Tag Archives: anti-harassment

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Ready Player Linkspam (14th August, 2012)

  • Straw Feminists in the Closet: “God, what a nightmare! To wake up to Straw Feminists in the closet, one of the greatest bogeymen of all time!” Amazing drawings.
  • Philosophy gender war erupts after call for larger role for women: “‘I think many of the senior men in the field believe philosophy would be better if there was more gender equity, and I think [a boycott] gives them an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is,’ she said, adding that she applauds Mr. Collodel and his co-organizer, Eric Oberheim, for adding women to their program, albeit at the last-minute. ‘People worry about tokenism, but as far as I’m concerned the important thing now is to improve the profile of women in philosophy.'”
  • The Women Who’ve Transformed A Mars Rover Into A Sassy Social Superstar: “‘It’s easier to anthropomorphize rovers,’ added Smith. ‘The cameras make it look like she has eyes. So it’s tempting to think of the rover as a bodacious chick on the surface of another planet with a rock vaporizing laser on her head.'”
  • The Better Name for Girlfriend Mode Is Probably Co-Star Mode: “The word ‘co-star’ elevates the status of the second, presumably less-skilled player. It clearly labels them as something other than the best player. They are not the ‘star’, but they are the guest, the visiting celebrity, the fellow great. They’re the celebrity walk-on in a sitcom or the other actor who isn’t being interviewed at the moment. They may be a mere supporting actor, but ‘co-star’ makes them sound so much important. It’s better than ‘girlfriend mode’ or any other construction that would label the second player as inferior to the first (see: ‘casual mode,’ ‘person-who-sucks-at-games mode’).”
  • [Trigger Warning: Harassment]What It’s Like For a Girl Gamer: “This story of harassment is, inside the industry, considered old hat—no one wants to hear your tale of woe. When I talk about this kind of thing at industry or academic panels, there are people eager to wave off 90 percent of what I just wrote because they are, allegedly, already busy looking for the solution. Then there are the others who dismiss me because I’m not addressing feminist concerns in the ‘real world.’ But this is my real world, and I would argue that for most of us, gamers or just Facebook users, these online social interactions are very real, with very serious consequences.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Harassment]Without My Consent: Paths to justice for survivors of online harassment: “This website is intended to empower individuals harmed by online privacy violations to stand up for their rights. The site will focus on the specific problem of the publication of private images online. We are currently in the beta phase of launching the site, which means that content is being added and edited regularly. Our long-term hope is that the site will also inspire meaningful debate about the internet, accountability, free speech, and the serious problem of online invasions of privacy.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in 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.

Angry woman covered in dark paint, wearing a shirt reading 'freedom'

Wiki help: anti-harassment policies

I’ve been sketching out an expansion to the Conference anti-harassment pages over on the wiki, but I could use a lot of help. Get your wiki editing game on, or alternatively leave info and ideas in comments here and someone will pull them into the wiki. If you are new to wiki editing, please see Wikia’s introduction to wiki editing.

Gather posts about anti-harassment policies

Several communities have had extensive online discussion of adopting anti-harassment policies now, most recently was the campaign to get skeptical and secular events to adopt policies. We’d like to gather the links together on one page, the Conference anti-harassment reading page. If you’d like to help out, please seek out links discussing anti-harassment policies and add them to the appropriate section:

  1. Adoption of policies, for pages about drafting policies, or announcing their adoption or similar
  2. Support of policies, for pages in support of adopting policies
  3. Opposition to policies, for pages opposing adopting policies

Suggest actions in support of anti-harassment policies

Many people would like to support anti-harassment policy adoption, and I’ve created a short list of actions that support policy adoption. Please expand this with effective actions you know of!

Design buttons and ribbons

One of the ways people have shown support of policies is by distributing buttons, ribbons, stickers and so on for supporters to wear at conferences. Please share your designs so that others can use them!

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

Linkspam Of Unusual Size (22nd June, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in 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.

A woman holds a sign with Rebecca West's 'differentiate me from a doormat' quote

Example conference anti-harassment policy turns one year old

This is a cross-post from the Ada Initiative’s blog. The Ada Initiative has put a lot of effort into helping conferences understand and adopt some form of anti-harassment policy. Your donations will help us continue to promote the policy and do similar work. Thanks!

November 29 was the one year anniversary of the publication of the example conference anti-harassment policy! Inspired by multiple reports of groping, sexual assault, and pornography at open tech/culture conferences, the Ada Initiative co-founders helped write and publish an example conference anti-harassment policy for modification and reuse by conference organizers. This example was the collaborative effort of many different conference organizers and community members, who all deserve thanks and credit.

One year later, over 30 conferences have adopted an anti-harassment policy of one kind or another. “More than 30″ is a rough lower bound; several organizations have adopted a policy for all their events and run a dozen or more events per year. Some of the organizations that have announced that all their conferences will have a policy include Linux Foundation, ACM SIGPLAN, and O’Reilly (pledged). Here’s why some conferences have adopted a policy, in the organizers’ own words:

Tim O’Reilly: “[…] It’s become clear that this is a real, long-standing issue in the technical community. And we do know this: we don’t condone harassment or offensive behavior, at our conferences or anywhere. It’s counter to our company values. More importantly, it’s counter to our values as human beings.”

