The Dark Side of Geek Feminism

I would like to start this post by apologizing to my regular readers for the spotty posts over the past month or so.  I received a couple of comments that really took the wind out of my sails with their vicious and incredibly personal attacks.  That, combined with some health issues, left me feeling slightly depressed and lacking the necessary motivation to write.  I promise that this won’t happen again, dear readers. There were a few bright and shining moments during this period, not the least of which was Boyfriend’s proposal.  He’ll be referred to as Fiance from now until our wedding, which we are planning for next summer.

I had the pleasure of attending the Open Source Convention earlier this month in Portland, OR.  As a consumer of Open Source software (I recently ditched Windows for Ubuntu), it was a great place to learn more about the various platforms and open source initiatives, and give my yearly contribution to the EFF.  For those of you who are unaware, there is a huge geek feminism community.

While I applaud their efforts for equal treatment at conventions and in their workplaces, both I and my dear friend Nixie Pixel were, unfortunately, on the receiving end of some interesting attention from the feminists (both male and female) at OSCON.

I attended OSCON for the first time last year, and had some experiences that almost completely turned me off of the idea of attending this year.  I was criticized to my face for wearing low necklines and skirts of a short-yet-modest length, and told that I was “sexualizing” the conference through my attire.  I was lambasted for my honest answer (“I’m here with my boyfriend.”) when I was asked about my reasoning for attending, and even told that I should lie about why I was attending OSCON instead of “undermining” the feminist community.  I started the conference last year with an eagerness to learn more about open source software, and I left the conference feeling unsure about whether or not I wanted to attend again in 2012.

I am glad that I chose to attend again this year, and glad that I had those experiences under my belt, as I came armed with the tools and language to counteract these same accusations, directed at one of my closest friends.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nixie Pixel, she works with Revision 3 and does a weekly video about various open source platforms.  To put it bluntly, she knows her shit when it comes to open source, and she is relatively famous for being an attractive woman who earns money by sharing that knowledge.

Yet even her considerable chops were not enough to prevent her from being harassed.  In two instances, she was completely marginalized by male members of the geek feminism community, who (essentially) said that due to her sexy and flirty persona, there was no way that she was serious about open source software.  She was snubbed by some of the female attendees, and I overheard whispers of annoyance about her flirtatiousness and yes, her low cut shirts and the dresses she was wearing at the conference.  In solidarity, I wore a red dress, high heels, and red lipstick to the expo hall and after-hours events the next day.  I was armed with words like “body policing” and “slut shaming”, but apparently, I was also armed with a “go ahead, I dare you” look on my face as well.  No one accused me of sexualizing the conference this time around, but Nixie was certainly on the receiving end of the uglier side of feminism.

Has feminism really reached a point where we create demons when none are present?  Have we reached a point where the mere idea of sexiness, of owning one’s own sexuality, is threatening?  Or is this just a case of NIMBY-ism for the feminist Open Source community?

When you take one look at a person, and decide to openly judge them on that first impression, you do yourself a disservice.  When you do this at a conference or as a member of a particular community, you create the illusion that your entire community is judgmental.  Don’t be that guy, or girl.

[Edit: Wow, this post seems to have kicked the proverbial hornet's nest!  Click here for my follow-up blog.]

Posted on July 30, 2012, in Feminism, Personal Stories and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 72 Comments.

  1. A Female Geek

    Thank you for mentioning the attention you have received from *both* aisles of the geek feminism issue. As a female in tech I have repeatedly been taken to task for “not being feminist enough” or for having the audacity to say that I honestly have never yet had an experience in my life where being a female has worked against me in the tech industry.

    While I deeply respect their overall missions, it’s this sort of treatment from people who are members (and sometimes board members) of Ada Initiative or Geek Feminism which makes me avoid contact with the female geeks at events like OSCON (which I attended).

    There are Activists (with a capital A) and then there are people who respect the mission and work toward it in their own way, usually by example rather than by confrontation. Until the activists understand this they’re just going to continue pushing away the rest of us and damaging their cause.

    Also: you totally rocked that dress and heels. Self-confidence goes far toward warding off trolls. Illegitimi non carborundum, ma’am.

