Tag Archives: violence against women

Co-Signing the Ada Initiative’s Statement on Michael Schwern

[CONTENT WARNING: Domestic violence arrest]

On September 25th, the Ada Initiative released the following statement on Michael Schwern:

The Ada Initiative does not support Michael Schwern’s ally work

[TRIGGER WARNING: domestic violence arrest]

On Thursday 19th September 2013, open source community member Michael George Schwern (known commonly as “Schwern”) was arrested by Portland Police, North District, on charges of HARASSMENT DV – (B Misdemeanor) and STRANGULATION DV – (A Misdemeanor). On Tuesday 24th September 2013, a lawyer representing Michael Schwern published a press release stating that the District Attorney declined to charge Mr. Schwern and that he faces no charges.

The Ada Initiative has promoted Michael Schwern’s advocacy for diversity in open source in the past, including through posts on our blog (e.g. this post and this post) and on our social media.

The Ada Initiative declines now and in future to work with Michael Schwern or to promote his work based on the information above. We have updated our existing blog posts mentioning him or his work with a link to this statement.

Resources for victims of domestic violence and their supporters

The Geek Feminism Wiki has a page on Abuse and Trauma resources. This page has resources for victims of abuse, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, and sexual violence, as well as resources for supporters of victims of abuse and violence.

The following members of the Geek Feminism Blog co-sign the Ada Initiative’s statement:

Annalee
Alex Bayley
Rachel Chalmers
Tim Chevalier
Ashe Dryden
Liz Henry
Leigh Honeywell

If you also wish to co-sign, you may do so in comments. Please note that this comment thread is open to co-signatures only. No other comments will be approved.

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

Writing violence against a woman

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

I am male who wants to write a novel about a female superhero. Since this is a superhero novel there will be violence and at some point my hero will have to lose a fight (though of course she wins in the end).

I am wondering how I should write the scene where the supervillain beats the crap out out of my female hero. Should I just write as if she were a male? Or do I need to take precautions so I don’t end up glorifying violence against women?

A quick thought on this one: there’s no “just” in “write as if she were a male”. A big part of the problem is that this is pretty rare, hence the Women in Refrigerators trope and similar critiques. Your own knowledge that she’s a woman will influence you to write violence specific to her gender and to cultural tropes about male-on-female violence.

So, I think you’ve set up a bit of a false dilemma between “write what comes naturally and it will be just like as if she was a man getting beat up” or “go out of my way to de-glorify the violence against her”. Another thing you need to be careful of is “write what comes naturally and spew your cultural uglies about women and their bodies and violence against them all over the page completely unawares.”

Second thought: you don’t want to “write as if she were a male”, in any case, because she isn’t. You want to write as if she was a person. Your current thinking on this seems to be edging towards “men are the pattern for people, women are special unique cases of people” which is a little concerning for your characterisation of a woman!

Do you have a writing group who review each other’s drafts? Does this group contain women? Obviously the women in your writing group should be reviewing all the work that your male peers do, not just “hey, I have a woman-centric bit here, so now you’re the expert, but I’ll ask John about the rest of my writing.” But you could ask the group in general for feedback on this and since you can show them the actual draft, they may have more specific thoughts.

You could perhaps get some of the way with playing around with reading and writing drafts of your violence scenes gender-switched and with more ambiguous pronouns in order to try and keep the uglies out of it, but I think this is where we need some fiction writers to step in. What think you?

nina

Re-post: in memory of nina reiser

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on September 3, 2011.

Trigger warning for lethal violence against women

I picked up Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries with trepidation, because it’s at least nominally about the Hans Reiser murder trial, and Nina Reiser’s murder fucked me up. Her kids are the same age as mine. Her career counselor is my next door neighbor and friend. And her husband and mine are both Linux kernel programmers. They worked together at a Palo Alto startup during the boom, where Hans sometimes cornered my husband to rant about the extremely acrimonious Reiser divorce.

When news of Nina’s disappearance broke, I asked my husband:

“Do you think he killed her?”

He thought about it for a minute and said:

“I am not saying no.”

Trust me, this is not a thing you ever want to hear.

Elliott’s book is gorgeously written and as a San Francisco memoir has a great deal to recommend it; and it’s not really about Nina and Hans. The trial is more or less just a backdrop to Elliott’s wandering around the Mission District and Bernal Heights and taking too many drugs. I loved it, and I do not mean to suggest that Elliott should have written a different book, or no book at all – here I am writing about Nina to exorcise my own personal bullshit, after all.

