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Female FOSS dev quits tech industry due to harassment (itwire.com)
198 points by darkduck on Oct 27, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 326 comments

Last year at FooCamp I went to a panel about women in tech (I believe I was the only guy) for two reasons:

1) I have no qualms about offending people if I feel my point is valid, and in fact enjoy being in situations where I risk such things (I find it incredibly rewarding to have meaningful discussions about things that are considered taboo).

2) To find out what the problem was

Let me clarify #2: I didn't see a problem within my circles other than the fact that there were few women in startups. I didn't see blatant sexism, I didn't see harassment, I didn't see something that I was comfortable changing to encourage women in my industry. I still occasionally quote South Park or make a dirty joke, but nothing targets women specifically: I just can have a crude sense of humor. Was that what women were concerned about? Were they offended by my jokes, expecting me to be stiff as a board to avoid offending them? In my opinion that's expecting special treatment and is sexism in and of itself.

In my YC class the 4 women were respected and treated like peers. Yes, I'm sure there was some flirting, but I didn't see anything that I wouldn't consider more offensive than I've seen guys do to each other on a regular basis.

What I learned was actually very interesting: from their perspective I was not the problem. Somehow in the middle of the media hype about sexism, I had assumed I must be doing something wrong and was trying to figure out what was inappropriate about my behavior. It turns out there's a whole group of men in tech who are blatantly offensive, harassing, and generally sexist towards women just because they were women. I genuinely think most men are in the better bucket: we aren't offensive, and provide mostly non-hostile work environments. We are not part of the problem. On the other hand, I bet a lot of us aren't part of the solution.

This needs to not be a "men vs women" battle: this needs to be a "people vs jerks" battle. There are a few sour apples poisoning the environment for everyone, and it needs to stop. I do think the only way to fix this is for there to be a social change, but most men just need to change the way they act towards other men. Don't allow it to be ok when one guy crosses the line, and don't just assume HR will take care of it. Call him out on it. I'm confident that that's all 99% of guys need to (and can) do to help with this problem.

I thought the same thing, and argued (I felt persuasively!) on behalf of that perspective for many years. Then I watched my wife Erin, who has as many years of experience in this industry as I do, interview for tech jobs. Please take my word for it that this is not a "few bad apples" problem.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply the lack of magnitude of the problem. I don't think the problem is as prevalent in YC, one of the main circle of startups I know. Maybe that's because JL does a good job filtering out jerks, or maybe it's something inherent to the YC-compatible startups.

Out of curiosity: was she talking to larger companies or startups? I am curious how prevalent the problem is in the larger startup community, as I genuinely don't know what % of valley companies with < 10 employees show signs of sexism (though I believe that question may be too vague and ill-defined to answer properly).


Very common problem: interviewers asking questions about who was going to take care of the kids.

Actually happened: an interviewer displayed a picture of himself not wearing pants. That interview was in Chicago; I was in Michigan at the time, thankfully.

I see no correlation between company size and occurrence of this stuff.

I have friends who happen to be both notoriously successful in the tech field and female. They are all extremely touchy about this subject. They are touchy because crazy shit like this happens to them all the time.

There is, I think, no magic solution to this problem other than consistent public declamation, and of course being prepared to fire people who engage in this kind of behavior. People who harass women or act out on the belief that women are inferior to men or somehow likely to have obtained their position through anything other than merit have no place in any company I'm affiliated with.

""I have friends who happen to be both notoriously successful in the tech field and female. They are all extremely touchy about this subject. They are touchy because crazy shit like this happens to them all the time.""

This is very true. unbelievable crazy batshit stuff happens to me -all the time-. Like "Police report filed" crazy. Like "I no longer open up any letters or packages unless I am positive I know who sent it" crazy. Like "I have to make sure that wherever I live, there is a camera at the doorbell and multiple doors before they can get in" crazy.

Its not a majority of guys, and some even 'mean well' but you only need to have it happen to you once to decide that the stress of knowing something crappy will happen to you if you attend X event, is not worth the benefit of attending X.

You did pick an awfully strange group of people to come up in the industry with, Limor. :)

ah, you are conflating two things. the hacker scene is full of assholes, but they are not the batshit crazy people. so all the fucked up people you're thinking of? no, i'm saying there are other people, and they are /much much/ worse because they dont even have a 'scene' with basic social pressures and 'outing' them has no effect

I agree the hacker scene is full of assholes.

I ask this not to argue, but because you seem both pleasant and informed/opinionated and will likely have something useful to say: what as a male hacker am I supposed to be doing about the issue in this thread?

Let's assume what I know's not true for many men - that I am not even slightly coming on to or harassing or creeping on anyone and am very polite to women personally, or abusing position over them, etc. (I used to be treated like some kind of rapist by many women for prosaic things like opening doors or walking down the street, I guess from inherent suspicion of single men - now that I am usually with my wife when I'm outside of work/home, nobody looks at me twice or gives me dirty looks, which is vastly less awkward).

I don't often see situations where women are being harassed these days, so I don't even have scope to act like some kind of gender-police hero. Nor is it always called for, that I can see; I like to reassure or express solidarity with people who are getting treated in a normally dickish way, but usually not in the form of a giant "you are a huge asshole" confrontation, which can be bad for one's career and such, especially when 'the hacker scene is full of assholes.' But if I noticed sexual harassment or implicit threats or something I would already try to make sure something was said.

So what else is there? Should I just admit some kind of privilege and say it's really bad and then I don't have to do anything else, or is there some specific thing I should be doing? Because I can't get a specific reading on what I ought to be doing and sometimes suspect in these conversations that I am just supposed to feel bad and say something submissive, which really isn't satisfying when I have honestly spent my whole adult life consciously trying to be nice and even-handed to women.

Keep learning, keep reading, keep building empathy and understanding, keep piecing together an understanding of what people mean when they say privilege and why they think it's important, learn more about the history of feminism and of the different approaches to feminism, skim some articles about intersectionality; over time you'll notice more subtle forms of sexism, develop a better vocabulary for identifying it, and develop a better instinct for what you should do.

Examples off the top of my head: sometimes it may be as simple as noticing that people keep unconsciously interrupting a female coworker for no real reason, so you casually and non-condescendingly form a pause so she can finish talking - or maybe you're helping pick speakers for an event and you've thought of a person who happens to be a woman who would be great to round out the day, but she hasn't submitted a proposal yet or whatever, so you email her to ask if she's interested. And of course you also keep a friendly non-condescending eye out for men who similarly may be getting unfairly ignored or underestimating their own skills, but that kind of subtle social support often already comes naturally for people dealing with their own gender, and it's also somewhat less common for men to be randomly assumed to not know what they're talking about, etc.

In other words, being an active feminist is just generally being a decent human being, to women and to men, but also including a well-informed eye toward the biases left by generations of discrimination.

Crazy stuff happens to women, I'm don't think that is anything specific to the tech field. My girlfriend and most of my ex-girlfriends (non-hackers) have been harassed in one way or another at some time in their lives, yes even in the batshit crazy ways that you mention.

I wouldn't know what to do about it though, society is kind of messed up that way. If you attract any attention as woman, IMO doesn't matter in what kind of group, there will be assholes.

Well that question on kids sure is illegal to ask (I imagine an Anthony Weiner shot is also illegal come to think of it :-P).

I understand the touchiness on the subjet, which is why I enjoy frank discussions about it. However, I think it's harmful to the cause to make this difficult to talk about. The most powerful opponents to abuse are victims who can speak openly and frankly about their experiences. Touchiness, while entirely justified and understandable, is less effective than enabling intelligent discussions about sexism without the risk of being labeled "intolerant".

Agreed on the solution: intolerance for intolerance is the only long-term solution.

W T F ?

"Actually happened: an interviewer displayed a picture of himself not wearing pants."

How many people even have a picture of themselves without pants on at their fingertips, ready to display at a moment's notice?

Presumably they had this prepared knowing a woman was coming to interview. I would have gone directly to the police over this incident.

I too wondered why police or some other legal mechanism wasn't involved. That's what they're there for, and it doesn't get much blatant than this.

I guess it could devolve in to a he said / she said of "well, she told me to bring nude pictures of myself". Maybe that'd fly?

Personally, I might put a picture of myself not wearing pants (in boxers, of course) in something if I were making a joke about a relaxed work environment, that kind of thing. It would be pretty damn inappropriate to just say "Hey look at this" to a female interviewee, of course... it's all about context.

> Very common problem: interviewers asking questions about who was going to take care of the kids.

Not to excuse this, but it made me think of a rather terrible mistake I recently made, which I am glad has not come back to bite me. I was the last interviewer for a guy who was Jewish and didn't use technology on the Sabbath. As I was walking him back to the lobby I mused out loud that that was interesting since we have pager duty and I wonder what other teams do in that situation, since surely we wouldn't be the only team at the company who employed someone with that or similar restrictions. It wasn't until my wife pointed out to me that that was probably completely illegal and could have had serious repercussions for me that I thought I had done anything but muse about something meaningless out loud.

Sometimes people just don't think, I guess is my point.

You were thinking clearly and rationally; it was the candidate who had chosen to embrace an irrational restriction. shrug

Evaluating the benefits of legislation should take into account the cognitive burden it places on everyone in the country, could have been your point.

(This since I notice you are taking the tack that the problem was the unlawfulness of what you were doing: if you believe that your behavior was actually intrinsically immoral, you don't mention it.)

I doubt that this is illegal, but it is the kind of thing that can get lawyers involved.

It's much better, one can say with hindsight, to say something like "Just so you are sure, I'll make sure this point about no tech on the Sabbath doesn't count against a good candidate like yourself, actually I think it's great to be able to regularly get your head out of your job, but this doesn't fit with how we are working here. If you get the job, you'll need to be active in figuring out how to make sure that things that are your responsibility can be dealt with by other team members if something urgent comes up then."

>Very common problem: interviewers asking questions about who was going to take care of the kids.

how the interviewer would know about the kids to start with? Did he ask about it? That question is already illegal. Or was the fact of having kids brought up by the candidate? Then the candidate got what s/he was asking for.

>Actually happened: an interviewer displayed a picture of himself not wearing pants. That interview was in Chicago; I was in Michigan at the time, thankfully.

was he doing it only to female candidates? Do we know it for sure? Or may be we just promoting and reinforcing the stereotype that women are intentionally targeted?

"I see a gap in your resume. Why were you out of the work force for 10 months?"

I'm sure you have some nerdy comeback to this too. Feel free to the last word.

"I see a gap in your resume. Why were you out of the work force for 10 months?"

Is asking this question illegal? Girl or Boy - Shouldn't it be OK for the candidate to give an answer to such a question.

I'm failing to see anything offensive in the nature of the question.

Please let me know about it, I'm about to interview someone and I don't want to look offensive or rude.

tptacek was responding to this question by VladRussian: "how the interviewer would know about the kids to start with? "

"attended to [urgent] personal/family matters".

>some nerdy comeback

it isn't first time you use "nerd" as pejorative. Why such a hate? Did nerds pick up on you at school?

You should read his profile.

his comments contain enough bigotry.

You raise some very sound points. No wait, I meant to say stupid.

Guy says "I have kids". No problem.

Woman says "I have kids". Problem.

Whether it's legal to ask or unnecessary to mention is irrelevant.

>Guy says "I have kids". No problem.

>Woman says "I have kids". Problem.

Candidate on the interview says "I have kids". It sounds like the candidate is bringing on a condition that the candidate considers as potentially having some relation to the proposed employment (otherwise why would the candidate mention it?). It is only reasonable for the interviewing person to ask how the candidate would manage the condition that the candidate brought on in a manner and situation that strongly suggests that the candidate may consider the condition as potentially related to the proposed employment.

The message "I have kids" need not be so direct:

Interviewer asks: can tell me about a situation where you had to improvise?

Interviewee: well, just this morning, my two year old…

I have to say that to me (a non-native speaker, a youngling, a geek) there's nothing offensive about "who's going to take care of the kids". If I had kids and a working wife, then got asked that question in an interview -- I better know how to answer it, if only for the sake of my kids, no?