    • Thank you so much for the compliment! When I was the one being harassed, it was only the women, but my dear friend got it from both men and women who claim to be feminists. It was frustrating and incredibly hurtful.

    • Hello,

      We are very concerned about the harassment described in the original post. The Ada Initiative does not condone harassing women about their appearance for any reason. We believe that women should be treated with respect no matter what they are wearing, or how they look. In fact, many of our advisors dress in a way similar to that described in this post, as do our directors.

      We don’t control members of Geek Feminism, but we will review the example anti-harassment policy used as a source for many conference policies and see if we can make this point more clearly, since it isn’t obvious to some people that criticizing women on their appearance is also harassment.

      This comment says that members and board members of the Ada Initiative have engaged in similar behavior at OSCON and conferences like it. Could you be more specific about what this behavior was and who was doing it so we can address this inside our organization? Note that the Ada Initiative does not have members, only a board of directors and a board of advisors.

      You are welcome to email me privately at valerie at adainitiative dot org with a guarantee of anonymity if you’d prefer not to report this publicly. I have personally not been to OSCON for several years, so I’m unlikely to be the person who behaved in this manner. You can also email another person you trust on our 20 person advisors board asking for anonymity.

      Thanks for letting us know about this behavior and I hope we can get more details so we can address this.

      • Hello Valerie,

        I do not believe in the policy of “naming and shaming”. Trying these things in the court of public opinion is both dangerous and wrong, and can completely ruin someone’s life. The internet lynch mob that it inevitably creates can haunt a person for years.

        I know the names of Nixie’s harassers this year, and do not remember the names of the women from last year, but even if I did, I would not name them.

      • valerieadainitiative

        Hi NiceGirl,

        We support the right of all victims of harassment to either report or not report in whatever way they personally feel comfortable with. We specifically your right not to name your or Nixie’s harassers. This approach is spelled out in the example anti-harassment policy implementation guide, under the heading “Taking reports”:

        http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy

        As a clarification, I was not asking you, the author of the post, for the names of yours or Nixie’s harassers. I was asking the commenter who specifically called out the advisors of the Ada Initiative for engaging in behavior similar to this to please give us more information about Ada Initiative advisors harassing people at conferences so we can address the problem. The entire comment was directed to that commenter – I apologize that I didn’t make that clearer and thought that it was directed at you.

        At present, we don’t know of any incidents of our advisors harassing people, but we take such reports very seriously and encourage people to give us more information in whatever form or level of anonymity it takes for them to feel comfortable.

        Valerie Aurora, Executive Director of the Ada Initiative

        (And sorry for the double comment – WP gave me an error on the first try and didn’t show the comment as up for moderation. Please feel free to delete the second copy.)

    • this saddens me that people are being so rude and acting fairly immature about something like this. i love watching nixie talk about opensource and linux and such i’ve learned a lot from her and feel without her i would still be stuck with nothing but windows and my blue screens of death. i wish people would stop judging a book by its cover and actually try to take the time to read the story in the book and get to know the book.
      to be honest i’ve noticed she’s beautiful but i actually sat there and watch the videos to learn more about what i could do with my computer with out having to cut of a limb and another thing.. i’ve actually never noticed any of the attire she wears unless it has some cool game on it. attire is not important. nor is skin beauty it’s whats in the book.

  2. It’s a shame to hear women being criticised for their appearance – especially when it’s by other feminists. To me, feminism is about gender equality, female freedom and empowerment. This means that you should be able to dress the way you wish to dress. You can certainly be a feminist and still display your sexuality, but like you said, as long as you’re owning it and it’s not being forced upon you.

  3. Eh, you find ass’s everywhere. The best you can do is laugh at them. Don’t even try talking to them, just laugh, and walk away.

    • I’ve heard a lot about harassment and general anti-feminism at tech conferences, and was really hoping not to experience any at OSCon (the first major conference I’ve attended). Unfortunately, shortly after I went into the expo hall on the first day, I heard an exhibitor tell a joke he was perfectly aware was inappropriate — to the point where he looked around and said “I’d better make sure there aren’t any girls around before I tell this.” So not only are their “modern” forms of sexism at conferences, the old school ones are still alive and healthy.

    • Laughing and walking away is tacit approval in the minds of the asses. Only by communicating with them (whether it’s an “I dare you” look or a word) do they realize you’re not enjoying the belittling of others they find so pleasurable.

