Tag Archives: violence against women

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.

When linkspammers roamed the earth (23rd November, 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.

PSA: MikeeUSA’s hate speech and harassment

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses sexual assault, threats of violence, and actual violence against women. If you link to this post, please include a similar warning. See below for more information on how/why to do this.

I think we need to address this.

There is a guy out there who goes by the name of MikeeUSA and who, since around 2005, has been posting threatening and harrassing comments and emails to and about women in the free and open source software community.

Most recently, in response to the Mark Shuttleworth incident, he’s been commenting on related blogs comparing us (me, Mackenzie, Carla Schroder by name, and other geek feminists in general) to Nina Reiser, who was killed by her husband, Linux file systems hacker Hans Reiser, in 2006.

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.

The same comment was copy-pasted to numerous other blogs, including this one (twice), but has been deleted by most blog owners.

This is the same guy who was responsible for the Debian death threats I mentioned in my post about George Sodini and parallels in the tech community. In 2007, he sent the following to the debian-women mailing list:

Yea you’ve become a developer… and have done nearly nothing except shill your feminist shit and try to turn debian into a woman’s project (you are succeeding, men are leaving debian because of you and your ilk, worthless bitch).

[...]

I pray you find your way into a feminist unfriendly country one day. God willing, you will die.

Happily the feminist-unfriendly countries are immigrating to you. Remeber the netherlands? Feminists die there.

He has a hate blog at mikeeusa.pressword.com where he posts the same sort of stuff.

Men going to jail for hitting their wives is bad for men.

Men going to jail for raping their wives is bad for men.

Men losing their jobs because they said or did a “sexist†thing is bad for men.

Men being pushed out of opensource projects at the behest of WORTHLESS feminist women is bad for men and that which men create.

[...]

As for Nina Reiser: she deserved to die for what she put Hans through. She did die. Justice, men’s retributitive justice, was done. She will never live again, she is finished; she is dead.

This is what he tells men:

Go to the local women’s group office and liquidate it (kill the feminist women there). Wear a dark suit and drive an expensive car (these are more likely not to be suspect). Continue destroying the people who have helped to destroy countless of your fellow Men untill you are killed. Go from women’s rights organisation’s office to women’s rights organisation’s office, maybe throw in a few domestic violence shelters and abortion clinics if you wish.

And as for his views on statutory rape — sex with girls as young as 12, who he believes “belong to men” — well, read his comments here, here, or here.

He’s previously been banned from Blogspot, DeviantArt, and AdBrite, DynDNS, and even the Napster forums (search within page for “Drew Armon”) for his hate speech. He is also the only person ever to have been banned from Debian’s bug tracking system.

Along with his blog posts and comments, he has also sent similar threats by email to individual women, specifically free and open source software developers. While some of the women who received his emails shared them with others and banded together to deal with the problem, others thought they were his only target, and deleted his emails and did not initally let anyone know about them.

This is completely understandable — our first reaction, and the traditional wisdom of how to deal with trolls, is to ignore them and hope they go away. But the effect on each of us, when we try to deal with this stuff alone, is to make us feel isolated, afraid, and impotent. And it becomes one of the many tiny cuts that weaken us and, eventually, drive us away.

Let’s not do that. Let’s stand together and support each other.

Here’s what you can do.

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.

This was a core issue at the time of Kathy Sierra’s online harrassment and withdrawal from blogging. It led Tim O’Reilly and others to propose a bloggers’ code of conduct and others to respond with Moderation isn’t rocket science and John Scalzi’s eye-rolling which said, in part:

Indeed, the reason that we’re now at a point where some self-appointed guardians of the discourse have decided it’s necessary to tell the rest of us slobs how to talk to each other is that people apparently forgot they have the right on their own sites to tell obnoxious dickheads to shut the hell up. [...]

What the blog world needs is not a universal “Code of Conduct”; what it needs is for people to remind themselves that deleting comments from obnoxious dickheads is a good thing.

Whether you decide to institute a comment policy as we have on GF, or to moderate on an ad-hoc basis as required, is up to you. But remember that deleting abusive comments is not censorship. Only the government can censor, and even governments draw the line at threats of violence, which are illegal pretty much everywhere.

Save copies of all correspondence.

Keep a copy of any blog comments, emails, or other correspondence you get from Mikee or anyone else who threatens or harasses you. Even if it starts out mild, it never hurts to have a paper trail.

Where appropriate, let other people know you’ve received threats or harassment. It might be relevant to mention it on a women’s mailing list (eg. one of the LinuxChix lists, or project-specific “Foo-women” lists) and ask whether anyone else has received anything similar. Point them at this post so they know what to do, too.

Report threats to law enforcement.

Threats of violence are illegal, and should be reported to law enforcement. Law enforcement must take them seriously, regardless of whether they occur online or off; if you think they won’t care, remember that the spectre of George Sodini will cause them to take online misogyny more seriously than they would have before this year.

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. Make sure you have saved your correspondence (see above).

Some countries have specific law enforcement divisions to deal with Internet-related crime. For instance, in Australia, the Australian Federal Police have a division that deals with technology enabled crime. Generally, you would not contact these divisions directly. Just contact your local police and they will escalate as required.

Other useful information

  • MikeeUSA also goes by the nicknames Mikee, Mike, Mitch O’Brian, and Drew Armon.
  • According to this profile posted in 2004 (screencap), his real name seems to be Mike McAllister and he is around 19 years old. On the other hand, his Sourceforge profile suggests that his surname starts with B, and this IRC log in which he says he was 18 in 2005 suggests he is currently 22-23 years old.
  • He has recently been using the email address programmer@yahoo.com though he changes regularly; other addresses include a number of variations on mikeeusa@yahoo.com, and notodw@yahoo.com. As you can see, he most commonly uses Yahoo’s free email service. He previously (ca. 2002) used Drew Armon@aol.com and Martainhij@aol.com. New as of today, we’ve found he’s using mikeeusa@sogetthis.com, a Mailinator domain which provides anonymous, throwaway addresses.
  • He uses a dynamic DNS service for the server that hosts some of his websites; his server is connected to Optimum Online, an ISP which serves New York and surrounding areas, and his IP has been traced to Bay Shore NY, which matches the profile linked above where he says he’s from Islip NY.
  • When posting comments on blogs, he may use Tor to obfuscate his location; in this case blocking him based on IP address won’t work, though you may be able to block him based on email, username, or keywords in his comments.

Thanks to Leigh Honeywell for gathering most of the above information. Some further information came from “directhex” in this comment thread on Mackenzie’s blog. We (myself and Leigh) have additional information if you, or law enforcement authorities, need it. Please feel free to get in touch.

A note on trigger warnings

Please remember that many women in our community have been the targets of violence and sexual assault, or have a justifiable fear of becoming a target. Reading about these threats may cause extreme and immediate emotional and psychological distress, which is referred to as being “triggered”. If you are not familiar with triggers, you might like to read this post (Warning: Very explicit discussion of sexual assault and the nature, anatomy, cause & effect of triggers. Is itself triggery.)

Please, if you are going to link to this post, or to any other discussion of or writing by MikeeUSA or his ilk, or to post anything about this on your own blog, add a trigger warning to your post. This will allow readers to manage their reading and protect themselves. You can use the trigger warning at the top of this post as an example.

Comment policy reminder

A reminder that we have a comment policy here which means we will delete comments which are anti-feminist, abusive, or otherwise inappropriate at our sole discretion. Since we expect there to be a lot of people commenting, I’d also like to pre-empt any kneejerk reactions along the lines of “you should just ignore trolls” or “this is censorship” with an invitation for you to post those views on your own blog, not here.

iLinkSpam 2.0 (29th September, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, of if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention.

Write linkspam on it (26th September, 2009)

Update (by Mary, 28 Sep): misskinx told us in comments that the workshop on dating violence is not a Carleton University event, it’s organised by the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) and the Sexual Assault Network (SAN).

Quick hit: real life is so much nicer than the Internets

Borrowing both the term “quick hit” (ie, short post) and a thought from Lauredhel of Hoyden About Town:

I’m a bit bogged-down in contemplating the oft-recurring trope — accepted in so many places as a truism — that men who harass and abuse and insult women online would never do such a thing ‘in real life’. Boggle.

(A common variation is the assertion that they would ‘never get away with it in real life’.)