I'm also now scared that you get offended while I really don't want you to; that's not why I asked. I might be missing some connotations, or the specific tone that goes with that phrase.

It's important to personally know how you'll take care of your kids, but it's inappropriate for an interviewer to ask questions about a person's personal life outside of work, especially about legally protected topics like family status. It's just not relevant, and these topics are specially protected because there's a long history of discrimination based on them (such as employers avoiding hiring married women because they assume the women will not be productive employees since they have to take care of children).

See http://www.microsoft.com/business/en-us/resources/management... and http://www.focus.com/fyi/30-interview-questions-you-cant-ask... for some lists of questions that help illustrate this. Instead of asking a very personal question like "Do you have or plan to have children?" and extrapolating random stuff from the answer, you ask the directly useful question you really meant to ask: "Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?"

Very True. It's nice to think that we can't be all bad, and so, many men make excuses to pretend we aren't part of the problem. The idea of "all 99% of guys need to ... help with this problem," is also true, but most lack the fortitude to ever bother. When you add conflicting profit motives into the mix, taking a stand can actually be bad business.

Personally, I've black listed companies for using booth babes at shows in Vegas. I care more about how equally and fairly they present themselves in public, than I care about the bottom line of my company or if their products could benefit my company. --Some say that I "take things too seriously," but of course, I disagree and I refuse to change.

Being "the dude" who takes a stand on such things has undesired side effects, but sadly, there is even worse reputation damage of being known as the female who "complains" about sexual harassment.

Also, your location is a bit notorious. Visiting Chicago from the Valley in the late 80's was a shock for me, both the sexism and the racism. It was my first trip east of the west coast.

We might think it's not our problem if we don't act like a sexist jerk, but if we don't speak up and stop these behaviors when we see them, we are part of the problem.

BTW nice of you to reach out to try to understand what the issues were.

It's great that you're not the worst offender, but all people commit acts of sexism. All people. People who have been victims of sexism often do it less, but sometimes respond by paying sexism forward. People who put in effort to understand sexism tend to do it less. But we all do it, even the most dedicated of us.

Imagine I asked you to write a page of code to do some specific thing, but told you not to run it. Then I say: Go find as many bugs in your code as you can. You come back with none, saying you've never really noticed bugs in your software. There are two possibilities:

1) Your code is naturally bug free. You are just that special.

2) You stink at finding bugs.

In this case, you're saying you don't see any bugs in your gender programming. How certain are you that #1 is true?

You're absolutely right, and I hope I didn't commit hyperbole in my previous comment. I chose the word "blatant" in "I didn't see blatant sexism" carefully. Honestly, I make offensive comments all the time, but I contextualize my comments to the people in the room. I wouldn't make a joke about the Holocaust to a survivor. However, in the context of my close friends, or coworkers who I know fairly well, it might be OK to mock people who call Obama "literally Hitler". Has some comment I've made offended someone who overheard it? Absolutely! However, I don't consider that "blatant sexism" the same way I wouldn't consider most bugs in my code "blatantly poor programming".

Edit - Relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbud8rLejLM

This attitude towards the problem has always struck me as counterproductive. It's true, of course, that everyone has biases, but it's possible to address those biases without putting such a strong emphasis on their permanence. (I won't go into whether or not they are permanent here.) That emphasis seems more likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else.

I'm only speaking from personal experience, of course. Take it as you will.

Any individual sexist practice isn't fundamentally permanent, but because of time constraints, some will turn out to be, in practice.

I think it's counterproductive for people to shift attention onto the things other "real" sexists/racists do, rather than Do Their Own Work. That's why it's productive to point out that everyone has work to be done.

"all people commit acts of sexism."

I have troubles understanding that, do you have citations or examples?

You wouldn't be asking for examples if he was a woman!

Um, why not? Sorry, but that is over the top. Maybe it surprises you that I have in fact talked to women in real life before. I even asked them questions occasionally. Most didn't falter from that kind of "aggression".

Also I didn't even look at his username, so the gender really played no role.

You asked for an example :)

So my comment was sexist in your opinion? Well I think your comments are sexist. Whatever.

Damn: I missed the edit timeframe on my comment. I just realized that Skud was actually at the panel I went to. She was one of the main people I had this discussion with, and I have a "geek feminism" sticker from it sitting on my desk. Small world!

I think that was probably me with the stickers. Skud and I had vaguely similar hair for a while. I am the one with the wheelchair so while people have confused us, actually it's quite easy to tell us apart!

Sorry...my bad :(. The cost of having bad name/face recognition. I think there was also a second person with blue/purple hair there as well.

Anyway, I'm going to shut up before I mix up more people :-P.

Personally I never saw that problem in all the companies I worked, but I can see how making yourself more prominent in tech can lead to harassment,

Would this not be the same in any industry or even worse?

We are probably the most vocal community and thus generating more conversations about it, but I don't see a lot of women in the construction fields, and I can picture them having a pretty bad experience there. What about any industry where the boss is a jerk that want to get laid?

I'm kind of joining some of you guys in wondering what the movements about getting more women involved in tech is about, I don't really think it needs more or less,

Like probably no one would start a movement to get more guys in a predominant women profession? frankly who cares?

The construction industry having a sexism problem isn't a reason for another industry to stop striving to be better.

> Like probably no one would start a movement to get more guys in a predominant women profession? frankly who cares?

That kind of wrong-headed, "Why are there no MOWO awards?!!" reasoning doesn't help either. The situations that the different genders find themselves in with regards to employment aren't really comparable.

Skimming over the comments here, once again I find myself distressed at the large number of men in the tech community who just don't get it.

Whether it's sexist jokes, inappropriate language or illustrations, or plain old stereotypes, it sometimes feels like the tech community's firmly stuck in the 70s.

The worst thing is that none of this is difficult to solve, it just involves growing up, frankly.

This is mostly nerds wanting to have something to argue about. For reasons I can't put my fingers on, nothing seems to irritate nerds more than the idea that they're oppressing people; it probably has something to do with the fact that so many of them were picked on growing up.

The reality is that the stuff we're talking about here would, for the most part, be a firing offense at most companies.

From personal experience, my impression is that this kind of defensiveness comes from a lack of perspective. Especially when you realize you're hurting someone (and perhaps yourself). I don't know whether it's confined to nerds -- there are a lot of regressive, defensive people out there. :-)

For people who pride themselves on being analytical and meritocratic, it can be a difficult thing to realize that no amount of detailed analysis is going to help because you've been living in a bubble for most of your life -- you have only a small amount real data to work with. It can be even more startling when your meritocracy not ends up not only not really being one, but possibly impossible to achieve given the constraints of human nature.

From "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson: they think they're too smart to be sexist.

>it probably has something to do with the fact that so many of them were picked on growing up.

and here we're talking about how perpetrating of stereotypes is a bad thing

edit: found a word for it in English - hypocrisy.

[tl;dr: With a lopsided sex ratio in a field, women are more likely to experience sexism, and men are less likely to witness it, than if the ratio was closer to equal, regardless of the actual frequency of sexist behavior. The fact that you (male) don't see much of it doesn't necessarily mean that it's not happening, and the fact that you (female) experience a lot of it doesn't necessarily mean that the men in the field are worse than elsewhere.]

I'd like to just add a bit (edit: okay, a rather long-ish bit...) about how a reasonable, non-sexist guy could end up assuming that things are not that bad in the industry, whereas a reasonable women can have experienced more sexism than in other industries, and both can be "right". All without the typical (and IMO, rather cynical) assumption that guys are just playing along, encouraging it, or putting on blinders. And also (more importantly) without the assumption that men in the industry are any better or worse than in any other.

This should make both sides pause a bit before they scream about how unreasonable people on the other side are being...

For a lot of men, the skepticism is not over whether actions are sexist or not, but over how often they actually happen.

My argument is that this difference in perception is almost exclusively due to the extremely lopsided sex ratio in tech, not due to people in tech being any better or worse: I don't know exact numbers, but let's say somewhere around 10% of tech workers are female (in my experience it's even worse than that, but I don't know for sure, industry-wide).

Going with that number, that means that out of a random sample of interactions between other people that you (let's assume "you" are a non-sexist guy that can accurately recognize sexism when you see it) personally witness over the course of a career, only 18% will be between a man and a woman. As for the percentage of sexist guys (I'm making the simplifying assumption that a guy is either sexist or not-sexist - I could easily remove this restriction and replace it with a probability distribution, but it would needlessly complicate things)...I'm not sure about that, but let's aim high and say it's 20% (I don't think more than 20% of us would, for instance, show pantless pictures of ourselves, send harassing e-mails, proposition an intern, ask about kids at an interview, etc.). Even when a sexist guy interacts with a woman, we should probably assume that it's a reasonably small percentage of those interactions, maybe 10%, where he'd actually say or do something offensive, especially with someone else present.

[Again, all these numbers are pure fiction, placeholders for the purpose of demonstrating the extreme effect that the sex-ratio has, rather than figuring out anything in detail]

Put that all together, and let's say that you, a not-sexist guy, witness 1000 interactions between other people at work during some time period. By these estimates, only 3 of those interactions would be "sexist interactions." The problem seems rather small when you look at it that way, and in fact, it's small enough that statistical variation could mean that you never end up witnessing such interactions at all, even if they are happening at your place of work.

Now, the meat of the argument: consider, instead, the point of view of a woman. 18% of all of her interactions are with sexist men, and 1.8% of her interactions involve a guy acting sexist towards her. By the percentages, that's a sixfold increase over what you would notice as a man, even though the actual frequency of sexist behavior is the same.

I think that's where this sort of discussion breaks down: those of us that are not sexist, but are not women, see an apparent level of sexism that is six times lower than what women observe in their own work interactions, and that's arguably the difference between the perception that sexism is pervasive and oppressive, versus barely worth considering. And it's all due to the sex ratio - if it was 50/50, then the percent of interactions that are sexist that men observe (holding the other numbers the same) would be 50% * 20% * 10% = 1%, and what women observe in their own interactions would be 50% * 20% * 10% = 1%, so there would be an equal perception of sexism.

We all need to keep this in mind to bring some sanity these sorts of discussions: girls, it's not that the men that doubt this are assholes or privilege-denying-misogynists, it's that they truly, honestly witness sexism less often than they would if they worked in a field with a more balanced gender ratio, and it's not necessarily that they're complicit or ignoring it. And guys, the women aren't being whiny or weak, they truly, honestly experience a higher percentage of sexist interactions than they would in a field with more women.

FWIW, all of this applies to any minority situation, and is (IMO) one of the biggest unrealized factors that leads to disagreement whenever these arguments come up.

Further, many of the more blatant sexist actions are intentionally undertaken without the presence of witnesses. Assuming 1/3 of sexist actions are of this type, the non-sexist guy might only see 2 minor "sexist actions", while the woman might see 18 "sexist actions", including 6 of the more blatant type. This is going to skew the different perspectives even further.

Another factor that contributes to male skepticism is that many of us have experience in companies that are extremely intolerant of sexism. Like Thomas said, most of what we're talking about would be firing offenses at most companies. I know if my wife ever witnessed this sort of thing at BigCo, the guy would've been fired on the spot.

I can barely believe the things I'm reading on this page. Lots of comments similar to "It's just trolling, get over it." And "she's just reinforcing negative stereotypes of women by not being strong enough to handle the internet." And "men deal with negative comments all the time and don't whine about it."

These are the exact attitudes that are the problem! Why can they not see this?

By definition, privilege is a lack of perspective--that includes [straight] [white] male privilege. That's why it's so hard for many guys (not just programmers) to understand.

I'm pretty sure the definition of privilege is not lack of perspective.

Maybe Zed Shaw should quit too, he seems to get a lot of online harassment, too bad his white straight male privilege isn't stopping it. There are a lot of shitty things in any community, lets focus on fixing the community and not trying to figure out which genders / sexual orientations / races are to blame.