  4. A human being

    OSCON has a anti-harassment policy did you or your companion report the behavior to any staff?

    • No, neither of us reported it, as we both felt well-equipped to handle the harassment ourselves. Reporting offhand comments to staff seems like an unnecessarily dramatic escalation.

      • I agree with OSCON. If this is happening, it’s harassment and should have been reported.

        You didn’t want unnecessarily dramatic escalation, but then you did a blog post? And then had the post listed on Reddit using a puppet account. Hmmm.

      • I can defend myself against this over and over, but I was not the one who posted it on reddit. Every time I post one of my own articles, I use the handle NiceGirlsToo. I feel that doing it any other way lessens integrity.

      • If you could, next time, say something to someone.

        I know, you could deal with it. You were prepared for it. However, someone who attacks you isn’t going to just do it to you: they’ll do it to someone else, too. Their actions may escalate, too, if they find someone less willing to fight back.

        If they really did just say something to you, then nothing will likely come of it. If you’re one of ten complaints, however, they have something actionable.

      • Meyer S. Jacobs

        I’d also suggest that if you run into such behavior in the future, you report it. Whether or not you can handle it isn’t the issue.

        Rather, the issue is that harassment (of any kind) simply shouldn’t be allowed in the community, at least at an organized event. There are explicit rules against for a reason: This isn’t how they want the community to act. From what you’ve described, even if you personally could deal with it, many others may have been driven away from conference.

        I wasn’t there in person, so I don’t know if it was the kind of thing you could easily report (or if it was too “subtle”, I guess), but it is a lot easier for people to continue thinking they did nothing wrong if they get to walk away and continue on as if nothing happened.

        Anyway, I certainly hope things improve in the future. As an open source software aficionado, hearing about intolerance, sexism, and harassment in my community really disappoints me.

      • I’d also suggest that if you run into such behavior in the future, you report it. Whether or not you can handle it isn’t the issue.

        Rather, the issue is that harassment (of any kind) simply shouldn’t be allowed in the community, at least at an organized event. There are explicit rules against for a reason: This isn’t how they want the community to act. From what you’ve described, even if you personally could deal with it, many others may have been driven away from conference.

        I wasn’t there in person, so I don’t know if it was the kind of thing you could easily report (or if it was too “subtle”, I guess), but it is a lot easier for people to continue thinking they did nothing wrong if they get to walk away and continue on as if nothing happened.

        Anyway, I certainly hope things improve in the future. As an open source software aficionado, hearing about intolerance, sexism, and harassment in my community really disappoints me.

      • It has come to my attention that the same username who posted this blog, and some of the response blogs, to Reddit decided to be an internet vigilante.

        This person posted the name, home address, and cell phone number of someone they think is one of the persons who harassed Nixie. I am glad that doing such things is against Reddit’s TOS, and the information was removed.

        As I clearly outlined below, I do not approve of this blatantly illegal harassment, and will cooperate with law enforcement if contacted.

  5. your friend is obviously doing very well because women tend to (in my experience as a female engineer) point barbs at those that are better than them in something; so she’s obviously doing something right ;)

    however, the fact that females that do well in any industry get harrassed by other females is what bothers me the most. The Tech industry is not the only industry with this sort of behavior and women should not have to feel well-equipped to handle harassment (not that we can’t just that it’s stupid to have to defend what you’re wearing or how you’re acting).

    women are the worst critics of each other, I think it’s the reason i love working with Engineers: mostly men who tend to have a hard time communicating, and the majority of the women don’t have a lot of time to care (at least in school, i’ve only just started my journey into the industry) or want to waste the brain power on it.

    on another note this is something i battle with a lot. I wonder what is appropriate for a female engineer to wear to work, luckily i have a female, engineering mentor at work which helps me a lot ;).

  6. This is exactly the sort of thing which makes me hate any sort of single-purpose community – they’re so specific in their goals that it ends out being bad for nearly everyone. On the other hand, you can’t easily rally people around the idea of not being dicks :(

  7. Lol. Don’t worry. Just envy for stealing attention. Geek women get quite a lot of attention because there are few. This makes them quite aggressive when they loose attention :D

  8. There are boys who will simply do anything for a beautiful girl, providing a ”quality of service” they wouldn’t dedicate even to their bosses. Maybe i’m one of those, but i’ll certainly rationalize it away. In fact, it’s probably impossible to the ”victim” of this to even be aware that he is being ”exploited”. And most of the time these girls aren’t aware of how exploitative their appearances are, either.

