Home > activism, Defcon, travel > Sexism red/yellow cards at Defcon

Sexism red/yellow cards at Defcon

July 12, 2012

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?


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:
  1. Valkyrie
    July 12, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I suppose because of my size and the circumstances I can get away with it. Last time I was at Defcon, I decked a guy because simply swatting him away after grabbing me wasn’t good enough.

    I’m contemplating going again this year, pondering how I’ll deal with that this time. My thoughts were to insulate myself by surrounding myself with the friends I’ve made in the interrim.

    It’s assault if you grab a woman’s ass. I won’t pull any punches if necessary.

  2. T
    July 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    This could backfire… you could end up with even more guys harassing you just to collect a card.

    • T
      July 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm

      Something about Pokemon / Magic is probably relevant too…. “Gotta collect ’em all.”

      • Dan
        July 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm

        Agreed, I see this turning into a game

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:52 am

      I have taken this into consideration.

  3. July 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Nice tits.

    • July 14, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Approving this comment for posterity. This is what happens when you are a woman and write about sexism on the internet.

  4. July 13, 2012 at 12:15 am

    You will not change sexism by handing out pieces of colored paper, the writer sounds a little self-obsessed and insecure or else is in need of a new blog post. I am not the type of person who would carry out any of the indiscreet acts and can telling you crying to the internet will make no difference at all either, slap the guy, or make a scene and be done with it.

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:51 am

      Thanks for your psychoanalysis! I realize I won’t “change” (or end) sexism with pieces of paper. What these cards have done though, is kickstart a conversation about sexism and male entitlement in the specific environment at Defcon. I think that’s important, and can make a more lasting impact than physical violence.

  5. July 13, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I went with my wife, then girlfriend, in 2010. Nothing weird happened and we had a good time, maybe it’s because she looks like a huuge nerd haha! Just my datapoint.

    • July 14, 2012 at 1:44 am

      Surely it’s obvious that a woman in the company of her boyfriend is going to get less hassle than a woman on her own or with female friends.

      • July 14, 2012 at 7:30 am

        Unfortunately, You’re wrong. Most of the incidents I described took place with my boyfriend at my side.

  6. TheJoke (male)
    July 13, 2012 at 12:26 am

    I say this: “There is nothing more sane that a crowed that is mixed in the range between 30/70..50/50”. Its no fun, despite the comments of some testosteron junkies, to be one of very few men in a huge crowed woman. It is different, sure, but still no fun. If you think its fun, you haven’t been in the right crowed of woman yet!

    But despite that, what you are reporting is just insane behaviour. I can think its … lets say fostered … by the circumstances, but that is no excuse. Not sure I like them be called men. Those guys act like a group of monkeys or bloody drunken teenagers.

  7. nope
    July 13, 2012 at 12:29 am

    It’s getting riskier everyday to talk to women. If I encounter one that I find interesting and/or attractive it’s better for me to back off so I won’t sound like a rapist because I said “hello”.

    Forever alone.

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:49 am

      If that is what you got from this post I invite you to check yourself and read again.

    • L
      July 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      If you don’t know how to speak to a woman without being so incredibly rude then you deserve to be “forever alone.”

      • Why?
        July 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

        Deserve? Do you think fat ugly chicks *deserve* to be forever alone? Both are revolting to the opposite sex. Hell I am not even a half nice person and I don’t think so. I also don’t think that guys who don’t know how to properly court a woman *deserve* to be forever alone.

        Dear Mr. nope. Talk to the women anyway. Whether they’ll like it or not, and whether you’ll get accused of X or not. If it goes bad, learn and move on to the next you find attractive (or the next, period, for practice). If they do something that gives you the impression they want their tattoos licked, ass grabbed, or you to ask them on a date, go ahead and do it. It’s the fastest way to get better, to experiment. The worst that will happen is that you’ll cause some people minor to moderate inconvenience and along the way you’ll learn how to have a happy life.

        Unless you’re purposefully malicious you don’t deserve something as horrible as living alone. And if anyone thinks so then if that person gets cancer I just won’t feel sorry for them. I sincerely hope you read this Mr. nope.

    • yep
      July 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      Hey, did you notice how neither of the cards above said that saying “hello” was a creeper move?

      If you can’t tell the difference between “hello” and harassment, then yes, you truly will be forever alone.

    • Why?
      July 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Reply to you sir below…

  8. NoJpg
    July 13, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Please do NOT use jpg for graphics especially with text. Jpegs are designed for pictures and using them for anything with sharp boundaries (e.g. text) will lead to ugly ugly artefacts. This is why your cards are unreadable the way they are embedded in the article. Use PNG or even better SVG instead.

    And your experience sounds horrible. The organizers should take measures to stop such behaviour and ban offenders. What goes through somebody’s mind if the thinks that it’s smart, smooth, or acceptable to ask a woman to join a “you know what pillowfight”.

    Is this problem more common in the US?

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:48 am

      Yep! Not making the .jpg mistake for the next run of cards.

  9. Chris O'Sullivan
    July 13, 2012 at 12:48 am

    I love the idea of the yellow and red cards, if only there were an actual penalty box to put them in for a time out. There are a lot of brilliant women programmers, but there could be so many more if the culture were not as hostile, and sexist.

