Author Archives: Guest Blogger

About Guest Blogger

Geek Feminism invites guest posts from writers around the 'net on geeky feminist topics. See our guest post page to submit a post.

Cross-post: Start your own b(r)and: Everything I know about starting collaborative, feminist publications

This is a cross-post from Amelia Greenhall’s blog.

I am very hopeful that other intersectional feminist tech publications – possibly many others – will start in the coming year. This blog post is my way of supporting these nascent publications: an offering of everything I’ve learned about starting and running publishing companies.

After I wrote a blog post (What it was like to co-found Model View Culture with Shanley Kane) that disclosed that my business partner had been emotionally and verbally abusive, a number of people who had written for Model View Culture wrote nuanced, thoughtful pieces about it. (Links at the end.) In particular, Amelia Abreu wrote “Now start yr own band: on relationships, trauma, and tech feminism”. The last sentence of her essay really resonated with me:

“To borrow an old riot grrrl catchphrase, “Now start yr own band”. I neither want nor need to be aligned with a movement that is led unilaterally, and I also have no problem supporting those who need to control their own visions. We have the momentum, so now let’s start a bunch of new conversations and some new venues for them.”

At the moment, I have no interest in (or time for) starting another intersectional feminist tech publication, but I do possess a lot of knowledge about what goes into running one. I have pulled it all together here in hopes that it will help people who are considering starting a new publication. Here’s my (California/USA-flavored) advice on publishing, collaborating, budgeting, business incorporating, working with lawyers, being profitable, and anything else I thought was both important and non-obvious. I also asked Valerie Aurora (co-founder of The Ada Initiative and one of the women I co-founded Double Union with) to contribute to this article, including the sections on incorporation, choosing a founder, choosing a board of directors and advisors, making a budget, and raising money.

May this be of use.

— Amelia Greenhall (@ameliagreenhall), San Francisco, January 2015

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On Getting Paid to Speak

In response to a thread on a private mailing list, a prominent woman in tech wrote this fantastic rundown of the details of getting paid to speak, including which speaker bureaus represent which kinds of speakers. We are re-posting an anonymized version of it with her permission in the hopes that with better information, more women will get paid fairly for their public speaking. Paying women fair wages for their work is a feminist act. This advice applies primarily to United States-based speakers; if you have information about international speaker bureaus, please share it in the comments!

Question: I’m interested in speaking with [members of the private mailing list] who either speak via a speaker bureau/agency, or otherwise get paid for their speaking gigs. I have done an absolute ton of speaking in the past few years (including several keynotes) and I know I’m at the level where I could be asking for money for my speaking, and I also need to reduce the amount I sign up for in order to focus on my own projects. So I’m on the market for an agency and would love to hear numbers from other folks who charge for giving talks. I know several women who ask for $1000-$2000 plus travel costs for engagement, but would love to know if that is typical or low as I definitely do know dudes who get much more.

Thanks!

PS this was a very scary email to write! Asking for others to value your work as work is really difficult!

Answer: I have a lot of experience with this & have done a lot of research. The main U.S. bureaus are:

  • The Leigh Bureau, which represents Nate Silver, Joi Ito, danah boyd, Tim Wu, Don Tapscott, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. Leigh tends to represent so-called public intellectuals, and to do a lot of work crafting the brand and visibility of their speakers in well-thought-out laborious campaigns. It tends to represent people for whom speaking is their FT job (or at least, it’s what pays their bills). Leigh does things like organize paid author tours when a new book comes out. Being repped by Leigh is a major time commitment.
  • The Washington Speakers Bureau: Jonathan Zittrain, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair, Katie Couric, Lou Dobbs, Ezra Klein. These folks specialize in DC/public policy.
  • The Harry Walker Agency: Jimmy Wales, Bill Clinton, Larry Summers, Steve Forbes, Bono, Steven Levitt, Cass Sunstein. These folks tend to rep celebrities and DC types: busy people for whom speaking is a sideline.
  • The Lavin Agency: Jared Diamond, Anderson Cooper, Jonathan Haidt, Lewis Lapham, Steve Wozniak. Lavin does (sort of) generalist public intellectual think-y type people, but is way less commitment than e.g. Leigh. Lavin reps people whose main work is something other than speaking.

(There are probably lots of others including ones that are more specialized, but these are the ones I know.)

I went with Lavin and they’ve been fine. The primary benefits to me are 1) They bring me well-paying talks I wouldn’t otherwise get; 2) they take care of all the flakes so I don’t have to, and they vet to figure out who is a flake; 2) they negotiate the fee; and 3) they handle all the boring logistical details of e.g. scheduling, contractual stuff, reimbursements, etc. I mostly do two types of talks:

  1. The event organizers approach me, and I send them to Lavin. About 80% of these invitations are just [stuff] I would never do, because it pays nothing and/or the event sounds dubious, the expected audience is tiny, I have no idea why they invited me, or whatever. But, about 20% are people/events that I like or am interested in, like advocacy groups, museums, [technical standards bodies], [technical conferences]; TED-x. If I really like the organizers and they are poor, sometimes I will waive my fee and just have them pay expenses. (Warning: if there is no fee, the bureau bows out and I have to handle everything myself. Further warning: twice I have waived my fee and found out later that other speakers didn’t. Bah.) If I get paid for these events, it’s usually about 5K.
  2. The event organizers approach Lavin directly, requesting me. These tend to be professional conferences, where they’re staging something every year and need to come up with a new keynote annually. These are all organized by a corporation or an industry association with money — e.g., Penguin Books, Bain, McKinsey, the American Society of Public Relations Professionals, the Institute of E-Learning Specialists, etc. I do them solely for the money, and I accept them unless I have a scheduling conflict or I really cannot imagine myself connecting with the theme or the audience. These talks are way less fun than the #1 kind above, but they pay more: my fee is usually 25K but occasionally 50K.

