Category Archives: Feminism

Role Model Sunday: Anita Borg

Anita Borg (picture from wikipedia article)
Anita Borg

This week’s role model was brought to my attention by Fachschaft Informatik, a group of students representing the Comuputer Sciences students at my university, helping with problems concerning curricula, courses, and so on. One of the rooms provided and used by FSInf is the Anita Borg room.

Anita Borg was a self-taught programmer, focusing on operating systems and memory systems. Upon realizing at a symposium in 1987 that there were incredibly few women in computing, she became an advocate for technical women. She founded a mailing list called Systers, which brought together women in technology. In 1994, together with Telle Whitney, Borg founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a conference by and for women in computer sciences. In 1997, Borg founded the Institute for Women in Technology, aiming to increase the representation of women in technical fields and to enable the creation of more technology by women. Anita Borg’s personal goal was to achieve a 50% representation for women in computing by 2020.

While reading up on her life, the second most interesting fact for me was that the mailing list she oversaw, while primarily focusing on communication of experts on technical things, tackled non-technical issues from time to time. For example, when in 1992 a Barbie doll hit the market that said “math class is tough”, the protest that started with the Systers list played a role in getting that phrase removed from Barbie’s microchip. This very much reminded me of a Simpsons episode, Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy. The most interesting fact was that Anita Borg obviously was a very active, motivated fighter for women in technology. This is a trait I very much like in people – talking about things might be interesting, but to actually change the state of something, things must get done.

After Anita Borg died of cancer in 2003, the Institute for Women in Technology was renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology by Telle Whitney, who took over as CEO and President in 2002. Lots of awards and scholarships are named in her honor, and while still alive, Anita Borg received Awards by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the Association for Women in Computing as well as an Honorary Doctor of Science and Technology degree by Carnegie Mellon University.

For more information, go read up at wikipedia (where I also found her picture).

Role Model Sunday: Cecilia Payne

Without even being awarded with a degree after completing her studies at Cambridge University (because women only receive degrees from Cambridge since 1948!), Cecilia Payne‘s dissertation was “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” according to astronomer Otto Struve.

After her father died when she was four years old, her mother had to raise Cecilia and her 2 siblings on her own, thus deciding not to spend money on Cecilia’s college education, but on her brother’s (who became an archeologist). In 1919, Payne won a scholarship to Cambridge University, where she started to study botany and later on also physics and chemistry. Her London school did not teach either physics or chemistry, but botany, so this is where she discovered her first field of interest.

Realizing that she would not be able to work in research, but only as a teacher, in the UK, she decided to move to the US on a grant encouraging women to work at Harvard Observatory. She was the 2nd woman to work there, following Adelaide Ames.

In her work, Payne accurately related the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures. Her thesis established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars, and thus the most abundant element in the Universe.

Officially not having an official position, Payne remained scientifically active as a technical assistant to Harlow Shapley (the Director of the Harvard Observatory) from 1927 to 1938. When she was at one point considering to leave Harvard because of her low status and poor salary, Shapley made efforts to improve her position. In 1938 she was given the title of “Astronomer”, which she later asked to have changed to Phillips Astronomer. Until 1945, none of the courses she taught at Harvard were recorded in the catalogue.

she was the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within the faculty at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (1956). With her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, she also became the first woman to be head of a department at Harvard.

Role Model Sunday: Rosza Peter

For this week’s Role Model, my thanks go to the women’s department at TU Wien’s Student’s Union. Part of their campaing for yesterday’s International Women’s Day was to rename some of the most used lecture rooms at TU, giving them names of female scientists. This is how I found today’s Role Model: Rózsa Péter.

Péter Rósza. (picture from wikimedia, copyright expired)
Péter Rósza. (picture from wikimedia, copyright expired)

Rósza Péter attended Pázmány Péter University (the oldest and largest university in Hungary, later renamed Eötvös Loránd University) starting in 1922. She at first wanted to study chemistry, but soon discovered that her true passion lay with Mathematics. Graduating in 1927, she started to work as a tutor and teacher at high schools, but also started her graduate studies.

Begin told about Gödel’s work on incompleteness, she started to work on her own proofs in the field, focusing on the recursive functions used by Gödel. She published several papers, proposing to treat recursive functions as a seperated sub-field of mathematics, making her one of the founders of this field of mathematical research. In 1935, she received her PhD (summa cum laude).  As of 1937, she was a contributing editor at the Journal of Logic.

