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July Open Thread

Astrophotography of the Egg Nebula

The Egg Nebula, a Planetary nebula discovered in 1996 | via Wikimedia Commons


Another month another Open Thread! Here’s a discussion starter:

Explainer: feminism

Write what you like on topics within the general ambit of this blog, but here’s some suggestions for useful contributions:

  • links to recent posts/articles that relate to topics covered by the FAQs here (and the best links might even be added to the Further Reading Lists on some of those FAQs);
  • mentions of current events that illustrate examples relevant to the FAQs here;
  • links to posts/articles covering beyond-101 topics, as matters of general feminist/womanist interest;
  • recommendations on people/hashtags to follow on Twitter etc;
  • shameless self promotion of events, new blogs, new projects etc but keep it on-topic – feminist/womanist/intersectional and progressive;
  • let me know about any dead links on the older posts, and I’ll see if I can find a cached/archived version and update the link.

As a courtesy to other readers, please include content notes for any NSFW content or content that would be rated PG+ if it was part of a movie or would be prefaced with a “this may be distressing for some viewers” disclaimer on the TV news. This is so that others may make an informed choice on an appropriate time and place for reading such content.

All comments will go to the moderation queue, and the queue will be attended to in chunks in two or threeintermittent modding sessions rather than dealt with as items arrive.  So please have patience – so long as you abide by the comments policy your comment will eventually appear. If you don’t abide by the comments policy your comment may still appear in a redacted form, with all redactions noted as such for transparency.

P.S. WordPress notifications of comments requiring moderation here aren’t coming through to my email at the moment. I’m trying to fix that, but it’s making comment moderation take even longer than usual.

1 Comment

Conference anti-harassment campaigns do work: Three existence proofs from SF&F, atheism/skepticism, and open source

Guest Post by the Ada Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation supporting women in open technology and culture (originally published at the Ada Initiative blog)


[Content Note: sexual harassment and assault]

Woman in armor with dragonSometimes fighting harassment and assault at conferences feels like a losing battle. For every step forward, it seems like there’s another step back: A science fiction convention adopts a code of conduct, but then doesn’t enforce it for a Big Name Fan. People publicly identify a serial assaulter in skepticism, but then he threatens to sue and the blog post is taken down. Is a community without sexual harassment and assault too much to ask for in 2013?Conference anti-harassment campaigns do work – they “just” take several years of dedicated effort to succeed. In the free and open source community, it took about 3 years of concentrated work to get to the point where the vast majority of open source conferences have strong, specific, enforced anti-harassment policies. In 2013 we saw a record percentage of women attendees and speakers at one of the largest open source conferences in the world. Now open source communities are adopting codes of conduct that apply to online interaction too.

Why a history of anti-harassment campaigns?

We decided to chronicle the history of conference anti-harassment policies in three communities: science fiction and fantasy, skepticism and atheism, and free and open source software. The goal is to create a standard reference model of how conference anti-harassment campaigns usually work so that we can refer to it when the going gets tough. If you know what other communities went through – e.g., a phase of concerted online harassment of women leaders – then you are less likely to give up. We hope this history will help people working to end harassment in other geek communities: Wikipedia, computer security, anime and comics, computer gaming, and perhaps even academic philosophy.

This history only covers the high-profile, publicly-documented events of conference anti-harassment campaigns, but like any social justice movement, much of the credit should go to the many people quietly working behind the scenes to organize and implement the change. We’re trying to make that work more visible, so if you were part of this fight and your part isn’t mentioned in this history, or we made a mistake, please leave a comment and we will make the correction as soon as possible!

Thank you to everyone who actually did the work we write about here. You have changed your community for the better!

Table of contents

  1. About the authors
  2. Stages of conference anti-harassment campaigns
  3. History of the science fiction and fantasy campaign
  4. History of the skepticism and atheism campaign
  5. History of the free and open source software campaign
  6. Current status of anti-harassment campaigns
  7. How you can help
  8. Sources and resources

About the authors

Mary and Valerie laughing

Mary and Valerie
(CC BY-SA Adam Novak)

As a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture, the Ada Initiative cares deeply about ending harassment in geek communities. Our co-founders, Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, co-authored the most widely used example anti-harassment policy, hosted on the Geek Feminism Wiki. The Ada Initiative’s first project was working as full-time advocates for the adoption of policies in the open source community, often working directly with conference organizers and community leaders as advisors and coaches.

Stages of conference anti-harassment campaigns

Conference anti-harassment campaigns work, but it is hard to stay positive when you’re in the middle of one. Here’s the big picture of how they usually work, broken down into different stages (note that stages can overlap and have fuzzy boundaries – they are just useful reference points). See if any of this sounds familiar to you:

  • Stage 0: Harassment, assault, pornographic presentations, and sexist jokes are rampant at conferences, mainly targeting women. An informal network develops to warn likely victims individually about who to avoid. Victims are afraid to report non-public harassment. Many people quietly stop attending conferences, or only attend the safest ones. Some leave the community entirely.
  • Stage 1: A few very brave people say, “Hey, I was harassed at con X, and I didn’t like it!” As a reward, they become the target of even more harassment, usually along the lines of “You are too fat/ugly to be harassed,” “You deserve to be raped,” and “If you don’t like being harassed, leave.” If they name their attacker, the harassment is even worse: specific rape and death threats, nasty packages sent to their house, or denial of service attacks on their web sites.
  • Stage 2: A long period of discussion about whether harassment is even a bad thing ensues. Typical arguments in favor of condoning harassment involve women’s known love of compliments on their body parts from strangers, concerns about the extinction of the human species through banning “flirting,” comparisons to the Taliban, “freedom of speech,” and predictions that the quality of code/novels/articles/etc. will take a nose dive if harassment is banned. During this period, some people publicly announce they will stop attending conferences with the worst reputation for harassment and assault.
  • Stage 3: A few community leaders take a public stand against harassment, often prominent men who are horrified and embarrassed to discover this behavior goes on in their community. They are criticized heavily, but rarely the target of rape and death threats. Usually this has a net positive effect for the careers and reputations of the people who take a stand. Opponents of harassment are accused of “dividing the community.”
  • Stage 4: Someone suggests adopting a conference anti-harassment policy, usually one already in use by another conference. The organizers of one of the most progressive conferences immediately pledge to adopt a policy, followed quickly by two or three more. Each conference either adopts an existing policy, slightly rewrites it, or develops their own from scratch. A few months pass without new conferences adopting policies.
  • Stage 5: A few high profile harassment incidents occur at conferences with policies. They are usually handled well; when they aren’t they cause a huge outcry and more pressure to adopt (and enforce) policies. A dozen or so more conferences adopt policies. Victims of harassment begin to publicly name their harassers, often coordinating with other victims and influential allies.
  • Stage 6: Most conferences have anti-harassment policies, and most enforce them. Emboldened, victims talk more freely about their experiences and begin to notice patterns. At this point, even very powerful harassers begin to be publicly named. Some harassers lose their jobs, are banned from conferences, or lose their influence in the community. But harassers also fight back, with take-down notices, threats of legal action, or direct intimidation and threats.
  • Stage 7: Conferences become more awesome: more fun, more creative, and more productive. They are a safer and more welcoming space for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, and many others. New people of all sorts begin joining the community. Serial harassers leave on their own or don’t join in the first place. The bizarre concept of treating all humans with respect and dignity spreads to other areas in the community, such as online discussion, local meetups, and publications.

When you understand the inevitable progression that begins when people start reporting harassment and assault – and other people publicly back them up – you can see why the backlash against simply reporting harassment is so strong. If the fight against harassment at conferences is successful, some people in the community will end up exposed as abusers, driven out of the community, fired from their jobs, not invited to speak any more, or ostracized. They will also lose what they value most of all: the opportunity to harass, assault, and abuse others.

Now, don’t you want to be part of making that happen?

History of the science fiction and fantasy campaign

The big picture: In 2010, Sexual harassment, stalking, and groping were common. Serial sexual harassers operated with impunity. The feminist science fiction convention, WisCon, was one of the only SF&F cons with an anti-harassment policy. Today, over 1000 people have pledged to attend only SF&F cons with anti-harassment policies, many cons have policies, and several serial harassers have been publicly identified, banned from conferences, and/or fired from their SF&F jobs. In terms of stages of anti-harassment campaigns, SF&F is somewhere around Stage 6.

Detailed timeline:

A book cover

Willis’ 2006 Hugo Award-winning novella, Inside Job

August 2006: At the WorldCon science fiction and fantasy convention, Harlan Ellison gropes Connie Willis’ breast on stage during the Hugo awards ceremony (both are Hugo-award winning authors), kicking off extensive online discussion about sexual harassment in the SF&F community.

April 2008: At Penguicon, a hybrid science fiction and Linux convention, attendees create The Open Source Boob Project, in which some attendees wore buttons to signal whether they are open to requests to touch them sexually. The creator later had a change of heart and publicly stated that he thought the project did more harm than good by causing women to feel unsafe.

Vito Excalibur suggests the idea that becomes the Open Source Back Each Other Up Project, focusing on anime and comic conventions. This is a pledge by individuals to intervene if they see harassment occurring.

Geek Feminism Logo

Geek Feminism Logo

May 2008: The Geek Feminism Wiki is founded by Alex “Skud” Bayley (formerly Kirrily Robert), becoming a go-to resource for feminists in a variety of geeky areas, including science fiction, computing, fandom, anime, computer gaming, cosplay, and more. Mary Gardiner becomes a major contributor to the Geek Feminism Wiki.

July 2008: Genevieve Valentine reports on harassment of several women at ReaderCon. The offender was quickly ejected from the conference.

August 2008: Girl-Wonder.org launches the Con Anti-harassment Project, focusing on comic, anime, and fandom conventions. Girl-Wonder.org members include Karen Healey and Hannah Dame, who were listed on the press release for the CAHP launch. Several conventions adopt a policy shortly thereafter.

May 2009: WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention, adopts a clear and specific anti-harassment policy after having a more generic one for many years earlier, in response to an incident of harassing photography.

The Geek Feminism Wiki page “Timeline of Incidents” is started. This page records the sexist incidents in geek communities and currently goes back as far as 1973. The Timeline of Incidents, along with the rest of the Geek Feminism Wiki, eventually become vital resources in the fight for anti-harassment policies.

A woman smiling wearing a gardening hat

Alex “Skud” Bayley, Geek Feminism founder

August 2009: The Geek Feminism Blog is founded by Alex “Skud” Bayley, with frequent contributions from Mary Gardiner, Terri Oda, K. Tempest Bradford, and many others. With a firm moderation policy, this blog becomes a safe space to discuss geeky and/or feminist topics, including fandom, technology, and activism.

The Backup Ribbon Project is created by thatwordgrrl. The idea is to wear a ribbon indicating that you are willing to help victims of harassment, either by intervening or by assisting them after the fact.

A black and white photo of Jim C. Hines, smiling with his arms crossed


Jim C. Hines

November 2010: Jim C. Hines creates a set of resources for reporting sexual harassment in SF&F, updated yearly. The 2013 version is here.

July 2012: Genevieve Valentine reports harassment at ReaderCon from René Walling, a well-known fan. ReaderCon bans him from the con for 2 years, in contravention to their stated policy of a lifetime ban. Hundreds of blog posts and petitions protesting this decision followed, as well as more reports of harassment by René Walling as well as other Readercon attendees, from Kate Kligman, Veronica Schanoes, and others.

August 2012: The ReaderCon board issues an apology, bans René Walling for life, and resigns en masse. Led by Rose Fox and Cristal Huff, the Readercon convention committee commits to many improvements on its anti-harassment policy and its enforcement.