For all my talks I get the base fee plus hotel and airfare, plus usually an expenses buyout of about $200 a day. A few orgs can’t do a buyout because of internal policies: that’s worse for me because it means I need to save receipts etc., which is a hassle. Lavin keeps half my fee, which I think is pretty typical. In terms of fees generally, I can tell you from working with bureaus from the other side that 5K is a pretty typical ballpark fee that would usually get a speaker with some public profile (like a David Pogue-level of celebrity) who would be expected to be somewhat entertaining. The drivers of speaker fees are, I think 1) fame, 2) entertainment value and 3) expertise/substance, with the last being the least important. The less famous you are, the more entertaining you’re expected to be. Usually for the high-money talks, there is at least one prep call, during which they tell me what they want: usually it’s a combination of “inspiration” plus a couple of inside-baseball type anecdotes that people can tell their friends about afterwards. The high-money talks are definitely less fun than the low-money ones: the audiences are less engaged, it’s more work for me to provide what they need, everybody cares less, etc.

When I spoke with [a guy at one agency] he told me some interesting stuff about tech conferences, most of which I sadly have forgotten :/ But IIRC I think he said tech conferences tend to pay poorly if at all, because the assumption is that the speaker is benefiting in other ways than cash — they’re consultants who want to be hired by tech companies, they’re pitching a product, trying to hire engineers, building their personal brand, or whatever. Leigh says they’re not lucrative and so they don’t place their people at them much. The real money is in the super-boring stuff, and in PR/social media conferences.

Hope this is useful!

We certainly found it useful. Here are some additional resources which came up in the mailing list thread:

Internet freedom and the EFF’s anti-harassment statement

Today we’re featuring two separate guest posts about online harassment: Dr. Alice Marwick’s post about her research proposal for studying why men harass women online — with a link to a site where you can vote for this proposal to be funded! — and this one, taking a closer look at the EFF‘s recent anti-harassment statement.

This is a guest post from Jem Yoshioka, a writer and illustrator from New Zealand. She grew up on the internet, connecting with people all around the world who like to draw and write. She uses the internet constantly, like many other people on the planet. However, a part of loving something means knowing when it’s a bit broken, and the internet is definitely that. Jem’s illustration work is available online and you can follow her on Twitter.

I’d love to say that the statement EFF made on the 8th of January was anything but a disappointment, but it is. The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community. We’re watching people’s lives burn to the ground and the EFF brings a watering can filled with weak platitudes.

The Internet isn’t built for everyone

Internet freedom. It sounds pretty good on paper. An open and uncapturable internet with truly utopian beliefs and ideals about equality. In our rosiest narratives, the internet is one of the most incredible and liberating human inventions in recent history, and it’s certainly changing how we all live our lives. However, this utopian internet — a place where we can all live, work, socialise and act harmoniously together — has never and most likely will never exist. This is because the internet is largely built with the same patriarchal, cis, white male structures that “real world” societies are built with. It’s built from the same essential building blocks, and those blocks’ stresses, cracks and faults continue to harm the same people.

The internet is designed by and for straight, white, cis dudes. If you look at any of the startups currently vying for your valuable time and attention, you will see numbers of far, far more men than women and almost every single one of them will be white. The higher up you go, the whiter and more male it gets. If you follow the money that’s funding these ventures, you’ll notice a lot of them bear a striking resemblance to each other and also to a tall glass of milk.

White, hetero, cis male privilege is unaware of itself, but this is in part because it’s unaware of everyone else. And if these people are building our infrastructure, then there’s an awful lot of essential tools they’re missing because of their ignorance.

The places these people build are becoming increasingly more essential to our businesses, our work and our social lives, whether we like it or not. The dominance of platforms like Twitter and Facebook is strongly influencing we all use the internet and who can safely use the internet. When push comes to shove, the system protects the people who designed it for their own use; but everyone else is constantly placed at risk both in their online activities and in their physical space.

The thorny topic of harassment

Harassment was the hot-button word of 2014. It seemed like things reached some magical media tipping point and all of a sudden, women receiving rape and death threats online counted as proper “real world” news. But as many of us who are the targets (or potential targets) of this kind of harassment know, this behaviour isn’t something that’s just sprung up magically in the last year. It’s the festering muck that’s been lingering at the bottom of potentially every page, probably since the comment section was invented.

Being a woman on the internet is like playing with a ticking time bomb where you can’t see the timer. It could go off any second, or never, or in five years. It could go off because of something you said or someone else, or something completely unrelated to you. It could be because you like a hobby mostly boys like, or you’ve written that you’re fed up with inequality and sexism, or you’d just like a woman’s face to be on a bank note. It’s all stuff that it’s well within our rights as humans to discuss and have opinions about. But if you do so as a woman, you risk being hit with a harassment bomb.

When a harassment bomb detonates, it ruins lives. Private information is shared, companies boycotted, parents’ phone numbers called. Death threats are sent to conventions where victims plan to speak. Victims are blamed and accused of being “professional victims” all the while, the harassers push for their own financial and social profit.

It’s a constant struggle to write, share, and operate normally in the face of constant harassment. Not all of us are strong enough to stand against a tsunami of verbal and visual effluence day after day, and still manage time to build, construct, run, and manage a business. It’s exhausting even to witness from a safe distance, let alone live through. (Those that do manage, let me just say that I love you and everything you bring us, and your voice means the entire world to me. But I do wish you didn’t have to spend so much of your brilliance keeping your safety watertight.)

