Defcon harassment?

Defcon harassment?

Updated 26 Aug 2012: a nice rebuttal to the harassment article by a female DC attendee over on reddit.

So I read this blog — “Defcon: why conference harassment matters”. To be honest, I typically just ignore feminist rants. This one caught my eye, because just as the author, my first Defcon was 3. I have one of those nifty badges too.

I remember more about DC3. I remember porn playing between talks or during other conference downtime, on the projector in the room (wow, yes, there was a time when Defcon was _one_ room). This wasn’t official Defcon content, just some bozo “hacking” stuff. I remember two things about the porn clips: first was that of a female friend who went to DC3 with me (who has attended many Defcons thereafter), was being interviewed simply because she was female. The reporter asked if the porn bothered her to which she replied “if it was any good, I’d watch it”. The second memory of the porn was the quantity of gay (that is homosexual male) footage included in the display. (I distinctly remember this because of some asshat shouting “I know that’s wrong” when the gay stuff started. All I thought was “STFU dude. If you don’t like it, don’t watch”.) Obviously this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Defcon official talk rooms anymore, and hasn’t for a long time. Geez, we’ve even got “Defcon kids” now! The conference has grown in many ways, and that includes inclusiveness and a more mature tone.

However that is one of the things that confuses me about this whole situation, particularly the sillyness that went on “back in the day”. If the heterosexual porn was harassing for females, what about the gay porn? Was that supposed to be harassment for gay males? For straight males? And if there was no lesbian porn, does that mean they were being “othered” because they weren’t being equally harassed? I don’t get it!

Of course, like _everything_, our geek feminist friend could turn all the porn into an attack on women. Heterosexual porn? Objectifying women. Gay porn? Obviously penis-centric. And since penises are used to attack women, gay porn is obviously an attack on women. Lesbian porn? Just male fantasy, again, objectifying women. Bisexual female porn? There are no bisexual women, they’ve just been infected with “male gaze“. And everyone absolutely knows women don’t like porn or sex.

Hacker culture is full of pranksters. But they tend to be equal opportunity pranksters, willing to skewer any demographic for a joke or a rise.

Do some go too far? Sure. And I’m not saying I approve of “harassment” (whatever the fuck that actually is). My take is that nerd/geek/tech culture, even though traditionally male dominated, is, at least from my experiences, no more or less polarized, harassing, or sexist that any other culture.

My wife has attended many Defcon conferences from DC5 on. She even volunteered and cut Mohawks (to help raise money for the EFF) this year (DC20). She’s all of 5′ tall, not exactly an intimidating figure. Here’s a real pic of ShortGrrl in the Mohawk-con booth. (Thanks AST Cell! More hacker photos here.) I asked her if she felt harassed and intimidated at Defcon. She said “of course, but no more than I do at fire training”. She’s also a volunteer firefighter.

My point isn’t defending harassing behavior or intimidation of anyone based on who that person is. My point is that Defcon, geek culture, conferences, any of these venues or groups, are no different from any other situation.

The “Geek Feminism Wiki” discusses a lot of negative events, many that have occurred online. I think that is a key factor here. The further removed people are from those that their actions have negative effects on, the more likely they are to do things that have a negative effect. This isn’t just some junk-spewing online dork “harassing” females; this is true in everything from con-artists to killing. If you don’t see the person as a person, people are likely to do awful things. That may be one way Defcon is different from the “real” world — many attendees take on an air of masquerade, and it is common to meet people only to learn their hacker handles. So maybe?…

…but… Reading further in the “conference harassment” blog comes to links to the “Geek Feminism Wiki”, with all sorts of lists of reasons why women can’t succeed in tech culture. Such as the fact that geek culture, is apparently, strongly connected with rape culture.

Now I don’t know about you guys, but the techno geek nerds I grew up with, am friends with, have worked for, with, and hired, are anything but fascinated with “rape culture”. These folks (male and female) represent all levels of geekdom — fanboys, programmers, engineers, engineering managers, inventors, techpreneurs, code monkeys, developers, web gurus, amateur radio enthusiasts, alternative energy hippies, cosplayers, bronies, trekkies, whovians….you know the kind of people who, upon finding out that somepony has a machine shop, want to know if you can make a custom light saber on your lathe.

