Home > activism, Defcon > Defcon cards redux

Defcon cards redux

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
  1. Michael H
    July 14, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Fantastic! Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    (Micro-note: Holly P. is Cliff P. now. I dunno how hard it is to edit existing posts, but I know they appreciate it.)

    • July 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for the heads up! Will fix that now

  2. Cosmonaut
    July 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Again, good luck with your initiative. Jeff paying for them is a big help. Donate the remaining funds to the EFF, in true DEFCON fashion.

    Also, when was the last time you were discriminated at DEFCON because of your sex? How is the behavior of *some* attendees ‘sexism at DEFCON’ and not ‘Sexism in general’? When did you report your assaults to the DEFCON security staff? I witnessed/heard reports where people were tossed out who were being truly assaulting to females/younger females. Hell, I had one instance where a guy called the females with me ‘white whores’. He was dealt with by security staff.

    Maybe if you were to have reported this to proper channels, you wouldn’t have been in the situation.

    I am still waiting on you to answer these items. It just doesn’t make sense.

    • arlette
      July 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      Wow, is that really a “If you’d worked harder, you could’ve prevented a stranger’s inappropriate behavior toward you”?


      I wouldn’t hold my breath for an answer. While you clearly mean well and care a lot about DEFCON, your questions don’t show much respect for her judgment or experiences, so I can see why she’d choose not to engage.

      • Cosmonaut
        July 15, 2012 at 2:32 am

        Wait. I never said if she worked harder she could have prevented it. I am curious as to why she never reported the assaults, and instead brought it to the interwebz vs. those who could have immediately assisted her. Her experience is something any girl at any club may have complained to a bouncer about. There is something more going on here that I don’t understand.

        If you were physically assaulted – you need to immediately notify security staff. If you are uncomfortable with a male, they have female staff. If you are uncomfortable with females or males, they have transgender security staff. Why this is a blog, and not a security incident response befuddles me.


      • July 15, 2012 at 9:23 am

        I don’t think I have any real obligation to defend myself or engage with you, but because I woke up feeling especially charitable I will.

        I didn’t report the guy trying to lick my tattoo because that happened slightly outside the bounds of the conference, in the taxi line at the Rio (both men who were part of that group were wearing Defcon badges). I didn’t report the creepy guy asking if I wanted to join a pillowfight to a goon because I had just had an interaction with a goon where I was made fun of for even maybe being slightly offended over the “boobs” item on the punchcards they were handing out. You know what doesn’t inspire confidence that my complaint will be taken seriously? Being told that I’m just being overly sensitive about male entitlement.

        Oh, and the guy who grabbed my hips while waiting at the bar? He disappeared into the crowd right after that and honestly, I was too angry and shaken to do anything else but try to get through the rest of my night. It didn’t even occur to me that I could have reported it until the next day. That’s the funny thing about having your boundaries and personal safety so blatantly violated- it’s kind of really fucking difficult to function like a rational human being after that.

      • July 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm

        The “If you’d worked harder, you could’ve prevented” inference came from this, BTW:

        > “Maybe if you were to have reported this to proper channels, you wouldn’t have been in the situation.”

        I feel honor-bound to remind the reader of this: she wouldn’t have been in the situation if people had kept their hands, tongues and/or pillowfight invitations to themselves.

    • July 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      If a conference doesn’t make it clear and obvious to all attendees that they have an anti-harassment policy, and they do not make it clear and obvious what steps to follow to report problems, it is victim-blaming to call out an attendee for not having had an immediate game plan upon being harassed or even attacked, and only thinking to blog about it later.

      I might not bother reporting bad behavior to a con whose SECURITY STAFF is allowed to run a contest which involves pressuring women to remove their shirts (i.e., Defcon). That bothers me more than the rest of the bad behavior described in the previous entry — how is any person supposed to think their reports of any incidents will be taken seriously, given such open behavior by security staff (who would usually be the first line of defense against this sort of thing at a con) and non-smackdown of said behavior by the con organizers? It’s nice that their founder threw some money at kdotcdot’s flags project, but clearly their organization maturity is lacking.

    • August 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      It doesn’t matter if a conference articulates a non-harassment policy or not

      Harassment is something that should not be tolerated. Period.

      And, yes, it certainly does appear that you are victim-blaming and attempting to trivialize the author’s concerns

  3. Cosmonaut
    July 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Also, my daughter will be attending this year. It is because I find DEFCON non-sexist I allow it.