Since the targets of online harassment are most often marginalised people, this means we are losing voices. Targets are more likely to be women, of colour, trans, disabled, poor, or informally educated. Usually a mix of things because humans don’t tend to sit nicely in categorised boxes. Not everyone who faces this harassment can cut it, and they shouldn’t have to in order to do a simple thing like be active on the internet. We have no idea how many people have quit or won’t even start down this path because of harassment.

What’s wrong with the EFF’s picture

The EFF as an organisation stands up for a lot of the same things that I want to stand up for. Removal of restrictive DRM, power to people instead of governments, critical looks at spying laws and tackling issues of security. But when it comes to matters that involve harassment or the internet’s own structural biases, they are comparatively quiet. Since harassment silences and self-censors so many of our most marginalised voices, I would assume that an organisation like the EFF would jump onto the issue with all guns blazing. They have commented in the past in small doses, but they often take a relatively conservative approach in order to protect the “real” issue of actual proper free speech.

I’d love to say that the statement EFF made on the 8th of January was anything but a disappointment, but it is. The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community. We’re watching people’s lives burn to the ground and the EFF brings a watering can filled with weak platitudes.

What we are seeing with online abuse can’t be mistaken for a disagreement of opinion. It’s not a couple of people having a swear-off or even just one person losing their cool at another. It’s constant, structured campaigns of active and malicious behaviour, much of it already illegal under existing law. I’m confused as to why it’d even be controversial to take a strong stand against it.

The EFF blames victims. The focus of their suggestions is on potential victims and users needing to learn self-protection, rather than addressing the very clear underlying systemic and cultural elements that allow harassment to flourish. They discount that many victims do already protect themselves — as much as online systems can possibly allow. Even with significant amounts of filtering, muting and blocking, their time and energy is being diverted from enjoying their time online to a constant battle for space and safety.

The EFF say that if only Twitter unlocked its API, third party creators could develop better tools to protect users. And yes, that’s a possibility. But for this possibility to be viable, someone needs to devote an awful lot of their time, skill and energy just to ensure a platform becomes marginally safer, which Twitter should be doing for its users in the first place.

Companies that profit from our data should be doing more to keep us as users safe. We should be able to have systems in place to protect us, built by full-time staff who are paid a living wage. We shouldn’t have to donate our own time to build such systems for ourselves, on top of whatever other work we need to do to keep ourselves and our families safe, fed, and sheltered. It’s your system that’s broken; you need to fix it. Pay someone to fix it. Put it in your business roadmaps. Hire people who know about this stuff. Stop building on top of the same structures that punish marginalised people.

It seems to be the EFF’s position that harassment needs to be condoned to some extent if we want free speech. If we get too tough on harassment, it’ll mostly end up getting used to punish free speech by governments instead of harassment at all. This idea that censorship trickles down is ridiculous, because marginalised people are already facing self-censorship of their work on a daily basis out of fear of harassment. It’s already happening, and we’re not being helped or protected except by each other.

The internet is white. The internet is male. Most of the internet speaks English. If you aren’t or don’t do these things, you are actively and continuously put under pressure to ensure conformity. If you continuously fail to conform, you are sent harassing messages, death and rape threats, and have your whole life twisted upside down for you and then blamed for it.

I love the internet. It’s my home. It’s where I’ve met most of my friends and how I keep connected with my family. It helps me to connect with new clients and keeps me informed of current events. It’s been a teacher, a friend, and my external memory component (effectively making me a cyborg). It improves my life in little and incalculable ways every day. However, the dark, hostile side can’t be ignored or tolerated. In order for the internet to be the best internet it can be, it needs to be better for everyone. We need to all be safe online, not just those of us who know how to protect ourselves or are lucky enough to never be targets. We need it to be a priority of the bigger fish, of our governments and of our advocacy organisations. We deserve to be safe.

Let’s Talk to the Men This Time: Combating Online Harassment

Today we’re featuring two separate guest posts, both about online harassment. Stay tuned for the second one!

This is a guest post from Alice Marwick, PhD. Dr. Marwick is the Director of the McGannon Center for Communication Research and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.

Over the last two years, gendered online harassment has finally been recognized as a significant issue. High-profile cases of women doxed, attacked, or shamed in public, often those speaking out about sexism, highlight the ways in which the technical affordances of the internet enable systemic persecution. The same technologies which allow for positive collaboration and creativity can—and are—used to threaten, provoke, and hector journalists, bloggers, software developers, activists, or even just random people online with disturbing regularity.

This is a difficult problem to solve. The desire to harass women is not a virus spread by the internet that strikes individuals at random. Instead, it’s fueled by very real, and very complicated, underpinnings of structural misogyny (and, often, racism, homophobia, and classism as well) that affect who gets harassed. During the panic over cyberbullying a few years ago, LGBT activists implored the press to remember that implementing anti-bullying campaigns without addressing larger issues of trans- and homophobia ignored the underlying issues. I’m currently working to do something similar with gendered online harassment.

Many well-meaning people are proposing a host of legal and technical solutions, from eliminating online anonymity, to reinforcing anti-harassment statutes currently on the books, to increasing moderation in online communities. Some of these solutions may work, and some may not. But I share the EFF’s concerns; we shouldn’t use gendered online harassment, as awful as it is, to chip away at protections for online speech. Online anonymity is frequently used by activists, domestic violence survivors, and sexual minorities as a protective tactic. And companies like Facebook and Reddit, who are not legally required to actively patrol harassment on their platforms, have shown themselves unwilling to invest in greater moderation or content regulation.

