Tagged: feminism

My Progressive Benefits Dream for Mozilla

Recently I was approached by a co-worker to add my name to a petition about restoring the parental leave for Mozilla’s US employees.  At some point between 2009 and 2012 our leave plan changed without there being (to my knowledge) any formal announcement, transparency around the decision, or discussion of the impending change with employees.

As I was crafting my response to the request I thought this would be a good blog post since it states quite clearly what I hope Mozilla could strive for as a company with regards to how it provides benefits to employees.

Thanks for including me in this thread.  I’ve given it some thought and I’m seeing two very distinct issues here:

1) That Mozilla cut a policy without explanation, it looks to be by accident, and I agree completely that the old policy should be restored until a new one is put in effect with intention (and hopefully transparency)

2) That Mozilla needs a competitive and progressive leave policy going forward – this is something I am happy to help champion with adjustment to the current parent-focused language

I have recently been working on improving our benefits from another angle – trying to get our benefits to explicitly cover transgender surgeries – and I see the issue of being able to take paid leave as being very helpful to that ask.  Right off the bat, I wouldn’t want to support having gender-distinct parental leave durations, as this creates a problem for families who do not follow heterosexual patterns (eg: a man or men adopting a child gets less leave than a man/woman or woman/woman or even a single woman).  However, I would encourage us to think bigger and propose that paid leave should be a benefit available not only to parents.

If we really want to support diversity, I recommend we ask for (and get a lot of people on board with) a leave benefit that can be used to care for an elder, undergo surgery, adopt/birth/foster a child, write a book, pursue education, renovate a home, or anything that requires undivided focus away from work and enriches your life.  Imagine if your benefits at Mozilla allowed you 8 weeks (happy to shoot for more) of paid leave and the reason was up to your discretion.  What a measure of excellence we could have above current plans offered by other companies by recognizing a wide range of life-altering events that demand our attention.

Pushing our company to be more appealing to, and welcoming of, women and other marginalized groups is incredibly important to me and I want to see us grow our benefits and company culture in ways that encompasses more diversity. We should appeal not only to women for whom maternity leave is a priority, but also to women whose lives follow other paths, and show that Mozilla cares about the overall health and growth of all their employees with flexible plans that benefit the widest possible groupings of people.

For the short term I’m happy to put my name on this request to reinstate the plan that was never publicly revoked and call out the poor process there (lack of transparency and no announcement of potential change, no input from employees) but I also appeal to you and to others who participate in this request to consider joining forces with me (and some others who put in the request for transgender surgery) to draft a request for 2014 to create a Personal Leave policy and provide a benefit that enhances the well-being of all employees at Mozilla.

That’s the long and short of it.  I want us to be willing to discuss and consider our benefits in ways that do not single out certain choices or circumstances over others.  It may be how 3rd party brokers and the benefit providing companies create markets for their wares (reminds me of pink/blue toy marketing) but if we want to really have an ‘enviable’ culture and we truly value diversity in our recruiting efforts we should think outside of the boxes that have been created for us by the profit-driven insurance sector.

Daughter wins with Geek Dad who hacks video game gender pronouns

[x-posted from Geek Feminism]

Michael Chabon, in “Manhood for Amateurs”, writes an essay telling the story of being at the supermarket with his child, feeling quite run-down and barely hanging on, with his toddler in tow on a Sunday morning so as to give his wife a chance to sleep in. As he’s in line to pay, a woman in line with him says something along the lines of “You’re a good dad, I can tell just by looking”. At that moment he has this epiphany that to be a ‘good dad’ in our society one must merely not be in the process of killing a child in public whereas a women can rarely achieve the status of ‘good mother’ in the public’s ever-shaming eye. If they ever do briefly get told that, it is all too quick to fade with the barrage of societal and internalized messaging women get telling them they are never good enough.

Michael Chabon’s take was this:

“The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.”

