Let’s do the linkspam again (25 July 2014)

  • Why Captain America Should Stay Black Forever | E.Knight at Boxing With God (July 19): “Comic book fans born today should grow up knowing this is Captain America. There should be no doubt.  The idea that a black man could represent the ultimate patriot is only ironic if our society continues to insist that White is America’s default race.”
  • New Thor Will be a Woman! Five Other Heroines Who Have Taken Up a Man’s Title | Mey at Autostraddle (July 22): “Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feminizing a name, there is a lot of clout that comes with the name Thor. By not adding “She-,” “Lady” or “Ms.” to the name, they are saying that this character isn’t a sidekick or partner to Thor, they’re saying that she isn’t “inspired by” Thor, they’re saying she simply is Thor. [...] While Thor is the most high-profile example of this, it’s not the first. Here are some of my favorite examples of this happening before.”
  • How Big of a Problem is Harassment at Comic Conventions? Very Big. | Janelle Asselin at bitchmedia (July 22)[warning for discussion of harassment] “It’s not difficult to see why conventions can be rife with harassment. People in my survey report being harassed by fans, journalists, publishing employees, and comics creators, so there are issues at every level of the industry. Conventions involve cramming a lot of people into one space where ideally everyone gets to move around. This means there are a lot of brush-by maneuvers, awkward running into people, and a lot of general closeness. [...] This is the first time ever that SDCC has made a specific anti-harassment policy so prominent and offered a clear course of action for fans who are harassed.”
  • Killing the Messenger at Mozilla | Tim Chevalier at Model View Culture (July 21) (disclosure: Tim Chevalier contributes to geekfeminism.org): “In 2012, it was nearly taboo at Mozilla to question the individualist narrative: the story that says that Eich, like any other employee, could spend his paycheck in whatever manner he chose. In 2014, Mozillans had no choice but to engage with a more structural narrative: that it’s impossible to lead a diverse organization when you have openly and obdurately expressed animus towards members of a protected class. [...] If we take [the Mozilla leaders] at face value, they did not understand why anyone would think that queer people’s rights were relevant to an open-source software project — surely they must have been aware that LGBTQ people worked for them.”
  • WisCon…This is How You Fail | The Angry Black Woman (July 20): “Race, gender, and class have all been issues at various points for me at WisCon. Most incidents fall into microaggression territory, and as a personal philosophy I tend not to let those dissuade me from things I want to do. That is an eminently personal choice, and should not be construed as telling anyone else what to do or how to feel. If my friends stop going, then so will I.”
  • The Pay-for-Performance Myth | Eric Chemi and Ariana Giorgi at Bllomberg Business Week (July 22): “An analysis of compensation data publicly released by Equilar shows little correlation between CEO pay and company performance. Equilar ranked the salaries of 200 highly paid CEOs. When compared to metrics such as revenue, profitability, and stock return, the scattering of data looks pretty random, as though performance doesn’t matter. The comparison makes it look as if there is zero relationship between pay and performance.”
  • Coder livetweets sexist remarks allegedly made by IBM executives | Aja Romano at The Daily Dot (July 22): “Note to IBM executives: If you’re going to openly discuss why you think young women make bad hires in the tech industry, you might want to make sure you’re not having lunch next to a young mom who’s also a coder. [...] According to [Lyndsay] Kirkham, the executives listed off a number of women who are currently employed at IBM, all of whom apparently have kids, and listed the amount of time the women were expected to take off in the next few years for anticipated pregnancies.”
  • #iamdoingprogramming made me feel more alienated from the tech community | Christina Truong at Medium (July 21): “In the eight years that I’ve been in the tech industry, I’ve worked with one Black person that was in a tech role and a handful in non-tech roles (project managers) and that’s a damn shame. [...] Diversity doesn’t mean pushing those that are already there out of the group. It simply means making space for different kinds of people, different opinions and opening up the culture instead of spotlighting and finding the same kind of person over and over again. It’s about showing people that there are different ways to be successful in this industry. It’s about telling everyone’s story.”
  • Numbers are not enough: Why I will only attend conferences with explicitly enforceable Codes of Conduct and a commitment to accessibility | Jennie Rose Halperin (July 22): “I recently had a bad experience at a programming workshop where I was the only woman in attendance and eventually had to leave early out of concern for my safety. [...] What happened could have been prevented: each participant signed a “Code of Conduct” that was buried in the payment for the workshop, but there was no method of enforcement and nowhere to turn when issues arose.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The Large Linkspam Collider (22 July 2014)

