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Defcon cards redux

July 14, 2012 34 comments

So, hello again!

First off, I want to start by thanking every single person who read my last blog entry along with every person who took the time to comment, share it, retweet it, of send me a note of support via twitter or email. Right now it has been viewed over 10,000 times. I’m still having a difficult time parsing that. Considering Defcon was attended by roughly 15,000 people last year, I feel like maybe, just maybe, the people who needed to see it most read it.

The last few days have been incredibly unreal. I’ve been approached at HOPE by people asking me “are you the same girl that wrote the blog about sexism at Defcon?” I’ve had some i ncredible discussions about male privilege and geek social fallacies.

The response has also been overwhelmingly positive. Yes, I have received some disheartening comments. Yes, I have been told that I’m being a bitch. I have been told that I need to grow a thicker skin. I have been told that I’m just trying to ruin everyone’s fun time. And yet for every one of those comments, I have about five coming from women saying thank you. For every comment that tries to devalue the work that I’m doing or the discussion that is happening, there are so many more thanking me for taking this on.

But you know what the coolest response has been so far?

When the founder of the conference you are writing about is willing to support your project to address sexism at his con, you know you’ve done something right.

The morning after I also woke up to an email inbox full of financial support. My humble plea for a couple bucks (that, at the most I had expected to amount to about $200) had netted me a whopping $1,000. I am still floored by this. You guys have enabled me to print all the cards that I wanted and more. Expect to see images of this year’s versions in a few days. I am currently brainstorming the best way to spend the money since I estimate there to be a fair chunk left over after printing. Perhaps I will make snarky tee shirts for the ladies of Defcon, as seems to be the style of the times. At the very least I may simply donate what is left over to a worthy cause- if anyone can recommend a good nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in technology or engineering, now would be the perfect time to suggest it!

Because of the amount of cards I am now able to print, along with numerous requests for cards to use outside of Defcon, I’ve also made the decision that this year’s run will be a more generic calling out of sexism (as opposed to last year’s which had Defcon-specific language).

There are also some things that I want to make painfully clear. Mostly because I am seeing them again and again as rebuttals to my project. I am not trying to speak for every woman at Defcon. I am not trying to speak for the behavior of every man at Defcon. I am not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, and I am not interested in ruining anyone’s time at Defcon. I am not a big bad, huffing and puffing feminist. Actually, I have problems identifying as a feminist at all. I am just trying to share an experience I had last year that left me profoundly pissed off. Pissed off because I know we can all do better.

Also, please, PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, stop telling me to simply not go to Defcon if I don’t want to deal with this kind of behavior. That is a cop out of epic proportions. It is an attitude that devalues women in this scene that only serves to keep us invisible. Yes, there are women who chose to not go to Defcon because of the bad behavior of men there. That is a fucking tragedy. When we lose the input and skills of any talented hacker, engineer, maker or programmer, we are all worse off for it.

Finally, because it is so fucking appropriate right now, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite Geek Social Fallacies of Sex from the always on-point Cliff Pervocracy. If you haven’t read the original list of Geek Social Fallacies, now would be a good time to brush up. I can promise that if you are interested in talking about these issues, you will encounter at least a few of them in discussion.

GSFS 3: Cool chicks don’t worry about sexism.

This isn’t exactly a sex thing but God does it plague some geek circles.  I know because I’ve been the cool chick.  I’ve played the “don’t worry, I’m not like those other girls, I’m not into gossip and drama” card; I’ve played the “well, you have my permission to objectify me, because I take it as a compliment” card; I’ve even played the “that mean lady was such an uptight no-funster for having boundaries” card.

Those cards are the fuck out of my deck now.  And I’ve paid the social price for that.  There’s definitely some people in my circles who’ve put me in their “uptight no-funster” mental box since then, or who deliberately bait me about “watch out, Holly, I’m going to patriarchally oppress you!” because ahahaha she’s an angry little lady isn’t that cute.

I don’t blame a woman who sees this go on, decides she wants friends more than she wants to start fights about some abstract problem that doesn’t seem to affect her personally, and starts telling her male friends not to worry, they can be sexist around her, she’s cool.  The problem isn’t her.  The problem is all the people who made it so much easier and more pleasant for her to be a “cool chick” than a woman who gives a damn how people think of her gender.

GSFS 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about.

Drama’s never fun, but it beats the fuck out of suppressing real issues.  In my time in geek circles, I’ve seen reports of sexual harassment and even outright assault silenced with “well, I don’t want to make drama” or “but whatever, that’s just drama.”  A woman in the group is a sexual predator? Gosh, I don’t spread gossip.  A man needs to be disinvited from parties because he’s repeatedly threatened people at them? No, kicking him out would make a scene, it would make drama.

In geek sexual communities, the illusion of smooth functioning and of everyone being bestest friends with everyone can supersede people’s needs for comfort and safety.  A lot of this has to do with the “Ostracizers are Evil” non-sex GSF, but it gets worse when you add sex to the mix, because defensiveness about our non-traditional sexuality suppresses important issues even further.  Like, if you admit that people violate boundaries in BDSM circles, then you’re admitting that BDSM isn’t a perfect haven of consent and negotiation, and that’s just going to play right into the mainstream idea that BDSM is abusive!  So we end up defending abusers to prove BDSM isn’t abusive.