I have two – not even criticisms, let’s say two observations to make about the book. The first is that I am sad, still sad, continually endlessly sad and angry at the way everyone else’s narratives collude to obscure Nina and her life. It’s not that she was a saint or a celebrity – the hagiographies that dwell on her “movie star good looks” set my teeth on edge – but she was an extremely intelligent and tough woman, coping admirably in a horrible situation, and by every account a wonderful, playful, caring and responsible mom.

And because she was murdered she is now, in some sense, public property. Everyone, myself included, projects his or her own personal issues all over her frozen image. Hans’s supporters call her a whore. Stephen Elliott remakes her in the image of his dead mother. Her death has become a set of Meanings that overwhelm her life, which had its own meaning, and which was her own. I mourn the Nina who was alive, and really nice and clever and ordinary. It’s not fair. It’s really shitty that she’s dead, and I hate it.

My second point is a little bit harder to make, but here goes. Elliott, God love him, has the creative professional’s lofty disdain for those of us who work in cubes. A brief stint as a search engine optimization specialist at the end of the boom has qualified him to rule on the working world once for all time, apparently. We are not an interesting set of stories, he concludes. We are too simplistic, and the world we inhabit is too black and white.

I actually find this endearing (I have a whole other rant about how people who don’t work in an office can’t write about working for a living and can’t begin to imagine how intricate and interesting it really is, a multi-dimensional 15-puzzle played with and by chimpanzees), but I think it misses part of what was going on with Hans, and maybe a big part. It misses Namesys.

Joshua Davis’s brilliant article in Wired (part of the inspiration for Elliott’s book) joined the dots between Hans’ code and his character, but a company is also an expression of a person’s soul. His brilliant Russian mail-order bride was a big part of Hans’s self-image as the startup entrepreneur who could afford to date, let’s face it, way out of his league. And much of the savagery of the divorce seemed to stem from Hans’s fears that Nina would imperil or claim for herself some part of his hoped-for payout from Namesys.

Hans felt that his intelligence gave him special privileges. (Did I mention that he and my husband worked together at Rearden Steel? Yes, named for the company in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. You can’t make this shit up.) Armed with his titanium sense of entitlement, Hans insisted on what he saw as his rights. And it seems that when Nina stood up for herself, he choked her to death in the driveway of his mother’s home while their children were playing in the basement.

He probably didn’t intend to kill her. My husband makes the macabre point that if the murder were premeditated, Hans would have been better prepared for it. Having done it, though, Hans thought he ought to get away with it. He thought he could outsmart the police. He thought that his intellect was so great that it was only reasonable that he should get away with murder.

Hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the way Silicon Valley-style technocratic capitalism can reinforce the kyriarchy.

But here I go again, indulging the temptation to make Nina’s death a metaphor, a political point, an argument, instead of what it is, which is a tragedy. Today, on the fifth anniversary of her murder, I remember Nina.

nina

in memory of nina reiser

Trigger warning for lethal violence against women

I picked up Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries with trepidation, because it’s at least nominally about the Hans Reiser murder trial, and Nina Reiser’s murder fucked me up. Her kids are the same age as mine. Her career counselor is my next door neighbor and friend. And her husband and mine are both Linux kernel programmers. They worked together at a Palo Alto startup during the boom, where Hans sometimes cornered my husband to rant about the extremely acrimonious Reiser divorce.

When news of Nina’s disappearance broke, I asked my husband:

“Do you think he killed her?”

He thought about it for a minute and said:

“I am not saying no.”

Trust me, this is not a thing you ever want to hear.

Elliott’s book is gorgeously written and as a San Francisco memoir has a great deal to recommend it; and it’s not really about Nina and Hans. The trial is more or less just a backdrop to Elliott’s wandering around the Mission District and Bernal Heights and taking too many drugs. I loved it, and I do not mean to suggest that Elliott should have written a different book, or no book at all – here I am writing about Nina to exorcise my own personal bullshit, after all.

I have two – not even criticisms, let’s say two observations to make about the book. The first is that I am sad, still sad, continually endlessly sad and angry at the way everyone else’s narratives collude to obscure Nina and her life. It’s not that she was a saint or a celebrity – the hagiographies that dwell on her “movie star good looks” set my teeth on edge – but she was an extremely intelligent and tough woman, coping admirably in a horrible situation, and by every account a wonderful, playful, caring and responsible mom.

And because she was murdered she is now, in some sense, public property. Everyone, myself included, projects his or her own personal issues all over her frozen image. Hans’s supporters call her a whore. Stephen Elliott remakes her in the image of his dead mother. Her death has become a set of Meanings that overwhelm her life, which had its own meaning, and which was her own. I mourn the Nina who was alive, and really nice and clever and ordinary. It’s not fair. It’s really shitty that she’s dead, and I hate it.