  •  how to recruit a diverse team | the evolving ultrasaurus: “There is no quick fix to diversity hiring. The easiest way to hire for diversity is to start with diversity — to start when you add the second person on your team — but if you reading this post, you likely have an imbalanced or homogeneous team. I’ve primarily written this for all-white or all-male teams in tech.”
  • The Problem With Science| Shakesville: “This doesn’t speak well of one of the industry’s leading publications. It also doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence (which, as I’ve already explained, I’m short on) that the folks making or breaking careers by deciding which papers are “sexy” enough to publish are going to have the professionalism to ground their decisions in something other than a creepy desire to excite their presumed readership of straight white cis guys.”
  • A handy template for online trolls: “It has come to my attention that you are [a person of color/woman/ LGBTQ/differently abled/immigrant] and you have posted an online essay suggesting that your situation in life is somehow challenging because of a circumstance relating to people who are not in your condition. As an Internet commenter, it is my mouse-driven duty to anonymously respond to your post. I’m not sure what would happen if I failed to do so, but I saw what happened when they stopped pushing the button in LOST so I will not take any chances.”
  • No More “Put A Skirt On It” | molly.is/saying: “Good news: the next time you draw a person or create a user avatar, you have an opportunity to fight the sexist patriarchal bullshit! Like many instances of patriarchy-smashing, it’s not actually that hard once you get the principles down. Here are 2 simple rules to keep you on track.”
  • Ninja Pizza Girl and The Thorny Tangle of Girlhood | Apple Cider Mage: “The crux of it is Jason Stark, the head of Disparity Games, relating precisely how and why Ninja Pizza Girl came to be. He talks about how the concept came straight from his childrens’ mouths but more importantly he  also describes the stumbles in his own assumptions about not only game design but also about his daughters’ growing vulnerability as they move into teen-hood and beyond. It was a bit of insight that I found intriguing, not so much as a gamer, but rather as a woman.”
  • Opinion: Selena Deckelmann on Portland tech’s gender divide | Portland Business Journal: “I was surprised and horrified to discover every woman in tech I knew had similar, and, disturbingly, far worse stories than mine. Many of these women, successful in tech and making good money, supported families and could not just quit and find another job in the small job market in Portland. Sure, they could move to another city — but with kids, spouses with jobs or in school, these decisions are rarely simple.”
  • Feminism and (Un)Hacking | Journal of Peer Production: CFP for articles on feminism and hacker/makerspaces: “With this special issue of the Journal of Peer Production, we hope to delve more deeply into these critiques to imagine new forms of feminist technical praxis that redefine these practices and/or open up new ones. How can we problematize hacking, tinkering, geeking and making through feminist theories and epistemologies? How do these practices, in fact, change when we begin to consider them through a feminist prism? Can we envision new horizons of practice and possibility through a feminist critique?”
  • San Fran tech types: what you need to know to move to Oakland | Live Work Oakland: “I’d like these young dudes coming to my town to actually see ALL the people coming up in tech in Oakland around me–the many Black, Latino, queer, female, and trans folks who, like all of us, show up in so many different ages, styles, and sizes, but who have a place, just like the white bros do. And  if these new folks coming into Oakland can’t see the folks who are already here, can’t change, I’d like them to just get the F* out of the way and take one of those corporate buses right back to where they came from .”
  • Meanwhile, in an alternate universe… | Infotropism: Read Skud’s take on what google+’s announcement re: pseudonyms SHOULD have been.
  • Canceling TRUCEConf | TRUCEConf: Trust, Respect, Unity, Compassion, and Equality: “I would say that it’s with a heavy heart that I am canceling this conference, if it weren’t for the sense of relief that comes with this announcement. I have struggled with this for long enough. The time has come to let it go.” (We covered TRUCEConf back in November 2013.)
  • “Pay a heavy price for it” | rosefox: “That’s the Frenkel story. He’s supposed to pay a price for getting what he wanted–the opportunity to harass a couple of women–but all he loses is four years of Wiscon. However, anyone who doesn’t want to be around harassers loses Wiscon forever.” (See also: the Chair of the Harassment Policy Committee responds to feedback about this decision, and more general thoughts on harassment at conferences from Publishers Weekly’s Genreville: What Conventions Are and Aren’t.)
  • Free Online Game Simulates Coming Out Experience | GLBT News: “The game is based on Case’s own coming out process, and it allows the player to choose a variety of conversational choices throughout the storyline. Characters remember what you have said, and they constantly refer back to choices that were made previously in the game. The games tagline is “a half-true game about half-truths.” The game has three endings, but like it promises at the very beginning, there are no easy or clean results. Everything is messy…just like the coming out process itself.”
  • Black Girls Hunger for Heroes, Too: A Black Feminist Conversation on Fantasy Fiction for Teens | Bitch Media: “What happens when two great black women fiction writers get together to talk about race in young adult literature? That’s exactly what happens in the conversation below, where  Zetta Elliott, a black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels, and stories for children, and award-winning Haitian-American speculative fiction writer Ibi Aanu Zoboi decided to discuss current young adult sci-fi. “