    • August 11, 2012 at 11:14 am

      God help her, then. I’ll put down money when men cross her boundaries, she won’t be disclosing to you. Too bad. :/

    • Pam
      August 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      You *allow* it? Sure. Nothing sexist about making decisions for your daughter. Would it even have crossed your mind to “allow” your son to attend a professional conference?

  4. Chris O'Sullivan
    July 15, 2012 at 10:36 am

    One more time with feeling, I find the idea of yellow and red cards for sexist and predatory behavior awesome. A nonviolent yet impactful and potentially lasting response to an annoyingly prevalent issue.

    I’ve organized, helped organize, and helped put on some large events, fundraisers and seminars. On not a few occasions I’ve dealt with not a few drunks. Trying to school a drunk person on complex acceptable behavior is generally useless in the moment because they’re drunk and might have the use of half or less of their cognitive powers. I find redirecting their attention to harmless pursuits to be helpful in curbing harmful pursuits. Attempting to grock a card is a great harmless pursuit.

    In addition if they don’t step into an open manhole cover or in front of a bus and somehow retain the yellow or red card that they’ve been gifted while inebriated, they might in fact read the card at a later time while sober and come to realize that the not well considered behavior or comment that earned such a gift was in all liklihood not well received by the woman with the streak of purple in her hair that smiled sweetly as she handed him the card and said he should read this tommorow.

    Negative commenters are a huge pain, and for the most part full of an endless supply of hot air. They can have a chilling effect on a blogger and some specifically target female bloggers. I encourage you to moderate, and on controversial blog posts moderate comments before posting. This is your space, and energy used in pointless exchanges takes away from writing new blog posts that I for one look forward to reading.

    you rock,


  5. July 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Thank you for doing this–you are standing in harm’s way to protect others by speaking out and being a visible leader. Abuse from sexist jerks is an indication that you are doing it correctly.

    By Gandhi’s standards, Defcon is pretty far along on the progression of reducing sexism:

    “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

  6. SX
    July 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    While I don’t support the idea in its current incarnation in that it’s solely out to draw attention to negative behavior rather than focusing on promoting positive behavior. Much akin to spanking a child when he’s bad opposed to praising him when he’s good. Though I do fully agree with the idea of coming together to make sure that sort of behavior stays away from the con.

    But the primary reason I wanted to post is to point out that it’s not a “Defcon” issue, but rather an issue of lowest common denominator you’ll find when any such gathering enters the mainstream masses. Those lowest common denominators mixed with alcohol and testosterone are the problems and I think it’d be best to teach them instead of scold them.They’re at Defcon, so they’re capable of learning.


  7. the input output
    July 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Those that say “if you don’t like it, don’t go to DEF CON” remind me of those that say “if you don’t like this country, then leave”…

    To me, those that love the country will work their hardest to change it for the better; the place they want it to be. I feel the same way about your efforts.

    Thanks for trying to make DEF CON the place you want it to be, instead of just leaving.

  8. Mackenzie
    July 25, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I’m one of those women who doesn’t go to Defcon or Black Hat in part because of the behavior there (also because travel–if I really wanted to go though, I’d make travel work). I enjoy Shmoocon and HOPE though.

  9. Siri
    July 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Hi! I really like this idea. I’m generally considered a really nice guy by everyone who knows me, but I don’t play that part in everyone’s narrative and would rather get one of these than continue to play the part it describes. In fact I’d like to print up a bunch of these and give them away at venues around the bay area as a public service. Maybe I’ll even get one back sometime! Would it be all right with you if I reprinted them? Feel free to email me privately. Thanks.

    • July 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      I’m local to the bay area and have more than enough to share – no need to reprint them yourself! Email me at consentcards @ gmail.com

  10. Done With It
    July 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Between this, and the sceptic/ ‘rational’ community being wall to wall sexism and misogyny, and the latest round of sci fi con controversy over sexism and entitled creepers, I am not feeling especially well disposed to these communities (to MY communities) right now. For all the preaching about intelligence and reason and being more evolved and accepting, it turns out they are no different to anyone else. But yeah, I have no idea why there aren’t more women active in these communities. It’s a mystery..!

    Seriously though- Thank you for speaking up and making a difference. It helps, all of it, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

  11. anon
    July 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Cool idea, I wanted to give you some feedback from the “bro conversations” I over heard. Some guys I heard talking about getting a card seem pretty affected. Like they really felt bad about being creepy and didn’t want to be that sort of person. (Definitely call it a success there) But most of them didn’t know what they had done to be offensive, I guess they probably wouldn’t be ignorant douchebags if they weren’t ignorant first. Maybe, a check mark box of common offenses on the card could help.

