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The dark side of open source conferences [about women being harassed] (lwn.net)
195 points by rythie on Dec 3, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments

A few thoughts:

* This is one of the most factual, well written articles that I've encountered on the subject.

* It's just sad to see socially awkward people manifest their sexual frustration in this manner. And it's even sadder to see that the few women we have in our profession feel threatened at conferences. The overwhelming majority of good people need to intervene to interrupt any form of harassment towards anyone and above all report them to whoever appropriate.

* It's important to remember that sexual harassment is not simple unwanted attention from someone you find unattractive. magamiako deleted his comment, but he was right on the money when he said that certain actions will be interpreted as innocuous flirting if the person perpetuating it is attractive, and as harassment if their are not. It may not be PC to say this, but it's important to distinguish unpleasant, but fundamentally innocuos flirting from awkward people, from bona fide sexual harassment like groping or inappropriate touching. The latter must be eliminated from tech conferences.

* Sexism and unprofessionalism can be avoided without being prudish about the content of your presentation. This is a slide I used in one of my Italian presentations. The title reads "Eye candy is important": http://grab.by/grabs/bd8b294c0aa850b4b577012a258979a3.png (Actual slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/antonio.cangiano/tu-vu-fa-lamerica...). This was just after the "CouchDB performs like a porn star" scandal, and several women at the conference complimented me for pulling it off without objectifying anyone.

"It may not be PC to say this, but it's important to distinguish unpleasant, but fundamentally innocuos flirting from awkward people, from bona fide sexual harassment like groping or inappropriate touching."

Sexual harassment includes the comments like the "how much for a sexual favor?" example. That constitutes bona fide harassment.

Here's my example from the last 2 years. I'm blanking on the conference now, but there was a live IRC session running on the overhead, and each time a question was asked by a woman, IRC would be filled with lude and aggressively sexual remarks. It was totally uncomfortable! I think this situation qualifies as bona fide sexual harassment.

Touching or groping someone in a sexual manner is assault (at least it can be in the US.) It's so far beyond mere harassment that it's not the point of the article...

EDIT: for clarity...

> Sexual harassment includes the comments like the "how much for a sexual favor?" example. That constitutes bona fide harassment.

I wasn't implying otherwise. Sexual remarks like the ones you describe are certainly uncalled for and a form of sexual harassment.

What I meant is that it's important to draw the line between "awkward flirting" and harassment/assault of a sexual nature, so that severe and proper corrective actions can be taken when actual episodes of harassment or assault happen, and so that they cannot be easily dismissed.

(I wasn't going for the distinction between harassment and assault in my comment, and I used the word harassment as an all-inclusive term for any form of sexual, inappropriate behavior).

Are you perhaps thinking of Ian Bicking's "Topics of Interest" talk [0] from PyCon 2009? It definitely veered into the uncomfortable, but there was some reasonable handling of the situation during the talk, IIRC, and was definitely a catalyst in the PSF adopting a formal diversity statement [1] and trying to be encourage inclusivity in the community.

[0]: http://us.pycon.org/2009/conference/schedule/event/76/

[1]: http://www.python.org/community/diversity/

Yeah, that's the talk I was thinking about.

UPDATE - after watching it again, they handled it pretty well.

The same even happened in the chat during the start-up school webcasts. Very disturbing.

I think you make a point that’s over looked here.

As much as it’s PC to portray men and women as completely equal I think men who witness this behavior have a greater responsibility to step in. Our society has always defined “being a man” as taking on certain responsibilities and I think this is one of them.

Further I think every father should teach his sons that they have a responsibility to be protective of women. That means not just respecting them but stepping up and dealing with a jerk who thinks he doesn’t have to. That’s part of being a man in our society (or at least it should be IMHO)

I’m not saying women can’t do it too but I wouldn’t think less of a woman if they didn’t. I would think less of a man (and again I know how un-PC that sounds but it doesn’t make it less true)

This post needs more up voting, re: the responsibility of those around the conferences (or any every-day situation) to step in (as men) to the aid of a women being harassed. Women, physically (at a 99% level), are weaker then men (this may spawn a large discussion), but at the simplistic level, deserve to feel safe within public and private places.

I like to use an analogy when explaining the female mind to men who are not respectful of women's private space: imagine an 8 foot giant of a man whose only thoughts, leers, and actions speak to wanting to have sex with you (or rape you). Visualize that in your head, you may have a better appreciation for the "why's" of women and how they act in social circumstance.

I definitely disagree with this. I cannot see how women can be both things to be protected, and be taken as seriously as their male peers.

I think this is a false dichotomy. Women are, generally, weaker than their male peers. That's not sexist, or discriminatory, it's how things are and (on a biological basis) probably how they will be for some time. To fail to acknowledge that, or pretend that the sexes are equals on all levels, is not only ignorant but in my opinion harmful to the progress of "equality".

It is perfectly possible to regard someone as physically weaker, but intellectually equal or superior. If I'm making a decision on whether I'm "taking someone seriously", physical strength isn't going to factor into that in many situations. In the context of FOSS conferences, their physical stature is completely orthogonal to whether I give a damn.

From here I only need make the assumption that those physically weaker than their peers may need assistance sometimes, and we're basically there. Of course, I would not assert that all women need assistance, or that some women need assistance all the time - I know some girls that play rugby and I'd wager they could beat 95% of HN readers in a showdown.

However the fact remains that many people believe that stronger people have a duty to protect weaker people, that many women are weaker than many men, and (importantly) that women are being targeted because they are women. I for one am going to step in if I see any shenanigans, because I am a man.

Note on male camaraderie and bravado: I'm not sure whether it is constructive, de-constructive or neither for men to place themselves as protectors and aspire to such ideals as "be a man" and "man up", but in situations like this such phrases serve as good motivators to get people to do the right thing, so unless I find evidence of such phrasing being harmful, I think it's a useful tool to inspire decent behaviour.

And there are larger men (example: me at 6'5", 275) who can literally wipe the floor with most other _men_. Of course, I have to protect them, because they are weaker and smaller. Can anybody say bullshit?

I'm up for equality, and I mean real equality. We will be equal when a woman hits a man in the face, and the man responds in kind by punching her, and nobody says anything about "hitting a woman".

Lastly, I have a duty to protect all those I care about, male or female. I would just as well die (or kill) for my guy friends as I would my female friends. What you have between the crotch doesn't matter to me.

> And there are larger men (example: me at 6'5", 275) who can literally wipe the floor with most other _men_. Of course, I have to protect them, because they are weaker and smaller.

From other people your size, yes.

> Can anybody say bullshit?

Sure, but it's not coming from ZoFreX.

If person/entity A is being coercive towards (or just randomly assaulting) person/entity B, you should generally intervene to protect person B if possible. This applies to men protecting women from other men, stronger men protecting less-strong men from other stronger men, the police protecting the general populace from violent criminals, the various forms of consumer-protection laws, employment law, civil-rights protesters and some revolutionaries, teachers breaking up playground fights, ....

I'm up for equality, and I mean real equality. We will be equal when a woman hits a man in the face, and the man responds in kind by punching her, and nobody says anything about "hitting a woman".

There's a reason that social moor exists. Until women catch up in physical power, or men regress, most men will have the power to seriously injure a woman and walk away unharmed, unless the woman is trained or armed. As such, it is a man's duty to take responsibility for this difference, and that is where the taboo on striking a woman came about. There's a partner taboo as well- regarding children- that exists for exactly the same reasons.

Would you argue that someone more powerful does not have a responsibility to manage their strength, and using brute force on women and children should not be considered reprehensible?

I agree with some of what you said, but not total equality. There are differences between the genders, and I think some gender roles are more helpful than harmful (and some are undeniable, until we invent male pregnancy at least).

And yes, I would also protect my male friends. As it stands though, they are not the ones being sexually assulted (mostly - and in those rare situations, generally the guy is able to get himself out of it), and the article only talked about male on female assault, so that's all I really addressed.

I take my little brothers seriously (well, that's not precisely true- one of them is only 14, so you can't always take him too seriously- but if you have brothers you probably know what I mean) and I've defended them in the past.