Maybe people should stop trolling everyone and not just women.

Have you considered that the troll is anonymous because the community would never put up with this kind of behavior? This isn't an issue of community standards, it's an issue of someone being an asshole who possibly happens to share a gender / race with myself.

Women get a whole other dimension of online harrasment that men don't.

For a gaming-centered sample, look at http://fatuglyorslutty.com/ .

Yeah, men have absolutely never been accused of being fat, ugly, or accused of having a societally unacceptable number of sexual partners.

What exactly is wrong with the idea that we shouldn't harass anyone?

What is wrong with the idea that all people are created equal and that people don't need special privileges or protections based on gender/race/sexual orientation?

Did you ever play an online game and identify as a woman? It's usually a bad idea, believe me.

Similar actions don't have the same force or effect systematically when they are applied to groups who have different levels of power in society.

granting privileges to a select group of people and denying then to others in particular contexts skews power even more.

Sorry, I should have written that a little more clearly. I wrote "By definition, privilege is a lack of perspective," but what I meant was, "By definition, privilege implies a lack of perspective."

I feel like you may have misinterpreted my intention, though. You wrote "[let's not focus on] trying to figure out which genders / sexual orientations / races are to blame." I certainly wasn't trying to blame any particular demographic. My response was specifically aimed at addressing the grandparent poster's confusion. I agree that it's more important to focus on fixing the community.

Privilege and perspective are important to talk about because they're part and parcel of the solution.

It was actually a little unfair of me to throw out a term like "privilege" on this forum; it's a common idea in feminist rhetoric, but as a result it carries a lot of meaning that isn't included in its casual usage.

Zed Shaw's straight white male privilege doesn't stop the trolls. What it does prevent is dysphoric emotional reactions on his part. I'm feeling a little awkward about presuming so much about Zed's emotions here, so let us instead discuss a prototypical straight white male public figure in the tech community named Shed Zaw. Shed gets trolled a lot, but he doesn't quit the community. Why not?

Why is it fair for Shed Zaw to get trolled and not Alex Bayley?

Let me rephrase that.

Why is it rude & kind of silly (but "acceptable") for Shed to get trolled, but abhorrent & destructive (eg. "unacceptable") when it happens to Alex?

Well, "acceptable" and "unacceptable" are still blunt instruments. I happen to think that Shed Zaw shouldn't be trolled either. But I do think that we ought to prioritize addressing the kind of trolling that happens to Alex Bayley first.

Shed Zaw can probably count on one hand how many times he's been afraid of being beaten, killed or raped--if the count is even greater than zero. Not so for most women. Remember, this is about emotions. It's "more OK" for Shed Zaw to get trolled because he has a better support structure in place: he's a straight, white male. He generally doesn't have to worry about whether it's safe to be walking alone right now, or whether the guy grinning lasciviously is actually a stalker-rapist, or whether it's worth the conflict to confront his boss about grabbing his ass whenever they pass each other in the hallway. In those specific ways, Shed Zaw's life is just straight-up EASIER than Alex Bayley's. This doesn't mean Shed Zaw never suffers, feels shame, or fears for his well-being. It just means that there are a disproportionate amount of situations which Shed simply does not need to deal with. Indeed, their lack of abundance for him--and thus his inability to understand how they affect Ms. Bayley--is part of what is referred to as "male privilege".

It's about context. Us guys have trouble empathizing with women being harassed because we mentally put ourselves in their shoes, and it doesn't seem that bad. "Why are women offended by guys slapping their ass on the street? If a random woman slapped my ass on the street, I'd be flattered! Thrilled, even!" The context is different--the perspective is different.

Imagine if everyone except you had metal jaws. Fierce steel chompers that require oiling and can bite through concrete. Except you--you just have a regular old human jaw made of flesh, muscle and bone. Now in this incredible world, people greet each other with a lively punch to the mouth. Just right in the kisser. If you don't punch hard enough, well, what's your problem, buddy? Not feeling up to a greeting? Of course, this puts you at risk of having a broken jaw every time you leave the house. An innocent walk to the grocery store could turn into an expensive trip to the hospital; all it takes is running into a coworker! The real problem is that no one else seems to notice that your jaw isn't made of metal. Maybe their jaws are really well-made, and they look completely human on the surface. Maybe you slept in the day they were giving free Ferro-Mandibular Surgery certificates and can't afford one now. Maybe you have TMJ and no surgeon will risk their career on botching your mod-job. Who knows.

The point is, while everyone else is doing their own thing, you're living in constant fear: Do I know that person? What if we met at a party and they remember me, but I don't remember them? My teeth will be all over the pavement before I even see it coming. Maybe I can just sprint past them. Sure it's rude, but it's cheaper than another trip to the emergency dental office! If only they understood. But every time you bring it up, you get laughed off. "Sure, it's a little rough, but it's just how people greet each other! Why can't you just deal with it?" "A weak jaw? Well, it's your own fault now, isn't it? You should know better than to walk around with a weak jaw. You should know better than to have a weak jaw in the first place! Why should it be our problem?"

It sure would suck.

Some of what has happened to Zed Shaw really isn't acceptable, it is straight up harassment and not funny trolling. It is considered acceptable to threaten men with violence because they are men; it's the same as the pervasive belief that men cannot be raped and the idea is funny.

If you haven't ever been afraid of being beaten, killed, or raped, that doesn't make you a man, that means you have had a very safe life. There is no necessary reason why women must think that. I am certainly not doing ANYTHING to make women rationally afraid of being beaten, killed, or raped, so why should my penis make me responsible for that? Some vague handwavey notion of 'privilege'?

What's up with the jaw thing? Women don't have especially fragile jaws. I guess you are saying that women have especially fragile emotions?

> What's up with the jaw thing? Women don't have especially fragile jaws. I guess you are saying that women have especially fragile emotions?

Other way around. It's a bit of a tortured metaphor, but it's not about women being weaker. Men are emotionally insulated by their privilege--it's an extra layer of resilience (the metal jaws) that we take for granted which makes it difficult for us to understand why people without it are having problems.

> Shed Zaw can probably count on one hand how many times he's been afraid of being beaten, killed or raped--if the count is even greater than zero. Not so for most women. Remember, this is about emotions.

Is it really about emotions? I'm looking at the statistics for 2009/10 in my country[1] and it seems men are more than twice as likely to be murdered as women. I don't have statistics but I'd be quite surprised if women were actually more likely to be assaulted than men, particularly by non-partners, which is what we're talking about. Is the actual level of hazard not somewhat relevant, as well as the emotions? If (and you may disagree) the level of fear doesn't correspond to the level of hazard, is it not counterproductive to expound the idea that women are at constant risk of violence?

[1] http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-s...

I see what you're saying--if (and it seems likely) women really aren't at greater risk, we don't want to go around saying that they are. But, that's what I meant by "this is about emotions". For the purposes of this issue, it doesn't matter what the actual risk level is--the most relevant fact is that, for most women, it feels (emotionally) like they are constantly at risk. In the same way that a PR problem is still a problem, a perceived danger is still something that needs to be addressed. This is why perspective is important: because we don't perceive the danger, it's hard for us to empathize (or even sympathize), and you get comments like "just get over it".

Also, my focus on the terms "beaten, killed or raped" may have been more distracting than necessary, because we are talking about more than just physical oppression; there is also shaming, ostracism, objectification, and a host of other emotional attacks.

Could you clearly state "the problem"?

Based on what has been posted, it's hard for me to clearly see a problem beyond "in a society with free speech, some people will speak in ways that others dislike." That is a legitimate (unsolvable) problem, but I don't think it's the problem you are referring to.

The problem is people's unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that free speech has boundaries, and that some people abuse their free speech rights in ways that go far beyond being disagreeable. For example:

Go to the local women’s group office and liquidate it (kill the feminist women there). Wear a dark suit and drive an expensive car (these are more likely not to be suspect). Continue destroying the people who have helped to destroy countless of your fellow Men untill you are killed. Go from women’s rights organisation’s office to women’s rights organisation’s office, maybe throw in a few domestic violence shelters and abortion clinics if you wish.

This isn't illegal speech, but it's getting perilously close to that threshold. If similar sentiments were sent via email rather than posted on a blog, it would be reasonable to classify it under 'death threats,' and that does cross the threshold of criminality in some jurisdictions. Free speech is not unlimited, either in theory or in practice.

Reading a variety of MikeeUSA's online proclamations suggests he's a rather disturbed, and disturbing, individual. I'm not a psychiatrist, but he presents as someone with a high potential for violent behavior. It's a problem to dismiss that behavior or insist that it be tolerated in the name of free speech. In the US, the constitution protects him from governmental censorship, but it does not mean he's entitled to a platform for promoting his themes of violent aggression or that other people's concern about the dangers he presents is dismissable. Sure, there is lots of sexism on the internet and much of it is silly, harmless, and ultimately inconsequential. But there's a significant qualitative difference between sexism of the 'LOL boobs' variety and indirect threats of terrorism. To pretend that the latter is of no more concern than the former, or that the concept of free speech validates all utterances equally, is to provide such threatening language with your implicit endorsement.

Ok, I believe I now understand what you believe to be the problem: many people disagree with you on what should be the boundary of free speech. It's a little unkind to categorize disagreement as "the problem", but whatever.

If that's what mootothemax and airlocksoftware meant, then I'd suggest they are wrong. Most of the people reading this page do "get it", but disagree because they assign a higher value to free speech than mootothemax and airlocksoftware do.

This is good - we are all on the same page regarding the facts, we merely disagree on the underlying values.

No, you do not understand. You think my problem is that 'many people disagree with [me] on what should be the boundary of free speech.' This is incorrect.

I am not making a normative argument about what the boundaries of free speech should be. Frankly, I don't know exactly where they should be; where many people see boundaries I tend to see a grey area, and my ideas on this tend to shift around a bit. It is much easier to be like Justice Potter Stewart and say 'I know it when I see it' than to identify and articulate some objective standard for what is an isn't acceptable. For mathematical reasons, I'm not altogether sure that it's possible to define such things consistently.

The argument I'm making is not about where I think boundaries should be, but where boundaries actually are, as drawn in different jurisdiction by statute or precedent. Certain kinds of speech are actually illegal even in the US where speech is sheltered by the 1st amendment and the large legal umbrella that provides. It is not legal for you to incite a riot, or utter threats of imminent physical harm, or carry out blackmail, to name but a few examples. There are conduct laws that limit the freedom of speech but which are nonetheless held to be constitutional. The problem I refer to is the invocation of 'free speech' to dismiss complaints about all undesirable speech, inclusive of that which may qualify as criminal.

We don't really know what kind of communications Skud received via email. Some have asserted that it could not have been so bad, on the bases that the blogger did not explicitly complain about it and that the police did not consider they warranted an investigation. This inference is unjustified. First, the blogger might abstain from citing the content of personal emails from fear, humiliation, or strategic reasons; the assumption that she would have taken such content public is just that, an assumption. Secondly, the police might well feel the complaints warranted an investigation, but be unable to proceed for want of actionable evidence. to the extent that MikeeUSA is able to cover his digital tracks using anonymizing protocols (something that Skud might well have explained to the police as part of her complaint), they may decline to proceed because the time and trouble required to obtain that information might exceed available resources; or because the police themselves are a sexist bunch in Australia; or because they know from experience that prosecuting such a crime across international borders is a non-starter and that the danger is too remote to justify the use of the extradition process.

You stated above that you did not see a problem 'beyond "in a society with free speech, some people will speak in ways that others dislike."' But it is a fact that some speech is not merely dislikeable, but criminal (whether or not we agree on whether it should be); and it is a fact that some kinds of criminal activity are difficult to prosecute because they are forensically obscure (eg by using anonymizing protocols to cover one's tracks); and it is a fact that sexual violence is a risk that disproportionately affects women. While we should not assume that 'sextremism + stalking behavior + fact of rape = proof of mikeeUSA's inherent criminality,' because it most certainly does not amount to that, nor should we assume that 'free speech = no cognizable risk' and casually dismiss incitement to violence and focused personal aggression as mere disagreeability.

