Tag Archives: harassment

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

To Hit Armor Class Linkspam (7 September, 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.

Closeup of the paint-covered hands of a child (by Steven Depolo)

I take it we aren’t cute enough for you?

A few times within the lifetime of this blog, there’s been a major emergency in geekdom: a geek girl has needed a confidence boost.

I hear you cough. Someone just said “geek girl” on Geek Feminism, the home of “ahem, geek women, THANK YOU”?

No really, I mean it, a geek girl. A prepubescent girl has been bullied or heard some gender essentialist crap, and a call to arms goes out. The best known is probably Katie Goldman, the then seven year old whose mother wrote in November 2010 that Katie was being bullied for liking Star Wars, a boy thing:

But a week ago, as we were packing her lunch, Katie said, “My Star Wars water bottle is too small.  It doesn’t hold enough water.  Can I take a different one?”  She searched through the cupboard until she found a pink water bottle and said, “I’ll bring this.”

I was perplexed.  “Katie, that water bottle is no bigger than your Star Wars one.  I think it is actually smaller.”

“It’s fine, I’ll just take it,” she insisted.

I kept pushing the issue, because it didn’t make sense to me.  Suddenly, Katie burst into tears.

She wailed, “The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle.  They say it’s only for boys.  Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it.  I want them to stop, so I’ll just bring a pink water bottle.”

Katie’s story went viral including at the official Star Wars blog and a year later CNN reported that at GeekGirlCon when a brigade of Storm Troopers formed an honor guard for Katie, and that there’s an annual Wear Star Wars day as a result.

We had our own smaller burst of geek support on the Geek Feminism blog in May this year, for five year old Maya, who was turning away from her love of cars and robots. 170 comments were left on our blog for Maya, second only to Open Letter to Mark Shuttleworth (200 comments) in our history. In addition, it wasn’t an especially difficult thread to moderate as I recall: a few trolls showed up to tell Maya goodness knows what (sudo make me a sandwich LOL?) but in general people left warm, honest, open stories of their geek life for Maya.

Here’s something I was struck by: when I tweeted about Maya’s post, back in May, I saw replies from men saying that they were crying (with joy, I assume!) about the response to Maya. I have to say I do NOT see a lot of admitted crying about other posts on our blog, no matter how positive or inspirational. (People love the existence of the Wednesday Geek Women posts, but they are consistently our least read and commented on posts.) Or crying about stories that are negative and horrifying either.

It’s going to be hard to stand by a statement that I don’t begrudge Katie and Maya their outpouring of support, but: I don’t begrudge Katie and Maya their outpouring of support. I don’t think they should have less of it.

… but I think geek women and other bullied or oppressed geeks should have more.

Thus I do want to ask why girls? Why do we not have 170 comments on our blog reaching out to women who are frustrated with geekdom? I want to get this out in the open: people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women.

I’ve compared harassment of adults with bullying of children before: they have a lot in common. What they don’t seem to have in common is a universal condemnation from geekdom: bullying children? Totally evil*. Harassing adults? Eh… evil, except you know, he’s such a great guy, and he hasn’t got laid in a while, and (trigger warning for rapist enabling) he does have the best gaming table, so what are you gonna do, huh?

There are a number of reasons, I know, even aside from the (provocative!) title of the blog post. Some of them are more sympathetic than others:

  • Talking to adults about overcoming difficulties is harder. There can’t always be as much optimism or tales of It Gets Better. For some adults, that’s bullshit. (It’s not always true for children either and telling children this can be a disservice too, but it is more culturally comfortable.)
  • Adults are often angry when they’ve been mistreated. In this case, feminists are often angry. It’s harder to engage with angry people. They (we) are less appealing. We may not be grateful for your thoughts. Sometimes we pick them apart publicly if we don’t like them enough. And call you mean names.
  • When a child is bullied by another child, the bad guy is reassuringly definitely not you.
  • Children don’t talk back, or can’t. If an adult says that It Gets Better, the appropriate role for the child is to smile and look grateful. (This is also true of women when listening to men, but generally somewhat less so.)
  • Many of us are more familiar with the experience of being a bullied child than being a harassed or oppressed adult, and can be empathetic more easily.
  • We really really want to believe that things will be basically OK for Katie and Maya, even if they haven’t been for us and people we love.