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

It has been zero days since the last sexist incident in tech

[Content warning: sexual objectification.]

Obie Fernandez is the author of The Rails Way, the editor of Addison-Wesley’s Professional Ruby Series, and a co-founder and CTO of Javelin, a startup that builds “tools and services to help you change your world”.

Fernandez also, apparently, can’t talk about technology without reminding everybody that he has, on some occasion or another, had sex. Despite being a CTO, he also apparently doesn’t know that the Internet doesn’t have an erase button — which goes to show you that extremely poor judgment doesn’t stop you from getting copious VC funding for your company, if you’re male.


A screenshot of a tweet from Obie Fernandez, which he later deleted

Fernandez’s Twitter bio declares, “Author, Programmer, Dad”. Usually (certainly not always, I’m aware!) being a dad implies that you have had sex at least once. But it’s so important for Fernandez to remind us that he has had sex — with people of multiple ages — that he also has to inject tortured sexual analogies into what could have been a perfectly benign programming language flame war.

At 8:36 PM tonight (in my time zone, anyway, Fernandez tweeted, “still not sure exactly what I’m supposed to apologize for other than being a bit crass about 20-year old people.”

By 9:11 PM, Fernandez had evidently thought about it deeply and carefully enough to issue a retraction. I guess the “lean startup” approach is so powerful that its adherents can go from sneering at their critics (including a risible attempt to backjustify his sexism with an appeal to pansexuality — folks, we’ve been over that already) to heartfelt apology in less than 40 minutes. (I fear that his apology may not be entirely heartfelt, though, as he quickly moved on to declaring that he’s “not a sexist” and attempting to pay for his blunder by citing all the women he hires.)

Readers of this blog are aware that one asshat in tech would have little effect on his own, if he were indeed an isolated case. They are equally aware that Fernandez is no anomaly of asshaberdashery. I think the hapless Fernandez is providing us with a valuable lesson: the message to “not feed the trolls” is a dangerous one. While any given individual absolutely can and should disengage with trolls when necessary to protect their physical and mental health, engaging with them can have value. Judging from his Twitter avatar, Mr. Fernandez is at least 30 years old. That makes 30 years or more in which not a single person in his life has told him that the world generally does not need to know that he has done a sex. Perhaps his demeanor makes them afraid to challenge him. Perhaps they don’t think it’s worth the time. Who knows? But at one point in his life, one presumes that he was impressionable — one knows that he’s impressionable, since nobody acts like he does unless they get rewarded for it. Rewarded with laughs, with buddy-buddy slaps on the back from fellow bros, with congratulations on how delightfully politically incorrect he is, with 1.5 million dollars of venture capital money from the likes of Mark Suster, Eric Ries, and 500 Startups.

