Tag Archives: harassment

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Feminist tech demos: menstruation, harassment, an erotic wearable, and more

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

Joelle Fleurantin and her Erotic Haptic Device, part of the Patchworked Venus project.

On Friday, I interviewed feminist technologists at a demo showcase in New York City. (Thanks to NYC Media Lab (a higher education-city government-industry partnership) for giving me a press pass to their 2015 annual summit.)

Patchworked Venus

Joelle Fleurantin presented Patchworked Venus, “A wearable exploring how computing has given birth to a new form of sexual intimacy”. See the embedded video below for a demo.

Patchworked Venus: Erotic Haptic Device Preview from Joelle F. on Vimeo.

Ms. Fleurantin, (MPS ’15, NYU ITP), discussed her design with me, explaining that instead of being a phallic accessory like a lot of other erotic devices, Patchworked Venus emphasizes other erogenous zones. Her artist’s statement asks:

How can an erotic device become a tool for body modification: an extension of the user rather than a facsimile of an external, imagined person? And what then becomes of this augmented wearer, specifically when her body is not raceless like those present in dominant representations of the cyborg?

Patchworked Venus explores these questions by casting an intimate experience within the context of dress as performance.

The garment, in contrast to conventional vibrators, is meant to be worn, and uses heat, compression, and touch on the wearer’s back, inner thighs, and nipples. A warm circuit provides heat over the breast, motors like those used for haptic response in mobile phones give the user a sensation of touch on the back and the inner thighs, and an inflatable jacket and hood literally embrace the wearer with a pneumatic actuating system, providing a pleasant feeling of compression and constriction. She “designed and milled breakout boards for use with the Adafruit Flora” (from her “About” page). Ms. Fleurantin also considered using soft robotics and lithography to give the wearer a sensation of breath on the skin, but decided against it since that approach would require a large, loud air compressor.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

A close-up of some circuitry on the Patchworked Venus garment.

Check out her ten-minute thesis presentation for more on the Erotic Haptic Device and Patchworked Venus. In it, Ms. Fleurantin discusses her influences and process, including her upbringing as a black woman, learning from her mother how important self-presentation, grooming, and clothing were. I noted down some names and links from that presentation and from my conversation with her on Friday:

(I had previously known Ms. Fleurantin because of her work on user research for the Mozilla wiki; I’ll be curious to see her next project as well!)


I spoke with Lucy M. Bonner and tried out her immersive harassment simulator “Compliment”. Ms. Bonner (MFA Design and Technology ’16, Parsons the New School for Design) developed “Compliment,” a virtual reality experience using the Oculus Rift, and you can see a demo video on YouTube if you sign in.

From her artist’s statement:

Compliment is an immersive experience of street harassment designed and created for the Oculus Rift. It demonstrates the fact that harassment creates an atmosphere of intimidation and tension for women on a daily basis, that it is not ok, and that it is not a compliment. Compliment conveys the forceful intrusion and violation of space and attention that makes a woman feel vulnerable, angry, and silenced in order to raise awareness and effect change.

Ms. Bonner received much more street harassment when she moved from Houston to New York City, and used those catcalls she heard in real life to populate the set of harassing comments that simulated harassers say to the player. She appreciates how virtual reality lets her offer, say, a 6-foot-2-inches man a way to experience the world as a shorter, more vulnerable person. “Many of the harassers in the experience are much larger than the player, which creates part of the sense of danger and intrusion in confrontations.” Also: “Players are unable to respond, as in the real world with concern for safety, and are forced to constantly hear and dodge unwanted attention.”

I mentioned to Ms. Bonner a truism I’ve heard (via Adria Richards or Lukas Blakk, I believe) that men tend to use augmented reality experiences like Google Glass to more powerfully navigate the world, while women tend to use them to document their experience in the world. Ms. Bonner wouldn’t put “Compliment” in that latter category, and not just because VR and augmented reality are different approaches; she considers “Compliment” more outwardly focused, showing other people what her experience is like rather than concentrating on gathering proof of the experience itself. “Compliment” conveys, as she puts it, the “cumulative atmosphere of silencing and objectification”.