Dragon*Con bans Backup Ribbons from the Backup Ribbon Project, citing concerns that harassers might wear them.

September 2012: Scott Henry writes an article for Atlanta Magazine documenting that Dragon*Con co-founder Ed Kramer has evaded trial for child molestation for years. Kramer continues to receive part of the Dragon*Con profits each year.

November 2012: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) issue a a statement defining their sexual harassment policy and specifying that it applies to all SFWA events.

A woman with raised eyebrows wearing glasses

K. Tempest Bradford
(CC BY K. Tempest Bradford)

July 2013: Science fiction editor James Frenkel leaves Tor shortly after being reported for sexual harassment at WisCon 2013 by Elise Matthesen. More revelations about sexual harassment in SF&F, both by Frenkel and others, follow. Key people involved in reporting the harassment and providing support include John Scalzi, Jim Hines, Adam Lipkin, Sigrid Ellis, K. Tempest Bradford, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

Science fiction author John Scalzi pledges not to attend conferences without strong, specific anti-harassment policies. N. K. Jemisin makes an important clarification that harassment is not limited to sexual harassment. Over 1000 people co-sign the pledge.

A green card with a picture of N. K. Jemisin looking at a small green monster, with the text "N. K. Jemisin, PC Monster, Writes amazing, critically acclaimed, award-winning fiction despite being neither white nor male!!! Uses Guest of Honor platform to brainwash audience with her radical-socialist-fascist-PC message of treating all people as human beings. +5 cloak of Not Taking Any of Your Sh*t.

PC Monster card for N. K. Jemisin

The PC Monsters of SFWA Twitter list is created, to mock members of the SFWA, described as “screeching feminists.” Instead, people use it as a “Who to follow” list (DL Thurston made a copy here), and at least some members of the list suddenly gain dozens of new followers. Jim C. Hines creates collectable playing cards to commemorate the honor. The list includes Laura Resnick (@LaResnick), William Alexander (@williealex), Jess Haines (@Jess_Haines), Myke Cole (@MykeCole), Michael Swirsky (@mbswirsky), Josh Vogt (@JRVogt), Jim C. Hines (@jimchines), Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai), Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed), Sean Wallace (@oldcharliebrown), Alex D MacFarlane (@foxvertebrae), N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin), Steven Gould (@StevenGould), Jason Sanford (@jasonsanford), and John Scalzi (@scalzi).Dragon*Con finally gets rid of child molester and cofounder Ed Kramer by buying out his share of Dragon*Con.

History of the skepticism and atheism campaign

The big picture: In 2010, few or no conferences have policies. Serial sexual assaulters and outright rapists are common enough that women speakers have an informal network to warn each other about them. Victims are too afraid to name or report their attackers. In 2013, most conventions have anti-harassment policies, many leaders vocally oppose harassment, and at least three high-profile serial harassers and assaulters have been publicly identified. However, many victims and advocates are still stalked, harassed, and threatened, and need continuing support from the community. Several accused harassers and assaulters have threatened legal action against those reporting them. In terms of stages of anti-harassment campaigns, skepticism/atheism is somewhere around Stage 6, despite the on-going efforts of abusers to hang on to their positions and privileges in the community.

Detailed timeline:

A woman red hair on a black background

Rebecca Watson

June 2011: Rebecca Watson video blogs about being sexually harassed at the World Atheist Convention and suggests: “Guys, don’t do that.” In response, she is viciously harassed by members of the skeptic/atheist community for at least 2 years (the harassment is still on-going as of August 2013).

May 2012: Jen McCreight says on stage at the Women in Secularism conference that women speakers share the names of speakers who are likely to harass or assault them with other women speakers.

A smiling woman holding a paper printed with the word atheist


Jen McCreight

Stephanie Zvan blogs about Jen’s comment and about harassment at skeptic/atheist conferences and suggests adopting anti-harassment policies at atheist/skeptic cons, linking to the policy on Geek Feminism Wiki as a good example.Sarah Moglia and David Silverman commit to (and follow through on) adopting an anti-harassment policy for the Secular Students Association and AACON respectively. Many more conferences follow, led by Jen McCreight, Chris Calvey, Stephanie Zvan, and many more.

Ashley Miller publicly reports her experiences with harassment at TAM 9, countering earlier claims that no harassment was reported at TAM 9. In a positive turn of events, Elyse reports favorably on SkeptiCamp Ohio’s handling of harassment complaints according to their anti-harassment policy. Sasha Pixlee of More than Men begins maintaining a list of skeptic/atheist conferences with anti-harassment policies and advocates for more policies.

June 2012: Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight announce they will not attend TAM due to DJ Grothe’s recent statements. Among many other things, DJ blamed Watson and many others for discouraging women from attending TAM by telling the truth about their experiences of harassment in the community. (Ironically, Watson raised money for travel scholarships for women to attend TAM for several years.)

A cartoon drawing of a man with glasses, beard, and two wings

PZ Myers’ gravatar

PZ Myers explains why he’s in favor of conference anti-harassment policies in response to a claim that they are unnecessary because hotel security exists.

WylloNyx explains why anti-harassment policies are not sex-negative and would not prevent consensual sexual activity at conferences. “A lack of statement about non-harmful sexual expression is neutral on the sex positivity scale. That harassment policies make it clear that they offer protection against non-consensual sexual expression makes the harassment policies sex positive. It means that not only the ‘yay, sex is awesome’ part isn’t shamed but also the ‘sex isn’t always awesome’ aspect is addressed to the protection of attendees and speakers. To address both aspects of sex positivity clearly without shame makes sexual harassment policies sex positive.”

Greta Christina points out that the OpenSF 2012 conference for people in open, polyamorous, or ethically nonmonogamous relationships has a detailed code of conduct, including things like: “We know this is California and everyone hugs, but please do that awkward ‘wanna hug?’ gesture before actually hugging.”

