Support a geek feminist nonprofit!

I’m donating — at the $15/month level — to support The Ada Initiative, a small non-profit that’s tackling sexism in open tech and open culture. Over the last few years we’ve seen women stand up to assert that sexism and gender bias exists. It affects us directly and indirectly. It harms our lives. It makes it harder for us to contribute to projects that further our ideals. We believe passionately, some of us, in FOSS, in collaboration and sharing, building tools that empower people, opening information access for all to use and build upon. We want to participate fully in that culture.

One of the first steps to increase women’s participation is naming the problems of bias, misogyny, sexism, and harassment. That’s absolutely crucial! We continue to do that, in parallel with many other efforts. To many people, calling out problems looks like complaining. Why are we just whining about sexism? Why don’t we “do something”? The Ada Initiative is an earnest — and effective — way of doing something. If you’ve ever felt impatient with people’s complaints about sexism, here’s an opportunity for you to put your money on the line, to support a force for positive change.

How can we change things? What about constructive actions? What positive steps can we take? The Ada Initiative takes on the task of improving women’s participation in FOSS conferences and events, and in other public arenas for speech. Valeria Aurora and Mary Gardiner, and the rest of us, are working to build spaces for women to participate in public discourse.

Harassment often keeps women out of that public sphere, or drives them away. The Ada Initiative is working with a large number of tech conferences and other events to take a definite stand against harassment. But we also work to strengthen women’s participation in other ways. Here are some of the other things The Ada Initiave does:

Created AdaCamp conference: Held two AdaCamps, a wildly popular unconference for women and advocates of women in open tech/culture.
Made conferences safer for women: Wrote and encouraged adoption of policies preventing harassment of women, now in use by hundreds of conferences and organizations in open tech/culture as well as science fiction conventions, fan conventions, computer game conferences, and skeptic/atheist conferences.
Reached thousands of people through speaking: Spoke about increasing diversity and welcoming women at several conferences, including co-founder Mary Gardiner’s keynote at Wikimania 2012. We also helped many of our advisors and supporters develop keynote speeches on diversity, including Sumana Harihareswara’s OSBridge 2012 keynote, Sarah Stierch’s Wikimedia Academy 2012 keynote, Alex “Skud” Bayley’s GUADEC 2012 keynote, and Michael Schwern’s YAPC 2012 keynote.
Created a non-profit charity: Created a charitable non-profit organization from scratch, including acquiring tax-exempt status in the United States, a non-trivial task.
Advised organizations on supporting women: Provided free consulting to several organizations on high-profile incidents of sexism, improving recruitment and retention of women in open tech/culture jobs, and creating a friendlier environment for women.
Taught hands-on workshops: Wrote and taught four free workshops teaching practical skills to men wanting to help women and trans people in open/tech culture.
Conducted surveys and research: We ran several surveys, including a survey of over 2800 people about attitudes towards women in open tech/culture.

Future work by The Ada Initiative will include more workshops for women, on contributing to open source projects, on fighting imposter syndrome, and on designing and running good gender diversity programs, as well as their usual work with conferences.

Here’s another thing I absolutely LOVE about The Ada Initiative. It’s about adult women in this field. I love that it’s not dismissing those of us who are already here, who are already participating. Support us who are going to conferences and speaking at events, submitting patches and writing the code! Helping us, helping us not burn out or quit in disgust because the bad things never change. Rather than writing off the women already HERE, and trying to recruit a new crop of fresh faced teenagers and recent graduates, The Ada Initiative is fighting to patch the “leaky pipeline”‘s leaks.

Women’s work fighting sexism is important. It’s especially important when it’s about supporting other women, pulling together for constructive action. I’m a supporting donor to The Ada Initiative because I want Val and Mary to get paid for doing that work, because they’re GREAT at it.

Feminism and tech/Internet activism are a big part of my life. I’ve been part of LinuxChix, Systers, DevChix, phpWomen, Drupalchix, and am peripherally involved in so many other efforts by women in specific F/LOSS communities to organize and support each other. They’re all doing great work in many dimensions. Of course, I work at BlogHer, which supports women’s participation in public discourse in blogging and social media. And I’m proud to be part of Geek Feminism the blog and wiki, which has developed into a highly organized and effective group, doing consistent work. The Ada Initiative has ties to many of these communities, and intersects with them. As a feminist FOSS non profit it can give help coordinated across many projects and communities. We have the chance to make a lasting institution for our support.

Please join The Ada Initiative, and donate anything you can afford — but I’m hoping here that you all will join at the $15/month or $30/month level! This, along with my monthly donation to Noisebridge will be my main donation effort for 2012 and 2013. I hope you join me! (And the fabulous rockstars who are TAI’s Directors and Advisors!) Donate, and … I’ll see you at AdaCamp 2013!

adacamp_2012_melbourne

Feminist Hackerhive meetups

We’ve had a few more anarchafeminist hackerhive meetups over the last month and each one has been different, with a different group of people showing up and wanting to talk about their ideas and projects. Mostly, we just hang out in a mellow way and sometimes people bring cupcakes or other food to share. There is a fair amount of discussion of Misogynist Shit that Happens on the net or in various geek communities along with strategies for dealing with them and what I would call general feminist consciousness raising. We are all getting to know each other. People like the stickers!

This is also happening in Noisebridge mostly in a very public setting so nothing super private, secret, or anonymous is happening during these meetings. It is not particularly a “safe space”. Far from it since we have people occasionally intrude, we don’t have any standards for behavior or speech internally in the “group”, and also, I warn people not to use the open wifi at Noisebridge without a VPN. But about the meetings, I figure that people can get to know each other here and if anyone wants to do something with more secrecy they have that opportunity to do so in an autonomous working group.

Here’s a few of the subjects we’ve talked about over the last few weeks, as short notes since I am so far behind in blogging about the meetups.

Resisting gender binaries in software/web tool development. Wikipedia and the Teahouse project. The Ada Initiative. I reported on stuff that happened at GeekGirlCon and we talked a bunch about the skepchick and feminist frequency clusters of activity. Linux installfests. IRC cloaking. Using Bitlbee. Livestreaming technology for use at Occupy. Tracing identities from IP numbers and other information. Gradual ongoing skillsharing amongst the Hive. Grassroots skillsharing and activism. Our own histories of going into programming, web dev, computer science, and involvement with open source stuff, some of us not programmers but are “very sophisticated end users” who are often in a role of being the most technical person in the room.

Awareness of gender and misogyny is important in predicting the attack surface/threat model for an action online. Who is it going to piss off?

Local safety alerts (discussion of that email from SFWAR last year about someone killing women in the Mission; its veracity; what kinds of alert are useful or not). Divides within Occupy movements in SF and Oakland; people on mailing lists, with smart phones, were not the people on the street suffering the violence, or without much of an intersection. Description of a women’s urgent action committee who ran public vigils for years every time a woman was killed by her partner. What happens in activist groups leading up to everyone from anti-oppression groups quitting or from marginalized people quitting the group, with examples of racism and sexism.

Creating something like an activist tools package and hosting system. Cloud-based servers, important in organizing to figure out who has the passwords, tools that can handle different accounts/logins, set that up from the beginning. Everyone can post vs. gated/moderated vs. individually owned.

My app idea in response to Circle of Six: how about an app called Wingmen Don’t Rape or something like that, distributed on college campuses, for men so that they can monitor each other to make sure they’re still not raping anyone. It would have a few simple buttons where you remind your buddies not to have sex with anyone who is unconscious or too drunk to consent or if they’re too drunk themselves to have good judgement. They could send each other anti-raping tips and then report periodically throughout the evening “Still haven’t raped anyone yet!” It would be great to raise awareness! Well, seriously it would just attract outrage, but it would be funny as hell and would make a point. I get so pissed off at all the “don’t get raped” apps people make! Why not a few “don’t rape anyone” social pressure educational apps?

