Babies, boobs and rooms full of geek men

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

My six week old son has just rolled up his first D&D character, charisma stat 20:

Thrilled
Image by Andrew Bennetts, all rights reserved

Just kidding. I’m actually pretty wary of identifying children of geeks as geeks themselves. They’ll tell us what they are when they’re ready, right?

Now that I have my cute kid pic out of the way, what I did want to discuss though is mothering and geeking. Fathering and geeking seems pretty routine in my circles: lots of the Free Software Planets (blog sites) are full of announcements of newborns, pictures of kids shot by photo geeks, and so on. Parenting is not secretive in my geekdom, at least.

Of the mothers here, though, do you feel the same way? Do you feel able to talk about your kids to the same extent that your male geek buddies do? Do you feel comfortable caring for kids in geeky spaces? How about breastfeeding in public among geeks, if you do (did) it? Do you wish there were more kids+carers friendly geek events? (I sure wish there were more daytime events now!) If you have a geeky co-parent (or more than one) do you switch your geek time back and forth, or does the whole family geek together, or are you doing a lot of kid-time while the other adults geek out? Do you feel like you’re a closet geek mother or are you loud and proud? Alternatively, is geekdom your respite from mothering or simply an adult time for you?

Note: since I shared a cute kid pic, I can only say that you’re welcome to do the same in comments… fair’s fair!

Many roads, one surname

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

In yesterday’s SMH Catherine Deveny asked Why do (don’t go there) most children(don’t go there) still end up with (don’t go there, don’t go there, don’t go there!) their father’s surname?

She’s fairly clearly talking about a certain, already small and reportedly shrinking, milieu, that of heterosexual couples forming a nuclear family where the male and female partners have different surnames. She’s particularly talking about legally married couples, because in that case there is a socially visible ‘choice’ available to the female partner to use her birth surname or adopt her husband’s surname, or, I think even more rarely, some combination thereof. (Deveny has discussed women’s own decision here and it made it to Hoyden in 2007.)

Of course, we’re already in problematic territory here, in our last surname discussion WildlyParenthetical had a great comment in which she wrote:

[A structural analysis of surname choice as a feminist decision] assumes to know, in advance, the entire significance of a choice. In fact, it says that the entire (feminist) significance is given by its capitulation or resistance to a particular dimension of patriarchy…

… it can erase the heteronormativity of the issue to begin with… it can erase a colonialist, imperialist and racist history… it can erase the moments in which one has been disowned, or a survivor of violence, the moments where the very nuclear family structure enforced by surnames has been the cause of great damage…

Here I am under the microscope though. I had a son last month, my own first child and the first child of my long term heterosexual relationship. Moreover, his father and I are legally married. I’m white and of largely British Isles descent: this surname tradition is my cultural heritage. And I use my birth surname both socially and professionally, as does he: of course, my choice to do so is marked, and his isn’t.

My son? His surname is the same as mine, rather than his father’s.

While I was pregnant, we worked over this problem a lot, because I was very struck by the comment of zuzu’s that tigtog brought to our attention: You may feel you have great reasons for choosing the option which just happens to be what the patriarchy has greased the rails for you to do rather than taking the harder path of going against tradition. But having good reasons doesn’t mean that you’re not adding your own grease to those rails… Deveny observes much the same, that there are many many many reasons, but very much one likely outcome.

I come with a great big helping of privilege, and I’ve greased plenty of rails already and figured that the punishment I’d take for thinking about adding a teeny smidge of friction here was small, but it still took a great deal of energy to reach this decision. It took a great deal more for me than for my husband of course. I considered a lot of options: the children using the surname of the same-sex parent, inventing a new family name entirely, and so on.

I’ve ended up liking using my surname because it’s a distorted mirror of the usual decision. There’s very few objections to it that don’t also apply to the most common decision. Input from others vastly tended to focus more on what he and his family would lose than what mine would gain. Neither of us has brothers: sisters are so unreliable when it comes transmitting surnames! Several people took it out to cousins: I have more male cousins with my surname than he has with his. Trouble he might have dealing with travel or school documentation were raised more often than trouble I might have.

I am not kidding myself that this was Big Activism for me, it was low risk to my safety, my relationships, my right to parent my son. And I’m much more pleased to share a surname with him than my husband is sorry not to. (Of course, if he becomes very sorry, he can always change his name…) In some ways though, that makes me extra glad with the decision to do the, or at least an, unusual thing.

Who you speak to and where you are: why it matters

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Warning: this post discusses intimate partner violence and rape. Please place a trigger warning on links to this post.