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, co-organizer of PyCon US, speaking for himself in this post: “A published code of conduct tells me that the conference staff cares about these issues, takes them seriously, and is waiting and willing to listen if an incident happens. It’s by no means a solution to the depressing homogeneity of technical communities, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

ACM SIGPLAN: “This policy has been in the works at the ACM SIGPLAN for several months; SPLASH 2011 is proud to be both the driver for that effort and the first ACM conference with such policy in place. This policy is not a symbolic gesture, delivered to satisfy a perceived need for political correctness, but instead goes to the core of both our personal beliefs and the beliefs of the community as a whole.”

Like any good open source project, the policy has been forked, adapted, and rewritten from scratch several times. Conference organizers looking to adopt a policy now can choose from several different policies. Many policies are linked to from this list of conferences with a policy; if you know a conference that is missing, please add it!

Some history

Why write an example anti-harassment policy? What we discovered after a little research (aided by the timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities) was the following:

  • Often, the person doing the groping, harassing, or showing of pornography honestly believed that their behavior was acceptable for the venue. Just as often, many other people went on record agreeing with them.
  • People who saw these incidents didn’t know how to respond to these incidents or weren’t sure who to report them to.
  • Conference organizers sometimes didn’t learn about an incident until long after it happened. When they did find out in time to take action, they often didn’t know how to respond to the incident.

We looked at these facts and figured it might help if conference organizers had an easy way to:

  • Educate attendees in advance that specific behaviors commonly believed to be okay (like groping, pornography in slides, etc.) are not acceptable at this conference.
  • Tell attendees how to report these behaviors if they see them, and assure them they will be treated respectfully if they do so.
  • Have established, documented procedures for how the conference staff will respond to these reports.

But we knew that conference organizers are very busy people, and very few of them had the time to write something like this. We figured that if we wrote an example policy that could be easily adapted to their needs, we could save them a lot of time and energy, and reduce harassment at conferences at the same time.

One year later, it looks like we had the right idea! Now it’s almost easier to attend a open tech/culture conference with a policy than one without. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, from attendees of all genders to speakers to organizers, and especially conference sponsors. Sponsors like any way to reduce the chance that their name will be associated with bad press.

You can help encourage adoption

Our goal is to make policies like this obsolete because everyone knows how to go to a conference without ruining it for the people around them. But we’re clearly not there yet, as this incident from October 2011 shows. One way you can help change the culture of open technology and culture is by encouraging the adoption of a similar policy by the conferences you attend.

Here are some of the common arguments against adopting a policy that addresses the three points we describe above.

This has/will never happen at my conference!

Congratulations! Some conferences are small enough or exclusive enough that it’s easy to end up with a group of people who all agree about appropriate conference behavior. Generally speaking though, as a conference gets larger or easier to attend, the mathematical probability of someone with significantly different ideas attending the conference increases until it is a near-certainty.

Next, if you believe there’s never been harassment at your conference, you might want to do a little asking around. If you don’t have a well-publicized method to contact the organizers about harassment at the conference, you’re unlikely to hear about it. When this policy was first posted, many organizers went back and asked attendees if they’d ever heard of harassment at previous conferences they had run and found the answer to be yes surprisingly often.

Finally, a great way to keep up a perfect record of no harassment is to adopt a policy that tells attendees you expect them not to harass each other.

Listing specific behaviors is unnecessary/insulting/ineffective/negative/etc.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming evidence from previous incidents shows that many of the people involved had absolutely no idea that what they were doing was unacceptable – and in fact were quite angry to discover that there were some unspoken rules that no one told them about. You may not enjoy telling people the rules specifically, but people hate breaking rules unknowingly even more.

To be blunt, a non-trivial percentage of speakers at open tech/culture conferences view pornography in their slides as simply good speaking technique. Telling them, e.g., to only include material suitable for a diverse audience won’t change their behavior because they believe everyone enjoys a little pornography in their technical talk. The only way they are going to stop including pornography in their slides is if you tell them not to, in so many words. Another non-trivial percentage believe it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to touch a woman on any part of her body without her consent if either the man or the woman is drinking alcohol. They believe this is appropriate behavior, so asking them to, e.g., “Be respectful of other people” is not specific enough to change their behavior.

This policy will hamper free speech and ruin my talk!

Conferences and their topics vary, but we have yet to attend a conference in open technology and culture in which a talk required the harassment of attendees in order to get information across. We’re not sure, but we suspect you can, e.g., teach people about file system semantics and keep the audience’s attention without employing sexist jokes. (I’ve done it more than once!)

Conferences in which talks about sexuality, racism, etc. are on-topic are encouraged to add exceptions for these talks and give guidelines on talking about the subject while respecting the attendees. We encourage them to send us their modifications so we can add them to the options in the example policy. Here is one example of the policy as applied to a talk about sexuality by Cindy Gallop at the Open Video Conference 2011.