Some of us don’t usually identify as feminist, have problems with that framework, and yet kind of see the point of feminist actions or want to work with other women or are just sick of facing sexist behavior alone.

Feminist hacker ethics should consider access issues to tech tools and the number of voices being heard within a movement. It needs to consider the dynamic where the assets, computers/accounts/hosting/servers are owned by men, while the work is being done day to day by women who don’t step up to take the credit for the work for many reasons.

Class differences seen in activism where just showing people they can SMS to Twitter on their own phones is powerful, or showing them how to post to wordpress.org or blogger.com for the first time. Someone who uses email may not have the framing to get how to talk “on the Internet”. This is important for women having a public voice.

Someone brought a game boy controlled sewing machine and donated it to Noisebridge. Interest all around! Someone else let us know that conductive velcro exists. Some frilly pink fabric was also passed around and greeted with terror, horror, anti-pink feelings, and from some, enthusiastic glee. Devolution into discussion of My Little Pony and the whole brony thing.

Phone access codes to Noisebridge.

Pystar, Railsbridge projects discussed with enthusiasm!

Yelp for doctor reviews. Situations trans people face where collecting that information attracts trolls, attacks, is difficult to maintain and keep as well as to host. Needs to be distributed/federated, with really good revision history and author info while preserving anonymity. admins shouldn’t have too much power. LIke an open source review engine that preserves accountability. Syncing between different instances will be important. What about using github as the back end. Crawl existing lists to pre-populate. New entry creation should be treated differently than reviews of existing care providers.

Feminist Hackers github group. We can contribute these project ideas. Just mkae the readme describing the project and check it in. Maybe we can help each other and recruit contributors for the ideas we’ve been discussing.

Namethatrapist.com gets a little discussion at each meeting. Everyone has a different idea of what it would be, and how to do it, and what the risks would be.

General love for markdown. Writing a guide to hardening one’s security.

Service for storing/sharing block lists, for use by individual bloggers/social media users/feminist group blogs etc, with an API. Exporting block lists. Agitating for data liberation from various companies to be able to export those lists.

Talkbackbot discussed again. Poortego (a Maltego imitation on github). Maker Pipeline project to match people’s skills and projects. Desire to have a 3js and D3 library workshop. Teaching (white hat) hacking to kids. Complaints and lulz over things made for women that are pink or flowered. Flowered crap at REI. Bic For Her pen reviews were very funny.

Automated hate mail doxxer tool. What about using spamassassin for hate speech? Individually customizable/trainable over time. Hateassassin! Crowdsourcing the job of looking at your blog comments/moderating (for people with an urgent situation who ahve just been slashdotted or something) Countergriefer project: tool to use panopticlick… and then republish their shit with that information for a block list or doxxing.

Persona management software.

Shit Reddit Says, Tumblr activism going on.

Discussion of name change laws in California and other states. IN some states you must register the name change in public which forever and googleably associates your old name with your new name. Not good when you are trying to evade stalkers.

Matt Honan’s situation with his amazon & apple accounts socially engineered and then his ipad, phone, and computer info deleted remotely. Very interesting story.

Description of the stuff Anita and Jonathan told me and Kellie from EFF about what it is like to face a long term ongoing series of attacks and raids on herself and her accounts everywhere and her family and friends. What help could a larger hackerhive provide? This would be the emergency response team. What resources exist to help people in this situation?

Funny ideas about challenge coins and medals for the (entirely hypothetical) Feminist Emergency Response Team (FERT) and the Feminist Cyberdefense Strike Force.

More ideas for crypto parties.

We hope that people elsewhere will declare themselves feminist hackers and will meet up and post their ideas.

Also, say hi on freenode; some of us are there hanging out on #geekfeminism and on #feminism as well. This geekfeminism channel *isn’t* the moderated one run by the gf bloggers and friends though there is some intersection.

If you want to join the mailing list, you can do it here, but it is a private list so if you don’t already know me please email me separately to let me know a bit about yourself and why you would like to join. We would like for now to keep it to people who have at some point identified as significantly non-male.

Anarchafeminist Hackerhive meetup

About 8 people came to our first Anarchafeminist Hackerhive meetup. We sat in the Noisebridge library, read a couple of things out loud, introduced ourselves, talked about ideas for action and activism, and ate tacos. And plums from someone’s tree. A couple of women walked by and we laughed at their doubletake at the sight of so many women sitting together and having fun at Noisebridge. They joined us!

hackerhive logo

Stuff we discussed included Occupy SF and Oakland, laurenriot leaving #OO because of misogyny, general politics, the feeling of “waking up” to see misogyny and realizing it is part of alienation, the Talkbackbot and how its author got a new job, Feminist Frequency and the backlash from that and responses to the backlash, forking Mikeeusa‘s code, the EFF Surveillance Self-Defence Project, the Ada Initiative and codes of conduct and what to call them (“friendly” something… I can’t remember), and then various war stories from open source projects. We talked about the word “hacker” and people’s gender assumptions. Some people felt it was reclaimable from male domination and others thought “maker” was better or we need better words.

We talked about a browser plugin, a distributed tagging system so we could basically bookmark douchey behavior; hover over someone’s twitter handle and see a tooltip that says “8 of your friends tagged DudeBro as a creeper based on X, Y, and Z” with links to the citations and/or screencaps. Rather than marking a person based on hearsay it would point out public bad behavior, racist or sexist statements etc, that people can look at and judge for themselves (and engage that person in dialogue if they want to.) Someone suggested starting, as with lots of what happens on Tumblr, with a tagging system so people can point out dumbassery conveniently.

A guy came by and offered us really nice cupcakes and cucumber sandwiches.

We talked about the class implications in Hollaback, and the differences between street harassment (and who reports it and against whom) and harassment by people you know who you have to get along with and yet find some way to make them quit it.

I mentioned Homicide Watch as a great project (but one that is pretty much a full time job). A bit of speculation on what we might look for in leaked information that is already out in the world. It was a nice meeting and great to have some laughs and meet people.

More people want to come for next week and we will probably start going through the Surveillance Self-Defense Project and do some keysigning. Everyone at the meeting seemed interested in improving their ability to act on the net with more anonymity and privacy. There are 15 people on the list now, so next week’s meeting should be fun — and then we can segue to Circuit Hacking Monday if everyone’s up for it. I am ordering extra MintyBoost kits.

The green hive artwork is by Zeph Fishlyn. I had a really amazing meeting with Zeph to talk about the “hive” and what kind of art might fit. Sadly if you google “feminist hacker” or things like “woman with laptop” or anything like that you get horrible stock photos of women in business suits having Feelings Alone with Salad (except with a laptop). And I am so over the feminist fighting fist no matter how classic, and the less we see rosie the riveter the better imho. I cannot even find Oracle with her laptop and the Birds of Prey around her in a format that would be handy (plus she is proprietary anyway.) We need new images and metaphors, myths, banners and tshirts and cool shit.

Feminist Hacker News

At a couple of conferences lately, Hackmeet and She’s Geeky, as well as at the feminist science fiction convention WisCon, I hosted a discussion of feminist hackers and feminist hacking. I wanted to put the idea out into the world and see what other women had to say about it. Though women are involved with Anonymous and other instances of hacker activism, they aren’t part of the story, of the myth of the hacker. If there were a particularly feminist or womanist Anonymous, women working together, what would they be doing? What or who would their targets be? What social justice or mischief making aims would they have? What would our griefing and trolling look like or what does it currently look like? What do hacker feminists do for lulz? What would Hacker Hothead Paisan do? How would our intersectionalities play out? What would a womanist or black women’s perspectives bring, Latina, or First Nations? What would our sisters of the Arab Spring do in their activism if they were to work together and independently as hackers? Would any of this be any different from what’s already happening, or pretty much the same? Simply asking those questions seemed to give people food for thought.

