Episode 1: #curvee, Gamergate update & vocal fry
Welcome to the Ada’s Sisters podcast, where we talk about women, digital culture and everything in between. I’m Eden Spodek. And I’m Angela Misri.
This week we’re going to talk about the #curvee hashtag.
Plus we’ll get an update on Gamergate one year later from Natalie Zina Walschott… and didn’t you also want to talk about our ‘Lady voices?’
Oh we’re going to talk about it — the backlash against female voices in the media — count on it.
WHO IS ADA?
So, how did we even get here Eden?
You came to me with an idea, Angela, and I said “Hell yes!”
The name ‘Ada’s Sisters’ isn’t where we started from, where did we start from?
Well, you had an idea for a name called ‘The Lipstick Code,” and we really liked it in the beginning and we had some great visuals you’d created and the feedback wasn’t as positive as we’d hoped.
And surprising, I mean, I didn’t think of these things but people came back with “Is that a podcast about lesbians” because of ‘Lipstick Lesbians.’ And what is the one you got?
Which I never would have made those connections. And it wasn’t representing what we wanted to talk about — it was off-brand.
So we talked to our friend Wayne MacPhail who came up with ‘Ada’s Sisters.’
Who was Ada? We should tell people who Ada is.
Ada was Ada Lovelace, actually she was Ada Byron, but we all know her as Ada Lovelace.
Wasn’t she Ada King?
She was Ada King after. She was born Ada Byron, she was Lord Byron’s daughter — the only legitimate offspring.
And she lived in the 1800s and we picked her because…?
We picked her because she was involved in helping to create the first computer and worked with Charles Babbage who is credited with creating the first version of a computer.
Right, she worked on the first algorithms for his thinking machine and he called her ‘The Enchantress of Numbers,” which is very fancy.
And you know what I learned which is really fascinating and speaks well to our podcast beyond her role in computing and that is the reason she became a mathematician and got into this area in the first place is because her mother wanted her to be educated in a field as far away from poetry and anything associated with her father as possible.
That’s hilarious — to run away from Lord Byron!
But it also shows the effect of parenting even back in the 1800s.
And what a forward-thinking mother to think mathematics — go so far down the other side.
I think her mother was very forward-thinking.
So this podcast is an homage to the doors she opened, the doors her mother opened initially, to women in digital culture and for the ability that both of us work in digital.
I teach at Ryerson in Digital and you teach at Concordia department of Continuing studies in digital, and we’ve both been digital strategists for years and years.
And we met at Podcamp?
Maybe, but I thought it was PAB (Podcasters Across Borders).
Right, centuries ago, and we’ve been doing this forever — and the reason we’re doing this is that we felt our voices were not actually being heard. There’s lots of people talking about digital culture, and it is mostly men, and that’s awesome, they’re doing a great job, but we weren’t represented.
No we weren’t and there are a lots of calls for women to be more represented in the space not only by other women, but by men.
So these are our conversations about relevant things happening in the digital world, from cultural perspective, even just from a technology perspective.
If you guys have any ideas about things you’d like us to talk about, or you want to comment on things we’re talking about please head to our website — it’s at adassisters.com. There’s a comment box, there’s a story pitch area and we’ve got all our story notes up there so feel free, we’d love to hear from you.
So an example of what we’re going to be talking about. We’re going to try and talk about a hashtag.
This is TRENDING.
We’re going to talk about things that are trending in every episode — at least one item — and by hashtag
So what is this week’s trend or hashtag we want to jump on?
We’re going to talk about #curvee.
In response to Instagram’s ban.
This is a bigger discussion in terms of banning, but the basic news of it is that Instagram decided to ban the usage of the hashtag #curvy because it was sexualized.
Because some people were using it to tag content that they felt was inappropriate.
And yet the list of things that are sexual that have not been banned from Instagram is insanely long. But more importantly, I think the reason, from women I’ve spoken to, that people use the hashtag #curvy is because it is self-empowering — they’re feeling good about themselves.
They absolutely are.
So… one of the things that really struck me was why Instagram and other social media programs feel the need to ban terms anyway because people are always going to find a work-around. In the case of #curvy which is relatively benign, so they couldn’t spell #curvy in the traditional way anymore and they created their own word. There was a made-up word created by the people who liked to use the word #curvy.
