Last month I was kindly invited by Supermarkt’s founder and curator, Ela Kagel, to speak about my perspective as a woman in Berlin’s media + tech scene. We were asked to share our influences, mentors and key life moments that shaped who we are.
The talk was part of an event called Berlin’s Media Art Community: A Female Perspective with ten female speakers.
Despite this large female contingent, and in a city where the workforce is generally evenly distributed, it is at odds that the theoretical discourse on media art and net activism, executive roles and directorships, as well panelists and participants at events and festivals, are still male-dominated. In a forward-thinking city like Berlin, this ongoing gap should be addressed so that the wider fields of media arts and activism are fully inclusive of the multitude of female skills and viewpoints on offer.
I quite enjoyed hearing the journeys of the fellow speakers, as well as the lively discussion afterwards. (What does feminism mean today? Is gender equality about an attitude or are there systemic forces that need changing? And “If I can’t dance it’s not my revolution!”)
In particular, it was interesting to reflect and share what moments I found pivotal in my life and to learn about the motivations in other women’s lives.
Here are the slides and notes from my talk.
We were asked to discuss what motivates us, who supported us and what were decisive moments in our career. I suppose like most journeys, mine started before my adult career. For me, the most influential activity growing up was playing soccer
From age 5 til now, I played a lot of soccer. And it’s biggest lessons to me were 1) team work and 2) confidence. Team work was hugely important in the adult world, and soccer helped you understand how each person plays their role, and how it comes together to something greater than it’s individual parts.
Soccer gave me that collaborative, psychological framework — and also physical confidence. A lot of young women have body issues. But what I loved about sports was how it made you feel confident and powerful in your body. Soccer showed me another kind of aesthetic. One that emphasized athleticism, strength and its own kind of sexiness.
This is Brandi Chastain, who scored the winning goal in the Women’s World Cup in 1999. There’s a beauty in her confidence, in her joy and accomplishment. Watching this moment live on TV made me want to be like her, to celebrate with her + her team.
So as I grew up, I kept playing. Even when I was the only woman on the team. I learned not to question why I was there. I learned that if I wanted to play, I had to be confident in who I was and that I belong on the field just as much as the guys.
Beyond just playing, I learned about encouraging other women to get on the field, and to celebrate them when they did well. I attended Mt. Holyoke College, a women’s liberal arts college in New England. It focuses on a generalist’s education, on interdisciplinary thinking. And socially, it really taught me about being supportive and inclusive.
It was a bit over the top, but the women there were so committed to helping each other. At every public event or class, you’d have someone shout “Go, girl!” and cheer each other. Of course there was competition, but the goal was not to discredit or undermine other women, but to celebrate each other’s successes. If felt like if we supported one another, there would be more successful women in the world. And that means there will be a better, more equal society.
Academically, at college there was one professor who was particularly inspiring. Prof. Hartley taught a survey course on the Great Books, reading things like Dante, Plato, and Descartes. We live in an era where the Western Canon is heavily criticized but the original works are seldom ever read. Prof. Hartley encouraged us to read the source material, to build up an historical foundation that we could respond to — and to understand how these thinkers shaped our world today.
The Great Books show us that we’re not the first generation to face deep change — be it technological, social or otherwise. And reading these books, freely and uninhibitedly, should not only be a right, but an intellectual need for humankind. And having access to source material is essential for our education, discourse and self-improvement.
From there, ideologically, it was an easy step to understand why Free Culture is necessary. Around the time I graduated, Lawrence Lessig, prof. at Standford, founded the non-profit Creative Commons. It’s a movement dedicated to making cultural works more accessible, more reusable with legal tools. Lessig was a philosophical mentor. And his arguments about Free Culture won me over so I began working for his organization, Creative Commons.
Working at CC was a huge opportunity to meet a tribe. A globally distributed group of people fighting for the same cause. A tribe that understood the value of collaboration and access to knowledge. But nevertheless, then as now, I would often find myself the only woman in the room.
That’s why I appreciate efforts like tonight’s event. Let’s get more women on the field and encourage them to keep playing. Let’s celebrate their successes together.
And especially here in Berlin, with people like you, we can make shape the world to our values. More free, more open, more participatory. More equal. I’m looking forward to learning from you all tonight and seeing what we can grow together. Thanks for listening!