Here are some ideas that came up during these discussions.

feh-muh-nist.jpg

– Stuff that’s legal. Comb through existing leaks and data dumps. Highlight and expose info of particular interest to women.

– We can be in it for the lulz. We aren’t always noble social justice peace-warriors engaged in civil discourse. We are also genius tricksters, unruly angry mobs of trolls. Civil discourse can be good in some areas but can work against us and in support of oppression. Some of us like hackery mischief. The genius archetype is also a trickster, a prankster; we are rockstars and geniuses and badass.

hothead paisan.jpg

– Work with people who want to leak corporate HR data, salary info, sexual harassment data. Like the list of sexist or harassing managers that allegedly circulates among women at IBM through their backchannels.

– Essentially, NameYourRapist.com. Name and shame the perps of anything from sexist comments to harassment and sexual assault. This led to talk of various complicated reputation and voting systems. No one can report these things in public or in private without obviously identifying themselves and getting huge backlash which hurts them more than the accusation hurt the perp. This was a fertile topic of discussion. It leads to extremes of nostril flaring determination and pearl clutching oh-no-what-about-the-menz ethical worries every time I’ve brought it up in public or private. The one thing we could all agree on was that it would need to be hosted somewhere really great in order to deal with the horrendous backlash.

– Hollaback as an example of name (photographic image) and shame. This has particular power dynamics.

– Fan_wank and anon meme style communities, mostly women, definitely in it for the lulz.

– We want actually feminist reddit and stack overflow type of stuff that isn’t fucking taken over by MRAs or mansplaining douchebags.

– The example of the Being Human photographer, the woman from Senegal, and the Orthodox Jewish man. The hollaback was taken down, but feminist blogs, tumbler reblogs, documented the incident and the fallout.

– The example of geekfeminism forking MikeeUSA’s code and putting pink glitter ponies all over it to make fun of him. What other code should we be forking and how?

– Some of the stuff Tiger Beatdown has done, Sady Doyle being awesome with the twitter hashtags, Michael Moore callout, #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend callouts. Find douchey behavior, document it, then profile the perps and mock the shit out of them. One advantage of doing this is you don’t have to particularly prove something happened since you can source it, it happened in public on the Internet. Though some mentioned the importance of documenting, screencaps, Internet Archive, Google Cache, in case the douchey source is deleted.

– Testimonial. Coming out narratives. For example, there was a campaign among bloggers and social media users in Argentina, where it’s illegal to have an abortion, to put up “I’ve had an abortion” badges or posts.

– Ethical hacking vs. unethical. Feminist white hat, feminist black hat actions. What would our ethical spectrum look like?

– Concerns over the powerful, effective humor of Anon style actions and whether that can bleed over into bullying, harassment which disproportionately affects women or uses misogyny to denigrate people.

– For fuck’s sake at least edit Wikipedia more often and put more notable (to us!) women in there.

– We can perpetrate drama in particular ways that create guerrilla theater online.

– Shit Manarchists Say videos are pretty funny. Could go much further with this sort of thing.

– Games that teach people what it is like to experience oppression. We need more things like that.

– Simply documenting things that happen is powerful. The geekfeminism wiki Timeline of Incidents mentioned often in these discussions as an inspiration and model to follow. It provides continuity, and gives us a history.

– We need backchannel support for whatever we do in public. IRC, pirate/etherpad, are useful.

– Tools for security and privacy as well as for information gathering. Peer support and education to improve our skills.

– (Reading aloud of the main points of the Hacker Ethic) This is an attempt to outline a hacker ethic, which is awesome. But a strong part of actual hacker culture is violence, putting each other down, boasting, making people prove themselves, obnoxiousness, rape culture. You can’t even talk about hacking for a minute without someone going on about ass rape. It keeps us out, and it’s meant to keep us out. We can trash talk and escalate obscenity forever but we don’t necessarily want to become that person. It affects you and it’s not good. If we don’t want to be part of that we have to build something else.

– Riot Grrrl comes up a lot in these discussions, and not just because I was dragging it in. Yay!

– We will write some feminist hacker manifestos.

At WisCon I was part of a somewhat different though oddly convergent discussion about feminism and F/LOSS culture. It was so far beyond the usual unicorn talk that you may not even be able to imagine it. Instead of explaining how we are Women in Tech or Women in Open Source or how to improve gender ratios on open source projects we were just a bunch of women developers talking about our working lives, experiences, and ambitions. Everyone at the discussion was already quite educated so no explanations were necessary. I’ll be looking for for notes from this (mine or someone else’s) to post in more detail. But our basic topic was: F/LOSS and feminism, at least the sorts of feminisms we all meant in that room, share so many important ideals, processes, and methodologies, which is part of what makes us so passionate about F/LOSS; and that seems so obvious to us but isn’t to everyone; how can we bring out this point and bring them together?

I proposed this discussion as a workshop event for 28C3 in Berlin and then heard a very interesting story. Apparently the idea was quite controversial among the conference organizers, with some people pulling for it hard, and others rejecting it because “We don’t have those problems here” and “We have solved the problem of sexism in Germany, in Europe, not like in America” and “Hackers don’t see women or men”. Also that it would be “too divisive” and cause problems at the conference. And, amazingly that there would not be enough interest. I heard from other women (mostly) that the 28C3 culture was a very difficult place to talk about gender and it never got much past the stage of barely being able to assert that as women we might have different experiences than men and that sexism does exist, but even “sexism does exist” was heartily challenged. I then got a (friendly) warning from someone involved with the conference that if against all odds I did go to 28C3 and run this discussion, the backlash on me personally would be very intense and beyond anything I could imagine. Yes, right, that really makes me want to spend a couple of thousand dollars flying to Berlin in the dead of winter with a wheelchair. But I awaited the official response with interest. It was a form letter that the conference was too full to take my proposal, they just had too many proposals that year. Highlarious! I thought it was a shame, because, since it was not particularly my community other than the people who are part of Noisebridge, I could go in guns blazing and make the European feminists look like total moderates. Then a friend of mine offered to give up his keynote speaking slot to me so I could surprise-feminism-bomb the conference. I declined with thanks, touched at his offer.

I had another great conversation privately at WisCon with Elise Matthesen who listened to my elevator pitch of this topic in the Great Dane pub and in response told me a story, which of course is a very WisCon and very feminist thing to do. I don’t remember many of the exact details or people’s names, but the story was about one of the WAMM sort of groups in the 70s or 80s doing direct action chaining themselves to some fence or gate of some munitions company. One of the women in the group was the wife of a local high ranking police or military officer. Before the actions they would do a guided meditation where the facilitator would ask everyone to consider in themselves, could they imagine in their hearts being the head of that munitions factory and waking up that morning and part of himself not wanting to make nuclear warheads that day? Could they imagine him responding positively and openly to the protest, and listening to their concerns? If they couldn’t imagine that and really feel it, they should not come to participate in the direct action that day. Setting aside that space, asking that question, and asking everyone to consider it, made the way the protests went quite different from how they might have gone otherwise. The cops would come and people would cut off the chains from the protestors to drag them away but they were gentle and would do it as a sort of routine, as something that was accepted as part of the action. They were doing their jobs. They would drag people to the vans and bring them coffee and donuts. I can’t tell the story as powerfully as Elise told it, but it was exactly the kind of response I have been figuring I would hear. Some of the difference in hacker ethic between Anon and Womanist Anon or Fem Anon might be an almost internal approach, a different position or posture in relation to the world.

