Ada Lovelace, computer programming
October 15 is Ada Lovelace Day, named for the world’s first computer programmer and dedicated to promoting women in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. A Victorian-era mathematical genius, Lovelace was the first to describe how computing machines could solve math problems, write new forms of music, and much more, if you gave them instructions in a language they could understand. Of course, over the ensuing 100-plus years, dudes have been lining up to push her out of the picture (more on that below).
Lovelace is hardly the only woman to be erased from the history of her own work. Here’s a quick look at eight women whose breakthroughs were marginalized by their peers.
The daughter of Lord Byron, Lovelace was steered toward math by her mother, who feared her daughter would follow in her father’s “mad, bad, and dangerous" literary footsteps. Luckily, she loved the subject, and remained devoted throughout her brief life—she died in 1852 at age 36, soon after an ambitious, proto-Moneyball attempt to beat the odds at horse racing by developing mathematical models to help place her bets.
When she was barely 20, she started collaborating with the inventor Charles Babbage at the University of London on his “Analytical Engine,” an early model of a computer. In 1843, she added extensive notes of her own to a paper on Babbage’s machine, detailing how the Engine could be fed step-by-step instructions to do complicated math, and trained to work not only with numbers but also words and symbols “to compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”
The notes are considered the first descriptions of what we now call algorithms and computer programming, and for decades, historians have argued over whether Lovelace came up with them herself, or Babbage was somehow the real author. “Ada was as mad as a hatter, and contributed little more to the ‘Notes’ than trouble,” writes one historian, and a “manic depressive with the most amazing delusions about her own talents.” But Babbage’s own memoir suggests she deserved credit for the “the algebraic working out of the different problems,” and more recently she’s been honored with, among other things, a British medal of honor, a Google Doodle, a tunnel boring machine in London, and her own annual celebration. In 2011, the Ada Initiative was founded to help promote women in computer science and open-source technology.
Pakistan — Burka Avenger
A girls’ schoolteacher by day, and superhero by night, the Burka Avenger is Pakistan’s first animated female superhero. Versed in the fictional art of takht kabbadi, which essentially uses books and pens as deadly projectiles, protagonist Jiya fights people who rail against those performing their duty of educating the youth. Award-winning actress Ainy Jaffri is the voice of Jiya, and despite the fact that there is more strength in this female character than the ones in Mulan and Frozen combined, the show has been criticized for portraying the burqa as a tool of empowerment rather than oppression, proving once again that, be it all-covering or all-showing, a woman simply cannot dress without someone passing sanctimonious judgment.
Bolivia — Super Cholita
Super Cholita immediately gets props for being possibly the only plus-sized woman taken seriously as a comic book hero. Couple that with her strong stance against corruption, and Francisca Pizzaro Mamani is truly a champion of the people. Her power of flight, derived from a Tiwanaku temple, and her garb, inspired by Bolivian history, is enough to make her visual design a fairly progressive creation. Unfortunately the series does occasionally treat her weight as a humor device and “cholita" is an undoubtedly questionable term with a dark past behind it. However, just by existing, even in this occasionally regrettable state, Super Cholita does a lot that Americans can really learn from.
France — Adèle Blanc-Sec
It may sound a bit ambitious, but Adèle Blanc-Sec may just be the most feminist hero of all time. Cult members, greedy businessmen, bureaucratic nonsense and ever-malleable concepts of “patriotism” are all things tackled by this steampunk tech-wielding crime novelist cum investigative journalist. In a strangely self-aware display of gender in the hero genre, Blanc-Sec’s affinity for the wonders of the criminal world does little to mask her cynicism towards all male-centric tropes found in her own medium. The most emphatic proof of her conviction is that her creator cryogenically froze her during the story’s World War I period because she simply wouldn’t have accepted not being allowed to fight and to work as a nurse. Adèle is like Sherlock Holmes as written by Virginia Woolf, and light years ahead of most American comics.
All of the above from this post.
Italy - Zakimort
Zakimort is a rich heiress who, after her father’s murder, decides to fight crime.
Attractive Female, Insanely Rich, Stealth, Unarmed Combat
Japan - Cutey Honey
An android girl named Honey Kisaragi, who transforms into the busty, red or pink-haired heroine Cutie Honey to fight against the assorted villains that threaten her or her world. One of the trademarks of the character is that the transformation involves the temporary loss of all her clothing in the brief interim from changing from one form to the other. According to Nagai, she is the first female to be the protagonist of a shōnen mangaseries.
Among her basic abilities she is capable of driving or piloting any man-made vehicle even when not in one of her alternate forms, jumping extremely high into the air over a hundred feet, super speed even while underwater, and has a high resistance to extreme temperatures such as the arctic or the heat emitted from inside a volcano. Honey also possesses several gadgets including see through glasses that grant X-Ray vision although this is only used in her Honey Kisaragi form, ear rings that can amplify audio such as talking from long distances, and boots that allow her to walk on vertical surfaces as well as ceilings. Her primary weapon is a razor boomerang disguised as an arm band called the Honey Boomerang that can cut through most materials. On her necklace from the Element Change Device she can emit an electric beam called the Honey Beam.
Indonesia - Sri Asih
Sri Asih can be considered an adaptation of America’s superheroine for Indonesia . Nani Wijaya is an innocent girl when she uttered the magic words “Goddess Asih.” Then it turned into a super hero who can fly, invulnerable, super-powered, can multiply and enlarge her body.
This has been a great week.
