Dot Diva: The Webisode

2010 October 27

This is an amended version of a post I wrote for the CU-WISE blog (my local Women in Science and Engineering group). See below for additional comments to geek feminism readers.

Dot Diva logo

This Wednesday fun is actually something connected to CUWISE: We met the fine folk working on Dot Diva at GHC09 and got to hear about some of their plans to make computing seem like a cool career for girls. While most of us seem to focus on fun outreach science programs, they took things in a different direction: seeing as crime shows like CSI have increased the public interest in careers in forensics, they thought perhaps TV would be the best way to make younger girls realise that computer science is actually pretty cool.

They’ve released the first episode of Dot Diva:

KATE, a sarcastic fan of alt- and indie-rock. ALI, a lover of kittens, chick flicks, and the mall. Two girls with NOTHING in common… except for being ace programmers at a seriously-crazy video game company.

As they work to launch Rocklette’s first-ever game, these two Dot Divas have to outwit their smarmy boss, Kate’s doofus boyfriend, and the spy within their midst.

If the video embed doesn’t work for you, click here to view the video

I wasn’t too sure about the first episode initially, since it seemed like they were throwing a lot of the stereotypes in there, but I think they dealt with them ok for a first look, and I expect we’ll be seeing more nuanced stuff as the characters develop. I found myself caught up in their story despite my initial feelings of awkwardness. One thing I really loved was how different the two women main characters are, while still both being programmers.

Now, I’m actually guessing some of our readers here on Geek Feminism are going to be irked by this video because it’s once again conventionally pretty young women depicting geeks, but I’d really like to hear comments about more than their appearances here. Would this show have appealed to you as a tween (their target demographic)? What else would you want to see? What other stereotypes would you like to see them deal with and maybe overcome? What else do you think could make the career of programmer appeal more to girls? Do you think this actually does make it more appealing to girls? Have you shown it to girls you know? What do they think?

Please be constructive in your comments — remember the women who produced this are genuinely trying to help the image of computer programmers in a way beyond Barbie, and that they actually have a decent amount of media savvy but likely had to choose their battles to make something appealing to both their sponsors and their target demographic.

Note: I’ll be taking a heavier hand to moderation here than I usually do because I don’t feel like hosting a whole lot of hate towards this project, though I do think readers may have interesting suggestions, criticisms and ideas for future episodes. If you’d like to rant, you may wish to keep a copy of your post for your own blog, or find a way to balance it with constructive ideas.

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This post was written by terri.

Terri is a web security researcher, open source developer, teacher, amateur photographer, naturalist, geek, gamer, musician, and woman in technology. She blogs/tweets under the name terriko, and maintains a web security blog at

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8 Responses
  1. lala permalink
    October 28, 2010

    I liked it and it made me laugh. “My baby’s wish is my Command Alt Delete” cracked me up! I also loved that they had such different personalities, but Kate seemed more timid than sarcastic.

    As a tween, I’m not sure I would have related to this. I don’t think I would have understood a lot of the jokes, and you can’t blink since it’s so fast-paced. I’m thinking of some of the things I liked as a tween. I loved My So-Called Life because I related to it and felt it dealt with a lot of the issues I was dealing with as a tween. I loved the movie The Net because it was a normal woman who had an action story of her own. I loved various animes because they represented fantasies I wanted to be a part of. The characters in Dot Diva didn’t struggle with any issues that tweens struggle with, aren’t living a wish fulfillment life that tweens would love to have, and aren’t the center of action or drama. But it’s just one short episode, so maybe that will come.

    I felt the boyfriend grabbing the girlfriend and sniffing her while she is scrunching up her face and pulling away was much too creepy to fit into a comedy. Also, when the man in the beginning immediately assumed the blonde woman was on the wrong floor, I thought he was going to get told off and she would then pull out all the mad scientist stuff she had done. I was disappointed that his immediate assumption that Beautiful Woman = Ditz Who Doesn’t Care About Geeky Stuff turned out to be spot on. I felt like it gave the message that you have to choose between being beautiful and being smart, and as a tween I would probably have preferred to be beautiful.

    If the idea is to motivate young girls to get into programming, then I would probably have needed to see the women kicking butt in a Veronica Mars type of way, or be the center of action in a The Net or female version of Antitrust kind of way. If it was something that could be described as Hackers meets Veronica Mars, but as a comedy, I would watch and love it at pretty much any stage in my life.

    • Terri permalink*
      November 1, 2010

      I felt the boyfriend grabbing the girlfriend and sniffing her while she is scrunching up her face and pulling away was much too creepy to fit into a comedy.

      This is one of the parts of the video that made me most uncomfortable. I mean, sure, plenty of people deal with irritating or strange significant others, but given that they were layering stereotypes of geek women in there, it left me feeling like, “are they saying it’s normal for women programmers to be saddled with totally unappealing dudes who just won’t go away?”

