Tag Archives: women in technology

Uhura Wears Red

Nyota Uhura, Nichelle NicholsIt occurred to me recently that Lieutenant Uhura, the Enterprise’s communications officer, portrayed by the formidable Nichelle Nichols, wears a red uniform. This may not be immediately surprising. Lots of people wear red uniforms in the Original Series. All the nameless “redshirt” security guards, yes, but also the entire engineering department, which naturally raises the question: Which is Uhura? Not security, clearly, which leaves engineering.

This realization struck me because fans seem to have conflated “communications” with linguistics at some point after the original series, largely due to the 1985 novel Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan. In actual episodes, though, she’s not presented as a linguist but an expert in the sophisticated technology required for the Enterprise’s communications, including long-range with Starfleet, intraship coordination, and interfacing with alien ships’ technologies. She doesn’t pull out a dictionary, she crawls under her station to reconnect wires. She’s in the engineering department, not the humanities.

A few examples: In “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, she pops under her station to “rig up a subspace bypass circuit,” identified as “very delicate work.” Spock comments that no one else is more qualified to do it and leaves her alone. Spock. Spock doesn’t think he himself could do a better job on that circuit. (Nichelle Nichols has also commented that she saw Uhura’s relationship with Spock as one of a student and mentor). Another one, easy to miss, is tossed in at the beginning of “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The initial goal, before they were waylaid by the gamesters, was a maintenance check on an automated communications outpost, so Uhura is tapped for the landing party.

Uhura and Spock in Who Mourns for Adonais

Uhura is shown speaking Swahili on multiple occasions, it seems to be her first language, and that may be part of the reason her character is nudged that way later. However, it’s generally presented as character backstory and part of an effort to show people of all nationalities on the Enterprise, not connected to her professional qualifications. Think about it: With a universal translator, why would they need a linguist on the bridge? On the ship as a backup, certainly, but not on the bridge.

This matters, not because linguists are dumb — it’s just as valid as any other profession and super interesting! — but because Uhura is not a linguist, yet is continually pushed in that direction, a more “feminine” direction. It matters because we still have so few representations of women in STEM fields, let alone women of color, and one representation makes all the difference. Before 1985, Uhura was a symbol drawing women into NASA and the STEM fields at large, and she deserves a little recognition!


Weekend Coffee Share – Screen Time Edition

It’s been a busy few weeks here, as we worked our way through some of our normal features – like best of last year, and anticipation for this year. Plus the holidays, all that… it’s been a while since having coffee. So…

If we were having coffee, I’d say hello, and how are you doing? I’d probably talk about the upcoming Platypus Con, and all my plans to get things constructed, painted, and on the table to be playing some increasingly cool looking and competent Warmachine with our growing group.

I might talk about shows or games or other things we’re up to, but honestly those all came up in recent posts as well. No, what I’d probably do if we were having coffee is gush about the Geek Baby.

A big recent topic of consideration, concern, reading, and discussion has been Screen Time. For a long time, the official advice to parents has been Screen Time Is Bad, with the recommendation to be zero Screen Time before age 2.


I’m sure you can imagine where our problems begin. If not, hello, welcome to Comparative Geeks, we’re kind of plugged in.

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Lack of Women in Technology

Comic from xkcd Girls Suck at Math

Girls Suck at Math comic from xkcd at http://xkcd.com

I recently had an interesting conversation discussing women in the tech fields. This led from the person I was talking to having previously had a conversation where people were lamenting the (limited) number of women in the tech field and trying to figure out what to do. Out of that conversation came an intriguing comment: Is the reason we do not have more women in tech fields because there is a lack of interest in the type of work it would entail? There are layers of assumptions found in this comment. The biggest one is that there is a natural difference in what men and women want to pursue in life. The other more subtle one is that there are a different set of skills that men and women have. Part of what I want to discuss today is why jumping to these conclusions without recognizing other issues is problematic. I was honestly surprised when I heard that someone made that comment.

The other part that I want to explore is all the areas that we need to look at when discussing a lack of women in a certain field (or men for that matter). One piece is looking at how society might generally view that particular field. This can greatly steer gender in a particular direction and while it is changing it can still be an influencer (especially if parents are questioning you when you break away from the societal norm). The other piece is that there might be a subculture around that particular field. In that subculture are there elements that might be telling someone, for whatever reason, that they are not welcome? Finally, is there something about the teachers or professors that are teaching the courses that make it unfriendly to someone? Now this might not be wide spread, but if there are teachers or professors that show favoritism to a particular gender it can cause a serious problem. There are those who might fight through it, but when it is a professor that can seem to hold your whole future in their hands, how easy is it to really fight against?

At the same time it is important to remember that we are progressing forward because you hear people talking about it. Continue reading