Even given all these suggestions, we still have very little information both about why people choose to harass others—and, more broadly—why men adopt, adhere to, and spread sexist and misogynist views. You’d think the latter would have been extensively researched in the 1970s, but it seems to have been barely studied at all. I (and two PhD-level research assistants) have been unable to find any major studies identifying motivations for men adopting sexist views, let alone motivations for harassing women, whether that be sexual harassment, street harassment, or online harassment. (I would be extremely happy if you could comment with any studies you may know of and I can be proven wrong). But this is the missing piece. Without understanding why people are harassing others online, we cannot accurately solve this problem.

So I’m posting this to ask for a favor. A project I’m involved with is currently up for a People’s Choice Award in the fifth Digital Media and Learning grant competition (called the Trust Challenge). Together with another professor at Fordham, Gregory Donovan—who’s worked extensively with diverse groups of young people in NYC on other participatory research projects—we’re hoping to study harassers with the collaboration of young women who’ve been harassed. We think it’s extremely important to involve victims of online harassment to avoid the paternalism that often comes into play when creating solutions to help young women. The information and expertise provided by a focus group of young, diverse New York City area women will help us understand where this harassment takes place, what it looks like, and how to combat it. It will also inform the second half of the project. We hope to identify, contact, and interview people online who have harassed others. From these people, we want to understand motivations. Is it for the lulz? Do they identify as trolls? Is it because they subscribe to a Men’s Rights ideology? Is it a way to let out aggression? With the information we learn from both groups, we hope to create best practices for tech companies and legislators to design any strategies to combat harassment. We hope to include not solely harassment for being feminist, but harassment for merely existing as a woman online—especially a woman of color, a queer woman, or someone with an intersectional perspective.

Please vote for our project on the DML website. It takes a second—just click the heart—and it gets us one step closer to getting this project fully funded. We’re asking for money to support summer funding for both of us, a semester off for Gregory so he can devote himself to the project, incentives for our participants, and a grad student to help out with the project. We hope that you’ll agree that this project is worth funding.

(We also encourage you to check out FemTechNet’s project which focuses on creating educational content to combat harassment of feminists specifically).

Please match this $15,000 donation from Sumana Harihareswara by December 29th!

Update Dec 30: Sumana’s offer has been extended until Dec 31 at 1:30pm!

This is a guest post by Sumana Harihareswara. It originally appeared on the Stumptown Syndicate Blog

Sumana at Open Source Bridge. Photo by @reidab.

Sumana at Open Source Bridge. Photo by @reidab.

I’m donating up to USD $15,000 to the Stumptown Syndicate — depending on how much you are willing to match by December 29th. Please join me by donating today and doubling your impact!

Stumptown Syndicate works to create resilient, radically inclusive tech and maker communities that empower positive change. Open Source Bridge, one of its core programs, is the tech conference that has imprinted itself on my heart — informative technical talks, inspiring ideas that help me improve how I do my work, and belly laughs and great food. I love that I can tell friends “Come to OSB!” without having to add “but watch out for…” the way I do with so many other conferences. Hospitality lives in the DNA of Open Source Bridge, so it’s a place where people from different projects and backgrounds can share their experiences as equals. I especially appreciate that it’s an inclusive all-genders tech conference where I’m never the only woman in the room; in fact, in 2014, half the speakers were women.

Liene Verzemnieks at BarCamp Portland. Image by @reidab.

Liene Verzemnieks at BarCamp Portland. Image by @reidab.

Stumptown demonstrates its values before, during, and after OSBridge, and documents them to make a playbook other event planners can reuse. The Syndicate encourages volunteers to help make Open Source Bridge happen (showing appreciation by giving them free access to the conference), encourages them with a reassuring form and clear expectations, and mentors them with structured orientations. The Code of Conduct, accessible venues, clearly labelled food, cheap or free admissions, and open source conferenceware all model effective and ethical collaboration.

But, until now, Stumptown Syndicate hasn’t had the money to host childcare at its events, to offer travel scholarships to OSBridge speakers from other countries, or improve the audiovisual experience (with faster video processing or transcripts/captioning). And it’s had to host its events at borrowed or rented venues, which reduces the Syndicate’s ability to nurture new events and communities; more money in the bank opens the possibility of a more permanent event space.

Amber Case at Open Source Bridge. Photo by @reidab.

Amber Case at Open Source Bridge. Photo by @reidab.

Still, the Syndicate’s done a lot since its founding in December 2010. Every year, Stumptown Syndicate supports or directly hosts 2-4 events in Portland. Hundreds of participants have grown, personally and professionally, via OSBridge, WhereCampPDX, Ignite Portland, BarCamp Portland, and the user groups it supports. Its work on Calagator keeps the community connected, and its focus on inclusion and diversity has helped everyone in Portland’s tech scene benefit. Including, probably, you, if you’re reading this. And it’s done that with about USD $110,000 each year, a mix of donations and sponsorships.

With your help, the Syndicate can plan further in advance and make the events you already love even better. And if Stumptown Syndicate volunteers don’t have to worry as much about fundraising, they can concentrate more on revamping Calagator, mentoring newer developers, and enriching Portland’s tech scene — and documenting their successes so people like me can copy them.

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That’s why I’m willing to give up to USD $15,000 to Stumptown Syndicate. I’ll match donations starting today and ending on December 29th, whether corporate or individual, one-time or recurring memberships. Please donate now to help raise USD $30,000 for the infrastructure of inclusivity!