The problem I refer to is the invocation of 'free speech' to dismiss complaints about all undesirable speech, inclusive of that which may qualify as criminal.

Who has done this? I'd be curious to see which posts you believe do this.

I suspect all you will find is a set of posts which assume MikeeUSA committed no criminal acts. This is the assumption I'm working under, based mainly on the fact that no one has even accused him of doing so.

Perhaps the real problem you have is that the rest of us are assigning a lower probability of guilt (of crimes he has not been accused of) than you are?

When we document what MikeeUSA does, or participating in documenting his emails and actions and talking in public (or possibly in private) about being one of his targets, makes us more his target. It makes us more of a target for other harassers too. It is like declaring a security vulnerability, which then draws more attention and thus attacks. If you have been going around as we have at geekfeminism.org, and asking people if they've been targeted by MikeeUSA, then you'd hear more stories of the reasons people have for not revealing and exposing every incident like this and every detail of it.

Also, when women report harassment, they get a wide range of scrutiny and criticism of every aspect of their life, personality, personal history, looks, and so on. The way they've reported the harassment is always criticized as being too private, too public, not official enough, or overreacting by going through official channels too quickly rather than trying to solve things informally. If you as a man watch a person you know go through this process, as their confidante perhaps, you might see some of these patterns crop up.

It can be disheartening to find that so many harassing incidents, assaults, and rapes go unreported because women don't want to put themselves in a position where they will be subject to even more attack.

To you all it's like a quirky little exercise in logic or something, and you get to have fun with your academic debate over whether harassment really exists or not. You don't have to think, not only will MikeeUSA stick you in his trolly, psychotic, rapey crosshairs on his pedophile message boards, nor do you have to know that you probably have just filtered yourself out of several possible future jobs since someone won't hire you because you are a known troublemaker who might accuse someone of sexual harassment at work. It is so deeply offensive to have you all debate the existence of our oppression while you understand about 1% of its surface. But, obviously, it is a learning experience people need to go through. I just wish that some of you all would bother to listen more, go do some reading, and actually try to educate yourselves in a significant way rather than waiting for the magic feminism fairy to bless you with enlightenment. Cheers!!!

This is an institutional problem, despite your heroic efforts to recast it as an individual one.

Yeah, sure, I'll try to clarify. I'm not advocating that we should stop them from speaking with any kind of legal measure. I value free speech too highly for that. I'm referring to the specific comments that I paraphrased. I don't think those posters have any specific malice towards women. I don't know them, but they're probably smart, generally respectable guys.

But they are an example of people who are apparently unwilling to acknowledge that maybe the harassment some women receive online or in the workplace could possibly be outside the realm of their experience. We have one group of people, women in tech, who are saying that they are being harassed (and providing examples of specific threats against them). Then we have a certain subset of men in tech who are saying "I know better than you do, and I say that you aren't being harassed any more than men are." That attitude is the problem (as well as the people in the community who don't immediately call them on it).

People with no personal experience in the matter saying it's not a problem and ignoring the fact that those who do have personal experience are saying that it is. And I think you could make a case that the underlying cause is that somewhere deep down they believe themselves "smarter" (or something) than women. How else can you tell someone that their own interpretation of how they are treated is incorrect?

Does that make sense?

So the problem is, near as I can tell, that some people don't accept personal experiences and want harder evidence. Is that right?

Incidentally, your comment exhibits some bias of it's own: People with no personal experience in the matter saying it's not a problem and ignoring the fact that those who do have personal experience are saying that it is.

Wait a second - women have no personal experience being a male public figure. So how can women know what level of harassment a male public figure would receive? Do women really believe that "I know better than you do, and I say that you aren't being harassed as much as women are"?

Is this attitude among women also a problem?

I'd totally be up for more research into this area. The comments I'm talking about are not asking for harder evidence. They're saying "my personal experience is worth more than yours."

And there aren't any women (that I know of) who are telling men that they can't complain about their treatment as public figures. So you've created a false dichotomy. Plus there's the fact that there are male public figures in this thread saying that women are harassed more than they are. So really, we've got people who aren't might not be public figures of any kind telling women who are to suck it up.

When she complains about the trolling, there is nothing we can do about that. It's a completely different mindset to just try to empathize without trying to solve the problem.

It's because they don't intend to be offensive. For example: in the US, holding up two fingers is cool. In the UK, it's offensive. So one group of people can have a set of behaviors that another group finds offensive, but the first group has no idea why the second group is offended because they don't intend offense.

I know there are a lot of actually misogynistic people in tech. I'm only talking about the guys who "don't get it."

If you hold up two fingers in the UK and someone tells you it is offensive, you stop doing it.

Despite the numerous people who try to educate the guys who "don't get it", they continue their immature ways. I'm not going to give them a free pass.

> If you hold up two fingers in the UK and someone tells you it is offensive, you stop doing it.

Wouldn't this be more analogous to people from the UK coming into a typically US-centric area and complaining about US people holding up two fingers?

I agree that it's wrong, but change will probably be slow...

It's like the US trying to attract more UK people by telling them not to be offended by rude gestures, instead of stopping.


I don't think or have the mindset that women are living in some sort of separate culture from us or there are stark differences between us. It's the trolls, misogynists, etc that treat them differently only because they are women.

Well perhaps there's some social responsibility and generally being an adult involved in not offending people?

For instance, I'm no huge fan of Islam (or any religion), however, my beef is with the doctrine and the leaders, not the average day to day Muslim, so I'll actively speak out against Islamophobia and try not to offend the average Muslim. It's called actively not being a jerk.

Conflict avoidance isn't always the adult thing to do. If people are strongly opposed to some views, or some aspects of some culture then why shouldn't they speak out about it? If that means they're jerks, so what? Ridicule or rudeness is just a tool in the toolbox and it can be more effective than reason.

The society we've built is by no means adult or responsible. Millions starve, get killed in genocides. Slavery is still rampant. Atrocities happen all across the world. Animals are treated inhumanely. The 1st world doesn't make much of an effort at addressing these problems. Why? Because people rather not talk about it or know the details about the truly horrendous things going on in this world. Ignorance really is bliss.

This status quo is only possible because we, responsible adults, choose to stick our collective heads in the sand. We need to get confronted with many things we disagree with and we have to stop passively supporting the status quo (unless we really think this is the best we can do as a species). In the big scheme of things hurt feelings don't matter.

If a vegan tells me with a smirk "If you knew where that steak came from you wouldn't be eating it" it's easy for me to get upset at the vegan for being a jerk, for ruining my appetite. But I wouldn't get offended if the vegan were simply wrong. I get upset because I know, deep down, that I would never set foot in a beef processing plant. Sure, the vegan is a jerk, but is he wrong?

Going with your example; substitute characters if necessary: You may not have a beef with the average day to day Muslim, but you do have a beef with people who have a beef with the average day to day Muslim. Even though your adult tolerance may just be based the comforting belief that the average Muslim is not the problem and that a few religious leaders are. The jerk probably believes that the average day to day Muslim is part of the problem. Who is right? That's a factual question about the world. And if it turns out, for whatever reason, that the jerk is right and you are wrong would you then change your mind? Would being a jerk then be justified? Or would you still choose the non-confrontational route and avoid giving offense? Is your true objection that only the Muslims leaders are the problem or is it a mere rationalization for politeness and civility?

(Questions are rhetorical. I'm not defending the sexism in the FOSS world, nor do I judge you for being tolerant.)

If I'm in the US, and I see that some Arab guy got offended by someone trying to congratulate him by giving him a thumbs-up, I might be completely at a loss as to what exactly he was offended by, or how to avoid it in future.

Have there been any articles/studies about what gender relations are like in other equally "divided" industries? I'm wondering if it's related to a certain type of person naturally attracted to software/tech, or if it can develop naturally in any industry split pretty starkly along gender lines.

It would be interesting- whether it's job ads comparing programmers to ninjas and rock stars, to using sexual images in slides at conferences, the tech industry seems sort of unique with regards to behavior that might be seen as juvenile in other industries.

It seems to develop naturally in any industry/community with a strong gender imbalance (cf. the "elevatorgate" in the skeptic community.) The situation seems to improve as populations approach parity.

The situation seems to improve as populations approach parity.

This can appear to be true even if men don't, on average, change their behavior at all.

Think about it: if 10% of the people in a field are female, that means that 90% of a woman's interactions in the field are with men. If the field becomes more balanced, that will come down towards 50%.

Even if men in the field individually keep acting the same, that's almost a 50% reduction in the amount of sexism a woman will experience, because she's interacting with fewer men and more women. We tend to notice offensive things by counting them, not by figuring out expected values based on sample sizes, so things would appear to improve, even though the men will not have changed their behavior at all.

The real WTF odd fact is that as the field tips towards 50/50 women, the amount of sexism that (non-sexist) men will observe will actually go up, because a higher proportion of the interactions they observe will be male/female (whereas with a highly tilted sex ratio, they usually mainly see male/male conversations taking place).

IMO the real problem with the lopsided male/female ratio in tech is that women experience almost double the harassment they would if it was 50/50, so they think things are much worse than "average", and meanwhile men witness a much smaller amount (almost 3:1), so they think things are better.

Then both sides clash, and argue about whether there's a problem or not, relative to other industries. Based on their observations, both men an women could probably be forgiven for jumping to the conclusions that they do; unfortunately, I haven't seen any sort of actual numbers that might help pin down whether men in tech are actually worse, better, or the same as men in other fields. That women experience more harassment does not necessarily mean individual men are more likely to harass.

I've worked in IP Law and for the Senate and I've never really experienced overt sexism so I kind of thought it was on the decline in the work place. Imagine my surprise when I started joining tech/start-up communities (like this one) and witnessed unparalleled sexism and ignorance. I mean attitudes that make you think you're in the 1800s (once had somebody on HN tell me that women are genetically less likely to want to do tech![!!!!!!!]).

I'm still pretty shocked by it and also curious as to why this industry is so antiquated with regard to its' attitudes about women. There are a lot of women who want to distance themselves from the argument. At a SXSW session there were women extremely opposed to even acknowledging the discrimination for fear they'd be labeled a complainer and be seen differently than their male counter-parts (which unless you're an idiot you can see the difference between a man and a woman). I didn't consider myself a feminist before but the tech industry has made me up my feminism...

>(once had somebody on HN tell me that women are genetically less likely to want to do tech![!!!!!!!])

Are you trolling? That does not seem to be a sexist or retrograde statement.

I think this highlights the problem nicely: the recipient of the comment took it that way, and you don't seem to understand her response.

I think your attitude highlights a big part of the problem nicely as well. Whether or not women are more, less, or as interested in tech on average than men due to biological predisposition should be treated as a scientific question, not outright rejected as absurd because it could hurt someone's feelings. Maybe it's not a worthwhile question to examine, but to say it's wrong because it's offensive is incredibly unscientific, and geeks often are more interested in truth than getting along.

This attitude is totally different than harassing people, being disrespectful towards people, or discriminating against an individual. But when advocates of women's rights or whatever cause group these two separate attitudes as the same, there will be backlash from would-be sympathizers.

People have historically used "scientific" evidence to prop up spurious claims that women and blacks were inferior to white men. [1] OP is probably reacting to that whenever people try to bring in biological explanations for gender gaps. If you want her to be more understanding to your hopefully pure motivations in seeking truth, you should also be more understanding of her recognition that people often hide bigotry behind science.

[1] See "The Mismeasure of Man," by Stephen J. Gould. Broca, a pioneering scientist into brain research, devoted a lot of effort to measuring brain capacity in skulls and thereby "proving" that women and blacks would never achieve as much as white men could.

You couldn't have picked a worse example.

Go read the article "The Mismeasure of Science", by Jason Lewis et al. It's a fairly detailed analysis which shows that Stephen J. Gould was simply wrong about skull measurements (which were accurate).

