Because sexual assault is more common than you think

This is a guest post by Jacinta Richardson. Jacinta runs Perl Training Australia and is a strong supporter of making IT more friendly to everyone.

This is an edited version of a mailing list post.

The apology from the organisers about Mark Pesce’s linux.conf.au keynote caused much discussion on the linux.conf.au attendees’ chat list. The vast number of responders felt the right thing had been done with the apology and were happy, however there were a small number (5 or less) squeaky wheels that insisted that the talk was fine and that no apology was necessary.

This post is an edited response to my reply in a thread discussing whether the anti-harassment policy was too broadly scoped as well as possibly unnecessary.

Warning: this entry discusses sexual assault, rape and real statistics.

The anti-harassment policy that linux.conf.au adopted didn’t set an impossibly high bar for attendees or speakers, despite the complaints of a select few. As far as I know, all of the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 speakers, and all but one of the 2011 speakers managed to adhere to professional standards in their talks
and not use images that did or would have caused the ruckus Mark’s talk did. At about 90 (official) speakers per conference and maybe another 90 mini-conf speakers per conference that’s about 899 talks which all managed this feat, and quite a few of those talks were challenging, hard hitting, world shattering and all the things that Mark’s talk was too.

However Mark’s talk relentlessly employed the language and imagery of sexual assault as a metaphor for the loss of personal freedoms, and this is inappropriate. For all that Mark’s theme was timely and valuable, the talk would have been so much better had it been delivered with respect for those members of our community who have actually been assaulted.

We can consider some numbers. The Australia Bureau of Statistics reports that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years, where sexual violence includes sexual assault and sexual threat. This gives us minimum numbers because it doesn’t take into account women and men who have experienced sexual violence before the age of 15 years and not since. The US Department of Justice reports that 1 in 6 women will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape at some time in their life.

Most sexual assaults and rapes are not reported to the police; and the Office of Women’s Policy reports that rape offenders were charged in only 15% of reported rapes. They also found that only 2.1% of reports were designated by the police as false which corroborates other studies demonstrating that the rate of false accusations is very low.

Obviously any person can be sexually assaulted more than once.

The Australian Institute of Criminology reports that 98% of sexual assault offenders are male.

As I don’t know the exact figures for linux.conf.au I’m going to assume there were 700 attendees, and 10% of those were women (I’m confident that these numbers are reasonable). That’s 70 women, 20% of whom have been sexually assaulted, or 14 women. Of the remaining 630 men, 5% have been sexually assaulted. So statistically that’s another 31 assault victims. So at linux.conf.au alone 45 sexual assault survivors were part of the audience of that talk which used imagery of sexual assault as a metaphor for the loss of personal freedoms . Just think about that for a moment.

45 sexual assault survivors were part of the audience of that talk. A talk which uses imagery of sexual assault as a metaphor for the loss of personal freedoms.

Not 1 or 2, but 45. In fact, more men than women.

Now realise that increasing the number of women attending linux.conf.au increases the number of sexual assault survivors attending the conference. Those who don’t want to be considered jerks, are going to have to realise that rape jokes aren’t cool. Homo-erotic jokes aren’t cool. Bondage is not only not to everyone’s taste, but is downright threatening to some people. Having a PG-13 warning slide is not enough.

I have been sexually assaulted. I didn’t find the specific images in Mark’s talk triggering but I still felt unease. Why? Because the slides brought sexuality into what should have been a non-sexual presentation. Suddenly the audience is being invited to think about sex and laugh at sexual assault, and while it is unimaginable that anyone would take this as a cue to reach over and assault me right then and there, or even afterwards during morning tea; I was reminded that I could still be a target (again).

That’s the problem with sexualised presentations. Not only do I suddenly feel like an other, but I feel like an other in a crowd of men – some of whom may have no respect for women except as sexual objects, some of whom may have committed sexual assaults in the past.

After sexualised presentations, the conference doesn’t only seem more dangerous but it has actually become more dangerous because—to some men (and neither you nor I can tell by looking at them which ones they are)—laughing about rape or sexual assault is a signal that such things are okay and that they won’t get ostracised for “being too pushy”.