Stumptown Syndicate is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Contributions to Stumptown Syndicate are tax-deductible in the U.S.

A tsunami of testimonies: assaults in the Swedish larp community

Warning: this post details sexual violence.

This is a guest post by Kristin Nilsdotter Isaksson. It originally appeared in Swedish and in English on Spelkult. The English translation is by Charlie Charlotta Haldén.

Editor’s note: “larp” is live-action role play.

We’re talking about sexual harassment in the world of larp. Molestation, groping, assault and rape of participants who are asleep or intoxicated, aggravated rape with violent abuse, and even attempted murder.

On June 17, 2014, a new Facebook group was created for Swedish-speaking larpers who identify wholly or partially as women. The group quickly drew many members, and now comprises 580 larpers of varying ages and backgrounds. The idea was to create a sanctuary for discussions about different aspects of being a female larper. There are discussion threads about portraying female antagonists, about dealing with menstruation during larps, about sewing tricks, creating characters, organising larps. Small questions, big questions, and questions of vital importance.

It’s so important that we talk about our experiences. About how common this is, and that it’s not OK. About our right to say no, and that it’s never, ever, acceptable for someone not to listen. Everybody knows a victim, but nobody knows a perpetrator, and it’s time to take a stand now. — anonymous

A lot of times, I am personally skeptical of gender separated forums and arenas. I think spaces that are open for all tend to support a broader sharing of experiences. But I have realised that there are exceptions.

Lately, a darker subject has crept into the discussion threads, and during the past few weeks, a tsunami of voices has swept over us. Post after post, comment after comment, telling stories of painful experiences. We’re talking about sexual assault. At larps, or in larping circles. Over a thousand posts detailing experiences, sharing thoughts, discussing preventive measures, and not least, holding out hands in support.

There are a lot of perpetrators, and a lot of victims. The threads almost exclusively tell of assaults perpetrated by men towards women. There have been instances of sexual harassment, molestation, groping, assault and rape of sleeping or intoxicated larpers, aggravated rape with violent abuse, and even attempted murder. Some of these incidents have been reported, but a large amount of them have not reached the police, or even the larp organisers. Until now.

I was almost completely out of it, and I couldn’t do much of anything to stop it, because I hardly understood what was happening. He raped me, and in the morning I was ashamed and just left the camp, because it felt like it was my own fault. — anonymous

A lot of cases involve young people, 15-16-year-olds who are offered alcohol and harassed by older boys or men, and then things get out of hand during the night. In other cases, the acts are meticulously planned and perpetrated over a long period of time.

I was always supposed to play a submissive role at the larps, a servant to the group, to his friends. I was thrown around like a handbag. But I felt so worthless, so I reckoned I should be happy to get any attention. Then it got worse, the mental stuff turned into physical abuse… — anonymous

Many people ask themselves how this can happen. Shouldn’t larping be a safe arena, with a lot of eyes and ears that can react if something seems to be going wrong?

Most probably, it can happen because the people around let it happen. Partly because larpers are not really any different from other people in society, partly because the setting of a lot of larps actually makes sexual harassment more acceptable. Sociology calls this “habitus”, a series of codes that underlie a person’s behaviour. A lot of larps, especially in the fantasy genre, are stereotypical. Gender roles are clear and coded with different behaviours.

Male players will often choose a warrior character with a macho attitude, an acceptance for sexualising women and literally taking what he wants. This is a behaviour that would not be at all OK in normal society, but one that is seen a lot at different larps.

In the same way, female characters are often coded to be submissive, service-minded, soft, madonna-whores, or defenceless. Given that context, it can seem perfectly reasonable if a male player is upset about new rules suddenly being enforced that forbid playing on rape, since he had planned that his character should be an active rapist during the larp. When female characters are coded as submissive, the more dominant aspects of the male characters are intensified.

I was 13 years old, going to my very first larp together with a friend. None of us had any experience, and we didn’t know anyone except each other. The larp begins, and everything goes pretty well until the second day, when we are handed a note. The note says that the two older men in the tent across from ours want to meet us, because they want to find wives. This made me extremely uncomfortable, and I ended up hiding in the woods for the remaining days. — anonymous

Another contributing factor in several stories is that the victim has been separated from her group and placed in a new situation where she hardly knows the other players. Her safety net is gone.

Note that I didn’t know ONE SINGLE person in Sverok (The Swedish Gaming Federation) then. I had gone there all alone, representing my organisation, and had never met anyone else, so I didn’t have a single person there to talk to or seek support from. — anonymous

Some of the stories shared tell of incidents where larpers have lost their way in the middle of the night and been offered a place to sleep in exchange for sexual favours, or woken up with an unknown person’s hands all over their body. Because the victim has few contacts in the new group, she automatically becomes dependent on the perpetrator, and her scope for action is restricted.

Suddenly, I notice someone lying down next to me and starting to touch me, moving their hands under my clothes. I was really gone, but I realise that it’s the guy from before, and that makes me feel I can’t say no, because he might have thought I wanted to. So I let him keep on, and I just wanted to go to sleep so I didn’t have to experience this. We never talked again, and I never told anyone. — anonymous

In many of the cases, shame or fear of retribution has kept the people involved from telling anyone about the incidents. Moreover, the perpetrator usually has a larger amount of social capital than the victim does. They may be much older and more experienced, perhaps an organiser or someone with a lot of contacts in the larping world – as one person wrote, “someone you could trust”. If the person who was assaulted would report it to the police, or involve an organiser, there is almost always a legitimate fear that she would tarnish more people than the perpetrator – their friends, their network, the larp event – by diminishing the perpetrator’s power and social standing. This very strong group mechanism can often cause many people to initially take the perpetrator’s side and turn against the victim. There may be accusations saying that she put herself in the situation, that she behaved like a slut, that she was drunk and provocative and “corrupted” the perpetrator. There are numerous examples of this. The Bjästa case in Sweden and the Steubenville rape in the US are just two well-known examples outside the larping world.