An unwanted flirtation is not sexual harassment, but repeated advances after the target of the advances has said "no" are sexual harassment.

Absolutely, but it's important to understand that a guy hitting on you is not sexual harassment. When you have made it clear that you are not interested, the guy needs to leave you alone though, or it can easily become harassment.

Harassment is not simply unwanted attention: agreed. However, this is not sexual harassment:

"A presenter had a title slide followed by a slide of bikini-clad women holding laptops, which he said was just to get people to pay attention."

It is creating an inhospitable environment. I know, it seems odd that people would be so sensitive to something that seems so minor, but think of it in terms of a group of bullies. There are very few actions that a bully takes that are out and out awful. Instead, it's the little things that accumulate. Those little things that, designed or not, let you know what others think your place is.

It's rarely attractive men in speedos holding the laptops. The lunch isn't being held at a strip club where men are dancing. It's all these small things that add up to an intolerable environment. It's like little pricks of a needle. It's not that any individual one is "that bad", but it's the bigger picture when society looks at you as a voodoo doll.

Totally agreed : had the presenter replaced the "bikini-clad girl" by a tough looking dark-haired muscular-type guy in boxer short holding an iphone, i wonder how many men would've found this offensive? Rethorical question : None. They would've found it funny. Had the conference room been full of women, would the guys still have found it funny? Answer : Yes. And what if the women started to comment on the guy's 'features'. Hilarous.

I whole-heartedly agree that repeated verbal and physical assault are totally unacceptable, and anyone around must take urgent action against it. But as said above please dont see harassment in everything, just because men find something funny, or because they show a girl on a slide, it is almost never meant to be offensive to anyone. It just isnt, and the poor guy hasnt even thought it could offent anyone. it is just a means of trying to avoid Death by Powerpoint.

And just in case anyone wonders. I do not mean to offend anyone :)

Your mirror-world example leaves one important factor out: context. That is, the larger social context is a world of unequal gendered power dynamics. I think your thought experiment is accurate in its depiction of what that flipped situation would look like, but you are implying the difference is in sensitivity or disposition.

I think the difference is actually that men can laugh at that stuff because a) it's ironic in that those images are typically the other way around and b) that sort of objectification of the male body isn't reminding them that they're at greater risk for sexual harassment and assault. Because they aren't.

The problem is that those images and that humor, in public, about women, happens in the context of a world where women are more easily abused, assaulted and harassed, and men more easily get away with it. So context matters, and in this social context, that "humor" shouldn't be acceptable.

I wish I could take every upvote I've ever given to someone else on Hacker News, and put them all on this post instead. But, I can only upvote it once. So it'll have to do for now.

A downvote...?

Should I have e-mailed the parent commenter instead of posting publicly how strongly I agreed...?

I disagree. That sort of slide (and its associated comment) is absolutely sexual harassment, in that it automatically sexualizes what is supposed to be a professional environment. Given the technology world's long and unpleasant track record of sexist behavior towards women (as well as towards... well, pretty much anybody who isn't, cisgendered, heterosexual, and male), I personally can think of very few ways that sexualizing a public technology presentation can do anything other than create (or contribute to) a hostile environment for a good chunk of the audience.

Furthermore, that sort of slide sends a clear message to the audience about who the speaker thinks they're speaking to. In this case, it says that the speaker thinks that his audience is composed of heterosexual males[1], which <sarcasm>I'm sure feels just great to any women who might also be in the audience.</sarcasm>

[1]: I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the author of those conference slides did not include them in an attempt to appeal to the audience's lesbian members. I am, of course, willing to be corrected on this point.

We just need to recognize the difference between harassment and offensive.

I was not there, and I do not know if it was done in the spirit of things--had the conference been in Miami in August, bathing suit clad models wouldn't be terribly out of context--but if pressed to decide whether the presenter acted criminally or in bad taste, I'll err on the bad taste side.

Having said that, and having been to many conferences, and having had large staffs, I can say that I've seen both offensive behavior and harassment proper. I'm not a lawyer, and I've never been an HR professional, but my experience dealing with both tells me this specific situation would not have escalated. Perhaps poor judgement (context considered), but certainly not harassment.

> difference between harassment and offensive

I've read somewhere that using the words "offensive" or "offended by" puts the emphasis on the person who has expressed concern about the situation. It focuses on the negative: "what can we do to be less offensive?".

The article I read suggested using terms like "unwelcoming" or "exclusive" instead--as it puts the focus on the community. This allows us to focus on the positive: "what can we do to become more welcoming?".

So rather than considering whether this is a question of harrassment or offensiveness I find it useful to think of actions being "welcoming" or "unwelcoming" toward members of our community.

I don't see how you square that with the assertion that "harassment is not simply unwanted attention." Given that premise, it's almost an a priori fact that a sexualized environment is not cognate with harassment, since AFAICT the issue with a sexualized environment is that it brings or constitutes unwanted attention.

It might be uncomfortable, but it is not (in and of itself) harassment. Distinguishing is important, even if you agree that both are a problem.

That doesn't make it acceptable.

Naturally, but we do need to keep the distinction.

> * This is one of the most factual, well written articles that I've encountered on the subject.

As an aside, LWN is great and has lots of well written articles, technical and otherwise.

> * Sexism and unprofessionalism can be avoided without being prudish about the content of your presentation. This is a slide I used in one of my Italian presentations.

Actually, even something like this is still considered offensive. See http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Sexualized_environment

A sexualized presentation will most likely disproportionately offend women over men particularly in a male dominated audience.

magamiako didn't delete his own comment — he was banned several months ago, all his contributions since then are [dead] on arrival

I've written a number of comments about articles about sexism in tech and elsewhere that have been duly down voted. I find many such articles to be self-absorbed prudish feminism that turn innocuous events into harassment. However this is the first article to focus largely on real harassment and I generally agree with your sentiment.

I don't think conferences are a place to have an entirely dry professional existence, but women should feel comfortable that they can interact with men without persistent come-ons. As immature as it may be, men make sexual jokes with men that they don't mean - the "how much for a #%^¥" comment in this article may have been such a comment directed toward a women in an attempt to relate, or it may have been sexist harassment. It's hard to say which from the article. Either way it's immature and reflects badly on the speaker but in only one instance is it real harassment.

I suggest women give these men, many of whom are unsure how to relate to women, the benefit of the doubt that they are joking or just naive, possible even give them some straightforward advice. If someone is persistent, rude, physically assaulting, or otherwise clearly violating you, I think it's your responsibility to report this as well as not to blame the behavior on the entire conference.

Ah, yes.

I remember once casually joking at a get together, Someone needs to tell ESR that he's not God's gift to women. When everyone was done laughing, it turned out that both women present at the table had actually been propositioned by ESR. (And had turned him down.)

A small minority of men cause the vast majority of the problem. Unfortunately it doesn't take many to create a real problem.

A small minority of men cause the vast majority of the problem. Unfortunately it doesn't take many to create a real problem.

This seems like the most important point. Moreover, it's critical that all men who see and hear of such things work to stomp them out. If individuals don't have the social skills on how to woo, it's a topic for personal discussion. Dating isn't hard if basic respect is the first item to be debugged.

It makes me think of pg's nerd essay and with having just found the fantastic TV show Freaks and Geeks. Sexual socialization ripens when we're most vulnerable. If those hurts are carried into adulthood by otherwise successful people, we need to work as a community to help our friends and colleagues along.

EDIT: For a more positive final note.

A small minority of men cause the vast majority of the problem. Unfortunately it doesn't take many to create a real problem.

I recall a study which found that among the IT community only 3% of males make unvanted advances to women. But because the share of men to women is so lop sided, the women experience a near constant stream of unwanted advances.

I think there might have been an HN discussion abou this... And a few men in traditionaly female dominated professions, like nursing, might have shared similar experiences.

Or I am mis-remembering it all.

I recall a study which found that among the IT community only 3% of males make unvanted advances to women

You're missing some important numbers. How many made wanted advances?

here a copy of an email I sent after reading that article. It's not only guys hitting girl, it can take may other forms. The problem is, being mostly outcasts, we lean to tolerate untolerable behaviour.