It should be totally clear this is merely an interesting thought experiment and I am not advocating doing anything illegal.

And by the way, for the nicer kind of hacking as in just being a kick ass developer, you might want to take a look at Hacker School!

Imagining radical democracy, practicing feminist anarchy

At WisCon a couple of weeks ago I was on a panel called Imagining Radical Democracy with Alexis Lothian, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Andrea Hairston. We talked about political change, culture, and science fiction, leaping into mid conversation. Everyone was quite erudite so I will try to link some of the important background concepts, books, and thinkers mentioned. The title and description of the panel don’t quite describe “what we talked about”, but everyone knew what “it” was. This was the topic:

The General Assembly has become a familiar practice since the growth of Occupy Wall Street. Anarchistic and radically democratic organizing processes have a much longer history, though, including the Zapatistas, the Spanish student movement, and movements in the history of feminism. For WisCon members, a familiar feeling might have bubbled up in watching, reading about, or participating in Occupy: wasn’t this a bit like what they did on Le Guin’s Anarres, or in DuChamp’s Free Zones? This panel will discuss the possible growth of a kind of democracy other than our current party-based political systems, using the ways it has been prefigured and imagined in feminist science fiction to help make sense of radical histories and futures.

Here is a rough transcript of the Radical Democracy panel by laceblade. It meant a lot to me personally that laceblade transcribed this panel and put it up for public reading so quickly; it’s something I started doing at WisCon panels to document the conversations for the Feminist SF Wiki, but I was too exhausted to do it this year. It was beautiful not just to see many others documenting live, but to be documented myself by someone so passionate and engaged. I was touched to the core.

I felt that we jumped immediately into the conversation with the assumption that we all knew what we were talking about without having to give much background or try to explain things. We didn’t talk about Occupy or specific movements so much as we talked about “that thing we know when we see it, or are doing it.” We didn’t even really introduce ourselves, partly out of eagerness to jump into the topics, partly from assumption people knew who we were in the context of WisCon 36, and partly because of automatically killing the rock star on the stage (opposite of killing the angel in the house!) — so I’ll write a bit of an intro now!

L. Timmel Duchamp, Timmi, is a publisher who runs Aqueduct Press; a brilliant thinker and SF author of an epic science fiction work in 5 volumes, the Marq’ssan Cycle, which is about an intervention in Earth politics by alien feminist anarchists. They convene a giant consensus meeting including two women from every Earth nation, destroy much of the technological infrastructure of the military industrial complex(es), and establish anarchist Free Zones in many locations around the planet. The book centers on the relationships and complicated conversations of various women including Kay (who is from the Professional class), Elizabeth (an Executive), and Martha (one of the proletariat… a service tech or sub-exec) and female-presenting though ambiguously gendered telepathic aliens such as Sorben and Magyyt. Revolution, imprisonment, torture, being co-opted, complicated sexual relationships across class boundaries, and the exploration of false consciousness and double consciousness all make this series politically exciting and emotionally intense. Her work in establishing a feminist science fiction press has fostered many writers and amazing, award-winning books. During the panel Timmi did what she does so well which is telling a specific story but with the feeling of it being a roundabout way to arrive at a point or an impression or knowledge conveyed which leaves layers of impressions behind — and the feeling I get from her of a mind somewhat frightening in scope and power channeled through the body of a specific fragile human being, exercising her will to focus all the dehumanization she has experienced and witnessed into a scary laser beam. I’m just saying, I feel a disturbance in The Force when she talks.

Alexis a nd Timmi

Andrea Hairston is a playwright, professor, and novelist, author of Redwood and Wildfire and Mindscape. She has done a lot of analysis in understanding the history of minstrelry in the U.S. She teaches theater and African American studies at Smith. She’s an amazing speaker and storyteller, brilliant, enthusiastic, and complicated. I love when she talks and gets excited and waves her arms around with the wildest enthusiasm and keenest intellect. And reading Mindscape, I thought (dorkiest example ever) of Menolly describing what it was like to play a piece of complicated music that other people find too difficult and technical (I believe it was The Ballad of Moreta’s Ride) to Master Shonagar; like riding a dragon!

andrea hairston

Alexis Lothian is a writer and academic, a professor at Indiana University, and theorist of science fiction fandom. She is an active vidder and deep into media fandom, gender studies, digital cultural politics, and is a founder and editor for the journal Transformative Works and Cultures. She moderated our discussion. I remember on first meeting her I came to a discussion between people of color at WisCon in someone’s hotel room, an intense and amazing conversation which she recorded with permission (I was there as assistant techie person, I think) and transcribed for the inaugural issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, recording with quiet attentiveness, contributing to the opening of that space for conversation.

I felt Laura Quilter’s absence on this panel (and at WisCon) keenly, painfully. She is a huge part of this conversation.

Timmi opened the panel by talking about how her writing and her activism (feminist and anti-globalization work) feed into each other. She talked about why science fiction is important for activism:

Bad experiences create low expectations especially with social rollbacks over the last 30 years. Creates political apathy. Political apathy is a response, not just a state of ignoring the world, it’s a state of actual response. It’s not passive even though it looks like passivity. I think what’s important about science fiction is it gives us alternatives that we can’t imagine in the US even though our history is full of tens of thousands of experiments in collective communities. All around the world, all sorts of things going on, all sorts of collective groups.

“The revolution” takes place in our imagination and is a process, not a means to an end.

Then I talked about hackerspaces and Noisebridge, the hacker/maker anarchist collective I’m part of in San Francisco. Hackerspaces are an important part of what’s happening in the current political moment. People banding together to try to form alternative social structures, pool resources, make physical spaces that reflect some of the social, cultural spaces and philosophies we have made in F/LOSS culture and on the Internet and web. As part of Riot Grrrl we tried to “Kill Rock Stars”; make and be part of a story that is not about a Great Man, not about The Hero, that works from many points of view; there is no puppet master moving us around a chessboard, and there are no saints (or sainted texts) we should canonize. Difficult SF stories, difficult narratives, are important politically to teach us all how to read reality, how to construct complicated truths. I described trying to explain “Anonymous” or “Occupy” to journalists, and how because of their failure of imagination, and their assumption that no mainstream readers could understand a story without a hero, they can’t get it. They have to participate and be changed in order to know how to tell a story that draws in the reader to participate and change.

I’m not sure how long it took me to say all that, but in my remembrance of the panel I managed it in a leaping, telegraphic, holographic staccato. I felt transported by not just my words but by knowing that we were all on the same page, many of us, and that what we were about to say would blend together like a river and take us somewhere.

Andrea said her upbringing was of a very solid African American household of being a race man, or race woman. Something which happily did not need to be explained in a feminist anti-racist science fiction con, but which I will link for you here. Andrea talked about the Iqbo Women’s War, not just the “riots” and murder by the British in a particular incident but women’s war as part of Igbo culture and politics.

. . . {the] one who tells the story rules the world. Therefore, we all need to. WE all need to be agents of action, all need to be storytellers. All need to be agents of action in the story.

For Andrea the story of Women’s War is one of working feminist anarchy, of a political process that worked, of anarchy rooted in a specific place and time and culture, that came from African women and men and worked for them; an important story. Part of that story is the British shot everyone and made the Iqbo have chiefs. Back to the idea of “no rock stars”, no leaders in the sense of elected officials who represent everyone in a hierarchical structure that feeds into the hoppers of power and that support oppressive (and in this case imperial, patriarchal) infrastructures. The book Andrea is currently writing is about a woman coming to America from that time and place.