From the abstract:

...We investigated these questions by remeasuring Morton's skulls and reexamining both Morton's and Gould's analyses. Our results resolve this historical controversy, demonstrating that Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould. In fact, the Morton case provides an example of how the scientific method can shield results from cultural biases.


It's a perfectly fine example. If you read the book, Gould is accurate in reporting that Broca genuinely thought differences in cranial capacity and the racial variations thereof meant differences in achievement. That your abstract reports that Morton's skull measurements were actually accurate actually just reinforces my point.

There is - and probably never will be - a scientific answer to this particular question, as establishing such an answer would involve taking a few thousand kids and raising them in isolation.

The offending statement is thus nothing more than unfounded gender-based stereotyping, which I consider sexist.

Personally, I suspect that social norms play a more important role here than genetics, so it's as ridiculous as the claim that because few people of Amish heritage hold tech jobs, people of Amish heritage are genetically less likely to want to do tech.


A lot of differences between men and women are measured in adulthood and just presumed natural, though a lot if it can be understood as the result of kid being shaped up by cultural expectations.

Since before my daughter was born, whenever I entered a baby store there was a drive from the salesperson to separate the stuff for girls and for boys. Well, should my daughter wear only stuff in the purple-pink palette? No thanks, but I got more than a couple askew looks from people when I got clothes, or socks "for boys".

Add that up 10 years of girls getting easy-bake ovens from relatives and boys getting firetrucks and you'll wonder why women tend towards humanities and men towards technical.

Add that up 20 years in life and what you'll have are very strong differences between men and women. Are they biological? Could they be the result of a sexist culture?

but asserting that it is true without scientific evidence is also unscientific. It's slightly better than classic Flying Spaghetti Monster territory (or Russell's teapot, if that's more your style), in that the question is presumably falsifiable, but without evidence we're clearly in ideology land.

Considering that they chose this baseless assertion (and not, say, that His noodly appendage prevents women from entering tech, or that sunspots on Betelgeuse are somehow involved, or any of the infinite other possible falsifiable statements), we clearly are in harassment territory, and "would-be sympathizers" are hiding behind crap logic.

I would say that if that comment was made without citing any scientific sources, its sexist.

Someone taking X as Y doesn't mean that X is Y. There is real sexism in the world, but Rariel's example isn't it.

Yeah well if the recipient is stupid, that doesn't make whoever said it an asshole, does it?

I read a private blog of a lady in the games industry, and the level of ordure and harassment she gets is simply unbelievable. It's well beyond anything in the 'people are jerks, suck it up' level.

I can well believe Skud got sick of it and is doing other things with her life.

I'm going to come right out and say it - if you, or someone you know - has a penchant for writing these sorts of harassing emails, it needs to stop. Quite possibly, professional help needs to be sought. It's simply wrong.

OK, so give me some real examples of what she/you consider 'harassment' and 'ordure'. Maybe I live in a bubble, I don't know, I just can't picture things that I would qualify as such and that wouldn't be illegal.

I'm not going to repeat them here. They are the same class of statements that Skud got. Plus, among other things, they aren't SFW to type, and if an HR person saw them, I'd be yanked into the HR office.

If you spend a little time looking around comment threads on unmoderated forums, you can see the behavior, unironically acted out.

I don't get it. I worked with many female developers, female CTOs, female IT directors. In 10 years I've not seen any harassment towards them. I've never even heard general statements from male developers, like "women can't code".

Am I oblivious, or maybe a different sub-industry?

If you're close to any of them, it may be interesting to ask them. A lot of women in technology (and women in general, and also people in general) choose to not talk much about bad experiences, for many reasons, so there is an underreporting effect - and a lot of harassment also isn't in obvious forms witnessed by other people. Some women are fortunate to not have had a lot of problems, of course - but if you ask a few, especially ones who speak or write publicly about their work, you'll probably hear some painful stories.

So true. In a similar but infinitely more serious vein, men often don't hear about women's experiences of violence at the hands of men. Unless you're a particularly approachable man, you might, like me, be surprised at how many women you know have been touched by this problem.

I'm not sure if this statistic is global, but for actual abuse, one in four women has been a victim. If the rate is so high for close-up abuse, you can imagine how it will be when you add online anonimity to the problem.

Foul language and harassment in the games industry? I'm shocked. Perhaps it's just due to white male privilege that I've never been called a "gaaaayyyy nig faggz" while playing online games?

[edit: sarcasm. Like anyone who's ever delivered a headshot, I've been told "fu homo chink".]

The games industry does not refer to anybody who plays games but refers to the development of games; in the same way the automobile industry does not refer to anybody who drives a car.

No, I'm white, male, and straight, and I get that about once every ten frags or so, more so if I shut out the round.

No disagreement with the basic, point, but was a bit surprised by this quote:

"So, here's our situation. We have a man (presumably; at any rate he appears to want to be identified as such) in the Australian Linux community, who targets women by sending them private abusive emails from a throwaway address and with a name that can't readily be connected to any publicly known member of the community. His ISP won't hand out information about him without a court order, his abuse doesn’t present the kind of imminent threat to physical safety that might interest law enforcement, and despite Linux Australia’s diversity statement and Linux.conf.au's anti-harassment policies, it's not clear that there’s any practical thing that either of those groups can do about him."

Is it Bayley's position that ISP's should give out information on their users in response to warrantless requests -- from private individuals, no less?

Is it likewise Bayley's position that law enforcement should be going after people for making lewd comments online?

I didn't read that from the quote. I read it as "It sucks that there's nothing I can do about this", not "The system should change".

Unless he's swapping IP addresses on a regular basis, or hiding on a highly shared server, figuring out who this actually is without any help from an ISP or law enforcement shouldn't be that hard (this is the same way that "why the lucky stiff" was outed), assuming that the person is also an active contributor on other lists.

I tend to view this as another example of how anonymity allows people to be jerks (with the requisite comic: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/3/19/ ).

MikeeUSA abuses open proxies and tor like mad. He also comes onto IRC channels with random nicks. Soon as he opens his mouth, though, he usually has outed himself.

I have referred to that same PA comic in the Darkplaces IRC channel (which hosts frequent games of "ban the MikeeUSA").

I think from what I have followed of this, there have been some pretty lewd and targeted comments made, not only on blog comments but via direct email.

While I dont know Bayley at all, from what I can gather she is highlighting the fact that people have to put up with such harassment due to the fact that ISP's or Police will not act on it.

Being that the comments were made via direct email, I guess you could liken it to someone calling you at home and telling you to "F!?K off out of your house", I think anyone would be creeped out at that. But as there are no actual threats of harm made, the law is useless to do anything.

Except if they phoned you - it would be a crime and the police would investigate.

I don't know, but in the US don't a lot of states have stalking laws that would cover this kind of behavior.

I see this site has info by state. Dunno if this kind of thing exists in Australia...


"Is it Bayley's position that ISP's should give out information on their users in response to warrantless requests -- from private individuals, no less?"

Of course, because there is no worse crime than harassing women and any and all civil rights are second to all efforts to punish those who do. Let's not forget that the OP is identifying with a movement where it is commonly advocated to reverse the burden of proof in rape cases.

MikeeUSA frequently states dumb shit like "oh, women deserve to be raped since the day they first bleed because this is what God created women for" and other shit.

He does it purely for the sake of trolling, and people periodically bite the trollbait.

Is this illegal? No. Should he be beaten with in an inch of his life? Yes. Is that going to happen outside of a prison? Probably not, no one is quite sure of his exact address.

“Should he be beaten with in an inch of his life? Yes.”

No. No. Definitly not. Are you crazy?


I don’t want to live in a society where unnecessary perilous violence is the norm.

Is that a good enough reason for you?

> I don’t want to live in a society where unnecessary perilous violence is the norm.

I don't think that's going to change any time soon. Unless they legalize it, that is.

Neither do the recipients of his harassment, I imagine. Let's not put the cart in front of the horse, here.

I don't think he was advocating /actual/ violence.

While better than actual violence I also don’t want to live in a society where threats of violence are common. That seems like an irrational and barbaric way of solving problems.

Violence is a tiny bit too serious for to just discount the threat of it as a nice rhetorical flourish.

Well, a measured quantity of violence ('violence' being a very broad category) targeted at someone who is clearly causing harm is sometimes the only effective way of stopping a greater amount of harm. No-violence is clearly better, but assuming that (say) a rape is being committed, some degree of violence is a reasonable response to stop things from happening or deter other things.

So why do you support his right to make threats to undeserving people? Isn't the threat of violence injurious?

This is a stupid debate and it should stop here. Nobody is beating anyone, no matter what the Internet tough guys say.

You are right. Casual threats of violence get me about as riled up as casual sexism so this was both a perfect storm and an overreaction on my part. I should have silently grumbled and ignored it.

A number of women have been beaten, raped and/or murdered by men making identical noises. MikeeUSA wasn't trolling, he was threatening to murder those women he was stalking, and justifying it.

As MikeeUSA himself wrote:

> The women of the "geek feminism" movement will be just as effective at excising men from the movement as Nina was at systematically destroying Hans Reiser's life untill he saw no reason, nothing left in his life, that could hold him back from striking back.

Hans was convicted in 2008 of murdering his wife Nina. MikeeUSA is saying categorically that Nina deserved to die, just like MikeeUSA's targets.


But thats just part of his troll persona. He's like 14, lives in his parent's basement, and hates the bright light of the daystar in the big blue room.

If a woman said hi to him, he'd spooge his pants and pass out, complete with nosebleed.

Who decides whether he gets the beating, and who administers it?

Sounds like a step backward in civilization to me.

Should we ignore this kind of problem? No. Should we go full vigilante on it? No.

Anybody can decide to attack you, whenever they want. We have police, courts, etc to settle disagreements, but if they are not interested in getting involved in your case, you two are on your own.

He's not the problem though. The problem is people being offended by it or taking the bait.

Ban, ignore, report, shun etc...

Setting up a geek feminist movement is pretty much the worst thing you could do if you wanted the abuse to stop.

I don't know about you, but that's a poor and weak excuse. Would your be offended If I said that to your wife, daughter, mother in person.

If someone said that to my wife in person I would break their nose, so why should online be any different.

The statement (insult, trollbait, whatever you want to call it) doesn't make sense.

I would be a bit unhappy and would try and get away from the guy, but I wouldn't challenge him on it and try and start an altercation.

If you said things to me / my family in person, there is the added threat of violence.

Online, there is no such threat. You could just as easily be a bot spewing hate, as a real human being. And being offended by a bot is pretty irrational.

Online, there is "data". If I know you, or have formed attachment to you via ongoing conversations etc or divulging details about myself, then the data becomes more meaningful and has emotion attached to it. But random data? No point being offended by that.

FWIW If someone I didn't know said that to my wife/mother/etc we'd just ignore them and walk away.

If that person kept coming back again and again with the same or similar comments, would you see the threat, this is what is happening here if you care to actually read the articles

I do have sympathy, but I think it's pretty sad to call the 'sexist' card when it's clearly just a case of a troll.

If you ignore him, he'll move on to someone else soon enough. It looks from the article that he wasn't being ignored at all.

If you ignore him, he'll move on to someone else soon enough.

Citation needed. You are assuming the trolling person is moderately rational and will go somewhere else if his selected target isn't yielding sufficient lulz. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to find stories of irrational people who escalate their harassment under such circumstances. Every few weeks there's a news story about some marginal person who loses the plot and goes on a shooting spree, so the risk of escalation is clearly non-zero.

It's so easy these days to be a raging sexist and play the 'troll' card.

If you want to change the statu quo, you have to speak up. Saying the solution to sexism is to shut up is not helping to solve the problem (and there is a problem, I witnessed it several times in real life, it is not just a "troll problem".)

When you start ban evading, you ARE a problem.

Not that I'm sticking up for those who take the bait, feeding the troll is always bad, but MikeeUSA and his ilk should just stay on /b/ where they belong.

This sort of behavior coming from members of the Australian FOSS community is unfortunately somewhat of a consistent underbelly.