If you are currently at risk of violence, here are some links for viewing when you’re on a safer computer: National Network to End Domestic Violence: Internet and Computer Safety [USA], Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Internet Safety [USA] and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria: Tip Sheet: Technology Safety Planning [Australia].

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

Abusive relationship and spousal rape survivor and blogger “Harriet Jacobs” at Fugitivus is angry and scared today:

I use my private Gmail account to email my boyfriend and my mother.

There’s a BIG drop-off between them and my other “most frequent” contacts.

You know who my third most frequent contact is?

My abusive ex-husband.

Which is why it’s SO EXCITING, Google, that you AUTOMATICALLY allowed all my most frequent contacts access to my Reader, including all the comments I’ve made on Reader items, usually shared with my boyfriend, who I had NO REASON to hide my current location or workplace from, and never did.

My other most frequent contacts? Other friends of [my ex-husband]’s.

Oh, also, people who email my ANONYMOUS blog account, which gets forwarded to my personal account. They are frequent contacts as well. Most of them, they are nice people. Some of them are probably nice but a little unbalanced and scary. A minority of them ”” but the minority that emails me the most, thus becoming FREQUENT ”” are psychotic men who think I deserve to be raped because I keep a blog about how I do not deserve to be raped, and this apparently causes the Hulk rage.

There’s lots of other comment today on Google’s Buzz automatically assuming that your frequent email contacts should be your Buzz contacts, and making the connection with them public:

There will quite possibly be more by the time I’ve finished writing this post, let alone by the time you read it. But having to fight this battle on a site-by-site, service-by-service basis is disgusting. For a number of groups of people, including people who are the targets of a violent obsession among others, information about who they are in contact with, where they live and what they’re interested in has life-threatening implications. For a larger number of people it has non-life-threatening but potentially serious implications for their job, for example, or their continuing loving relationship with their family. Sometimes people are in frequent contact with people who have power over them, and/or who hate them. Why aren’t privacy policies centring that possibility, and working out the implications for the rest of us later?

Note: as I hope you anticipate, attempts to victim-blame along the lines of “people who are very vulnerable shouldn’t use technology unless they 100% understand the current and all possible future privacy implications” not welcome.

Update 13th February: Fugitivus has had a response from Google making it clear that protected items in Reader were not shared despite appearances, and stating some changes that are being made in Reader and Buzz in relation to issues she raised.

On breastfeeding

I don’t intend to post a lot of parenting stuff here, but I wanted to make some notes about breastfeeding activism (‘lactivism’) for the geekosphere, as Brenda Wallace has done in talking about her decision to do mixed feeding.

A couple of preparatory notes:

  • The compulsory Mary notice: I am not looking for advice. I am not lacking personally for professional support for my breastfeeding difficulties. It is easier for me to rely on that support than it is to filter through the advice of millions of onlookers. Thank you for your concern!
  • I am a whole week into parenting and have exclusively breastfed to date. I feel quite committed to continuing such to the recommended six months of age and then continue partial breastfeeding for some time thereafter. But. One whole week. And it’s been really hard, actually, even with a good supply from me and a good suck from him and fairly good institutional support from my hospital. I’ve had a middle-of-the-night visit from a locum already to treat mastitis. One whole week. I’m not here to tell you how easy it is.
  • I do not have personal experience of feeding-related persecution or even hassles. (I’ve hardly left the house, I could be not feeding him at all and no one would hassle me.)
  • I really do not mind about your feeding choices for your infant or child, in the sense of exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or exclusive formula. The hassling in the street goes both ways, and in many areas (especially, I gather, the US) the hassling from medical staff sure runs both ways too. I am generally uninterested in person-to-person shame advocacy. More on this later. It’s demeaning, insulting and counterproductive. Lose, lose, lose. Feed your baby, I’ll feed mine, who am I to tell you how?
  • Purely as a terminology thing, formula feeding is not the same as bottle feeding: you can put human milk in bottles and many people do so. (It’s not functionally equivalent to breastfeeding though, because it’s harder to establish and maintain supply, and the correct handling of the bottles is a nuisance as Brenda notes.)

So, why lactivism, a kind of 101:

Consider areas without safe water supplies, that is, most of the world (and this includes major cities of Western nations in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, New Orleans was an example). Formula feeding, or anything other than extended exclusive breastfeeding, is really really dangerous without a safe water supply. Gastric illness kills babies. Lots and lots and lots of babies, many of whom would not have died if exclusively breastfed. Unless there’s a safe water supply mothers with HIV are currently encouraged to exclusively breastfeed, as the risk of the baby contracting HIV is less than the risk of her or him dying of gastric illness related to substitution.