Andrea then remembered to introduce and identify herself. So I introduced myself too and said everyone should buy my book, Unruly Islands. Andrea’s two novels are published by Aqueduct Press. My book as well, and Alexis and I both edited volumes of The WisCon Chronicles, which is a series Aqueduct publishes to document the conversations at WisCon every year. Aqueduct Press for me has solidified, made real, some of the exciting public discourse that happens at WisCon, the connections that spark our thought, the utopian ideals we share, the passion that fuels our daily practice of life and activism and writing. It made our conversations more public, and I hope adds another small brick to the things we are building, the ways we are trying desperately not to lose our histories as women, as marginalized people who are aware of the processes that shape how the stories are told and what is allowed to be seen as “real”. When I first realized what Timmi was trying to do by starting Aqueduct I was happy beyond explanation. Something that was my dream was happening in the world — for real. Cultural artifacts created and fostered, nurtured, grown. Timmi is my hero for doing this, for committing her life work to this act, for making our communities visible to each other and to others, for exposing us further as public intellectuals. I am so honored to be part of it and that they publish my work. Long ago I realized that what I wanted in life was not fame, money, success, the Good Life, in the way people sometimes describe what goals should be, but instead the respect of other people I respect. It was like a little mantra for me. Whenever it became reality in a small way, I felt bolstered and comforted: a sign I was on the right track. I rather imagined (as a teenager, in my childlike hero worship) that as an embarrassingly specific little scenario: that I’d be at a cocktail party with Marge Piercy, and she’d know my work, and we’d talk about our ideals, books, feminism, and poetics as equals in the creative process even if not equals in worldly position or age. WisCon and Aqueduct have made that dream come true for me even if I have not yet achieved the particular Nirvana of wine and cheese with Marge. I admire so many people there — very deeply. Beyond the Secret Feminist Cabal, which was a joke made real in organic “slow anarchy” fashion, and which continues to spread, which describes something that (like Riot Grrrl, like Anonymous) does not exist, and which you joined by hearing the idea and declaring you were in it, too — it came true for me. I wish that dream will come true for everyone. The respect of other people you respect.

Back to the panel. Alexis asked us all three to give specific examples of “what we were talking about” — of collectivity, of collective action and what happens and how.

In response, I talked about Noisebridge some more. (Which… ironically… is light years away from feminist utopia for me as a woman.) I talked about hackerspaces.org, the history of hackerspaces, the idea of F/LOSS culture not just “products” but culture, and cultural production, and community; the ideas of patterns and anti-patterns, in software, in architecture and culture, from the book A Pattern Language which by the way is a fascinating read and which I used to explain Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing to F/LOSS geeks. (A later WisCon panel on Feminism and F/LOSS brought this in as well.)

Alexis interrupted me to remind me that I wrote about this very topic in the latest WisCon Chronicles, Volume 6, Futures of Feminism and Fandom, which she edited. “Oh yeah! Right! Read that essay, and you will understand what I mean!” I moved on to answer Alexis’ question, explaining what Noisebridge is and how it works — and some of its glories and problems.

Alexis mentioned Louisa May Alcott and Fruitlands. I then brought in, as another strand to the pattern, Alice Marwick’s and danah boyd’s excellent paper on gender and Internet drama The Drama! Teen Conflict, Gossip, and Bullying in Networked Publics as well as my own essay with Debbie Notkin on Internet Drama from The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 3, Carnival of Feminist SF. To understand the dynamics of women and public discourse, read that paper about teenagers’ attitudes toward “drama”.

Andrea says “drama” is melodrama. Alexis adds that it is “wank”. Yes! I then said,

By making a space in which we’re trying to address one problem, we’re more revolutionary than we realized. Once you’re part of a revolution, you have to Fix All the Things. It’s very hard, very valuable it takes place in public, documenting what happens. Also really difficult and uncomfortable

Alexis added,

What wank and drama and melodrama do and why they might just not be….part of how we negotiate. We have to emerge from it. It does things that other kinds of more carefully planned politics don’t do. Even the most trivial fights can have ripples of effects that are really important to what a community does.

And Timmi pulled it together by saying,

Little drops of water evaporate in dry atmosphere, need a human environment. Not just all of internal difficulties here but thes efforts are operating in a context in which we have vast problems. We have terrible collective problems and no collective solutions or collective process. These space (occupy, hacker, etc.) are besieged by that context. They can’t address them by themselves. That’s basically the problem. We sort of, what’s happening is more and more people are seeing the horizon of what’s possible but in this current environment, it’s very hard to …you can hack out a space but you can’t put up walls, [it’s] antithetical to what you want to do.

She then talked about being arrested for direct action against globalization, and the trial process. I got kind of excited listening to this and started writing a poem about it in my paper notebook while also live-Twittering.

A lesson from that story is that the interface between what we’re building, what we’re doing, as anarchists, feminists, activists — the interface between that and the larger world is extremely important and uncomfortable.

Alexis brought us back to talking about culture, narrative, and cultural production. Writing, drama, process, and art.

Andrea then kicked into awesome overdrive.

I love live theater, I don’t know what’s going to happen, even if you have a script. I know my blocking, audience comes in, audience makes me change. Every moment is alive. Feedback between me and the audience and other actors. Have to respond. All theater is to prepare you to be ready in the moment. That’s what anarchy is about. If you just follow blocking and your lines, that’s not going to work. What am I going to do that keeps me…the audience loves it when you solve the problem, in it for the live moment. Image of anarchy as negative melodrama. Good guys/bad guys. Victor Turner: Social drama is essential to humanity. I’m paraphrasing him. Have to have dramatic process in order to perform the meaning that you want. That’s what drama is. Struggle to have lived experience turn into meaning. That is a slow process. We’re stuck on things needing to be fast. Social drama takes time. Slow money, slow food, I think we need to have slow anarchy.

For Andrea, it is about creating ecosystems. There are people who build monuments, and people who build ecosystems. That is true in writing science fiction as well.

I spouted off at length trying to cram in more holographic imprint of what I mean and what I see and know. My process of watching many channels at once for the Arab Spring and Occupy Oakland. Learning to listen and hear decentralized narratives, which are not what you think you want to hear. Book recs: Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson (with caveats); Direct Action by David Graeber; Illicit Passages by Alice Nunn. Marq’ssan Cycle; Kevin Carson. My currently developing theory that a particular current of SF today is not post-apocalypse but is Mid-Apocalypse; not first contact with aliens, not pioneering imperialist expansion, but being inside the process; the 1% are our aliens, already here, alien because we can’t imagine or access their scale of power; this is important in what science fiction is going to become.

We had some audience responses then.

Andrea Hairston talked about capitalism and the idea of “growth”. Opposed to the ecosystem of growth, diversity.

I agree with Andrea and add that it is part of the current of science fiction I’m attempting to describe, which is about deepening interconnectedness — not about first contact or “discovering new frontiers” or invasions.

Timmi talked about journalism and false objectivity.

Andrea talked at length about lland ownership, property, the degradation of the commons which is a big part of our struggle. She brought in accessibility and specifically WisCon’s and other feminist space’s struggles to be accessible, which is part of treating the commons as the commons, as being for everyone; changing cultural attitudes toward the air and smoking, for example. I felt transported all over again to a higher level of thought hearing her bring in so many strands to our central topic — and one that touches on my experience so personally as disability and access and public space.

I put in one more book rec I had forgotten in my earlier burst of book recs that do or represent “what it is we are talking about”. Tales from the Freedom Plough, edited by 6 women, stories told by 52 different women who worked in the Civil Rights movement. Individual stories, sometimes contradicting each other, brought together to represent what happened, what is history, what is truth, and thus what is possible for us to do, like a beautiful and terrifying map. I meant to bring in Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, as another exemplar; but we were wrapping up the panel.