Ashley Paramore reports being repeatedly groped in front of several people at TAM in 2012, without naming her attacker. The conference anti-harassment team banned the assaulter from future TAMs. Several other people back up her story. Paramore is still harassed and threatened for publicly reporting her attack.

August 2013: Ian Murphy, Dr. Karen Stollznow, Carry Poppy, PZ Myers, Jason Thibeault, and many more begin naming names of specific serial sexual assaulters and harassers in the atheist/skeptic community. Jason Thibeault creates a timeline of the sexual harassment accusations. Several of the named abusers threaten legal action, causing accusers to switch to using obvious pseudonyms instead.

An Indiegogo campaign is launched to raise a legal defense fund for one of the accused rapists. Ashley F. Miller points out that a quote from the campaign page makes it clear that the goal is to silence victims: “A show of support will send the message that we as a community will no longer tolerate illogical attacks on people who do not condone nor support sexual harassment, sexual predation, or rape any more than we support defamation of our community members from anonymous allegations.”

A skeptic comedian mocks the rape allegations by claiming that it is the victims’ responsibility to turn down alcoholic drinks if they don’t want to get raped and comparing the reports to religious texts. Jason Thibeault provides a transcript of the video with these remarks and explains what is wrong with the idea that getting drunk should be punished with rape or comparing the reports made directly to PZ Myers and others with religious gospels.

History of the free and open source software campaign

The big picture: In 2010, groping, pornographic presentations, and sexist jokes are common at free and open source conferences. Upskirt and other non-consensual photography is a known problem. A few conferences have anti-harassment policies. In 2013, the vast majority of open source conferences have specific, strong, enforced anti-harassment policies. Some conferences even have photography policies. The focus is shifting to codes of conduct that apply to online behavior as well. In terms of stages of anti-harassment campaigns, free and open source software is somewhere around Stage 7, though with occasional relapses back as far as Stage 3.

Detailed timeline:

July 2001 – July 2009: At OSCON over several years, open source consulting company Stonehenge repeatedly throws parties featuring women providing entertainment in a sexualized manner. Complaints to OSCON management have no visible effect.

January 2007: At linux.conf.au, several people tell women attendees if they don’t switch to the Reiserfs file system, Hans Reiser will continue killing women (a reference to an open source developer, Hans Reiser, who was on trial for murdering Nina Reiser). At least one person is expelled from the conference.

A fat cartoon penguin

Linux logo

July 2008: At the Linux Symposium closing session, organizers joke about providing “ambassadors” for the next conference, understood to be female sex workers by the audience.

February 2009: At the PHP UK conference, a presenter uses a pornographic application featuring a “Page 3 girl” extensively during his presentation.

April 2009: At the Golden Gate Ruby Conference, a talk entitled “CouchDB: Perform like a pr0n star” features extensive pornographic pictures and sexual innuendo. The reaction to the talk is mostly critical, with one conferenc organizer saying, “I haven’t yet figured out the best way to prevent this from happening again, but I’m determined to find a way to do better next time. [...] And to be clear, I don’t think Matt’s talk was appropriate for a professional conference.”

June 2009: Alex “Skud” Bayley creates the Porny Presentation Bingo Card. It gets a workout over the next few months. (More about bingo cards and their uses can be found here.)

Porny Presentation Bingo CardPorny Presentation Bingo Card

July 2009: Free software founder and leader Richard Stallman gives a keynote in which he calls “women who have never used EMACS” “EMACS virgins” and exorts listeners to “relieve them of their virginity.” This is part of a “joke” skit about the “Church of EMACS.” Stallman refused to apologize. Due to his leadership position and fame, an extensive round of discussion ensued, hitting the usual high points of “He’s just like that,” political correctness, “Sex is beautiful,” and the rest.

At OSCON, Alex “Skud” Bayley gives a keynote speech on diversity in open source. During the same conference, Stonehenge throws another party with women providing sexualized entertainment. This time, Robert Kaye blogs about the party, calling it “a sad state of affairs.” A several-hundred comment-long debate follows, with the majority against Stonehenge.

November 2009: At DojoCon, a presenter begins his talk with a slide of two women wearing only t-shirts and thong underwear. When asked why he included the slide, the response filled out most of a Porny Presentation Bingo Card.

Sometime in 2009: In response to the avalanche of porny presentations in open source, Esther “Moose” Filderman informs speakers at Ohio LinuxFest, an open source conference, that no sexualized presentations will be allowed at OLF. Ohio LinuxFest subsequently adopts both a speaker policy and a general code of conduct.

January 2010: Open source software conference linux.conf.au 2010 adopts a discrimination policy that specifically bans several kinds of harassment.

June 2010: At Southeast LinuxFest, an attendee sexually harasses, assaults, and follows several women around the conference. The incidents aren’t connected until the last day of the conference, when the organizers finally eject the harasser from the conference.

Smiling woman with short pink hair

Nóirín Plunkett

November 2010: Nóirín Plunkett (formerly Shirley) is groped at open source conference ApacheCon by another attendee. She names her attacker on her blog after explaining that this is far from the first time she has been assaulted at a tech conference. She is attacked online by hundreds of people with rape and death threats, victim-blaming, and sexual comments.

Valerie Aurora announces an example anti-harassment policy on the Geek Feminism blog. The policy and its supporting materials were written by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner, with assistance from Esther Filderman, Beth Lynn Eicher, Sarah Smith, Donna Benjamin, and many members of LinuxChix and Geek Feminism, and based in part on the Con Anti-Harassment Project policy.

Woman with pink hair speaking and gesturing

Valerie Aurora (CC BY-SA Adam Novak)

December 2010: Valerie Aurora publishes an article on a Linux web site about nine women’s experiences being harassed at open source conferences, including her own. Comments are mostly positive. The article links to the example anti-harassment policy hosted on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

Mary Gardiner explains why “Just hit him!” is not a useful response to the problem of harassment at conferences.