There are several problems with promotion of formula in such areas, or any economically disadvantaged area, a non-exhaustive list includes:

  1. correct preparation of infant formula, including sterilisation of bottles and correct dosages is not trivial and not always (I suspect, not even often) communicated in a manner appropriate to, for example, illiterate people or even people literate ‘only’ in their local language
  2. correct preparation of infant formula is expensive
  3. weaning to formula creates dependency on the product, or at least on milk substitutes: women can restore their own milk supplies (at least sometimes?) some time after weaning to formula, but it’s not especially easy. Without support they’re stuck with a major hole in the household budget, or with dangerous feeding, ie, watered down formula or homemade milk-ish substances.
  4. Per lauredhel here, for many women exclusive breastfeeding is the only reliable contraceptive they have access to (exclusive breastfeeding on demand is more reliable than you’ve been led to believe as a contraceptive) and the use of formula therefore imposes a potential burden of very closely spaced pregnancies.

Right upfront I’ll note that I am far from the most ethical consumer in the world, I have not a shred of pedestal to proclaim from. But. Formula producers are involved in aggressive marketing in exactly these circumstances, in addition to marketing to new mothers in the Western context who are in the often difficult phase of establishing their desired breastfeeding relationship. I’ll note again that in a Western context and in a proclaimed pro-breastfeeding medical environment, I have found aspects of establishing nursing hard. Really hard. If I’d had formula in the house last night it would have been very likely to have been used. (Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that morally, but as a practical matter supplementing is not exactly helpful in further establishing nursing. Or for that matter in dealing with mastitis.)

So, I support very strong institutional focus on establishing breastfeeding in Western countries, and particularly strongly oppose marketing attempts to establish formula feeding as desirable in developing countries. That is my lactivism.

Now to the horrible shaming mothers thing. This sucks. My take on it is that it is two way, like a lot of Mummy Wars. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Telling formula feeding mothers that every breastfeeder [is] a better mother than any formula-feeder? Spew. Using the power of the state against breastfeeding mothers? Unspeakable.

I only wish Chez Miscarriage had left her archives up about (some) reproductive choices: no kids? selfish non-Mummy. biological kids? selfish narcissistic eco-raider Mummy. ART biological kids? selfish rich narcissistic eco-raider Mummy. adopted kids? selfish, also rich, Mummy. etc. (Incidentally, re reproductive choice, go be challenged, you’ll gain more there than here.) None of that is the argument I want to have or the people I want to have it with.

Fantasy linux.conf.au 2010

I won’t be at LCA, but since I wish I was, here’s what I wish I could see most. (Note that I haven’t picked something in every timeslot and so this wouldn’t be my complete talks list. This is just my personal highlights.)

I’ve never seen Mako Hill speak, but you can’t be interested in free software and culture activism without stumbling across his name. Because he’s involved in the FSF. And Debian. And Ubuntu. And Wiki[mp]edia. And OLPC. And autonomo.us. Among others. I actually don’t know what his keynote is about, the webpage is just the speakers’ biographies, but I’m just going to go ahead and assume that whatever it is, I’d enjoy. I’m also sure Gabriella Coleman‘s Tuesday keynote would be interesting.

Build Your Own Contributors, One Part At A Time. I don’t know that the Dreamwidth project has good name recognition in the LCA community: consider this an attempt to rectify that. It’s a blog hosting company on the Livejournal model with a fork of Livejournal’s codebase. It’s also very, almost uniquely, innovative and successful in mentoring new and non-traditional contributors. (Kirrily Robert has some information, mostly focusing on their very unusual developer gender ratio.)

Loyal fans of my writing will remember that I’m generally suspicious of how to run an Open Source project submissions to LCA, because so many members of the audience have either run one or seen one run at close range. But I really wanted to select this one because it’s successful at something very unusual. There’s a lot more talk than action on mentoring and diversity in Open Source development; here’s your action.

Introduction to game programming. Yeah, this clashes with Build Your Own Contributors, but since I’m not going at all, it can still be a Fantasy LCA pick, can’t it? Richard Jones is an import from the OSDC scene, he’s a good speaker, he wrote a good chunk of the tools he’s talking about and he regularly puts them to use and watches others put them to use in the PyWeek challenge.