There’s no easy answer. Many of us are very deeply invested in It Gets Better rhetoric, because the alternative is sure pretty sucky. But at the same time, if you’re doing one thing to stop gendered bullying this year, say, leaving the 170th supportive comment for a five year old girl, while kind, was probably not the single best use of your one thing. Join the fight. Make it better yourself. And, since you aren’t in fact limited to one thing, leave kind or supportive or co-signed righteously angry comments too, while you’re at it, and not only for children.

* At least, in the context of these discussions. I am far from believing that geeks are universally actively working to save children from bullying, nor that they are incapable of perpetrating child abuse.

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.

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

World-Record Linkspam (10th August, 2012)

  • Frustrations of an Asian American Whedonite: “Would you ever tell a story that purported to have major elements of American gay culture, without having a single gay character in-frame for more than 3 seconds? What about a show that claimed some feminist themes, but cast only men, with women barely seen and never heard?”
  • Olympians: Superhero Bodies and What Real Athletes Look Like: “In fact, [the bodies of Olympic athletes] seem a lot more varied than the characters in the pages of most super-books. So are superhero comics getting it wrong?”
  • The Trouble With Wife Aggro: Aro reacts to a panel with “Wife Aggro” in the title appearing on the PAX Prime schedule: “When you title your panel ‘Wife Aggro,’ what you are saying is that this is a place for dudes and that women (unless they’re committed monogamous lesbians from one of a handful of US states or Canada, I guess?) are not invited…”
  • Scalzi: An Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping (at cons): “Yeah, I do meet a lot of people and/or I do find many of the people I know in a casual way to be attractive in one way or another. The very last thing I want is for them to feel that I am a creepy assbag. These are the things I do to avoid coming across as one.”
  • Meet Ouya, The $99 Android-Based Gaming Console With a Woman CEO: “To Uhrman, the Ouya is a ‘love letter to gamers,’ and its a beautiful letter thus far — I just hope its addressed to all gamers, 40-year-old Farmville-loving soccer moms included.”
  • Why It’s Important To Cut That Creeper Guy From Your Social Group: “Beyond having good anti-harassment policies at the executive level of the convention, you and your friends or peer group should have an anti-harassment policy amongst yourselves.”
  • The Importance of a Gay Gamer Convention: “When you accuse these folks of segregating themselves, you forget that they were already pretty fucking segregated, and having them band together is the last thing their haters want, really — because keeping them isolated and singular is the best way to keep them quiet.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Rape, Rape Apologism] The Pervocracy: The People You Meet When You Write About Rape: Cliff Pervocracy has compiled a list worthy of a new bingo card.

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.

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

All you need is linkspam (7th August, 2012)

  • What the Backup Ribbon Project is all about | Backup Ribbon Project: “Stories have come back to us about “Backup” people helping to break up fights, escorting women to their hotels, distracting That Person from obnoxiously hitting on other fans. And each and every one makes us proud to be a fan.”
  • ‘Fake Geek Girls’: How Geek Gatekeeping Is Bad For Business – Forbes: “In the face of this insecurity, “fake geek girls” are the equivalent of Communist sleeper agents in the uncertain 50s – the number of women who have no interest in geek culture but want geek attention at a personal level is vanishingly small, but their phantom is used to justify prejudice more generally, with the aim of keeping an unknown quantity out of the clubhouse.”
  • NYT: In Silicon Valley, Showing Off: “And while some women here still worry that they will not be considered serious technologists if they care about clothes, as Katrina Garnett was in 1998, when she wore a slinky black Hervé Léger bandage dress in ads for her business software company, many are confident enough to dress the way they want to.”
  • Notes From an Ayewards World – An Old-School She-Geek: “If it’s OK for women to be anything they want, then they can want to be decorative and well dressed and impeccably made up. Of course they can!
    But are they going to judge me unworthy because I am not, and don’t want to try to be?”
  • Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault Feminist Romance | Finding Gaia: “I don’t read a lot of romance because too often I end up finding parts that conflict with my values as an educated, independent-minded, political woman.”