OSDC becomes the first conference to use the Geek Feminism anti-harassment policy template as the basis of their policy.

January 2011: At the second open source conference using the Geek Feminism policy, a keynote speaker gives a talk filled with violent and sexual imagery and language. The conference organizers apologize to attendees immediately and the speaker apologizes via Twitter shortly thereafter. The incident provokes a long discussion on the conference mailing list including several instances of rape apology by leading community members.

Ada Initiative logo

Ada Initiative Logo

February 2011: Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora publicly launch the Ada Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to supporting women in open technology and culture, after several months of behind the scenes work. The Ada Initiative’s first project is promoting the adoption of conference anti-harassment policies in open technology and culture.July 2011: Nóirín Shirley blogs about her reluctance to speak at OSCON and the related Community Leadership Summit due to being harassed at both events the previous year. Neither has an anti-harassment policy. Many other OSCON speakers pledge not to speak at OSCON if it does not adopt a policy. After working with the Ada Initiative and reading the Geek Feminism Timeline of Incidents, O’Reilly adopts a code of conduct for all their conferences.

June 2012: Michelle Smith proposes that Django community members take a pledge not to attend conferences without a code of conduct. Julia Elman and Paul Smith create the Let’s Get Louder web site to collect signatures from the Django and Python community members who “pledge only to attend, speak at, assist, sponsor, or otherwise participate in conferences that publicly promote an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination code of conduct policy.” As of August 2013, it has 300 signatures. Mark Lavin also assisted.

November 2012: Remy Sharp creates http://confcodeofconduct.com/, a web site collecting translations of a conference code of conduct based on the Ada Initiative template.

Python Software Foundation logoPython Software Foundation logoDecember 2012: The Python Software Foundation resolves to only fund conferences with a code of conduct in addition to requiring all PSF events to have codes of conduct. This is the first formal announcement of such a standard; many conference organizers report that sponsors have an informal requirement for a code of conduct.

January 2013: The Django Software Foundation follows suit and requires a code of conduct for DSF funded events.

March 2013: A record-setting 20% of attendees and speakers are women at PyCon 2013. While the conference responded quickly to several incidents of harassment, these stories are overwhelmed by the racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic backlash against Adria Richards after she tweets a photo of two PyCon attendees who were making sexual jokes behind her. Richards’ employer fires her after their web site comes under a DDoS attack from people calling for her termination. However, one of the people she reported for harassment is also fired, with hints that this incident was not the only factor in the decision.

Woman smiling with windblown hair

Sarah Sharp

July 2013: Linux kernel developer Sarah Sharp confronts verbal abuse from a powerful Linux community member. Sharp receives widespread support and several major media outlets report on the story.

Current status of anti-harassment campaigns

As you can see, the SF&F, atheist/skeptic, and free and open source software communities have made great progress in fighting sexual harassment and assault at conferences. So what’s the big picture for conference anti-harassment campaigns in other communities as of August 2013?

  • Wikipedia and related projects: All Wikimedia Foundation events, including the world-wide Wikimania conference, have anti-harassment policies in place and enforced. Discussion of online behavior standards is in progress (Stage 6-7).
  • Computer security: A few conferences have anti-harassment policies. Raising awareness of the problem of sexual harassment and assault at conferences continues (Stage 3-4).
  • Computer gaming: Some computer game conferences have anti-harassment policies, but booth babes, sexualization of women, and groping remain rampant at most (Stage 3-4).
  • Anime and comics: Some cons have anti-harassment policies, but consent for photography and sexual harassment remain problems at many of cons, especially the larger and more commercial ones (Stage 3-4)

We’re not all the way there yet in any of the geek communities we’ve looked at, but we’ve come a long way from where we started. If we continue working together to change our communities to be more welcoming to women, we will eventually overcome.

How you can help

CC BY-SA Adam Novak

CC BY-SA Adam Novak

Whether you are the leading novelist in your field, or a lurker on a mailing list, you can take action to stop conference harassment. You can use your words, your influence, your money, and your participation to change the culture in your community.

  • Only attend conferences with (enforced) anti-harassment policies
  • If a conference doesn’t have a policy, ask them if they plan to have one
  • Start a pledge to not attend conferences without policies (a la John Scalzi’s pledge)
  • Start new conferences if existing ones won’t adopt policies
  • If you sponsor events, only sponsor events with policies
  • Publicly support victims of harassment, especially if you are exceptionally influential
  • Publicly support anti-harassment campaigns, especially if you are exceptionally influential
  • Learn more about bystander intervention
  • Buy books from the PC Monsters of Genre
  • Buy Skepchick merchandise
  • Don’t buy the works of people who harass or support harassment

You can also donate to support the Ada Initiative, which has been working full-time on ending harassment in open technology and culture communities since January 2011. Our 2013 fundraising campaign ends August 31st. Learn more about our progress so far and our plans for future work in 2013 and 2014.

Donate now


Sources and resources

List of geek conferences that have adopted anti-harassment policies
Resources for reporting sexual harassment in science fiction and fantasy
The Geek Feminism Wiki Timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities
Ada Initiative anti-harassment policy page

5 Comments

One Reason Why False Rape Allegation Statistics Are So High

Guest Post by Dana Hunter (originally published on En Tequila Es Verdad at FreeThought Blogs)


Men, even good men, believe women lie about rape. There’s this myth that runs amok saying that some enormous proportion of rape accusations are just women lying to get attention, or revenge, or to hide their summer fling from mommy and daddy. And they believe it without question.

When male friends toss that grenade at me, I toss it back by asking if they know what the percentage is. “Fifty percent,” they’ll say, or above, depending on which MRAs their stats are coming from.

“It’s two to eight percent,” I say, and I need to remember to never do this when they’re walking or have something in their mouths, because the good ones are always staggered, and they always gasp. “But even those numbers are on the high side.”