Back when I was first dabbling in Usenet in the mid-1990s, it was conventional wisdom that trolls were usually children sitting at a computer in their mothers’ basements. That, in other words, they had no real power other than the ability to rustle a few jimmies for a moment. It’s 2014 now, and some of those children have grown up and become technology executives — people with hiring and firing power, with a lot of control over a big part of the economy. If the adults in the room had spent a bit more time trying to socialize those children (because clearly, they weren’t getting it from their parents) and less time stating their troll-starving prowess, perhaps we would be able to attend a conference without hearing about some guy’s crotch.

Postscript: On Twitter, Matt Adereth pointed out this 2005 blog post from Fernandez:

I didn’t particularly like Ruby the first time I met her. I thought she was interesting, but a few months later (to my surprise) something changed. I started seeing her appealing qualities. My friends really spoke highly of Ruby, so we started spending time together. The love affair began in February 2005 and about a month later, things started getting pretty bad with my wife, Java. Even when I was doing Java, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ruby and how much better she is for me.

So it looks like Mr. Fernandez has been unnecessarily sexualizing technical discussions for fun and profit for quite some time. As Adereth observed, it also looks like Fernandez’s use of the “who said I was talking about women?” derailing tactic is entirely disingenuous.

Solicitation on flipping the script

This is a guest post by April Wright. April is a graduate student in evolutionary biology at the University of Texas at Austin. When she’s not crunching data at her computer, she teaches courses for novice biologists so they can learn some computation. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gaming, running with her dogs and spending time in the kitchen. You can get ahold of her at her website or Twitter.

So I wrote a blog post that went a little bit viral the other day. And a lot of people have asked in the past couple days what can be done to improve the atmosphere at programming meetings. I’ve been chewing on that pretty substantially.

I’ve had a lot of good discussions over the past couple days (help yourself to warm fuzzies here).

Reader bioatmosphere made a very good point in the comments, pulled out below:

The burden to fix things shouldn’t be on you just because you’re experiencing them

She’s right, of course. And that reminded me of this post by Cate Huston, which closes with a section called “Changing the Conversation”. I’ll copy the crucial bit (do read the whole thing, though) below:

Are you doing meaningful work?

Do you feel appreciated?

Do you feel respected?

And I’m going to tack on one more:

Do you feel like you’re part of something?

Because I think that’s what really got me: I felt like I was part of something, then I didn’t. It’s not just being snubbed that hurts, it’s a sense of loss of a community I kinda thought I fit with.

Since I have some ears bent towards me for a bit: People who feel integrated in communities and happy at meetings, what about it? What about these communities and meetings that makes you feel appreciated? Or respected? Or part of something? And what could you do to help someone else feel that?

Get at me via whatever channel preferred. [Mod note: while we normally do not encourage anonymous comments, they are acceptable on this post. Please note that your IP address will be logged, but is only visible to blog administrators.]

