A few weeks ago a little town in southern Germany called Schwäbisch Hall adopted the open-source operating system Linux for its government computers. To ease the transition to the new software, city council member Horst Bräuner asked a woman to do a technical demo of Linux for his fellow civil servants. Silicon.com reports that Bräuner described his decision at the "Open Source for Local Government" conference in London, explaining, "We found that no man would say that he couldn't use his PC now that everyone knew a woman could do it."
Now there's a story with more than one possible pedagogical use, if I do say so myself. First we learn that Linux is good for government computers, which is obvious. It's free and easy to use and far more secure than Windows, which is what Schwäbisch Hall used before. But in the process of discovering the wonderfulness of Linux, we also learn that the barometer by which we measure the easiness of a piece of software is whether women can use it. It's good to know that as we advance technologically, we nevertheless remain trapped in prehistory when it comes to gender relations.
Trapped as we are in this interstitial moment between cave-dwelling and colonizing space, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between piggery and subversion. Take, for example, an instructional video series called HaXXXor produced by a bunch of nutty Arizona hackers who have excellent taste in both erotica and port scanners. In a series of vignettes, we receive lessons in computer network security from comely women who look sort of like a cross between gothy-punk Suicide Girls and hot science fiction nerds. Each one does a strip tease while moaning things like "Oh, scan my ports, baby." My favorite girl plays with a dildo and manages to have an orgasm while crying out, "I love penetration testing!"
Aaron, one of the film's producers, says the movie was "really a joke," though inevitably it taught him something serious. "It's amazing how quickly someone can go from talking about being on the cutting edge, and fighting for freedom and liberty ... to becoming a total right-wing, reactionary, censorship wacko, if naked girls are involved." He's hoping to disturb more reactionaries with HaXXXor Vol. 2, called Fear of an 8-Bit Planet.
What pricked my conscience when I watched HaXXXor Vol. 1 was the fact that the girls, while obviously enjoying themselves, also just as obviously weren't hackers. How could they really be getting off on public key encryption when it was so clear they were reading their lines off the Mac laptop that starred in nearly every scene? There were even some outtakes included in which one of the girls said, "I have no idea what I'm talking about, but it gets me hot." What makes this DVD different from a clueless German bureaucrat using a lady in his Linux demo to prove it's so easy even a woman can do it?
The difference is as simple as audience. Who is HaXXXor aimed at? Hackers. These aren't guys who have to be convinced computers are fun, easy, and sexy; they already know it. Adding hot girls to the mix simply literalizes a fantasy that hackers already have about their computers -- not that they are so simple to use that even girls can do it, but that hacking is as arousing as porn. Nevertheless, HaXXXor reminds us forcefully that in the world of high tech, even at its coolest and most transgressive, the assumption is that we're all straight guys. Where were the hot boys moaning and telling us in gravelly voices about buffer overflow exploits?
Remember, porn is so easy that even gay men and straight women can use it!
Proof positive that this is the case comes to us from a blog entry posted by Jane a couple of years ago on Game Girl Advance. I accidentally found it while Googling on "video games and vibrator," which tells you something about how I use Google. Jane and her friend Justin were in Japan and discovered a lovely PlayStation game (available only in Japan, sadly) called Rez. Nothing special there: just a music shooting game she dubs "Tron on ecstasy."
The cool part is that Rez came with something called a "trance vibrator" that throbs in time with the techno music in the game. As they get to higher and higher levels, Jane uses the unusual component in exactly the way one would expect a vibrator to be used, and she reports experiencing exceptional bliss while feeling the vibrations and allowing the colorful game to hypnotize her into a technogasmic state.
After some titillating descriptions, Jane finally asks, "Don't you think this trance vibrator extension is ... so a girl gamer can get off while she's playing the game?"
Yes. It's that easy.
Annalee Newitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a surly media nerd who prefers her feminist analysis with some sex, thank you. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.