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot

Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth present d.Bot


I spoke with Joanna Chin and Bryan Collinsworth about their quite different simulator, d.Bot. “Drawing from female experiences in online and offline dating, d.bot is a chatbot that simulates conversing with an unenlightened male.” Ms. Chin and Mr. Collinsworth (MFA in Design & Technology ’16, The New School) used JavaScript, socket.io, and Parse to develop d.Bot, and made it partially to test out a theory about a different approach to artificial intelligence than you often see. Rather than aiming for a predictive response, d.Bot is trying to stimulate a particular response in the human user. You can try it out at http://bit.ly/dBot.

A demo session with d.Bot

A demo session with d.Bot

Ms. Chin said that it’s been nice to be able to use things guys have said to her, and that hearing or seeing new annoying messages, she figures, it’s going into the pot. (This includes a comment a guy said to her during fair setup, just before I arrived.) You can also click the “Feed Me” button to add something a guy has said to you, if you’d like to add more quotes to the database.

Mr. Collinsworth hopes d.Bot will help men experience what women experience, both online and in the physical world; any one guy saying uncreative things doesn’t experience what it’s like to hear those same comments frequently and en masse. In that vein, he suggested that perhaps Tinder could show users an originality score as they type messages to other users, flagging likely boring messages and discouraging users from sending them.

Ms. Chin said that she’s seen other critique of boring or harassing men (street harassers and OKCupid and Tinder users) that’s more in a name-and-shame mode, and that she wonders whether a critique in the form of humor around originality and creativity would be more likely to change the player’s behavior, as opposed to dinging a user and saying “you’re a bad person”. For her and for other d.Bot users, the bot is also a fun way to vent — she said she’s seen women happy to finally have a chance to talk back to these messages in a safe, consequence-free sandbox.

I asked for her thoughts on feminist dating apps like Bumble, and we discussed the possibility that Bumble (in which women can and men cannot initiate conversation) is just moving the problem a little further down the road; instead of screening out men at the stage of initial online conversation, het women might find that they go on more dates with men who don’t interact well.


Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presenting SHVRK

Monica Raffaelli presented “SHVRK”: “Surf the crimson wave with fewer fatalities”. Users can sign up to get text message alerts of their friends’ menstrual cycles. Below is her SHVRK v1.0 demo video.

Ms. Raffaelli (MS Integrated Digital Media ’16, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering) and I spoke a little on Friday, and then she answered my questions on SHVRK, her influences, and her feminism via email:

There are apps for women to track women’s cycles, and there are apps for men to track what they don’t like about women’s cycles. The former often have pastel palettes, cute logos, and an emphasis on fertility and pregnancy. The latter have a handful of angry responses from the feminist community.

As long as bodily fluids and excretions are taboo, periods will be taboo. The app was never meant to change anybody’s views of leftover uterine lining. That said, the divisive nature of the current apps on the market doesn’t offer many people the opportunity to level the playing field. What we need is an app with an interface with universal appeal. We need an app that doesn’t perpetuate traditional stereotypes, but educates and facilitates. We need an app that makes the monthly inconvenience a little more convenient.

I’ve tried apps with features I didn’t need. I don’t need help getting pregnant, I don’t need to share my uterine woes with a community of empathetic blood sisters, and I don’t need cute puppies to guide me through reminders to hydrate. What I do need is an app that alerts my man to the state of my hormones. What about the men who don’t care about the difference between pads and tampons, ovulation versus menstruation, or what PMS really stands for? Well, I don’t blame them­­I’m not sure I would care for the details either if I didn’t go through it monthly.

The first steps were figuring out what would make a man WANT to use the same period app as a woman. My favorite answers were from the “make me a sandwich” types of guys. If this could get you laid, would you use the app? But of course.

Who is this app for? This is for women who like men, men who like women, and women who like women. This is for the monogamous and polyamorous. This is for the people with a sense of humor. This app is for those who say “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die.” This is for anybody who has ever been cockblocked by a period.

“…why you made SHVRK (including your dissatisfactions with other services and apps)…”

My shark week isn’t a big deal. In fact, I usually forget about it, and that’s why I started to use the apps. These would give me a heads up, and I realized, you know who else could use these updates? My boyfriend. When the conversation comes up, he tries to either be understanding or a comedian. He cares, but he’ll never really get it. Why not give him just the information he needs without framing it in etiquette and small talk?