    What i’m trying to say is that this anti-sexualizing thing might be just an overreaction to a gender-game that is unfair in the opposite direction (women on top, so to say).

    Not that i agree with any of that. In fact, your post has ”clicked” with me, i’m mostly a self-identified male feminist who would certainly have the same kind of gut-reaction to a too-well-dressed girl in ”nerd spaces”, but i also feel this kind of reaction spoils the whole feminist thing, turning it into an ideological agenda that is too biased to escape it’s own niche. (If this is even making sense…)

    I just wanted to say that, even though i agree, this things are really really complicated. Like this http://xkcd.com/592/ ;-)

  9. What I’m curious about is, are you then saying that you are Not a feminist? The article seems to separate yourself from a certain group of women because they were judgmental and bitchy, yet you termed them feminists.

    But I’m not sure why you – based on reading your words – would not consider yourself a feminist which is a person “advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men”. It always confuses me when people – especially women – use the term feminist in a negative way about someone, when I think they’re intending to just say Jerk because it’s a particular behavior they don’t like. Here is a complete definition of feminism: http://civilliberty.about.com/od/gendersexuality/g/Feminism-Definition.htm.

    I think we as women need to keep the dialogue going rather than turning into cliques at these events – we insult our entire gender by simply going back to our blogs and complaining yet not actually confronting it at the time it happens. If there was inappropriate behavior, it should have been reported – otherwise the events don’t evolve/improve, as people think “oh it was handled” when sure, it might have been at a low level, but didn’t address the tone as a whole. And why not get to know the other women there? Lots of people have defense mechanisms and lots pass judgment and show ignorance – including ourselves – doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome, doesn’t mean they’re not worth getting to know. It’s not accepting the behavior, it’s doing something constructive.

    These issues go well beyond tech – being someone who works in tech in a non-tech job, I’ve seen women tear each other down in a ton of industries because they don’t fit the bill. I went to a Tech/HR conference and I was the only one not wearing a suit (which I wouldn’t be caught dead in, personally, but more power to those who love it), but while I noticed it, I didn’t feel judged or even worry about feeling judged. Why? I’m not there as a fashion show and I had a ton of great conversations with women there because I wasn’t obsessed about the clothes we were all wearing. Who gives a shit, really. I had fun.

    On a side note – I’ve not a clue what the differentiation would be between a Geek Feminist and a Feminist. Seems kind of elitist to me, encouraging more stereotyping and separating rather than bringing people together. Does Geek mean smart? Does Geek mean you work in IT? The definition I found was “A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest.” So that could be, um, every person I know. :)

    Great food for thought by everyone in this discussion, by the way.

  10. I’m so sorry that happened to your friend, that really sucks! I have been part of geekfeminism.org from its beginning and have never dealt with anyone else associated with it who would shame someone for wearing a skirt or lipstick, flirting, or having a boyfriend. It’s been really good for support and backup. I’m glad you were there to support your friend.

    It seems especially gross that guys would harass her “in the name of feminism”. What next… That is just over the top.

  11. Hello Nice Girl,

    Excellent post! I have a few things to say, some of which you may disagree with, but I want to open by saying I support you and thank you for bringing the “my feminism isn’t good enough” debate to the floor.

    First and foremost, I am *appalled* that someone told you to lie and not say that you were at OSCON 2011 with your boyfriend. If it wasn’t for my ex-boyfriend, the sys admin, asking me to change songs on the music player one evening, I might still have no idea what open source is – when I saw this strange looking foot thingy on his screen saver I was like “um, what the heck is this” … “That’s GNOME.” … “What’s GNOME?” …. queue explanation of GNOME and FOSS. Had I not had that intro, I likely would never have found the EFF, Creative Commons or the host of other resources that eventually led to me being well-versed enough to be hired into a junior role in Google’s Open Source Programs Office. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Furthermore, this advice is bad form for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the importance of trust and reputation in the open source community. What were you supposed to do once you’d gotten more enmeshed in the community when talking about your start? Keep lying? Finally fess up and say you learned about it from your partner? If I were in a situation where you later admitted you’d been fibbing to keep up appearances, I’d wonder if that was a gentle misstep or if I should trust you less. I’d also wonder if that meant you thought I should be ashamed of how how I got my start in FOSS. Neither outcome is conducive to your success nor us having a productive, reputation based dialogue. Not OK.