A Swiftly Tilting Linkspam

  • Why Silicon Valley needs the coder grrrls of Double Union, the feminist hacker space | Fast Company: “Unlike Sheryl Sandberg’s brand of feminism, which puts the responsibility on women to lean in, the Double Unioneers take a structural approach. It’s the system that needs fixing, not women.”
  • Why can’t Thor be a woman? Geek culture isn’t just for guys | The Guardian (July 16): “‘The burgeoning Thor controversy is part of a network of problems to do with representation in comics, but one aspect in particular weighs heaviest in this context. We, as a western culture, still struggle with androcentrism – the belief that male experience is the norm and that everything else is, at best, a derivation of the norm and, at worst, abnormal.”
  • Men interrupt more than women | Language Log (July 14): “Let’s pause and dwell on this for a sec: In fifteen hours of conversation that included 314 total interruptions, I observed a total of 13 examples of women interrupting male speakers. That is less than once per hour, in a climate where interruptions occur an average of once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds. Does anyone else think this is a big deal?”
  • For women on the Internet, it doesn’t get better | The Daily Dot (July 16): “Between 4Chan, Men’s Rights Activist groups, the Reddit Red Pill community, pick-up artist (PUA) groups, and anti-PUA groups like the one that Elliot Rodger clung to so dearly, the Internet has allowed men to band together more efficiently than ever before to threaten and antagonize women. Every woman with an online presence has a story to share about unwanted contact, sexual harassment, and predatory behavior.”
  • Dropping the F bomb | Geek Feminism (July 8): “Women in tech groups are not necessarily feminist. Some actively work against feminist ideals.”
  • Changing the World with a Breath and a Test | Marlena’s Blog (July 11): “Our mentoring relationship has been the difference between me putting this app in your hands vs. me building another fake twitter cobbled together from web tutorials and stack overflow.  That’s power.  Having someone tell me that, yes, I can do this even if I feel like an idiot, is a machete cutting deep into imposter syndrome.”
  • The problem of Richard Feynman | Galileo’s Pendulum (July 13): “But ‘Sherlock’ is fiction; Feynman was a real person, and those he hurt were no less real people than he was. Sure, it’s easy to abstract them: we don’t know the names of the women he met at bars, the wives of graduate students he emotionally blackmailed into ‘relationships’, the ‘airhead’ female undergraduates in his classes, or the waitresses he pranked just so he could get a self-satisfied story out of it later. We can justify uncomfortably to ourselves that they’re ‘just some women’, but Feynman is Feynman: he’s important symbolically for physics.”
  • Heroes, human “foibles”, and science outreach | Doing Good Science (July 13): “Science outreach doesn’t just deliver messages about what science knows or about the processes by which that knowledge is built. Science outreach also delivers messages about what kind of people scientists are (and about what kinds of people can be scientists). There is a special danger lurking here if you are doing science outreach by using a hero like Feynman and you are not a member of a group likely to have been hurt by his behavior. You may believe that the net effect of his story casts science and scientists in a way that will draw people in, but it’s possible you are fooling yourself.”
  • What’s the scariest thing in the world? Ask your teenage daughter | Polygon (July 15): More questions to Raven are met with disconcertingly direct answers. I’m shown a side of her life I hadn’t seen before. A world of loneliness and struggle where insults and exclusion are used to devastating effect. Teenage girls have problems that are far more real, and far scarier, than zombies.”
  • Gaymerx2: Internetting while Female Panel | Geeks Out (July 13): “Given the dark reality of the subject matter, this could have easily been a depressing recollection of the ugliest manifestations of human behavior on the internet. Instead, the panel struck an abidingly hopeful note and left quite a few people inspired to collectively work toward an ever-better future in gaming. “
  • Computer scientist and devoted educator Susan B. Horwitz dies | University of Wisconsin-Madison News (July 15): “An expert in programming languages and software engineering, Horwitz had been a member of the UW-Madison faculty for nearly 30 years. Among many professional accomplishments, she championed the encouragement of students who might otherwise overlook opportunities in computing…Particularly during the last decade, Horwitz strove to attract underrepresented students, particularly women and targeted minorities, to computer science and ensure their success. She was a founding member of the Academic Alliance of the National Center for Women and IT, based in Boulder, Colorado.”
  • Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Reality of Being a Woman in Tech | Social Ergonomics (July 11): “This is what is so insidious about the current state of affairs for women in the tech world. Even compliments come with strings attached. You know that even if you’re awesome and can keep up with the best of the best, you are still an outsider. Each compliment that ends with “for a woman”, reinforces the fact that according to all expectations, you’re not supposed to be comfortable with computers and technology.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Are your lulz low quality? Valerie Aurora is here to help

Warning for mention of sexual assault, and extensive discussion of harassment.