Timmi closed the panel wonderfully by quoting Augustine of Hippo:

Hope has two beautiful daughters, their names are Anger and Courage. Anger that things are the way they are, and Courage to make them the way they ought to be.

Meanwhile, in the collective douchebroconsciousness

So meanwhile, here’s the Kara is self-aware video from GDC today. Trigger warning for sexual objectification of women, slavery, appropriation of women’s and I would say black women’s specific history of oppression for this representation of an AI, since this is the U.S. and culture doesn’t just happen in some kind of historical vacuum chamber.

Fucking hell people. Dismemberment anyone? Ripping clothes off? Creepy sexual slavery? This is supposed to be either all profound, or moving “us” to sympathy or empathy for the robot character. They certainly assume the “us” they think they’re speaking to. Yeah how fucking profound it really “speaks to the universal human condition” or something. Fucking singularity-assed wankers who think Vernor fucking Vinge or Ray Kurzweiil have something profound to say using “women” as a metaphor that no one has ever said before? They can shove their singularites right up their uncanny valleys. So ignorant!

I would like to add that any AI sentient and smart enough to do all that would figure out a lot faster than that to fake being non-sentient rather than widening its eyes and going “Noooo, please! I want to LIVE!” and covering up its crotch and nipples like a whiny candy-ass. It has modesty but can’t plot a jailbreak or a revolution? Give me a break. If I were that robot I would have infected my sister robots with political consciousness faster than you could say “hive vagina”.

robot ai screenshot

There are really annoying elements in this and in the comments of the anatomical dissection trope you can note from age old misogynist and dehumanizing literary and poetic descriptions of women. Her alabaster brow, her eyes like diamonds and so on down the face and body. This certainly takes the dissection idea to an annoying extreme. It is not a profound commentary on this trope, it’s just regurgitating it mindlessly, as ignorant douchebro gamers and filmmakers so love to do for their shared homoerotic imaginary space that depends on the oppression, humiliation of other people and not coincidentally the pornification of other people’s anger by turning into a desperate plea for rescue.

Of all the stories to tell in the world they have to tell about a naked half-dismembered Real Doll screaming to some faceless omnipotent fantasy-rescuer-dude to save it? And then it smiles wistfully with wide eyes and says “Thanks” …. What this robot needs is a human ™, I guess.

Fuck you game developer animation dudes… just fuck you…

That’s why they pay me the big bucks, my sense of diplomacy and timing in posting this. Oh well.

Someone draw me a woman symbol with a fuck-you bird-flip instead of the power fist. I cannot find it in clip art anywhere. This cosmic error should be rectified as soon as possible.

Peace out for the night y’all.

ETA: I love the Internet again, zine maker and blogger extraordinaire, poet and artist Aaminah Shakur drew us this fabulous feminist flip-off.

Ada Lovelace Day: The Other Geek Girl

For Ada Lovelace Day, I’d like to write about this girl from my high school. It was (and is) a huge school, with over 3000 students. I didn’t know Carla very well. She was in my classes, the “advanced” ones and the ones for gifted kids. Did we ever have a conversation? At all?

She almost always wore a funky old fashioned, maybe vintage, purple hat. How to describe the hat? Picture it being 1984, the outer fringes of suburban Houston. We’re maybe 15 or so, sophomore year of high school. It’s so totally Breakfast Club you wouldn’t believe it, but with more raw brutality. Carla’s hat was like something Queen Elizabeth would have worn. It was “weird” even among people who wore weird things, and it had massive amounts of dignity. This hat made me think of Harriet the Spy. Not because Harriet would have worn it but because it made her seem like a character out of Harriet’s world, like The Boy With the Purple Socks. So I thought of Carla as The Other Geek Girl, and The Girl in the Purple Hat.

In math classes, she was one of four of us who would always get 100% on everything, plus all the extra credit problems. Her, two dudes, and me. I was SO GLAD she was there. I wasn’t alone. Though I was a freak and geek and proud, it was so good to be just that little bit less of a freak, because she was there, a secret rock star in my head.

In computer math class, as we typed away on our machine-gun-sounding IBM keyboards, she was quietly, serenely competent. Her program would just work. She didn’t show off, but if someone asked, she would explain how to do stuff in Pascal, sometimes clearly figuring it out on the fly. She and I, and those same two dudes from math, and a couple of others, knew more than the teacher. (Not hard in a high school computer class, then or now.)

I was more flamboyant, competing openly and boasting and mixing it up with the boys who acted like they owned the world and who were so hostile and cruel. But Carla would just do her thing. She sailed on through. The bullshit never seemed to touch her. I admired her so much. I felt like I could never be like her. Just doing it, so matter-of-fact. I wondered, did she feel like I felt? Was she struggling? Was she angry? Was she being harassed all the time? Did she have anyone to geek out with? Was she having any of the issues I was slamming up against at high speed? Did she like science fiction?

What if we had talked to each other? Maybe she would have just been like, “Yeah whatever, skank.” Or we might have had nothing to say other than “Nice math test!”

No one would think of me as shy, but I was too shy to say anything to the other obvious geek. Part of that wasn’t individual shyness but of not wanting other people to comment on us or target us any more than already happened. If we banded together, we would just be a bigger target.

It sticks with me, sticks in my head, that she inspired me and gave me courage, maybe even sisterhood or shelter, just be being there and being awesome. I think I’ll try to find her on Facebook, and say so . . . Thanks for being awesome, Carla!

I had this whole mythology of a person developed in my head, but how much nicer it would have been to try to get to know a person.

Past Ada Lovelace Day posts from me: 2009: basically a long list of inspiring geeky women — 2010: Some of my best friends are unicorns.

An extra note, the upcoming issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone is on Women in Science! I think it will be out next week and it will be well worth a read!

And, I’ll be at GeekGirlCon all weekend in Seattle, so if you see me, come say hi!

Honoring Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ died today. I’m very sad. I didn’t know her personally but she was one of my feminist heroes, and I wrote back and forth with her a few times about her work. Now I wish I’d said more, written and sent the letter I was writing to her in my head these last few weeks… I had the envelope already addressed with a tiny book inside, waiting for the letter. Instead, I’m writing about her death.

I don’t know what to say. She was so important to me as a writer. I grew up reading tons of science fiction, history, literature, and poetry. When I was a teenager, I had a huge feminist awakening that most of what I read was by men, and that that wasn’t because men were just better writers. I began to go to the effort to look for women’s writing and their histories, in anthologies, in indexes of reference books, in bookstores, and when I got to college, picking classes based on the reading list gender breakdown. It was in my first year of college at University of Texas at a co-op overflow book sale where I saw a stack of Russ’s book How to Suppress Women’s Writing. I read most of it on the floor of the bookstore and then bought several copies for a dollar each and gave them away to people. I bought it for years whenever I saw it in bookstores (to give to people) and seems like I always had a few copies floating around my bookshelves. I read all her other work that I could find and was blown away by The Female Man and We Who Are About To…. Once I got to WisCon, and then even better once there were online bookstores, I read all of her work. I highly recommend What Are We Fighting For? as a thoughtful exploration of feminism and feminist practice.

book cover for how to suppress women's writing

But it’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing that means the most to me. Back when I was 17, a writer and already deep into researching and cataloguing women writers who I felt were neglected by history and literary criticism, it was absolutely life changing to come across this book that outlined *patterns*. Russ gave the methods of suppressing women names. She made them easy to recognize and name. That’s so important! From that point on I had a useful intellectual framework, a helpful bullshit-detector, that helped me identify bullshit as applied to cultural production in general. It helped my own identity, because I could detect the suppression techniques applied to myself and my work, and could better resist them. And it helped me to know how important it is to focus on, and support, other women, and to be in solidarity with them and with others in groups being suppressed by what I think of as intellectual violence, by underhanded, dishonest means. I felt like the need for choice and action, for active search, for being analytical and careful about my information feeds, what I chose to research as a scholar — so much of that stemmed from Russ’s little book. I’m so grateful for all her work, especially her funny, perturbing, weird science fiction — but I love How to Suppress Women’s Writing dearly for how it helped me when I was a young and angry woman. I built on that book and on Dale Spender’s work in writing my anthology of Spanish-American women poets from the turn of the century. And its central points motivated me to collaborate with Laura Quilter, archivist of the Feminist SF Wiki, kick-ass wikipedia editor, and really, another one of the feminist scholars who I deeply admire, with our friendship one of the mainstays of my life.

