilitated discussion 10-15 minutes. The final session will focus on develop actionable next steps. Details of the agenda follow.

1:15-1:30 PM Opening Remarks/Introductions/Framing the Key Issues

The Gender and Technology Group

1:30 -1:45 PM Framing/Contextualizing Gender

Follow-up comments by Duncan Kennedy

How do unsettled questions regarding the meaning of gender present a broad range of challenges, to academics, students, and technologists who seek to bring a gender analysis to their work? How do varying historical, political and cultural perspectives shape scholarship and meaningful dialogue around this topic area? How can we develop a research framework for approaching the relationship between gender and technology?

1:45 – 2:15 PM Gender and IT Research I

Looking at Gender in Empirical Research on Technology Usage

Remarks by Eszter Hargittai.

Eszter Hargittai is a sociologist focused on examining the social and policy implications of information technologies, with a particular interest in how IT may contribute to or alleviate social inequalities. Although not the focal point of her work, gender dynamics have often emerged in the context of her empirical research. For example, existing literature on gender and technology use suggests that women and men differ significantly in their attitudes toward their technological abilities, with the dominant assumption (held by both men and women) that women are less adept or sophisticated in their technological know-how than men. However, work by Hargittai has found that men and women do not necessarily differ greatly in their online abilities; rather, it is their

perceptions of their abilities that varies. Nonetheless, even mere perceptions – despite not necessarily reflecting actual disparities in skill – can translate into differential online behavior. How are certain assumptions about gender both recreated and recast during Web usage? What are the implications for social inequality? How does a consideration of digital media use by gender enhance our understanding of the social, political, economic and cultural implications of information and communication technologies?

2:15-2:30 PM Moving Into the International Arena

Looking at Gender and ICT on a Global Scale

Remarks by Nancy Hafkin.

In moving from developed to developing countries, how does the gender dimension change? How do gender issues become sharper as the gaps in access, income, education, and mobility between most men and women become starker, and the access to information technology much more difficult than in developed countries? What dimensions does ICT4D (Information Technology for Development) add to gender and technology?

2:30-3:00 PM Gender and IT Research II

Looking at Gender in the Context of Trust and Online Identity

Remarks by Judith Donath.

Gender ranges from being a physical category to an identity performance, and therefore more than a basic binary physical distinction. I’ll give a brief history of work on gender online and about the extensive gender deception online and its costs and benefits. I’ll frame this with Alan Turing’s 1950 article “On computing machinery and intelligence” which started the field of AI, and begins with a parlor game of gender deception (and then segues into the question of whether machines could be intelligent – and the knowability of other minds). What is it that we want to know about the other in cyberspace (clearly a context dependent question) and how does looking at the specific issue of gender help clarify thinking about this large and complex issue?

3:00- 3:15 PM Coffee Break

3:15- 3:45 PM Gender and Legal Practice

Remarks by Diane Rosenfeld and Dena Sacco. Conversation facilitated by Phil Malone.

What is the role of the Internet in both furthering and undermining law enforcement efforts with gender dimensions? For example, what are the positive roles that technology can play in keeping track of batterers? On the other hand, how do digital technologies expand access to adult and child pornography, and what are the subsequent implications for gender violence?

3:45-4:15 PM Gender, Technology and Computer Science

Introduction by Liana Leahy. Remarks by Margo Seltzer. Conversation facilitated Elizabeth Stark

What are the factors and challenges effecting gender balance in computer science and technology? How do gender considerations have a role in your work? (For example, how different will video games be now that more women are involved in writing them these days?) What are the issues and strategies involved in creating leadership, promotion and tenure opportunities for women in the sciences at Harvard and beyond? How can younger women be brought into IT, both as technologists and technical and social entrepreneurs?

4:15-5:00 PM Wrap-Up: Approaching Gender in the Digital Age

Conversation facilitated by Terry Fisher.

• Brainstorming Next Steps

o Research: How can existing approaches to gender analysis be brought to bear on key Berkman research areas? What do we need to develop a theoretical framework?

o Community: What role should this group play at Berkman and beyond? How can we expand our network?

o Future Conference: What are the key questions? Topic areas? People?

• Solidifying, summarizing, mapping areas of interest/different approaches

All participants will be invited to post their reflections in the weeks that follow the conference.

Optional Dinner

Birth of the Netbook

Mary Lou Jepsen, an LCD screen designer, was chosen to lead the development of the One Laptop Per Child project. With such tight constraints Jepsen needed to carefully craft the machine to sell for about $100.

Instead of using a spinning hard drive she chose flash memory—the type in your USB thumb drive—because it draws very little juice and doesn’t break when dropped. For software she picked Linux and other free, open source packages instead of paying for Microsoft’s wares. She used an AMD Geode processor, which isn’t very fast but requires less than a watt of power. And as the pièce de résistance, she devised an ingenious LCD panel that detects whether onscreen images are static (like when you’re reading a document) and tells the main processor to shut down, saving precious electricity.

Asustek crafted the EEEPC with concern that Jepsen’s OLPC machine would be a threat. Within a few months it sold out its 350,000 piece inventory. Turns out people wanted less out of their laptops and the netbook as been a success ever since.

Read the full article from Wired.