    On the question of what is appropriate garb at conferences …. This one is tough. Fundamentally, I believe no one ought to tell you what to do or what to wear. If you like to dress “sexy,” more power to you. However, I do encourage you to consider this question – do you want to make a point or do you want to win?

    To make it clear what I mean by this – I feel most comfortable in geek t-shirts and jeans. However, I’m now in my mid-30s and that garb no longer cuts the mustard in professional environments, particularly if I’m meeting with execs. I *should* have the right to wear exactly what I please – and I do – but I’m not necessarily supporting my desired outcome – my ability to persuade my audience – if I’m not dressed in the manner they expect.

    I’d like to make the point that my aptitude has got fsk all to do with what I am wearing, but I want to win – persuade my audience – that much more. If this means I need to wear slacks and a pretty blouse instead of some other garb, so be it. That’s what I am going to do.

    At conferences, I’d assume “winning” for you means networking, finding people to help you with your projects and finding people who’d like your help with their projects. Given that the debate around women and tech can become quite volatile at times, being conservative in your sense of dress may be helpful to you in your quest. Yes, it sucks, but some people aren’t going to like to see you at a conference wearing “sexy” clothes, and those people may be future collaborators or employers, none of whom would likely give two hoots about your sense of dress outside of the conference. In fact, they would likely not give two hoots about your sense of dress at the conference if they already knew you, but they don’t. You’re there to meet new people, right?

    I don’t mean to pretend that this issue is not complex. At OSCON this year, I had a very good friend (engineer and former co-worker) come up to me and tell me how healthy I looked and how moving to Oregon must have been so good for me since I “look[ed] so different and ….[was] wearing a dress.” I’ve lost about 90 pounds since he saw me last, so yes I looked different. But the second most obvious sign that I am happy and healthy? I’d adopted traditional female garb. Ugh. This person is kind, woman positive and someone I’d have no qualms about sharing drinks or a meal with, but he basically reinforced the notion that women need to look like women to be well received. Sigh. Really?

    Let’s not even get into the fact that if I show up at conference not dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, I am automatically the stupid marketing chick. Sigh. Really?

    Yours in damned if you do, damned if you don’t-ness,
    LH

    • I’m an electrical engineer, i get the most interesting looks and answers when I dress up and then tell men or women such. Across the board men and women get a this weird look, then they’re either trying to one up me, think i’m some super genius (which i am definitely not and never thought i have or am smarter than anyone just because i can do something someone can’t), and a few have said i’m lying.

  12. El Huesudo II

    Wait a second.

    Someone tell me how these “geek feminists” are any different from plain old sexists if they resort to this kind of behavior.

    “I was criticized to my face for wearing low necklines and skirts of a short-yet-modest length, and told that I was ‘sexualizing’ the conference through my attire. I was lambasted for my honest answer (‘I’m here with my boyfriend.’) when I was asked about my reasoning for attending, and even told that I should lie about why I was attending OSCON instead of “undermining” the feminist community.”
    Switch “you’re sexualizing the event” and “you’re undermining the feminist community” here for the usual sexist remarks, and the end result is exactly the same. A lady interested in the convention, being shunned by the rest of the convention-goers because she’s a girl. It’s exactly the same thing.

    “In two instances, she was completely marginalized by male members of the geek feminism community, who (essentially) said that due to her sexy and flirty persona, there was no way that she was serious about open source software.”
    What part of these people is a feminist, I ask? They’re just a bunch of dudes saying “bitch go back to the kitchen”. Are they -that- hypocritical, or do they just lack the gray cells to realize what they’re doing?

    If anything, they’re the ones undermining their own movement (that is, if any part of them is actually honest about that being -their own movement-, of course) by acting just like the ones they (supposedly) hate.

