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A personal challenge to allies

May 6, 2014 2 comments

(Blows off dust. Taps mic. Uh… hi! It’s been a while…)

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve shared a lot of really great and assertive articles about privilege and feminism. I do this a lot. I really enjoy signal boosting writers who say things better than I can, especially about topics that tend to bring out the trolls like feminism and privilege.

There are two articles that really resonated with me lately. The first, from Guerilla Feminism was titled “Please Shut Up About ‘Not All Men.’” The second was a Jezebel response to the Princeton kid who refused to “apologize for his privilege” called “To The Princeton Privileged Kid.” Both were great! Both had some great points! Both were a little snarky and wry, but addressed things that I’m usually not capable of discussing without wanting to set things on fire because they make me so angry!

What I haven’t enjoyed are some of the really disappointing comments from some friends on those threads I started. I watched people, overwhelmingly male friends, sift through entire articles to pull out one or two lines that might have been overly snarky or, at worse, mildly condescending. Whole articles, rich with commentary and insight, getting dismissed as “navel gazing,” “othering,” and “hostile.” All because of “aggressive” one-liners that wouldn’t even get a second glance if they appeared in an article about literally any other topic than feminism.

The easiest way to undermine someone’s point is by attacking their tone. It doesn’t actually matter if you’re making this criticism with the intention of making their argument more accessible, because when you do (especially if you do it publicly with an audience) you are inarguably shifting the focus away from the importance of what they are saying and making it about them and their failing to make activism accessible to you.

This is especially true when it comes to discussion about feminism, where there is limited space and men’s voices are disproportionately amplified by default. Even the most well meaning criticisms of tone are unhelpful at best because they, once again, shift focus away from the issues at hand and onto men’s feelings about feminism, which is absolutely not the point.

So, I have a personal challenge to the men I know who think of themselves as allies, but who still tend to derail discussions about inequality with tone arguments. Consider it a dare, in two parts.

1) Do you feel the urge to share an article about feminism, racism, or unpacking privilege, but feel put off by the writer’s tone? That’s OK. Instead of using your platform to criticize or undermine someone’s writing, find an article whose tone is more accessible to you, and share that instead. Worse case scenario is that you might end up reading more things that make you think, and at best you don’t end up using your platform to amplify an article you can’t stand behind *or* perpetuate tone policing!

2) Can’t find a replacement article whose tone you agree with? Write and publish your own!

I have to admit, Anil Dash’s article titled “The Year I Didn’t Retweet Men” kept on popping up in my mind while I was writing this. So in the grand tradition of “someone said it better than me,” I’m going to end this with a quote directly from his article:

“Try being mindful of whose voices you share, amplify, validate and promote to others. For me, it was giving a platform to women where I wasn’t able to mansplain the things they were already saying, but instead just sharing out their own thoughts in their own words.”

Yep. That. That right there just about sums it up.

Categories: activism

Worse than a walled garden

May 28, 2013 1 comment

So, Google has a  known history of axing things that people like. My eye gets twitchy every time they funnel a new service through Google+. I whined and moaned when they axed sharing on Google Reader. I was even more pissed when they axed Reader altogether. But none of these were things that I desperately needed, so I sort of grinned and bore it, all the while chalking it up to the perils of using a free service run by what is basically an advertising company.

But now that Google is dropping full XMPP support, I’m not just pissed off. I’m actively worried.

Here, have some flowery quotes from the shills at Verge responsible for this fluff piece:

But today, the wait is over as Google introduces a new messaging platform it’s calling Hangouts. It spans Android, iOS, Chrome, and Gmail. It’s a fusion of Google’s strengths in cloud computing, search, and mobile.

Hangouts keep your messages in the cloud — which isn’t exactly revolutionary, but since it’s Google’s cloud, there are some unique benefits. Every Hangouts conversation is stored online (and is accessible from any Hangouts app), but there is an option to toggle off history if you’d like to go off the record.

XMPP is an extensible chat framework that, among other things, delivers instant messages to desktop clients. Personally, I use Adium to funnel chats from a range of my friend’s jabber addresses into one place.  I actually use a handle associated with a Google Apps domain to communicate with my friends, and XMPP support means I can talk to users on different instant messaging networks.