A red pencil tip breaking on a white surface

Image courtesy of Tim Fields via Flickr

I don’t need to go in to detail with the good ones. I don’t need to do more than remind them what actually happens to women who report. They realize immediately that very few people would be so motivated by some other factor that they would willingly subject themselves to the hell that is rained down upon rape victims. And then I remind them that while our culture often makes reporting a rape worse than the rape itself, when it comes to male victims, it’s damned near impossible to report at all. And if you’re a trans* person? Hell doesn’t even begin to describe it. Once we have finished that brief survey of Rape Culture Today, the good ones never spout nonsense statistics again.

For those who stubbornly wish to believe that bitches be lyin’, I can point them at studies. I have before and will again. But in the future, I will first make them chew on this “false” rape allegation statistic until their teeth break.

CONTENT NOTE FOR ABOVE LINK: Massive trigger warning for graphic description of violent sexual assault and horrific treatment by law enforcement

Now, some of them will spit out that report along with their shattered teeth and flap their bleeding gums at me: “That’s just an anecdote.” And that is true. It is just one data point behind the 2-8%. Since we are Good Skeptics™, we know to look beyond anecdotes.

So let me add in a study of police attitudes toward rape victims. It would seem EEB isn’t alone, then. And if we could factor in the victims who never reported at all because of shit like this, that “false” rape allegation statistic would drop like a rock. Since they don’t, the statistics are skewed, making “false” allegations look more prevalent.

Now add the horrific treatment victims experience from defense attorneys who believe they’re scum. I can tell you from experience this can be worse than the rape. It can be a form of torture, and like torture victims, some rape victims will recant just to make the pain stop. Magically, their allegation is now “false.” But they’re no less raped, and the rapist is no less a sexual predator.

Add in the fact that some rapists have the lock on society, and can crush their victims. If their victims had the courage to report, they’ve soon got their buddies to sweep the crime under the rug. And another several ticks are added in the “false” rape allegation column.

Add in children who receive such a terrifying reaction to their attack that they recant just to protect themselves. More “false” rape allegations.

What about victims who aren’t supported by friends and family because many cultures make it easier to believe the victims are filthy, disgusting, crazy liars rather than people suffering from sexual assault? I think you know what happens to the statistics by now.

Add in the fact that some police departments don’t make a distinction between “reports that are actually, genuinely, provably false” and “reports that can’t be prosecuted due to statute of limitations, lack of evidence, or some other reason, but no doubt the victim was assaulted.” Both numbers end up counting under “false” allegations, although a sizable percentage weren’t false at all.

Add in about a trillion circumstances I haven’t remembered to include. Compare that to the enormous number of rapes and sexual assaults.

A pale-skinned dark-haired woman wearing sunglasses has a large piece of tape covering her mouth.  On the tape is written STILL NOT BRAVE ENOUGH TO GO TO POLICE

Image courtesy roga muffin via Flickr

The reality is that false rape allegations are a tiny bit of flotsam on a sea of rape. Even if that 2-8% number were accurate, it would still be far too small to use to discount rape allegations out of hand. The fact that even that tiny percentage is inflated by cases like EEB’s should ensure that every decent human being treat victims’ reports as provisionally true. The idea that most or even many rape allegations are false is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence. Those who continue to insist otherwise have forfeited any right to be considered good people.

June Open Thread

Another month another Open Thread! Write what you like on topics within the general ambit of this blog, but here’s some suggestions for useful contributions:

  • links to recent posts/articles that relate to topics covered by the FAQs here (and the best links might even be added to the Further Reading Lists on some of those FAQs);
  • mentions of current events that illustrate examples relevant to the FAQs here;
  • links to posts/articles covering beyond-101 topics, as matters of general feminist/womanist interest;
  • recommendations on people/hashtags to follow on Twitter etc;
  • shameless self promotion of events, new blogs, new projects etc but keep it on-topic – feminist/womanist/intersectional and progressive;
  • let me know about any dead links on the older posts, and I’ll see if I can find a cached/archived version and update the link.

As a courtesy to other readers, please include content notes for any NSFW content or content that would be rated PG+ if it was part of a movie or would be prefaced with a “this may be distressing for some viewers” disclaimer on the TV news. This is so that others may make an informed choice on an appropriate time and place for reading such content.

All comments will go to the moderation queue, and the queue will be attended to in chunks in two or three modding sessions daily rather than dealt with as items arrive.  So please have patience – so long as you abide by the comments policy your comment will eventually appear. If you don’t abide by the comments policy your comment may still appear in a redacted form, with all redactions noted as such for transparency.

5 Comments

May Open Thread

More Open Thread! Write what you like on topics within the general ambit of this blog, but here’s some suggestions for useful contributions:

  • links to recent posts/articles that relate to topics covered by the FAQs here (and the best links might even be added to the Further Reading Lists on some of those FAQs);
  • mentions of current events that illustrate examples relevant to the FAQs here;
  • links to posts/articles covering beyond-101 topics, as matters of general feminist/womanist interest;
  • recommendations on people/hashtags to follow on Twitter etc;
  • shameless self promotion of events, new blogs, new projects etc but keep it on-topic – feminist/womanist/intersectional and progressive;
  • let me know about any dead links on the older posts, and I’ll see if I can find a cached/archived version and update the link.

As a courtesy to other readers, please include content notes for any NSFW content or content that would be rated PG+ if it was part of a movie or would be prefaced with a “this may be distressing for some viewers” disclaimer on the TV news. This is so that others may make an informed choice on an appropriate time and place for reading such content.

All comments will go to the moderation queue, and the queue will be attended to in chunks in two or three modding sessions daily rather than dealt with as items arrive.  So please have patience – so long as you abide by the comments policy your comment will eventually appear. If you don’t abide by the comments policy your comment may still appear in a redacted form, with all redactions noted as such for transparency.

