Tag Archives: anti-harassment

Ask a Geek Feminist, photography/recording round

Welcome to a special round of Ask a Geek Feminist! There are a few photographers/recorders or event organisers who want to ask us questions about their policies or practices, and don’t feel their questions fit the existing threads.

So:

  • if you’ve got a question about practising photography/recording at geek events, displaying photos of same, or about how your policy is perceived, ask a question in comments here. (Comments will not be publicly visible.)
  • in a few days I’ll begin opening questions up to our commenters in one or more posts

Please keep questions to two paragraphs at most. If you’re asking about a specific policy or specific recording please provide a link where possible. Your question, if it appears in a post, will be quoted (possibly edited for length) but not attributed to you, unless you ask us to attribute it.

Questions will be accepted until comments on this post close in about a fortnight. If you miss out and find comments have already closed, you can also ask questions non-anonymously in Open threads, although they may not be promoted to the front page.

On feeling less safe

Over at Hoyden About Town, Wildly Parenthetical considers Tackling Misogyny: Procedures or Social Sanctions?:

But more interesting has been the discussion about formal and informal mechanisms for dealing with sexual harassment. There are lots of reasons that formal mechanisms don’t work for lots of people… So we have the suggestion of informal “shunning’. Some have, with more and less hyperbole, suggested that without the formality of systems of justice and the “certainty’ they’re meant to bring, individuals could wind up excluded on heresay; this is the “OMG WITCHHUNT!’ objection. And others have pointed out that social sanctions are applied to all kinds of behaviours that are disapproved of in our society, and why should this particular behaviour be any different? I am pretty much with the latter group, although I understand those who think that we should be putting our energies towards fixing the formal systems rather than developing shun-lists…

I left a comment that I want to re-post here, since it captures neatly a lot of my more negative feelings about discussions around anti-harassment policies and such, which a lot of people in the geek community consider informal since geeks themselves will enforce them.

My response (very slightly edited here) was as follows:

I am a fan of social sanctions in an ideal world. There tend to be two problems with introducing it in practice:

  1. Some people at either the level of instinct or the level of rational analysis find it almost impossible to distinguish from bullying (see the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #1) and refuse to participate or actively attempt to defend the person sanctioned or decide to sanction the sanctioners, causing a lot of internal community conflict.
  2. It often turns out (at least in communities that I’m a part of) that not as many people are opposed to sexual harassment as one might hope. So a substantial fraction of participants oppose social sanctions or vow to not enforce them because it turns out they like sexual harassment just fine.

Option 2 is always a really distressing conversation to have in a community you felt safe in; you seldom feel safe after it turns out that a loud minority feel that sexual harassment is the effective/normal/desirable (at least, but not exclusively) heterosexual mating strategy.

How is everyone else feeling about the geek community after whatever their latest local round of feminist discussion was? I’m far from entirely negative, but there are definitely whole new places I don’t feel safe from harassment and indeed assault now.

The Importance of Allies

Deb Nicholson is a geeky gal who is motivated by the intersection of technology and social justice. She spends her time working freelance with the Caucus to Increase Women’s Participation in Free Software and pursuing a CS degree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This has been cross-posted from her blog.

Ever since I started working towards the goal of increasing the number of women participating in the free software community, I’ve had men say some variation of the following to me, “I didn’t know it was this bad. Is there anything I can do?” The answer is yes!

There is a great potential for change. I think the gropers and insulters are the exception and not the rule. Unless 30 obnoxious men are changing their appearance and flying all over the globe to be “that guy” at dozens of linuxfests and free software gatherings every year, their numbers are still significant. If you believe my conspiracy scenario, then you may as well go all the way and imagine them to be trained and funded by Microsoft on a secret island in the remote Pacific. (Also, I have a work-at-home situation that starts with you mailing me a large check that I’d love to discuss with you.) But seriously, the dearth of opposing voices is what allows this small group to disproportionately set the tone at free software events. The bad actors are not the majority. Silence on this issue serves the status quo.