  13. My question is: Is he a Fancy Fiance?

    • Hahaha! He’s pretty awesome.

      • Yeah, I followed some OSCON peeps’ links here to read about the unfortunate behavior of some attendees, and reading through the comments I’m like, SHE JUST GOT ENGAGED! Yay! Upside to the recent news, and everyone’s ignoring it!

        Congratulations, by the way. I doubt we’ve ever met, but I do recall seeing you one day.

        Great story about getting into open source. The best thing about it is everyone can participate, and you get great tools to use for free. The worst thing is that the quality of documentation and the ”welcoming” feel on many dev@ mailing lists is not quite as good as the software usually is.

        Sorry to hear about your experience at OSCON. I’m not surprised that a handful of men might be clueless (or id10ts) enough to behave badly, but I am disappointed that some of the geek feminist crowd behaved like that.

        This, and the many many discussions (both productive ones, and bikeshed ones) about codes of conduct for conferences are making me wonder: how much more improvement can we really get about tweaking the language of the code, versus how much we simply need to be decent to one another, and let the geek society mature just a little bit more?

        Yes, there are certainly improvements to be made in setting the expectations of behavior in at in-person events. But I think a lot of what is needed is everyone who is aware of this issue to be more active at providing positive support, and being decent. Tweaking the tiniest details of how to phrase ”don’t be a jerk” is less important at the moment than actually ensuring we calmly but clearly respond to the jerks out there.

        It feels like it will take another year or so until the codes at geek conferences get assimilated enough that decent or clueful attendees will fully respect them. At that point, there will still be the natural jerks to deal with – the people who won’t read the code anyway.

        Oh, and in terms of your response to the issues (and blogging, but not reporting it to organizers): it certainly helps conference organizers (I’ve been one) to get rational and specific reports of harassment. But it’s really up to *you* to decide if you want to report it. If you don’t want to, that’s fine, and don’t let people get you down over it. A well-put blog post without specific names like this post is a great thing too!

  14. You’re not free unless you’re free to wear pink. And isn’t the goal of feminism to free women to make their own choices, not to free them to live by other feminists’ choices?

  15. I attended OSCON this year and last year and some other years. I’m a geek and a feminist, and I’ve contributed to the Geek Feminism blog and wiki. I’m also an Ada Advisor.

    I honestly can’t imagine anyone I know doing the things mentioned in this blog or in the early comment Val responded to. But that isn’t to say it didn’t happen. I’ve heard women criticise other women when they state that they’ve never had any trouble in IT for being a woman. Claiming that clearly the woman doesn’t understand what has happened to her etc. I attempt to always be quick to defend. We are the only gatekeepers of our experiences.

    I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience your first year and that your friend did this year. We didn’t meet, I think, but I’d probably have smiled at red lipstick and dress and thought about a dear friend of mine at home who wears similarly.

    With so few geeky women at OSCON it saddens me that you found some being idiots. Good luck with Ubuntu and I hope you return.

  16. Nice Girl: Re: “The internet lynch mob that it inevitably creates can haunt a person for years,” I want to make sure I understand: are you saying that posting the name of someone who behaved badly on the Internet is like extrajudicially murdering an innocent black man?

    • I am saying that trying something in the court of public opinion is wrong. And I was clearly using hyperbole. Please don’t troll me on my own page.

      • Well, so you know, that kind of “hyperbole” trivializes the experiences of people of color and makes racist violence seem normal. Before you appropriate the experiences of others to make a point for your own issue, think about what effect it has.

      • Tim, at this point you are being patronizing, and concern trolling, and I asked you previously not to troll.

        If you are here to discuss the post, and the topic at hand, your comments are welcome. If you are not contributing, your comments will be curated, and your commenting privileges will be revoked. My blog is not your soapbox.

    • *snort*

      Your history lesson, while adorably seeking to offend, is incorrect. The term Lynch mob came from the Lynch law, which had everything to do with British Loyalists.

      So technically, she’s comparing someone who behaved badly on the Internet to the British.

  17. Sometimes you really are at an event with your boyfriend/husband/whatever. We are both in tech, but thankfully our interests don’t perfectly align. We aren’t carbon copies of each other, and we work for different companies.