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.

Thoughts on the “Dark Side” discussions

I’ve been travelling this week, so it’s taken me a while to get around to this, but as founder of the Geek Feminism wiki and blog I wanted to respond to the posts by Nice Girl, Rikki Endsley, and others linked and listed in this post.

To Nice Girl and Nixie, I want to say I am sorry this happened to you at OSCON, and that you were made to feel unwelcome by people who identified themselves with the Geek Feminism community. It’s provoked a lot of discussion among us, and we agree — inasmuch as a loose affiliation of people with no official structure can agree on anything — that it’s not in keeping with the values we wish to espouse.

We are taking a few different steps to address the specific concerns raised. One is that we are reviewing our wiki pages to make sure that we have information on slut-shaming and that it is appropriately cross-linked with articles about sexualised environments at geek events to help reinforce/educate people that criticising an individual woman’s choice of clothing is very different from criticising (for instance) a business that uses booth babes as a marketing device.

The second thing is that we are setting up a process so that people can contact us if they experience harassment by someone associated with GF. This is a work in progress, especially since GF is (as mentioned) a loose affiliation with no official membership, and because we may be asked to deal with harassment that occurs outside our own spaces. However, if someone is harassing another person under GF’s name or in a way associated with GF, then we want to provide a private way for people to contact us, and respond appropriately.


Now, on a more general note, I would like to address a few of things I’ve seen mentioned lately.

Firstly, Geek Feminism — like feminism in general — is not monolithic or homogenous. People come at it from all kinds of perspectives and with all levels of experience. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to say what tenets or beliefs we hold as a group.

As a short list, people who have publicly associated themselves with Geek Feminism (eg. by being a regular blogger or frequent wiki contributor) include: men, women, trans and genderqueer people, married people, single people, polyamorous people, monogamous people, parents, childless people, people of colour, mixed race people, immigrants, people of a variety of religions or no religion, people with disabilities, heterosexual, bisexual, gay and lesbian people, asexual people, people with > 20 years experience in technical fields, members of the “digital generation”, students, academics, unemployed people, people who wear suits every day for work, professionally published writers, artists and crafters, community managers, open source developers, people who work with proprietary/non-open source software, gamers (online and off), science fiction fans, anime and manga fans, vegetarians and vegans, femmes, butches, androgynous people, people who have worked as sex activists and educators, people who produce erotica/porn, people with PhDs, people with no degree, introverts, extroverts, people on the autism spectrum and off it, people with other mental health diagnoses… I said it was going to be a short list so I’d better stop now. And these are just among the “regulars” I can think of; when it comes to our wider community, including people who read our blog or regularly refer to our wiki or support us in some other way, I can’t even begin to imagine the range of backgrounds and perspectives. (Which is not to say that our diversity is perfect — we certainly have clusters where some backgrounds/perspectives outweigh others — but that we are not all alike in our views or opinions.)

A while ago I was talking to Mary, offline, about how we would define Geek Feminism. We weren’t really able, though we came up with a few ideas to characterise the style of feminism that tends to happen around here. We never published them or really took them anywhere because, again, they’re not entirely representative, though I think they do give a little insight into the overall tendencies of this community. So, I present them here, but ask that you take them with a big grain of salt and do please feel free to disagree or suggest other ideas if you have them.