In the end, you can always vote with your feet – you can preferentially attend, speak at, and help organize conferences with policies against harassment.

A note: We want to explicitly acknowledge the fact that harassment at conferences is not just a problem for women; in fact, we’ve heard many reports of men being the target of harassment, or being disgusted or creeped out by other attendees’ behavior. In this as in many cases, the changes that make open technology and culture more welcoming (and safer) for women are the same ones that make it more welcoming for everyone.

Cindy Gallop stands in front of a presentation slide reading "Make Love Not Porn" by nextconf CC BY

Quick hit: policy around a sexual talk at the Open Video Conference

The Open Video Conference has adopted a harassment policy, and is also featuring a talk by Cindy Gallop. Here’s an excerpt of the abstract.

Links from this abstract may contain frank discussion of sex and sexual imagery.

Cindy Gallop stands in front of a presentation slide reading "Make Love Not Porn" by nextconf CC BY
Cindy Gallop delivered one of the most talked about TEDTalks in history at TED 2009.

Speaking very frankly, and from direct experience, she argued that hardcore pornography has distorted the way a generation of young men think about sex.

At TED 2009, Cindy shared with attendees her plan to fight back, with the launch of a website to educate people about the nuances in human sexuality. At OVC, she’ll start to share the next part of her project: MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, which launches in early 2012…

This talk will be frank. This talk will be honest. It will be graphic. But we think Cindy speaks to a hugely under-recognized issue, and does so in a funny and thought-provoking way.

The abstract contains a highlighted note:

This talk will contain explicit sexual discussion and imagery. This may be offensive, triggering, or uninteresting to attendees. As such, attendees are welcome to leave at any point and for any reason — even an important (or not) phone call. Please keep this discussion inside the auditorium, and refrain from discussing the content of this talk with other attendees outside of the session unless you have obtained explicit permission from them. We all have different levels of comfort around these topics and OVC works hard to maintain a safe environment for all attendees. Please note that the conference has a strict policy against harassment of any kind. Visit http://openvideoconference.org/harassment to learn more.

This hits some important points. Particularly important to me is making it clear that leaving this talk is OK, because this is something that many people are strongly socialised not to do. (Some speakers and chairs in some circumstances will even yell at you for it.)

How does this work for you? Useful? Not useful? Is it the kind of approach you’d like to see more of around sexual material? When else would you use it? Would it bug you in some situations or around some topics?

O'Reilly OSCON open source convention

Getting ready for OSCON, code of conduct and cultural change

This is a guest post by Selena. It is cross-posted from her blog.

I totally should be working on my talks right now, but instead I’ve been talking with people about the lack of a code of conduct for OSCON.

I’ve written before about cultural resistance, and how I think it fits in with changes that must happen in technical communities when we invite more women in.

One of those changes is making it clear that women (and other minorities) are not just tolerated in public spaces, but that they are explicitly wanted there.

O'Reilly OSCON open source convention

I think OSCON has made great strides in that direction by changing their marketing materials to include the faces of women. Sarah Novotny, co-chair of OSCON, travelled extensively to invite women face-to-face to submit talks. There are many women speaking at OSCON this year.

OSCON put the time and energy into creating a sense that women were already attending (which they are), and that they wanted more.

So, why all the fuss about having a code of conduct? Well, this community is changing.

What people think of as “summer camp for geeks” is this year a gathering that by definition includes people who haven’t previously been part of the OSCON community. When a community (which OSCON definitely is) sets out to change the gender percentages, it needs to be clear that the women are being invited to join and shape the culture, not just show up to be tourists of the existing culture.

The leadership of the conference needs to establish with existing attendees that the cultural change is wanted. The fact is, OSCON is a for-profit enterprise, with a business driving the event. Grassroots activism is helpful in encouraging change, but ultimately, the owners of the brand need to make a statement in addition to the marketing.

I applaud Jono Bacon for his creation of an anti-harassment policy for the Community Leadership Summit. I also am heartened at O’Reilly’s recent tweet that they are following this conversation.

I don’t think that codes of conduct are the perfect solution. But how else do we communicate to everyone participating that the change is happening, and that they need to accommodate new members *who are very different from them* during a period of cultural adjustment? That’s not a rhetorical question — I am genuinely interested in answers to this question.

I’ve updated my profile to state that I am pro-code-of-conduct, and included a link to anti-harassment resources, which I think should be part of an overall code of conduct. Donna put up a wikipage with easy to cut-n-paste additions for OSCON speaker profiles. If you agree that a code of conduct is a positive direction, please join us!

Editor’s note: Since Selena’s post was written, OSCON has agreed that a code of conduct is important. You can read Tim O’Reilly’s post on the subject here: Sexual Harassment at Technical Conferences: A Big No-No. However, I thought Selena’s temporary work-around for the problem is something others might like to have in mind for future events.

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.