When thinking about change, I’ve always found Ursula LeGuin’s story, “The Ones who Walked Away from Omelas” inspiring. This example is from fiction and so naturally the choice to pipe down or walk away from a society that oppresses even one of its members is drawn in very broad strokes. LeGuin has essentially written a parable. If you as a conference goer find out that an event’s success rests upon the tears and ostracization of a small number of people, then walk away. Don’t attend that event again. Let me be a little more explicit. Say the keynote speaker is disrespectful to women and sets an inappropriate sexual tone for the conference. The conference organizers don’t feel that they can tell someone famous and important to either stay professional and respect all attendees or stop speaking without damaging the status of their event. The women at this conference no longer feel welcome. If you think those are the wrong priorities then you have two options, speak up or walk away.

Find yourself another event or project that values the inclusion of all its members over the egos of a few bad actors. Get involved where they’re doing it right! Or say something when your “mostly OK” community missteps. A simple, “Hey, that’s out of line” or “We really don’t need to use that kind of example” can go a long way. Sometimes you may find yourself in a smaller group and a quick, “That was really inappropriate” may be in order. What if you aren’t quick in the moment? After someone’s been offensive you might say to the offended party, “I’m sorry that guy was a jerk to you. If you want to report him, I’m happy to go with you to find a staff person.” Of course, this last example is going to be the most effective at an event that already has an anti-harassment policy in place.

Allies are extremely important. There aren’t that many women here yet. So, in order to be successful at changing the tone in the free software community, we need your help. The thing you can do today is to write to a conference you’re thinking about attending in the next year and politely ask if they would adopt an anti-harassment policy like this one. A policy may seem like a small step, but its adoption empowers the organizers to stop offensive behavior and to kick out repeat offenders. It also goes a long way towards broadcasting to potential attendees what sort of treatment they can expect and what won’t be tolerated. I hope that you’ll choose to speak up when you feel you can affect behavior and walk away when you feel the situation is irredeemable. Thanks to all of you who already do!

6 reasons event organizers should adopt the Conference Anti-Harassment Policy

This has been cross-posted from my personal blog.

Valerie and a number of my feminist friends have been working on a generic Conference anti-harassment policy which can be adapted to suit specific events. This is a response to quite a number of incidents that seem to crop up in geekdom. (And those are just the ones we know about and have recorded — many people prefer not to talk about problems publicly for various reasons.)

You can read about the conference anti-harassment policy on geek feminism, and even hacker news has picked it up with the free link to the article on LWN.

I want to urge conference organizers to take a look at the policy and consider adapting it, even if you don’t know of any problems at your event. Here’s a few reasons:

  1. It’s a signal that you’re serious about the safety of the folk at your event. How can that possibly be a bad thing?
  2. It helps your staff recognize when there may be a problem. This makes it easier for them to do their jobs!
  3. It gives your staff a starting point for what to do if something happens. That also makes it easier for them know how to respond appropriately.
  4. It makes it clearer to attendees what constitutes appropriate behaviour at your event. This is a courtesy since explicit rules are much easier to follow than implicit ones!
  5. Remember that a number of geeky folk have particular trouble sussing out unspoken rules, whether that’s due to being non-neurotypical, just being so focussed on geekery that other more social rules get missed, or any other reason. It’s easier if people don’t have to guess the rules.
  6. The point of the policy is to prevent problems from occurring in the future. Implementing it isn’t going to imply to anyone that you’ve been hiding incidents, and being asked to implement it doesn’t mean that people think you’ve been inviting skeezy, scary folk to your events. It’s probably just an explicit statement of rules that you thought were obvious.

Think of it like a seatbelt: hopefully you’ll never need it, and maybe it’ll make a few folk uncomfortable, but you’ll be happy it was there if you have to slam on the brakes. Wearing your seatbelt isn’t an admission that you’re a bad driver, it’s just an admission that you can’t control the behaviour of other people, so you might as well do your best to stay safe.