I And You just opened at Olney Theatrea day after it became one of 6 finalists for the prestigious Steinberg/ ATCA New American Play Award. It was earlier this month announced that the play is also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which honors women playwrights writing in the english language. I am overwhelmed and in flight with pride at both of these accolades. What a group of writers to join. Those that have won these awards and been finalists represent the best writers in the english language writing plays. It’s a dream to be in their company. Especially for this play, which is small and magical and means so much to me.
This news does bring up two things of note that, I do hope, will not sound piqued or over-proud. But here is what I thought of upon hearing this great news:
- Thank god for rolling world premieres
- Thank god that, when I do glance at reviews, I only read the good ones
The second could sound self-important or denialist. But really, it’s a protective measure that buffers my artistic intension from the elements.
Simply put, if I And You had had only it’s first production in place when it was reviewed it might have died right then and there. We had marvelously supportive responses from half the critics in the Bay (“a thought-provoking surprise!” “A magnificent coup de theatre!”), and unimpressed “meh” responses from the others, (I didn’t read the “mehs” because of the aforementioned buffering strategy). Our biggest critic was in the latter “meh” camp, and because of the prestige of his paper and the weight of his verdict, I’m sure some out of town folks would have googled my play, read that review, and dismissed the play outright. We know that happens.
This is where rolling world premieres come in and save the day.
My play was lucky. It started it’s journey as a National New Play Network rolling world premiere heading to four cities from the outset (Marin Theatre, Olney Theatre, Geva Theatre, and Phoenix Theatre). That means that no matter what critical response our play got the first time (or second or third), we have built-in support for the play’s life. It is protected from immediate judgement and allowed to grow and learn from the hard work and deep lessons learned from any production. I’ve done a lot of rewriting based on the moving production of I And You at Marin Theatre (the exciting discoveries we’ve made through the process as well as the ideas for improvement in between productions). Even when the play sings and everyone loves it you’re still learning, tweaking, bettering. (We made cuts the day before they opened at Olney). That’s what new plays need.
So what do we learn?
1) Trust the theatre company and don’t base your non-attendance on bad reviews.
If you like a theatre company, the actors, the playwright, then trust them and check out the play. You may agree with the reviewer, but you may not. Howlround posted an informal study suggesting that theatre audiences only agree with reviewers half the time. So don’t miss out. Don’t punish theatre companies for taking aesthetic or narrative or programming risks. Make up your own mind. That’s what keeps theatre urgent and exciting.
2) Rolling world premieres saves lives.
This is the most exciting trend in American theatre as far as I’m concerned. It aligns theatre companies of all sizes and budgets across the country, it shares resources, it add momentum to new work, it allows for growth and real art-making, it builds community, it sounds awesome to funders, it supports playwrights…
It’s the real deal of new play development.
3) Perhaps every review should start with “In my opinion…”.
There’s a character of a judge in lawyer TV show The Good Wife who insists that lawyers in her courtroom never make claims without saying “in my opinion.” The lawyers are annoyed by this because she will correct them every single time: “In your opinion, the defendant intended to harm the victim…”. I like this judge.
For theatre reviews some might say that “in my opinion” is assumed by the context of it being a review. It is not a fact that the play was good or bad, boring or electric, moving or aggravating. It’s an opinion. An aesthetic, emotional, personal opinion. And opinions are complex things that come from conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, taste, and history.
And if we treat reviews like gladiatorial thumbs-up and thumbs-downs, audiences might miss meaningful stories that could matter to them, and plays might be beheaded before their time.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a personal statement from each reviewer accompany their reviews? A personal declaration of what they think theatre is at its best? That would certainly add context. In my opinion.
4) Read the play, not the reviews.
I’m going to stop reading reviews of anyone’s play that I haven’t seen. It’s unfair to judge a play on it’s bad reviews. We all know it’s unfair. We all know that it sometimes feels like a roll of the die if you get a rave or a pan, or that the taste of the reviewer and the taste of the artists diverge which doesn’t mean one or the other is right or wrong. So I will read the plays and experience them in my own way.
5) Find Your People and Listen to Them
Find the people who get what you’re trying to do. Theirs are opinions that matter. My mom is one of them, so is my husband. Both of them, while nowhere near “theatre people,” always articulate the one thing that could clarify the story.
Steve Yockey is one of them, my best friend and one of the best playwrights I know. He’s a nerd for dramatic structure like I am and I trust everything he says.
Dramaturges and directors (Margot Melcon, Meredith McDonough, Marissa Wolf, Madeline Oldham) who I trust are on my list, so are actors and designers. So are a few key theatre fans who see everything. Chad Jones, a critic in the Bay, is one of them as he and I really connect to the same ideas about theatre. Those are the reviews I embrace because I want to grow the play through discussion and conversation.
The critics from ATCA who have given me the honor of a nomination for the Steinberg are on that list now too. I very much look forward to conversing with them in the future.
6) Life’s too short (and art’s too hard) to feel like crap.
I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of “if you believe the good reviews you have to believe the bad ones.” Nope. Untrue. You trust your instincts as an artists. If you don’t you’re rudderless. So only good news or no news, please. Playwriting can be a long, slow, fickle, barely sustainable slog. And that’s before you get a production. I say, whatever keeps you going and keeps you positive is what you should be doing. Confidence is bliss.
If you get a rave? Blast it to out the universe. Yay, theatre! Yay plays! Nice things being said about new plays! Let’s make more plays! Yeah!
If you get a pan? Don’t read it. Buy yourself a Manhattan and/or a manicure, toast your resilience, and don’t read it.
Because maybe you’ll be lucky and have someone read the play on it’s own. And maybe it will move them on it’s own steam. And maybe it will make them think and feel. And maybe they’ll tell their friends. And maybe your play will see beginning of a long and diverse life it might just deserve.