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Brotopia - Emily Chang

Brotopia was the first book I read together with a frolleague (friend & colleague) as the corona virus pandemic 2020 forced us to stay at home and our originally planned reading circle with other young female researches in computer science at our research lab couldn’t start as planned.

How did we get to know about the book? We first saw Brotopia on a list of literature recommendations online and then heard from it in one of our favorite feminist podcasts ( les couilles sur la table). The intersection of feminist topics and computer science, our current working field, seemed very intriguing.

To begin with: I am really happy with our choice. The language of Chang is very accessible, also for people whose mother tongue is not English. As she backs up her claims and theories (to the extend that data exists) with studies and references, the book includes many numbers and percentages, of course. However, she tries to illustrate the data with many examples and concrete situations, some of them of her own experience. It is definitely also suitable for people who are not working in the technology field: a friend of mine not related to computer science read it and discovered many new facts of a world outside her daily routine but indirectly impacting her life.

For me, it was partly a recap of things and discussion points I already crossed in the last month and years of interest in feminist topics within computer science. But, there were as well tons of new aspects I never even had thought about and historical events I didn’t know of. To give a small example: I was aware of stereotypes that exist and unfortunately perpetuate. For me, the image was a nerdy geek that sits in front of his (male, white, cis gender) computer, eating pizza while coding or playing video games. Brotopia made me aware of a second group of stereotyped computer scientist, the “self-confident and risk-taking bros”, that earn a lot of money with the rising interest in technology.

The book helped us to question our own (working) environment. We both come from a cyber security background, and in many situations an attacker is assigned a gender. Why should the attacker always be a man (perceived as more powerful than a women?) or, opposite to this, sometimes referred to as she (=Eve), making me think of Eve, eating a fruit from the forbidden tree, committing together with Adam the original sin. Why not simply keeping the image of an algorithm as the attacker and say “it” and "its"? In a world that is more and more designed by and for technology, there should be more women involved in this area, taking more power, responsibility and money. In Chang words: “The impact of technology is actually just beginning. Women can still play their rightful role, if we break the cycle. That begins by acknowledging that the environment in the tech industry has become toxic for women.”

Chang crosses many many topics, such as sexual harassment during work, family unfriendly working politics, the gamer gate (where female gamer were victims of cyber mobbing) affair, the gendered pay gap, unsafe and violent cyber spaces and social networks, and the myth of meritocracy.

I would like to end this critique with a marking sentence at the end of the book: “Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.” Let’s change the system such that the opportunities are given to a more diverse range of people than just the asocial nerd and the self-confident bro.

“Simply hiring more white women isn’t going to solve silicon Valley’s diversity problem. If this industry is supposed to represent the future, there must be room for talented people who are not young, straight, white, well educated, childless, and male.”