Genderchangers: Discussing Identity Issues in the Winter Camp Framework

According to their website the Genderchangers network initiated in 1999 and was inspired by the ASCII hacklab in Amsterdam. Genderchangers defines itself as a network for women, technology and freedom of information. They initially started with knowledge-sharing courses for women by women and because of the enthusiastic response to these initial workshops and courses the Genderchangers started to organize an annual international event, the Eclectic Tech Carnival in 2002.

The group has gathered at Winter Camp 2009 with a series of practical objectives in mind: writing a manifesto, coming up with a slogan and a list of requirements for improving the Genderchangers website.

The first session of Genderchangers at Wintercamp comprised of a brainstorm session. The group initiated a discussion about redefining their identity, which would further be used as a resource for establishing a slogan and a framework for the network’s manifesto. In trying to answer the questions: Who are we?, Who or what are we representing?, the group came up with a series of key defining concepts for their motivations and activity. Under the theme “women, technology and freedom,” the outcome of the brainstorming was included in the following categories:

  • Why: “motivation”, “fun”, “creative”, “lonely”, “disconnected”, “curious”, “satisfaction”, “cool”, “isolated”, “not intimidated;”
  • Who: “gender minorities”, “female only;”
  • What: “open source”, “no competition”, “skills sharing”, “free software;”
  • How: “informal”, “ad-hoc”, “self-evident”, “hands on”, “no competition”, “catalyst”, “learn by explaining”, “group learning”;
  • Objectives: “camaraderie”, “confident”, “benefits”, “openness”, “support”, “networking”, “losing fear”, “breaking barriers”, “networking.”

While discussing the potential futures of the network, several issues concerning past and present challenges of the group came up. The network encountered several challenges during their activity. A feeling of disconnection in-between workshops and other events where they usually meet has sometimes been experienced, which is why the group values face-to-face meetings in order to stay connected. Workshops are a great opportunity for group members to come together, although their number is currently limited by a shortage of resources, such as the fact that they do not have a space of their own. The group started as a hands-on group so physical meetings are crucial for this type of activity.

The session opened up questions about potential directions that the network may take in the future. In assessing the current situation and thinking about the future, there are certain values that the network wants to preserve, and which are encapsulated in the theme: “women, technology and freedom”. Genderchangers also wants to make a point about working with free and open source software, a value which they want to preserve.

The network’s target group was also an important point of discussion at Winter Camp. The group envisions its role as opening doors to women’s curiosity about technological issues, creating a space where women do not feel intimidated to work with technology, and offering knowledge for women who are interested in technology. The network wishes to be a catalyst and stir the interest of women in understanding how technology functions. The group also discussed as a potential goal expanding their female audience beyond the culturally initiated.

In discussing the future development of the network, the group seems to be facing a tension between maintaining their status quo and continuing to enjoy what they currently do, and expanding their activity.

The first work session of Genderchangers at Winter Camp was successful in opening up points for further discussion, regarding the identity of the group primarily, and potential audiences secondarily.

Photos by Anne Helmond.