Perhaps you’re thinking: “Not at linux.conf.au!”. Why not? Lisak & Miller’s study [links to a blog about the study, not direct to the report itself] shows that about 6% of men are willing to self-report to rape so long as the word “rape” isn’t used. Potentially 37 attendees at linux.conf.au are sexual predators who don’t view themselves as such. Maybe our population is special and it’s only 3% or 1%, but that’s still too many, and I can’t support any talk which suggests to them that such behaviour might be legitimate.

If any conference wants to be more welcoming to women and other minorities in open source, then an anti-harassment policy that gets enforced is a great start, and the correct thing for the organisers. However the attendees have to be on board too. It was awesome at linux.conf.au to see that the majority of people applauded the apology and that we then moved on from there. It was much less awesome to see the whining from a very small number of people about the apology on twitter and the chat mailing list. There will always be some resistance to challenging the status quo, but overall I am glad that I am part of such a great conference that is making an effort to make me and members of other minorities feel safe and welcome as an attendee (and speaker).

22 thoughts on “Because sexual assault is more common than you think

  1. S

    Hear, hear!

    I wasn’t at linux.conf.au, but as a girl geek who spent years in the Sydney tech industry, I can personally attest that plenty of guy geeks just don’t realize what’s offensive to women (which differs for each and every woman) — and also, what’s not. Many of those same guys bemoan the lack of women in IT, and seem genuine in their wish that there were more females in the industry.

    I don’t care if guys swear around me; I use the same language myself, from time to time. I’m not offended by bodily function humor; I actually have bodily functions too (although I rarely find fart jokes etc. funny; they mostly just seem juvenile and silly to me). You can even tell masturbation jokes around me and I really don’t care; girls do it too, remember?

    If a workplace wants to have a culture of having sexual imagery around (e.g. bikini calendars or desktop wallpaper) I’m fine with that, so long as it’s done in an egalitarian way: i.e. there should be just as many pics of chiseled, oiled male models wearing fireman hats and little else, as there are bikini babes on display there. As long as the people in that group who are attracted to men are just as well catered-to as those attracted to women, no worries — to me, that gets around some of the problems with sexualized images of women, i.e. that some men still see women primarily as sex objects.

    Where I draw the line is joking about, or showing images of, sexual assault. As someone who was raped as a very small child, I have zero tolerance for it. The reason rape is so endemic in our society, is because it’s only illegal in theory. In practice, most rapists get away with it, because as a society, we think rape is funny, that women are responsible for ‘getting themselves raped’, and that when a man tries to get a women intoxicated so he can have sex with her or is clearly ignoring her when she tells him to go away, we think ‘boys will be boys’.

    What men in the industry have to understand, is that women are repeatedly told to avoid being alone with men to avoid being raped; to avoid going for a drink with men; to avoid going anywhere at night with men, etc. Every week some public figure gives ‘rape prevention’ advice that tells women all these things (even though most rapists are known to their victim, and women are most likely to be raped in their own home). So when a woman walks into an all-male tech space, so often as the only female there, they’re going against every bit of advice about how to avoid rape. If any of those men turn around and joke about sexual assault, it rings alarm bells. If all the other guys laugh… well, that’s not a safe place for women to be, any more.

    There’s a reason why the girl geeks I know who are most comfortable in all-male spaces, are the ones with a black belt or two.

  2. S

    PS: I speak as one woman, not for all women. If any guy wants to know if the women they know are offended by the things I mentioned, you’ll need to ask them ;)

  3. Jess

    S: Oh hell yes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a guy who *just* tiptoed around me with the “pardon my French” and the “shi–I mean, sugar!” say something that’s actually horrible and marginalising, and be completely oblivious to that.

    1. S

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a guy who *just* tiptoed around me with the “pardon my French” and the “shi–I mean, sugar!” say something that’s actually horrible and marginalising, and be completely oblivious to that.

      And those are the guys who are trying to make us feel comfortable in geek spaces!

