“We’ve got your back.”

That’s what we like to hear. And since our PSA last week about MikeeUSA, we’ve been really pleased to see people coming out of the woodwork to say, in effect, “OMGWTF!” and “NOT COOL.”

It’s funny… when I wrote that post, I was cringing in anticipation. After the last couple of contentious things I’d written, I was sure that I was going to get a flood of posts telling me how I was over-reacting, how raising these issues was harming the open source community, or that I should focus on the positive. I hit “post” with some trepidation, then left the office almost shaking.

I kept checking the comments throughout the evening, and even woke up in the middle of the night expecting a storm of invective. And there wasn’t one. Around twelve hours after the post, I cautiously said on IRC, “maybe there won’t be a backlash this time,” and then wanted to retract the words in case it was some kind of jinx.

Instead, what we got was support. Twitter and Identi.ca were buzzing with retweets/redents of people spreading the PSA, and the comments here on GF — even from people who said they usually disagreed with feminist goals — were 100% supportive. You know how we have a comment policy here that says we will delete stuff that’s blatantly anti-feminist? Well, this was the first contentious post we’ve ever had where we didn’t delete a single comment.

So, thanks. It’s good to know that there are some things just so vile that nobody in our community will tolerate them. It’s good to know that we can visit almost any open source blog this week without having to be confronted by Mikee’s hateful comments, because they’ve been sent to the bit bucket. And it’s good to know that at least some of the women (and men) who were targetted by Mikee’s hate speech over the last week or so knew how to handle it, and knew they weren’t alone, because we got the word out.

Thanks for having our backs.

But let’s stop for a moment and think about why that’s such a big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s unusual. Most of the time, backlash, not support, is the strongest response.

Next time round, I’d like to ask everyone to remember that every little incident in our community occurs in a context of institutionalised sexism that ranges from the odd thoughtless joke to… well, to Mikee and beyond. And it’s the little things, repeated over and over and excused just as often, that serve to reinforce the feeling that we don’t quite belong, and that the majority of the community might not back us up, might even attack us, if the shit hits the fan.

Please don’t let this happen.

We need to know you’ve got our backs. Even for the little stuff. Even when it’s a community leader. Even when you aren’t quite sure why it’s a big deal. Especially those times. Because it’s the security of knowing that someone’s got our backs that lets us speak about the big stuff without shame or fear. And it’s only that security that lets us feel safe to give all our energy and focus to what we came here for in the first place: free and open source software.

18 thoughts on ““We’ve got your back.”

  1. Liz Henry

    It has been really heartening!

    I think there is a line, which is right around threats of violence and actual violence, where we might respond by formal ostracizing, as with booting MikeeUSA from SourceForge and other projects, and deleting his abusive comments.

    Misunderstanding and disagreement about that line, because it is not clear cut, is what makes a lot of people uncomfortable about our call-outs against casual misogyny and its acceptance in a community.

    Telling someone “Hey that was rude/offensive/made me feel unwelcome. Please apologize.” which as feminists we have been doing here to call out bad behavior, is very different from saying “Ban this person from a community” which I believe should be done sparingly and only when a person has harmed someone or threatened to harm them. MikeeUSA falls into that category.

    I wish that people would stop confusing those different cases.

    Pointing out offensiveness or asking for an apology is doing you a favor. It means a person trusts you enough and cares enough to continue communicating with you. Asking for an apology, even if 10 people are doing it on Twitter on the same day, is not a firestorm, a bloodbath, or (most idiotic) a lynching. And, we don’t confuse someone snidly going “DIAF” with a possible actually insane death threat case, someone who might be like Sodini. But when someone is completely off the rails, we will not only speak up but will call down the power of the community and the law. We want people to speak up in support, in concert, to shift the culture so that women are welcomed, valued, respected, and heard.

    The pressure on us *not* to speak up in cases small or big, irritating or threatening, is high. So, I think here we are committing to continue doing it, despite the pressure, because it helps make the problem consistently visible, especially to other women.

  2. Rick

    Over at Shakesville, Liss posted a great piece on how when a handful of misogynist guys were spewing bile in public, reams of stand-up guys were supporting her…in private.

    Folks, a FOSS community that’s welcoming to everyone benefits us all in attracting and retaining the greatest possible number of contributors. So when something happens that marginalizes or threatens the people of our community, we all need to step up and address it.

    1. Rich Bowen

      I think that’s what frustrates me so much about stuff like this – that there are so few men who are willing to stand up at the time that it happens and let it be known that it’s not acceptable. Yes, it’s important to speak up afterwards, but if you’re there, and something happens that is hateful, dishonoring, or just rude, someone needs to stand up and say that this just isn’t ok. Have we drifted so far from our ideas of common decency, politeness, and good manners that we think it’s ok to watch someone spew venom, and say nothing about it until we’re back home and ensconced in anonymity?

      Seriously, guys, I know that a lot of the upper echelons in the Open Source world are true gentlemen who love their wives, respect their peers – male or female – and treat people as people, not as lines of code. We need to get to the point where we stand up – literally and figuratively – for what we know is decent, and speak out against folks who are being dishonoring of their peers.

  3. Jon Niehof

    Couple of days ago I pulled a random bug off the Debian RC list. Fixing the bug is one thing…figuring out the packaging is another. A gem I found scrabbling through the documentation: “But you will have to study a LOT. Search the Internet a lot. Visit the library a lot. Develop and re-develop and restart from scratch many times using other approaches until your solution is accepted by your peers as a good technical solution.”