Following an HN link, I read your article today on LWN http://lwn.net/SubscriberLink/417952/bf6a55b67170ff0e/ and it rang a bell. There's an event I remember from a conference in LSM around 2002 IIRC in Bordeaux, France where I was part of the org team and giving a couple of conferences. It is way more social than most other conferences I attended at that time - in fact, it's now the only conference I keep attending. Everyone is housed on university dorms, the conferences are given in a university, and many social events occur during the conference.

There's a big "dinner night" which I can only compare to the dinners in Harry Potter - long lines of tables, everyone seated to eat but also demoing some technical stuff time to time.

Anyway, that year the dinner was preceded by a cocktail. We were all enjoying french wine and appetizers, when a guy grabbed a bottle from the table next to which we were standing and started running around with the bottle in his hands. I thought this was a playful way to show its running skills, and back then since I enjoyed running too, I started running after him, caught him and started laughting. When I asked him as a prize for my win, with a smile and in a non threatening way, to share the bottle with the rest of us, he suddently turned weird. There was 2 or 3 people around, and he started telling about us about growing in Illinois, having had bullet wounds, knowing how to defend himself, and finally threatening violence.

It was so weird. I didn't know what to do at that time. I let it slip over as the actions of some socially awkward guy. Now if something similar was ever to happen again, after reading your paper I would act very differently - including clearly stating that he should apologize, that such behaviour is not acceptable, and if he thought he could get away with it, as part of the organisation team I would do my best to have him expelled from the conference at once - not the next morning, but right now. And if that could not be made to work with the rest of the team, I would call the police and them deal with him.

It did strike me as odd, because I've been attending that conference since the beginning, 10 years ago, and never noticed something like that again. I went to the OSCON, Linux World and various others I can't remember ATM, in north and south america, but this is the only example I have.

Yet I'm sure the guy had the potential to scare away many other guests. I am forwarding this message to the organizers , along with a link to your original article to make sure a policy get enacted against unacceptable behaviour by guests.

I think this is the crux of what happened, but I don't really understand what it means:

"he suddently turned weird. There was 2 or 3 people around, and he started telling about us about growing in Illinois, having had bullet wounds, knowing how to defend himself, and finally threatening violence."

To me, this sounds like someone with PTSD, (sort of a Walter Sobchak character, if you're familiar with The Big Lebowski). Could you explain a little more? Is the main idea that the guy threatened violence when you thought you were playing something akin to tag?

I still don't exactly understand why he did that. Maybe PTSD as you suggested. And I still can't believe someone would steal from an open bar. He was laughing all the while. It really looked like playing tag to me so I played along. Then he became weird.

Anyway I posted that anecdote to push the message that sometimes we build rationalizations about other people behavior. The article is enlightening - as someone else said, others articles reeked of feminism. This one looks quite serious to me. It made that anecdote flash in my mind.

Now I do not care about the reasons why people do something or something else. In a tech conference, you do not threaten other people. That's wrong. Our mistake is to let such persons get away with that.

I don't think I fully understand what happened, but it sounds like a very strange experience.

You realise that your actions, as described, can be construed as rather creepy and that maybe you should have apologised?

(Some details I forgot to say: the cocktail was in big garden. it was summer time. people where waiting around a table to have their glasses refilled)

Please enlighten me.

I have 2 scenarios - either he stole or he was playing tag. If he played tag, threatening is wrong.

If he stole, what exactly should I have apologised for ? - letting him steal from an open bar ? - letting him run away with what he stole ? - daring to catch up with him ? - smiling to him ? - asking him to fill the empty glasses of the people around him with the full bottle he stole ?

For god sake, he was no hobo but a kernel hacker invited to a conference!

I believed it was a dare - like playing tag. Maybe he did believe otherwise - but why exactly would you take a full bottle from an open bar and run around laughting?? But when confronted I repeat in a non threatening way, why try to escalate instead of going back to normal mode and sharing with the folks having empty glasses around?

I mean it's an open bar. You are not paying per drink, but that's not a reason to grab a bottle and run away or like come with a big back and fill it up as in a supermarket.

That's rude. Following up with threats of violence now crosses my line of "non acceptable behaviour".

How did you "catch" him? If you grabbed onto him a certain way it could have been a trigger for PTSD behavior from a similar thing someone did to him in a fight or something.

I encountered a person with very similar behavior at a party once. There was a bunch of horsing around in a mosh pit sort of thing and this other guy grabbed onto him from behind. He flips the other guy over his back and slams him onto the floor so hard the other guy's ankle literally breaks in two.

Be careful with doing things that may potentially be seen as aggressive to other people, your story could have turned out worse.

For the record, the guy with the broken ankle wasn't angry about it, and there's now a pretty cool photo of the broken ankle on the Internet (I mean it literally got broken in two - his foot was fully separated with the bones sticking out). I talked to the PTSD guy about it later. He was defensive and wanted to kick my ass at first, then he also told me about the rough things that happened to him, and then we shared some drinks. He was on ok guy otherwise.

In your case I'm not sure trying to get the guy kicked out would have been the right thing to do. It would have probably escalated a situation that he didn't intend on creating and wasn't consciously responsible for. Handling it so that the guy would have calmed down instead of threatening people would have been better for maintaining decorum and for helping the guy get over his PTSD.

Honestly I can't remember about how. I think I might have tapped twice on his shoulder but I'm not sure. Anyway it was during the following conversation that it happened - when I asked to share the wine and that I remember quite well.

The situation you describe looks like an honest mistake to me - being grabbed from behind is weird. I wouldn't blame him for reacting and hurting the grabber while he was simply slamming him onto the flow. Bad things happen.

But later on, the guy is still threatening you? To me, the honnest mistake apology is gone. PSTD my *ss - he's abusive. I wasn't there and can't say for sure but to me that's totally different.

Oh no, he was doing it totally indirectly - like, sizing me up while being defensive. I guess that's not being threatening, but only after the interaction I realized that he was really preparing a plan for how to kick my ass in case I did anything wrong, until I calmed him down. It was also pretty appropriate for the setting.

> That's rude. Following up with threats of violence now crosses my line of "non acceptable behaviour".

Yes. But perhaps 'catching' him crossed his.

So what's your plan? Should someone like this do as he please, regardless of the consequences for the others? That's exactly the attitude the article attacks!

To follow up on the original subject, let me rephrase what I understood from your one liner: "maybe the female attendees, by daring to show up in non-unattractive clothes, provocked the gropings". Sounds acceptable to you? Not to me.

> To follow up on the original subject, let me rephrase what I understood from your one liner: "maybe the female attendees, by daring to show up in non-unattractive clothes, provocked the gropings". Sounds acceptable to you? Not to me.

Huh? I'm saying physically attacking someone (if that's what they perceive) may result in the same.

I think that's fairly obvious, so I've reported your comment.

Sounds like pretty normal messing around in a bar to me.

I agree with you. It should be much more accepted and encouraged to seek therapy or coaching when suffering from a strong lack of social skills, being very lonely or even from social anxiety or depressions.

Nobody should have to carry those hurt feelings around all the time - this would also contribute a little bit to a better world ultimately.

Therapy will always seem extreme even as clinical anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans. That's why less than 2 million of those will get adequate treatment.

Guys, be good friends and ask for advice. Talk about dating and your difficulties. Your friends in relationships can really help. Just avoid the guys who speak badly of women. They're also a big part of the problem.

>Just avoid the guys who speak badly of women. They're also a big part of the problem.

I know if I ignore a problem then it always just goes away ... /sarcasm

Probably better, if you can, to stand up against people who are being badmouthed without warrant.

But how do you explain this then?

> When strippers were hired to mix with people at the Saturday night event everyone attended, that made everyone uncomfortable

I suspect that there is some level of ignorance and even acceptance in the community

Yeah. Hiring strippers to hang out at a dev conference is off-the-scale creepy. I am a 23yr old male and I would run a mile if I saw that. Partly because I have moral disagreements but mostly because I can forsee no way in which the interactions happening in such an environment, a big room full of drunk hackers and strippers, could be anything better than awkward and embarrassing to the point of delirium. Worst case, well that doesn't need to be said.