When the Fascists took over in Hungary in 1939, Rósza Péter lost her permission to teach, due to her jewish roots. Still researching and writing during the war times, she published “Playing with Infinity” in 1943, where she discussed number theory and logic for lays.

In 1951 she published a monograph, Recursive Functions, and in 1955, she became a professor at Eötvös Loránd University (her renamed alma mater), until her retirement in 1975. In 1976, she published Recursive Functions in Computer Theory. This book was the 2nd Hungarian book on mathematics to be published also in the Soviet Union, as the matter was considered essential to the theory of computers.

Some information can be found at wikipedia,and the websites of Agnes Scott College and the San Diego Supercomputer Center published short biographies referencing more interesting sources, too.

Role Model Sunday: Mary Lou Jepsen

Mary Lou Jepsen, picture (c)

Mary Lou Jepsen is the co-founder of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and an expert in the field of displays. Her work has had worldwide influence on head-mounted displays, HDTV and projector products. She created some of the largest ambient displays ever, and received a Master of Science degree in Holography at MIT Media Lab, where she was also part of the faculty for some years.

At OLPC, Jepsen developed the sunlight-readable display technology and co-invented the ultra-low power management system for the laptop. She also transformed these inventions into high volume mass production. The XO laptop is the lowest-power laptop ever made, and the most environmentally friendly laptop ever made and can sustain 5 foot drops.

In 2008, after working at OLPC for 3 years, Jepsen started a for-profit company, Pixel Qi, to commercialize some of the technologies she developed at OLPC. In 2013, she joined Google[x] as their “Head of the Display Division”.

You can find out more about Mary Lou Jepsen on wikipedia and her website.

Also I promise that the next article will be based on a personal interview. Stay tuned!

Role Model Sunday: Frances E. Allen

Frances Allen, (cc wikimedia)
Frances Allen, (cc wikimedia)

As the first woman to ever receive a Turing Award for her work, Frances Elizabeth Allen is for sure a woman to be seen as a role model. She received the so called “nobel prize of computing” for

[…] pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of optimizing compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimizing compilers and automatic parallel execution.
(Association For Computing Machinery (ACM), Citation for the A.M. Turing Award 2006)

After earning B.Sc. and M.Sc degrees in Mathematics, she started to teach at a school in Peru, New York (yep, there’s a city named like a country). She joined IBM in 1957, planning on paying off her school loans with that job – but she stayed with IBM for the rest of her career.

Let’s hear some more about her from the ACM:

[…] she introduced many abstractions, algorithms, and implementations that laid the groundwork for automatic program optimization technology, […] introduced the use of graph-theoretic structures to […] efficiently derive relationships and identify opportunities for optimization. […] Her 1976 paper with Cocke describes one of the two main analysis strategies used in optimizing compilers today.
(Association For Computing Machinery (ACM), Citation for the A.M. Turing Award 2006)

And that’s still not all of it. In 1989, Fran Allen was the first woman to become an IBM Fellow. Every year, the current CEO of IBM appoints 4 to 9 researchers at IBM an “IBM Fellow”, which is the highest honor a scientiest, engineer or programmer at IBM can receive. The Fellow Programme was created in 1962, in order to promote creativity among the company’s most exceptional technical professionals, only choosing people who will also be making important contributions in future.

Upon retiring in 2002, Fran Allen received the Ada Lovelace Award of the Association for Women in Computing. After also being awarded the Turing Award by the ACM (see citations above) in 2007 (for 2006), she was awarded an honorary doctor in science degree at SUNY University, Albany. In 2009, she received an honorary doctor of science degree at McGill University for her work.

For more information on Fran Allen, here’s her wikipedia entry, which was where I found most of my information for this short portrait. Sorry if some sentences sound very alike, but rephrasing is a bit hard sometimes 😉

Also, if you want to hear Fran Allen speak about her work herself, you can find her Turing Lecture Video here.

Computer Sciences, Social Sciences and Feminism

It started out as a joke. A friend and I attended a lecture together, a lecture on Social Informatics, which was pretty … well, not up-to-date considering the materials and examples that were used.

So one evening we decided we’d hijack part of the lecture that would take place the next day. The lecture room would be open for us from 11 am, with the professor usually arriving at 11.20 am – so why not use those 20 minutes, during which students would already be there, or at least be arriving, to talk about something more up to date than airplane crashes from the late 1990ies?