      In my experience, most of the offensive comments I hear are in some way generalising about all women: our behaviour, our looks, our opinions, our purpose in the world. Or at most, dividing us up into a couple of groups (e.g. “ugly women do X, attractive women don’t” kind of remarks). As a rule of thumb, guys should remember that when you’re stereotyping a large group of people based only on their gender, that’s called sexism — just like stereotyping based on race is racism, and stereotyping based on sexuality is homophobia. Sexism isn’t ‘in the eye of the beholder'; it also isn’t something that only applies to women. (I don’t think the ‘nice guys’ who bemoan the way so many women are wary around them, realize that every ‘boys will be boys’ comment tells us that all men are badly-behaved sexual predators… which thankfully isn’t true.)

      Also, guys: if you make a comment about a group you don’t belong to, then turn to the member of that group in your midst and say “oh, but you’re the exception”… well, you just said something offensive and demeaning; something that marginalises and others that person. OK?

  4. AMM

    Two thoughts:

    1. One factor here, just as IMHO with the Penny Arcade comic strip issue, is that the possibility of actually being raped (sexually assaulted) doesn’t seem real to most men. The few men who are raped generally don’t talk about it much with other men, and society doesn’t keep warning men to watch out for being raped. It’s easy to use some horrific experience (genocide, rape, slavery) as a metaphor for more prosaic things if it doesn’t call up an experience of horror of your own. For the same reason that few Jews can hear the name Hitler or Auschwitz without a shudder at some level, few women can hear the word “rape” and see it as no more than a metaphor.

    I’ve read that artists who have been through war and try to depict the horror of war in their art are frustrated by the fact that people who haven’t experienced war see their art and think: how cool, I wish I’d been there.

    2. In a recent article I’ve read, a historian was saying that societies rarely stamp out a practice because they believe it is immoral, but they do when they see it as something shameful — something that makes their peers lose respect for them.

    I’ve noticed this over my lifetime with racism in the USA. When I was a child, people would still routinely say racist things in public. Now, if people say them, they do it only in private with people they are sure won’t tell on them, because to say or do something racist in public will make you a pariah. It hasn’t stamped out racism, but it has at least made it something to be ashamed of, and IMHO is largely responsible for the fact that it was possible for a black person to be elected president.

    So I think that pressuring this guy into apologizing is a good first step on the way to insuring that saying sexist or misogynistic things, even as a joke, will instantly get you branded as a dirtbag. Again, it won’t eliminate sexism, but will at least disestablish it. That’s a much bigger step than many people think.

    1. S

      … the possibility of actually being raped (sexually assaulted) doesn’t seem real to most men. The few men who are raped generally don’t talk about it much with other men, and society doesn’t keep warning men to watch out for being raped.

      So true. My husband recently pointed out that men typically feel outraged when they can’t walk down the street alone at night and feel safe; that the few areas in Sydney where men don’t feel safe are the subject of much hand-wringing. For women, that’s every area — and we mostly just accept that as the status quo and have our keys in our hands if we have to walk home alone.

      In a recent article I’ve read, a historian was saying that societies rarely stamp out a practice because they believe it is immoral, but they do when they see it as something shameful — something that makes their peers lose respect for them.

      I haven’t read the article, but I think they’re probably right.

      Which is why rape jokes are actually dangerous: they effectively say there’s nothing shameful about sexually assaulting someone; in fact, it’s funny! Har har! As long as we think it’s fine for young men to boast about getting a woman so drunk she couldn’t resist his advances, we’ll think of all men as potential rapists. In reality, 94% of men in our society aren’t rapists, but which 94%? If they’re all laughing at rape jokes, there’s really no way to tell.

      (Even in South Africa, where sexual assault is even more normalised than it is in the U.S., only 1 in 4 men have committed rape… so even when raping women is considered a typical ‘male bonding’ activity, 3/4 of men don’t do it.)

      I really hope that within my lifetime, a person who tells a single rape joke will be as stigmatised as someone who tells a single ‘n―’[ed see note at bottom] joke; that we’ll crack down on sexual assault the same way we cracked down on racism, so people stop excusing it.

      Note from Mary: the quoted ‘n―’ word was originally in the comment in full, I have removed it because while using the full word in a meta-context is somewhat acceptable in Australia, it isn’t in the culture of many of our readers.

      1. Mary

        that we’ll crack down on sexual assault the same way we cracked down on racism, so people stop excusing it.