As someone who did not have a dad, I have nothing in my upbringing about what it’s like to be a young female with a grown male caring for you, teaching you, or taking an interest in your life’s outcome. Chabon does sum up for me the conclusions I came to, quite young, about these creatures called ‘fathers’. Growing up with my lesbian, feminist mother my understanding of the odds was that netting a ‘good dad’ seemed so low and I was convinced I was lucky for not having to participate in that particular life lottery.

To folks who did have ‘good dads’, this story might seem familiar to you, but to many it may come as quite a pleasant surprise. Someone I am proud to consider a friend had their blog post picked up by ArsTechnica today and, yes, the title of this article is very unfortunate but the amplification of what Mike Hoye did for his daughter is such a ‘good dad’ moment that I hope there will be ripples of this for months as well as more hacking of games to do even just that simple binary flip that helps a young girl see something more like herself as the hero of the stories the games people play are centered around. Imagine for a moment if we could take this kind of hacking to children’s television and movies. Those are immutable objects for now, but video games? Well, Mike has proven that a bit of hacking can go a long way.

Because I am fortunate enough to know Mike through my time at Seneca College where he was a regular mentor to our zealous open source program, I asked him if I could interview him for a Geek Feminism post and he said yes so we hopped into an etherpad and had a talk.

LB: Hi Mike!

First let’s be clear, you didn’t give a fictional character who exists only as pixels in a video game a ‘sex change’ but you certainly upset the dominant males-as-heroes pattern in video games by simply flipping the gendered forms of address in the text of the game where the Hero does in fact have quite a gender-neutral appearance. Does it feel radical to you to do this kind of hack?

MH: It certainly felt… transgressive. I’m an inveterate gamer and Legend Of Zelda fan, and the Zelda series revolves around some pretty well-used tropes. You know you’re going to be the hero, that there’s going to be the Master Sword, a bow, the boomerang, the hookshot… Changing something, especially something as basic as the nature of the characters, feels like it should be a pretty big deal.

But at the same time, it seems like I’m just solving a problem that’s stubbornly refused to solve itself. That option should always have been there.

LB: You gloss over a bit in your post, will you put up more details (maybe another blog post) of step-by-step instructions to help people who have less technical depth than you try to do this at home with their kids? Alternately, is there a way to package up what you did and distribute it without getting yourself put in jail (or heavily fined)?

MH: The way I packaged it up – by making it clear that you’ll have to find the original material on your own, but here is the tool you’ll need to apply the following changes – is the best I could come up with. As for the step-by-step instructions… I found the game’s disk image, opened it up in a hex editor – I used http://ridiculousfish.com/hexfiend/ for that, because it works really well with extremely large files – but once you’ve done that, you just need to make a copy of the disk image, and work on that one; just page around the file until you find the dialog, and then start editing it. The important thing, at least as far as the approach I took, was that you need to be extremely careful to use phrases that are exactly, letter-for-letter the same length as the phrases you’re replacing and make sure you can see the difference between a space (one kind of whitespace) and a linebreak, that look the same in the text but have different numerical values.

It helped me to use a very basic text editor with a fixed-with font, so that I could copy the phrases I was replacing out and work on them for a while without committing anything back until I was reasonably happy with them.

LB: I wonder if you handed this hack back to the game developers/publishers, would they be receptive to putting out the alternate version, considering how simple the hack really is?

MH: It’s unlikely that my approach is well-suited for that – I’m not building in an option that a player would be able to toggle. You either change the whole game or nothing.

LB: That’s a good point. Advocating for more options in the game defaults seems like a great tactic here over asking for entirely different releases of games.

Any plans for other games that you play with your daughter where you might want to make this similar adaptation?

MH: I don’t know – it depends on what she’d like to play next. We haven’t started The Ocarina Of Time yet, so that’s a candidate. But so much of this depends on whatever holds Maya’s interests that it’s impossible for me to say.

LB: It will be interesting when she grows up and talks to others about playing the game, perhaps slipping in a female pronoun. The looks of confusion from other players will hopefully make her laugh and perhaps feel bad for them that their dads didn’t take these matters into their own hands. My mom did a similar thing for me with pronouns in Dr. Seuss stories on characters that were too gender-stereotyped with no bad side effects so far, to my knowledge.

