""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.
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 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.