        I’m uncomfortable with this. In some circles public expressions of racism are indeed shameful. (Although, not that many. Certainly in Australia, where I live too, I can find anti-Middle Eastern and anti-Asian racism being expressed in a lot of fairly professional environments.) Not in all!

        It’s not our comments policy, but check the Twelfth Rule of Shapely Prose:

        Every prejudice is still acceptable in some circles, and many of those deemed “unacceptable in polite society” are still woven deeply into the institutions of that society. That’s the reality, and we won’t be arguing about it around here.

        Rape jokes should be unacceptable… like racist jokes should be. Neither is true right now.

        1. S

          I’m uncomfortable with this. In some circles public expressions of racism are indeed shameful. (Although, not that many. Certainly in Australia, where I live too, I can find anti-Middle Eastern and anti-Asian racism being expressed in a lot of fairly professional environments.) Not in all!

          Point taken.

          I was referring to n-word jokes, which thankfully aren’t acceptable in the vast majority of contexts I’ve experienced (in Australia and the US where I’ve lived, and NZ, UK and Europe, where I’ve traveled). I wasn’t thinking about the continued racial hatred Middle Eastern and Asian people cop here, which was wrong of me. Sorry.

        2. S

          (And I completely get that even if people mostly don’t use the n-word any more, this ain’t exactly a post-racial paradise where everyone’s treated the same, regardless of skin colour. Getting people to stop saying prejudiced and othering things is great, but it doesn’t solve everything.)

        3. AMM

          Rape jokes should be unacceptable… like racist jokes should be.

          Jokes are complicated. Some “racist” jokes make fun of racism. However, even those that make fun of it are risky, since they require that the listner infer something about the teller’s intent.

          On the other hand, I can’t figure out how one could make a rape joke that made fun of rape.

          Neither is true right now.

          There’s almost nothing that is “unacceptable” everywhere. Murder is seen as “acceptable” among members of street gangs or the Mafia, for instance. I was speaking of the public discourse, in news media, etc.

          In the USA, at least, a politician or other figure who depends upon widespread public support is, to put it mildly, ill-advised to make jokes or comments that could be considered racist. When a candidate for congress in my district was discovered to have written (supportive) articles for a white supremacist journal, the party that nominated him (the Republicans) not only repudiated him, but tried to get him kicked off the ballot, out of fear of the fallout from having him associated with them.

          By contrast, many successful politicians in the USA publicly support sexist policies and minimize rape.

          Note: by “racist” I mean “anti-black”, which seems to be the usual usage here in the USA. Anti-arab or anti-muslim comments are still “salonfähig” pretty much throughout the USA, and anti-hispanic and anti-native-American comments are common in some parts of the USA, but they’re not what people here think of when they say “racist.”

        4. Mary

          The major problem with your argument is accepting the limiting of the term “racism” in US discourse to stuff that isn’t allowed any more. By your own account very strong explicit statements are allowed or even required against some groups. I would think that (much of) the reason the term “racism” is being limited to certain sentiments expressed from certain positions of power is precisely so that people can argue that racism is gone.

          A lot of people will tell you sexism isn’t allowed any more either, because (using Australian examples) you can’t fire women on the day of her marriage or the birth of her first child, people have some redress against some examples of harassment in the workplace and there are some jokes you can’t make on TV if you want to be elected to public office.

          Note, while I don’t know what your racial identity is (and you do not have to reveal it) I’d caution against saying that discrimination against $group is gone or minimised or is shameful or unacceptable in public without having listened to the experiences of a large number of people in that group. People who aren’t in a group just aren’t as sensitised in the main to expressions of discrimination against that group. What looks to people who aren’t black (and I am not) like an absence of anti-black sentiment in public discourse might in fact be a shift in subtlety, for example the use of code words or characteristics (as in the pregnant person fallacy) rather than more clear references to black people or simply a change in some powerful people but not all.

          To be clear, what I am objecting to here is not the premise that rape jokes and rape minimisation should be a shameful thing. They should be a shameful thing. So should racist jokes and sentiments. And there have been some changes in public discourse around both race and gender and there should be more. I am objecting to the idea that this is anything like a solved problem in public discourse when it comes to race even in a limited kind of “not if you want to be elected to public office” kind of way, because anti-racism activists say that that is not so. Since this is (tries to be) a social justice blog, we use the term “racism” here to reflect everything people experience as racism, rather than what racist white people would like to limit it to.