    That Defcon tolerates this behavior is unprofessional that one of it’s security staff members promotes participants asking to be flashed is , as you say, slimy beyond words.

    Your yellow and red cards might also be useful at other events, When I get back to the states I might be interested in getting a few hundred, would you be interested in putting them up for sale on Etsy?

  10. Steve W
    July 13, 2012 at 1:41 am

    This is brilliant. Could you roll this out world wide? Especially in light of the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian.

  11. July 13, 2012 at 1:50 am

    I would like to call out to the gentlemen at those cons: when you see a woman in such a situation, please, go and help her deal with the bastard. There might be 90% of good mannered guys but the 10% make us look really bad, let’s deal with them ourselves.

    That being said, I’m afraid that adapting your clothing will remain a necessity given the density of geeks that won’t have seen female skin in months or years…

    • DJ
      July 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      I really don’t mean to sound snarky or asshole-ish, but why? Isn’t the entire point of the article the fact that women are able to handle them themselves. There are going to be assholes is any crowd, male and female. You won’t find me bending over backwards for either gender persuasion, or anyone in between.

      If you feel that you have to save the day for a woman, do you think that maybe you have some gender bias yourself?

      • July 14, 2012 at 6:30 am

        Why? Why the hell not? If I see someone harassing another person, I don’t care what the gender is, I should step in. So should every single person who sees it. The reason people do shit like this is because they feel like they can get away with it. Gender has nothing to do with it.

  12. Fuxy
    July 13, 2012 at 1:50 am

    I get where your coming from but you’re basically telling nerds they don’t have any social skills and don’t know how to approach wemen. Wow big surprise there what do you expect from a guy who loves this stuff when he gets drunk? It sure as hell won’t be anything remotely interesting, romantic, passionate or respectfull.
    Not defending them just don’t get your hopes up it will ever change.

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:46 am

      If anything, the response this post has gotten has affirmed my fading hope that this is something that will change (and enough people want it to)

    • yep
      July 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      If you don’t know how to do something (yet), then you *shouldn’t do it* in a high-stakes environment. Hitting on women you’ve just met without being offensive is a very, very advanced social skill and most people never get good enough to pull it off. People who are aware that their social skills aren’t good shouldn’t try that particular maneuveur. It’s like saying “hey, it’s not my fault I just started learning to code last week and I’m not very good at it yet, why is everyone yelling at me for ruining the hackathon?”

      A lot of male nerds seem to think that randomly harassing total strangers is the best/only way to get laid and that if we create an environment where that is not ok, they will never find sex or a relationship. This is completely absurd. Take a survey of every man you know in a relationship and ask “how did you meet your partner?” I’d bet large sums of money none of them would say “I walked up to a stranger and told her she had nice tits.”

  13. July 13, 2012 at 3:00 am

    How much is a few dollars? How much makes a difference?

  14. Acid Burn
    July 13, 2012 at 5:16 am

    The thing about DEFCON is that it is pretty much hell on everyone. In the 10+ years that I had been going, I have pretty much figured that out that half of the fun of it for a large majority of people is simply to be asshats to each other. Think Phone Losers of America type humour. It isn’t my personal idea of fun, but I just let them play their little ego games amongst each other and opt out when they try to include me.

    Interestingly enough I have also learned by accident that you can ‘earn’ your ‘right’ to dress in short skirts, low cut tops, tight dresses, and anything that might be overtly attention-grabbing if you have been a women speaker for a number of years. I know! It blew my mind too!

    Since DEFCON runs on social proof once you are for lack of better word, established in the community it gives you carte blanche to do whatever you’d like and then simply raise your eyebrow when someone misbehaves and say, “Do you know who I am?”

    That all being said, I would of loved to have had your cards when I started attending. They are nothing short of absolute genius. I would even go as far to say they are truly an epic masterpiece. 😉

  15. jetcitydad
    July 13, 2012 at 7:05 am

    I hope that being “100x more badass” includes correcting your spelling (e.g. “recieved” on the yellow card).

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:48 am

      Yep! That mistake has been bugging me since I made it. In my defense, it was late at night when I whipped them up originally and I didn’t catch it until the morning 😉

  16. LostReader
    July 13, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I think that you’ve missed the boat on DEFCON. Ask Nikkita about her boobs, they’re a matter of public record. If you have problems at DEFCON, ask for a RED SHIRT GOON to help you. They are there to HELP attendees… Clearly, you thought DEFCON was the same as the Women Shaping the World Conference.

    Lastly, your RED and YELLOW cards are clearly racist, to this 1/2 Asian and part Native American reader. Why aren’t they WHITE?

    • nospamplease
      July 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      The goons? Like the people that put together a scavenger hunt that asked people to show their tits last year? Yes, they are clearly going to help.

      • Cosmonaut
        July 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

        Whoa… you mean that because they had BOOBs on a card, they wouldn’t respond to sexual assault? There is a difference between consenting people and assault. Clearly your ability to reason is askew.

  17. TSA
    July 13, 2012 at 8:53 am

    This reply is not about unwanted, or unwarranted touching; it is only about speech and expression.