  • Documentation: our main tactic is to document things. To some extent this grows out of my original (very personal and individual) reason for starting the GF wiki back in 2008: I was making an effort to learn more about women’s experiences in geek communities and to contextualise that within the framework/jargon that feminism had already developed in non-geek contexts. My tendency when learning something new is to write documentation to help cement the idea in my own mind and to (hopefully) be of use to others in the future. And so, I created the wiki, which has been fairly central to GF since then.
  • Scientific/logical: without trying to imply that everything we do follows the scientific method and is peer reviewed (because it’s obviously not) I do think we have a more science-friendly approach than many other branches of feminism. Some feminists tend to see science as a tool of the patriarchy, and distrust it by default, whereas we more often believe in science as a Good Thing even if we might criticise the methodology of participar research. As geeks, we also tend to fall more towards the “logical” end of the logical-emotional spectrum than is common among women and in other branches of feminism — noting, of course, that the very divide between logical and emotional is a cultural construct! We also communicate easily using scientific language and concepts.
  • Minority women environments: Most of us operate in minority-women environments (eg. tech industry, online gaming, science fiction fandom) which makes for a very different style of feminism from majority-women movements. As minority feminists, we talk a lot about “increasing the number of women” or “making a space welcoming for women” and we deal most often with issues of invisibility, marginalisation and harassment. Women in majority fields, on the other hand, have to face issues like having their work recognised as “real” work, and being fairly remunerated for it. These differences lead us to make all kinds of assumptions about who our community of interest is and what strategies/tactics work for us.

Again, I think these are just tendencies and I want to be clear that I’m trying to be descriptive not prescriptive here, but I do think those ideas are indicative of the way GF tends to think and operate as a community.

I don’t think we can say much beyond that. Many of GF’s regular posters try to operate with an awareness of intersectionality, but I don’t think we could claim it as universal; many of us consider ourselves sex-positive, but probably not all; many of us have left-leaning politics, but then again I haven’t polled everyone so who knows. My point, I suppose, is that when we talk about “what Geek Feminism does” or “what Geek Feminism is” let’s remember that it’s a large, diverse community and that generalisations tend to fall flat.


I’ve identified as a feminist for most of my life, but I only recently started really learning about (and, I hope, starting to understand) the complexities of it.

Like many feminists before me, I went through a stage of “girl stuff is icky”. I thought that feminism was about levelling up into male-equivalent privilege: being allowed to do boy things, being treated as one of the boys, being paid as much as men were. I eschewed anything feminine, and thought I was morally superior for doing so.

In my time, I’ve been a fan of all kinds of problematic media, up to and including Robert Heinlein, and not seen anything wrong with them. I’ve said things that were racist, ageist, ableist, transphobic, and, yes, sexist. I still do sometimes. Sometimes I’ve done it right here on the GF blog. At times I’ve been called on my *-ism, and deflected or derailed or made some excuse for it. I might be doing that right now — it’s hard to tell, actually, because defensiveness is such a natural reaction, and so hard to recognise and correct for.

Like everyone else, I grew up in a deeply sexist society, and I was trained from childhood to be a part of it. That training takes deep hold, and stays with you for life. We call it internalised sexism.

Someone said to me the other day, “I can’t imagine anyone from GF saying those things to Nice Girl”. I can. I might have said them myself. I might even still say them myself, if I were tired and/or cranky and/or had had a couple of drinks and/or wasn’t carefully filtering what came out of my mouth — all things that tend to happen to me at OSCON (which, to be clear, I didn’t attend this year or last.) I might have blurted something out, thinking I was being funny or making an in-joke, then realised a moment later that I was being a jerk and then not known how to gracefully extract my foot from my mouth.

It happens. It happens to all of us. Every feminist is on a steep learning curve when it comes to this stuff, and we’re all constantly battling our way up that hill while carrying all the baggage of our upbringing in a sexist society.

So to those people who say it couldn’t have happened: of course it could. To those who say it shouldn’t have: you’re right. But that doesn’t necessarily imply that the person saying it wasn’t a feminist, or that feminism (or Geek Feminism) is broken because of it. Saying that internalised sexism is the “Dark Side” of (Geek) Feminism is like saying that bugs are the “Dark Side” of Linux. Sure, Linux has bugs, but the point is that the community is committed to solving them together when they show up.


Another idea I want to touch on is that of the Overton Window, which is the narrow band of political thought that is considered reasonable/non-extreme. Someone actually introduced me to this idea early in my GF days and I’ve found it very helpful.