I’m very curious about how Matthew Garrett’s Making yourself popular: a guide to social success in (and for) the Linux community goes and I’d also like to see Claudine Chionh’s Unlocking the ivory tower: Free and open source software in collaborative humanities research: luckily, again this is Fantasy LCA and I don’t have to choose. I’d also get along to FOSS and Māori Language Computer Initiatives later in the afternoon: it’s not exactly my field, but close enough that I’m interested in language and computer interfaces in general.

I don’t know that I’ve ever actually made it to one of Matthew Wilcox’s talks, but I heard great things last year, so I’d get along to Discarding data for fun and profit for sure.

Gearman: Map/Reduce and Queues for everyone! sounds like something I’d enjoy hearing about and might put to use. Can’t lose.

I was accused of being a fangirl when reviewing Adam Jackson’s The Rebirth of Xinerama, if I recall. I don’t think I qualify without, say, asking for autographs, but I enjoyed his 2009 talk a lot. It was not at all aimed at the Mary demographic (short version: I know nothing about X, long version: I know nothing about X) but was still accessible even while totally ignoring my demographic. I love that kind of technical talk. And the more competent parts of the audience seemed fine with it too.

After seeing Andrew Tridgell’s OSDC keynote in 2008 I am wretched about missing Patent defence for free software. Just as you can find Mako Hill everywhere when it comes to free culture activism, you can find Andrew Tridgell everywhere in building… anything. From chess playing server software to homemade coffee roasters. And on the side he’s spent a long time with the Samba team testifying and advising on aspects of the EU’s antitrust investigations into Microsoft. And because of that and because he’s a great speaker and essentially is LCA, it would be a great talk to get to.

Finally, thank goodness this is Fantasy LCA, so I don’t have to tell you which I’d choose of Rusty Russell’s FOSS Fun With A Wiimote, involving Rusty, who is a marvellous speaker, and babies, who… are babies, and Wiimotes, which are white and blue, or Liz Henry’s Hack Ability: Open Source Assistive Tech about the advantages of hacking up assistive tech and thus adapting it to individuals. What a cruel world that timeslot is.

Quick hit: the gender binary fractal in geekdom

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Unless you’ve been inexplicably failing to click on every link in our linkspams (you didn’t know that would be on the exam?… sorry), you read a fair bit of Sociological Images already. However, they get a Quick Hit because their recent post The Fractal Nature of the Gender Binary: Or Blue vs. Turquoise continues on a theme I discussed in one of my earliest posts here, “Girl stuff” in Free Software.

Lisa Wade writes thus:

The gender binary-that is, the rule that everything (oh animals, jobs, food, kleenex, housework, sound, games, deordorant, love and sex, candy, vitamins, etc) gets split into male and female-is fractal. That means that, for every male or female version of something (say sports versus dance), there is a further gendered split that can be made. If we take sports, we might divide it into the masculine football and the feminine swimming. If we take swimming, we could probably divide it down further. Take education (which is, arguably, feminized): we can split it into physical sciences (masculine) and social sciences (feminine). And we can split the physical sciences into biology (dominated these days by women) and physics (dominated by men). So the gender binary has a fractal character.

This strongly resonates with me. It doesn’t mean that I think this is how things should work, but I think it’s often part of how they do work. Do you find this in your geekdoms of choice? How does it split up your geekdom? Have you seen your area of the fractal shift over time and do you have any theories about why; for example, did the arrival of more women or more men make something more feminine or masculine? How explicit is it? (In Free Software it can be very explicit and essentialist. “Women are good at words and other people, so documentation is more feminine. Women are bad at maths”Š”””Šwhich is basically the same thing as computer programming right?”Š”””Šand at isolated work, so coding is more masculine. QED.”)

Update: Just a note that the question is not precisely “where do the women cluster in your geekdom?” (although that’s interesting too), but “which parts of your geekdom are considered more suitable for women/more womanly/less manly?”

Ethics of Free Software community research

Most of this entry is exactly a year old today and it’s just sat around in draft form all that time. Since I posted something similar on Geek Feminism about research into women in tech and similar topics, I thought I’d get it out there.

In January 2009 a researcher named Anne Chin of Monash University Law emailed the chat list for the linux.conf.au 2009 conference asking for research subjects to be interviewed about licencing and Open Source software. There were several responses criticising her use of HTML email and Microsoft Word attachments. I’ll leave the specifics of this alone except that people should be (and probably are) aware that this is almost always an unknowing violation of community norms.