In May, my GF co-blogger and Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora posted Handy tips for my Internet harassers on her blog. They included:

Threatening my job: Unfortunately, I am my own boss. Try emailing one of the Ada Initiative sponsors? Although they might take that as a sign that the Ada Initiative is doing important work and make another donation. Hmmmm. Maybe create a Yelp page for my file systems consulting business and leave bad reviews? Endorse me for CSS on LinkedIn?

Rape and death threats: Run spell check! There’s nothing more jarring than reading an otherwise creative and well-written death threat and then seeing “decapetate.” Also, chain-saws are so last year. Remember, Gmail won’t display images by default. P.S. I happen to know one of the members of Nirvana and your bright idea has already been done.

Why did she do such a thing, and what resulted? Geek Feminism obtained an exclusive tell-all interview.

Q. Have you received any harassment as a result of this post? Was its quality indeed improved?

Sadly, no. Part of the problem is that my friends loved it — I’ve never had so much positive feedback on a post — but they didn’t want to share it with other people online. I like to joke that it’s the ultimate in dark social since people only talk about it offline using vibrations in the air called “sound.” I think that my friends are more afraid of me being harassed than I am.

Q. The post is pretty out there! Why did you put this post up? What point are you trying to make?

“Self-doxxing” myself (thanks, Kate Losse for the term) was inspired in part by how incompetent and bad the online harassment that I’ve received has been. Most people doing online harassment are just trying to impress other online harassers, at the same time that what they are doing is, frankly, totally unimpressive. The reality is, anyone can spend $25 and get another person’s home address and a bunch of other personal information, but we act like it is some kind of amazing act of computer hacking. By showing how bad people are at online harassing, I’m hoping to remove some of the motivation for people to do the harassment, or at least make them spend more time on it before they get the reward of “so cool, bro!”

I was also inspired by Krystal Ball , who ran for U.S. congress in 2010. When her political opponents tried to slut-shame her into quitting her political campaign over “sexy photos” of herself that they published, she turned around and shamed THEM — both her opponent and the media outlets that published the photos. It was glorious, and it hit home for me: if we let the existence of sexy photo of a woman prevent her from serving in political office, then I and every woman born after 1990 were out of luck. Women’s representation in political office would go down.

Q. Should other people do this?

For most people, no, I wouldn’t recommend it. It was okay for me for a lot of reasons: I already went public about sexual abuse in my family, I’m white, I’m my own boss, I don’t have children or a partner, I have skills that are in high demand, I have lots of friends and a huge support network — my emotional, physical, and economic safety is pretty good. Most women have a lot more to lose.

However, I think it is a very good exercise to think about worst cases like this: what if the thing I am most afraid of other people finding out got published all over the Internet? Because a lot of times, that thing actually doesn’t reflect on you – the shame is on the person who did the original act or publicized a private matter. It can be healing to plan what you might do, even if you don’t actually go public with it yourself.

Q. Why won’t you accept my endorsement for CSS on LinkedIn? I taught you everything you know, dammit.

I’d hate to embarrass you by letting anyone else know that you are the source of my mangled <div>’s! [Ed: good point, well made.]

Q. When are you monetising this? How can investors contact you? How big is your Series A and at what valuation?

Actually, that is a great idea. Instead of vetting a political candidate and saying yes or no, you investigate them and then publish everything that might be a problem in a funny blog post.

Or better yet, here is my favorite idea: If I ever run for political office, I’m going to scan in all my embarrassing naked photos, then watermark them with the email addresses of various journalists. Then email them anonymously to said journalists. Then when the photos get published (it’s “news,” someone else would have, etc.), I can expose the specific person who decided that slut-shaming a candidate was “news” and put the shame where it belongs. Sexism-shaming as a service, SSaaS. I’m accepting funding now.

A Series of Unfortunate Linkspams (11 July 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites. You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so). Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

How will our Code of Conduct improve our harassment handling?

Warning for mentions of self-harm.

This is an edited version of an email I wrote to other Geek Feminism bloggers following adoption of the Geek Feminism Code of Conduct and during the drafting of Mary’s postmortem, in response to some concerns that we have not in fact improved anything over our previous ad hoc processes, particularly in cases where there are fears a harasser will threaten or commit self-harm in response to any consequences for their harassment.