My research showed that there were tons of apps for men. They seemed to have exploded between 2008 and 2010, and most of them enraged the feminist community. Could it be possible to make one app that could appeal to those menstruating as well as those not menstruating?

“…what technologies you used to make it…”

The graphite pencil. Illustrator, After Effects, and the rest of the Adobe suite. Started playing around with a bit of this and that for the final product, from PHP to Swift… This is a lot of learning as I go.

“…what some next steps are…”

Step 1: iOS or Android? Step 2: Launch.

“…your feminism and the ways in which the project is feminist…”

Feminism can be a scary word. Every female in this society develops a relationship with it, and that makes it a weighty, frustrating, and complex matter. Feminism is a spectrum. We might avoid it all costs, or we embrace our own definition, or we embody someone else’s interpretation without realizing it. That’s about all I can say about ‘feminism’.

I want to bid farewell to man­bashing and figurative bra­burning. There are too many women in the world with no access to proper hygiene products and women who are cast out of their homes during that time of the month, but there are also too many man­bashers and bra­burners here fighting a fight that’s been fought here. What if we take another approach to understanding the difference between men and women in the little world of people with smartphones and access to clean running water?

In April, Leslee Udwin visited NYU for a special screening of her film ​India’s Daughter. There are two relevant memorable moments from that night. The first was when Leslee Udwin said she set out to answer ‘why men rape’. The second was when I asked if she had found her answer, and she responded that she expected the men she interviewed to be monsters. She expected them to be textbook psychopaths. What she found was that they were just humans like you and me. They were not ‘bad apples’ spoiling the barrel. The barrel was bad.

There are bad apple feminists the same way there are bad apple chauvinists. SHVRK is not about redefining ‘man’ or ‘woman’, but about leveling the playing field between unique individuals like you and me, ​so we don’t have to hear “Are you PMSing? Are you on your period?”

“…​and what or who some of your influences are.​”

Leslee Udwin is pretty amazing, but here I have to officially say Happenstance. Nothing goes up on a pedestal like happenstance. Letting the cards fall as they may is magical and always a little mysterious. Let it lead the way.

And more

I concentrated in this piece on discussing demos from the summit that particularly spoke to me on a feminist level, but I saw women technologists presenting many projects you might find interesting for other reasons. StackedUp uses AI for investigative reporting. NEW YOARK is an augmented reality mobile app that emphasizes the diversity of languages spoken in New York City. Bullet Pointe Lab designs and makes innovative clothes for ballet dancers, such as shorts with heating elements to help warm hips so they can open more fully. I saw multiple more clothing-related apps, natural language processing research, a tool to help you analyze your own social media activity, and a Twitter bot and collaborative storytelling and coding project telling the stories of people incarcerated at the Rikers Island correctional facility. On my way out the door, I spoke to one of the event staffers, a woman who’s working on Haveyouseenthem.org, a project to use the web and stickers on milk cartons to raise awareness of missing Central American and Mexican migrants.

Thanks again to NYC Media Lab and to the innovators who spoke with me.

Rolling On the Floor Linkspamming (18 August 2015)


  • Gayme Corner: “Videogames for Humans” and the Intimate, Playful Engagement of Twine | Robin on Autostraddle (12 August): “A lot of the most well-known Twine games are written by trans women, which is pretty rad, though Merritt Kopas points out that, “Few of these authors are accorded the respect, attention, or monetary success of their white male counterparts,” and within the community, it’s mostly white trans women whose work is recognized. Even so, Twine has great potential. “Authors are doing things with Twine that aren’t possible with traditional text. And at the same time, they’re using interactive media to tell stories that mainstream videogames couldn’t dream of telling,” Kopas said.”
  • The CW’s Female Executive Producers Talk Telling Women’s Stories | Teresa Jusino on The Masy Sue (12 August): “The CW’s session at the Television Critics Association summer tour earlier this week gives us so much reason to hope. After their main presentation, where they debuted their upcoming show from Aline Brosh McKenna called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, eight female executive producers from The CW took to the stage in a panel called Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of The CW and spoke honestly and optimistically about being women in the television industry and what they’re doing to help other women thrive in the business.”
  • ReThink | Trisha Prabhu: “Passionate to stop cyberbullying in adolescents, I created the patented product “ReThink” that stops cyberbullying at the source, before the bullying occurs, before the damage is done! My research has found that with “Rethink”, adolescents change their mind 93% of the time and decide not to post an offensive message. I was selected as Google Global Science Fair Finalists 2014 for my work on “ReThink”.”
  • I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried. | Dylan Matthews on Vox (10 August): “Effective altruists think that past attempts to do good — by giving to charity, or working for nonprofits or government agencies — have been largely ineffective, in part because they’ve been driven too much by the desire to feel good and too little by the cold, hard data necessary to prove what actually does good. […] Effective altruism is […] a movement, and like any movement, it has begun to develop a culture, and a set of powerful stakeholders, and a certain range of worrying pathologies. At the moment, EA is very white, very male, and dominated by tech industry workers. […] Effective altruism is a useful framework for thinking through how to do good through one’s career, or through political advocacy, or through charitable giving. It is not a replacement for movements through which marginalized peoples seek their own liberation. If EA is to have any hope of getting more buy-in from women and people of color, it has to at least acknowledge that.”
  • We Still Let Harassers Participate In Our Community | Katie Kovalcin (12 August) [warning for sexual harassment]: “So, I reported an incident. I detailed someone who harassed me, provided receipts of the sexual harassment, and you want to then tell him I reported him and stick us in the same hotel? While effectively punishing me and not allowing me to participate in part of the conference because I was on the receiving end of harassment?”