On no planet is it anywhere near appropriate. Jobs may as well crack a load of miscarriage/rape gags during his next keynote, thats on the same level IMO.

Perhaps they were acting out that gods awful movie Swordfish.

Then again, I really do not want to know.

Yeah, that one was pretty egregious.

I think that only a small minority of organizers would be that insensitive. Given the number of conferences and events there are, I don't think that that can be taken as typical.

Most of the other incidents were something that can be explained by a relatively small number of creeps. In one of them there was clear evidence that said creep had done the same thing to multiple women.

Why was he still allowed to go to these events then? He should have been banned from attending after the first time.

Re-reading the article, the story I'm thinking of was Mackenzie Morgan's. She was grabbed from behind and kissed. She says that she found out that it happened to someone else as well at the same party.

It is not clear to me that she actually knew the guy's name, or that she reported the incident. If she didn't report the incident (women rarely do), how could he be banned?

With all due respect, someone should also tell ESR that he's not God's gift to geeks, hackers, free/open software/source, the internet or computers in general.

The gender imbalance at open source conferences means that the small proportion of men throughout society that harass women have a much smaller pool of targets to choose from.

The result - while open-source conferences might have the same amount of harassment per male attendee as any other conference, the percentage of female attendees affected by it is much higher.

This creates dramatically different perceptions. As a male, I haven't seen any more sexual harassment at tech conferences than I have at academic conferences on Russian history, so it doesn't feel like there's much of a problem. But from the female perspective, the situation looks like an epidemic.

I have no solution to this unfortunate situation. Perhaps open source conferences should ban alcohol, so everyone can stay properly inhibited. This hardly seems fair to those of us who enjoy having a beer and can do it without molesting others, but a minor inconvenience to the majority is usually acceptable when it prevents a devastating experience for a minority.

Or perhaps instead of banning beer they should adopt non-harassment policies which are enforced and make sure that they respond to complaints swiftly?

Beer doesn't make people creeps... Their personalities do.

>so everyone can stay properly inhibited

I've not had a lot of contact with the autistic (or those with other mental health issues) but lacking proper social inhibitions has come up. If I were a psychologist I think that a FOSS conference would be very interesting.

Not that we're all freaks though ... nor indeed that this excuses uninhibited behaviours (and certainly not sexual assault).

Excellent point!

Guys confronting sexual harassers is a big part of the solution, and so is an anti-harassment policy is one good part of a solution. More women will come to conferences if it's not so likely they'll be harrassed.

The thing that shocks me is that people seem to describe so many of these incidents, yet they just seem to have passed by with little fallout. At least none was described in the article.

In most circles of independent minded, proactive people (like those in the OSS scene) that I have moved in, such blatant acts of sexual assault would lead to a massive commotion, probably violence. How can you walk up behind a stranger in a public place full of your peers, grab them on the ass and proposition them for sex without getting something broken over your head, or at the very least being shouted and screamed at?

Sounds like people need to be more willing to stand up for themselves and their friends, to more clearly establish group norms of what is and isnt acceptable.

Articles like this are very depressing to me as a young idealistic developer who sees the open source world as a progressive and egalitarian model for how to live our lives.

"without getting something broken over your head"

What is the point of getting into a potentially life-threatening situation just to teach a jerk a lesson?

As for less drastic responses, I agree that the best way to enlighten people would probably be when caught in the act. It seems unlikely that "photograph upskirt guy" is reading this article and just now it dawns on him "maybe I shouldn't have been doing that".

I'm not advocating breaking things over peoples heads. I'm saying that I'm shocked that the heads of said upskirt photographers havent been used to break anything yet.

It shows a level of restraint that is certainly morally commendable, whether it has benefitted the community long term I am not so sure.

> What is the point of getting into a potentially life-threatening situation just to teach a jerk a lesson?

What is the point of getting into a potentially life-threatening situation just to be on the other side of a street? Your question is tautological.

Cracking a bottle over someones head could escalate (and land you in jail anyway).

I know I'm at the risk of taking an offhand turn of phrase too literally here, but just in case anyone is ever tempted to break a bottle over someone's head like they do in the movies: don't. Glass bottles are surprisingly strong, and breaking one over a slightly springy surface like someone's head requires a very forceful blow which could cause serious injuries. And that's before we get to the broken-glass-going-everywhere problem.

If you do ever need to deal appropriately with some pervert taking upskirt photos, I recommend putting him in a headlock and getting a couple of other guys to help you wrestle him to the ground, where they can hold him down while you lecture him on the subject of good manners and appropriate behaviour.

Breaking glass bottles over heads mostly happens in old westerns and that sort of thing. Is it possible glass bottles of the time were more fragile?

In other news, I love the image of a cordial lecture on good manners and being polite to women directed towards a guy in a headlock on the ground beneath me. Hopefully I'll have the guts to do it if needed.

> Sounds like people need to be more willing to stand up for themselves and their friends

Potentially "being different" in addition to standing up and out can be a daunting prospect. There's a lot of perceived social risk in such situations.

>Potentially "being different" in addition to standing up and out can be a daunting prospect.

This is laughable considering how much talk there is in the hacker world of defying convention, challenging conventional wisdom, standing out from the crowd, changing the world and associated platitudes.

There's a lot of talk about this in the hacker world. The reality is that some kinds of "different" are seen as just fine, and others have major social consequences.

If you're a guy, try wearing hot pink jeans and shoes, a lavender femme-looking unisex top, and nail polish to a tech conference and see how the other guys react. It's eye-opening.

Nobody is going to react well to hot pink jeans, regardless of their genital category.

To the contrary. Most people react pretty darn well in most situations. Many techie guys seem to have a problem though.

Maybe you're a lot more confident in social situations than I am then. :)

I don't think the hacker community is any more welcoming of dissenting opinions than the world at large. Standing out is a good way to get flamed. Or be told that one's opinion is "laughable". :)

Talk is cheap, though.

I couldn't get over how powerful the message was when presented in clear technical language. By articulating the problem in a simple factual manner and offering specific concrete solutions, some of which are already under way, she makes it impossible to dismiss her concerns.

The medium is the message I suppose.

I wonder if this style, applied to this issue, is powerful only for technical people, or it it would be equally compelling to other groups.

I found this SO much more helpful than other essays and blog posts on harassment I have seen lately (and I've been looking around a lot). I think we can relate to this better because we share some mental and social structures with the writer. Its a lot easier to relate to her though patterns, and the suggestions seem both desirable and realistic.

I doubt other groups would find this so compelling, because a lot of intelligent, engaged, perceptive people have been writing about this for a long time and I've never seen something like this from a non-technical writer.

Agreed completely. The articles relating to Noirin Shirley's recent post were clearly polarized: participants "picked a side" that agreed with the biases they brought to the table, and not much in the way of useful discussion actually seemed to happen.

On the other hand, this article is much more useful: a compelling description of the problem and examination of what isn't working, followed by a clear call-to-action on what they suggest be done (in this case, adopting a minimal anti-harassment policy).

More like this, please.

What annoys me is that the article talks about a "problem of a sexualized environment", but the [post](http://blog.nerdchic.net/archives/418/) that is being refered to describes things like this:

> I lay across the bed, sat on laps, generally tried to squish in to any available space and get time to talk to all the fabulous people thronging the place. [...] I had a few drinks. I was wearing a skirt of such a length that I had cycling shorts on under it to make me feel more comfortable getting up on stage and dancing. I had been flirting with a couple of other boys at the party.

Way to be professional...

Your comment blames the victim. Don't do this.

Whether it's a professional networking event or a fun, crazy, not-so-professional party, no one should be treated in this manner. No matter her (or his) behavior or the atmosphere. Period. Also, she mentioned "sitting on laps" because there was no room in the party, and people have a right to flirt without being, uh, sexually molested.

Finally, the linked article cites this as one example. There are many others, like when the author

organized a group outing to a pub, only to have one of the invited workshop attendees grab my ass while I was having a completely normal conversation.

(EDIT) sp332 points out that GP is discussing the environment at these events, but we're operating in shades of gray here.