And it became a protest.
And then their protest ended because they were successful in convincing Instagram that banning the #curvy was ridiculous.
So it begs the question — if you’re a big social media company — if you’re Instagram, and you’re sitting there going “people are using this tag … they’re talking about sex and I don’t like it… Does banning really do what you want it to do from a marketing perspective Eden?
Not at all, because people are going to post what they’re going to post and try and slip through the cracks as much as possible. People are going to find other hashtags to use that are common language. And as we saw in the #Curvy protest, people are going to create their own words.
I think if there was a hashtag that was harmful to others on a large scale and was contravening human rights, then I could see that hashtag being useful to ban.
So there you are, you can ban things that are contravening human rights, but for the love of God, #curvy makes us feel good about ourselves.
And it’s so benign.
That’s our trending take this week.
What’s your trending take? Contact us and let us know — we’d love to hear from you.
That’s right, they can email us at email@example.com or you can go to our website at adassisters.com and leave a comment in the comment form.
Do you play any online games?
You’re going to laugh at me now… I have offspring who have been playing games since almost as soon as they learned to talk, but I’m not a big gamer no. I’ll play things like Solitaire, and Bejewelled or Scrabble or Dots. You know, the apps on my phone while I’m waiting in line for things.
I’m going to represent the gamer ladies for this podcast. I play a lot of online games, and that’s why I wanted to talk to Natalie Zina Walshots to get an update on Gamergate, but why don’t you tell them what Gamergate is just in case it’s just something us nerds know about.
I did play Farmville when I was trying to learn and understand gamer culture.
Farmville! Eden is so cute.
Natalie, save us, give us the DL on gamergate. Can we call you Natalie?
Natalie Zina Walschots interview
I‘m Natalie Zina Walschots and I’m in the first year of a degree in digital humanities at the University of Concordia in Montreal — which is a fancy way of saying I’m getting a PhD in video games.
We’re actually only three days off from the anniversary of Gamergate — everything started going terribly on the 16th of August last year.
So the short answer for the cascading series of events that started Gamergate was that Zoe Quinn released Depression Quest — an online game that she had been working on.
Immediately after her ex-boyfriend released something called the Zoe Post which was a 40 thousand word blog about how he considered her to be terrible during the course of their relationship including a bunch of details about people he claimed she had slept with. After a sustained several weeks of harassment against Zoe, Adam Baldwin the actor decided that there needed to be more of a justification for sustaining this kind of an attack against a person than simply we don’t like who she is and possibly who she’s slept with.
The justification that was manufactured at that point was that she had had a relationship with games journalists who also reviewed her work. Despite the fact that the publications who published that work did their due diligence and investigated the propriety of those relationships and found that the timelines were not problematic at all … that was the spark.
Giving it more weight. Giving it a justification beyond “we hate this woman,” which grew to “we hate women in games” in general. And it became a rallying cry and the beginning of what turned the movement into what it is today.
A year later we’re still doing this. I remember being asked back in November, so long ago, and at that point it already seemed ridiculous that it was still going on. I was asked to write a piece in this magazine for the aftermath of Gamergate, and the piece I ended up having to write is that first of all… it didn’t… stop happening and it’s really going to take years for us to figure out the ramifications for this. How this has effected creators and journalists and what the gaming community looks like after this is not something we can start to figure out because it hasn’t stopped happening and I feel like we’re not any closer to knowing that because it is still happening.
And I think with all of this happening and with how terrible a lot of these spaces have become and how uncomfortable a lot of them have become, it has illuminated the need for these safe spaces a lot more and it has led to the creation of these safe spaces probably more pointedly and aggressively than in the past.
The need for women-only game-making spaces like Dames making Games or Pixelles in Montreal for instance have become additionally important and those memberships grown and the sort of activism they do has expanded.
Here’s the thing, I don’t think it’s a numbers game because I know so many women who do this, so many women who play games, who are passionate about games, and a lot of them are becoming, it’s not that they’re not there it’s that there’s no space for them. It’s less about numbers and more about platform — it’s about safety.