MH: God, I can only hope.

LB: Obviously you’re an accomplished hacker, what is your approach to hacking with your child(ren) in terms of meeting kids where their skills are at?

MH: I don’t have fully-formed thoughts about this yet. I’d like to start by asking Maya what she’d like to create – not necessarily out of code, but starting with carpentry or paint, and then helping her work stuff through. The only overarching principle I want her to understand is that she can, if she puts her mind to it, make and change things.

LB: Have you had to deal with any sentiments from your daughter that suggest she might get messages telling her that computers are ‘for boys’ or that doing anything hacky or tech-related isn’t ‘for girls’?

MH: Yeah, that shit is pervasive. It’s not so much computers – there aren’t a lot of those in school yet – but “boys do this”, “girls do that”, that starts awfully early.

I quiz her on it, when it comes up – Why do you think that? And the answer is always, always that one of the other kids, usually boys, in her class told her. It’s… disheartening, but you push back when you can.

LB: That’s interesting that your anecdotal evidence is that the boys seem to be doing more of the gender policing. In my experience it was more the girls who seemed invested in protecting ladydom.

MH: My sample may not be representative (interviewer acknowledges that hers wasn’t either) (also, it’s certainly possible that I’m not getting a reliable story from Maya, who has in the last two weeks claimed to be a girl, a boy, a crab, a moose and, earlier, a pentagon. So she may not be the most reliable narrator.

LB: Starting kindergarten can be a time when the gender binary really hits home for kids and the positive messages a kid gets at home start to become overwritten by the massive mainstream’s – are you having to up the ante in un-learning?

MH: She is in preschool, not quite kindergarden yet – and I don’t really have a clear sense of how things get addressed there – I suspect well, but I don’t know. Having said that, I think the old lead-by-example tropes are important. Mom and Dad treat each other with respect, even when we disagree, and insist that Maya does so as well. When she uses some other kid’s misbehavior as a justification for her own, we don’t accept that as an excuse, and occasionally admit our own mistakes as well.

photo of a child with a backpack ready to head out the door to school

Mostly, though, we just try to avoid television and Disney movies, and try to avoid books where the women are either helpless NPCs or props or both. It’s not always a perfect approach, because frankly there’s not a lot of those books out there, but it’s an uphill battle. But so is all parenting, so hey.

LB: Should we talk about the “P” word? Are there inklings of wanting to be a princess? Even if it was Princess Leia (who is now owned by Disney) would this fly with you and your particular approach?

MH: I don’t really know. We’re not there yet. She’s expressed as much interest in being a princess as she has in being a moose at this point, so I’m not super-concerned about it.

We’ll go through that phase at some point, I’m sure, but I just don’t want it to be the only phase she goes through.

LB: Love the moose stuff – where is that coming from?

MH: She has a shirt where the moose has antlers, so she holds up her hands to her head like antlers and says “MOOSE” and charges. It’s pretty great, unless you’re afraid of moose.

LB: Have you broken the news to her that moose are really big and stinky? Also a menace on country roads in Canada? 🙂

MH: For polite situations, she’ll hold up only one hand, and be a half-moose.

LB: You’re doing a great job here 🙂

Are you aware of projects such as: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls ?

MH: Yeah, I gave them some money on general principles.

LB: Can you speak to what works/doesn’t for you in terms of making technology feel accessible to your daughter and what seems to entice her or dissuade her from the things we technologists might be taking for granted?

MH: It’s too early to say. Right now, she’s surrounded by the tech Mom and Dad use in our day to day lives, watching us work with it. She understands very quickly how to use it herself. So far, to be quite blunt, “Accessible” means “stuff I can manipulate without needing to know how to read”, which basically means touchscreens with icons or hardware with big buttons, where interactions don’t generally have hard consequences.