I used to help run and host the local LUG chapter in Sydney for a few years. One particular meeting I had to ask a speaker to leave the premises (hosted in my employers building) for displaying bared breasts during his talk. Unsurprisingly, people walked out. So much of this sort of shit goes on and it's ugly, ugly, ugly.

Another day, another HN thread about misogyny and sexism in STEM, and another sampling of "hackers" who can't seem to agree 100% that sexism, harassment, and stereotyping are categorically wrong.

It's not even the overt sexism that is the problem. It's the educated troglodytes making up bullshit like "civilization has always been like this" and "she invited harassment with such bold feminism" and "this just proves women can't handle pressure."

That half the community seems to have reached adult maturity is good; that half has not is so incredibly depressing and tiresome

Another day, another HN thread about misogyny and sexism in STEM

Actually, we're not talking about STEM in general, we're talking about computer programming in particular. As I was reading this thread, I was just thinking about how other parts of the STEM community aren't nearly so bad.

For instance, if you go hang out in your local university's maths (or physics) department, you'll find many of the same conditions. You'll find an overwhelmingly male group, ranging from slightly nerdy to very nerdy, with a sprinkling of a few women. But you won't find these sorts of problems occurring nearly so often.

Why? I think it's part of a culture of professionalism vs unprofessionalism, and it's largely age-driven. A university department is dominated (socially if not numerically) by people in their forties and fifties, giving the workplace a much older, quieter, more professional feel than you get in a tech company where just about everybody is in their twenties. It's just a matter of having plenty of adult supervision around, I think.

Linux user groups are even worse. They combine the worst features of a party (a lack of professionalism) with the worst features of a high tech workplace (a twenty-to-one sex ratio) so it's not surprising that bad things can happen there.

>For instance, if you go hang out in your local university's maths (or physics) department

There's the trans-gendered (male to female) mathematician who'd disagree. She says that when she used to give talks (as a male) she got respect, but now people say things like "Her brother was better" not realising it's the same person.

Maybe they just disrespect him because... let's face it, surgically mutilating your penis, taking a bunch of hormones and demanding that everybody call you "she" is just plain weird, regardless of what current orthodoxy says.

".. not realizing it's the same person."

He's talking about the difference between the response to a male and female, in other words highlighting sexism rather than transgenderphobia or whatever you call it. Thanks for putting yours on display though.

The word you want is transphobia (for the generic fear, hatred or contempt) or cissexism for the more general "it's your choice but it's weird and unnatural and I don't believe you actually are that way" sort of bigotry. The cis/trans construction people are using in the pair cisgender/transgender is my favorite Latinate neologism of the last few years.

Joan Roughgarden (biologist, founder of the Earth Systems Program at Stanford) and Ben Barres (a neurobiologist also at Stanford) transitioned in opposite directions and reported the same phenomenon in mirror: Roughgarden saw people assuming her work was suddenly less important, Barres saw people in his field not realizing he was the same person and commenting that his research was so much better than his sister's. He authored a commentary in Nature 442 (p133-136 (13 July 2006), DOI:10.1038/442133a) that's worth reading. They're certainly not the only ones!

Your comment really bothers me. I really just want to respond with "fuck you", but maybe there's still something there to save. How exactly is trying to make your body conform to what your mind is telling you so weird?

Try to use a little empathy, and imagine (if you're a man) waking up in a woman's body tomorrow, and having everyone treat you as if it's always been that way. Might you not want to try to have your body express what you feel you are internally?

Except they do not know that she has had any surgery. As far as they know she's just a she, and that is the only reason she gets less respect.

(I'm trying to find the article, which is hard because there's many transgendered mathematicians.)

If you like, if you can't deal with some things that you find weird, that's your problem and you who are unprofessional. People who can't be professional in their work life do not deserve respect.

Completely fair. I saw some generalizations below which were leaning towards the broader "women can't math" sentiment, but you're right: I was myself too hasty. I think my point stands though and I agree with everything you said.

They think they're educated because they know ruby. They're not educated. Most of these people are the same types who think the humanities are "for girls" and "unscientific"

A couple of points if I may:

1. If you speak at conferences, especially about a non-technical subject like "women in FOSS projects" (which is more likely to get sexists riled up), you are going to get unwanted attention. Pretty much every speaker who speaks on a controversial, or non-technical, or just media-glamorized topic is going to get harassed - if not hacked. It happens all the time to men and i'm sure it happens to women.

2. She started a "geek feminist" website, so that didn't help in terms of getting some sexist asshole's attention. It's like starting a "geek black people" website and not expecting white supremacists to send hate mail. I'm not saying it's justified, only that you have to expect the assholes out there will come out of the woodwork to give you shit.

3. I need to do something that feels rewarding and fun, and the work I was doing - which involved lots of speaking at conferences wasn’t giving me that any more. - So stop speaking at conferences? The tech industry has more going for it than giving talks.

4. If the guy isn't posing a physical threat, suck it up and ignore it. Do you know how many people troll me every week? A lot. But I make myself a target - just like being bullied in school - and thus I need to defend myself or move on.

5. Stop trying to 'get more women in technology'. Why is this seen as a serious problem that needs fixing? Go ahead and work to reduce sexism, I think that's necessary because the internet tends to reduce everything to childish unprofessional behavior. But nobody's code is going to get better just because there's more females working on it. Instead, focus on improving the tech industry as a whole instead of one little facet of it (like the distribution of gender).

I'm sorry if I sound unsympathetic. I do sympathize. A friend of mine stopped working in the underground infosec community because he was putting out a magazine and people were sending him hate mail. I understand he didn't want to get shit, but he had to expect haters - it's the fucking internet.

I just want to address your first point.

The harassment women get is much, much worse than men.

Me and my wife are both computer scientists, and have both given talks at many conferences. My wife and our female friends consistently get much more, and much worse, harassment than me and our male friends. There is no comparison, and over time I've seen it grind several women down to the point where they just give up (fortunately not my wife yet).

I think everyone should help to reduce the often hostile attitude in IT and FOSS in particular, and a fairly obvious part of that is to stop treating women so badly. Just treating them like everyone else would be a fine start.

If you don't mind giving the information, what kind of conferences? Industry, academic or both?

Academic conferences are by far the best behaved, which makes sense because everyone there is (generally) being paid to go there by their university.

In general people behave worse when there are less repercussions from work, so at conferences which are free / many people paid out of their own pocket, the behaviour is worse.

If the only reason there weren't more women in tech was because they didn't want to be there, what you say about fixing tech would be true, but it's not. Women are significantly discriminated against, from the day they start engineering courses.

I don't believe you are sympathetic at all. More importantly, you've shown no empathy. I'm assuming she started speaking at conferences because she enjoyed it. Some jackass takes that away from her and you call her out. That couldn't be more illustrative of the problem.

....I don't know how to fix the problem. Will empathizing more fix it? If so, i'll empathize like crazy. But I seriously doubt it will create change. Instead I try to point out what I see as some of the contributing factors to the problem in this particular case. I'm sorry I can't fix sexism, and i'm sorry i'm not being humbling and emotive enough to express that I find sexism wrong. But I don't agree that I am illustrative of the problem.

The contributing factors you pointed out seem to signal the message that minorities should expect hatred and suck it up. That's a normalization of the status quo and does not address the issue, it's just being complacent with behavior that should be reprimended but is often taken with the same lack of empathy and thus is ignored.

Most men can't empathyze because they are priviliged (as in, they do not suffer from the same kind of sexism) and completely miss the point.

If you want to understand, truly understand, then read more on feminism, read everything on Geek Feminism and then read on feminism from other sources (they link great sources).

If you reach a point where you you realiza that you ARE privileged and take for granted simple things, that men make the world UNFAIR to women and rile them for being oversensitive, then you may have just grown a bit.

...I don't really care to understand. What little i've read on feminism leads me to think that modern feminism is a passe joke. My guess is modern feminism doesn't connect well enough with the average woman who doesn't complain when the boss grabs her ass or passes her up for the unqualified white male in the boys' club. They need a new strategy and better marketing. Most of all they need solidarity. And maybe a less antagonistic approach to equality, like "human equality" instead of "women's equality." But everybody just defends their own kind I guess.

If you wanna read further than just a little, I suggest: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/14/faq-i-ask...

But it will. Empathy is an effective antidote to harassment.

empathy will fix it.

you are illustrative of the problem because you are a) ignorant of what harassment is really like b) apparently unwilling to imagine it and c) BLAMING THE HARASSED

This is a mantra that I see a lot, but let's stop for a second. If I put a sign above my head that says "Murder Me," can I really be surprised if someone takes me up on the offer? Does stating that mean that I am attempting to absolve the person that murdered me of murder? No, it doesn't.

Put more simply, if you're going to crusade for a cause where the opposite side is likely to get nasty, you should probably be prepared for war. Did Martin Luther King Jr give up because the police brought out fire hoses?

That said, while I can't really empathize, I do sympathize, and find some of the examples of bad behavior that people are highlighting as having happened to women as atrocious. If I found out that someone at my company had shown a naked picture of himself to any interviewee, you can bet that I could make sure that it his/her career was ground into the pavement through word of mouth.

If the only harassment you know is digital I would suggest you don't know either what it is like. Not that I do.

First of all, I never blamed her.

In my first point I note how people who give talks are subject to attack because they draw attention to themselves. I note how there are men (men who I know personally) who have been attacked as a result. I posit that this kind of behavior is not solely due to sexism.

In my second point I equate running a geek feminist website with running any website wherein people who hate the idea of the website will send hate mail. I posit that one should expect that people who hate you will send you hate mail.

In my third point I am noting that you don't have to quit the whole tech industry because giving talks is not the only thing in the tech industry.

My fourth point is the closest to 'blame' that I get. There's no sugar-coating it, i'm being heartless and cold here. But I don't blame her for not wanting to deal with assholes all day. I suggest that she learn to deal with these people rather than run away from them, but I guess that's not something a lot of people will accept.

My fifth point isn't even related to her really. I just find it super annoying when people try to speculate about something based on anecdotal evidence ("Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be true but unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise unrepresentative of typical cases.")

Second, empathy alone will not fix it.

You can not "win" against sexism by simply wishing it would go away or agreeing that it's completely unfair and unwarranted. Racism didn't completely stop in America, ever, and it only got a little better after people fought and bled to be treated as equals. They had to get right in their attackers' faces and say, Fuck You, I'm Not Leaving. Same for women's suffrage. Empathizing alone doesn't fix anything but your own conscience. You want to stop sexism in tech? Make it stop. Also, before you point the finger at me and tell me I should be the first person to fight their battles, keep in mind that nobody ever won freedom from persecution until they themselves stood up to defend themselves.

Also, I don't need to have experienced harassment personally to have an opinion about it. I'm not black but I think it's really fucked up that black people get treated far worse than I do because i'm white. Amazingly enough, even though I find racism absolutely repugnant, I don't believe every black person who gets fucked with is purely because of racism. I also don't believe every single woman who is fucked with is just because of sexism.

I can't believe I just wrote all that because of a troll. I say sexism is fucked up, and this guy blames me for sexism in the tech industry. Oh well. I should have just ignored you from the beginning.

I say sexism is fucked up, and this guy blames me for sexism in the tech industry.

No, you didn't say that. You said it was inevitable and that people should suck it up and stop harping on it. You're not the victim here.

I did say that people should suck it up. I was referring to ignoring the treatment (online) as a better form of dealing with it than running away. But at the same time that confronting the attackers would be a more proactive effort. Not to stop harping on it. I specifically said women should mobilize and work proactively to prevent sexism in the industry, which is far from 'stop harping on it'. But thanks for cherry picking two things I said, displaying them out of context and inserting your own agenda.

keep telling women what to do because you know better, i'm sure that will end the sexism really fast

Your first two points are classic victim-blaming. "You are going to get unwanted attention." Well, yes: there are assholes out there. But you seem to be implying that she is at fault for attracting the assholes, rather than saying there shouldn't be assholes in the first place. We should focus on rooting out the assholes rather than throwing up our hands and saying there's nothing we can do.