    Living in a society where freedom of speech and expression is a right, means people will hear things that are offensive, and likely mean at some point in time, do something offend someone else. Under some cultures, women walking unescorted conveys a message which is offensive. Some people find vulgar language offensive. Some people are offended by poor spelling or grammar. This post will offend people that think speech should be limited, and force of law should be used to silence people that say thing which are believed by some to be offensive.

    The same freedoms that allow people to make “rude” comments or troll people with descriptions of body parts also protect you and your speech with cards to express exactly how you feel about their comments.

    Handing out cards and talking about problems is something I can support. Complaining is a freedom we all have, and is the first step: identifying something you see as a problem. I support complaining, and it does not matter if I agree or disagree with the message.

    There is danger, however, in trying to silence all objectionable, disagreable, rude or offensive speech. Once we do this, then the next question is, “who decides what is objectionable, disagreeable, rude, or offensive?” Is it a simple majority? If so, a majority can now silence a minority. Does each minority get to choose , and if so, does this become a slippery slope to silence? The ultimate minority of one person could dictate which speech is offensive. Any arbitrary number of people can join to become a minimum qualification for deciding minority and force others to stop expressing themselves. There are some religions “out there” with conflicting ideas of what is offensive. Should they be denied opportunity to influence rules that can bring with it force of law to deny speech?

    For people that say something offersive to earn a card, and the people that hand out cards, which want to silence each other, what happened to, “stick and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”

    Thanks for expressing your thoughts and speaking out about what bothers you. 🙂

    • casey
      July 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      So, trying to lick a stranger’s tattoo is “bjectionable, disagreable, rude or offensive speech” in your book?

      Do you really believe that a society where it is considered rude to randomly grab a woman and lick her is on the slippery slope towards an Orwellian nightmare?

      Christ, what an asshole. Physically sexually assaulting people is not a form of free speech.

      • TSA
        July 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm

        Casey: ‘So, trying to lick a stranger’s tattoo is “bjectionable, disagreable, rude or offensive speech” in your book?’

        That is covered in the preface of the reply to which yu are replying. iwill include it again here for the sake of saving time:

        TSA: “This reply is not about unwanted, or unwarranted touching; it is only about speech and expression.”

        To be more specific and explcit, unwanted or unwarranted touching is a criminal action. I have no interest in defending that as fre speech or otherwise.

        casey: “Do you really believe that a society where it is considered rude to randomly grab a woman and lick her is on the slippery slope towards an Orwellian nightmare?”

        Ahh, again, let me quote the preface of my reply to which you are replying:

        TSA: “This reply is not about unwanted, or unwarranted touching; it is only about speech and expression.”

        casey: “Christ, what an asshole. Physically sexually assaulting people is not a form of free speech.”

        Ah yes, please forgive me for once again quoting the preface of my reply to which you are replying:

        TSA: “This reply is not about unwanted, or unwarranted touching; it is only about speech and expression.”

        Supporting *criminal* actions under free speech was not my intention. Sorry for the confusion.

  18. diami03
    July 13, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Will these be available to provide to other women for use? I think I might have missed who will be using them other than yourself.

    • July 13, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Yes! Enough donations came through to ensure everyone who wants a deck will get one 🙂

  19. July 13, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I think I might have missed if you will be providing these to women to use or just for your own use. I’d like to be able to them. 🙂

  20. David Mortman
    July 13, 2012 at 9:26 am

    This is a total win. –DM a DC goon and speaker

  21. July 13, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Huh. I’ve only been to Defcon a couple of times, but I didn’t really have any issues. Then again, I’m not young, so maybe that’s why.

  22. July 13, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I am a woman who had a great time at defcon last year. I love your creeper cards! I also want to share one positive (for me) story about a ‘good sport’ man and a ‘good sport’ *female* goon: this cheerful (and totally average looking) guy took off his shirt in a faux stip tease so that a female goon would punch the ‘show me your boobs’ item on his todo list card thinger. I know there are still any number of harrassment/exploitation issues even with my so-called ‘positive’ story, but it made my day nonetheless.

  23. July 13, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Maybe, cards aren’t enough. What about some red and yellow face painting ? Something that might be seen by everybody and not easy to remove ?
    Perhaps too violent…
    I’m sad there is as much assholes in tech men groups as in others.

  24. July 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

    So, I saw the “don’t give me any more money” edit, was going to ignore it but, doh!, email redacted. So, gave my $10 to Ada Initiative instead (http://adainitiative.org/support-us/)

    I love the panache of this project.

    flounce: you say “you will not change sexism by handing out little colored pieces of paper…”

    How should we fight sexism? I, for one, think this is a pretty awesome response to shitty behavior. It may not (or may?) get those people who *receive* cards thinking harder about systemic issues, but it certainly rocks as a general “raise the profile of the issue” mechanism.

    nope: you say “It’s getting riskier everyday to talk to women…”

    The only action that kdotcdot described which, if you sort of squint at it sideways, looks like “talk to women” was the invitation to a “pillow fight,” which (we are told) had some clear subtext of being a sexual proposition. So, trying to read you charitably, I can only understand your reaction as meaning one of two things: 1) you are implying that kdotcdot was misinterpreting an innocent manic-pixie-dreamboy invitation to a pillowfight in a totally unwarranted way, or 2) you wish the our culture was such that we could all be upfront about casual sexual propositions without it disturbing anyone. But, clearly you can’t mean either of these 2 things, since you immediately move on to “… so I won’t sound like a rapist because I said ‘hello.'”

