At Mothership HackerMoms, the Freedom to Be Empowered

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Mothership HackerMoms is the first-ever hackerspace devoted to mothers and their children. Going beyond computers and programming, this community taps into the basic philosophy of hacking, explains Lisha Sterling, a professional software programmer, specializing in education and technology, and activist for alternative and experimental education. Hacking means taking control, together, of our environment, our culture, and our lives. At MotherShip Hackermoms, this also means never having to leave the kids behind.

 

It is well known that mothers in the US often find themselves isolated during the first years of their children’s lives. If a woman works outside the home she may feel like she has spent enough time away from her children and needs to devote the rest of her time to them. If she stays home with her kids, she may not have any of the social structures that were available a generation or two ago to allow her a social and creative life among adults. In 2011, Sho Sho Smith found herself becoming more and more isolated as she cared for two small children and her husband who was sick with cancer, so she decided to do something about that. She brought together a unique group of new moms with a variety of creative ideas and skills and founded Mothership HackerMoms.

While many hackerspaces endeavor to be inclusive and welcoming, there is no other hacker- or makerspace in the world that includes a child-centered room, affordable childcare during every event or open house, hours designed to suit the needs of both working mothers and stay-at-home moms, and a whole community crafted specifically to help women connect with hacker and maker culture, entrepreneurial opportunities, and lifelong learning without leaving their children behind. If there is one benefit above all others at Mothership HackerMoms, it would have to be that it is a welcoming space for children just as much as for mothers.

"Our children learn by watching us."

 

The fact of the matter is that most hackerspaces, no matter how inclusive, simply were never designed with children in mind. They don’t have safe spaces for kids. They don’t have the right insurance. They don’t have toys to keep little ones occupied. They don’t have anywhere for noisy little people to be exactly who they are without fear of community reproach. While some parents may choose to bring their children into a space like Metrix Create:Space in Seattle or Noisebridge in San Francisco – two spaces which have been known to be quite friendly to parents and young children – neither of these is designed with the children’s needs in mind. In both cases there is an inherent risk in bringing your child into the space that you and your child may be seen by some as a nuisance, getting in the way of the grown up activities in the space.

Built into the very fabric of the community at Mothership HackerMoms is the idea that our children learn by watching us, so they should be able to take part in as many of our activities as is safe for them at any age. This means that while toddlers are cared for in the children’s room, older children are just as likely to be in the main room working on projects right alongside their mothers. As the years go by, we hope that our children will be inspired by us to always be willing to try out new skills and to never give up on Math Club.

Mothership HackerMoms, the first child-friendly hackerspace

Hacking: A culture of diversity and empowerment

Some people ask what makes Mothership HackerMoms different from other craft groups. Very few of the members are involved with computers at all, so why should it be considered a hackerspace? Why isn’t it just a knitting club? Or a theatre club? The answer has to do with the culture of diversity and empowerment that is embedded in the hacker movement.

In order to explain, let’s start with a few definitions. Jude Milhon defined hacking as "the clever circumvention of imposed limits, whether imposed by your government, your own skills or the laws of physics."  One of the definitions for the word “hacking” given on http://urbandictionary.com is “Using something and changing it to make it do what you want.” Another definition at the same site for the word “hacker” explains that “Hackers are self-motivated, and learn through experimentation and persistence, as opposed to through traditional means.”

The hacker movement is tightly connected to the open source software movement, but it is not exclusively about computers. Like the open source software movement, hacking is as much about politics and power as it is about software or any other thing that may be hacked. The idea that, if you own a thing, you should be able to adapt it to your needs is counter to the EULA (end-user license agreement) on your Kindle or iPod or even the warrantee on your refrigerator. As a result, just unscrewing the back off the devices you own may be an act of civil disobedience. Yet the ability to disassemble and re-build a piece of furniture into a new configuration is an act of power over your own environment that should be the right of every person.

By defining Mothership HackerMoms not as an art studio or some other type of mothers’ collective, but as a hackerspace, we choose to be empowered by the notion that we can take control of the manufactured environment we live in and adapt it to our needs rather than always adapting ourselves to suit the needs of the manufactured goods. We also choose to recognize that we have agency in our lives as mothers, partners, and citizens of a community and we can hack our culture to make it more friendly to ourselves and other women. Finally, we choose to believe in our ability to learn things together, to teach each other, and to grow in freedom, never in any box that we do not choose for (and possibly hack) ourselves.

About the author: Lisha Sterling is a self-taught professional software programmer, specializing in education and technology. She is an activist for alternative and experimental education, leading to her work with hackerspaces and makerspaces, including School Factory and Mothership HackerMoms, and her philosophy of unschooling her three children. Lisha currently serves as technical advisor on two projects launched at Random Hacks of Kindness in June 2012 (Zeromines.org and BioMedLink), and she is building open source science, technology, engineering, art & math (STEAM) curricula for Maker Scouts, a new organization for hacker and maker youth. You can find more of Lisha's writing on her blog at www.alwayssababa.com.

Related articles:

MMORPG players and Social Scienceshttp://blog.mysciencework.com/en/2012/09/10/mmorpg-players-and-social-sciences.html

Meet Marblar, Where Crowd Creativity Saves Technology’s Lost Souls http://blog.mysciencework.com/en/2012/09/03/meet-marblar-where-crowd-creativity-saves-technology%E2%80%99s-lost-souls.html

Learning through Research, a video marking the launch of an institute for innovative educationhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND-dC2xMBlI

New MIT President, Ongoing Commitment to Open Learning http://blog.mysciencework.com/en/2012/07/02/new-mit-president-ongoing-commitment-to-open-learning.html

Find out more:

"What Does it Mean to be a Woman Hackerspace Member?" http://blog.makezine.com/2011/07/05/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-woman-hackerspace-member/

"Babies, boobs and rooms full of geek men", on Geek Feminism.org http://geekfeminism.org/2010/03/03/babies-boobs-and-rooms-full-of-geek-men/

Mothers come together, create Berkeley “hacker” space http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/04/12/mothers-come-together-to-create-berkeley-hacker-space/

2
SimonContraires : Great article on a very good idea. Being a father I just would have preferred something for parents rather than only for mothers. I'm sure fathers with kids are welcome too, but the name of the hackerspace and the non-mention of the word father in this article is not very encouraging... :) That was my "gender equality" minute ;) Thanks
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Lisha Sterling : Mothership HackerMoms is not women-exclusive, but it is women-centric. Dads and even non-parents are welcome in the space and do join us regularly.
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