I admit there's a fine line here. People doing obviously dangerous and stupid things should not be surprised when horrible things happen to them. But starting a website or speaking at a tech conference are neither dangerous nor stupid. Why are we taking a grin and bear it attitude here?

See here (http://hackerne.ws/item?id=3164269) on why i'm not victim-blaming. I am not trying to imply anything. I'm simply pointing out what potentially motivates sexist assholes.

I only advocate a "grin and bear it" attitude when it comes to getting trolled on the internet in relation to publishing material you know some people will disagree with greatly. You can not wipe out sexists completely just like you can't wipe out racists and religious extremists. These people will always exist. I AM NOT SAYING YOU HAVE TO TOLERATE IT. I am saying, expect it, don't sit there with your head in the sand pretending they don't exist. I'll say it again for dramatic effect: I AM NOT ADVOCATING PRETENDING SEXISM DOESN'T EXIST, I AM ADVOCATING PEOPLE USE COMMON SENSE AND EXPECT EXTREMIST ASSHOLES TO ACT LIKE EXTREMIST ASSHOLES, THEN DEAL WITH THEM ACCORDINGLY

Those are good points and I'm glad you explained them further. It's the expectation that you talk about that we should be careful about. It's too easy to answer, "What did you expect?" as a dismissal, rather than talking about the real issue: bigotry.

So, given that there are sexist assholes out there willing to harass women, what are some options beyond tolerance and turning-the-other-stupid-cheek? I'm not advocating violence, I'm thinking more like sexist asshole outreach, or something. I dunno.

Beyond commenting on these stories as they come up, what can we do as a community? Education (starting with "sexism exists and happens near you"), open dialogue with less fear of reprisal, etc? Like, "I may be a sexist and I'd like to talk to other people willing to understand what I'm trying to sort out"?

These stories are like toxic waste on all sides: sexism and racism are touchy stuff that I think most people don't even want to talk about and, if they do, are afraid that they're saying it wrong.

Yeah, it's pretty hard to have a dialogue about this stuff without it devolving into a bitter quarrel. I agree that we need practical solutions and a plan of action to give to people.

The first thing we need is to open up lines of dialogue. What is sexist and what isn't? How can guys act or what can they do to improve working conditions? Are there ways we can work with employers to get them to make changes that foster more cooperation and less divisiveness? You could get a kind of town hall discussion going to get more ideas.

I do think you have to work with the sexists to help them change. It's not going to be a night and day thing... I imagine most people who are sexist find nothing wrong with the way they behave. So part of it may be not demanding they follow a strict moral code, but just tone it down at first. Work with the most extreme cases and get more widespread community support to show that kind of stuff (like putting tits in a presentation) is unacceptable. Probably getting a lot more men to speak out will help.

Then you can work it the way you would any other PR job. Make some kind of bumper sticker that (in a way that isn't too pretentious or annoying) says you agree all people should be treated fairly and equally, including specifically women. Some kind of logo that represents treating people nice and not making negative jokes, or considering all possible options instead of only helping your friends. Maybe some slogans. I was never good with advertising and my marketing skills are weak, so i'll leave all that up to the professionals. But the idea is, get the companies to put this stuff up around the office and lead by example so it's much less acceptable within a group to act out.

You could even get different events to officially endorse some effort to end unfair treatment of all people in the tech industry. This is more important to me as it would mean getting people to look past things like nationality/race (don't just give the indians the cheap jobs), gender (the transsexual person is just as good at being a manager as anybody), etc. I think everybody can get behind this and it can specifically underscore the unfair treatment of women.

Going back to the sexist thing, i'd like to see some public humiliations by the community at large of anyone who does something really stupid against women. You get the whole community to speak out against specific cases of sexism and I think it'll hit home more for the other sexists as a kind of warning to keep those thoughts and feelings to themselves. It may not solve anonymous hate e-mails but it should definitely help tone down sexism in the workplace.

I'm sure there's lots of other aspects i'm not thinking of. I hope people reply and add more ideas.

And maybe a less antagonistic approach to equality, like "human equality" instead of "women's equality."

I am pulling this out of something else you said to say I am female and agree with some of your points. But I will also note that a) You need to stop yelling and stuff. It's hurting your cause. b) If you can't stay calm in the face of the relatively mild "attack" you are being subjected to, what makes you think women should just be able to take something far worse?

I agree with some of your points. But what you are advocating is very hard to do and you are not doing a good job of walking the walk. If you can't walk the walk, then it's best to shut up and quit while you are behind. Talking the talk is the easy part.


> getting trolled on the internet

Online mysoginy is quite well beyong trolling. And the troll starts writing frequent death/rape threats and posts your real address to boot, it's not trolling. See that it does happen: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Kathy_Sierra_incident

If the guy isn't posing a physical threat, suck it up and ignore it

Judging by a lot of the comments on here, this seems to be what really makes people here upset. That she didn't just 'suck it up.' That she's complaining. A cardinal sin for men, since we get much more pressure to show that we can 'suck it up', are tough enough not to let things like this get to us, etc.

The thing is, women are probably going to feel more threatened by this sort of harassment, than a man in a similar situation. It's almost as if there's a history of violence towards women, initiated by men, that makes women react differently to threatening behavior from men.

There's a history of violence against men initiated by men as well. AFAIK, men are more likely to be attacked by men than women are. (Not addressing the question of sexism — just the misconception that men are somehow "safe" from violence.)

I agree that it's a cold statement to make. But there's very few options for dealing with harassment, no matter you are in what walk of life. You can either A) ignore it, B) run away from it, or C) confront it. I suggest option A because to me that's the easiest thing to do in this case.

What exactly is your point? People shouldn't whine that other people are bastards? It seems more than a bit like victim blaming to me.

Well I made several points. If you want a TL;DR then it's "i'm sorry women get harassed sometimes, but this case is not the norm because she was much more of a target than most women in tech"

> She started a "geek feminist" website, so that didn't help...

This comes across similar to the excuse: "well of course she got raped - look at how she was dressed".

Feminism only became a "dirty word" during President Reagan's term. Susan Faludi wrote a very good book titled Backlash explaining how the backlash against feminism started, who did it and what motivated them.


> Stop trying to 'get more women in technology'. Why is this seen as a serious problem that needs fixing?

I used to be a member of SWE (society of women engineers) back in college. One of their large studies (done in the mid 90s, which I think was jointly done with NSBE - national society of black engineers) revealed 3 important things about engineering education in the US:

1. It appears that high school guidance councillors were discouraging women from enrolling in engineering programs. It might have alternatively been that they were encouraging men to enroll in engineering and just not encouraging women. There wasn't enough data to support either conclusion. The M/F ratio among the population is very close to 0.5. The M/F ratio among engineers is well over 10. That there is such a difference points out that there is a problem. We don't run around with guns and blow stuff up - we sit in chairs all day - so the arguments that people use to justify excluding women from combat are worse than useless when you're considering technology.

2. That women in engineering drop out of engineering at twice the rate that men drop out of engineering. The folks doing the study didn't have an answer for that, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was because so many of us are jerks.

3. Engineering is seen as "uncool". Movies and TV shows portray engineers as nerds - and that nerds are uncool and unpopular.

My response to the victim-blaming part is here (http://hackerne.ws/item?id=3164269) and here (http://hackerne.ws/item?id=3165026).

That there is such a difference points out that there is a problem.

No, it points out that there is a difference. There's thousands of differences between men and women. This one happens to be about employment in engineering jobs. You could claim it's just because of sexism, but it would be nice to have proof that it's that and not (for example) that there's just not as much interest from women in engineering jobs. I have no idea why you brought up combat, though, as I never mentioned it...

On your point #2, it wouldn't surprise me if they dropped out because of a number of factors and the bulk of them just happened to be the same cultural and sexual differences which make men and women different in general. But it would be really nice to have real evidence of something rather than wildly speculate.

On point #3, the current generation is in love with the idea of nerds and geeks. They're sexy and intelligent, according to pretty much every person on OkCupid.com (I think they actually have infographs on that too...). However, I can tell you definitely that being a geek was highly uncool when I grew up. It's the only reason I got into computers - I had no social life and computers were an escape. I'm not an engineer so I don't know what that's like. I could speculate (again) and say that based on my female friends who are geeks, not one of them is the stereotypical bubblegum hottie cheerleader type. Why? Beats the hell outta me. If we could solve that maybe we could get Paris Hilton to take up nuclear physics and little girls would grow up with a positive role model instead of what they have now, which is largely pretty drunken sluts on TV and tabloids.

> But it would be really nice to have real evidence of something rather than wildly speculate.


Well said.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this sort of reprehensible behavior has cost the tech community good talent. Kathy Sierra comes to mind.

Other notables (male and female) have recently removed their presence from the internet. Although it isn't always clear why, I'd speculate some sort of harassment was at play there too.

Welcome to the Internet. As Paul Vixie pointed out ages ago: "The Internet is not for sissies."

Trolls are almost as old as the net, and they are not going to disappear without something short of a big-brother state that makes the Great Firewall Of China look like kids play.

So better get used to it.

Also remember:

"Liberty resides in the rights of that person whose views you find most odious." — John Stuart Mill

[Disclaimer: I have often been labeled a troll, and I'm not offended by this label.]

By the same reasoning, we could argue that thieves and murderers are almost as old as civilization and we should just get used to it. Sorry, but no. They will always exist, sure, but the only thing we should get used to is hunting them fiercely. I will not surrender my right to be happy, productive, and helpful because a minority of socially-dysfunctional people are trying hard to ruin it for me and for others. Nobody should.

Moreover, to equate harassment of women to mere trolling is of complete ignorance. The fact that you accept the label of "troll" just reinforces that you should not put the two in the same level. Would you be OK if people often called you an abuser of women?

The women involved in this shitty situation have already written pages and pages of how terrible it is—particularly for women—to be the target of harassment. If anyone cannot understand that, they must be really stupid.

Also remember:

"A witty saying proves nothing." — Voltaire

Would you be OK if people often called you an abuser of women?

MikeeUSA is not (as far as we know) an abuser of women. He is a person who sends unpleasant nonthreatening emails while peacefully sitting in his home.

Your attempt to conflate people who initiate violence and people who express unpleasant opinions is dishonest.

Further, you don't have any "right to be happy". No one does. You have the right to pursue happiness in a manner which doesn't involve violence against others, but you don't have the "right to be happy". If I have a "right to be happy", then you are violating my rights by not buying me some whisky and hookers.

The problem with your assumption is that (as any abuse counselor will tell you) abusive words are very often the precursor to violent physical action.

As someone whose wife repeatedly received abusive and threatening phone calls and emails from a former co-worker who eventually showed up at her workplace waving a gun (and luckily was restrained by a security guard in the lobby!), I can assure you that Ms Bayley should not take this lightly.

The problem with the assumption that muslims are not terrorists is that (as any terrorism investigator will tell you) fundamentalist islamic words are very often a precursor to violent physical action.

See the problem with this logic? You can't paint all people holding certain beliefs with the brush of the small subset who engage in violent acts.

No, your logic actually implies that we shouldn't paint people who say "I will come to your country and blow up your buildings" with the same brush as people who come to our country and blow up our buildings. I don't think I'm out of line to say that threats like that ought to be taken pretty seriously.

MikeeUSA has not been accused of saying "I will engage in violent acts against you, woman."

You don't have a right to happiness, but nor do you have a right to inflict emotional distress on people. And when someone is emailing unpleasant thoughts to a specific individual as opposed to expressing them on a public blog, that's crossing a line from self-expression to harassment. It is, literally, making it personal.

MikeeUSA is not (as far as we know) an abuser of women.

I understand that people usually think of abuse as sexual abuse, especially if it is toward women. But verbal or moral abuse is abuse just the same.