    I call bullshit. Saying hello is nothing like saying “hey, want to come back to my room for a private all girls pillowfight.” An interesting discussion could certainly be had about how to create a culture where we can all be up front about our sexual desires without freaking each other out, but I don’t think you actually want to have that conversation. Because, frankly, I think the answer is “feminism.”

  25. July 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    How will you deal with the game of ‘collect a deck’ that is already being planned? There are a few points your plan is missing out on:
    1. Nobody giving a shit about ANYONE being offended. This isn’t disneyland and will only ostracize you from EVERYONE except those who are equally offended. It will be a small crowd.
    2. The female backlash that is going to occur/has already started in the ‘screw that girl, I had fun’ category of females who attend DEFCON.
    3. The reality that you don’t speak for the females that attend DEFCON, but yet you assume you do (I got this from reading the context of your ramblings). The other females will correct you on this, in person, at DEFCON. Make plans for that.
    4. If you don’t want to be offended – don’t attend. No skin off my back. One less annoying person to deal with is OK in my book.

    You may be really nice, or a complete bitch…who knows… What I do know is that this is going to explode backwards, directly towards you. You don’t come to DEFCON to pass out ‘you offended me cards’…you are going to leave with all the cards gone after a game of ‘offend that person’ goes global…. Just the way it is.

    Also – I find it offensive that you take offense at other women’s right to show boobs. Seriously. I watched tons of women AND men join in the festivities and enjoy themselves. If you did’t like it – don’t attend.

    And lastly – the Goons are not ‘slimy’. There was no ‘special perk’ for getting the card stamped…there was a wooden token you received. That was it.

    Reality will see you in two weeks. Better grow some thick skin.

    • July 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

      1. If the positive response I have received after writing this is any indication, many people (including Defcon’s founder) give a LOT of shits that people are offended. I have actually never felt more welcomed by the Defcon community as I have after calling out the shitty members of it.

      2. I’m interested where that backlash is happening, as most of the women who I’ve spoken to who attend Defcon are also very tired of douchey, aggressive men. This is also where I get to point out that it is possible to have fun at Defcon *and* be fed up with sexism. One does not exclude the other.

      3. I have never said that I speak for all females at Defcon. That is why I wrote about, you know… *my* experiences.

      4. That attitude does nothing but devalue the women in this scene, and also is a pretty clear sign to those who wish to contribute to the community that unless they are ok getting groped they are not welcome at Defcon. That’s a pretty shitty message to send, and ultimately it hurts everyone.

      5. First, I am unaware it is a “right” for women to show their boobs. I am also not entirely sure where I ever tried to take that right away from anyone. Could you please point that line out in my blog? Thanks!

      6. I do not think all the goons are slimy. Many are my friends. One is a beloved ex. But bartering with boobs is totally slimy behavior, and getting aggressive when called out on it is totally slimy (this happened last year).

      • Cosmonaut
        July 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        1. There was no ‘bartering’ with the goons. If you filled out the card, you got a wooden nickel. That’s it.
        2. You have 1 security goon friend. 1 friend that is friends with the goons, and 1 admin goon friend.
        3. Jeff is NOT the only person at DEFCON, and I can’t speak for him – but I can say that the majority finds your allegations of sexism a farce. I make it a point to be equally offensive to all sexes.
        4. All 3 of the females I brought last year had a blast.
        5. By passing out the cards, you are not combatting sexism – you are promoting more offense. Not one thing you listed was sexist. What is the difference between what you described and going to a nightclub? There aren’t any.
        6. The backlash is already occurring, you just have 12 days until you become the center of a new game.
        7. Showing boobs if they want to is their right. By your accounting – the girls who do this promote more offensive behavior towards you, because the guys then turn and ask you to.
        8. I want a deck of cards as a souvenir of the festivities.
        9. Don’t attend if it’s that bad. I can’t say that enough.

      • July 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm

        I get what you’re saying, and I mostly agree. But you should be aware of the fact that there are plenty of men and women who believe that women should have a right to show their breasts in public, which is currently denied to them by law in many US states (although interestingly, not in New York City): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topfreedom

        I’m pretty sure the laws they are opposed to constitute a really core definition of ‘sexism,’ since there are plenty of societies in which female toplessness is not thought inappropriate, sexual, or illegal. Consider also that, if breasts were shown all the time, their mere appearance would cease to be so shocking or sexualized, or, on the other hand, if men couldn’t jog down the street topless, Magic Mike would be a softcore porn flick with an NC-17 rating at the very least. I, personally, have a strong preference for the ‘shirts for everyone’ option, but hey, that’s just me.

        Anyway, sorry for the slight tangent, but just keep in mind that sexism is usually institutionalized, and things like the fact that we as a society are conditioned to think “girl boobs HOT, man chest BORING” might be a big part of why stuff like what happens at DEFCON, happens.