Unlike most other women-in-technology or women-in-whatever groups, GF explicitly identifies as feminist, right there in the name. Lots of people find this challenging, threatening, or overly strident. I’m okay with that.

I remember more than a decade ago, when the LinuxChix group first started. If I recall correctly, it was the first community for women within open source/free software. There was enormous negativity towards it at the time, and lots of people thought it shouldn’t exist, as if the very idea of a women’s group was threatening. These days, “X Women” groups within open source are commonplace. What changed? Well, one part of it is that LinuxChix and some of the other groups have been around for a while, and everyone’s got used to them. But I think another part of it is that, compared to strident activist groups like Geek Feminism, a mailing list for women to support each other and maybe a dinner at the annual conference seems pretty mild and unthreatening.

We see the same thing with harassment policies at conferences. The Ada Initiative’s Conference Anti-Harassment Policy project (hosted on the Geek Feminism wiki) is fairly uncompromising in how it defines harassment and how it suggests dealing with it. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a few cases where conferences have been lobbied by their attendees/speakers/members to adopt the policy, and have said “We don’t want to, because it’s too strict. But we’ll write our own policy instead.” Then they publish a policy or a “diversity statement” which is less firmly worded. Much as GF people might roll their eyes at this and say it’s wishy-washy and unactionable, the fact is that a conference just made some kind of statement about diversity and/or standards of behaviour, when they hadn’t before, and that that statement had seemed — in comparison to the GF version — to be uncontroversial. Think back a few years, and you might remember that even the mildest of diversity statements was a big deal. Now it’s commonplace.

That’s the Overton Window shifting. By being strident activists, we open up room behind us for moderates to say, “Well, I’m not as extreme as them, but I think we should do something.”

So, overall, when someone says that GF is too loud, too strident, too extreme, too pushy, I tend to consider it a feature not a bug. Feminism, and any political movement, needs people to be loud and pushy so that the moderates can look moderate.


Finally, I’d like to talk about “the opposition to Geek Feminism” that Bruce mentioned in his post. Geek Feminism — feminism in general — already has an opposition. It’s called the kyriarchy. It’s nothing new; we’ve been dealing with it forever.

What we have here is feminists (some self-identified as such, some not, but I don’t know how to describe them otherwise) from different communities/backgrounds/allegiances disagreeing over implementation details. This is common, and happens in all political communities. When it comes to feminism, people often trade on these disagreements to paint the whole movement in a bad light: see, for example, the so-called “Mommy Wars”.

Let’s please try and remember that there is room under the feminism umbrella for many feminisms. In fact, diversity in feminist tactics, just as in communities in general, is a strength. Not everyone has to agree with GF or take part in our community, though we do hope that some of the resources we provide are of use to other groups regardless of their focuses and methods.

It’s trite, but I’m going to ask that we remember that we’re all on the same side. While there are still people sending death threats to women in the geek community, no feminist group is “the opposition” to another.


In re: comments… I’m still travelling, and am going to be out and about with only my phone for the rest of the day, and on a train with limited Internet tomorrow. I apologise in advance if my responses are slow.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Special Bonus All Video Gaming Linkspam (15th June, 2012)

Our link wranglers found so many this week, we made it a two-parter.

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.

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

All that and a bag of linkspam (8th 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.

Grace Hopper: Sorry I missed that. I was busy inventing the compiler.

Quick hit: WHO invented the internet?

I’m betting there’s some of you who’ll want to discuss this awful article that starts by claiming that MEN invented the internet. But rather than quote the irritating original article in this post, I’m going to quote part of this rebuttal from Xeni Jardin:

You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT.

Radia “Mother of the Internet” Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.

“Men are credited with inventing the internet.” There. Fixed it for you.


I ragequit this article like, 10 times, and couldn’t get past that awful opening line.

Read the rest of the rebuttal on BoingBoing, or read the original article.

So, uh, yeah. Here’s a post so you can have a comment thread on the topic that is moderated by feminists.

Re-post: On being harassed: a little GF history and some current events

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on October 13, 2011.

Trigger warning for discussion of and graphic examples of threatening online harassment.