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

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

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Great links, less spamming (27 February 2015)

  •  You’re Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J’accuse! J’accuse! | K Tempest Bradford (February 22): “Reading only women for a year takes some thought and effort. And if you do that, people hardly ever assume that it happened Just Because or On Accident or because you were Just Reading The Best Books Regardless Of The Identity Of The Author. […] A reviewer who makes the choice to focus exclusively on marginalized voices is making a good choice. There are plenty of places for the privileged to get and gain attention. Making a space for everyone else is not bias, it’s a step towards balance.”
  • Teachers’ gender bias in maths affects girls later | Sue Wilson at The Conversation (February 25): “The researchers followed nearly 3000 students from 6th grade to the end of high school. As a measure of teacher bias, they compared school 6th grade test marks given by teachers who knew the students’ sex, with external test marks for the same students, but with no identifying characteristics provided. The researchers identified that a worrying number of teachers gave boys higher maths test results than girls of the same ability. They also studied the long-term effects of this bias. The study found that the effects of teacher bias (measured by giving lower marks in mathematics for the same standard of work as boys) persisted for girls, leading to poorer results through their high school years. However, many boys whose teachers over-assessed their performance in the early years went on to be successful in mathematics and science.”
  • JamForLeelah: Trans Positive Game Jam | Matthew Boucher and Kara Jayne (February 22): [warning for discussion of abuse and suicide] “JamForLeelah is a month long trans positive game jam to raise awareness on LGBTIQ issues, specifically trans youth issues and Leelah’s Law as well as an attempt to raise money for trans specific charities such as the Transgender Law Center, Camp Aranu’tiq, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. […] Leelah expressed an intense interest in not only gaming, but game development as well. She made this clear on both her Tumblr and Reddit accounts, so an indie game jam felt like a possible way to raise awareness for Leelah’s plea for social change, in a method she may not have only approved of, but also taken part in.”
  • The Future’s Been Here Since 1939: Female Fans, Cosplay, and Conventions | Uncanny Magazine (Jan/Feb): [warning for descriptions of violence] “Cosplay has been around since the very first science fiction fan conventions in the 1930s and before the word “cosplay” was invented. The first recorded cosplayers, Myrtle R. Jones and Forrest J. Ackerman, wore what they called “futuristicostume” during the first Worldcon in 1939.”
  • I tried tracking my period and it was even worse than I could have imagined | Maggie Delano at Medium (February 23): “yet another example of technology telling queer, unpartnered, infertile, and/or women uninterested in procreating that they aren’t even women. It’s telling women that the only women worth designing technology for are those women who are capable of conceiving and who are not only in a relationship, but in a sexual relationship, and in a sexual relationship with someone who can potentially get them pregnant. Read: straight, sexually active, partnered, cis women with enough money for a smartphone to run the app.”
  • Man Who Terrorized Brianna Wu For Months Says He Was Just Kiddin Around | Jezebel (February 24): [warning for discussion of threats and harassment] “The problem with Gamergate is you can’t satirize these people. I can’t stress this enough: the wider point here is the gamification of the harassment of women.” It’s already hard enough to get law enforcement to take threats against women online seriously. Wu worries that Rankowski’s hilarious joke will give police yet another excuse not to investigate violent threats online.”
  • The Harassment Game | Mikki Kendall at Model View Culture (February 23): [warning for discussion of threats and harassment] “And it dawned on me, there is no life after being harassed if you’re a marginalized person speaking up on the internet. Whether my harassment comes from talking about race in 2009, abortion in 2011, feminism in 2013, or some brand new topic in 2015, it’s clearly a part of my life. My choices are never speak, or be harassed for speaking. The topics really don’t matter. Because none of this is about ethics in game journalism, protecting the unborn, or defending feminism, comics, or science fiction from the perceived threat of people wanting them to be more inclusive.”

