Reading List Referenced at Usenix Talk

My Usenix talk this year uses various books I've drawn on for inspiration as backgrounds for my slides.  The goal of this was to share some of the broader world beyond what we usually look to as computer scientists.  Some of these books are accessible, while others are extremely dense.  I recommend picking things up and putting them down if they don't speak to you.  It's all about what is useful, helpful and challenging to you where ever you are right now.

  • Sinfest, by Tatsuya Ishida - a comic strip, particularly this Sisterhood storyline
  • Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
  • A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
  • Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, by Rosemarie Tong
  • Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers, by Betty A. Toole
  • The Computer Boys Take Over, by Nathan Ensmenger
  • Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering
  • Dreaming In Code, by Scott Rosenberg
  • Gender Codes: Why Are Women Are Leaving Computing, edited by Thomas Misa
  • Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler
  • Rookie: Yearbook One, edited by Tavi Gevinson
  • William's Doll, by Charlotte Zolotow
  • Beyond Barbie & Mortal Kombat, edited by Yasmin Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Sun
  • What She Really Said, by Jessamyn Smith
  • Triton, by Samuel R. Delany
  • Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellion, by Gloria Steinem
  • Globalization & Social Movements, by Valentine Moghadam
  • A Cyborg Manifesto, by Donna Haraway
  • How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanne Russ
  • Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, edited by Miriam Schneir
  • Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, by bell hooks
  • The Paper Bag Princes, by Robert Munsch
  • The Transformation of Silence Into Language And Action, by Audre Lorde
  • Feminism is for Everybody, by bell hooks 
5 responses
Have you read _Gender Trouble_? I find even reading the wikipedia article rough going. As I'm deciphering it, I go from thinking "right on!" to "codswollop!" to "wha???"
That is one of the more opaque books, along with probably Triton and A Cyborg Manifesto. Personally I found it extremely valuable, but I was also already familiar with much of the vocabulary she uses and had wrestled with Foucault first. The wikipedia article also strips out the context she uses to illustrate the ideas, and so whether it's more or less clear is debatable. That book is the original inspiration for my critique of the construct of "'Women' in Computer Science". It also contains some important criticism of ideas still accepted as canonical by mainstream feminism. Even if you don't agree (I certainly don't agree with everything she proposes) I find wrestling with postmodernist feminism a useful exercise.
Thanks for that, A posthaven user (who appears to be Beth). I'm totally on board with "subversive acts of gender"; I've sat in public doing cross-stitch (as a cisgendered hetero male). But I don't think she accounts enough for internal truth. But I'm far from clear that she really means what I think she means. Part of my frame of reference is that my youngest child is MTF. This has had the consequence of me rubbing shoulders with lots of trans and QQ people. It has left the indelible impression that there's something pretty hard-wired about their internal sense of who they are, even the QQ people. But signaling that internal truth is where all the "gender is a social construct" stuff comes from. So I'm not quite ready to endorse the idea that gender is completely constructed. As a feminist, this was a big surprise for me. I also understand her "practice of signification" to mean, roughly, "be whoever your internal light says you should be, and don't worry about being manly or womanly enough" Would you say that's accurate, or have I wildly misunderstood things?
Oh gosh, you jump straight to the complex stuff :) One of Butler's other books, "Undoing Gender", take ups the interaction of post-structuralist theory and instantiated gender identity. I haven't read the book, but it is supposedly significantly more accessible and applied than Gender Trouble. I'll address the second question first, since it is slightly more straight forward. Signification is the notion of something conveying meaning, particularly through referencing existing frameworks of meaning. A "practice of signification" is something we do that is read by observers as conveying information. Here she is specifically pointing to those practices that lead other people to believe we are independent individuals with agency. The notion is that we are constantly interpreting people's behavior as a sort of Turing Test. Though we aren't limited to only testing for human/non-human distinctions, that is more or less the role of "subject", though feminist theory contrasts that role against dehumanized social roles rather than machine intelligence. In a Turing Test, a practice of significance might be to engage in word play or express empathy. It's not that we wouldn't do those things anyway or that we are being "unnatural" by doing them. Still, we are doing them in part because of the symbolism other people will read into those actions, leading them to perceive us a particular way. In such a test we might be said to be "doing" humanity (which also illustrates why the notion that gender is performative does not preclude gender identity: just because we are "doing" humanity doesn't make us non-human.) That's not all of what is going on in the wikipedia paragraph that references a "practice of signification". Her use of "practice of signification" is about how we wish to be read by the other individuals we encounter in relation to the symbolic world we share rather than some personal "inner light". She definitely rejects the notion of personal inner truth divorced from a cultural context, without discarding the notion of individual and idiosyncratic relationships with that culture context. The final two sentences of that chapter get more at the meat of that final chapter. Once we are aware of how the categories of gender are defined, we can develop a new politic that defies them. We can purposefully destablize or disrupt them (she is particularly fond of using parody for this purpose.) We can't escape or change those categories by pretending they don't exist, since they do, but we can set out to highlight their internal contradictions and the absurdities created by presuming any particular definition of the categories to be "natural". Going back to the Turing Test, a computer specifically displaying empathy and wordplay and a human avoiding those behaviors would be examples of parody that disrupts the man/machine dichotomies. Such instances might illustrate the ways in which the category of "humanity" we have chosen is an imperfect, arbitrary and necessarily-flexible classification scheme. -Beth
Thanks a lot, Beth. I may have to get my hands on "Undoing Gender". "Acts of signification" sounds a lot like what I'd call "signaling behavior", but there seems to be some difference, too.