Geek Feminism Wiki

The Unicorn Law is a statement on tokenism formulated by Emma Jane Hogbin. She and Gabrielle Roth named it at Open Source Bridge in 2009. It states that:

If you are a woman in Open Source, you will eventually give a talk about being a woman in Open Source.

Original twitter message coining the law.

The Unicorn Law is a play on Godwin's Law. For those who are not familiar with it, Godwin's Law states "as a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." In the Unicorn Law it is the probability of a woman in open source talking about being a woman in open source that approaches 1.

Unicorn Law talks come from both internal and external motivations. Many women will go through a period of self and community examination, including perhaps participating in women's computing groups and advocacy of women in computing, which leads to a public presentation of their experiences. Other women are forced into the spotlight when they are asked to represent the experience of women in open source. The latter example can be an example of Tokenism at work or in geek communities (such as conference presentations).


Arising from this law, some geek feminists have adopted the term unicorn to describe a woman who is being exceptionalised: ie treated as the first or only woman geek ever.

Unicorn talks[]

A unicorn talk is a conference presentation given by a woman who was invited to do so because she is a woman. They are often on subjects relating to women in the field in question (eg. women in technology).

Being invited to give a unicorn talk is a double-edged sword: if you give the talk, you increase women's visibility; however, speaking on a non-technical subject may cause people to see women as non-technical, and any talk about women's issues is likely to attract negative responses including Harassment.