Here are the differences I believe our Code of Conduct will make to handling harassment incidents in our community:

We’re removing harasser leverage.

Not strictly Code of Conduct, but code-adjacent: we’ve been working to eliminate single points of failure in our social and technical infrastructure, and are getting an established ethic in place of treating those as a problem both for logistical and for potential harassment/abuse reasons.

Our formal reporting process allows us to respond faster.

Previously, knowledge about the harasser had to work its way through back-channels. Relevant decision makers could go unaware of the situation for months, and the victim’s privacy was reliant the discretion of an expanding group of people.

Now, there is a clear reporting process that allows people with concerns to reach the people empowered to act on those concerns all at once, in confidence.

A Code of Conduct focuses the conversation on the specific incident in question.

Without a Code and anti-abuse team in place, any harassment situation is a conflict over what is and isn’t acceptable in the community. At least one person — the harasser — thinks what they’re doing is cool. Getting them to stop isn’t just about enforcing community standards — it’s also about establishing them.

With a Code in place, everyone has agreed ahead of time that these are the rules. Whether the harasser personally feels that it’s okay to — say — hug people without consent, they are bound by a harassment policy that forbids it. It takes the conflict out of the realm of values and concepts — “is it okay to hug people without consent?” — and into the realm of facts — “is this person hugging people without consent?”

A public Code of Conduct will help hold us accountable.

Another way that Codes of Conduct make communities safer is that public commitments help hold organizations accountable to their values. We have made a public commitment not to tolerate harassment, and to do whatever we need to do to prevent it — including removing people. That, again, takes the question away from general community values and into the specifics of the particular case in front of us.

None of us want someone to go hurt themselves, but none of us want harassers around, either. We’ve now publicly stated that the latter is our first priority in harassment cases. That moves the conversation from “is it okay to remove someone if they might hurt themselves?” to “is there any way to mitigate the risk that this person we have to remove might hurt themselves?”

That public commitment is also going to help inoculate us against second-guessing in other cases — like if we have to remove a beloved member of the community, or someone who we feel bad for because they are socially awkward, have no other support network, are going through a rough time, etc. I’m not saying it’s going to eliminate all difficulty or make us completely heartless to a person’s circumstances. But we’ve now put up our community’s reputation as collateral, which is going to provide a strong incentive to stick to our stated principles.

Our investigating process protects victims from the harasser and their friends.

Anyone who’s been part of a community that had to vote or consense on removing somebody knows that those discussions can flirt with community-wrecking disaster. If we didn’t have a process and I had to tell all the bloggers that, say, Liz was harassing me (she’s not, but if she was), fear of the ensuing drama would be a strong incentive against coming forward. I would be inclined to keep it to back-channels until I was confident I had enough support to get her removed and not get blamed for being mean to her/starting drama.

The anti-abuse team is empowered to keep my report in confidence and act on it — without me having to publicly name my harasser and potentially endure the whole community debating my safety in front of me (and my harasser).  That would make me feel more comfortable coming forward sooner.

There’s still a possibility that people might choose to leave the community over an anti-abuse decision, or debate it in their own spaces. But the decision will get made without a lengthy and potentially hurtful public discussion, and we’re not going to have it rehashed in GF spaces after the fact. Victims of harassment do not have to fear that their safety or integrity will be a subject of public discussion or debate within GF.

The Anti-Abuse Team can move faster than the community as a whole

Related to the above: the Anti-Abuse Team is going to be able to move faster because we’ve already explicitly been empowered to make the decision, and can do so without having to engage the entire community in a very difficult and probably painful discussion.

The new process protects those who have to interact with a harasser outside of GF.

If Alice has to work with Barb and Barb is expelled for harassment, whatever Alice’s personal opinions on the matter, she can honestly say that she wasn’t involved in the decision (if Alice is on the anti-abuse team, she can recuse herself from Barb’s case). If Barb holds it against Alice anyway, then the fact that a formal process was followed gives Alice a much more credible way to describe the problem if she chooses to take it up with her supervisor, or the leadership of another community.