LB: That brings up a good question – what does Mom do with regards to hacking or owning/customizing things in a way that teaches curiosity and exploration of creativity? Are you a one-man show, or is a love of technology, gaming, hacking something the whole family participates in to varying levels?

MH: Mom has almost no interest in technology per se. It’s not her thing, but her hobbies – more artistic, craftier in general – are complimentary, and also something Maya’s taken to.

LB: So your daughter gets balance then, between those many areas. I think it’s great that you take such responsibility for transferring your knowledge and sharing your passions with your kids.

MH: I’m not sure how they learn any other way.

LB: Final question:
What would you list as starting point for useful tools/skills a geek or geek-leaning parent might want to have at their disposal tohelp them alter the tech realities around us in this way and other ways that upset the defaults?

MH: I don’t think there’s one answer to that question, certainly not one that’s less than book length or applies to everyone. The thing that you ultimately need to do is to believe that not only can you look behind the curtain, but that if you’re a little bit smart and a little bit careful, you’ll be able to step up and operate the machinery there yourself. That’s what I’m hoping Maya takes from this – there may be an infinite number of things in the world you don’t understand, but there’s nothing that you can’t understand, and a little patience, a little courage and enough small steps. will get you there.

LB: Thanks for sharing your approach here, Mike, I think you’re an inspiration for open source geek parenting and I hope we’ll see more of these sorts of hacks in the years to come until they are no longer even “hacks” but in fact, defaults or built-in options.

MH:There’s a lot of work left to do, but we’ll get there.

Tomahawk does many things right

Not too long ago I first heard of Tomahawk at one of our Mozilla Monday meetings – they’ve been working with our WebFWD initiative which supports open web projects that are moving the web forward.  Tomahawk definitely fits the bill for what the future of the web should be: music just plays.  Social, distributed, easy access to tunes through all the open APIs available – I can’t even begin to say how happy I am to be finally able to use this software.

I say ‘finally be able to use it’ because when I first heard of Tomahawk and ran to their site to download it, I stopped in my tracks.

Their original logo was a stereotype cartoon of a North American Indian male, wearing headphones.  I’ll let you do your own research if you want to learn why such a depiction isn’t culturally sensitive because that’s not actually the point of this post.  The point is that the people behind Tomahawk did constructive criticism a solid.  When, as a potential user, I saw this logo and took action by emailing them asking them to consider changing this inappropriate and stereotyping imagery as their masthead and application icon they said other people had contacted them as well, so they were aware and they were WORKING ON A NEW LOGO.

They didn’t get defensive, they didn’t say “we don’t see a problem here”, they didn’t try to justify their choices and protect their precious artwork.  They were already working on a solution, continuing forward momentum, adapting as they went, and being civil about it to boot. Who knows how many people contacted them? I might have been the thousandth and yet there was no hint of snark or beleaguered engineer who just wants to write software and not deal with all this soft, people-facing stuff in the response I got from Jason Herskowitz.  Thank you for that, Jason and Tomahawk.  I really hope this level of maturity catches on in the startup culture.

To give you an idea of how quickly they rotated on this; I emailed on May 14th and the new logo went into place today.  That’s slightly more than a month to revamp their site and update their installer and god knows what else (maybe business cards? stationary? do people still use that?).  This change isn’t trivial, but neither is the impression that original logo makes about a company.  I will proudly go forth now and rally support for this product that I have no doubt is stellar. I’ve been using it for the last 10 minutes since getting the email that the new logo was in place and let me tell you: setup was a breeze. I can also share this experience as a positive one with regards to taking the time to contact a company and point out a culturally insensitive aspect and seeing effective, mature, and expeditious resolution on that issue.  This is still rare enough to deserve an entire blog post.  I look forward to a future where this sort of thing is a more common dialogue and is always met with positive change and continued forward momentum instead of stop-energy and defensiveness.

Here’s the plug now:  Get Tomahawk!  It’s open source!  It will work with many, if not all, of your current web music accounts!  Support the open web and companies that move it forward!