My second point is a little bit harder to make, but here goes. Elliott, God love him, has the creative professional’s lofty disdain for those of us who work in cubes. A brief stint as a search engine optimization specialist at the end of the boom has qualified him to rule on the working world once for all time, apparently. We are not an interesting set of stories, he concludes. We are too simplistic, and the world we inhabit is too black and white.

I actually find this endearing (I have a whole other rant about how people who don’t work in an office can’t write about working for a living and can’t begin to imagine how intricate and interesting it really is, a multi-dimensional 15-puzzle played with and by chimpanzees), but I think it misses part of what was going on with Hans, and maybe a big part. It misses Namesys.

Joshua Davis’s brilliant article in Wired (part of the inspiration for Elliott’s book) joined the dots between Hans’ code and his character, but a company is also an expression of a person’s soul. His brilliant Russian mail-order bride was a big part of Hans’s self-image as the startup entrepreneur who could afford to date, let’s face it, way out of his league. And much of the savagery of the divorce seemed to stem from Hans’s fears that Nina would imperil or claim for herself some part of his hoped-for payout from Namesys.

Hans felt that his intelligence gave him special privileges. (Did I mention that he and my husband worked together at Rearden Steel? Yes, named for the company in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. You can’t make this shit up.) Armed with his titanium sense of entitlement, Hans insisted on what he saw as his rights. And it seems that when Nina stood up for herself, he choked her to death in the driveway of his mother’s home while their children were playing in the basement.

He probably didn’t intend to kill her. My husband makes the macabre point that if the murder were premeditated, Hans would have been better prepared for it. Having done it, though, Hans thought he ought to get away with it. He thought he could outsmart the police. He thought that his intellect was so great that it was only reasonable that he should get away with murder.

Hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the way Silicon Valley-style technocratic capitalism can reinforce the kyriarchy.

But here I go again, indulging the temptation to make Nina’s death a metaphor, a political point, an argument, instead of what it is, which is a tragedy. Today, on the fifth anniversary of her murder, I remember Nina.

A linkspammer who is also the breadwinner (9th December, 2010)

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

Some resources for people who want to be allies

This is a 101 post and all of the links here are fairly well known to ‘net feminists, but Noirin being assaulted has caused newcomers to wonder what they can do to help create a safer environment for women and others at risk of assault.

Newcomers: we welcome your help! Here’s some things you could look at.

The Con Anti-Harassment Project: is a grass-roots campaign designed to help make conventions safer for everyone. Our aims are to encourage fandom, geek community and other non-business conventions to establish, articulate and act upon anti-harassment policies, especially sexual harassment policies, and to encourage mutual respect among con-goers, guests and staff. They have a lot of material, see particularly their tips for conferences/conventions who want to create a policy and their FAQ. If you aren’t an organiser, you could make a point of requesting an enforced policy from conferences you attend, and thanking those that have them.

Check out the The Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project & Gentlemen’s Auxiliary which is more informal: you can share stories of harassment, assault and successful backing each other up, organise meetups at cons you attend, and purchase gear.

Make it not okay, really not okay around you to say the kinds of things people said to and about Noirin. You, presumably, believe* that women can attend conferences and go to bars and have fun and have male friends and consensually touch people and have a romantic/sexual history and have photos of themselves online and be a feminist and have the absolute right to refuse consent to intimate social situations, to touching and to sexual activity. You, presumably, also believe people you personally despise, or aren’t your idea of fun, or who hold opinions you disagree with, or who have hurt you in some fashion, have the absolute right to refuse consent in the same way. You presumably believe that sexualised approaches to people, and sexualised interactions with them are harassment unless they are welcome. If you believe those, and you are around people who don’t, don’t let them believe that they are with allies, if and when you have the power for that to be safe.

Valerie Aurora points out also that if you attend events where harassment and assaults are happening and the event organisers and atmosphere are ignoring or contributing to the problem, stop going if you can. Support spaces that are doing better.

Finally, because I couldn’t find this written up in one place in a bite-sized way, don’t tell people what they have to or should do about abuse or assault or harassment. Abuse, assault and harassment are about withholding power from someone, about denying them self-determination. They need, and have a right to, the power to decide how to respond. It may be appropriate, if you are a witness or a good friend or an event organiser or the person on the spot or otherwise one of the people most likely to be able to help them, to offer them help in getting home, finding a shelter, getting some money, finding a crisis counsellor, going to the police, getting ongoing counselling, speaking out, overcoming fear of the next event, getting the hell out, now or in the future, as seems appropriate at that moment. And then let them decide whether they want to do that or anything else, and whether they want your help. (A reference in forming this thinking was Karen Healey’s Snakes in the grass. tigtog also pointed me at unusualmusic’s linkspam: Why didn’t you call the police? Part One.)