  26. TSA
    July 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    On the merits of letting people be jerks and offensive:

    Though there is some unhappiness in hearing things that are offensive, there is a huge personal advantage in allowing people to continue being jerks as they provide opportunities for self-selection by advertising their intentions, thoughts and opinions.

    So here is a question:
    Would you rather know a person is a sexist, femenist, misogynist, racist, or other [.*]-ist by hearing their uncensored words, or deny them this advertising, hiding their thoughts and views, making it more difficult to know them as a person?

    My answer? I’d rather know more about a person’s uncensored opinions at the cost of hearing offensive content, but am interested in hearing what your thoughts are on this.

    Your cards are a quick and simple way for you to provide your uncensored opinion about behavior you dislike. This is a good thing and advertise your opinions for others to find agreement and solidarity, or disagreement and self-segregation.


    • July 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      You seem very focused on questions of free speech, and “taking offense.” This seems like a narrow focus to me.

      Nothing in kdotcdot’s plan of action (as you note) involves censoring anyone; it is all about a strategy for *reacting* to particular *actions.*

      Yes, all other things being equal, I would rather know when people around me in the world have views that I think are wrong and harmful. But I don’t want to stop there, I want to *convince* people that those ideas are wrong and harmful, so they stop acting based on them!

      I would (dare I say it?) like the world to be a kinder, gentler, all together more awesome place. Oh, and a pony. 😉

      • TSA
        July 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm

        Discounting unwanted and unwarranted touching as mentione dbefore, I see comments made by people about other people as a speech issue. A good way to combat speech which is not desired, is with more speech, and opportunity for education.

        I do recognize that these cards are no call for censorship, but are actually an example of confronting abusive or offensive speech/expression with speech/expression. This is a good thing, and something I like to see. However, a common item of discussion with a question of, “how do we resolve sexism (or really nearly any kind of .*-ism),” I don’t see censorship as a solution, only a tretment of a symptom. My comments on this being a speech issue and comments on censorship are as much about sexist comment made by trolls as it is about a reply with cards that express opinion. Your comments about my comments and my reply are also speech related. I am guessing we can agree that open and unrestricted dialog is a good thing on any topic of discussion. The original poster should not be silence just as much as jerks should not be silenced.

        The focus on the topic of censorship is to address people that call for abolishing “undesired expression or speech” at private events. Some would say this is not censorship, as they may define censorship as, “imposed by a government,” so there is a semantic arguement, too. This is commentary on those that suggest imposing restrictions on speech which they have decided is, “unacceptable.”

        Next, it is very healthy for you to want to enter into a dialog with people that have opinions different from you, expecially in those [.*]-isms you dislike. Your speech is important to this process of adressing abusive, or offensive, and can become an opportunity for education so long as we are “allowed” to have open discussions on any topic or behavior.

        Thanks for your thoughts and expressing them. 🙂

    • Ben
      July 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      There several issues with your theory. First touching, discriminating against or/and affronting someone is not about free speech. But even if someone would just tell you his sexist views the next problem arises. You’re participating in an event, an organization, club, culture or whatever you want to call it so usually such a group of people can take its right to disapprove of people with such an opinion.
      Then when enough people share a view usually they start to do what they say. At last discriminating women has a long history so first we need gender equality for a couple decades before we can categorize sexism as random craziness.

      • TSA
        July 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm

        Ben: “First touching, discriminating against or/and affronting someone is not about free speech.”

        In my first reply, I did explicitly exclude unwanted or unwarranted touching. These are established *criminal* actions with a well defined case-law to backup their presecution. In my second reply, I did not explicitly mention unwanted or unwarranted physical touching. I am sorry for not being explicit; I had hoped the fraing of the first reply provided a scope for discussion. I am not interested in supporting assault as a form of free speech. I do not see any way to support this, even if I wanted to do so. Sorry again for not being clear. I’ll try to do better. 🙂

        As for other speech which is racist, sexist, femenist, U.S. courts have continued to consider these protected, first amendment speech. Where issues arise to make such speech no protected are, but not limited to, when threats are associated with this speech. You don’t have to agree with people’s rights to free speech, even if that is a kind of [.*]-ist speech that you do not like, but it would be reasonable for you to recognize that there is substantial case law to protect objectionable and offensive speech. Some religious groups are offended by nudity in film or video as pornography, yet “pornography” (informal, common definition, not legal definition) is legal. Racism is not desired by many people, but private organizations with racist views are legally allowed to talk about their ideas and try to convince people their ideas are, “right.” (Right: not to be confused with, “correct.”)

        We don’t have to like the content of a speech, but it reasonable to accept that even [.*]-ist speech has been protected in the U.S.

        Ben: “But even if someone would just tell you his sexist views the next problem arises. You’re participating in an event, an organization, club, culture or whatever you want to call it so usually such a group of people can take its right to disapprove of people with such an opinion.”

        This is important. How do you think an organization should address problems related to [.*]-ism? Consider being at Disneyland, when you may or may not be offended by a gay couple holding hands, or being affectionate. What action should the amusement park take to address behavior that a minority or majority finds offensive? Even if you are not offended by this, someone likely will be. What is the minimum percent of a population required for a private organization to take action, and what actions should those be?