I did, though, think about making some notes on research ethics and Free Software research. A bit about my background: I am not a specialist in ethics. I’m somewhat familiar with ethics applications to work with human subjects, but not from the perspective of evaluating them. I’ve made them, and I’ve been a subject in a study that had made them.

For people who haven’t seen this process, the ethical questions arising from using human subjects in your research in general covers the question of whether the good likely to arise from the outcomes of the study outweighs the harm done to the subjects, together with issues of consent to that harm. (There are many philosophical assumptions underlying this ethical framework, I don’t intend to treat them here.) Researchers in universities, hospitals, schools and research institutes usually have to present their experimental designs to an ethics committee who will determine this question for them and approve their experiment. Researchers who work across several of these (eg, a PhD student who wants to interview schoolchildren) will need to do several ethics applications, a notable chore when the forms and guidelines aren’t standardised and occasionally directly conflict. Researchers working for private commercial entities may or may not have a similar requirement. Researchers who use animals also have to have ethical reviews, these are done by animal ethics committees, which are usually separate.

At my university, essentially any part of your research that involves measuring or recording another person’s response to a research question and using it to help answer that question needs a human ethics application.

The good/harm balance may include very serious dilemmas: is there a health risk to subjects? how will the researcher manage the conflict between maintaining subject confidentiality and research integrity and the good of her subjects or the requirements of the law if she uncovers, say, episodes of abuse or violence? But it also involves less immediately obvious and serious ethical questions. Is this study a giant waste of subjects’ time? is considered a question of ethics by ethics committees, and is in fact the most serious problem for linguistics research, since there’s very seldom an outcome of particular interest to the subjects themselves.

The study in which I took part a few years back was towards the serious end actually: it was a study into the psychological profiles of people who have an immediate family member who had cancer as a child and involved both questionnaires and a phone interview with a psychologist. Both because the study explored memories of the illness and because the profiling included evaluating depressive episodes, suicidal ideation and so on, it came with a detailed consent form and with information about a counselling service that had been informed of the study and was prepared to work with its subjects.

In the case of the Free Software community the ethical questions are often more towards the waste of time? end of the spectrum than the more immediately serious end. It’s important to understand that this isn’t necessarily the case though. Here are some more cutting ethical problems:

  • getting findings that expose your subjects and/or their employers to intellectual property claims; or
  • revealing that your subjects are breaching employment contracts in some way (generally also related to IP) and thus exposing them to job loss and possible civil action.

Getting ethics approval to carry out workplace studies can be fairly hard precisely due to problems like these. But in the rest of this post I will treat the waste of time problem.

Firstly the basics: are your subjects going to be identifiable in your final reports or to the general public? If not, who will know who they are? Can a subject opt to have their responses removed from the study? When and how? All this should be explained at the start. (Usually if an ethics committee has been involved, there’s a consent form.) If doing a survey look into survey design, in order to construct non-leading questions and such.

Now, for specifics. Most of them arise from this principle: there are a lot of researchers working, in various ways, on the Free Software community, possibly making it a slightly over-studied group if anything. This places the onus on the individual researcher to demonstrate to the community that their project is worthwhile and that they’re going to do what they say. Thus:

  1. demonstrate some familiarity with the background. Depending on your research level this could mean anything from demonstrating a knowledge of existing anthropological work on Free Software (say, if the research project is for your anthropology PhD) down to at least understanding the essential concepts and core history (say, a project at high school level). This can be demonstrated by research design, eg asking sensible well-informed questions, but actually mostly requires a bigger time investment: making appearances in the community, either virtually or physically, ideally for a little time before asking the community to help you get your PhD/A-grade/pass.
  2. don’t get the community to design your experiment for you. Have a specific goal, more specific than get people to write me lengthy essays about Free Software, and get ideas from that and write about them. In the general case, the ask people incredibly vague stuff and hope they say something interesting technique fails the waste-of-time test.
  3. give your results back to the community. The most common problem with the various surveys, interviews and questionnaires sent to the Free Software community is that responding to them is like shouting into a black hole. It is not unheard of, of course, to see the thesis or essay or roundup that comes out of these, but it is unusual, relative to the number of requests. Most of the time the researcher promptly disappears. Researchers should come to the Free Software community with an explanation of when and where they will make the results of the study available. They should explain the aims in advance unless this would compromise the results. (On that note: Anne Chin is giving a linux.conf.au talk this year.)