The author talks about how the attitude towards women at these events is "institutionalized sexism." That is, people hired strippers etc. for years, and that attitude still exists at conferences/events. Noira could've been out-of-bounds by sitting in someone's lap, but we don't have any information on whether she knows the person, has a relationship with them, etc.

Still, GP's comment implies that Noira's behavior fosters the "sexualized environment" the author is complaining about. My point is that there's a big leap from Noira's flirting to women being groped. (/edit)

Hang on, GP is addressing a different issue, not the groping. The article complains that "sexualized environments" are bad, but Noirin sought out - and actively participated in - a sexualized environment and had no problem with it (the groping was a separate thing). Obviously there is a distinction to be made, but it's not clear what the distinction is...

A party isn't a "sexualized environment". An orgy is. Let's be perfectly clear that there's a huge difference between the two. People go to parties for all sorts of reasons.

Look guys, women flirt to signal interest. You can never assume anything more than that is intended. It's not fair to them and you'll look foolish (or worse) if you go too fast.

In that case, the author of the article is also wrong. There are no public sex acts, so open source conferences are similarly not sexualized environments.

A party isn't a sexualized environment unless there's some overtly-sexual influence. Similarly, open-source conferences are completely tame until the organizers hire strippers. And strippers are as "sexualized" as it gets (well, except for orgies or prostitutes).

Strippers are of course ridiculous to have at a conference. I can't even begin to imagine how anyone could think that it's a good idea.

However, read the proposed policy: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/index.php?title=Conference_ant...

> We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference [without a refund] at the discretion of the conference organizers.

Sexual language is forbidden. I think we can agree that this too, is ridiculous.

I agree it sounds ridiculous, but now I am having a hard time thinking of an appropriate example of sexual language at a tech conference. These rules set clearly defined boundaries that even the most tactless, socially inept people can understand and abide by.

A joke perhaps? It is ridiculous also because the punishment is far too severe.

A sexual joke would be appropriate? Not IMO.

"Fuck I dropped my laptop" ?

"Fuck" as an exclamation is not sexual language. You could argue otherwise, but you'd just be being literal-minded.

Upvote for catching this, and I'm editing my post to be clearer, but: there's a world of difference between harmless flirting and attending a conference where the company hires strippers.

And the strippers aren't even at the party for sex.

I don't blame the victim, I just thought I would get away with NOT saying that I condone sexual assault because I personally think that this goes without saying...

I just think that no matter how crowded a hotel room, you shouldn't sit on other peoples laps or flirt with people if you actually intend to keep the gathering anything close to professional. If you want to sexualize your environment, I'd suggest a short skirt, flirting and sitting on people's laps.

Sadly, you can't have both.

It was at a breakout party in a hotel room - hardly the main stage of the conference.

Even in a sexually charged environment where people are strongly flirting with each other, a reasonable person will know the line between flirting (and back off if the signals are poor) and assaulting someone. When a woman rejects your potentially reasonable advance, shoving your hand down her pants isn't step 2.

But the point here is surely "flirting with other boys", not the one who then assaulted her. Can you flirt? Sure. Can you wear what you like, safe in the knowledge that people still have no right to assault you? Yes, you should be able to.

I'm a guy, but when I go out I try and look nice. Sometimes I'll flirt with people. That's fine. If I flirt with someone and it's not reciprocated, I stop. Immediately.

You're basically just rephrasing the "she was asking for it"argument there. And it's crap. So don't.

Yes... and there was not necessarily anything wrong with making a pass at her (i.e. taking her aside and going for a kiss etc, although it's hardly well executed it is harmless and she clearly views it that way)

But when rebuffed you don't then feel her up. There is a line to be crossed; she brought the passes on herself to be sure, but not the assault.

(EDIT: the replies to this make it clear my point got a bit twisted. I was rebuffing the parent to this' point about her being flirty at the party; by suggesting that flirtyness is not wrong and neither is [in many cases] making passes at flirty people. But that assaulting them after a clear rebuff is always wrong. In this case it is clear he was entirely in the wrong. Using the word "necessarily" was meant to convey that, obviously that didn't work ;))

Going for a kiss when someone has made no sign that they're in to you? When there are no signals that this is perhaps fine? No that's not cool!

Brought the passes on herself? No. You can flirt with someone, if they don't reciprocate, it's not cool. First move = kiss is not flirting, it's massively inappropriate.

Brought the passes on herself?

Yep, she did. But that is not a blame on the victim.

If you wander round flirting with people they are going to make passes at you. She admits this, and seems fine with it. There is nothing wrong with wandering round being flirty, there is nothing wrong with guys taking that as a signal to make a pass at her.

Feeling her up after being rejected definitely is wrong.

To clarify, if you're flirting with someone, yes they may flirt back and perhaps "make a pass" at you. In this case however, she was not flirting with this guy. Just because someone is flirting with other people, does not make them open to flirting with you. If they wanted to be flirting with you, they would be already.

Someone being flirtatious with others is not a green light for you to make a pass. Not if they're not flirting with you. Even then, there's still plenty of nuance and context which would determine whether that's acceptable.

Oh I agree.

In this case he was in the wrong all the way; but you could put down everything up to the kiss as misguided, or confused or as simply idiotic behaviour. Guys get funny around flirty girls and make stupid choices.

But action after the clear rebuff is a different matter (and this was sorta the point I was trying to make but it got a bit bogged down).

(on re-reading, in this case, I'd only excuse the bit up to the kiss in this case, he seems to have forced the kiss instead of just going for it [if that follows]).

Depends on what you mean by a "pass".

Asking a woman if you can kiss her may feel hard, but looking back on my single teenage years, that's a whole lot easier than "going for a kiss".

Let me add: If you get rejected, be gracious. Say she looks beautiful and any guy would be lucky to receive a kiss from her.

I say all this like I'm Mr. Smooth. Nothing could have been further from the truth and I've been in a committed relationship for 13 years. Watching an episode of Freaks and Geeks last night just brought back a lot of tough memories prior to meeting her.

Asking a woman if you can kiss her may feel hard, but looking back on my single teenage years, that's a whole lot easier than "going for a kiss".

On the other hand, if you can pull off just going for it and she digs it, that makes you look really good.

And that's how it always works in movies. Which is probably a big part of the problem (for both girls and guys).

Life would be so much easier if that were always true.

But sometimes, the first real move in a relationship is a kiss, which comes fairly much out of the blue.

Context is everything.

Unprofessional women still shouldn't be groped. And it's a (rather informal) after-hours even after a (rather informal) conference...

Flirting isn't professional when it's at an after hours party? How else should one signal that they're available and interested?

Signalling such things is, in fact, not professional. Of course, neither are most after-hours parties...

By definition, after hours parties are not professional. That's why they're after hours and parties.

If women can't flirt in those environs, we're doomed as a species. Unless you want to go trolling at dance clubs?

> By definition, after hours parties are not professional. That's why they're after hours and parties.

Definitely. Were you under the impression that I was saying otherwise?

She's married, I don't think her flirting was intended as a sign of availability.

Only married in the "divorce proceedings take a while" sense.

To be clear, Mackenzie, are you saying that you know Noirin personally, and that it's public knowledge that she's in the process of getting a divorce, and [edited] also that she really is looking for a new partner?

She posted it on her blog.

I am happy to see that Mackenzie's comment has been voted up from -1 to 3 now.

On the other side, the article mentions the double bind women are in: they are generally treated as "non-technical" and so need to use tricks to get others to pay attention to what they are saying, yet these trick that end up being interpreted as flirting and sexual advances.

My concern here is lumping flirting in with sexual advances. A big part of the problem is men see the first and assume the second, or worse, promiscuity. That's the bad path.

This happens in a lot of organizations.

One that I think is most relevant is CUSID( Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate )

It was very much an organization which had a problem with women feeling pushed out, harassed, and uncomfortable. The result of that was that very few women were getting involved or staying involved.

In 2001 they decided to do something about it. They had a long discussion, and implemented a very strict policy about offensive conduct. You can see it here http://www.cusid.ca/documents/official-documents/cusid-code-...