When all of this started happening you saw a lot of writers publicly quitting, or a lot of women publicly or quietly leaving their jobs or shutting off their online platforms. And those lights are still going off.
And it makes me really conflicted in some ways because can I responsibly say to them or anyone “Yeah, you should for sure be doing this with your life right now — and this is a great awesome thing you’re doing?” Because it’s incredibly rewarding and fun and there are amazing communities, and I care about it passionately and there’s so much great stuff to do. But also, how can I honestly look at somebody and say “this is for sure a great place for you…” I feel like it needs to come with every warning label on the Earth.
As much as I think we need more people and more voices, and we need people to be active and brave and continue to stand up and do this kind of work, I wouldn’t ask anybody to do that specifically. As much I love the general idea of solidarity, let’s do this, let’s stand up together, let’s just be too big and loud and good at what we do to be pushed back against, but could I actually turn to another human being and say “You do this with me!” I don’t think I could. I don’t think that’s responsible.
I think you need to know — that’s a decision you have to make for yourself, and you need to be fully informed of what you’re signing up for because it can be really bad.
People have legitimately had their lives ruined. A lot of people have sacrificed their health.
It’s not something I feel comfortable asking, so as much as I agree with the need for that sort of work, it’s not something I could ask another human being to do unless they wanted to.
One of the few positive outcomes has been things like Crash Override which is the organization started by Zoe Quinn to help women respond to and ultimately recover from campaigns of harassment against them. Then there’s Randy Harper created the good game autoblocker which fights harassment on social media by mass-blocking anybody who is associated with Gamergate or who uses that hashtag or has that information in their profile — it blocks them for you so you see a lot less of the horrible stuff. It’s a twitter app. And then there’s the GG twitter account as well which is the way you respond to it and interact with it.
:: END of interview with Natalie
Who remembers Second Life — I do have a bit of a geek side of me! Second Life was a virtual world and it was really more popular in the mid to late 2000s. Kid Turgovak and I created a group called “About a Fashion” and we invited some women we knew in digital marketing and communications and related roles to join us. And there were about a half a dozen of us who in Second Life who met every week or two. And it was really interesting — a friend of mine was invited to join us and she actually had to create a new avatar because she felt that in order to really experience Second Life without being discriminated against — her avatar originally was male and so she felt she couldn’t be with us in a group of women.
A second person we asked to join us for a special event had declined and this person shall remain nameless because now this person is known by his real name. He had created a whole persona around this woman in Second Life that became quite well-known and had a video series on YouTube and all kinds of things. And we invited her to join us and she wrote us back and said how flattered she was but when push came to shove she had to decline. And then she finally disclosed to us that she was a man.
I don’t have a problem with that as such, because my avatars when I play online can be either. Did you have a problem with that?
No, I didn’t have a problem. In fact we said to him you’d be more than welcome to join us anyway.
You wouldn’t discriminate against him unless he was hiding it for a reason.
I think he was afraid that people would find out who he really was before he was ready to discontinue that brand and create his own personal brand which he did and uses today and is very well-known.
You know, having a guy who understands our perspective online, I would never talk someone out of that — that’s awesome.
Our next topic is something we’re a little reluctant to raise because we don’t want to be accused of it. On the other hand we felt it was a really important item for discussion and that is Vocal Fry.
And overall looking at how women speak in the workplace and online in videos in podcast and in broadcast… etc.
And this like an on-going thing, this isn’t a new thing we’ve discovered. It’s in the news lately — Naomi Wolf just weighed in with her article: “Young Women give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice.” It started a whole other controversy because she is definitely on the side of fixing vocal fry. But Ira Glass, who has one of the most popular podcasts on the planet has been accused of vocal fry for pretty much as long as This American Life has been on the air.
So we thought we should talk about it.
The thing that really gets me about this is not about how women speak or how men speak, it’s much more the idea that no matter what women do people are looking for a way to criticize something in their speech patterns.
Here are some examples of so-called vocal fry:
So I’m listening to these voices — I’m listening to these women and I have to say: if your profession … if you are actually hired for your voice, then yes, there is a standard you should hit. And these women are not hitting it. Now Kim Kardashian was never hired really for anything. I don’t really understand why anyone listens to Kim Kardashian…
Why did you have to bring her up!?