        This illustration is meant to show how it is a difficult problem, and you do not need to answer, but I would like to hear how you would want to see such problems addressed in this specific case and generic ones. 🙂 Also, how would you seek to address what you view as sexism or another [.*]-ism as a place like Defcon? (Assume, you are in charge of a private organization: who would you silence? Would you silence anyone? Would you eject people? What would be sufficient evidence to eject someone? Just a single claim? One witness? Two? Next consider how false claims could be used by a malicious minority to target and eject people they do not like, and consider how such things might happen at a hacker convention.

        Ben: “Then when enough people share a view usually they start to do what they say. At last discriminating women has a long history so first we need gender equality for a couple decades before we can categorize sexism as random craziness.”

        I’d really like it is people did not feel intimidated to say what they thought, and not feel as though they need enough “like-minded” people to begin to “speak their mind” but what you write is true; there are people that are shy, or intimidated into staying quiet until they feel comfort and support for others that share their view.

        On this topic of gender equality, how would you make that happen?

        Thanks for your thoughts and ideas Ben. 🙂

  27. px
    July 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Scene whores exist, and they do mess things up for legit female security researchers. It might surprise you, but there are a significant number of people who show up to defcon just to party. They thrive on attention, and seem to show up to compete for who can dress the sluttiest in order to sell products, merchandise, or just to get off on the power trip of being able to manipulate large groups of guys to do their bidding. Some guys are into it (they carry around cameras), but most find it highly annoying.

    As long as someone is able to dress like a normal human, and is able to intelligently converse about infosec research, no one will mistake them for a scene whore, and there shouldn’t be much of a problem. There will always be that element of dumbass though, so here’s hoping those cards give them the type of feedback they need so they can learn how to behave in IRL social situations.

  28. Allison McKowen
    July 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I think you should also create a green colored card to thank those (possibly very few) individuals who treat you politely and with consideration. Why give the jerks all the notice? Maybe green cards will come to be a prized possession?

    • July 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Being a reasonable person ought to be its own prize. (Or at the very least, the interactions you get to experience by treating others like people are a pretty good prize too.)

  29. July 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I plan to make a series of pink and purple cards to hand out to every female who gives me a yellow or red card.

  30. thechrisam
    July 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I like the idea of the red & yellow cards. What about rewarding positive behavior as well? Maybe some “Classy Gentleman” cards to give to the guys who don’t behave like mouth-breathing basement dwellers when interacting with females.

    • George Dickerson
      July 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm

      Do people need to be thanked for not being reprehensible?

  31. MH
    July 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    please encourage the people who get them to keep them and give them out to their female colleagues. as someone who hates hates hates having to work with overly machismoistic dudebros (who usually suck at their jobs), anything that can be done to drive it down will make my life a zillion times better

  32. MH
    July 13, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    and to all the men who think this is just complaining that won’t change anything: how many of you complain when one of your coworkers sucks at their jobs? i’d bet all of you! us techies are not known to keep our technical opinions to ourselves.

    does it always change something? no. does it work sometimes? yes. would you stop complaining? of course not because doing good work is the right thing to do, and that’s why you’re here.

    this is the same: it’s always, always wrong to physically harass a woman, or blindly proposition her. it needs to be called out and it needs to stop.

  33. July 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    You should get a vendor scanner gun, so when you hand out a card, ask them if you can scan their badge too! They’ll probably be thrilled!

  34. silveraspen
    July 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Fabulous idea, although I loathe that they’re so needed. Would you be willing to share the design / allow others to use this idea for other cons?

  35. LongTimer
    July 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    What happened to you was wrong and is criminal assault. However, not one single event that you described is sexism. You were not discriminated against, you were not held with prejudice, and you were not denied anything by your gender that should have been made available to you. THOSE are forms of sexism. While your assaults were bad, they were offenses made by singular individuals against you, individuals with no ability to coerce or hold you in power. No one told you that you were to have your rights limited because of your gender. And the conference staff did not partake in the actions nor condone their use.

    Please, for the sake of those who suffer from sexism on a daily basis, stop attributing non-sexist offenses to sexism. Your experiences were the effect of drunk men hitting on a single lady. Nothing more. With over 10,000 men in a single spot with lots of booze, there will statistically be even 5% (500 men) who are cretins, just like any bar on a Friday night. There are plenty of men who want to try and hook up at cons. You expect that, and you come prepared to shoot them down (like any social activity where alcohol is involved). That doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it doesn’t make it sexism either.

    You tell them off. If they don’t leave, you ask a friend to help. If that doesn’t help, you find an organizer for wherever you are to insist. If that doesn’t work, call the police. Of your four offenses listed, the first two definitely would have warranted assistance to bounce the person from the premises. But, the action must be taken swiftly with immediate repercussions to curb behavior.

