Sunday, August 29, 2010

In praise of smart women

This is a little off-topic for me, but it's something I've been thinking about for a while. I was very lucky to grow up around smart women. My mother and father ran their own retail store for 30 years, and in the 1960s, my mother was the first woman in the eastern part of the U.S. to learn how to do jewelry repair. It was a time when the skill was considered far too difficult for a woman. She learned how to do soldering with a torch, how to resize rings, and other things that required both talent and strength. She was a feminist years before feminism was a movement. If she wanted to do something, she learned how to do it.

With that in mind, given that I follow media and technology in my blog, I'd like to talk about three women that deserve, and undoubtedly will get, a lot more attention throughout their careers:
  • Kari Byron is an artist and one of the host's of Discovery's "MythBusters." She's an equal partner with the (four, count 'em, four) male co-hosts. She's just as involved with constructing the equipment needed to test myths as anyone, and she's treated as an equal. This gives a subtle but important lesson to girls and women watching the show--you can do whatever you want and be an equal to men, even in areas that have historically been considered the province of men. Now she's hosting a daily show on Discovery's Science Channel called "Head Rush" that's intended to get middle-school students, and especially girls, interested in science and technology.

    "Head Rush" isn't "Watch Mr. Wizard" (yet,) but if it's successful, a generation of scientists and engineers may one day see her as the reason they got interested in science.
  • Felicia Day is an actress, writer, producer, musician and businessperson. When she came to Southern California to enter the entertainment industry, she got frustrated with the lack of roles, stereotyping and lack of control that women (and men) have to contend with, so she wrote her own business plan. She create a web series called "The Guild" that over a few years has gone from being funded by viewer contributions to a self-sustaining series funded by Microsoft that's available through many outlets and generates revenues from episode and merchandise sales.

    She had many offers to sell the rights to "The Guild" but chose to keep control of the series. Ms. Day has established herself as a successful actress in series like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the web musical "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," but she doesn't need to rely on others for opportunities--she's in control of her own destiny.
  • Allison Scagliotti is an actress and musician who co-stars on SyFy's "Warehouse 13." She has the poise and communication skills of someone who's been doing it professionally for 20 years, yet she'll just turn 20 in September. G4's Chris Hardwick interviewed her on his "The Nerdist" podcast, and was blown away when he found out that she was just 19. She's getting an opportunity to hone her acting craft with some very good actors, but my suspicion is that acting is ultimately only going to be one of the things that she does, and that (like Sarah Polley) she'll end up spending a great deal of time behind the camera as a director and writer.
We're still not at the point where women have the same opportunities in science, technology and media as do men, but we're beginning to get there, and these three smart women are helping to make a difference.
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