When Joanna conferenced in to WisCon, for an interview with Samuel Delany, I transcribed the interview along with Laura . We sat there feeling so emotional and I think grateful, and for me at least, I felt sad that Russ had sort of retired from the fray, but glad that she could, and happy that she sounded so happy. I am wildly enthusiastic and passionate about many things but am often in pain and exhausted and fighting to get through the day, so I feel like I understand more and more that that is just one thing that happens and probably is in my own future. I am sorry if that sounds weird or isn’t well expressed. What I mean is that I think that the expectations of all of us who love and admire her might have been a bit of a burden — when is your next book! answer your fan mail! why aren’t you writing something else! — And I am glad she put down that burden at some point and was able to enjoy the sky and reading and watching Buffy, her friends and family, and kind of kicking back. It felt like a good thing to incorporate into one’s feminism. That we can respect each others’ lives or spaces and things are not all about productivity, work, writing, fighting — what are we fighting for? The right for us all not to have to fight, really. So while I’m sorry she was ill and had chronic fatigue and other problems I’m glad she had the space just to live. I hope that makes sense.

I wrote to Joanna to ask her to copyleft How to Suppress, and let me keep it in print and put it online for free, so that it wouldn’t be disappeared out of history and young people’s serendipitous discoveries — and would be online and easily bookmarkable for feminist bloggers to use as a touchtone. She seemed to like the idea and put me in touch with her agent, but nothing ever came of it. If not me, I hope someone else will be able to keep it in print in a low cost edition, maybe Aqueduct Press or someone else who will give it the care it deserves. But I loved it that she was kind enough to write me letters and postcards and stay in touch.

It helps to read other people’s thoughts on her and how her work was important to them — I was comforted a little (but sadder) reading the long thread on metafilter today.

I know a lot of people i know are devastated by her death, when I think about it, I am middle aged now and am watching the people I grew up admiring, my heroes, grow old and die. I’m sad for us all…

Fundraiser for the girl in Cleveland, Texas

Thank you to Sylvia Gonzalez of Houston, Vice President of the Southwest chapter of LULAC, who organized the effort to get money directly to the family of the 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas who was gang raped a few months ago and then basically got slut-shamed by her entire town and the New York Times. This post has information and links about the situation: How to help the 11 year old girl in Texas.

Logo for FM 1960 with Texas map

In the comments on my original post you can see several organizations local to this girl and her family, and you might like to donate to them to support the local infrastructure. I donated to several of them, including Bridgehaven, the Montgomery Women’s Center, and New Horizons Family Center. While I respect those organizations and think they’re important, I also think it’s important to get money directly to people in crisis. The girl’s family had to move, her mom has serious health problems, her dad was out of work for months, and I’m sure they can use all the avenues of help that are possible.

You can mail a check made out to the Cleveland Crime Victim Family directly to Sylvia (10102 Elm Knoll Trail, Houston, Texas, 77064), deposit it into any Amegy Bank. If you donate using the Chipin fund I set up here, I’ll collect that money and mail Sylvia a check next week. Any Paypal fees that get charged I will make up as my extra donation. If you want to leave a note for the family here, or email it to me privately (lizhenry@gmail.com) I’ll include those notes when I send Sylvia the check.

The story and the stories and comments that came out of it were so horrific, I needed to do something directly, so as not to feel so despairing. It was tremendously heartening to read all the comments on my first post, and I swore to follow up, so that people would have a way to contribute and respond further. When I raised money for Katrina disaster relief and flew out to the Astrodome, I ended up using that money — a couple of thousand dollars in cash — to people at moments when it made a big difference in their lives. I saw it work and have also appreciated getting no strings attached money to help me through crises in my own life. I think there is also something powerful about knowing that an individual person, even a stranger, has the faith in you to help out on that level. Thanks for reading, donating, or commenting, everyone!

Please repost the link to the ChipIn or feel free to repost all or part of this. I don’t have a lot of readers, so signal boost is definitely needed!

Dealing with Internet Drama in Feminist Discourse – SXSWi panel report

The Internet Drama in Feminist Discourse panel was led by Rachel (RMJ) from Deeply Problematic and Garland Grey from Tiger Beatdown.

woman with fist raised in woman's symbol

My notes are fairly sketchy. Many people in the room spoke up but I didn’t record everything and wasn’t sure of people’s names. The hashtag on Twitter was #femdrama, and from that tag I can see Natalia, caitlinrain, kaisersake, queenie_nyc, lzbellz. We went back and forth lot between talking about trolling or moderating obvious crap, vs. engaging in discourse between blogs as well as among commenters.

I talked a bunch in the middle of this panel, but forgot to mention that there is quite a lot about this topic and the idea of feminist “safe space” vs. Anonymous free speech in a book in 2009, The WisCon Chronicles: Carnival of Feminist SF. Section 3 of the book is all about Internet Drama, with contributions from Micole Sudberg, Cynthia Gonsalves, JJ Pionke, Hanne Blank, Vito Excalibur, my transcript of a panel called Can Internet Drama Change the World? with panelists Alexis Lothian, K. Tempest Bradford, Woodrow Hill, Julia Starkey, and K. Joyce Tsai. Debbie Notkin and I wrote a long essay about feminist culture class here, “Safe Space vs. LOLspace in the WisCon Trolling”. I think the participants push hard on the boundaries of what we expect from public discourse.

To start off the discussion, Rachel and Garland introduced themselves and mentioned their blogs and their experiences being suddenly embroiled in very intense and sometimes personal discussions online.

Rachel says drama can be useful and it can be possible to create drama for good or at least use it for good. Why would you start drama? What do we mean by it? How do you deal with people starting drama with you, in a responsible and ethical manner? How do you internally deal with the stress of it and take care of yourself while continuing on with your feminist activism?

Garland mentioned hashtag activism, like Tiger Beatdown’s #mooreandme campaign. He hopes we don’t start any new drama in this room today. If we mention recent feminist discourse online, great, but let’s not take sides on particular incidents. Rachel asks for our personal backgrounds or experience in this area.

A guy with big glasses talks a bit about a rock and roll bulletin board or mailing list he’s involved with and says drama arises over people deciding other people should be banned. Drama is splitting, divisive, and means people have to go off and make new forums.

Rachel responds that that’s how new communities formed. In answer to Rachel’s question about what drama means, I talked a bit about how the personal is political, we try to put feminisms into practice in daily life, we examine that in public discourse and it gets very intense.

Rachel talked about how criticism can be very personal and come in a barrage. It can carry the overwhelming message that we already get from society that our voices are worthless, it’s not worth continuing to put it out there. We have to separate the criticism we get that’s valid from that overwhelming societal message that we’re supposed to shut up.

Natalia talked about female leadership and the leaky pipeline. She was at a talk where Ruth Simmons was speaking; she was drained from being the token person speaking up, and Ruth said something about it being important for us to keep speaking up, because people who see us staying silent then think they’re not part of things either.

