Sexism in the DIY movement? Chinese maker Naomi Wu, alias Sexy Cyborg, defends herself in Makery against the founder of Make, who did “crippling damage” to her reputation by accusing her of being no more than a persona.
“I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people,” wondered aloud Dale Dougherty, founder and director of Make Media, the group that publishes Make Magazine and organizes Maker Faire, in a tweet published on November 5… and since deleted. That same day, Naomi Wu retorted with another tweet calling out the ironic “‘privilege’ of being the first female Maker to get GamerGated by a tech media CEO” (GamerGate refers to misogynist, antifeminist harassment, originally by video gamers).
Might as well fully embrace the "privilege" of being the first female Maker to get GamerGated by a tech media CEO. pic.twitter.com/zfVfthudOG
— Naomi Wu (@RealSexyCyborg) November 5, 2017
Naomi Wu’s dispute with Make (and vice versa) is not the first. Already in 2016, the maker was indignant that the organizers of Maker Faire Shenzhen, her hometown, preferred to exclude female Chinese makers rather than invite her. On Makery, she criticized their egalitarian and inclusive discourse as being “only for show”.
Dale Dougherty recalled the controversial tweet and has since apologized. “I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” he wrote in an open letter to Naomi published in Make Magazine on November 6. Except that the damage is already done, according to Naomi Wu.
Has Make contacted you since Dale Dougherty’s accusations?
Dale made a half-hearted, vague apology. Carefully timed long after the damage was done. It’s done crippling damage to my reputation here in China. People here are not going to remember that he made some bullshit half apology, just that the founder of the maker movement said I was fake. It’s all over now, it’s attached to all my projects.
You claimed to have lost clients because of this affair. How did it influence them?
I’m in tons of 3D-printing, hardware and Making WeChat groups, and there’s definitely now a very different tone, some offhand comments. I’m trying to be very careful with that. I don’t want to make the bosses here worried about working with me. That I’m “fake” or a team is now the accepted reality. I can’t change that. I might be able to convince them to work with me anyway.
Why did Dale Dougherty, founder and director of Make Media, publicly accuse you of being fake? How do you explain it?
I’ve been pushing for better inclusion at Make and Maker Faire for over a year. Last year there were no female makers. This year again I was not invited, while less qualified men were invited months beforehand. At the last minute, they made a half-hearted effort and offered me a minor time slot after all the men had spoken, but they refused to give the women equal exposure and advertising as the guys. As it turns out, the problem is they think I’m fake. A woman, particularly a Chinese woman, making the things I do is unbelievable to them.
If you have a conspiracy theory and Google it, someone out there will agree with you. Dale did that, found some angry foreigner here who had a problem with me, because I had declined to share my personal contact information. He built a whole web page dedicated to “debunking” me. It’s all crazy and easily disproved, but the people who ended up on that page wanted to believe, so they did. Dale quoted this crazy smear page from the Internet as being the truth, told people to Google it and DM him for more “evidence”, which it turned out he did not have, of course.
A post shared by Naomi Wu (@reallysexycyborg) on
I also engaged in a bit of disruptive tech by dropping a SSID spoofing payload on the organizer’s roof from my drone. I didn’t like being excluded by people who can’t use a screwdriver! Make could not dispute that I was the most qualified to speak, so they decided to publicly discredit my work.
Last January, you said that Make (and Raspberry Pi) were ignoring you. Why do you think that is?
I think the whole thing does not fit into their world view. Chinese are not supposed to be creative, this is supposed to be a Western skill. A big part of the whole smear against me is that it *must* be a White man behind me—which is insane when I have an entire city of Chinese engineers who would happily do anything I ask. That my English was “too good”, again an insane criterion.
Despite hundreds of hours of video proving I do my builds, despite dozens of Western hardware professionals having met me in person and verified that I was exactly what I say I am, I just don’t fit into their reality, so can’t be accepted.
This is my life now. Proving a Chinese girl can solder.?
Meanwhile 2km away… pic.twitter.com/DvrVuVyEQD
— Naomi Wu (@RealSexyCyborg) November 11, 2017
So in your view, gender equality in the maker movement hasn’t made much progress since our last interview?
The Maker Faire was much more inclusive this year in Shenzhen. Still putting foreigners at the top of everything, of course, but at least we had some more women. They just didn’t want to promote them or give them any exposure. As if they are embarrassed by us or something.
You were disappointed that no one mentioned your latest project. What is it about?
I thought this was a lot of fun:
“Drone hacking a fake makerspace in Shenzhen”, Sexy Cyborg, November 2017:
For more context about the controversy and its impact on Naomi Wu’s reputation and livelihood, Naomi recommends this article by Shenzhen-based American hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang