Tag Archives: wiki

Verifiability, truth, and hearsay: feminist point of view on the Geek Feminism wiki

The following quasi-anonymous comment was received and acknowledged on the Geek Feminism Wiki’s article about the Gittip crisis.

If I understand the editing policies here (I just read them), lies or heresay [sic] can be printed as fact, because you don’t take an NPOV, you take a feminist point of view. That implies that feminism involves lies or hearsay otherwise you would recognize that incorrect information (whether it supports a feminist viewpoint or not) doesn’t belong in an article of any merit.

“NPOV” stands for “neutral point of view”, a notion that Wikipedia editors take as a governing principle. NPOV is useful in some contexts, but also can be abused to camouflage specific ideologies — especially those that happen to dominate discourse in a particular place and time. Like “meritocracy“, NPOV is an abstraction that may or may not be realizable, but in practice often serves as neutral clothing for the decidedly non-neutral opinions of those who power structures currently happen to serve.

The inimitable Rick Scott took the time to craft a patient reply, which I’m reproducing in its entirety here (with Rick’s permission) because it deserves to reach a broader audience. I think it’s a good companion to Skud’s “Feminist Point of View” talk from July. It also serves as an illustration in a specific case of the general points we make in the Geek Feminism wiki editorial guidelines.

The remainder of this post is Rick’s words, not mine.


You have read the editorial guidelines (for which I thank you), but not understood them. Perhaps I can clarify.

NPOV properly applies to opinions and analysis, not facts. We convey the facts as accurately as we can ascertain them—there’s no such thing as “feminist facts” and “non-feminist facts”.

Having gained our best understanding of the facts at hand, we analyse and interpret those facts from a feminist perspective—one which is informed by the substantial research, scholarship, and critique that the field encompasses. For instance, if a woman is harassed by a male colleague, her supervisor may deny that sexism played a role, explaining the incident in other ways: “He’s just a jerk”; “He’s not good with people”; “Are you sure you aren’t imagining it”, etc. A feminist perspective, however, draws on the considerable research documenting gendered patterns of harassment in the workplace, and points out that this incident is likely part of the larger pattern—that the woman’s gender probably played a significant role in how her colleague elected to treat her.

What you actually take issue with is our approach to matters addressed by Wikipedia’s two other core content policies, namely Verifiability and No Original Research. Our editorial guidelines, which you so kindly read, state (emphasis added):

While citations are preferred wherever possible, we do not require them. Much of our wiki is primary source material, sometimes added anonymously in order to avoid backlash against the whistleblower. Original research is welcome.

To take but one example, harassment and abuse often occur in ways which leave no artifact save the accounts of those involved. Turning our back on these accounts would eliminate our ability to document what happened and undermine our work. Moreover, in the face of a society which tries to silence marginalized people and casts them as liars when they talk about their actual lives, we push back against this erasure by respecting their integrity, taking them at their word, and treating the facts, as they describe them, as facts. This may offend some people’s utopian notions of epistemological purity, but in a world where speaking truth while female can invite significant retribution, this is what we have.

On the topics of truth, fact, whom we presume to be telling the truth, and whom we presume to be lying, you may find some of the articles linked from the Innocent until proven guilty page to be illuminating: specifically, Christie Koehler’s post on Community Safety, and Jill Filipovic’s article The ethics of outing your rapist.

Finally, and separately from all of the generalities above: I can affirm that the information described as “heresay” (sic) comes from an impeccable source, and so am content to leave the description of events as they are. Since nobody has deigned to present any evidence to the contrary, I consider the matter closed. — RickScott, 18:01, September 4, 2014 (UTC)

Everything that linkspams must converge (13 June 2014)

Warning for discussion of sexual assault. Predatory behaviour and sexual assault at International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and in ed-tech:

  • The original post at Medium, entitled “What is this, church camp?”, by Ariel Norling, is now deleted, Norling has since published Setting a Few Things Straight | Medium (June 5): “Both men’s actions were aggressive and symptomatic of larger systemic issues of sexism and rape culture. This topic has been too often avoided (because it is simply too intimidating for women to confess), ignored, and silenced. My sole objective was to bring attention to the fact that educational technology is a sector that still suffers from these issues, despite being comprised primarily of women.”
  • #YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe | Audrey Watters at Hack Education (June 4): “As I’ve explained on this blog before — or actually, in retrospect, maybe I’ve just hinted — I have received an incredible amount of misogynistic and violent feedback to my work in education technology.”

New movies! Reviews of Maleficent and X-Men: Days of Future Past abound! But it seems our spam submissions have a preference…

Spam!

  • Kim Moir of Releng of the Nerds recommends (June 9) Brianna Wu’s talk Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech (video, June 4) [no known transcript or subtitles, you can start subtitling at Amara to help make it accessible]
  • Online Harassment, Defamation, and Hateful Speech: A Primer of the Legal Landscape | Alice E. Marwick and Ross W. Miller at Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy: “This interdisciplinary project focused on online speech directed at women and seeks to provide a primer on (i) what legal remedies, if any, are available for victims of sexist, misogynist, or harassing online speech, and (ii) if such legal remedies and procedures exist, whether practical hurdles stand in the way of victims’ abilities to stop harassing or defamatory behavior… The study concluded that… there are few legal remedies for victims.”
  • How Perks Can Divide Us | Melissa Santos and Rafe Colburn at Model View Culture (June 9): “As managers, our goal should be to build the strongest and most effective teams possible. That starts with being able to draw from the broadest pool of candidates possible. When we exclude people because they don’t drink beer, can’t hang out after work, are remote employees or don’t like video games, we’re driving away people who could make our teams great for irrelevant reasons.”
  • Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines | Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker (May 28): “On the very same day [N. K.] Jemisin made her [WisCon Guest of Honor] speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up… from the same editor who called Jemisin a [racial and gendered insult] and [gendered insult].”
  • Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned | Sumana Harihareswara at WikiConference USA (May 30) [transcript, video and audio are also available]: “When someone is criticized for doing something inhospitable, the first response needs to not be ‘Oh, but remember their edit count. Remember he’s done X or she’s done Y for this community.’ We need to start treating hospitality as a first class virtue, and see that it is the seed of everything else. Alberto Brandolini said ‘The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.’ It has a big cost when someone treats others badly.”
  • Black girls take on tech’s diversity woes | Contessa Gayles at CNN (June 10): “This past weekend, Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit that teaches coding to girls from underserved communities, hosted its first ever hackathon. “
  • The Newest Frontier | Lesli-Ann Lewis at Model View Culture (June 9): “There’s a persistent lie that there is a new industry of equality in the West. There’s a belief that in this industry, there are new playing fields, even ones, where ingenuity, inventiveness and good ole gumption result in success for anyone worthy. That industry is tech.”
  • Some thoughts on handling harassment and toxic behavior privately | Selena Deckelmann (June 9): “I believe in proportionate response. However, when the interactions are online and there is no physical public space, just ‘public media’, there’s a serious problem with the idea that a private response, particularly from the harassed, works at all.”
  • Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate | Maria Konnikova at The New Yorker (June 11): “Hannah Riley Bowles… has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire. “
  • How Not To Review Women’s Writing | Mallory Ortberg at The Toast (June 2): “I have gone back and forth several times over the last few days on whether or not it would be worth addressing Adam Plunkett’s New Yorker.com review of poet Patricia Lockwood’s latest book here… Also, if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t want to seem mean by criticizing a man twice in public. I have since overcome this reluctance… It is such a perfect illustration of Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing that I think it merits mentioning, if only as a cautionary example for all you future New Yorker (dot com) reviewers out there.”

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

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

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

How to talk to your therapist about geek feminism

Like many geek feminists, I’ve been worn down, burned out, and generally fucked up by this thing we’re doing. I’ve been in and out of therapy for years, trying to manage anxiety, depression, and all the rest, and I’ve been talking to a lot of others who have too.

Every time I’ve been to see a new therapist, I’ve had to spend multiple sessions bringing them up to speed on all the stuff we know: that the tech industry and geek culture are majority-male, misogynist, and bad for our mental health; and that this is part of our daily lives that we can’t escape from by just getting off the Internet.

At WisCon, a few of us got together and decided to draft a document that we could share with therapists and other mental health professionals, to give them an overview of the situation and cut through some of the most common unhelpful suggestions. I’ve spent the last few days filling it in with detailed information, and I’d consider it a more or less complete resource at this point.

You can find it here, on the Geek Feminism Wiki: Resources for Therapists.

Hopefully, this will save you a session or two of going over it all in exhausting detail, and give your therapist the information they need to start helping you.

In future, we’d love to put together a list of therapists who are already hip to this stuff. We’ve also been talking — albeit in much vaguer future terms — about a support fund for geek feminists who need help with legal, medical, or other expenses (including mental health expenses) as a result of discrimination/harassment/abuse in the geek community. What do you think?

Re-post: Thoughts on the “Dark Side” discussions

During December and January, Geek Feminism is republishing some of our 2012 posts for the benefit of new and existing readers. This post originally appeared on August 3, 2012.

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.

Quick hit: Apply for paid internships in open source, running Jan-March 2013

GNOME Outreach Program for Women

Máirín Duffy’s GNOME Outreach Program for Women logo

You might have heard about GNOME’s Outreach Program for Women, which pays USD$5000 stipends for three-month internships for women to work on GNOME. There are opportunities for work in coding, marketing, design, documentation, testing, and more, and you don’t have to have any open source experience or programming experience to apply.

Well, in the upcoming round of internships, there are eight mentoring projects offering at least 17 internship placements in total, and I’m proud to say that one of them is Wikimedia, the project that supports Wikipedia. (I’m the Engineering Community Manager for Wikimedia and basically buttonholed GNOME’s Marina Zhurakhinskaya at a conference in October specifically to ask whether Wikimedia could participate in this program, and I am delighted that we are taking part.) Other projects participating include Deltacloud, Fedora, GNOME, JBoss, Mozilla, OpenStack and Tor.

Any woman interested in working on these projects is welcome to apply, provided she is available for a full-time internship during this time period (more details). This program is open to anyone who identifies herself as a woman.

Please take a look and start the application process as soon as you can, since the application process includes getting in touch with a mentor and completing a small task. And help us spread the word!

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.

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

Wiki help: anti-harassment policies

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

Gather posts about anti-harassment policies

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

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

Suggest actions in support of anti-harassment policies

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

Design buttons and ribbons

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

Rape As Back Story – now on the GF wiki

Trigger warning: rape culture

As you may know, a couple of weeks ago they announced that in a forthcoming Tomb Raider game, Lara Croft would be more “vulnerable” and that part of the game would involve rescuing her from being raped. (Link roundup at the Border House blog.)

Around the same time, TVTropes recently deleted their page on “Rape As Back Story”, replacing it with a notice that said: “We do not want a page on this topic. It does not meet our content policy.” A copy of the page is still available in Google’s cache and the Wayback Machine. And, as it so happens, TVTropes pages are licensed under CC-BY-SA. So is the Geek Feminism Wiki. That license compatibility means that content can be copied from one wiki to the other, with attribution of course.

Therefore, I’ve copied the contents of the Google Cache page (presumably the most up to date) to Rape As Back Story on the Geek Feminism Wiki. At present it’s just a cut-and-paste from the rendered page, and isn’t properly marked up. We could use a hand cleaning it up. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare and are familiar with wiki editing (or don’t mind learning), please dive in!

2014 update: as you can see in the comments, after public outcry TVTropes restored the pages. We have since deleted them from the Geek Feminism wiki.

g+-real-names

Who is harmed by a “real names” policy?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about pseudonymity and about online services that disallow it, instead requiring so-called “real names”. For example, previously on Geek Feminism:

Some time ago, I helped draft a list of groups of people who would be harmed by a policy banning pseudonymity and requiring “real names”. Unfortunately that document’s not available anywhere publicly online, so I thought it might be good to recreate it on the Geek Feminism wiki, and offer it as a general resource.

Here it is: Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?

Please help us fill in any categories of people you can think of who benefit from pseudonymity online, or who may experience real harm from a policy that bans it. You can edit the wiki directly if you like, or just drop a comment here on this post and we’ll try and include them.

And, of course, please bookmark the link and use it whenever anyone claims that only trolls or people with “something to hide” want to use pseudonyms online.

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

Hubris, thy name is linkspam (12th July, 2011)

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