Donating our OLPC XO

Way back at linux.conf.au 2008 there was a large OLPC XO giveaway, but with the rider do something wonderful with this, or give it to someone who will. Neither Andrew nor I received one directly, but Matthew Garrett gave his to Andrew essentially on the grounds that he wasn’t going to do anything wonderful with it. (If I have the chronology right, Matthew had a stack of laptops in his possession at the time and did things to them regularly, generally making them sleep on demand.)

In any event, neither Andrew nor I did anything wonderful with the XO: Andrew intended to look at some point at Python or Python application startup times (the Bazaar team have a bunch of tricks in that regard), but two years is a lot of intending.

Still, better late than never. In the spirit of the original giveaway, we’ve handed it over to be taken to New Zealand by someone going to linux.conf.au 2010. It will be donated to the Wellington OLPC testers group, who meet weekly to work on various projects and who are somewhat short on machines.

If you are similarly (morally) bound by the linux.conf.au 2008 giveaway conditions, aren’t doing anything wonderful with your XO, and are going to linux.conf.au 2010 or can get your XO there, you could do likewise. You could drop off to Tabitha Roder at the education miniconf, the OLPC stand at Open Day or otherwise get in touch with her. (You probably want to let her know yours is coming anyway, so she has a sense of whether to expect one or two, or a truckload.)

Other possibilities include getting involved in the Sydney group or checking if they’d have a use for laptop donations. (They meet more regularly than that wiki page implies; they are now meeting at SLUG.) I don’t know what the status of the OLPC library is. The webpage being down is probably not a great sign, but perhaps collaborators would help John out there. You’d at least be doing something meta-wonderful.

Hermit’s cave

For my loyal and devoted readers: I need to turn off the firehose so I’m taking something of a ‘net vacation for a while, including but quite possibly not limited to Identica/Twitter/Facebook, mailing lists and blog comments. Phone and direct email will reach me (before I go into labour at least, which is likely not any day now).

Menstrual geeking: getting started

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

I was surfing around on Vagina Dentata which I stumble across periodically (most recently in our last linkspam) but have not quite got to feed-reader-adding yet. This is poor form I admit”Š”””ŠI’ll go right off and add it after writing this”Š”””Šbut does mean that I can enjoy a number of posts at once. Today I spent some time on periods. Periods. PERIODS. P.E.R.I.O.D.S. and Time to talk periods and thought other folks of the menstruating kind and/or the geeky kind might enjoy a bit of related geekery.

My official menstrual cycle education essentially boiled down to, if I recall correctly, that there was a time when one bled, a longer time when one didn’t and that at some point during the longer time ovulation occurred. And there were was certain amount of practical information regarding pads and tampons, which largely came down to a few diagrams and “beware Toxic Shock Syndrome”. Only in my mid-twenties, looking only to fill, I think, idle geek time, I found out about the follicular phase and the luteal phase, about fertilisation taking place in the Fallopian tubes and implantation occurring only around a week later, about the fairly short lifespan of the ovum and the fairly large corpus luteum cysts that ovulating women develop each cycle. (I had an early ultrasound of my current pregnancy, while the cyst was still presumably secreting progesterone, and it was a fairly big black circle on my ovary.) As best I understand, and I’m very much a layperson when it comes to the science of menstruation, Wikipedia’s article on the menstrual cycle is a good place to start reading for your menstrual geeking initiation.

I learned this when on the recommendation of another woman geek I picked up Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It’s a Fertility Awareness guide, about using a combination of basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical position to identify fertile times in your menstrual cycle in order to either get pregnant or avoid it. (This is not necessarily a religiously inspired practice, and it’s more effective as a contraceptive than you’d expect: much of the dubious reputation of cycle-based methods of contraception comes from use of strictly calendar based methods. Fertility Awareness requires a fairly good working knowledge of the signs and the use of either barrier methods or abstinence at fertile times though, with failure modes you can imagine.) I can’t get as excited about the idea of taking my temperature every morning of my fertile life as Weschler can, and I’ve never charted a cycle to the extent that would satisfy a Fertility Awareness educator, but I have tracked my temperature through a couple of cycles in order to observe the basic signs. I’d recommend this book if you’d like to do some serious observing of your menstrual cycle from, as it were, the outside.

Vagina Dentata also has a promising pointer to the re: Cycling blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle research, and you might be interested in (note: photos of cervixes at link… as you’d expect) the Beautiful Cervix photos taken throughout various people’s cycles.

If you have a geeky interest in menstruation and related things, what are the coolest facts you know, and what are your favourite sources of info?

Someone is going to make a bingo card about my notes to commenters some day, aren’t they? Today’s note is: remember that not all women menstruate, and not all people who menstruate are women.