See also of course Skud’s post. Even if this trope this was true women are caught in a bind: some men are ‘only’ harrassing women on line, which is ‘OK’ because you know, these things happen on the Internet. (Makes me question the supposed geek ideal of human evolution towards any kind of disembodyment, let me tell you.) Some men are the ‘real’ bad guys who do this in ‘real’ places. So, even if that were so, how the hell are we meant to tell the difference?

For men reading thinking “well, shit, this is all rather discouraging” (a) you’re right and (b) if you’ve never seen Kate Harding’s On Being a No-Name Blogger Using Her Real Name, do head on over, and, as they say, read the whole thing.

Why we document

A comment over on the Geek Feminism wiki asked whether we aren’t damaging the community by documenting sexism. I don’t want to get too 101 on our fine blog, but I do want to talk about why I consider our pretty long list of sexist incidents in geekdom a success.

My first geek feminist forum, and still the one I participated longest in and therefore in many ways most influential on me, was LinuxChix. Things I learned over there included the reasons why having men dominate conversations can be anti-feminist, via the discussion around the document now available as behaviour in technical forums, which was originally a response by Valerie Aurora to a problem where the LinuxChix techtalk list was seeing fewer and fewer posts by women and was generally perceived as scary and hardcore.

We also had a long-standing problem articulating what it was that led to the extreme gender imbalance in Free Software development and many of its user communities. I can’t speak for the community, but what I remember feeling about those discussions was a major unease. There was sexism in computing and in Free Software… probably? Some women had stories, some women didn’t. There was social, peer and societal pressure on young women considering science and technical careers or even on developing those skills… probably? Again, some women had stories, some didn’t.

Had you asked me in 2003 for troublesome incidents in Free Software—are we doing anything wrong, or is this a problem we’ve inherited from other people who did things wrong, or is this just a thing about women, that they don’t like to be too nerdy in their spare time?—I don’t know that I would have been able to give you examples of anyone doing anything much wrong. A few unfortunate comments about cooking and babies at LUGs, perhaps. Things started to change my awareness slowly. Valerie’s 2002 HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux dug up some incidents at LUGs. In 2005 LinuxChix itself got some attention from (trigger warning) the troll Skud posted about. I was personally present at a sexualised presentation, the Acme::Playmate presentation at the Open Source Developers Conference in 2006. And in 2007, very soon after I had seen Kathy Sierra keynote linux.conf.au 2007, she was scared out of her work writing about technology by (trigger warning) online harrassment and for the first time, I personally saw the Internet explode over the issue of active, virulent sexism against women in technology.

I do not in fact find writing the wiki documentation of incidents in geekdom very satisfying. The comment linked at the beginning of the post compared the descriptions to a rope tying geekdom to the past. Sometimes being known as a wiki editor and pursued around IRC with endless links to yet another anonymous commenter or well-known developer advising women to shut up and take it and write some damned code anyway is like a rope tying me to the bottom of the ocean.

But what makes it worth it for me is that when people are scratching their heads over why women would avoid such a revolutionarily free environment like Free Software development, did maybe something bad actually happen, that women have answers. It’s not the only answer, there’s still all that social, peer and societal pressure, the shorter leisure hours, and so on, after all. And there’s no level of harrassment or cruelty that won’t find someone, plenty of someones, prepared to immediately argue that it’s really no big deal, what are you doing here, giving up? Letting them win? But now if when I’m asked about whether geek women have problems and why there aren’t more of us, I’m not left fumbling to explain it even to myself.

I don’t know what the Mary of 1999 (my watershed geek year wasn’t 1998, in fact) would have done if she’d come across that page in more or less the condition the wiki comment described, “the girl entering the community without any predispositions”, the woman vulnerable to being misled into thinking that geekdom is full of scoundrels (or, we might argue, not entirely misled). Maybe she would have run, I can’t say for sure that she wouldn’t have. But what woman is without baggage? In 1999 as a teenage girl with hair flowing down to my waist (I tell you what, short hair has cut my street harrassment down nearly as much as it cut my grooming routine down) I walked down the street to the steady beat of rape threats from passing vehicles. At least I would have found that geek women were talking about it and had got together and got each other’s back.