“Drama” is a trivializing word.  Let’s try “conflict,” instead.  ”I don’t want to treat him any differently just because he gets a little handsy with women, that would cause conflict.”  It doesn’t sound so superior and level-headed now, does it?

Stay tuned for more dispatches from the battlefields of male entitlement.

Categories: activism, Defcon

Sexism red/yellow cards at Defcon

July 12, 2012 115 comments

I am currently writing this post from an airplane in the sky. This airplane is hurtling me at hundreds of miles an hour towards New York City, where I am excited to be attending the ninth incarnation of HOPE- Hackers On Planet Earth. This will be my first time attending, as well as the first time I’ll be visiting New York as an adult. This will be the first of two hacker cons I’ll be attending this summer with Defcon being the second in a few weeks.

Because I am a Very Bad Adult, I finished packing my bags at a completely unreasonable hour of the morning last night. While I was deciding what clothes to take with me to New York, something dawned on me; I was already thinking about what clothes I would avoid taking to Las Vegas for Defcon. Short skirts, low cut tops, tight dresses, and anything that might be overtly attention-grabbing have been bumped to second priority on that packing list.

Why? Please, I invite you to find any woman who has attended Defcon for the answer. Go ahead. Go ask one. I’ll be here.

Are you back?

Good.

For anyone who wasn’t able to immediately find a female Defcon attendee, I will let you in on a not very well kept secret. Defcon is hell for women. Defcon is also many wonderful things. It is a fantastic environment to learn, network, and connect with friends old and new. But I’m not here to talk about that. There are plenty of other people who have been going to Defcon for longer than I, and who have gained more from it, who are infinitely more equipped to speak about it’s strengths as a conference. All I can speak to is my somewhat jarring experience last year, the first time I attended.

Let it be known that I went to Defcon with a reasonable amount of armor on already. I was reasonably aware of the frat party environment I was stepping into. I have many friends who are involved with helping make Defcon roll smoothly each year, from speakers to goons. And still, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of bad behavior I experienced.

Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo. Like the man who grabbed my hips while I was waiting for a drink at the EFF party. Like the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff (I do not have words for how slimy it is that the official security staff were in charge of what was essentially a competition to get women to show their boobs). Or lastly, the man who, without prompting, interrupted my conversation and asked me if I’d like to come back to his room for a “private pillowfight party.” “You know,” he said. “Just a bunch of girls having a pillowfight…. fun!” When I asked him how many men would be standing around in a circle recording this event, he quickly assured me that “no one would be taking video! I swear!” I’m pretty sure this is the point where my lovely partner Morgan asked him if he thought propositions like his had anything to do with contributing to women not feeling welcome at Defcon. This was a very difficult concept for this poor soul to wrap his head around.

After that last interaction, Morgan and I ran into one of his kiwi hacker brethren. In a huff, I told him about Mr. Pillows. Being of the Rugby-watching persuasion, he jokingly mentioned the idea of being able to hand out yellow and red cards to the men of Defcon who crossed boundaries.

So I went back to my hotel room and made these two cards:

    

They ended up being quite the hit! My tweets with links to the .jpgs went viral on the #defcon hashtag and they apparently got circulated on some internal goon mailing lists. I knew I had done well when a woman who I had just met excitedly told me that there was “some girl who had made these awesome cards to deter creepers.”

I know I’m not alone in being frustrated with the climate at Defcon. Last year at Deepsec in Vienna, I met a fantastically intelligent woman developer who flat out refused to attend Defcon because of interactions like those listed above. I can think of countless other women I know in the tech industry who are regular Defcon participants and speakers who are just as fed up with this crap as me. I wonder why we’ve all been so polite about such an unhealthy atmosphere.

I ended up not being able to do a print run of the cards last year because of time and money constraints. However, this year I am making a new run of actual physical cards! The original ones, while they were great at the time, were thrown together quickly with Gimp. This year I’m going to update them slightly so they look nicer. Mostly, I want something that women will feel eager to hand out should the need arise. I think this is an incredibly playful and relatively non-confrontational way to engage with behavior that women at tech conferences are all to eager to simply shrug off.

That said, I am a poor student. My budget for Defcon did not include setting aside extra funds to print up cards to ward off douchebags. So, as it stands, I might only be able to print up 50 of each color. I estimate this to be roughly enough to sustain myself and one other female friend through a handful of days navigating the waters of poorly socialized nerds. If you are a woman planning to come to Defcon this year and would like a stack of your own, or if you would simply like to support women taking a small stand against the exhaustive sexism at tech conferences, now would be a fantastic time to kick me a few dollars via paypal (my address is [REDACTED]). I am not interested in making money off this. I am just interested in making as many cards as I need to.

 

Regardless, I am excited about Defcon. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about getting the chance to hand a few of these bad boys out.

Edited to add: There seems to be a bit of confusion on the twitterverse. The images above are low res examples of what I made last year. I am currently working on nicer higher res images for this year’s cards. Keep in mind, when I mocked up last year’s cards they were never going to end up being printed because I didn’t have time or money. You guys have already come through in a big way with donations so you’ve already ensured that what I make will be 100x more badass for this year’s Defcon. :)

One more edit: Holy shit you guys. There is over 1,000 in my paypal to do this. Overnight. Please don’t send me anymore money! You’ve totally rocked it.

One final edit: Defcon is over, cards were made and distributed, and you can read my final rundown of the project here.

Categories: activism, Defcon, travel Tags:
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