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

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

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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).

Quick hit: #ThisTweetCalledMyBack

Who gets to claim the title “activist”, and who quietly does the work that’s needed for activist movements to succeed while getting simultaneously derided and appropriated from?

A collective of, in their own words, “Black Women, AfroIndigenous and women of color” have issued a statement on how they’re being treated by white feminism, academia, the mainstream media, and the rest of the social-justice-industrial complex:

As an online collective of Black, AfroIndigenous, and NDN women, we have created an entire framework with which to understand gender violence and racial hierarchy in a global and U.S. context. In order to do this however, we have had to shake up a few existing narratives, just like K. Michelle and her infamous table rumble on Love & Hip Hop.

The response has been sometimes loving, but in most cases we’ve faced nothing but pushback in the form of trolls, stalking. We’ve, at separate turns, been stopped and detained crossing international borders and questioned about our work, been tailed and targeted by police, had our livelihoods threatened with calls to our job, been threatened with rape on Twitter itself, faced triggering PTSD, and trudged the physical burden of all of this abuse. This has all occurred while we see our work take wings and inform an entire movement. A movement that also refuses to make space for us while frequently joining in the naming of us as “Toxic Twitter.”

Read the statement from @tgirlinterruptd, @chiefelk, @bad_dominicana, @aurabogado, @so_treu, @blackamazon, @thetrudz, as well as #ThisTweetCalledMyBack on Twitter, for a critical perspective on the role of intersecting racism and sexism in how activist work is valued. If you’ve ever been dismissed as “just an Internet activist” or told to get off your computer and out in the streets, then you need to read this essay. If you’ve ever dismissed someone else as all talk, and no action, not like those real activists who are running big street protests, then you need to read this essay. And if both are true for you, then you need to read this essay.

The Fellowship of the Linkspam (26 October 2014)

  • Meet the Awesome League of Female Magic: The Gathering Players | bitchmedia (20 October): “Magic: The Gathering is a collectible trading card game published by Wizards of the Coast, the same company responsible for Dungeons and Dragons. Over the last twenty or so years, Magic has gained significant popularity and become a staple of nerd culture. Magic: The Gathering is played in a competitive tournament setting, casually at kitchen tables, while waiting in line at cons, and everything in between. Magic tournaments are not often a welcoming space for women despite the efforts of many within the community so, naturally, Magic horror stories were a popular topic of discussion at Geek Girl Con.”
  • Disney Princesses Are My (Imperfect) Feminist Role Models | boingboing (24 October): “So why not write off these problematic princesses and find better role models? Part of the power of the Disney princess is that she is inescapable. As a massive conglomerate, Disney is able to give its princess line an almost frightening level of cultural ubiquity. Conventional wisdom holds that girls will watch male-driven stories while boys will simply ignore female-driven ones. But it was impossible to ignore Frozen last year just as it was impossible to ignore Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty And The Beast when they premiered. Stop a few hundred people on the street and they’ll likely be able to name more Disney princesses than American Girl dolls, Baby-Sitters Club members, or Legend Of Korra characters. It’s important to introduce young girls to well-written female characters in niche properties, but it’s equally important to teach young girls that their stories don’t have to be niche.”
  • [infographic] The Gender Divide in Tech-Intensive Industries | Catalyst (23 October): While the leaky pipe metaphor has its flaws, it is one of the many reasons the tech industry is hostile to women.
  •  Anita Sarkeesian speaking at XOXO Conference | Feminist Frequency (7 October): “In September 2014, I was invited to speak at the XOXO conference & festival in Portland. I used the opportunity to talk about two subtle forms of harassment that are commonly used to try and defame, discredit and ultimately silence women online: conspiracy theories and impersonation. (Note: trigger warning early on for examples of rape and death threats as well as blurred images of weaponized pornography).”
  • [warning for discussion and examples of sexual harassment] A Natural A/B Test of Harassment | Kongregate (23 October): “all the questions made me think more deeply about my experience, particularly the low-level harassment I get that I’d taken as a given, normal for a co-founder of a game site. It occurred to me to check with my brother/co-founder Jim, but he said he almost never gets hassled. Most of the harassment I receive is through Kongregate’s messaging system, and looking at my last 25 public messages mixed in with compliments and requests for help there are several harassing/sexual messages. Jim has none.”