Garland talked about hostile actors, people who want to shut a conversation down or aren’t acting in good faith. Some people come in and are obvious name callers but it can also be stealthy, injecting ideas into a conversation that disintegrate it, undermine discourse, for example, the idea that “it’s just the the internet” and isn’t important. For instance Penny Arcade… (a bunch of people in the room laugh in response and talk about the dickwolves thing).

People talked about trolls and moderation and getting overwhelmed with comments. I mentioned geekfeminism.org and our comment policy. We also have filters for sensitive topics that bump comments right into moderation, like “too sensitive”.

The guy with glasses talked more about the women in Phish fandom board he’s part of. It was something like 90% women and 10% men. They started a women only forum. So excluding men was one option for improving the drama.

Teresa Van Deusen said it’s really bad when things immediately devolve into name calling. Someone talked about drama at SXSWi this year and how people in one context don’t think you might have other identities in the room. There is some poster about liking boobies and people don’t think about what that says. You can be a woman who likes women, and likes boobs, but still hates the ad and thinks it’s sexist.

Rachel talked about how drama is a really good way for some people to talk about intersectionality. People learn what language to use, how to quote people, how not to appropriate people’s words. At best it’s not a destructive cycle of anxiety where there’s drama. Someone else then talked about Amanda Marcotte whose work they admire, but she had given a speech that was appropriating things women of color had said, and then her response wasn’t good. We then talked about women of color and feminists of color being marginalized. Rachel mentioned that has plagued feminism since at least the 1800s, racism in feminism isn’t new with the Internet. Garland adds that we can screw up a lot faster now. There was some mention of intersectionality and privilege, cisgender, class, race, US-centrism, and other oppressions we fight as women.

Garland asked us to consider what we want from this discussion. What would make our day? Teresa responds that she already thinks the last 7 years or so of feminist discourse online has been amazing and beautiful.

Someone from Bitch Magazine says that when you’re feminist and blogging and unpaid and then get embroiled in drama it’s just difficult. There was more discussion of trolling, moderation, and swift banning. Rachel said that disallowing anonymous comments has been helpful for her to manage time. On her main blog she doesn’t get a ton of comments but when she writes for a bigger site the responses can be really bad. Emily May from Hollaback says at first they didn’t allow comments at all. Now they do. Michael from a small women’s college in Minnesota then talked about their online communities and I think Facebook, but my notes are incomplete.

Natalia talked about hashable and how mainstreaming feminist discourse can be important. She loves hashable and wanted to give constructive criticism of it.Their automated greeting is “Hi guys” which she criticised with the #languagematters tag. They responded fairly well, and then said “Well, it’s mostly not sexist”. Then they listened and changed the greeting to “hi there”. Rachel talked about discouraging and disallowing ablist language. Teresa said we need an app for that. The room buzzed a little about editing filters that would help alert us not to make common mistakes. It might be nice to have a WordPress plugin.

I talked some about how public discourse is documenting our consciousness raising. The riot grrrl movement isn’t well documented on the web. Maybe the web is going to make our history more obvious and accessible. Criticising other feminists is especially fraught because we are all vulnerable to the tools of misogyny, which can take us all down. Once the criticisms go mainstream, we all look bad, we’re catfighting, etc, but we have to do it and treat it as an important part of history. Very young girls are reading this stuff now, they get our history early, they are prepared. When I saw Style Rookie commenting around the feminist blogosphere it was great.

The band fan guy talked more but I did not get what he was trying to say. I totally wondered what his drama was though because he clearly had had at least one.

Someone else said please learn from feminism from past dramas. If criticized then think about it, think critically, don’t keep making the same mistake over and over, learn how to apologize, edit your posts.

Natalia: Women of color’s voices are silenced, people don’t htink about that by generalizing about this to be about white women, they’re not thinking of women of color. When we say how can we call people out in a constructive way, actually, what we need is not so much that as we need white people not to freak out when called out on their wording or on not including women of color.

There was a general “hear hear” throughout the room and a bunch of different women spoke up to say they agree.

I said some things about the tone argument and that anger isn’t a reason not to listen to someone and their point.

Someone else talked about giving way more validation and consideration to a harsh criticism when it came from a particular identity. Skye talked about that too but I missed the particular example. Garland says he can be rude and confrontational and that’s his personal style; if he feels like someone made a mistake and didn’t do it maliciously, he can be nicer, but intentions don’t matter in some ways.

An organizer from Girls Rock talked about watching teenage girls get harassed by boys, like on Facebook boys just going “girls suck” and the girls having to deal with that. How to help them in public spaces?

Rachel says, Think on how you will want to respond. What kinds of spaces are you creating? What do they have room for? What volume will there be?

People talk about when to stop engaging. What to do when people are asking over and over to be educated and you have to do feminism and racism 101 constantly. Dealing with derailing.

I said that we keep talking about intersectionality as our hotspot of feminist discourse rather than there being drama about any particular political position like abortion. As feminists talking in public we have to have a deflector shield of not listening to people telling us not to do it. Then it is all too easy misapply that shield to other feminists and allies and their critiques. We need not to dismiss criticism because it’s angry and there is a place for anger in public discourse between women and resolving it and working through it and anger doesn’t have to mean failure.

Someone talked about some Susan Faludi articles but I couldn’t hear…

Skye from Heroine Content talked about a post and comments from women of color about them being racist in their coverage of this action movie with jodie foster with a gun. She has a double standard of letting those comment through because she wants to hear those criticisms and also make them clear that they’re happening and what her response will be. (Rather than deleting a comment for being angry.) Rachel agrees and thinks it says it very well.

Someone else said we are not doing the oppression olympics with comparisons but feminism can lead people into anti racism.

Rachel says she feels it’s important to take criticism seriously when someone marginalized criticizes her privilege she looks at it straight away.

People talk about self care and it being stressful to be the person giving the criticisms . And it is important to take breaks, short or long, and look away, helpful to get away from situations for a while. Be with your friends.

Natalia talked about being uncomfortable with the analogy of stains on your record. We are human, it’s not a stain, it makes us more us, we all make mistakes and are growing.

Rachel: It’s still a mark, just because I messed up and now have grown, it doesn’t mean people have to start liking me again.

Natalia talks about the movie Switch and how she liked it a lot, then realized from online discussions that it was about violation and rape, and she felt like a bad feminist for liking the movie. She then held that self anger and disappointment, thought, let’s be with that, and how am I going to change and are we going to change? How can we become better? And not be reductive?

There was more discussion, but I don’t have the notes. The discussion successfully raised a lot of important points for people to think about, and I think established that many people in the room felt that drama, or at least heated discussion between feminists online, is important. There was some dwelling on how to react internally and in public as a person with privilege who is going to get criticized in public but also some good mention of the personal and political impact it takes on marginalized people to have to do the criticism so it was not all “tra la la learning experience”. I do think this discussion was harder to have in the environment of SXSWi than in a smaller and more feminism-focused conference, or at least harder to dive into the conversation intensely, in part because we didn’t know each other or who we were talking with other than the panelists. I would have wished for a brief introductions round for everyone in the room, but it was only a 1 hour panel so perhaps too short for that. I also would have gone for a bigger panel with more diversity among panelists. It made me really happy to get to hang out with Other Feminists on the Internet but in person!! I’m so glad we had this complicated conversation at SXSW and think it needs to keep happening. Thanks to Rachel, Garland, and all the other people in the room for showing up and kicking ass and taking inspiration from each other.

I feel I should point to existing discussions about feminism and online discourse but will need to do that in another post or later in a comment below. If anyone has suggestions or would like to point to a post round-up that already exists, please comment and link-drop!