I walked homewards, ice cold and freezing. It was dark, I couldn’t even see the path. Almost knocked myself out. I just wanted to get home so I could sleep. This guy was friends with the organisers, with my friends, everybody. Nobody would believe me, and that’s why I just kept quiet. — anonymous

This ongoing conversation has already resulted in some practical measures: Several organisers have taken action against alleged perpetrators, and suggestions for preventive efforts have been put forth, such as larps providing safety hosts and safe sleeping quarters. And people are talking, and processing. Some who have not dared go to a larp for several years because of fear have now felt safe enough to sign up again, and many larp organisers are working hard to ensure that larp is not a lawless haven for perpetrators to hide in.

All this may lead to people being named and shamed, and suffering reprisals such as being banned from larps and other social contexts. Whether this is justified or not is, of course, a matter of judgement. There is also a significant risk that those who have now dared to speak out might be accused and called into question.

My blood runs cold when I realise that I probably know several of the guys described here. People I have larped with, had fun with, and maybe been lucky enough not to end up alone with — anonymous

But this can also lead to a much safer larping experience with increased freedom of action for many players. The tolerance for this kind of behaviour may decrease as the spotlight is placed upon it. What might have been silently accepted earlier can now be pulled out into the open and questioned. Together, organisers and players develop new methods to ensure safer play for everyone, and that more women dare take up more space and choose among a broader array of characters.

The issues are now being discussed in other open larp forums too, and several players have called for more male voices in the conversation. Partly because this is not just about women’s experiences. There are not only male perpetrators. There are male victims too, and they may risk invisibility and stigmatisation. But there are also a lot of men who want to do something about this and show support. However, the question is if this massive sharing of experiences would ever have happened at all if the forum had been open to everyone. Most of the members of the Facebook group would probably say a resounding “no” to that question. Those who have been subjected to violations need a sanctuary in order to find the courage to start talking.

Our newsfeeds keep filling up. We keep talking. We discover connections. Someone who has felt desperately alone in her experience discovers, with hope and with horror, that there are many others out there who have been through similar things. This gives strength and breeds courage. The voices are powerful, and they will surely not quieten for a long, long time yet.

Background

The Facebook group referred to in the text is named LWU, Larp Women Unite. The group was started by Karin Edman after Linnea Risinger came up with the idea during the Summer of 2014.

The ”Prata om det” campaign (”Talk about it”, hashtag #prataomdet) was and is a movement consisting of writers, bloggers and tweeters, emanating from a Twitter discussion started by geek feminist Johanna Koljonen in 2010. This concerned sharing stories about grey areas in sexual situations, about when sex becomes violation. This campaign opened doors to conversations that had not previously been had on a larger scale in “geek culture”.

Guest post: Great design as activism: Real talk from “Not afraid to say the F-word: Feminism” sticker designer Amelia Greenhall

This is a guest post from The Ada Initiative. It originally appeared on the Ada Initiative blog.

The evolution of the f-word sticker design

Once you see it, you won't forget it: the dynamic and attention-getting Not afraid to say the F-word: FEMINISM sticker by Amelia Greenhall. This sticker is the Ada Initiative's thank-you gift for its 2014 fundraising drive (only available till October 8, 2014, so donate now!).

Smiling womanAmelia works at the intersection of design, user experience, and data visualization. She's the Executive Director and co-founder of Double Union, a non-profit feminist community workshop, and co-founded the publication Model View Culture. She spends her time reading, writing, biking, climbing, and working on interesting things. We asked Amelia to tell us more about her amazing sticker design.

How did you come up with the idea for the sticker?

Feminism as a "dirty word" is a concept that’s funny because it strikes at the truth of the matter: a lot of people and organizations ARE afraid to say it. The Ada Initiative was one of the first woman-focused tech organizations to actually say the word "feminism." Their work has profoundly changed tech culture, and part of it comes from opening up the ability to identify publicly as a feminist in tech. They’ve brought many of us who aren’t afraid to say "the F-word" together – and given us a way to do something about the problem, by funding the Ada Initiative's work.

The sticker sure is eye-catching! It feels like it has many levels to it, despite being all black and white. How did you achieve that?

From the beginning, I knew I would work with hand lettering for this design because I wanted to create an organic form that stands out against the mass of vectorized, illustrator'd shapes on a laptop. I wanted the fundraiser sticker to be a refreshing visual break from tech culture’s dominant (current) forms, to echo how TAI represents changing tech culture to me.

Ink bottles and brushes

I started by drawing potential layouts in my sketchbook until I found a rough shape that took advantage of the die cut. Then I used brushes and india ink to letter the phrases “Not afraid to” “F-word” in many different ways, and scanned those in at a super high DPI to capture all the little details in the brushstrokes.

Many different handwritten versions of the words "F-word: Feminism" and similar words

Using Photoshop and my Wacom tablet, I moved parts of the scans around until I found a combination of lettering that was playful and eye catching, and easy to read at the size I wanted to print the sticker.

Photoshop screenshot showing level adjustment

The sticker does have many levels! Working from scans of hand lettering let me use Photoshop tools like “Invert” and “Levels” to bring out the natural variations in the ink painted on paper. I wanted to hit a charcoal tint in the background and bring out the rich variations of ink in the letters.