Because she is an example that people give as vocal fry … and I think it’s a good example and in my opinion she’s not hired for that. And you know what? She’s annoying in every way including vocal fry. But if you hire someone specifically for their voice — if they’re on the radio or they’re on TV — and they have this tendency I think it is something they should fix. I think it is something as much as they can they should training on.
But what really concerns me is that there are few women’s voices out there as there is… and women are having a really hard time gaining senior roles in business … I think the more women feel intimidated about speaking out … the fewer women’s voices we’re going to hear and the harder time we’re going to have getting voices like ours out there.
So I think you’re talking about two different things here, I don’t think that women who go into business should be held to the standard of making their voice more professional. Because that’s not what they got in for. But I think if you’re on the radio … yes, your voice should not be annoying.
But there’s been a lot of research that shows that women who have vocal fry or let’s say speech annoyances (just as a blanket term) have not accomplished as much compared to their male counterparts.
Then they should fix it! To me this is an impetus to fix it!
Then why aren’t men asked to do the same?
I think they are! Ira Glass is my prime example. He just did a Reddit recently where he answered questions and one of the questions was ‘Why is your voice so annoying — why do you vocal fry?” And his answer essentially was: I’m super-successful — screw you.
But if he were a woman would he be as successful doing the same thing — and that is part of the point of this whole discussion
So we would have to find a woman who had vocal fry and said “screw you” about that and was still successful.
I don’t know. I do think that women are more insecure about it and I don’t like that about women and I think we should stop doing that.
When I first started teaching I had a woman take me aside and tell me “Do you know that you end every lecture on a question?” Like on a high point? You should find a way to just end it solid. And she was right. I was giving the impression to my students that I was asking them a question when I was in fact there to teach them. That is good feedback. I don’t think that women should take this as criticism. I don’t think you should let it keep you out of whatever it is you want to say, but you’ll be taken more seriously if you can manage to say it in a confident secure tone.
Have you ever heard of 99 Percent Invisible podcast?
No, is it a good one?
Well, I hear it is a “tiny radio show about design,” and they keep on getting all kinds of feedback about their female reporters and verbal tick.
Verbal tick of death? What is verbal tick of death?
It’s vocal fry, it’s an uptick in the language, it’s an umbrella term for all those negative speech patterns.
So are you saying their content is not being heard because people are focusing on their voices?
I think there are some people who are focusing too much on their voices and probably their target audience is hearing them.
So this is really interesting: because they have been attacked so many times, and I’m going to read you something in a moment… they set up an auto-reply because they had trolls and it’s fascinating.
So the auto-reply starts with “Hello. You’ve written in to voice your dislike of one of our female reporter’s voices. You’re not alone. We have a filter set up that automatically sends these types of emails into a folder labeled “zero priority.” We’ll review this folder and consider the complaints within, well, never. Amazingly we don’t even have a folder for complaints about the male voices on our show, because we’ve never gotten one! Isn’t that strange? We think so. Anyway, hope you can continue to enjoy out podcast somehow, and if you can’t, there are plenty of shows that don’t feature women’s voices at all.”
So that’s the auto-response from the 99 Percentage podcast which I think is entirely fair. You know what Eden, you have convinced me a little that your content should not be subverted by the fact that you’re not speaking in a voice that is pleasant. I get that.
What do you guys think?
Do you base what you listen to on the strength or the quality — what should we call it — is it quality?
I don’t know because sometimes I wonder how much of it is … I don’t know if genetics is the right word… but is it just a condition of who we are?
You know what this might be a bad thing, and our husbands may listen to this, but I find my husband hears male voices better than female.
That might be… spousal deafness?
I swear to God there are times when his brother says something that I just said to him two weeks ago and suddenly it’s like the most brilliant thing he’s ever heard. But I’m like… but I just said that … in my girl voice … so there.
So, please let us know what you think — if you would like to record some vocal fry for us for example … that could be interesting or send us examples.
And if you’re having any challenges because you’ve been accused of having vocal fry — let us know!
We’re always looking for new ideas, so email us anytime at adassisters at gmail.com.
We’ll be back soon with another Ada’s Sisters podcast — thanks for listening!