  • It’s Not Censorship to Ignore You | NYMag (21 October): “women were merely pointing to a threatening, gender-specific kind of speech, and asking for the tools to avoid it. There’s something obviously illogical about free-speech panic among white Americans in 2014. Thanks to online publishing and social media, the barrier to entry for free public speech is lower than ever.  What I suspect truly bothers free-speech reactionaries is that the same, democratized new media that allows them to publish free-speech rants has opened public discourse up to a lot of people they’re not used to hearing from — women, people of color, and those Gamergate calls “social justice warriors,” in particular. Some of the people who historically controlled the media uncontested might not like what these people have to say, but these newcomers are nonetheless very popular. And when a “social justice warrior” chooses to wield the “block” button against a troll, it’s not his freedom of speech that’s in danger, it’s his entitlement to be heard.”
  •  S4E7 – #GamerGate (Base Assumptions) | blip.tv (22 October): Critical discussion of Gamergate in terms of base assumptions. “The use of terror tactics, even if only by a minority, has created an environment of fear that all members [who believe gamergate is solely about ethics in games journalism] enjoy the privilege of. When people are unwilling to engage because of fears that they’ll be next, all members [of gamergate] benefit from that person’s silence, even if they were not responsible for that harassment.”
  • [warning for harassment and threats of violence] GamerGate’s Economy Of Harassment And Violence | ravishly (20 October):”You cannot separate violence, any violence, from the context and circumstances of the society in which that violence transpires. Whoever benefits from violence is culpable for that violence. For this reason, every woman who endures harm in the wake of GamerGate’s expansion – whether it’s being forced into hiding or self-harming in the wake of unrelenting pressure and harassment – is a victim of GamerGate.”

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

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

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Why We’re Not Talking About GamerGate

Content warning: stalking, harassment, threats, violence–GamerGate, basically.

Geek Feminism’s lack of a statement about the GamerGate hate campaign has felt conspicuous to me. We’re a community dedicated to promoting justice and equality within geek communities. Documenting harassment and abuse in geek communities is one of our biggest projects. GamerGate is on our beat.

But while our fabulous team of linkspammers has been on top of the story, we haven’t put up a statement.

I spoke to some of our other bloggers about ways we could respond. The conversation we had was pretty illustrative.

Here are the ideas we had, and why we discarded them:

1: A “Seriously, Fuck GamerGate” Post

Why we didn’t:

“Fuck GamerGate” is a fairly obvious statement from us. It might be satisfying to say, but it adds little to the conversation.

And women who’ve said it before us have been stalked, harassed, doxxed, and threatened–some to the point of fleeing their homes.

2. A statement of support for GamerGate’s victims

Why we didn’t:

Telling folks we support them is nice, but it doesn’t provide the victims of these terror campaigns with the practical support they need to protect themselves. Talking about them has a very high chance of exposing them to even more abusers. When you’re the target of an organized campaign of terror, the last thing you need is more attention.

And women who’ve made statements of support have been stalked, harassed, doxxed, and threatened–some to the point of fleeing their homes.

3. An Ada Lovelace-style celebration of women in gaming, where we encourage folks to blog about games they love by women, and women in gaming who inspire them.

Why we didn’t:

We didn’t want to paint a target on anyone’s back.

Women in gaming who’ve gotten positive attention have been stalked, harassed, doxxed, and threatened–some to the point of fleeing their homes.

4. Present an iron hide and dare them to bring it.

Some of us feel guilty for not telling GamerGaters exactly where they can shove the horseshit they have the temerity to present as discourse.