    And don’t be mad at someone over a pillow fight. After all, DEFCON organized such an event just a few years ago:

    I like the cards and encourage them to be used appropriately. Like if someone stands in your way from entering a talk, impeding your entry, because of your gender. Or speakers trying to improve their talk turnout by featuring attractive models on stage. Or if someone prevents you from entering a party because you’re female. But, wait… the long-standing DEFCON rule is that females go the front of any party line, but that’s not sexist…

  36. July 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I think you just made my head explode.

    LongTimer :
    What happened to you was wrong and is criminal assault. However, not one single event that you described is sexism. You were not discriminated against, you were not held with prejudice, and you were not denied anything by your gender that should have been made available to you. THOSE are forms of sexism. While your assaults were bad, they were offenses made by singular individuals against you, individuals with no ability to coerce or hold you in power. No one told you that you were to have your rights limited because of your gender. And the conference staff did not partake in the actions nor condone their use.
    Please, for the sake of those who suffer from sexism on a daily basis, stop attributing non-sexist offenses to sexism. Your experiences were the effect of drunk men hitting on a single lady. Nothing more.

    Uhhh, what?

    The overwhelming evidence, of which this post was but a small example, shows that women attending certain tech centric events have to deal with a metric shit-ton of crap with which men attending those events do not have to deal. That is, in fact, being discriminated against. It is not an accident that these things are (predominately) happening to women; the men doing these things *would not have done them were the subject male.* That is the very definition of sexism at work.

    Yes, what happened to her “was wrong and is criminal assault,” but it is a particular *kind* of assault, perpetrated *because she is a woman.*

    • LongTimer
      July 14, 2012 at 5:59 am

      You have to draw a line somewhere. And the line with sexism is usually drawn at the limit of human mating rituals. At that point, it is not a systematic discrimination issue, it’s a matter of one person attempting to hook up with another. Just because these actions were done because of one’s gender does not make them sexism, they make them (poorly attempted) mating rituals.

      It’s easy to see where the line is drawn: Are the actions, at any time, acceptable for the victim. And the answer is a very likely yes: if the person perpetrating them is romantically involved with the victim. At that point, they’re not offenses but acceptable actions in a relationship.

      The actions of sexism are NOT acceptable in any way or shape, regardless of the person. Such as the man in the relationship forcing the woman to make all the meals, clean the home, and do all the chores. There is no grey area there; regardless of the relationship to the perpetrator, the actions are not acceptable.

      So then, ask yourself: Are these issues offensive no matter the time, place, or people involved? If so, then it’s likely sexism. However, if the victim would allow them in certain situations or with certain people, then it’s not. Then it’s a situational offense, such as assault.

      • July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

        If find your view incoherent and obviously wrong, but I’m in danger of getting into a “someone’s *wrong* on the internet” mode with this discussion, so I think I’m going to have to step away.

  37. Anti-Feminist
    July 14, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Great, my comment was deleted because I criticized feminists and this article.

    What a good debate you’ll create when you just let the positive comments stay put.

    • July 14, 2012 at 12:56 am

      I’m actually not sure which comment you’re referring to since I don’t have any in the queue of 4 I have not approved that match your IP or email. I have let some comments through that offer constructive criticism, but not those that are patronizing or confrontational. This page is my house and subject to my moderation, and while I am committed to fair discussion I have no obligation to allow the comments that are overtly antagonistic. Perhaps that is why yours was not approved.

      Also, I simply do not have enough time to respond to each antagonistic critical comment that has been posted (really, only 2). So please forgive me if I have not approved the handful of comments telling me to “grow a thicker skin” or calling me a bitch. I will play you off with my tiny violin.

      • Bullshit Master
        July 14, 2012 at 2:04 am

        Grow a thicker skin!

      • July 14, 2012 at 7:31 am

        I do not think the problem here is my lack of a thick skin.

  38. Bullshit Master
    July 14, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Oh and also, like you figured out, stop dressing provocatively. Yes you have the freedom to do so, but that is an open invitation to guys that tells them that you are looking for attention. And before the feminists come here defending their “rights” and that people should not stereotype, let me break it down for you. Everybody stereotypes! So stop being in your make believe ideal world and welcome to the real world.

    • yeahright
      July 14, 2012 at 7:54 am

      Duly noted! So the next guy I see wearing tight pants wants me to spank his ass, right?

    • July 14, 2012 at 10:46 am

      When you say “stop dressing provocatively … that is an open invitation to guys that tells them that you are looking for attention.” I think you are wrong on two levels.

      The straightforward and obvious one that everyone has harped on forever is that, actually, men willing to sexually assault women are willing to do it no matter what the women are wearing.

      But the second level to that statement, is that you are saying that you think that all attention is the same. That women have two choices, dress sufficiently modestly to signal that they are not interested in sexual advances, or dress provocatively and attract “attention.” But this is a false dichotomy. Being assaulted and finding a consensual sexual partner, while both “attention” in some really broad sense, are not equivalent.

      Conflating the two, and pretending that women who are addressing harassment at cons are really saying “we don’t want anyone to hook up and have sex” is part of the problem.

  39. intNull0
    July 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Awesome idea…not only do you get to rebuff the unwanted ‘advances’ of the ignorant members of my gender, you are helping raise awareness (the more important aspect of your idea) of the entire cause. The cliquish, pack mentality that pervades events such as defcon gives guys that evidently arent around females enough to know better, the courage to make complete asses of themselves. They need to know when they’ve crossed that line. The fact that this behavior is not only tolerated but encouraged is disheartening.