* If you do not believe the things in that paragraph we don’t really need to know why not.

Noirin’s hell of a time

Warning: this post discusses sexual assault and links to both a survivor account and to hostile comments.

Noirin Shirley’s post A hell of a time in which she describes her sexual assault at ApacheCon on the 4th November and names her attacker is starting to show up in our Linkspam suggestions and so on.

We’ve seen it.

This post has been widely linked by tech news sites, including (trigger warnings for comments at all of these places) Reddit, Hacker News and Gawker and while some respondents have been sympathetic to or angry for Noirin, there’s a lot of victim blaming in the usual ways: “don’t ruin his life over one mistake”, “don’t go to bars”, “asking for it”.

I think this is hard for us to write about, as several of us (including me) know Noirin either online or in person. We want to acknowledge what happened to her and how she responded (go Noirin!) but the ferociousness of the don’t-speak-out wasn’t-that-bad this-is-how-human-sexuality-works get-over-it this-isn’t-news deserved-it has hit us all hard. It feels like we’ve been working our teaspoons super hard for ages, and someone built another dam and filled it up.

And we are just onlookers.

Noirin: sorry about what happened to you, both the assault and the response.

Surely I don’t really need to say this: comments will be moderated. Leaving anti-speaking-out or compulsory-police-reporting or pro-sexual-assault or I’m-not-necessarily-talking-about-this-situation-but-here’s-a-hypothetical-where-the-alleged-attacker-gets-hurt comment here is a waste of your time.

Update: if you have links to share, please place a warning if that link, or any comments it is allowing, are victim-blaming.

Linkspam wears women’s underpants (16th December, 2009)

  • We’re a bit late with the link, but the latest Feminist Carnival went up at Undomestic Goddess on December 9. Submissions are open for the next carnival, out December 23.
  • Training bar staff to intervene to reduce the risk of rape — without any victim-blaming. As in, there’s less “watch your drink at all times, ladies” and more “we’ve noticed your inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other patrons; get out.”
  • Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants “James” outs herself as a woman, then explains how she wound up posing as a male writer, and how different her experiences were when writing under her own name. There have been several interesting followups:
    • Kate Harding drew parallels with the use of male pseudonyms by book authors in the past and, perhaps less well-known, in the present.
    • Amanda Hess observed that Chartrand had cultivated a very masculine writing persona, including using naked women to illustrate posts, describing one of her employees as “the team’s rogue woman” in “a good ol’ boys club”, and buying into stereotypes when writing about women.
  • We linked to Part 1 of Arachne Jericho’s series of posts on fictional portrayals of PTSD, but there aren’t forward links from that to the later posts. Check out the rest of the series: Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. A wrap-up post is planned.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

This post was originally written for my local Women in Science and Engineering chapter’s blog. I’m afraid it’s not my best writing, as I found the experience somewhat upsetting, but I think the day we were marking is of particular interest to readers of Geek Feminism, so I’m cross-posting it here.

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses actual violence against women, specifically the story of the École Polytechnique Massacre. There’s little graphic detail here, but several of the links in this post contain fairly disturbing information.

In Canada, December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The day was chosen as a memorial to those killed in the École Polytechnique Massacre, which happened on December 6, 1989. On that day, a lone gunman walked into the school and killed 14 people, injuring more, before turning the gun on himself. He claimed that feminists had ruined his life and that the young women engineers he targeted must be feminists because of their non-traditional career choice.

Members of CU-WISE, GSA, IEEE WIE, Womyn’s Center, Foot Patrol, and MEN were out in the unicentre on Dec 3rd to raise awareness of the issues, and to raise money for a pair of women’s shelters in the area which burned down. At 1pm, we held a candlelight ceremony in the unicentre:

After the ceremony, we showed the new film, Polytechnique. I made the mistake of staying to watch part of it. Not that it is a poorly done film, but I found it quite deeply disturbing. Mark Lepine’s suicide note actually sounds too much like the death threats I, and many other women involved in the open source community, have received from another deranged individual (trigger warning: the link is to a post which discusses some of the vile stuff he says). And after watching part of the film, I then had to walk through Carleton’s halls, which share some of the same institutional feel to the hallways of École Polytechnique. I will caution that this film can be highly disturbing, and note that I will likely never watch the rest of it.

However, despite my misgivings with the film, and the unpleasant feelings that come with marking the date of the Montréal Massacre, I think it was a great opportunity to talk to some of our wider university community about the history and the issues.

That’s Ms Linkspammer to you (4th December, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.