How important are design and memorable images to feminist activism?

So incredibly crucial! One of the things we’re doing with our feminist activism is building our own community and design and memorable images are a huge part in building a movement. We need a visual language to talk about it with, to identify with and gather round. Imagery of high heels and business suits alone won’t cut it. To represent all of us working to improve tech culture – we need things that speak our own language, have tech snark, incorporate our memes. We need propaganda! Especially physical objects like stickers, buttons, totes, and posters – to act as signposts. Things that say “this is us, this is what we stand for!”

Will you be putting this sticker on something you own?

Yes! I’m primarily a printmaker, which means I design so many things that get printed in multiples that I couldn’t possibly keep everything around or my apartment would fill up! But this is a sticker that easily makes the cut.

Here’s how it looks on my laptop!

Silver laptop with f-word sticker on it

What I appreciate about stickers like this one is that they’re so great for signaling affinity. I know that if I see another “F-word” sticker across the room at a coffeeshop or conference, that person is someone who’s also trying to make tech better – someone I may want to go talk to! I also like that this sticker starts conversations – it’s definitely something that catches the eye.

I am a huge fan of the Ada Initiative’s work changing tech culture, so I love when people ask about the sticker – I get a chance to introduce someone to conference anti-harassment policies or ally skills workshops!

Do you say the f-word? F-F-FEMINISM! Donate $128 or more (or $10 a month) to the Ada Initiative before October 8 and receive the F-word sticker as a thank you gift for supporting our work for women in open technology and culture!

Donate now

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.]

Attack of the purse snatchers: gender and bag policies in U.S. comic book stores

This is a guest post by Kathryn Hemmann. Kathryn is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University, where she teaches classes on Japanese literature, cinema, and popular culture. When she’s not reading comics, drawing comics, or writing about comics, she plays video games, thus enjoying a well-rounded lifestyle. Kathryn has a blog called Contemporary Japanese Literature, on which she posts feminist reviews of Japanese fiction in translation. Her favorite Sailor Scout is Sailor Mercury.

It was 2006, and I had recently moved to Philadelphia for a graduate program. A child of the South, to me the landscape of a large Northeastern city was both frightening and exciting. I was especially looking forward to my first trip to a comic book shop. The store I chose for my first outing was a block or two away from Philadelphia’s fashionable Rittenhouse Square district, the relative safety of which made me feel less anxious about venturing into the unknown. When I entered the store, I breathed in the perfume of old paper and glossy covers and felt at home – until I took a few more steps, at which point one of the clerks said something that shocked me enough to stop me in my tracks.

Fast forward to 2014. Now, as an early career academic, I travel all over the country for professional conferences and job interviews. In April I found myself in Seattle, a city known for its thriving independent comics culture and home to cutting-edge comics publishers such as Fantagraphics Books and Northwest Press. I decided to take advantage of my time in the Emerald City by visiting a comic store about a five minute walk away from the original Starbucks on Pike Place. I’ve been to comic book shops all around the world during the past eight years, and I was no longer nervous about entering a store I’d never visited before. I walked to the counter, eager to chat with the clerk about local microcomics – but then she said something that made me like a stupid kid all over again.

What could a clerk at a comic book store possibly say to a new female customer to make her feel as alien and unwelcome as possible? Would it be some sort of overtly sexist slur, or an inappropriate comment about her appearance? Or could it perhaps be something as presumably innocuous as:

“I’m going to need to take your bag before you go any further.”

The idea behind this policy, which I have encountered in comic book stores all across the United States, is presumably that store management has either personally witnessed or heard secondhand accounts of enough incidences of theft to employ a safeguard measure involving neither expensive surveillance technology nor paper-damaging anti-theft strips and stickers. Still, I can’t help but think that the stereotype of comic book theft at play here – little kids with grubby fingers sneaking a comic book out of a neighborhood corner store – is out of touch with contemporary cultures of online piracy and the collector’s market for pristine first editions.

When I’ve pressed clerks about this policy, most memorably at a store on a trendy street in New York’s East Village that wanted to confiscate a clutch purse not much bigger than my forearm, they’ve almost unanimously responded that they enforce it with everyone, and that it can’t possibly be sexist, as men have to surrender their bags as well.

Costumer Emily Finke’s essay Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture, posted on i09 roughly a year ago, acted as a catalyst for online debates on the topic of sexist attitudes women encounter in geek cultures centered around comic books in the United States. Heated discussions referencing the mythical “fake geek girl” have been popping up on various internet forums since the meme slithered out of 4chan in 2010, but the past year has seen numerous testimonies, confessions, and rants on relatively mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr.

To give an example, this past February Noelle Stevenson, creator of Lumberjanes and the webcomic Nimona, posted a comic on her personal Tumblr explaining why she had stopped going into comic books stores. Her post received over eighty thousand notes, generating responses both on her blog and on other Tumblr blogs. Some of these responses openly denounced her, while others encouraged women to visit comic book stores even if they shared Stevenson’s misgivings. In response to continued discussion of how best to reform misogynistic attitudes prevalent in U.S. comic book culture, The Mary Sue website recently launched a new column titled Pull It Together, which offers recommendations on feminist-friendly titles for conscientious comic buyers to add to personal pull lists at comic book stores. An entire Tumblr is devoted to Safe Spaces for Comics Fans, and male comics professionals such as journalist Sean Kleefeld are sharing stories of the subtle harassment women experience at comics conventions and inside comic book stores.

