The first doctoral student in computer science in France is unknown to the general public. In Numerama's Rule 30 newsletter, written by Lucie Ronfaut, the journalist wonders what makes a person "notable" in the media, as well as online, and why women are more often excluded from this categorization.
This article is an excerpt from our weekly newsletter Rule30, published by Numerama. This is the issue of April 6, 2022. To subscribe for free, it's here.
Last Thursday, I learned of the death of Marion Créhange. I had no idea who she was. But a tweet from Isabelle Collet, a researcher on gender issues in new technologies (and author of the book The forgotten digital ones, which I recommend to you), made me realize that I should have known her. Marion Créhange is the first person to have defended a computer thesis in France, published in 1961, when she was an assistant at the Faculty of Sciences of Nancy. If you want to know more about her life and work, you can read this beautiful portrait of her at Numerama.
The first thesis in French computer science was defended by a woman, Marion Créhange, in 1961. She has just died at the age of 85. She doesn't have a wikipedia page because her page was taken down in 2005 with the comment "She's a college professor. Nothing very exciting".
– Isabelle Collet (@ColletIsabelle4) March 31, 2022
Marion Créhange's expertise was nevertheless recognized
What is a Notable Person? Or rather, what is a notable woman, since the notoriety of men is less questioned than ours, on Wikipedia and elsewhere? Marion Créhange was obviously a woman whose expertise was recognized. She was described as a pioneer by her peers, a member of the prestigious Stanislas Academy, was professor emeritus at the University of Lorraine. However, when we talk about the absence of women in history (that of new technologies and in general), we often believe that they were censored, prevented from shining in their time, and that this is why we don't hear about it anymore. It is a mistake. Women have been notable, published, created, invented. We just forgot about them. “I was for a long time in the myth of the 'prevented woman' who would have been materially prevented from emerging. But after working on this book, I no longer believe in it,” explained recently Titiou Lecoq, author of a very rich book on the absence of women in history.
In 2019, I had the chance to interview American author Claire L. Evans, who investigated female and English-speaking pioneers of the web. His book is called Broad band, and unfortunately has never been translated into French. I had asked him about his choice to also talk about projects that had failed, of women who had screwed up, but who deserved to be put forward just as much. “It's hard to talk about those failures because when you're writing a history book, everyone wants firsts, 'this woman invented this' or 'she was the first to do that'. It's easy to sell,” she replied. “But the technology is complex. It's rarely about a single invention, a first time, it's about the meeting of ideas, a constant evolution of tools, things that work and others that don't.
I thought about this quote when reading the own words of Marion Créhange, who recounted her career in the journal Interstices in 2021. She expresses some remorse there, in particular the fact of not having published enough scientific articles, and d to have given up research after his retirement. "Another regret that I have felt almost throughout my career is that I came too early," she says. And we forgot Marion Créhange too quickly.
Some links in my press review
Feminism and social networks
Elvire Duvelle-Charles is an activist and filmmaker, best known for her various online feminist projects, such as Clit Révolution. She has just published a book precisely dedicated to the upset relations between feminism and social networks. In this interview, she talks about her journey and the various subjects that concern her, the usefulness (or not) of being an activist online and algorithmic censorship. Read it at Manifesto 21, over here.
The fight against child pornography is a key issue for social networks. But it also poses complex problems for them to solve. In this New York Times survey, we learn that Facebook tends to consider a person in a pornographic image to be an adult by default if there is any doubt about their age. In question: the fear of making a mistake, and of being the subject of legal proceedings for false denunciation of abuse of minors. You can read it (in English) here.
For several days, the American forum Reddit was the subject of a fascinating experience: an interactive space, where each person with an account could deposit a pixel of colors every five minutes, in order to fill a collective fresco. The result is particularly chaotic and funny, as Numerama summed it up very well. But I also really liked the analysis of the Washington Post on this subject, which sees in r/Place (the name given to the space) the illustration of the strength of online communities, and the possibility of collective moderation cyberspace. It is to be read (in English) here.
If you frequent TikTok, you may have already come across the flirtatious smile of William White, a creator who rose to fame with his (poor) karaoke performances on hits from the 80s. The young man quickly became popular with of a group generally little considered on social networks, women over 50. But today, his community is the subject of much criticism, between accusation of embezzlement and a parasocial relationship that would have gone wrong. Would William White take advantage of the generosity of lonely women? This is a survey to read (in English) at Input Mag.
Something to read/watch/listen to/play
In the not so distant future, Christian sets a trap for David. The first is a Canadian in his sixties, tired of living in a world where artificial intelligence reigns supreme. The second is his personal assistant (like Alexa or Siri), who finds himself hacked, forced to listen to Christian's secrets about his life. Very quickly, we understand that Christian is a trans woman, forced to detransition by a regime that only accepts one gender norm. And that tonight he or she wants to start a revolution.
I started Valide a little worried. Was I really going to read a science fiction novel consisting only of a long monologue? And then finally, I was completely caught up in the story of Christian and Christelle, and of this dystopian world without nuance, which is moreover rather believable. We talk about ecological disasters, of course, but also about repeated epidemics, and about a society obsessed with the norm and the fact of being able to quantify everything. Who is valid, and who can validate us?
Lucie Ronfaut is a freelance journalist specializing in new technologies and web culture. You can follow his work on Twitter.