The TL;DR; of it, is that every tournament is obligated to have an approachable "Equity Officer" as well as an anonymous way of submitting "Equity" complaints. These are comments on things that made someone uncomfortable, feel offended, or feel harassed. The equity officer then takes action, at their discretion, usually informing the offender that what they did was not cool, with no tangible punishment. Sometimes ignoring the complaint. Or in rare cases, taking drastic action against an individual.

Having been at the receiving end of two complaints, they take this policy very seriously. There is a very vocal group that believes that the policy is harmful, because it is too restrictive. There is another group that feels it is necessary and should get stronger. It is a political debate, and the two groups keep each other in check, at the current level.

The IMPORTANT result. In 2001, very few women were involved, particularly in upper levels of the community. This year, female involvement has risen to the point that fully half of the 32 finalists in the BP Nationals held two weeks ago, were female.

There are still issues, and a new discussion is being had on refinements to the policy. The point is that confronting the problem head on, did a lot of good. Particularly the point of having a formal way to complain and have the offensive parties made aware of the inappropriateness of their actions, and hold them accountable.

I've [only] been to three tech conferences. The only "sexism" I observed was excessive delight: "Oh wow, a woman!" which I hardly consider harassing. No one meant disrespect; rather the opposite. Possibly offensive is the notion that it would be a surprise to find me there at all. I might say something similar to a man at a needlepoint conference.

Yes, I got sexual attention, but only in a social context, and nothing inappropriate. I've also gotten "Let's be friends!" attention from people, including other women. In other words, we are there to meet people who share our interests, on a social as well as professional level.

> The only "sexism" I observed was excessive delight: "Oh wow, a woman!" which I hardly consider harassing.

FWIW some people would consider that unwelcoming/harassing--I think the term is "othering". i.e. what's treated as important is not the person or their skill but their gender.

And, yes, it can be annoying for guy in a "traditionally female" domain as well.

And this is where harder-core feminism can devolve into "everything men do is wrong". Notice that a woman is a woman and you're patronizing/harassing/"othering". Treat her as one of the guys and you're being deliberately exclusive and maintaining a boys club.

What you present is a false dichotomy.

Have you considered treating people as people?

See someone (whatever the gender) at a tech conference? Talk to them about tech. Simple.

>FWIW some people would consider that unwelcoming/harassing--I think the term is "othering". i.e. what's treated as important is not the person or their skill but their gender.

>And, yes, it can be annoying for guy in a "traditionally female" domain as well.

I think I'd prefer to have people pay attention to me for a particular characteristic if that meant that you could then demonstrate you're more than just that characteristic once interacting.

I'm dad to an 18month old. We use a sling rather than a buggy. No one ever holds a door for me or steps aside, stepping into the road with a baby because jerks won't let you past on the pavement ... anyway, I'm coming to a point here somewhere ... I've been to a few meetings where I'm the only man and I just get ignored. I find group social situations pretty hard anyway but I only get included if I break the ice and usually the only interaction I get is scowls for playing with their kids.

I think I'm ranting, hang on, yup ranting, I'll just sit over here.

Sorry to hear your experience as a father is less than positive, socially-speaking. As a mother of an 18-month old whose father is currently taking care of him full time, our experience is quite the opposite. My husband gets more compliments in a day than I do in a month, I think largely because of the "otherness". He is is also a very popular member of the local "mommy" group. Perhaps it has something to do with where you are? As an ex-New Yorker, I've found the city to be unfriendly to parents of either gender.

OT, are you aware of the HN parents google group?


>Perhaps it has something to do with where you are?

Maybe I'm not as handsome as your fella.

Thanks for the info.

I've seen some responses to women in our community that were bordering on sycophantic - and slightly creepy.

I think sometimes in an attempt to be enthusiastic about women attending events, it can go a bit too far. Tokenism and othering as, in the long term, just as damaging to gender relations.

As a male knitter, I can confirm that I get weird reactions - though usually from nonknitters who see me knitting.

The fact you personally didn't receive any unwanted advances is not proof that they never happen.

No, however the fact that she didn't is a useful data point in itself. It puts some sort of upper bound on the extent of the problem.

An upper bound of N - 1, where N = number of all women in tech. Work hard on that and you should be able to get it down to at least N - 1000 or so.

I'm sure this will sound sexist as well, but the chivalrous guys far outnumber the jerks. If someone crosses the line, by all means call the cops but also consider making an immediate and loud protest, and you might get help from an ad hoc group of temporary big (or little) brothers. A black eye and split lip might be the quickest way to teach some of these guys the right way to act.

While emotionally appealing, the problem with that type of "chivalry" is that you may get to enjoy the sights and sounds of your local county jail. Unless there's a couple of very helpful witnesses to the catalyst behavior, you're going to get slapped with an assault charge, moreso if it was verbal sexual harassment you started a fight over, or just so the original assailant can save face regarding the situation.

I'm not advising that you never come to someone's aid, but be careful before you commit a misdemeanor crime based on someone's claim, especially when alcohol may be involved.

True. The black eye and split lip idea was wishful thinking. Perhaps a number of people showing up and glaring at the bully, or at least getting between him and the victim, would suffice.

> but the chivalrous guys far outnumber the jerks.

If this is the case, why do these incidents keep happening?

I guess it comes back to the cliched "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing".

And having a stated policy in place is a pro-active way to demonstrate "Hey, in case you were wondering, this kind of behaviour's not okay and this is how we'll deal with it".

If this is the case, why do these incidents keep happening?

Because as a culture we don't know how to talk about these things - when they happen and when we see and hear about them. And when TV shows - like Freaks and Geeks - come along and try, they're canceled after one season.

Except that the way the typical renfaire-attending dork interprets 'chivalry' is obnoxious in its own right

True. The written no-harassment policy should also address such things as hand-kissing of maidens after rescuing them.

What a shame. It could've be good for a laugh to set everyone at ease again!

Though, you'd have to be pretty smooth to pull that off.

I think this is a good article and a great reminder to us all about the underside to the world. I do want to say, though, that the 'men' (and they are only described as such due to their gender) in this story are a very small minority that you would find in any group of people.

I'm not so naive to say that sexism doesn't exist in our industry, because it clearly does, but I would say that the vast majority of people would neither encourage or stand for any sort of sexism, whether overt or not.

I think it is tempting to create a link between the stereotypical 'geek' - who is a guy that lives in his mom's basement and never meets women - and the sort of overt sexism and abuse as described in this article, but that is dangerous. That stereotype no longer exists, if it ever did, and there will always be men, from whatever industry or walk of life, who view women as objects and not equals. We need to work on this attitude in every walk of life, not just in the tech world.

Indeed. In fact that stereotypical geek has, I think, never been the one to pull of these sorts of overt sexual advances (so the link is/was an unfair one).

But because the industry is so female light a (relatively speaking) large proportion of the women in it have been propositioned or assaulted by the more forward members of the group.

> In fact that stereotypical geek has, I think, never been the one to pull of these sorts of overt sexual advances (so the link is/was an unfair one).

But if the people at these conferences aren't "stereotypical geeks" then who are they?

Wow, I'm truly shocked. I mean, it's 2010. Apparently there are minority of people how can't behave and ruin the reputation of the whole community.

> Later someone was caught taking up-skirt photos of my friend's partner.

Would be interesting to know if he was kicked out of the conference, and whether the harassment cases were reported to authorities / organizers.

Yeah I had the same reaction. Someone doing that should be reported to the police.That's just plain wrong.

(not rhetorical or trolling) What will the police do to help?

Hold him, have a talk with him, let him go. This usually shakes people up and is completely legal

While I'm pleased to see this article on HN, is it appropriate to use a "subscriber link" in a public forum like HN?

Yes, that is exactly the purpose of LWN's subscriber links. It lets subscribers share content with non-subscribers in a "controlled" manner, which I guess means LWN can track usage and so on. I think it's awesome; thanks for sharing, rythie.

See their FAQ: http://lwn.net/op/FAQ.lwn#slinks.