I’ve been following all this talk of gender, clothing, costuming, and sexist attitudes, waiting for someone to bring up the obvious, namely, the bag confiscation policy enforced by comic book stores in the United States. Claiming that this policy is not sexist because it applies to both male and female customers (and presumably people who identify as neither or somewhere in between) is a textbook illustration in false equivalence. Not only is it ridiculous and outdated, but it’s also insulting and contributes to the discomfort many female bloggers and social media users have reported feeling in comic book stores.

Of course, not all women carry purses. Still, mainstream women’s fashion makes it difficult for someone dressed in women’s clothing to keep the necessary accoutrements of daily life (such as wallets, cell phones, keys, glasses, bus tokens, subway pass cards, and so on) on her person without the aid of some sort of purse or briefcase. It’s one thing for a man to surrender a backpack or laptop case; he’s more than likely got his keys and wallet and cell phone in the pockets of his pants or jacket. It’s another thing entirely for a woman to give up her purse or shoulder bag, which – to add insult to injury – generally isn’t even large to put a comic book in without folding it, which would defeat the purpose of going through the trouble of stealing it in the first place. There are only three other situations I can think of in which an individual is asked to surrender her wallet and cell phone to a complete stranger: airport security checkpoints, courthouse security checkpoints, and prison. The last time I checked, no one perceived any of these situations as particularly pleasant.

Aside from the false equivalence between the purses (and other personal articles) carried by women and those carried by men, another troubling aspect of bag confiscation policies has to do with the extreme discomfort they can engender. As the recent Daily Show segment The Fault in Our Schools aptly illustrates, many young women learn to go about “their whole day navigating an obstacle course of sexual menace” and other threats, especially in spaces they perceive to be occupied primarily by men. One of the best self-defense tactics is being able to make a quick exit, and it’s always good to be able to call (or pretend to call) someone or to brandish pepper spray if that doesn’t work. I would like to assume that comic book stores are not prime locations for assault, sexual or otherwise, but it’s still nice to be able to leave an uncomfortable environment without having to ask for your bag, often from the people who have made you feel uncomfortable in the first place by pointedly ignoring you or making snide and judgmental comments about your presence.

By taking a woman’s bag, a comic book store is essentially taking away her freedom to escape from harassment, as well as her sense of security. On top of this, she has just given her wallet and cell phone – and her sense of identity and agency along with them – to someone who has demonstrated distrust and antagonism by asking for them. How could she possibly feel completely comfortable browsing or engaging with the staff and other patrons?

Not every comic book shop in the United States maintains a bag confiscation policy, but enough do that I have collected a fair amount of experiences of being hurt and upset upon entering a previously unvisited store in a previously unvisited part of the country. After spending the past month in Tokyo, where women (and men!) carry not just purses and shoulder bags but rolling suitcases into comic shops without the staff batting an eye, I have decided that I am done with comic book stories in the U.S. If the staff of the offending stores think that I don’t need to my purse on me to feel comfortable buying comics, they’re absolutely correct – I don’t need a purse to buy comics online.

Some Questions For Brian Carderella and Wicked Good Ruby

This is an anonymous guest post.

Today, the organizers of Wicked Good Ruby decided to cancel the conference. One organizer, Brian Cardarella, posted to the BostonRB list to explain his reasoning.

I have some questions.

Why was there no code of conduct?

Increasing numbers of tech conferences, both within Ruby and otherwise, are adopting codes of conduct. Codes of conduct protect attendees, particularly attendees from marginalized groups, and are an important part of making conferences safer. Codes of conduct also protect conferences and their organizers; having defined policies in place for what to do when harassment happens make the on-the-ground decisions easier to make and more legally defensible after the fact.

Ashe Dryden and the Ada Initiative, among others, have written extensively on why codes of conduct are important and on how to effectively write and implement them. There’s no excuse any more for not having one. Because of this, increasing numbers of people have pledged to not attend events without a code of conduct. Some companies have even decided to not sponsor events without formal codes of conduct.

This may partly explain your speaker-recruitment and sponsorship woes.

Why wasn’t your outreach to female speakers sufficient?

I’m glad that you read the advice that direct outreach to female speakers is often necessary to establish gender balance. However, you make it clear in your posts explaining the cancellation that you were primarily seeking female speakers to avoid “drama,” to not “get destroyed publicly,” to avoid “how crazy everybody gets over the gender issue in Ruby.” Nowhere did you say anything about doing it because it’s the right thing.

I have to wonder: did you read the widely available advice for how to do outreach to female speakers properly? I’m wondering this for two reasons: first, the lack of a code of conduct makes it sound like you weren’t interested in meeting female speakers’ likely needs; this may have contributed to their lack of interest. Second, the way you characterize your outreach makes it sound like you emailed people saying “Hey, I need a woman so the internet doesn’t fall on my head, and you’ll do. Wanna speak at my conf?” That’s not nearly as appealing a prospect as, say, “I really admired your work on [gem]; do you want to talk about it at WGR?”

Maybe I’m being too harsh on you with that assumption. But, still, I wonder why you only asked twelve women, given that you were trying to fill 24-36 speaker slots. (Were you assuming they’d all say yes?) I wonder when you started your outreach process, given that popular speakers are often booked months and months in advance. I wonder why you didn’t even let your CFP hit its deadline before snappishly assuming no women would apply in the last week.

Why did you blame women for WGR’s cancellation?

By your own account, the biggest reason you cancelled WGR was a lack of sponsorships. Why did you throw that frankly bizarre paragraph about lacking talk proposals from women? It’s a nasty little pit of nastiness, and frankly seems pitched to incite the “drama” you claimed to want to avoid.

Why did you want to blame women, instead of the people with the money?

I leave the answer to that question as an exercise for the reader.