    And what to wear, always such a dilemma! Anything non-comfortable and you’re a sex toy or in marketing.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this. It must have been hard to process the disappointment enough to write so eloquently and factually. This has been my whole experience with feminists. I believe in equality and the right to choose for myself how I live my life with respect to other people – to me, this is the spirit of feminism, and it’s so disappointing to run into a feminist who decides that “just being me” isn’t good enough because I’m a girl. Ironic, huh?

  19. When all my clients for various social networks are filled with numerous posts about feminism and about feminism failing, something is really going on. A few weeks ago there was a lot of fuss about Pycon and now OSCON.

    After reading various blog posts, wiki pages, and other whatnots I’ve come to the conclusion that (geek) feminism fails when (geek) feminists are telling other women how to behave, how to act and how to present themselves.

    It really is starting to feel like (geek) feminism is more a religion than a movement. Fanatical religion

    Why is it wrong? Because I’ve never heard an asian telling other asians that they are too asian.

    “Zhang Wei, you will eat beef steak and potatoes, not chop suey. You behave like you’re from China!” (add some heavy chinese accent for the dramatic effect)

    And it seems that the whole society is failing and we are getting to the point where everyone will live in one of many minorities and no contact with eachother. Because when you will say something about the other minority you’ll be politically incorrect and should know when to shut up. On the other side, if you’ll say anything about your own minority you’ll be too-*something* and should also know better.

    Sometimes a dress is simply a dress and a joke is simply a joke.

    And now excuse me, I have to go to work and I’ll be wearing my riding breeches to the office, because I can and because I have a riding lesson after work. So much about being masculine … ;)

  20. Wow, a total of five different(?) commenters decided to come out and say how NiceGirl should have reported the behavior to the organizers — and by omitting words like “also” silently implied that she should have NOT blogged about the issue.

    That’s just BS. What you did here, NiceGirl, was the best possible thing that you could have done. The most effective way to combat toxic behavior like this is to raise public awareness.

    Discreetly going after offenders one by one like suggested might make the offender to rethink their ways, but will not change the ways of the bigger crown who’ll say the same things about you to everyone but you. Going after the offenders not-so-discreetly by publicly naming them is even worse, as it permanently ruins people lives.

    Instead of seeking justice by going after some named persons who said those stupid things to you and Nixie, you were decide to be bigger than that, and with any luck made some people who’ve expressed such thoughts see some error in their ways, and you made people who’ve received similar comments know that they’re not alone nor wrong.

  21. Father of two daughters here. 23 and 25 y/o. Thank you for posting this. This sounds like PC bullying at its worst. Just an updated version of gently chiding a woman for wearing a dress without hose.

  22. It’s more subtle and twisty than that. People tend to have a mental allergic reaction when they encounter somebody they could identify with doing something that they wouldn’t personally do. Some of these people then feel a need to stop other people from doing things that they wouldn’t personally do. It’s far from common, but there’s always a few of these “behavioral imperialists” around, and there’s nothing about geek communities that resists or discourages that sort of thing.

    Simultaneously, the idea that the group is represented by its lowest common denominator is wrong. Because only a couple of people out of thousands bothered to say anything, there’s a tendency to assume that the thousands of silent people somehow agree with them. They don’t: mostly they said nothing because they don’t think what you’re wearing is a subject important enough to comment on. It is unfair for you to elect the minority as representatives of the community, and it’s just as wrong to think that the community should somehow control the behavior of the minority (that’s just leading back to the same “behavioral imperialism” thinking).

    It’s very important to keep these ideas firmly in mind when dealing with any open and inclusive community, because that community will inevitably include annoying and insane people. Many people react by saying some variation on “let’s tackle this by making the community stop being open and inclusive” without really thinking about what they’re proposing.

    The only good solution that I’m aware of is for more people to understand where the minority is coming from and accept their presence as a legitimate minority view.