It also takes Alice out of the conflict between Barb and Geek Feminism so that it’s not an interpersonal conflict between two employees/community members (which is likely to be perceived as the fault of both parties), but rather a conflict between Barb and a third party (Geek Feminism) that Barb is unprofessionally/inappropriately bringing into the workplace or into the other community.


 

At the end of the day, our process is only as good as the people who implement it, and it won’t solve everything. But it can make it easier and safer for victims to come forward, and improve the speed and quality of our responses. It will also help protect both victims and the community from some of the pain and ugliness that poor harassment handling can cause.

The mayor of linkspam street (8 July 2014)

  • Who Died and Made You Khaleesi? Privilege, White Saviors, and the Elusive Male Feminist Who Doesn’t Suck | The Daily Beast: “Becoming one of the good guys should hurt. It should be painful. It should involve seeing uncomfortable and ugly things about yourself that you’d rather not see. It should involve changing your behavior in ways that you’d honestly rather not do.”
  • Science Magazine and my thoughts on good journalistic practice | Erin C. McKiernan: “First, after conversations with several other sources quoted in the piece, it became clear that the author had contacted them and given them the opportunity to correct any errors or clarify their views. I would have appreciated being afforded the same opportunity. The detail has not escaped me that every other source besides myself quoted in the piece is male.  If as a journalist, contacting all your male sources and not your female ones doesn’t look like discrimination to you, then you might want to reexamine your definition.”
  • BioWare announces the first exclusively gay character in ‘Dragon Age’: “Dorian, introduced on the Dragon Age: Inquisition website on Friday, is written as a gay character and will be a romance option exclusively for male protagonists”
  • Ride like a girl — Medium: Nice analogy, all the more poignant considering that the Victorian English bicycle was by and large a feminist technology.
  • Why We Should Care How Straight Allies Benefit From Their Support | The Society Pages: “We would suggest that something similar is happening with straight male allies. We all participate in defining the work of equality as not their work by over-thanking them, just like housework is defined as not men’s work. By lauding recognition on these ‘brave’ men in positions of power (racial, sexual, gendered, and in some cases classed) we are saying to them and to each other: This is not your job, so thank you for ‘helping out’ with equality.”
  • Stop Erasing Women from Tech History — The Message | Medium: “Part of the reason the Tinder co-founders tried to erase Wolfe is they believed a “girl founder” both “devalued” the company and made Tinder “look like a joke.” The irony is, Wolfe might have been the reason early users trusted Tinder enough to sign up.”
  • Feminist Point of View: A Geek Feminism Retrospective: HTML slides from Skud’s presentation on GF history at Open Source Bridge.
  • Power, abuse, fandom | No Award: [CW: Sexual abuse, child abuse, victim grooming] “It’s part of the nature of the internet that we can’t control what happens to something after it’s posted…  But I think it’s worth coming back to this issue again and reconsidering it in light of recent revelations and current knowledge about the way child abusers operate.  We need to consider our current status quo and the opportunities it creates for abuse.  Otherwise, in another twenty years, we’re just going to have more of these terrible revelations.”
  • New startup aims to help one million girls get their geek on | iTWire: “The Girl Geek Academy website went online yesterday and explains “Our mission is to increase the number of women with technology skills. The current internet was primarily built by men and we want to know what the internet would look like if there were more women building it.”
  • Organizational Anti-Patterns | hypatia dot ca: “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about organizational behavior, partly as a result of taking this cool Coursera class last year. (I wrote papers! Voluntarily!)  A couple of things keep coming up that I haven’t seen articulated elsewhere very much. So I wrote them down.”
  • follow up | Honour Your Inner Magpie: “But the other day, I asked for a copy of my report from last year. I was told WisCon doesn’t have one. There aren’t words for how sick that made me feel. WisCon needs to do better.”

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Thanks to everyone who suggested links.