Hackerspace(s), patriarchy, equality

Source: http://becha.home.xs4all.nl/hackerspaces-patriarchy-equality.html, 2015-10-03, by BecHa

For the explanation of the Derivative Work Source, see below. 

Hackerspace(s), 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] 

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 with.

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_ethic#The_hacker_ethics :
Sharing, Openness, Decentralization, Free access to computers, World Improvement] 

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 operate.

I think many in hackerspace know much less about politics than they think they do.

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 hostility.

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 
hackerspace's benefit, while the bad it enables is just an unavoidable cost of doing business.

[bad things = exclusivity, elitism, one-upmanship, inequality, racism, sexism... ]

With very limited exceptions (e.g. speech itself, and even there the balance is contested) we don’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: 

Explanation of the Derivative Work Sorce

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 are about 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 hackerspaces culture: 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]