8 Comments

April Open Thread

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I don’t have much new to say, because the focus of this blog has always been 101 topics, and the fundamentals of Feminism 101 remain the same as they were when this blog began, and there are many other sites where one can find readings to guide one’s feminist journey further.

People still keep contacting me however, and not just the ubiquitous guest-post-spammers who claim to have been reading this blog forever and then within a few sentences reveal that claim as a great big lie. Some of you really want to see more action here again. But I’m just not sure that I have anything new to say within the constraints of what this blog was always meant to focus on.

I’ve decided therefore that I’ll experiment with monthly Open Threads for a while and see what you all come up with. Ideally I’d like to see:

  • links to recent posts/articles that relate to topics covered by the FAQs here (and the best links might even be added to the Further Reading Lists on some of those FAQs);
  • mentions of current events that illustrate examples relevant to the FAQs here;
  • links to posts/articles covering beyond-101 topics, as matters of general feminist/womanist interest;
  • recommendations on people/hashtags to follow on Twitter etc;
  • shameless self promotion of events, new blogs, new projects etc but keep it on-topic – feminist/womanist/intersectional and progressive;
  • let me know about any dead links on the older posts, and I’ll see if I can find a cached/archived version and update the link.

As a courtesy to other readers, please include content notes for any NSFW content or content that would be rated PG+ if it was part of a movie or would be prefaced with a “may be distressing for some viewers” disclaimer on the TV news. This is so that others may make an informed choice on an appropriate time and place for reading such content.

All comments will go to the moderation queue, and the queue will be attended to in chunks in two or three modding sessions daily rather than dealt with as items arrive.  So please have patience – so long as you abide by the comments policy your comment will eventually appear. If you don’t abide by the comments policy your comment may still appear in a redacted form, with all redactions noted as such for transparency.

6 Comments

#FF101 Call for Links: On Silencing Campaigns Against Feminists Online

From the Suggestions page:

Well, I don’t know how to bring this up…. or if I’ve just missed the article, but perhaps you could do something about the silencing effect that can often happen on Feminist internet efforts?

I often end up sharing this link as an example, but it would be nice to have more than one high-quality link:

http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/11/on-blogging-threats-and-silence/

Many thanks for the suggestion. Since s.e.smith wrote that post on Tiger Beatdown in 2011, nothing has improved regarding the torrents of abuse directed at outspoken women online (and it’s not only feminists and other social justice advocates, either – being outspoken about knitting or cupcakes can also garner a woman an obsessive cyberstalking hate cadre who pound their keyboards with a persistence and intensity that similarly outspoken men rarely seem to attract).

I’ve written a fair amount on silencing tactics over at my primary blog Hoyden About Town, and ways to technologically throttle the streams of abuse was the focus of my posts here on Cyberbullies 101: Part 1 – muffling their megaphones and Cyberbullies 101: Part 2 – The Art & Science of Moderation – Free Speech vs Free Audience – these posts have various links to examples of silencing campaigns, but I haven’t collected them together just as a list of case studies (yet).

So, dear readers – moar links plz! Anything you have bookmarked over the last few years regarding this issue would be useful. Please format your links to include author/blog/title information, ideally with a sentence or few to summarise the post and/or a short quote. This is not only more helpful than a naked URL for readers to jog their memory about which posts they have or haven’t read, but it’s also much better SEO to make this page more visible for those searching for links in the future.

e.g. for the linked post in the original suggestion

  • s.e. smith’s post on Tiger Beatdown: On Blogging, Threats, and Silence – detailing the constant graphic abuse and threats directed at feminist bloggers and how “this is a reality, and it doesn’t go away if we don’t talk about it.”.
    It’s grinding and relentless and we’re told collectively, as a community, to stay silent about it, but I’m not sure that’s the right answer, to remain silent in the face of silencing campaigns designed and calculated to drive us from not just the Internet, but public spaces in general. To compress us into small boxes somewhere and leave us there, to underscore that our kind are not wanted here, there, or anywhere.

17 Comments

Call for Feminism 101 Links V

These posts ask readers to drop relevant links that they tend to share widely because they do a great job explaining/clarifying basic feminist concepts or debunking anti-feminist myths/factoids  (please check that it hasn’t already been linked in an FAQ by searching on the post title).  Obviously this is mainly looking for recent posts/articles (within the last 6 months or so), but older material should also be linked if it’s stuff that you just keep on referencing in recent discussions.

If a relevant link happens to be one of your own writings, then please shamelessly self-promote it! And if a post of yours, or a friend’s post, gets linked by somebody else, by all means squee delightedly here in response.

In general, if somebody else posts a link that you were going to post, please respond with a note to that effect in comments.  Treat it as an upvote, and why not go right ahead and leave other topical links in your response?

In particular, if you know of a post that would fit into the Further Reading section on any of the FAQs, please please please drop a link with that recommendation – a lot of those posts referenced in the FAQs date back half a decade or more, and I’d like to expand the related links sections with more recent references as well.  Also if you think that a post already linked in one FAQ is also relevant to another FAQ, please say so.

8 Comments

Cyberbullies 101: Part 2 – The Art & Science of Moderation – Free Speech vs Free Audience

I have had a long post in the works about comment moderation following on from Part 1 in this series from September last year, but RealLife™ intervened and I hadn’t been able to complete it.

Luckily Bora Zivkovic at Blog Around The Clock has a long and detailed post full of relevant links which includes pretty much every point I wanted to make. I’m providing a summary of his headings with some meaty quotes below, but please make sure to click through and read his post in full in order to see all the points he makes and the many link citations he provides.

A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). But what was interesting in it, and what everyone else jumped on, was a brief mention of a conference presentation that will be published soon in a journal. It is about the effect of the tone of comments on the response of other readers to the article on which the comments appear. [...]

