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DIY Feminism at Trasmediale 11: Interview With MzBaltazar

Davide GombaFebruary 10th, 2011

I’ve spent part of last week walking around Trasmediale 11 in Berlin, attending to workshops and conferences or simply having a good time with some firends (it’s what we call “press activities”…).

One of the oddiest images I’ll keep from this exprerience it has been well pictured in the photo above (thanks to Julien Dorra for sending it): 15 women hacking electronics devices around a table, creating interactive objects for fun. That’s what the DIY Feminism Workshop held by MzBaltazar was about.

But there’s more.

picture taken from Trasmediale’s Flickr

Lately I had the chance to talk to MzBaltazar a.k.a. Stefanie Wuschitz, an austrian 29 years old media artist who fell in love for electronics and physical computing back in 2005, when she attended at her first Eclectic Tech Carnival. After some years of study, she started her own women-only electronics workshop.

I found the all story very interesting, because it’s about gender balance in the community of hacking & DIY (on our forum the gender balance is 1 woman every 23 men).  So I made some questions to Stefanie, and report back here.


DG: What is your workshop about?

SW: It’s about females’ approach to technology. When we are young we are gifted dolls, boys have rockets. Technology is something women are normally taken apart, or anyway far from. My workshop is basically letting girls get to know better technology. How it works and how to repair it, but mostly how to break it (lol).

DG: How did you came to the idea of having this workshop?

SW: I’ve been dealing since quite a long time now with hacklabs. The one in my city is a good example (Metalab) of a cool place, full of creativity: but with no women! That’s why I came with the idea of organizing workshop specifically targeted to girls of all ages: a way to attract them to a world they probably just heard about.

DG: Did it work?

SW: The first time there were a lot of girlfriend-of-the-nerds: finally they had the chance to see what was it about! ah ah. It was a success. Lately very different kind of people came by.

DG: What is the workshop about?

SW: Workshops usually last at least three days. We start to play around with electronics: we start with op-amps and make noise. We try to create a group feeling. Then we hack around old phones. We ask each one (if we have enough…) to take an hummer and break the phone, to take it’s vibromotor. It’s important to be allowed to destroy. They feel happier afterwards. We go on by playing around with LDR and animate wooden laser-cut (female) shapes to react to the light. After this electronic introduction we spend some time with arduino. I’m often surprised by their learning speed. The power of the group and the dare to fail. They are at the same level. There aren’t any power users. Failing is part of the learning process.

Stefanie brought around (with the help of many others, which I probably forget to name) this kind of workshops here and there, from NYC Resistor to Damascus, Syria. When I asked Stefanie which tag/category would fit best to describe this “female approach” to technology she answered me: “Arduina”. More updates soon.

more on [MzBaltazar] and [Grenzartikel]