I guess I should have RTFF. :)

"Where is it appropriate to post a subscriber link? Almost anywhere. Private mail, messages to project mailing lists, and weblog entries are all appropriate. As long as people do not use subscriber links as a way to defeat our attempts to gain subscribers, we are happy to see them shared."

Thanks for pointing that out.

As long as the posting of subscriber links in places like this is occasional, I believe it serves as good marketing for LWN - indeed, every now and then, I even do it myself. We just hope that people realize that we run nine feature articles every week, all of which are instantly accessible to LWN subscribers.

I would be surprised if a link on the frontpage of HN didn't lead to more subscriptions - but I could be wrong.

They got me to subscribe precisely because every link I've ever followed to there from HN has been a well-written, engaging article.

It's apparently pretty common - you can also find them on e.g. reddit. I don't think they'd mind, or they could just limit to, say, 100 clicks.

I do agree that people who enjoy the quality of LWN.net should pay the $7 monthly fee. For Linux/FOSS hobbyists, it is a good online periodical. I speak as a once and future subscriber.

There is an interesting part to some of those stories... kind of captured in some of those paragraphs. For example "If I go to CES in Vegas I go with the understanding that porn is part of the business of that conference". Many gamers' expos would have naked girls with game logos painted over them if they could get away with that.

Also, have you lately been to a students' club? In some places (and not even of the lowest quality) kissing and proposing sex to people you barely know is pretty much a normal behaviour. (this happens from both genders)

Now you have lots of people coming out of that environment and expect them to figure out by themselves that this is a different environment? Of course there will be someone who doesn't quite get it.

It also doesn't help when in some environments women are ok with as much attention as they can get. I've seen a couple of IRC channels of open-source projects where there's a regular female user appearing there. Strictly no-offtopic channels suddenly switch to 2h "what's new in your life in any details you want" discussions between her and 10 random guys that includes innuendos every once in a while. Again - do you expect those people to figure out themselves that it's not the same environment?

I really don't think this is a problem "of open source conferences". It might be something that manifests there more often than in other places.

That reminds me, what happened with the Florian Leibert scandal? Any word from him since the event?

What happened is that she called the Atlanta police, who found no cause to charge him. End of story.

[Citation needed.]

I don't see anything in her blog post that supports what you've said. If it's in the comments you might want to quote it.

Yes, it says she went to the police. Where does it say the police didn't care?

I didn't say the police didn't care, I said they didn't file charges. The difference is instructive.

It appears to have died, or migrated to more appropriate fora. Thankfully.

By the way who really uses fora as the plural of forum? To me it seems at best arbitrary, at worst pretentious.

Pretension and grammar-Nazism are the virii of online communication.

You must mean pretentiousness, surely.

"Pretension and grammar-Nazism": in this phrase, the first part is honeycomb, and the second is a bear-trap.

Have a nice day.

I see what you did there.

Wait, you mean viruses? :)

I'm sorry, next time I'll uses "forumses". Damn ecomony got all these morans backs up!

You're implying that fora is the only acceptable way of writing the plural of "forum". That's nonsense, forums is perfectly valid English. My point was: why forum/fora? Why not creditor/creditores, or abdomen/abdomina?

I'm honestly not sure. Perhaps this topic would be more appropriate for a linguistics forum?

The same people who say "mouses" instead of "mice."

He hasn't tweeted since then...

The Conference Anti-Harassment policy is one of the results of the incident.

As a general rule: Don't shit where you eat. Some of the incident she describe are legit sexual harassment and others are a male trying to pick up a lady. Don't do that ever where you work or have important business to attend[your technique maybe lacking].

I Genuinely think this is not really a Geek problem. There is statistically large number of people with sexual deviation. For instance, it is estimated that between 3-9% of the population are Pedophiles[1]. At a conference with about 100 people there maybe 3 persons there with a sexual deviation. But it only takes one of those guys to approach all the women in the conference and spoil the whole thing for all of us.

My suggestion is if ever you were to encounter a situation of sexual assault report it immediately to the police[not the conference organizer]. I don't want that guy who hits ladies on the bum to be walking around freely in society. He would not be operating at Conferences alone.

As a side note to how important it's to report these things:"nonincestuous pedophiles who molest boys had committed an average of 282 offenses against 150 victims"[1]. As I said previously, just one deviant can crash the party for a whole lot of people.


None of the incidents described carry any hint of sexual deviancy. The worst of them are "just" cases of someone making unwanted sexual advances - being (way) too quick to go beyond flirting and too slow to back off.

This can be due to a lack of respect for women in general, but also due to a mix of social ineptness and sheer desparation. And you can't tell me the latter is not statistically more likely to occur in geeks.

I think the my first paragraph pointed that out that there are two types of things happening here. One guys aren't aware that they over steps some bounds.

But putting your hand down a females underwear and hitting someone's bum unexpectedly. Normal people don't do that.

I think it's partly a problem with organizers not paying enough attention to the community aspect of conferences. There are talks and there's sometimes lunch, but a lot of socializing happens too. I think it works better when organizers plan after-conference events or talk with those planning them and make sure they know what's going on and that responsible people will be there the whole time.

People who are going with the flow of a conference often want to stay up and hang out until 10 or 11 and meet people, and it's not difficult to organize or get local companies to organize events that go that late, like hack fests. People who decide to stay up later, well, at that point they're not going with the flow of the conference. Hopefully they know what they're doing. And if they don't, and something bad happens, of course the offender should be blamed.

I just don't think having to wing it should be a normal part of a conference experience.

Edit: I realized that I've only been to small (<500) conferences. It still seems like bigger conferences could have evening events, but they might be trickier to plan. Perhaps having a few evening events that are announced and that the organizers can vouch for would be a solution. Also I don't think it's all-or-nothing; the more well-organized activities there are that fill up the evenings, the less chance of something bad happening at a poorly-organized evening activity.

An interesting question would be if those men which did the wrong thing were regulars to these conferences or new to the scene? From similar things I have been to I just couldn't imagine a community in which the core regulars would have anyone doing these kinds of things.

I'm Mackenzie in the article. The guy who made the comment about why someone else was agreeing with me...he wasn't new. I don't know about the guy who grabbed/kissed me.

Going a little broader in the tech field... I know of some people in the hacking/security community who are...well, when you're new to the scene, you're warned about them. I can only think of one guy I was warned about, but he's well known. I can think of two others I was told new guys to the scene (particularly if fairly young) should be warned about, and those two are around-since-phreaking-days levels of established and well known. Being icky doesn't mean ostracism.

Have you met any of the "core regulars" in the Linux community?

The short answer is that the people who do these things include both regulars and newbies. I have personally been groped or fondled by two "core regulars."

>Cat says, "If I think an event organizer turns a blind eye to questionable behavior I'll pass on the event."

I'm surprised that conference organisers would ignore sexual assault particularly with the bad press it must bring - assuming that these women are reporting the sexual assaults (someone fondling your genitals against your express will is pretty clearly sexual assault IMO).

But then if the women assaulted choose not to report such things to the police (I think the onus lies with them as opposed to any witnesses) how can the conference organisers act? They can't assume an uncharged person is guilty, can they?

I've always been saddened by some of the vitriol that has come up on hacker news when talking about women. But this seems like a pleasant conversation.

My personal experience is that tech conferences tend to encourage cliquish and hierarchal (based on popularity and tech-sphere influence) behavior which feels dehumanizing.

I think there is a common thread with my observation to sexual harassment at conferences. When people relate to each other on a human (rather than hierarchal level), people tend to respect each other more.


Women also bring greater social cohesion to groups.


The fact that women are sexually harassed could be solved by having more women at conferences.

I get tired of women complaining about sexism in the startup/tech field.

Yes, ladies, you will be hit on a lot at a conference filled with mostly guys. You are an attractive minority. Now, to the point:

--- There is no excuse for physical assault. I can even almost excuse a guy going in for a peck, but grab-ass and worse are not cool. If you're going to proposition a girl, do it with your wits and your words, not a firm, open palmed slap on the behind.

On behalf of all young, healthy, mate-seeking males, I apologize for the few who make us all out to be classless jerks.