  40. July 14, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Hey, I’d like to help with this in the future. Add me to a list of emails as a person who’d like to help.

  41. Valkyrie
    July 14, 2012 at 10:40 am

    You know, when I left my comment about striking guys who step over that line, I was glad you found a better way. Now, based on all these stupid comments, I’m coming to believe it’s the only way. It’s really sad but you’re all making me really glad I resorted to violence to stop this kind of stupidity.

    The way I figure it is if all you boys feel so entitled to violate women, the law, and social norms a left hook here and there would be well-placed.

    So I tell you, you can all play your little games and collect your cards. But if you come across me, you get the grand humiliation of being hit by a girl in front of everyone.

    • Cosmonaut
      July 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      If you are assaulted, find a red shirt. They are there to handle jerks who assault women. And if a red shirt sees you decking anyone without reporting it (it’s not ‘defense’ once the action is over) I’d bet they would escort you both off the premises. Maybe not, but I wouldnt risk it.

  42. Sarah
    July 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Oh my. I was startled by this sort if behavior lo these many years ago (over a decade now), on my only Defcon adventure. I’m startled all over again to hear it doesn’t seem to have improved much. It might be nice to offer guys a stash of these cards to hand out when they witness stuff too. I’m sure it’s odd for them to be standing with a female friend when this sort of thing happens and to have to suddenly come up with a good way to react.

  43. charlie
    July 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    As a regular defcon female attendee, i am perplexed how this has blown up. This was harmless. Its not like the goon cards were pushed and the offenses you incurred had nada to do with the dang cards. Look, i was subject to a male calling me a name and his badge got eaten. I told a goon and it was handled promptly and properly. Geez, at all parties i get moved to the front for admittance. Its a priviledge. The staff has always been amazing, out of their way amazing. The events you incurred happen at every club in the world. This isnt a defcon problem. Its not secluded to just females or defcon. Im not saying you shouldnt attend but id be aware that you just went all in on the ante. The goons are volunteers. Without their support defcon wouldnt happen. They end the con with blisters and exhaustion. If any woman should have an issue with reporting offenses, there are female goons, gay goons, transgender goons. Which proves that they arent sexist or racist adding to the point that they are inclusive. Cards arent necessary step down from your soapbox.

    • July 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Look, I don’t have a problem with all goons. They’re doing some great work and keeping defcon safe. I recognize that. I think the “show your boobs” thing was a rare misstep. All I’m trying to do with the cards is give myself and other women a fun way to engage with the rare bad apples. That’s it. I am not trying to speak from any soapbox. All I have done is share my personal experience (which many other women seem to identify with).

      • Cosmonaut
        July 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm

        ‘rare bad apples’ … and there is your own admission that this isn’t a DEFCON thing. It is a one off situation to which you are attempting to socially profit.

        ‘They’re doing some great work and keeping defcon safe. I recognize that. ‘ – Then why didn’t you tell them when you were assaulted?

        ‘DEFCON is hell for women’ – You speaking for all women. Which is a fallacy you rode this entire article on.

        ‘I am not trying to speak from any soapbox.’ – Is this why you have been on twitter propagating it?

        Meh. Remind me to ask to see your boobs. I am done.

      • July 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

        I am not trying to socially profit. A bunch of bad apples have been spoiling things for a lot of women a Defcon. I think we can all do better.

        Again, I am not trying to speak for all women. I can always amend that sentence to say, “Defcon was hell for me last year,” but I think I have clarified that point multiple times. I’m sorry you continue to misunderstand.

        I have not been propagating it on twitter. I posted a link to my blog post. Many, many people chose to retweet it. That is not something I anticipated or was trying to achieve. If you look at the responses on Twitter, it is clearly something that went viral because many women empathized with what can be an alienating, frustrating experience at Defcon.


  44. charlie
    July 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    hmmmm “Defcon is hell for women” no its not. One year attending and you have a solid opinion? Im trying to understand motive. Bashing a con over a few select individuals of about 15k people, that you didnt report, is out what seems to be malice and social unacceptance. I read your other posts and you name dropped DT. Really? Maybe mayhem is his game. Welcome to it. Maybe paying for the cards is attempt to cause more mayhem. There is no ban on cards this year. Calcuate that. Last year was your first rodeo, wasnt mine.

    • July 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      I completely admit that I may have initially overstated. My experience is complex; I really enjoyed Defcon. I was also frustrated by an environment I found to foster a lot of make entitlement and bad behavior. I did actually report my displeasure with the Goon “show you boobs” thing.

      See you at Defcon!

  45. July 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Just letting y’all know, I am closing comments. Thank you for the supportive comments. Sincerely. But I am done having to defend my experience at Defcon, which was as frustrating as rewarding. I have endured a lot of really unfair personal attacks and false characterizations of my intent and personality. I’ve entertained and engaged with all the anonymous attacks that I have the patience for, with every intention of being as fair and charitable as possible. But you guys, this shit is really wearing me thin. Feel free to find me at Defcon if you want to actually have a productive discussion about making sure everyone feel respected at this really awesome conference.

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