          On expression, your last paragraph seems not to imagine that people affected by certain types of racism are actually reading your comment. That is, the “people here [in the USA]” in “not what people here [in the USA] think of…” seems not to imagine that someone identifying as Arab, Hispanic or Latin[oa] American, Native American or Muslim in the USA might be reading and if they are, that they too are “people here [in the USA]“.

        5. S

          I think maybe the point AMM was trying to make was:

          Once upon a time, in the USA, it was considered fine to publicly express sentiments of ‘black people’ being inferior to ‘white people'; in fact, it was almost expected. These days, in most circles, it’s not OK to say blatantly racist things against ‘black people’ (I use that term because it’s still fine to say racist things against other people of colour, e.g. Middle Eastern people). That didn’t change because white Americans woke up and thought, en masse, ‘gee it’s so terrible we’ve been systematically discriminating against black people, we were so wrong’. It’s because public attitudes shifted enough that, even though a lot of people are privately still racist in a multitude of ways, publicly saying (anti-‘black people’) racist things is now considered a shameful thing to do — and there are very real consequences for people who do it, including getting kicked out of the Republican party.

          That’s a really good thing.

          Right now, in the U.S. and Australia, it’s considered fine to say things that trivialise and normalise rape; in fact, it’s almost expected. That’s not OK. Many people would like to change that… but how do we do that?

          It would be wonderful if people who know little about rape all woke up, en masse, tomorrow and said ‘wow, rape is a terrible, heinous crime and we really shouldn’t joke about it, ‘cos hey, gettin’ raped actually ain’t funny after all’. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. What we might realistically be able to hope for and work towards, is something similar to what happened in the U.S. regarding racist remarks against ‘black people': a gradual shift in public opinion, over a few decades, so it becomes publicly unacceptable to say things that trivialise and normalise rape, with people who say those things facing very real consequences (like getting kicked out of the Republican party instead of promoted… wouldn’t that be a nice one to hope for? ;) ).

          I think that’s a valuable suggestion, in the context of a post about rape-related material being used in a tech presentation. If the presenter had used racist material in that presentation, I suspect the outcry would’ve been far greater (even here in Australia, where, as someone who’s lived in both countries, it seems we’re way behind the U.S. in terms of not othering people who aren’t ‘white’).

          Taking anti-‘black people’ racist comments out of routine public discourse in the U.S.A. hasn’t stamped out racism, by any means, but it did close off one means of normalising and trivialising racism: few ‘white people’ will admit out loud in America that they think ‘black people’ are inferior any more, even if they secretly believe it. Likewise, making it publicly unacceptable to joke about rape won’t immediately stop all rapes occurring, but it would be a step towards taking rape seriously as a crime and agreeing, as a society, that it’s something we want to stop. Getting institutionalised biases addressed when those biases are still regarded as OK by so many people is near-impossible, so publicly agreeing that rape is wrong is actually an important first-step to stamping it out. (There are societies where rape is exceedingly rare, just as there are societies where ‘white person’ isn’t the default human; like racism, rape has a strong cultural component, which can be changed.)

          PS: I apologise to anyone who’s offended by me using the terms ‘black people’ and ‘white people'; in the context, they seemed like the clearest terms for who was/is being discriminated against, and who was/is responsible for that discrimination.

        6. Restructure!

          few “white people’ will admit out loud in America that they think “black people’ are inferior any more, even if they secretly believe it.

          Few men will admit out loud that they think “women are inferior,” even if they secretly believe it. Few men will admit out loud, “I beat my wife,” even if they secretly do it.

          Instead of using a race analogy (which you really shouldn’t do unless you are a person of colour trying to explain something to another person of colour, at least), why don’t you compare gender with gender, and say that you hope a person who tells a single rape joke will be as stigmatised as someone who tells a single “women are inferior” or wife-beating joke?

          Oh yeah, because “it’s a joke,” can currently excuse any kind of bigotry, including both racism and misogyny. Even anti-black racism in the US. That’s why Bill O’Reilly, Don Imus, Glenn Beck and people like that don’t get fired when they say racist things about black people.