To express an opinion is what we're doing right now, as civilized people, openly, in a mildly non-anonymous way. To harass anonymously, without giving the other part the chance to reply and playing on their weaknesses is violence. For me, at least, it is.

Further, you don't have any "right to be happy".

I do have, as we all do. You are mixing the right to be happy with the right of being granted happiness unconditionally. Maybe it's just semantics. I would also say that everyone has the right to drive a car, expecting that I'm not implying that they can bypass the necessary tests. There is a "potential tense" that gets lost in translation.

Are you really sure they're not threatening?

Also, harassment goes far beyond trolling.

If threats were included, I'm assuming that Bayley would have mentioned it and the police would not have dismissed it as nonthreatening.

Voltaire was wrong and I have proof. Behold:

"A short saying oft contains much wisdom." -- Sophocles

Saying "that's just the way things are" is no excuse for tolerating the sort of behavior under discussion here.

You're correct that it comes with the territory, but that doesn't absolve organizations (and governments) of writing and enforcing policies to mitigate the damage done by harassment. Nor should we excuse away an obligation to repudiate harassment when we encounter it. Saying it's status quo won't fix anything.

Regarding the John Stuart Mill quote above: I agree. It's not the views of the people in question that offend me, it's their alleged actions. Harassment is not free speech; it doesn't attack ideas, it attacks people.

Harassment goes well beyond trolling, and so does the specific targeting of women.

Whether or not it compares to standard trolling, it still is trolling. You're not going to fix it by complaining.

We can fix it to some extent through public condemnation, raised awareness and demonstration of support to the victims of this kind of behaviour.

I think unfortunately, in this particular case, you can't fix what seems to be the single biggest problem--- one person who is already widely condemned, banned from forums/IRC when people see him, but nonetheless persists, and keeps reappearing in new guises.

I can imagine fixing the more common problems, like pervasive stupid sexist comments everywhere, and inappropriate content in conference presentations, but stamping out every single rare-but-extant crazy stalker seems unlikely. A number of high-profile bloggers, Usenet posters, and forum admins of both genders have attracted unhinged people of that sort, and discussion about what to do about the problem dates back at least 20 years.

"We can fix it"

I respectfully disagree. Sometimes you really just can't fix stupid.

It distresses me that "political correctness" has become a dirty "four letter" word rather than simply a shared understanding that people who address others in a hate-filled, bullying, disrepectful and demeaning way should be actively shunned and censured (i.e. not "censored").

That is not political correctness, that is basic respect for a fellow human being. Political correctness goes much farther.

Perhaps political correctness didn't used to mean that. But for a while now the term has mostly only been used as an ingredient of the defensive protestations of people who get called out for displays of bigotry. Consequently, its meaning has shifted.

No, because you can offend people without bigotry, and you can be entirely respectful without being PC. The scope of things that can offend the people around you is essentially limitless. Failure to tip toe around your audience's sensitivities is not bigotry, but failure to respect your audience as an equal human being is.

Well, the general reason for this attitude goes back to the old phrase "sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me".

When someone initiates physical force against you, it is an action being done to you, the consequences of which you cannot avoid due to the laws of physics. We take actual threats of physical violence seriously because of this.

When someone says mean things, the above attitude presumes that the consequences to you are entirely within your own mind. One can either be offended or not offended, angry or not angry, etc. The presumption is that the onus of response is on the trollee, not the troll.

Modern psychology and neuroscience have some things to say about the degree of distinction that the human mind makes between physical and verbal "forces". It also has some things to say about how much control we actually have over our responses to these forces. But so long as humans like to believe that they are in full control of their own actions, and that lacking this control is a personal fault, the mentality you describe will persist.

the daily life of most women is filled with navigating a hostile space that may break out into sexual violence at any time.

having an obsessed troll on the internet following you around, or threatening you before you show up to a conference, goes way beyond what you're talking about here.

your whole point comes from a place of the privilege of relative security. imagine that is not the case.

the daily life of most women is filled with navigating a hostile space that may break out into sexual violence at any time.

Who are you talking about?

ask any woman how often she considers her personal safety navigating the world. consider how often you do it.

"the daily life of most women is filled with navigating a hostile space that may break out into sexual violence at any time."

If you live in a warzone in Africa, maybe. Otherwise, I'm not sure what you're talking about. I'd ask the women around me if they feel that way but I'm afraid they'll think I'm nuts if I were to ask them such clearly outrageous things.

I'm not defending the mentality, just describing its origination. Please note my last few sentences.

Having been stalked, I can assure you there are plenty of borderline mentally ill out there.

I would never put even my first name or my city online anymore, anywhere.

Never underestimate the stupidity of people out there with nothing better to do.

I'm sorry to see the brave ones out there are still going through this these days.

I don't understand it when people think that someone should just suck it up when they get harassed. Why is it so hard for them to give the woman the benefit of the doubt that these are indeed extremely frightening, and disturbing enough that a reasonable person would want to leave? Why can people not give her the benefit of the doubt that she is a reasonable person responding to deeply unreasonable emails? For a silly analogy, I don't understand why the troll face is funny, but I don't call people retards for thinking that it is.

I've worked both in environments that are 10:1 women to men and 1:10 women to men. All of the "oh women just don't understand a good joke/don't ball bust/don't talk dirty" is pure BS, in female dominated environments I've encountered plenty of that. The one thing I've never encountered was anyone who made me feel even slightly out-of-place due to my gender (male). On the other hand I've been in male dominated, tech environments that make me feel uncomfortable even as a man. I've heard men discuss their wives education as a merely something to do so that they could marry a programmer, seen numerous times where women are put on the spot for their gender ("whoa there's a girl in this class"), incredible amounts of misogyny, continual use of the "men"/"girl" dichotomy and the cherry on top of all of this is the "oh women are just being sensitive/can't take a joke/etc" whenever this is brought up. With a background in the humanities I've actually spent a lot of time reading up on gender studies and reading real (ie not the pop culture) feminist writings, and it's frankly embarrassing how regressive even reasonably intelligent tech teams can be (and disgusting how awful the less talented ones are). To refuse to see this issue despite the incredible amount of evidence that it exists if ignorance of the highest order, which of course is to be expected anywhere this type of behavior is a problem.

Being a female in a tech industry is legal. Having a public email address is legal (and understandable if she is a keynote speaker at an open source conferences).

Rockrolling is an acceptable form of trolling.

Sending someone an explicit email from an untraceable email address is not only unacceptable behaviour, but all those trying to justify it by saying, 'he didn't mean it' or 'she was asking for it (in so many words) are just as sociopathic as the original sender.

On what planet is what he did acceptable, appropriate or even funny?

Can someone please tell me why quitting the tech community would stop someone from harassing you because you are a woman?

If anything, you'd think bringing it up to the community and get help tracking down the person would work better. That or public ridicule/shaming. Something proactive. I mean, isn't feminism about fighting back against these degenerates?

Not everyone wants to go through this kind of battle against an anonymous adversary.

I think she has the right not to have her decision to quit questioned. Just because she was the one being harassed does not mean she is suddenly responsible for bettering women's situation in tech.

She quit a tech job, not the geek femininsm community.

Yes, but why would that stop this person from targeting her? If anything, her geek feministing makes her a much bigger target. I guess I don't follow the logic unless she believes this person is someone she worked with and even then, I don't see someone who is truly obsessed from stopping.

Her job involved speaking at conferences, I guess that's a big reason.

She's not giving up.

Here is the direct link to the blog post referenced on itwire.com: http://geekfeminism.org/2011/10/13/on-being-harassed-a-littl...

I hope Skud's life improves with her new career. I'm horrified that she was treated this way by any human.

This reminds me of back in University ~10 years ago. In one of my Java courses we had a female professor and one female student. The female student ended up dropping the course within the first month not from harassment by her fellow male students but because the professor was embarrassing/harassing her in almost every lecture by bringing up the fact that there was a female student in the course.

As a side note, that same professor said at one point during the course that males were keeping females out of tech by using terms and ideas such as Queues and Sockets. It was an interesting year...

Regarding Queues and Sockets: what? Can you give her explanation for that? Was it just "those terms sound difficult and women don't like that kind of thing", or something even sillier like "queues are phallic"?

Well, at that point sockets were something that really interested me (still do) but I didn't know much about them. I asked her if she could spend a lecture going over them and her response was something like "See? This is why there aren't many women in IT, you men make up terms like Queues and Sockets to keep them out!" It's been awhile but that was the gist of it. I don't know if it was meant in jest but she sounded serious.

That's a bummer. I thought we were making progress in that regard, but maybe we aren't.

I still think we are. The progress is that this kind of stuff is increasingly discussed in public like this, rather than being allowed to slide.

Sadly, I fear it's still going to take a lot more progress before people can speak up without a reasonable expectation of retaliation.

After doing some reading about the issue, I'm wondering - what's stopping people from posting the harassment they receive online? Some sort of centralized registry of inappropriate emails - I don't see any reason to NOT publicly shame the kind of people that send these disgusting messages. Even if it's only a pseudonym, or a disposable email, it's better than silently taking it, IMHO.

You're onto something with this idea.

There are lots of bad apples but I'm kind of surprised Skud would just give up on the "whole" industry.

I hope someone encourages Skud to continue developing. Even though the tech industry is still majority male I have to think there are many more industries (in particular certain horizontals like sales) that are even worse when it comes to sexual harassment.

The problem is that some of the 'bad apples' are senior members of the community who are or were respected and widely listened to. The fact that Eric Raymond is/was taken seriously ought to be hugely embarrassing to the open source community.

EDIT: since I got downvoted already I may as well add: ESR is a vile pathetic excuse for a human being. I don't say that lightly, he really is obnoxious. I know he has a big fanbase among the libertarians here but at some point people are going to have to face up to how unacceptable his views are to most people.

Can you bring cites to this claim? Not challenging you, just I've heard this before, but never anything specific for us who don't know the details.

I know of at least one: he sent Bruce Perens a threatening email, enough that Bruce contacted the police. Here's a link:


Edit: his response to receiving one threatening email is pretty revealing, too:


She'll develop… music: http://skud.dreamwidth.org/10449.html

And a third person kept phoning various people's workplaces and accusing them of being involved in child pornography.

Seriously? I'm having a hard time believing that this was instigated purely because she's a female developer. Surely there was more to it than her gender for someone to stoop that low?

It wasn't just that she was female, it was that she was female and spoke out against the disgusting behaviour she saw and experienced.

Sadly this is not limited to the tech community; feminist bloggers in general have to deal with an unbelievable amount of shit.

Either way, it takes an absolute lowlife to be that over the top over something so trivial.

Reminds me of http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2938270

That story started as a female blogger attacked for being a successful female in tech. It's an easy simplification. Meanwhile, I followed that story and it turns out (unrelated to tech, success, or being female) she was involved in breaking up a marriage (being the other woman) which lead to harassment from a Christian fundamentalist relative.

While I have no doubt individuals can be hostile towards women in tech, I generally find posts from people heavily involved in a cause tend to re-contextualize stories to fit their narrative. If you read a blog post from feminists in tech you are going to read a post about how women are mistreated in tech.

Which turns a story about an former partner calling up the work place to harass his ex girlfriend into an attack on women in tech.

"Bayley wrote, in a blog entry for the Geek Feminist website, which she founded..."

"This kind of harassment and bullying is endemic in many circles, including towards women in technical communities, particularly if they _complain about community norms_."

So no, she wasn't harassed to this degree just because of her gender. She was harassed because she had spoken up about other, less disgustingly over the top issues.

"quits tech industry" Quits tech industry because of one troll??? Does this mean she will never hack or never program (for money)? Interesting. I have seen lots of trolls and falemwars on the internet but I could not quit programming for thousands of trolls. This is the only thing I am good at, this is what I fell in love at 12, this is what I do to earn money to support my family... Also trolls have nothing to do with my own projects and the projects of my employer... Maybe she meant she will quit tech politics? (Then she will probably enter another kind of politics, because she is seemingly a 'political person'.)

She will program. For music. http://skud.dreamwidth.org/10449.html

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