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More Awesome, Less Bitch – Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2009

Today is Ada Lovelace Day around the Interwebs, which aims to bring attention to the role and valuable contributions of women in technology.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a book in the library, Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. It’s been a real eye-opener to read. Despite the fact that I’ve felt pretty lucky to have numerous female role models in science and technology, many of the fears, doubts and obstacles described in the authors of this book resonated with me and my interpretations of my own experience.

Simultaneously, I’ve been reading another book focusing on some of the unfortunate side effects of internalizing gender roles, a book I’d initially spotted for its provocative title on the Social Signal bookshelf, called Am-bitch-ous (later renamed Ambition is not a dirty word), by Debra Condren.

Both books shed light on how cultural and social archetypes can damage women’s self-esteem, dampen their spirits and passions, and make them content to settle for half-fulfilled dreams instead of asking for what we really want. They might make unnecessary sacrifices, crippling themselves before even getting to the bargaining table, in the name of being selfless or community builders or people-pleasers. Both books also make the point that women often suffer from feelings of being frauds or fakers, blaming their success on luck or circumstantial factors, disregarding their own natural competence.

Guilty as charged. It’s been an interesting few weeks, confronting (yet again) being my own worst enemy.

So, for Ada Lovelace Day, I would like to draw attention to two women that I have been inspired by (out of the countless number that I have had the privilege to work with or meet), and who continually inspire me not only in their work but in other aspects of life as well.

Theresa Putkey

I first met Theresa as a co-worker at my first co-op way back in 2004. At that time she was just starting up her business, Keypointe. Since wrapping up that co-op (now 5 years ago!), I’ve heard about her successes in a number of different places: kicking things up a notch at the Society for Technical Communicators as (now former) Vancouver Chapter president; speaking at information architecture conferences; growing her business, and, most recently, doing competitive bicycling. I recall often being amazed at Theresa’s commitment to being an advocate for users, drawing on her experiences and being a great resource to everyone on our team.

Her latest challenge is doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer, raising money for cancer research. In an excellent example of her commitment to making sure everybody benefits, she’s not only asking for donations in support of her 250km+ ride over two days, but also offering small business website walkthroughs and resume reviews in exchange for pledges (see her one-pager on this offer at the Keypointe website). Three months to go and she’s already halfway to her goal of raising $2500. With her extensive experience dealing with users and information, and her pulling-no-punches approach, I know I’m going to be taking her up on this steal of an offer very, very soon.

I also remember the day Theresa asked me, “Are you a feminist?” I mumbled a non-committal answer, then she replied, “I bet you are, you just don’t know it.” And what do you know, it turned out to be a little true.

Leigh Honeywell

Leigh Honeywell is flat-out, all-around awesome. She started HackLab.TO (based in Toronto’s Kensington Market), is involved with the computer security community, and has been chipping away at her degrees in Computer Science and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto, delayed, from what I can tell, by her tendency to do neat stuff that gets her invited to many, many conferences. She also takes the cake for simultaneously being the geekiest and classiest person I’ve had the honour to meet, whether it’s soldering circuit boards or explaining to people why not to use the word ‘gay’ as an insult. (In 140 characters.)

Somehow the fact that she’s been blogging at her website managed to pass me by until a few weeks ago – she documents her adventures in geekiness at Hypatia.ca.

Right now, I feel a lot of pressure to view the world as a harshly competitive place characterized by predation, oneupsmanship and pulverizing competition. Thinking about these two women and their impact on me is a great reminder that while these images may motivate us to do great things in the short term, they also shape our images of greatness – and how we bring it about – in ways that can be less inclusive and diverse than we might otherwise desire. Part of the change we can be is how we read and treat what’s already here. The other part is the striving. These two exemplify to me going after their passions unrelentlessly, while burying the negativity behind the whole ‘bitch’ concept. My kudos to them.

Update: While browsing other posts for Ada Lovelace day, I stumbled upon this post describing Hypatia, after whom Leigh has named her website. Fun!

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  1. Thanks Karen… You inspire me too, you know. :-)

    As for “bitch,” when people use the word bitch, I think that now it is a replacement for the word “feminist.” We might update Rebecca West's quote to replace bitch with feminist:

    'I myself have never been able to find out precisely what bitch is: I only know that people call me a bitch whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.'

    Posted March 25, 2009 at 12:09 am | Permalink
  2. Thanks to your thoughtful comment over at my site, I have discovered your blog! So much to digest here, I wish I wasn't in such a work crunch so I could read more. And thanks for pointing me to Theresa and Leigh, I'm especially interested in the work they're doing, too.

    Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I am totally impressed with your blog work, just keep posts like this coming often, I have just subscribed to your feeds!

    Posted March 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

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