        7. S

          “Why don’t you compare gender with gender, and say that you hope a person who tells a single rape joke will be as stigmatised as someone who tells a single “women are inferior” or wife-beating joke?”

          Because here in Australia, I hear those jokes all the time, and just like the American ass-wipes who tell racist jokes and keep their jobs, the men who tell them keep their jobs here.

          For example, I’ve stopped listening to my local radio station (and I live out in the country where radio’s still important) because every single ad break features one of a series of ads the local hardware store made, parodying what would happen if all the ‘nagging wives’ stopped nagging and attempted household DIY jobs themselves. They attribute to all women, a level of technical incompetence which I find really offensive, given that I’m yet to see a single real-life female who is even half as incompetent as they make us all out to be. (And in my experience, women usually underestimate their technical skills, so they don’t rush in and make stupid mistakes.)

          It’s doubly frustrating for me because, as a girl geek, I take it for granted that until I solve some seemingly-intractable technical problem for them, a lot of (cis-)males won’t quite get that I’m good at what I do. Why? Because anything technical is a ‘guy thing’.

          That’s a fairly mild example, here in Australia. There’s one particular football commentator who described an assault against a woman as ‘extended foreplay’ and kept his job. (His is the same show where someone donned black face makeup a while ago; I’m very glad I didn’t see it.) I just don’t bother watching Australian-made television much any more, other than current affairs and the odd doco, because stuff like that pops up far too frequently for my liking.

          (FWIW, there’s also heaps of anti-male sexism, of the ‘all men are [insert horribly reductive stereotype here]‘ variety, here, and I’m no fan of that either.)

          I didn’t experience nearly as much anti-women sexism while I lived in the U.S., which was extremely refreshing, and I assume from your comments that Canada’s fairly similar?

          I’m sorry you found the reference to racism offensive. It’s not a reference I would’ve brought into the discussion myself, because I’m whiter than white bread and have no real expertise on the subject, but what the original commenter said sounded valid to me: that people whose bigoted views haven’t changed a bit will still stop saying bigoted things, if it becomes shameful (and they face personal consequences) for doing so. I take your point that all those bigoted things can still be said, with an addendum of ‘just kidding!’

        8. Restructure!

          Because here in Australia, I hear those jokes all the time, and just like the American ass-wipes who tell racist jokes and keep their jobs, the men who tell them keep their jobs here.

          Sorry for being unclear. I meant “Why don’t you do that?” sarcastically. I was trying to make the point that just because blatant bigotry is frowned upon, it doesn’t mean that bigoted jokes are also frowned upon.

          It’s not that I found the reference to racism “offensive”. It’s that white women tend to think that sexism is more socially acceptable than racism, and men of colour tend to think that racism is more socially acceptable than sexism. It’s white privilege and male privilege that makes them think the world is like that.

        9. S

          It’s that white women tend to think that sexism is more socially acceptable than racism, and men of colour tend to think that racism is more socially acceptable than sexism. It’s white privilege and male privilege that makes them think the world is like that.

          I’ll cop to white privilege, but no, I don’t think white women have it worse than men of colour and have never said that. What I do believe, is that different forms of bigotry are expressed in DIFFERENT ways, usually in line with the stereotypes about the group being discriminated against. Some forms of discrimination are common to many groups, but there are plenty of types of discrimination faced by people of colour but not female-identified people, and vice-versa.

          For example, there are stereotypes of particular racial groups being violent. I’ve seen white people fearfully cross the road to avoid people who are members of other racial groups, solely due to their (perceived) ethnicity. Unsurprisingly, members of those racial groups also end up in jail at disproportionately high rates, often for crimes for which a White Dood wouldn’t be imprisoned. That’s one form of discrimination that white women definitely don’t face, IME.

          One of the big challenges facing female-identified people, is that most western countries’ laws against hate speech and hate crimes don’t recognize gender as a possible motive for either, so the most extreme forms of misogyny (e.g. shooting a group of strangers because they’re female) aren’t recognized for what they are. You can read newspaper accounts of a ‘disgruntled man’ doing that, and there’s no hint that such a thing is a hate crime; if anything, the motive is likely to be described in victim-blaming terms re how the poor fellow was rejected by so many callow, heartless wimminz that he just got all frustrated and decided to kill a bunch of ‘em. Not the ones who actually rejected him, mind, but complete strangers… but no, not a hate crime.