Continue reading Computer Sciences, Social Sciences and Feminism

Tag Clouds: How NOT to do it

Erste Bank is the oldest still existing commercial bank in Austria (wikipedia article, not available in English). Obviously, the marketing’s gender role models are just as old as their bank:

solid, family friendly, uncomplicated, informed, calm, transparent, consistent, stable, professionell, simple, accessible, flexible, modern
female role model

active, self-determined, modern, fast, professionell, dynamic, flexible, unattached, target oriented, informed, simple, transparent
male role model

So in Erste Bank marketing’s eyes, women are solid, family friendly, uncomplicated, informed, calm, transparent, consistent, stable, professionell, simple, accessible, flexible and modern.

And men? They are active, self-determined, modern, fast, professionell, dynamic, flexible, unattached, target oriented, informed, simple and transparent.

Those are serious gender stereotypes that should not be used by one of the biggest commercial banks in Austria. I hope they reconsider their marketing strategies.

P.S. Yes, I did take a closer look at that 2nd picture. Those extremely old-fashioned stereotypes seem not to be about how the person on the poster is, but what they want their investment fonds to be like. Still, those are stupid stereo types. I’m sure there are women who do like to experiment with new ways of investing their money in order to get a nice interest rate, just like I’m also sure there’s a lot of men who want to make sure their money is secure and will be available once they need it.

Feminism for kids: Frozen

When I visited home these past holidays, my brother and I, his wife and son, plus some of her family, went to the movies and watched “Frozen”. The German title is “The Snow Queen”, as if it was just a movie version of the fairy tale, and what I had heard about it before had only referred to the movie NOT being true to the fairy tale. Also some of the comments I had read led me to believe it would only be a nice kids’ movie, but not as girl-power-y as, e.g., “Merida”.

But, oh wow, how wrong I was 🙂

I won’t be spoiling it all for the readers who haven’t seen the movie yet. To you, I say: go, watch it. It was good fun, also in German (well, I had to watch it in German, due to my company 😉 ), even with some unexpected turns and all.

So, to let you know what I LOVED about this movie, let me quote the short conversation I had with my nephew on our way home:

Me: See, in most movies, the girls need a boy to help them get out of trouble. But that’s not true. You saw in this movie, that girls indeed CAN get themselves out of trouble, right?

Him: Yes, right. There is this one girl in school, she never needs help when fighting with the boys. She is a pretty good fighter!

Cute. Next time I’m home, I hope I’ll have time to watch some more movies like that with him 🙂  Any recommendations from your side?

Mixed feelings, mixed contents

Ever since I started writing about Feminism (here, here, and here), I feel like what I wrote before on this blog is now of no importance.

But damnit, I don’t want this blog to be a grumpy list of what I see in the world that I don’t like. Because that’s not who I am. I prefer seeing myself as a positive person, enjoying life wherever possible, and in general just doing my thing without letting myself being dragged down by stupid people who sometimes cross my path.

So consider yourself warned. In future, grumpy posts will keep showing up, because I think that talking about problems is the first step to getting rid of them. But fear not, I’ll still go on about how much I love Vienna and all 😉

Sexism: Visibility vs Existence

This is a post that I’ve been thinking about since … well, 2 months. The title tells it all, it’s again about my post on what I have encountered at TU Wien that I regard as sexist. For the sake of completeness, here’s also the link to my addendum to that post (in case you missed it).

So, that blog post of mine seems to have made it as far as to the Austrian Students’ Parliament – yay! Also, it seems to have made quite an impression wherever it went.

Apparently the message heard by some people was that there is “a lot of sexism over there at Informatics”. It seems to me there are people out there who think what they don’t see doesn’t happen, as in “if nobody says there’s sexism at MY department, there is no sexism here”.

Maybe you’re not paying enough attention. Maybe your “sexism radar” hasn’t been fine-tuned yet. Maybe you’re just a hell of a lucky person who happens to be at a department where there are no sexist persons.

I’m a nice person, so I hope for you that it’s number 3. On the other hand, if you ever happen to be thrown into another environment, with less nice and less feminist persons, you’ll have a pretty tough time either getting accustomed to it, or – which I hope you’re already doing – changing it.

Making sexism visible as what it is – prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s gender and the stupid belief that one gender is overall superior to the other, thus making it alright to dominate the seemingly weaker gender – is the first step of making it go away.

And that’s what I was hoping for. Raising awareness that there’s still much to do at TU Wien. Finding allies. Maybe even starting something that might end up in changing my University.