      This was certainly a problem stereotype for me as a teenager, although sometimes it worked out in my favour (because some people with strange social tics are actually quite fascinating folk) but I do hope we’ll see her growing a spine sooner rather than later so that the implication focuses on her being initially too polite but eventually strong and not on her being a pushover with respect to boys.

  2. Restructure! permalink
    October 28, 2010

    There are stories of girls or women going into technical/engineering classes, and the male teacher telling her that Fashion Design is across the hall, when she was actually in the right class. I find it really weird that this episode has the man/employer taking one look at a blonde woman and determining that “Obviously, she can’t be a programmer, because she’s a woman and blonde,” and then it turned out his sexism was justified.

    Because I really don’t understand how the actual female programmers looked that different, other than that they did not have blonde hair.

    I liked that they included at least one woman of color, though.

    • Terri permalink*
      November 1, 2010

      I found it more palatable to read the episode as “she looked lost, and therefore he told her she was in the wrong place” as opposed to “she was blonde, and therefore…” but I suppose that doesn’t make much sense since the other women were there for a job interview so he wouldn’t have known them and there’s a good chance they too would have looked lost when they arrived at the floor. And I agree, they really didn’t look that different than the model… or maybe that was the point? It was all just a little odd, and probably could have been made less ambiguous if she’d indicated that she was looking for a modelling agency rather than having him make the assumption. Or made more sense by having him tell all 3 pretty women that they were on the wrong floor as they came in?

  3. Cindy Auligny permalink
    October 28, 2010

    @Restructure!: you know, I don’t have blonde hair. But last month, I dyed my hair, my hair became chesnut one. And I’m also a programmer. Dyeing makes me look different, but here still I am. They can’t judge someone because of his/her appearance.
    This story is really cool. I love Kate, she looks so cool, I love the way she winking.
    They both are great, talented girls.

  4. flohdot permalink
    October 31, 2010

    It has potential! I’m glad it exists, and I’m excited to see where it goes. It’s imperfect, but I still appreciate what it’s trying to do.

    I think the two personality and background types they chose are great. In fact, the main thing I liked about it was the class/race distinctions implicit in the characterizations. I’ve seen a lot of this exact split amongst female programmers. On the one hand, the (usually) white and middle class introvert with indie and geek cred. On the other hand, the hustling (usually) POC and/or working class extrovert with very mainstream tastes who loves what she does but doesn’t really give a crap about the popular culture surrounding it. I have seen this exact distinction play itself out many times in both school and work environments, often in pretty ugly ways. It also seems like a distinction that is not openly addressed all that frequently, even in feminist and girl geek spaces — perhaps because most people occupying these spaces tend to be of the former type.

    On the other hand, I too was irritated by the blond girl stereotype. I think seeing girl geeks’ reactions to “dumb” girls is important. These women are not supposed to be feminist heros with perfect politics — and the fact of the matter is that most girl geeks do have pretty strong reactions against girls who whine about how “math is hard”. I think it’s okay for them to be shown judging this girl, and I really liked how Kate and Ali diverged in their criticisms. It would have been way less stereotyping and annoying if maybe we’d seen all three girls come in and all get sent over to the modeling agency.

    In terms of appealing to tweens, I’m not really sure it hits the mark. I agree with lala above that “If it was something that could be described as Hackers meets Veronica Mars, but as a comedy, I would watch and love it at pretty much any stage in my life.” For one thing, I think these girls are a bit too old to appeal to the tween segment. Tweens like older teens, not twenty-somethings. It might make more sense to make a series about college girls in CS or engineering for the middle school target audience. On the other hand, appeal to tweens also has a fair bit to do with distribution. How are these folks reaching out to younger girls?

  5. Janina permalink
    October 31, 2010

    I’m just going to say: forget about the fact that it’s “conventionally pretty women portraying geeks”. First of all, that’s TV/movies. But also, it’s good in a way, because it says, hey, you don’t have to be the outcast loner geek to be a programmer, there are “regular” people doing this too. I know when I was a tween (and it probably is still) really unpopular for girls to be good/into math, science, computers, star trek, etc, so portraying some “cool” girls being into this (I especially liked Ali getting into her Space Invaders-esque game), is really awesome. Of course throwing in a bit more diversity wouldn’t hurt of course – maybe add a bearded, long-haired male sysadmin or something too :)

    • Terri permalink*
      November 1, 2010

      Thank you, Janina. I originally wrote a small rant about why I think “conventionally pretty women portraying geeks” works well for this video in my opinion, but left it out of the final post. But I’m totally glad to see I’m not the only person who thinks along these lines!

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