Why we didn’t:

We want to live in a world where terror campaigns like this are ineffective; where that which does not kill us makes us stronger; where good triumphs over obtuse, selfish, cowardly evil. But wanting to live in that world doesn’t make that world real. In this world, oppression and injustice have built a system whereby that which does not kill us often leaves us personally and professionally damaged.

The fantasy that bravado would win the day is appealing, but daring abusers to come for us won’t do anything constructive. As much as we might want to put ourselves between GamerGate and its victims, we can’t. There are too many of them to successfully draw their fire.

We’d just end up getting stalked, harassed, doxxed, and threatened–possibly to the point of fleeing our homes.

By now, you’ve surely noticed the theme here.

It’s tempting to offer cheap platitudes to the women who’ve been the focus of these abuse campaigns, or those who might become them. To tell them to be brave, to speak their truth, to not let violent assholes scare them.

Platitudes won’t keep the cesspits of the internet from backflowing into their homes and workplaces. Platitudes won’t secure their computers and personal information; protect their families from detailed, sexually-explicit death threats; walk their kids to school; or stay at home to protect their pets while they’re at work. Platitudes won’t explain to their bosses why their companies’ websites are being DDOSed. Platitudes won’t stop bullets.

So before you lament how terrible it is to ‘let them win’ by being silent, please stop and think of a better way to phrase “I want to live in a world where the victims of abuse campaigns have a winning move.” Don’t ask women to sacrifice their names, careers, and safety to the fantasy that life is fair.

Telling women to be brave and speak up is telling them to face a violent horde unarmed. We don’t have an effective defense against these terror campaigns. We desperately need one. We’re going to follow up and see if we can develop any effective strategies.

In the meantime, I’ve already painted the target on my back, so I might as well say it.

Fuck GamerGate.

Breaking news: the gamer community is broken

[CW: verbal abuse and massive online harassment directed at women]

In case you missed it, there’s a war on against women in games. Trolls and/or misogynists (when the two groups are observationally equivalent, fine distinctions seem beside the point) used the 4chan hate site to organize an attack against game developer Zoe Quinn, opportunistically exploiting a series of revenge posts made by Quinn’s disgruntled ex-boyfriend.

Quinn has now posted detailed excerpts from 4chan members’ IRC logs that make their intentions to carry out a false-flag operation, and manufacture a controversy about “ethics in game journalism” out of thin air, crystal-clear. The people making sockpuppet accounts to post what they think are convincing simulacra of feminist thought aren’t concerned about ethics; they’re not even sympathetic with Quinn’s hapless ex. No, they simply have a vendetta against “social justice warriors” (I guess they think that term is an insult?)

You can follow links to read many more details. I’d like to highlight one thing, though. Normally, we don’t publish rejected comments on this blog — sort of by definition — but most comments this blog receives never see the light of day, whether they’re nonsense spam, indiscriminate proposals for posts on the most faintly on-topic issues, trolling, or outright hate. I’ll make one exception, though. This comment sat in the pending queue for a while before it was deleted:

The full text of a comment from Matthew Rappard that was left on this blog

This is a comment that was deleted before it appeared on the blog. Wow, are we glad.

As far as I can tell (people who are sufficiently dull, sheltered, or both to think that fighting against social justice is the best thing they can do with their clearly-copious free time), 4chan trolls planned to manipulate the Fine Young Capitalists to provide publicity for their hate campaign. I was already suspicious, when I saw the initial comment, of a group purporting to help women in games that has a spokesperson with a traditionally masculine first name; more suspicious by not seeing obvious credit given to any women who were also collaborating with the organization. I thought it might be innocent, though. And now, I see that it was — but that it could well have been preparation for some not-so-innocent manipulation.

(By the way, I didn’t think to whois the IP address until just now. Turns out it’s a public Toronto Public Library terminal. That probably would have raised a red flag for me as well — usually, representatives of nonprofits that are on the up and up don’t need to hide their identities by using a public library computer.)

I think the moral of the story, for people who moderate blog comments, is to be careful and seek second (and third) opinions. It’s natural to want to err on the side of not dismissing somebody as a troll when they actually have a genuine issue that you don’t know much about. But sometimes, when it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it really is a member of Anas platyrhynchos.