They specifically chose a topic about which most people know very little and do not already have any opinion. Neither the article nor the comments contain sufficient information to turn the readers into experts on the subject. So they have to use mental heuristics – shortcuts – to decide what to think about this new subject. Uncivil, aggressive comments resulted in quick polarization. Readers, although still not well informed about the topic, quickly adopted strong opinions about it.

  • 1-9-90 rule

    about 1% of the participants produce most of the content, another 9% participate regularly by editing (e.g., on a wiki), commenting (on blogs and articles), occasionally producing new content (in forums, etc), and the remaining 90% are ‘lurkers’ who do not publicly participate but only read

  • Where are the comments?

    most of the good, nice, constructive commenters may have gone silent and taken their discussions of your blog [to social media platforms], but the remaining few commenters are essentially trolls.

    The question every blogger in this situation has to ask is – what to do next?

  • Comment moderation

    What does it mean to moderate comments? Different people have different ideas about it, but many focus on technical fixes.

    i.e. Spam filters/Pre-comment moderation/Post-comment moderation/Sophisticated graded moderation/Modifying comments/Engagement

    Engagement – the most important element of comment moderation is the presence of the author in the commenting thread. Responding to readers’ comments, thus showing that they are being read, observed and appreciated, is the most effective way to make sure that the discussions stay on topic and do not veer over the line of appropriateness. Sometimes a comment hurts, or makes you angry. Sleep over it. Then come up with a smart, witty, civil and firm response. Be in control of your own commenting threads:

  • So, why are so many comment threads so nasty?

    Because they are not moderated! [...] If you don’t delete or disemvowel inappropriate comments, people will think you are not even reading the comment threads. If you don’t show up in person, nobody will know you are even interested in their thoughts. If you don’t delete the trolls, the trolls will take over and the nice people will go somewhere else.

    [...] And if you are a blogger, and your comment threads are nasty, you have only yourself to blame.

  • “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    In this section Bora is especially addressing science blogging, which is his area. Other areas of inquiry may not share every rigorous convention of the scientific method, but the following point extrapolates well to most discussions of sociopolitical interest:

    Now let’s go back to the very beginning of this post and the forthcoming article about the effect the tone of comments affects readers. If we leave the creationist or denialist troll comments up, what does it do to the rest of the readers? It polarizes them, it makes them more certain about things than what their actual knowledge warrants, while at the same time repelling experts from wading into the mud-pool to correct, over and over again, the untrue statements and anti-facts posted by denialist trolls.

    Those of us who have pursued an education, even an amateur one, in history/anthropology are often struck by how ignorant many anti-feminists are regarding the breadth of social variations regarding conventions of gender expression over time and location. When contrarian commentors post anti-factual comments which are left to stand by the moderator, then those comments distort and suppress the subsequent discourse.

  • How do you decide what is a trolling comment?

    If you want your comment threads to remain clean and civil, and to stick to the topic in the article, you HAVE to delete off-topic comments.

    [...] I am certainly not using cowardly, mealy-mouthed He-Said-She-Said mode of writing my own posts, so I will also not allow for a He-Said-She-Said pseudo-debate to develop in my comment threads. You don’t like it? Deal with it. Go and complain in the comments on [a more sympathetic blog], or on your Facebook wall.

    Those whose comments are deleted, for whatever reason, on one blog/forum?  They remain free to repost those comments on another blog/forum.  Their freedom of speech has not been denied.

  • Bora’s moderation rules

    Now, I know that I used the example of Global Warming Denialism here the most – mainly because it is currently the most acute problem on our site – but the same goes for people harboring other anti-scientific ideas: creationists, anti-vaxxers, knee-jerk anti-GMO activists, and others.

    This post is not about climate denial, it is about commenting and comment moderation. It is about the fact that eliminating trolls opens the commenting threads to more reasonable people who can actually provide constructive comments, thus starting the build-up of your own vigorous commenting community.

    I’ll leave it to readers to make their own analogies to feminist/anti-feminist tropes in place of the science/anti-science tropes noted by Bora.

Take Home Message

Civil rights of Free Speech do not come bundled with any rights to a free audience.

On the contrary, audiences are the ones with the right of Free Association in terms of to whose words they pay attention.  Don’t let yourself be bullied into publishing disruptive comments that drive away the commentors who add value to discussion of your posts.  Nobody is obliged to listen to anybody who is being a jerk.

There are seven billion people on the planet, many of them potentially useful commenters on your site. Don’t scare them away by keeping a dozen trolls around – you can live without those, they are replaceable.

And as a final rebuttal to the asinine Freeze Peach arguments – in the words of science fiction author Robert Heinlein, who happens to be rather a Glibertarian icon, people who have built a platform are not obliged to share it with anybody else – folks remain free to build their own platforms:

Hire your own hall. We paid for this one.

Don’t let other people hijack what you have built. You owe your readers more than that.

As they say in the classics, read the whole thing.

10 Comments

Call for Feminism 101 Links IV

These posts ask readers to drop relevant links that they tend to share widely because they do a great job explaining/clarifying basic feminist concepts or debunking anti-feminist myths/factoids  (please check that it hasn’t already been linked in an FAQ by searching on the post title).  Obviously this is mainly looking for recent posts/articles (within the last 6 months or so), but older material should also be linked if it’s stuff that you just keep on referencing in recent discussions.

If a relevant link happens to be one of your own writings, then please shamelessly self-promote it! And if a post of yours, or a friend’s post, gets linked by somebody else, feel free to squee delightedly here in response.

In general, if somebody else posts a link that you were going to post, please respond with a note to that effect in comments.  Treat it as an upvote, and please go right ahead and leave other topical links in your response.

In particular, if you know of a post that would fit into the Further Reading section on any of the FAQs, please please please drop a link with that recommendation – a lot of those posts referenced in the FAQs date back half a decade or more, and I’d like to expand the related links sections with more recent references as well.  Also if you think that a post already linked in one FAQ is also relevant to another FAQ, please say so.

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