          The fact that laws exist (in many western countries) against racist hate speech and hate crimes doesn’t mean racism is over; it means campaigners prioritized and fought for recognition of racially motivated crimes, and eventually succeeded in having laws passed to offer some protection. Not all racist hate speech or hate crimes are properly identified or prosecuted, but at least there’s an actual law against it! That seems like an extremely important bit of progress in trying to eradicate racism, to my privileged white-girl eyes.

          If similar laws were one day passed with regard to sexist hate speech or hate crimes, that would be an important bit of progress in trying to eradicate sexism. It would be a step away from normalizing rape and other forms of violence that disproportionately effect women, and we might not be having so many discussions about whether it’s OK to refer to rape flippantly in various contexts, e.g. tech presentations. I still don’t think it’s wrong to look at the progress that has been made in addressing racism, and see whether there are methods of fighting bigotry we feminists can use, too.

          Saying that progress has been made on particular issues doesn’t equate to dismissing the challenges any marginalized group still faces. (And FWIW, I hate arguments about who’s got it worst, ‘cos they keep marginalized people fighting each other.)

  5. Eleutheria

    Thank you for this line: “Bondage is not only not to everyone’s taste, but is downright threatening to some people.”

    You wouldn’t believe how many people just don’t get it. Or maybe you know already.

  6. jess

    In the original post, when you wrote “homo-erotic”, did you mean “homophobic”? Or if not, can you clarify? I agree that a platform presentation at a tech conference is not an acceptable place to make “gay jokes”. But I think especially for gay people reclaiming certain slurs and generally being out and proud, humor is a valuable tool, so to my mind, homoerotic jokes have their place. And I want to distinguish strongly between homoerotic jokes (that have gay/lesbian/bi content) vs. homophobic jokes (that denigrate gay/lesbian/bi people).

    1. Jacinta

      I did actually mean homo-erotic, although you’re not the first person to ask this. Clearly I should have added homophobic jokes as well though. Homo-erotic jokes have their place, but I don’t think that place is within conference talks (in the same way that hetro-erotic jokes aren’t appropriate either).

      The slide in Mark’s talk that caused this thought was one of two stick figures pushing a car, on a road sign (possibly photoshopped). The picture could be seen as (and I expect was seen as) one stick figure leaning on the car while the other stood behind them. I didn’t feel the image was designed to denigrate glbti people, any more than I felt the other images I objected to were designed to denigrate women, men, bdsm play etc. Others may disagree, I’m willing to consider this borderline.

      Of course the intent of the pictures themselves is secondary to how they were used. This was used in exactly the same way as the other images that were objected to. “We are f”’ed”.

      1. jess

        Thanks for the reply- so I guess the objection is mainly to using crude sexual humor (whether gay or straight) in a conference talk, and I agree that that’s not acceptable, for the reasons you explained in your post. Which was great, by the way.

  7. Dichotomy Hubris

    Thank-you Jacinta for your frankness, courage and insight.

    But thank-you most of all for including statistics on male sexual assult. I often feel forgotten and marginalised in these sort of conversations and appreciate being included this time.

    I think if I were an organiser of a conference such as linux.conf.au, and a speaker prefaced his or her talk with a PG-13 rating, I would end the presentation right there and then. Don’t care who they are.

    Dic H.

  8. Ben

    I’d like to make a small contribution to this conversation. Last night while browsing older posts on the site I discovered the PA debacle, which I’d hadn’t given much thought to when the original strips appeared. I guess they’d rolled over me then, call it privilege, but when I began reading last night I realized it wouldn’t be possible to remain neutral. So I’ve lost a lot of respect for the PA guys for this. I think they could have said that their tastelessness is in their public persona and still demonstrated sensitivity to rape survivors’ concerns, and apologize, but evidently they’re not ready to do that.

    I’m not at all familiar with Mark Pesce’s keynote, but reading this discussion prompts me to consider how I may overlook rape. I try to be an enlightened guy, but I know it’s always easier to judge others than yourself by your own standards.

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