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.]