--- Of course, it can be argued that you shouldn't be looking to hook up at a FOSS conference, but really... when ISN'T a single guy looking for a woman with similar interests (inside and outside the bedroom)? This isn't a 'geek' problem, it's a 'human' problem.

It's interesting that you agree with the points, but put your tiredness down to the complaints of the affected women. Of the things on offer, that's an odd thing to put your frustration down to. I think it would be better to be tired of the guys who act like jerks and ruin things for everyone else.

I wonder how many guys are being enlightened by reading this thread on HN right now. My guess would be zero.

Marginal effects count. We don't have to cause an epiphany; making everyone slightly more aware of the problem is useful too.

I was commenting as much on the recent deluge of 'sexism in tech is rampant' threads on HN as I was commenting on the article. I was emphasizing that even as someone now jaded by such complaints, I find this to be a valid article.

I also comment on how inappropriate groping a woman is; I would consider my entire 3rd and 4th lines to be expressing frustration at immature male actions.

I consider all sides of an argument, and for that, I will not apologize.

In your original post you said it was a human problem. Among social animals, humans are unusually effective at avoiding being pushed around by selfish males, probably due to communication.

So I think it's good to talk about it. If more people recognise the problem then they're more likely to intervene next time they see it happen, and to marginalise troublemakers. They're good outcomes.

probably due to communication

This is key at all times, not just in a post hoc analysis. If a guy and girl are flirting and one takes it too far some of the responsibility does fall on the other to immediately let them know. When this communication is ignored is when there is a problem.

For example, I was out with friends one time at a club and was talking/flirting with a couple different girls. At one point in the night one girl simply grabbed my crotch. She was obviously intoxicated, but once I told her that wasn't very cool she apologized and went on her way. We had been flirting for most of the night, but any girl who does that and wants to hook up the first night I meet them isn't a girl I want to hang out with.

I was emphasizing that even as someone now jaded by such complaints, I find this to be a valid article.

Then your original post was unclear, as you said nothing positive about the article. Because you were negative about the trend of complaints, it implied that you felt this way about the article itself. By proceeding to agree with the points themselves, it implied that these are self evident truths that should just be accepted and not complained about.

I certainly wouldn't presume to berate you for your opinion, and it's good to see someone who considers both sides to an argument, but I think we do need to keep hearing about these things otherwise we get to the point where we assume it's not happening when it clearly is.

> "when ISN'T a single guy looking for a woman with similar interests"

Wait... what? The article is complaining about wholly inappropriate behavior, not inappropriate goals. They're not complaining about the attention - they're complaining about its manifestation.

Sure, it's a more-broad cultural problem, but it's highly concentrated among geek populations as so many of us are socially... stunted in general. And having essentially had a 'locker-room' industry for the last few decades certainly hasn't helped.

I get tired of misogynists who are too dense to realize their being misogynist.

As long as sexism exists women should be complaining about it. And as you have unwittingly proven, sexism does still exist.

Did you consider wording that as:

"I get tired of sexism in the startup/tech field."

I suspect it would be a sentiment shared by many who are affected by negative behaviour--both men and women.

I would encourage you to go read the proposed policy and see if you have anything constructive to add.


"I get tired of women complaining about sexism in the startup/tech field."

Cry me a river. Would you prefer people just shut up about it?

Yes. Things like "Men wanted" should not offend someone when used lightheartedly as a cultural reference, but it did offend a lot of people on HN. That bothers me.

Seems people went to town downvoting me here. I wonder what things would look like if HN had Slashdot's mod/metamod system. Oh, I can dream....

"That bothers me."

So here you are, complaining about other people complaining when something bothers them. Do I need to draw you a diagram to illustrate your inconsistency?

"Seems people went to town downvoting me here."

Perhaps they enjoy living in a society where people are allowed to express disagreement.

A lot of complaints about sexism in FLOSS conference mainly refer to sexual references, or (semi-)pornography. If you want to have a professional conference, then yes you should have a 'no sex' policy.

However, are women really that anti-sex?

In short, no.

You might be interested in reading: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Sex_is_beautiful

Also, don't assume that it's only women who object to sexual content in technical contexts.

I read that article. It seems quite biased against the 'sex is beautiful' idea.

I guess the 180-degree alternative to "women being harrassed" is the the Drupal community, in which a small, but very vocal, women run around and use 'women being harrassed' as a sledgehammer to intimidate and enforce their own standards of values/behavior on anyone and everyone.

No one seems to mourn that kind of harassment. Until they do, I remain suspect when I read titles like this. Based on experience I believe that as often as not someone just needs to call the wahmbulance and/or quit using their gender as a weapon of control.

I will add as a side note, and I have no idea if it pertains to this particular article or not, but many (even most) of the women I have seen complaining about 'being harassed' in the Drupal community are openly lesbian. I could care less about someone's personal sexual choices in the bedroom, but it does raise more questions about what is going on with many of these 'harassment' complaints, at least in my mind. There is something dishonest to me about those who have sworn their life to not-include men, also simultaneously want to tell all the men exactly how they are allowed to act/speak/think.

UPDATE: For the record I do acknowledge the very real possibly/problem of actual harassment. I do not wish my comments to diminish the seriousness of those cases. Just sharing my experience of seeing 'harassment' complaints being weaponized, and calling for some balance/sanity.

Wait, so, because they're lesbians (so you say) it's not possible for them to be sexually harassed by men? I don't follow your train of thought.

It's about any women (lesbians and non-lesbians alike) not actually being harassed, but rather just running around trying to enforce their own agenda on the world. My bottom line is this - if I say something to someone and did not mean any offense/harassment, did not consider it to be offensive/harassing - and someone else still wants to cry about it, then f-*ck them.

I guess in the particular case of the particular lesbians I mentioned above - they seem to be looking/seeking to find something, anything, that they can hold up as harassment and persecute the shit out of someone. That's bullying in my book plain and simple.

UPDATE: Maybe I'm ascribing too many personal motivations for their behavior - all I can say that many/most of loudest voices in the Drupal community regarding all things 'harassement' are lesbians. At the very least they have a hair trigger response and get set-off by comments that their straight counterparts do not.

I've dealt with my share of reverse-chauvinism-disguised-as-feminism, so I know where you're coming from, but consider what you just said:

"if I say something to someone and did not mean any offense/harassment, did not consider it to be offensive/harassing - and someone else still wants to cry about it, then f-*ck them"

You are the only one who gets to decide whether your actions are considered offensive? Really?

I bet that the conference organizer who hired strippers didn't consider it offensive, nor the presenters who show slides of bikini babes "to get everyone's attention". That doesn't make those actions not offensive.

Yes, actually - we all, at some point, get to be the final arbiters of deciding whether what what we said was offensive or not. (which I suppose also means that everyone else gets to decided to the final arbiter of whether they're offended or not - a right some have proven time again that they're not giving up)

So again - I guess my bottom line is, if I didn't mean to offend a person, and they want to get offended and make a big damn deal out of it - they can go right ahead. I'm not changing what I do just to keep up with the most offended person in the room. :-)

I'd like to give you a mantra that I try my best to live by. "Judge others by their intentions and yourself by your actions". That is to say that other people can and will interpret your actions in ways other than how you intended.

I do actually live by that myself, but there's also people who just can't give anyone a break ever and want others to defer, defer, defer to their whining and complaining. I allow myself to draw a line too. For every time there is a season. :)

"My bottom line is this - if I say something to someone and did not mean any offense/harassment, did not consider it to be offensive/harassing - and someone else still wants to cry about it, then f-*ck them."

Hurting people accidentally and not caring at all. What is that level of lack of empathy and non-caring? Is that autism, or is it some kind of sociopathy or psychopathy?

You hurt me with you whining comment. See how being hurt can be subjective?

"See how being hurt can be subjective?"

Oh yes, that completely destroys my claim that being hurt is not subjective. I'd best go back and edit that out.

Oh, wait a second. It seems that I made no such claim and you've delivered a total non sequitur that has nothing at all to do with the topic at hand. I'm as astounded as you are, which is why I doubled-checked, but it came out the same; it seems that rather than read other people's comments, you're just guessing what they might have said.

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