More importantly, I use Adium because it enables me, at any time, to switch quickly and reliably chat off the record. OTR chat provides encrypted end-to-end messaging between chat clients, allowing two people to communicate in a mostly secure fashion regardless of what their chat provider is. I’m aware there are vulnerabilities to OTR security across platforms like Adium (and also other clients like Pidgin). Anyone looking for a good primer on how off the record messaging works should pop on over to the cypherpunks.ca page on OTR. There’s a FAQ! There’s documentation! There’s a big donation button that you should click.

So what the Verge article (along with most of the other coverage on the Hangouts switch) tellingly fails to mention is that this switch to Hangouts will drop all support for users who wish to use third party clients to communicate with people on other XMPP servers. If I want to talk to, say, someone with a handle run through @jabber.ccc.de, then I’m shit out of luck. Google’s XMPP servers will no longer federate with other people’s servers. There are a number of servers out there that exist almost exclusively to cater to people who have reason to want to protect their privacy and security (riseup.net specifically comes to mind). Now, they’ll still be out there and able to communicate with each other… but not to any Google server.

This article from Ars Technica sheds only a little more light on what Hangouts mean for OTR users:

“The good news is that Hangouts will still support client-to-server connections via XMPP, though only for one-to-one text chat. That means that Web and client-side chat applications that have used XMPP to connect to Google Talk will still be able to see presence information about their contacts in Google+ and chat with them via text in Hangouts.”

So there will still be some basic XMPP support. However, the implications for OTR support are still foggy at best, and in my opinion merit a closer look. But “chatting via text” doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.

This is much more sinister than Google simply building the walls on their garden a bit higher. This move actively disrupts a chat ecosystem that supports the most vulnerable and the most sensitive users. If Google cripples third party client XMPP support, they will be booting people who rely on OTR chat to ensure their digital safety squarely out of their walled garden altogether. It seems that OTR support will still exist for gmail-to-gmail chat within their walled garden… for now.

Now, I know that a number of people in the security community are already highly distrustful of Google. While I have always at least understood their concerns in the past, I’ve often defended the big G. I’ve known a number of Googlers who have demonstrated with both their work and occasional drunken rant with me at some security con that they deeply, sincerely care about the privacy and rights of the users who rely on them. They consistently get high marks from organizations like the EFF. Anyone who wants to get an idea of hours they log to protect their users should look at a few pages of their Security Team’s public blog. There’s some hard work there, and it’s for reasons like these that when people ask me if I trust Google, I have answered (with reservations) yes.

But this move to drop XMPP support makes me question that. It also makes me question what I should tell my peers, especially journalists who wish to better protect their sources, when they ask me about things like OTR chat. When I was in journalism school, one of my hobbies was showing my peers in the newsroom how to set up OTR chat on their desktop clients and how to verify keys. It was easy, and people could use their ubiquitous gmail addresses instead of having to set up some new jabber handle. What am I supposed to say to those peers seeking my advice now? “Well, this is the easiest and most reliable way to go OTR with the credentials you already have and a few clicks, but who knows how long that will last!”

Although this post feels a bit like shouting into the abyss, I wish there was a way I could address the Hangouts team and remind them how vitally important it is that Google’s XMPP servers continue to federate with other XMPP servers. I wish I could remind them of the journalists, activists, and other vulnerable people on the ground who rely on this support and ability to communicate securely across platforms.

This is more than bolstering a walled garden. This is a slashing and burning of the crops in that garden that people were relying on.

Categories: activism, security

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:

I’m an anarchist, not an asshole

May 1, 2012 1 comment

Photo courtesy of Ed Hunsinger

Hi. My name is KC, and I am an anarchist.

I am not this kind of anarchist.

Last night I watched, via Twitter, reports of groups of vandals targeting and damaging businesses in the Mission after a loosely organized rally in Dolores Park. Cars were smashed, windows were tagged, and I’m sure some diners and store owners got pretty shaken up. And as is always the case, these perpetrators were labeled not vandals, not troublemakers, not misguided and angry, but anarchists.

Anarchism is a complex set of ideals and beliefs. Anarchism, for me and many others, is a conscious assertion of personal autonomy in a society that seeks to take away agency from individuals. For me, anarchism is a way of engaging with and subverting the hierarchal structures that permeate my life. But I’m actually not really interested in nailing down a concrete definition of anarchism. I’m also not interested in denying that some who took part in last night’s debacle likely do identify as anarchists.