    Wow. That’s quite the contrast from your keynote (and in the middle of a very long list of “are you hardcore enough to contribute to Debian?”) Fortunately I managed to find a page with the information I actually needed….on the Debian Women wiki. Curse them, ruining the project with useful technical information!

    We’d be colossal idiots not to have your back. Sadly, we often are…

    1. Mackenzie

      Jon:
      I’m sure Debian must have some sort of mentorship group for learning to package. In Ubuntu, we have MOTU Mentoring. But really…for a shortcut guide to simple packaging stuff, see Daniel Holbach’s videos on the YouTube Ubuntu Developer channel. I think there should be one for creating a debdiff (what you’d need to submit a patch for a deb).

  4. Steve Holden

    I’m glad that the rest of the community has been so supportive. MikeeUSA’s threatening behavior is so overt and savage that almost anyone can understand it shouldn’t be allowed to pass unchallenged.

  5. Carla Schroder

    I’m not so optimistic. This is similar to what happened to kathy Sierra– she endured all kinds of crap for a long time, and that was acceptable. Ordinary, everyday abuse is OK. Then she got some rape and death threats, and OMG all the geek heroes and drew a line in the sand– that is not acceptable! The other everyday stuff, that’s OK, but by god death and rape are going too far.

    Here we are again with a lunatic hatenut marking the line between acceptable-not acceptable. Everyday abuse of women is OK, quit being so sensitive, free speech, etc. But that crazy guy, that’s where the line is. Same stuff, different day.

    1. Carla Schroder

      BTW, forgot to mention– good on you, Skud, for posting even in anticipation of more negative reactions. It takes guts to speak up in the face of backlash, and I appreciate Liz, Mary, Maco, Leigh, and all the other supportive, rational voices I’ve been hearing (seeing? aieee, this newfangled technology confuses things) all throughout this most recent discussion.

    2. Rick

      The “everyday stuff” exists on a continuum, and guys — when we endorse it with our comments or by our silence, the guys who really do hate women see that as an endorsement — as confirmation that their views are not outside the mainstream; that they’re in accord with what most guys think. They need to hear otherwise from us when the “everyday stuff” happens — not just if they publicly post stuff that’s beyond the pale.

    3. Jonquil

      Fantastic post by Skud.

      I think it takes multiple mess-ups for some people to get it; people who may have shrugged at Kathy Sierra slowly, public fight by public fight, start to realize that something’s wrong. I don’t see how a reasonable person can accept permitting hate speech on OSS forums, and I suspect the extreme cases are the ones that, maybe, open a few minds.

      Some people will insist to the death on their free-market “if it doesn’t happen naturally, it doesn’t matter” approach to women’s participation in OSS; others, I think, may be beginning to listen.

      1. Dorothea Salo

        This is, again, why the documentation effort on the GF wiki is so terribly vital. Another phenomenon that precludes action is the sense that every incident is, well, incidental — a one-of-a-kind oops, an edge case.

        Geeks are pattern-makers and pattern-matchers. Show them a bad pattern, and they’re a lot more likely to consider it seriously and work to rectify it.

        So three cheers for the GF wiki team!

  6. Carla Schroder

    “And it’s the little things, repeated over and over and excused just as often, that serve to reinforce the feeling that we don’t quite belong, and that the majority of the community might not back us up, might even attack us, if the shit hits the fan.”

    Note to self: read more carefully before commenting.
    kbye :)

    1. koipond

      Carla,

      That’s okay. I don’t think it really can be said enough. Just as it can’t be said enough that guys have to stand up to all the every day stuff that happens too. Not just the culturally obvious things.

      See, I’m repeating Rick:

      The “everyday stuff” exists on a continuum, and guys — when we endorse it with our comments or by our silence, the guys who really do hate women see that as an endorsement — as confirmation that their views are not outside the mainstream; that they’re in accord with what most guys think. They need to hear otherwise from us when the “everyday stuff” happens — not just if they publicly post stuff that’s beyond the pale.

  7. A.Simmons

    What Rick said.

    And thanks for the original PSA post. It might, just possibly, help open the eyes of some of those who like to grumble about political correctness.

    It’s as important for those of us XYs who are sympathetic to and supportive of feminism, or anti-sexism, or just simple “don’t be an arse” standards of conduct*, to meet a lame joke with appropriate (and proportionate) response as it is to unite to reject Mikee-brand psychosis threats. Yeah some might roll their eyes or mutter about political correctness; so what.

    [*or whatever you like to call it. Hmm, vocab fail. ]

    Incidentally, were Mikeee in the UK, it’s not inconceivable that a complaint from someone he threatens could get proper attention from the police. ‘Making threats to kill’ or incitement thereof is a non-trivial offence, and after arrest he’d certainly get a psych eval, the result of which I shan’t speculate on. http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/offences_against_the_person/ . Our line in the free-speech sand is drawn some way away from where it is in the US; I’ve no clue about Canadian law, though?)

    1. Carla Schroder

      In the US the line is drawn thusly: you can get in trouble for criticizing corporations, their practices and policies, or their products. Threats on individuals who are neither wealthy nor connected are trivial and permitted.

    2. Mackenzie

      A. Simmons:
      Free Speech in the US only applies to government-based censorship, and there are plenty of exceptions for things like hate speech, harassment, threats, incitement to violence, incitement of panic, etc.

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