    Also, I heard there was a line about punching the recipient. Not cool. I know a lot of people think women threatening violence for a change is funny but I think its sexist to think only women would give out these cards. I as a man have had women not take ‘no’ for an answer easily, one even went so far as to try to rape me. But if I gave out one of those red cards I could have quite well ended up in jail for the implied threat.

    • July 30, 2012 at 11:01 pm

      Re: the punching line. It was only mentioned as an activity that was avoided. I am trying to promote the opposite with these cards.

  12. July 30, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I think that you have a wonderful idea, regardless of the debate over whether being groped at any even is sexism or assault it’s just not appropriate. I actually didn’t see anything like that happen granted any time I wasn’t in a talk I was scrambling around killing brain cells trying to solve the badge challenge. Granted had i seen something like that I would have intervened. I hope that this year you made it through the con unscathed and that all of your future cons are a hit.

  13. Jason!
    July 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I originally thought this was too frivolous to be effective, but after seeing some of the terribly aggrieved comments on it around the internets I’ve changed my mind. Keep doing this. It’s awesome. It’s working. Thank you.

    Hopefully it will inspire men to call out these guys, as well.

  14. August 1, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I am enough of an idealist to be sad so much handing out of the cards is happening, but enough of a realist to wonder why nobody else thought to do it. Never underestimate the power of the herd to reduce brainpower.

    Having said that I imagine the really sad part is how many people are really that much of a douche all by themselves.

    Regardless, if this makes one attendee more comfortable in (what is supposed to be) the company of their peers or prevents a single incident then it was a fantastic idea.

  15. Calypso Jargon
    August 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I can honestly say that I’ve never been on the receiving end of the behavior you are describing at any of the Defcon’s. I’m in no way saying it’s not true, I’m simply shocked that it might have been going on for such a long time. Still, I see the cards, sadly, as something that hackers will just want to collect. I wish you the best of luck and I hope they helped you have a more positive con.

  16. Laura
    August 15, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Thank you so much for this! I think it’s brilliant.

  17. Pam
    August 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I just wanted to say a quick “thank you” for creating these cards. I’ve been in IT for the past 12 years, and I can’t even count the number of sexist comments and/or actions I’ve seen. Everything from a sales person assuming I was the Manager’s assistant, rather than the Manager herself, to a boss asking me if I needed any pads (mouse pads, he later “clarified”) from the store. I’m heading to VMworld next week and I’m hoping that the environment will be much friendlier than at Defcon.

  18. Emilie
    August 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I think your cause is a noble one, but I think these cards are the wrong way to address the problem of misogyny. I realize you’re probably quite committed to this course.

    (I DID check out the defcon website and I can’t say I’m surprised that there is a problem with misogyny. Just looking at the home page, I would never allow my daughter, if she were older, to go to one. That imagery alone has a “priming” effect.)

    First, where I’m coming from:
    I am not a nerdy girl, an empath really, but my husband and daughter have Asperger’s. I know zip about computers, while my husband can’t wait to teach our daughter about computer programming. I’ve been an outside observer to the nerd world (given my husband’s career and his associates) and forced to learn about it to better understand those dearest to me.

    I also grant that you may know better how to deal with your own, but I’ll tell you my concerns.

    The first and most important one is that being told one is creepy is devastating if there was no malice intended by the “creeper”.

    Men do and will learn the hard way what’s acceptable behavior and to whom the hard way. They learn, for example, that the same behavior by better looking men is often welcomed, but is considered “creepy” by them. That’s life.
    My concern is that a permanent, physical paper with the “creep” label adds an unnecessary sting. Bitterness and anger would be the most likely emotions upon receiving any card rather than genuine contemplation of your feelings.

    Comraderie should be a goal with mutual self-respect in a large crowd of like-minded people and I’m not sure the cards help with that.

    **A flaming jerk would laugh at such cards and throw them back or collect them. Those guys aren’t who I’m concerned about, but the green-behind-the-ears ones who need some guidance**

  19. Pam
    August 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Heard at VMworld 2012, at a vendor booth:

    Booth Babe: Can I scan you[r badge]?
    Creeper: Can I scan YOU?

  20. Max
    January 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Hi, I read the other post about cards and a lot of the comments here and there. I just wanted to lend some support and sympathy. I’m sorry so many people are being assholes and pretending their experiences of cons somehow counter-act or negate the ones of harassed women. It is a good idea and godspeed!

  21. Jagermo
    March 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    The guys at PyCon should have used your cards – that would have helped.

  1. August 8, 2012 at 11:52 am
  2. August 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

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