These are my friends. My co-workers, colleagues, competitors, employers, employees. I’ve been from one end of the tech world to the other, everything from a junior engineer to a VP of engineering. Do many male (and female for that matter) geeks think 7 of 9 is “hot”? Well, duh. Is that attractiveness based on some sadomasochistic desire to rape women with machines? I dunno, but honestly, I think not. The vast majority of male geeks I’ve dealt with were either 1) incredibly well adjusted in their relationships with women, having long, stable marriages, etc or 2) were the stereotypical “shy and awkward” types, who really wanted good relationships but are too self-conscious and stumble over themselves.

Tentacle monsters? Haven’t met any that I know of. Maybe the femgeeks-anisms are confusing the fact that there are some bizarre manga styles out there with the fact that many geeks (male and female) like manga.

So on to this, here’s some actions and ideas from the msinimefkeeg’s about how to make conferences safe for woman-kind, in an example conference anti-harassment policy:

[Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. In particular, exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff (including volunteers) should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment.]

I’m trying to understand this. Should all female staff/exhibitors/Mohawk-crew larger than a B-cup be required to utilize official “Princess Leia’s anti-jiggle breast tape” to desexualize the conference? Do the goons become culture police to deal with those females who actually choose to sexualize themselves at the con? Can only male goons wear kilts? And how in the world does one desexualize queer-con? Or does that not matter because our friendly LGBTQSAP-ellemminnowpee hacker folks are being oppressed by the system too and therefore deserve an opportunity to express their valid otherness? (That’s LesbianGayBisexualTransgenderedQueerStraightAsexualPansexual. Whew. Is that everypony?)

Would ShortGrrl’s bunny ears (as shown in the pic linked to above) be considered sexualizing? I mean, it would be so othering for any furries in attendance! (Who many think are irritating because they are, indeed, irritating.)

I hope, my dear readers (both of you) that you’ve taken my comments as they were meant, a joking way to say “what a crock”. Oh, and dear readers, if you are a male programmer, go check out this list of reasons why you suck and your job is super easy because you never feel inadequate. Male programmer privilege checklist. Hell, one of the best programmers I know is a privileged white male trust-fund baby who goes through terrible spells of work related anxiety. But how can that be? The world was handed to him on a Caucasian penis! He can experience no problems.

My closing thought, unfortunately, is one of hacker humor. Obviously the linked to story is no laughing matter. But I have to laugh at the sheer insanity of the world, and the cluelessness of those trying to change it. Here we have a blog entry on the evils of sexual harassment at conferences, linking to a suggested policy that states that conferences should create a realm that is “desexualized”….while a link to suggested related content on the blog site (and, again, a story of horrible abuse of power and person)….but still, this link on the blog is sexualized, using an image of eye catching pony butt, to, um, catch your eye. I mean really, is this the best they could do for an image representing a serious and sad story?

Ok, so on a serious note. Yes there are some asshats at Defcon. This particular conference has always been described as the “frat party” of the hack/infosec/tech scene. And that is something that Defcon has more of than any other conference: parties. Big parties, little parties, some official, some invite only, some ad hoc. Things do happen at these parties — I mean, you’ve got a bunch of drunk folks in Las Vegas at 3 in the morning. Stuff happens. Drunk idiots try to lick some reporter’s tattoo. Note that most of the “bad stuff at Defcon” that has been discussed has happened at parties. Or bars. Or after hours. Not in the middle of a talk by the four star general who runs the NSA, but rather at a drunken party, at no-o’clock in the morning, in Las Vegas. Yeah, that’s where I would go if I don’t like being harassed. Drunken parties in Las Vegas are so well known for being well behaved and completely desexualized…so if anything happens, blame Defcon!

On a side note. Here’s info on the author of the blog that started this: “Valerie Aurora is co-founder of the Ada Initiative, a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture.” I would like to see the queer-con folks start up a “Turing Initiative”. I bet they would throw the best parties.

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  1. red bottom asshat spammer

    Keep functioning ,fantastic job!

    • FirmWarez

      “Keep functioning?” OMG, the spam bots have gained sentience! I mean, isn’t that the kind of pleasantry bots would say to each other? “Keep functioning” “you too robro”

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