  23. I think it’s interesting to see how this correlates with the sex-negative slideshow debate that happened awhile ago.

  24. What ever happened to: “I am who I am, and I can do whatever I want, and wear whatever I want” People just like to be @$$holes

  25. I’m not sure if you actually get to read the “5k” comments above me but, in first place that tells you DO got an audience and you DO got credibility from the people out there including me obviously. Second, it sucks to be devaluated and therefore judged in this case for your “appearance”. Well, let me tell you something you are not alon;, it happens to me quite frequently. I have an accent, and because of that is seems kinda difficult to people here in FL to either accept or believe I work where i work…do what i do,…… know what i Know and been in so many places that most people couldn’t imagine. Regardless of this, I thinks RESPECT comes first and that was the very first thing those two particular people forgot when approaching you. PLEASE, just keep doing the great job you are doing and keep of course your chin up. (yeah yeah yeah…..boobs and everything too dont get me wrong lol)…..im just saying.

  26. Ok, so after reading most of comments and Leslie answer on her blog, I might have a few things to say. (and yes, I will use my boring Tarzan English at both blogs )

    1.- I don’t consider myself a feminist because for me, just calling yourself from “any” group creates automatically that line that women are trying to dissolve. If you want people to consider yourself an equal, then you have to be an equal since the beginning.

    2.- If you don’t care what men think about how you dress, then why do you care about what women think? me?, I don’t dress sexy, sometimes I wear pink, I take “nice” selfies but yet, people pay attention to what I say because in the minute they start looking at my boobs, I stop them asking if they came to talk about technology or to a dating service. If you don’t stop this and just let people “enjoy the view”, then you, as women (general message, to all of us) have nothing to complain about.

    3.- If you want to criticize someone by the way they look, either because they look like a stripper or a Gothic vampire hunter, then you should look into the mirror first, maybe you are part of one of those groups that you dislike so much.

    4.- A lot of women use their image (yes boobs) to get attention, same way a lot of men use their muscles (yes money) to get attention as well… This is never, ever gonna change because is human nature. This happens at tech, medical school, engineer, artist, blah blah blah… So get over it and focus your attention in things that are more important.

    As soon as we realize that women aren’t that different than men when we refer to “how many things we are able/willing to do to attract attention to us”, as soon we will move on from this completely pointless arguments (from both sides). If you like to look sexy, why do you give a damn about what people have to say? if you like to dress like a dude at events or if you enjoy talking about how easy if to compile a kernel while you do your makeup… why do WE give a damn about what people has to say?

    Now, who the hell am I? I’m a Latin American girl who likes computers and that yes, has been harassed not by words, but with more heavy stuff than the silly things you complain in here, but I’m not here to talk about “how awesome are my contributions” or “how hot am I” neither “how guys try to hit on me at Tech-events” – In a movement, community, job, school, $Whatever; this things simply doesn’t matter.

    So for a second girls, why don’t we focus in the message we want to spread (as geeks and as women) and stop caring so much about how we look or what people think or act when they see how we look? Think about this next time you have to attend to a conference… spend more time looking and worrying about how your slides look instead waste time packing your suitcase with clothes you will wear.

  27. I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through such stupidity. People have forgotten what feminism really is. (The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. ) Has nothing to do with how you look. In fact, by hiding being a woman your actually, in a way, going against “feminism”, so tell them that next time they give you shit for wearing heels. :)

  28. I can’t see how anyone could legitimately call themselves feminist & slut-shame another person. They are to feminism as the Chinese government is to communism – claiming the name yet doing exactly what they claim to be against.

  29. Hi!
    Kudos for being you and for having the courage to confront bullies!

    People who criticized your appearance, and Nixie’s, had low self-esteem and were seriously disconnected from being able to fully express themselves.

    Their weak attempt at censoring means that they have serious personal growth issues to work on, and they deny you the right to express yourself because they’ve denied their own self-expression.

    Be you and enjoy who you are. Eventually, these people will learn from you and come out of their shells.

    • ps. I am a heterosexual male geek, and believe it’s time to have female energy to balance out the woefully inadequate patriarchal society in many cultures.

  30. Ugh, I hate that this happens.

    I was also there, and I remember you. I set next to you briefly at the Women’s Meetup Table (I think that was the day I was wearing my cute grey hat and FreeBSD horns?) It was definitely a feminine outfit, but wasn’t, in my recollection, inappropriate in any way.

  31. Retards like that need to justify why they come to geek conventions at all:

    http://jrblackwell.tumblr.com/post/30593046145/the-presupposition-of-a-geek-hierarchy

    You and Nixie already out-rank anyone dumb enough to come spouting that kind of rubbish.

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