Words Aren’t Magic

So let’s talk about This Shit Right Here (that’s an archive.today link), in which technology consultant Jeff Reifman accuses Geek feminism blogger Leigh Honeywell and advice columnist Captain Awkward of harassment.

Last November, Reifman wrote a lengthy post about his relationship with an ex who eventually asked him to stop contacting her, then threatened to get a court order when he did not. He used her as an example to decry what he called ‘cutoff culture,’ and to suggest that women who want to cut exes out of their lives have an obligation to find some kind of ‘compromise’ to make sure their ex’s emotional needs are met.

Leigh and the Captain, both feminist activists, called him out. The Captain did so in this excellent post breaking down the entitlement and abuser-logic in his arguments. Leigh called him out on twitter. He wrote something in public; they challenged it in public.

Reifman then sent Leigh an email that prompted her to publicly and privately tell him never to contact her again.

So he wrote a blog post in which Leigh is very easy to identify to trash talk her for ‘harassing’ him, implying that it’s a a violation of Double Union’s Anti-Harassment Policy for her to call out his enormously-creepy behavior towards an ex who’d asked him to leave her alone (including publicly hashing out his relationship with said ex with roughly as much care for hiding her identity as he showed for hiding Leigh’s).
The Geek Feminism Code Of Conduct contains a section on things we specifically don’t consider harassment:

The Geek Feminism community prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort. The Geek Feminism Anti-Abuse Team will not act on complaints regarding:

  • ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’ (because these things don’t exist)
  • Reasonable communication of boundaries, such as “leave me alone,” “go away,” or “I’m not discussing this with you.”
  • Refusal to explain or debate social justice concepts
  • Communicating in a ‘tone’ you don’t find congenial
  • Criticizing racist, sexist, cissexist, or otherwise oppressive behavior or assumptions

I wrote that section because people on an axis of privilege have a nasty tendency to appropriate social justice terminology (like privilege and harassment) and twist it around to serve their own point of view. They treat these words like magic incantations, as if it’s the words, rather than the argument, that convinces people.

Words are not magic incantations. They have meanings. Using a word without understanding its meaning just because you’ve seen other people successfully use it to convey a point is magical thinking.

Sometimes, the people who employ these words as magic incantations mistake other people’s refusal to engage for a victory–they must have successfully turned social justice sorcerers’ magic words against us, because we won’t argue with them anymore. Reifman himself engages in a version of this fallacy when he armchair-diagnoses his critics as ‘triggered’ rather than recognizing that their anger is a natural reaction to his demands for free emotional labor. The truth is more mundane: most of us are not interested in teaching reading comprehension to people whose comprehension is willfully limited to concepts that support their privilege.

This is the email that led Leigh to publicly tell Reifman to leave her alone:

From: Jeff Reifman
Date: Mon, May 12, 2014 at 11:03 PM
Subject: Responding to your tweets
To: Leigh Honeywell
Cc: [redacted mutual friend]

Hi Leigh, I don’t know if you remember meeting me – but I think we met
at Elysian, I’m actually close friends with [redacted mutual friend]. I saw your
tweets and your medium note and thought I would reach out.

I noticed that the comment policy on your blog asks that commenters be “
non-discriminatory, friendly, funny, or perspicacious” … I’m super
open to a discussion about this as long as comments are civil and
constructive. I would hope you would tweet as you wish others to
publicly comment on your blog.

Using the word shitbag … and repeated mentions of “fuck” both on
twitter and on medium doesn’t represent civil discussion very well.

the feedback I’ve received from the cutoff essay has been overall very
positive – but sometimes it triggers people … and I’ve now, only
twice, received attacks like this – you’re the second.

I’m open to talking about it – especially if you want to highlight
specifics … but I ask that you be civil and constructive …[sic]

Jeff Reifman

Translation: Tone argument, demand for free emotional labor and education, tone argument, tone argument, lurkers support me in email, tone argument.

You’ll notice that he CC’d a mutual friend of theirs. Then he went and wrote this follow-up post, using barely-pixelated avatars and so many direct quotes that Leigh and the Captain are laughably easy to identify. So for all his thinky thoughts about ‘shaming,’ he clearly has no problem with trying to shame people who call out his extremely inappropriate behavior.

Too bad he’s trying to do so with magic incantations.