The other day Mary posted Online harassment as a daily hazard, linking to s.e. smith’s On blogging, threats, and silence. I thought I might take the opportunity to talk about my experiences since starting the Geek Feminism blog in 2009, if only as another example to add to the long list we already have.

In early 2009 I wrote a series of blog posts on my personal blog, celebrating the achievements of Dreamwidth and the Organization for Transformative Works’ Archive Of Our Own (AO3), two open source projects that launched into beta around that time, and that had large, majority-female developer communities. Someone at O’Reilly saw them, and in May ’09 I got an email from the organisers of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) asking if I’d like to give a keynote presentation about the subject.

At first I declined, asking whether, instead, they could find me a regular slot in the schedule. I wanted to talk about the projects and about what we could learn from them with regard to building inclusive, supportive developer communities, but I was uncomfortable with the degree of exposure I was likely to get by doing so in one of the morning keynote slots.

(I remember talking to my boss about it at work the next day, telling him I was flattered but didn’t much relish the negative attention it would get me. He was surprised, and didn’t get it. Later, he would admit that he’d read the ensuing comment threads around the web and was stunned not only by the content of them, but that such responses were expected.)

Anyway, at the end of May I went off to WisCon and talked to a bunch of supportive, inspiring feminists, and when I came back I agreed to give the OSCON keynote. I spent the next two months trying to figure out how to talk about the experiences of women in open source while keeping the message positive — something O’Reilly’s conference organisers had specifically requested.

Here’s the talk I gave. Don’t read the comments. Well, not unless you really need to raise your blood pressure. There were another 250 comments on the O’Reilly Radar post about my talk, and yet more on other tech blogs that linked to it. When I got back to work the week after OSCON, my boss had read them all and said, “Wow, I had no idea.”

What you’ll see there, if you brave the comment threads, are lots of attempts at derailing and 101 style conversations. For the most part, I deleted the particularly vile stuff, but you can bet there was some. After dealing with those comment threads, and those on subsequent related blog posts, I decided to create the GF blog. I wanted a group blog where, when I was exhausted by it all, I could get help from my co-bloggers.

Over the following six months, as my OSCON talk was linked all over the place, and as GF took off, I started to get more nasty email. In September of that year, GF became the target of a guy who goes by the name of MikeeUSA, who had previously targetted the Debian Women and LinuxChix communities. He started commenting here on GF, and sending email to GF bloggers, commenters, and people who linked to GF from their own blogs.

The women of the “geek feminism” movement will be just as effective at excising men from the movement as Nina was at systematically destroying Hans Reiser’s life untill he saw no reason, nothing left in his life, that could hold him back from striking back.

(Nina Reiser was murdered by her husband in 2006; see yatima’s post in memory of her.)

We deleted his comments here, of course. At first we did so quietly, not wanting to “feed the troll” But I was dubious of that traditional wisdom, and worried about other people getting messages from him and perhaps being less able to deal with it. I decided to write publicly about MikeeUSA so that everyone would know what was happening. In October ’09 I posted PSA: MikeeUSA’s hate speech and harassment.

As I was drafting that post — literally, I had the WordPress UI open in another tab — I got an email from a young woman in the open source community saying, “I just got a comment on my blog from this death-to-women’s-rights guy, and I’m not sure what to do about it.” I forwarded her a copy of my draft post, which included the following tips (summarised, but I do suggest you read the full post):

  • Moderate comments on your blog. Your blog is your space, and like your own living room or workplace, you have the right and the responsibility to make it a safe environment for those who gather there.
  • Save copies of all correspondence. Keep a copy of any blog comments, emails, or other correspondence you get from [anyone] who threatens or harasses you. Even if it starts out mild, it never hurts to have a paper trail.
  • Report threats to law enforcement. Threats of violence are illegal, and should be reported to law enforcement. Your first step is to contact your local police, wherever you are. You can call 911 (or local equivalent), or visit your local police station in person.

I would probably write that final point differently these days. Less prescriptively, for starters. Law enforcement is seldom willing or able to do anything about online harassment, and the process of dealing with them can, in itself, be pretty traumatic. That said, if you’re willing and able to do so, it might help, if only by contributing to aggregate data.