What I am interested in doing is acknowledging that what happened last night doesn’t help anyone. Calling anyone who smashes a window at a protest an “anarchist” hurts both those like me who have hope for the resurgence of anarchism as a legitimate social movement and those who don’t but still wish to be a part of larger progressive movements like Occupy.

Also, I don’t want to seem like I’m denying the importance and legitimacy of direct action and targeted property destruction. However, smashed windows are unwieldy brushes when you’re trying to paint a message against the state. Vandalism is a tool, a tool that I recognize and accept as one that I am not ethically capable of using against brothers and sisters who are working hard trying to make a living in this city.

As much as I wish it did, scrawling “yuppies out” on a window isn’t going to bring affordable housing back to those who have been outed of the Mission by gentrification.

On this May Day, let’s all take a deep breath and reflect.

To those who smashed windows last night: did the tool of vandalism accomplish your goal?

To those who wish to smash windows today: can you, without hesitation, stand behind the choices you will make?

To those observing today’s actions: will you be so quick to label every vandal an anarchist?

Categories: activism

Photo recovery for journalists

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s a little project I whipped up as part of my final project for my J395 class. I was tasked with creating a video as part of a multimedia project, so I thought I would do something useful. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to recover deleted photos off your digital camera? This video will tell you how to do just that!

Categories: activism

your cause ain’t my cause

March 3, 2011 4 comments

So, yesterday I attended the March 2nd “Day of Action” protest on campus. I was pretty excited. I mean, I love a good march as much as any other 20-something anachro-punk kid with a copy of Rolling Thunder in my backpack. I dragged along my good out-of-towner friend Morgan, a self designated “riot tourist.” While visiting him in Zurich earlier in the year, he was kind enough to show me where all the Swiss students and anarchists congregate for the annual May Day Riots. So, I thought that it was only fitting to show him a bit of the counter-establishment movement and subculture that I dabble in on this side of the Atlantic.

Boy, was I embarrassed.

As we caught Muni to campus, I attempted to explain what people were upset about. California colleges were being hacked apart by statewide budget cuts while student fees were being raised to compensate. Students were unable to graduate because the classes and professors they need to complete their studies are being axed. Programs are being eliminated and students are being turned away from classes. Shit is bad, and only poised to get worse.

We arrived just in time for the assembly in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. As we nestled ourselves in between students and news cameras, we were prepared for some quality discourse on student issues. I was ready to hear some speeches about how a fully funded CSU could eliminate most student fees. I was looking forward to perhaps a strongly worded rant about how CSU schools should be accessible and affordable. I would have absolutely loved to listen to someone talk about CSUs should be governed by students and staff, not Sacramento.

It all started so well…

What did I get? A bunch of loosely associated, vague rants about the fail of capitalism and how us students were all Egyptian/Libyans/Wisconsinites (really, use any of these terms. Apparently they are all interchangeable). And somehow, I guess, this had everything to do with organizing and reforming the CSU system.

Now, this is all well and good. I’m all for smashing down the walls of a capitalist society. I’m more than on board with maintaining solidarity with oppressed groups around the world.

But at a rally for student rights and reform? No.

Here was an opportunity to organize. The target audience was right there. Here was SQE’s (Students for Quality Education, the group that organized the march) chance to reach out and actually convince students that they have the power to change their educational narrative. Here was the perfect opportunity for us to all agree on one common issue: the state government has royally and personally fucked over every student who has attended a public institution in the last 7 years.

The crowd dissipated after each fringe issue was introduced.  It was especially notable after the first dude stood up to read a Marxist tinged rant on ownership of the educational system. It was about the point that someone started to cover “Don’t Believe The Hype” on accordion that Morgan and I decided that we should investigate another aspect of student life; the pub downstairs.

Education cuts are a gushing wound. Yesterday was an opportunity for students on campus to organize and try to apply pressure to stop the flow of blood. Instead,  it turned into a discussion of how the wounded is an overweight cripple who we should really put on a diet. Instead, it tuned into a discussion about how we shouldn’t forget that there are other wounded people in the world. Instead, it turned into a discussion about how perhaps we should use homeopathic remedies instead of gauze to stop the flow.

But for now, the wound bleeds on.  And we all suffer.

Categories: activism, school