In any case, once we had the MikeeUSA thing out in the open, it changed the whole tone of things. The PSA got passed around various women-in-tech communities, and the GF wiki and blog became the top Google hits for his name. Soon, I started seeing him show up in people’s comments and get responses like, “Woohoo, I must have made it to the big time now Mikee’s come to visit!” Rather than each individual woman feeling singled out and alone, privately deleting blog comments or email messages, we started to work on it together. We encouraged people to send copies of their emails to a central repository, and forwarded them all to the feds (who, of course, did nothing with them — *sigh*). Eventually, the whole thing came to a head with Eric S. Raymond supporting MikeeUSA and his “right” to have his hate speech hosted on Sourceforge.net, and, after a weekend’s hacking, this lulzy, pony-filled denouement.

What you don’t see from the blog posts are the effect this had on people’s mental and physical health. I can’t speak for the other women targetted by Mikee, but I know that it affected my ability to concentrate, sleep, work, and socialise. Apologies for the TMI, but my gastro-intestinal system is also fairly sensitive to stress, so I was physically ill as well. I took several days of sick leave and went to the beach for an extended weekend, completely offline, to try and regain some equilibrium.

So far so bad, but I was at least managing to muddle through my day to day work as a technical community manager at a dotcom startup. That is, until I got a second particularly nasty stalker. This one, a Wikipedia troll, had found his way to my employer’s online database and tried to fill it with rubbish. As part of my job, I’d removed it and blocked his account, then mentioned on our public mailing list that I’d done so. The troll was annoyed, and presumably Googled my name, whereupon he found my OSCON talk.

The first I knew about this was when I got an email from a well known technologist asking whether I had any idea why a post on his blog, linking to my OSCON talk, had suddenly attracted a dozen commenters all posting abuse directed at me. I checked it out, and found comments on my professionalism, appearance, fuckability, and so forth. “Fat dyke slut” was pretty typical of the sort of language used, along with criticisms of my work and calls for me to be fired from my job. The IPs matched the guy I’d blocked at work.

The comments also linked to other blogs where similar abuse had been posted. I followed the links and found that it was spread all around the web, and all of it was on third-party sites where I had no control over the comment moderation. I had to contact each of these websites individually and ask them to remove the comments. Luckily most of them did so.

Because this was work-related, I also had to tell my boss. I was, after all, being harassed in relation to something I had done in the course of my professional duties, and my company had a responsibility to prevent that. I also informed the rest of my team, as they were likely to catch some of the side-splatter. Have you ever had to show your male colleagues a webpage that calls you a fat dyke slut? I don’t recommend it. However, my boss — the same one who’d been surprised by the comments straight after the OSCON talk — was extremely supportive, and the company did everything it should have. I spoke to lawyers and we determined a plan of action if the abuse continued. Fortunately, it didn’t. However, the negative side-effects of my “hobby” — feminist blogging — had now followed me to the office, and I could no longer keep the two separate. My chances of being able to relax and do my work without worrying about that stuff had gone out the window.

Not long after, another harasser was causing trouble for the Dreamwidth developer community (which, as I mentioned above, is predominantly female). Among other creepy behaviour, he phoned various people’s workplaces and accused them of distributing child pornography. I had to go to our office manager and tell him that if anyone called claiming to be a minister of religion and accusing me of that sort of thing, to ignore it. Awkward.

That was about nine months after my OSCON talk, and I’d had three separate cases where abuse related to it had negatively affected my professional life. Other women have talked about cutting back on their blogging out of concern for their personal safety, or to protect their children, but I wonder how many other female bloggers have had work-related problems like I did, and cut back on their blogging to avoid having abuse and harassment leak over into their professional lives?

The most recent outcome of this whole process occurred in March of this year. The startup I was working for in 2009 had been acquired by Google, and I’d submitted a talk to Google I/O (their big annual conference) to showcase our APIs. A couple of months before the event, I attended a kick-off meeting in Mountain View, where I sat in a lecture-theatre style room along with all the other presenters.

The senior exec in charge of the whole thing came to give us a pep talk. He told us how big and important the conference was, and what an honour it was to be speaking there. He told us that it was a great opportunity, because we would be speaking not only to a huge crowd in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, but our talks would also be filmed and put on Youtube, where they could potentially get hundreds of thousands of views (and, presumably, a commensurate number of comments).

I had a panic attack. My ears were ringing, my heart was beating fast, and I was shaking. I couldn’t hear what was being said from the front of the lecture theatre, and I just wanted to escape. I managed to get up and leave the room, and once I had found myself a safe corner outside, I got online and talked it through with a friend, then contacted a colleague and asked them to speak at Google I/O in my place.

I presume that most of the people in that room, including the exec who was speaking from the podium, had never had the experience of 6-12 months of very personal abuse after giving a conference talk. If they had, they might realise that the opportunity to have a video of oneself on Youtube, with hundreds of thousands of views and unmoderated comments, is not something everyone would want. (See also: Mary’s excellent series on conference recordings and harassment, accounts of people’s experiences, thoughts on ethics and policy.)

By the time this happened, I’d already decided — like many women before me — to drop out of the tech industry, so it was no big deal for me to turn down a high profile speaking opportunity. In fact, I hadn’t spoken at any major conferences in a year or so, preferring small events and unconferences where I could focus on teaching people about our technology, rather than on any potential harassment.

I’m fairly conflicted about my choice to quit the tech industry. I don’t want to be part of some statistic about retention rates, but on the other hand, I need to do something that feels rewarding and fun, and the work I was doing — which involved lots of speaking at conferences — wasn’t giving me that any more.

I didn’t quit because I couldn’t handle the technology, or because I had a baby, but because I had become fundamentally disenchanted with a “community” (please imagine me doing sarcastic air quotes) that supports the kind of abuse I’ve experienced and treats most human-related problems — from harassment to accessibility to the infinite variety of names people use (ahem ahem Google Plus) — as “too hard”.

That said, I’m still a techie at heart, and I plan to keep working with and on technology in whatever career I have ahead of me. I’m particularly interested in using open tech to preserve and promote independent music, so you’ll continue to see me around in many of my usual tech haunts.

Which brings me to a couple of weeks ago, when I got an email that read:

Hey slut, take your left wing socialist idealogy and go fuck off from ubuntu.

It came from someone calling himself “Markus G”, with email address grandrhino at hotmail, and IP address 110.174.202.115 — a static IP address with the ISP TPG, and a traceroute indicating that he’s probably in Brisbane, Australia.

Luckily, I know I’m not alone. I contacted the GF bloggers through one of our backchannels and asked if anyone else had heard of this guy. Turns out Mary had heard that “Markus” had previously sent similar filth to another woman in the Australian Linux community (she alluded to this in comments on her previous post). In that case, it was related to the Mark Pesce keynote at LCA 2010 and the subsequent discussion on the Linux Australia mailing list.

So, here’s our situation. We have a man (presumably; at any rate he appears to want to be identified as such) in the Australian Linux community, who targets women by sending them private abusive emails from a throwaway address and with a name that can’t readily be connected to any publicly known member of the community. His ISP won’t hand out information about him without a court order, his abuse doesn’t present the kind of imminent threat to physical safety that might interest law enforcement, and despite Linux Australia’s diversity statement and Linux.conf.au’s anti-harassment policies, it’s not clear that there’s any practical thing that either of those groups can do about him.

I have a talk about a tech/music/community project I founded scheduled at Linux.conf.au in January. If I attend — and I’ll freely admit that I’ve been reconsidering it — I’m going to be attending with this on my mind. That is, of course, what “Markus G” wants: for me, and the other women he’s targetted (and I don’t doubt there are more than just the two I know about) to attend LCA in a state of fear and discomfort, knowing that there are people there who hate us and want us to fuck off out of “their” community. And this is one of the better conferences, with an anti-harassment policy and at least one known case where they’ve enforced it.

What are we going to do about it?