Thursday, August 02, 2012

Red Cards of DEFCON

tl;dr Don't be a dick.

Perhaps the most significant moment for me at DEFCON XX - one I actually remembered to tweet - was one of the best for its wondrous convenience as well as one of the worst for its implication.

It was the moment I walked into the women's bathroom in the convention area rotunda for the first time and there was NO LINE. In fact, not only was there no line but there were only three other women in there with me.

It was GREAT as I really had to pee and any woman who has stepped out of her house to go pretty much anywhere ever will tell you that a women's bathroom without a line is a myth. There is no such thing.

Except...there is. At DEFCON. The world's largest hacking convention. Attendance rumored to be well over 10,000.

So...if there are, let's just say for our purposes, 15,000 people in a confined area and there is no line for the women's bathroom, then one must hypothesize that is because there were no women at the con. Which isn't entirely true, clearly, as I am equipped with an actual vagina and I was also in the company of a number of women from the 303. I even saw women I didn't know - several on the security goon squad (hats off to them in particular).

However, looking back on it, there certainly weren't many. If I had to take a wild stab in the dark at just how many I would say maybe 10%. 1500 seems likely. I guess. Based on the non-existent line in the bathroom, I'm almost inclined to make that even less. Regardless, comparatively few. Too few even though infosec is a predominantly male laden field.

So...where were all the women? 

A few days before I headed out to Vegas, a friend of mine - a woman - tweeted the link to a blog post Sexism red/yellow cards at Defcon written by a woman named KC who, after experiencing first hand the frustrations of sexual harassment at DEFCON, created a card system to school men when they were acting inappropriately. If presented with a yellow card, the perpetrator was warned that he'd made a mildly inappropriate move. If presented with a red card, the perpetrator was told he'd made a serious dick move that could warrant a punch to the throat.

Since I'd never been to DEFCON, I didn't really know what to make of these cards or the alleged harassment but I certainly could recognize their practical application outside of con. I wasn't crazy about the passive, literal card-carrying feminist approach - much preferring the verbal beat down or the sharp, pointy elbow defense that's worked for me all these years - but I didn't have any con experiences on this scale to compare it to and eventually forgot all about it.

Well...the cards quickly became something of a joke among the men I talked to at con. And, I will confess, one of my most favorite memories (I mentioned it last night) was when a male friend of mine red-carded me and claimed I'd attempted to grope his penis (I so totally didn't). It was particularly funny because of his straight-man delivery.

Additionally, I also must confess I personally did not find myself on the receiving end of any such harassment or witness anything red-card worthy. Yellow-card worthy perhaps when the increasingly inebriated guy working the door of the 303 party Saturday night began barring exit for all women until they'd given him a hug. I didn't think too much about it then because I was also inebriated and I also happen to know him for the huggable and harmless geek he is. Have no fear though, I'll talk with him about this later.

So when I got caught up in a lengthy online conversation and then pointed to an article, DEFCON: Why conference harassment matters, today, I was really REALLY confused and riled up about the cards but I didn't precisely know why. The stories of the groping, fondling, and overall non-consensual behavior of male attendees toward women was appalling. Could these stories be true? And, if they are true, am I so conditioned to ignore inappropriate behavior, trained to be quiet and to not make waves, that I'm blind to assault? Was I gaslighting these women for even questioning the validity of their claims? Had I overlooked questionable behavior from my friends because I know and trust them not to intentionally disrespect or harm the women around them?

Honestly, I didn't know.

Luckily, just at the right moment, the wicked gorgeous and brilliant Nephthys, the friend I referenced last night - the one who had gotten asked the legendary "Do you know Pyr0" question when she was getting hit on - popped up in IM. And I asked her about her experiences specifically at DEFCON over the years. Her answer made me sad.

Here's what she had to say:

Nephthys: I wholeheartedly support anti harassment policies. HUGELY. I think defcon has a long way to go to make it a female (or other minority) friendly place. I get harassed, yes. And I should get more angry about it than I do because some of those people are friends and there is not much one can do w/out people thinking poorly of you. It's a sucky sucky position to be put into so I laugh and "jokingly" scold while inside I'm heartbroken. In any other setting, I am firm about it. "Don't do that. That's rude and disrespectful".
Me: So why the double standard for DC?
Nephthys: Because that could and has been tossed back at me that I'm the bad guy for being a bitch or "it's all in good fun". It's tricky. I know that Gentleman Friend X is not a creeper and he would never hurt me. However, when he does things like that he's being "friendly". But turn it around, would they want their wife/daughter grabbed or talked that way to? Puts me in a weird place in that there instantly becomes this shift in dynamics. I'm no longer just one of the guys. I'm now this person who can be fondled or propositioned inappropriately. That makes me feel "less than". I had this talk with [redacted]. He said harassment didn't exist at con. He'd never seen it. I asked him how many times I had my ass or boobs grabbed or how many guys lasciviously asked me to go to their room to "see the view". The answer 3, 1, 2.


She also indicated that, for years, she'd stopped going to con, in part, because of how she'd been treated.



At that point, two things happened.

First, I went back to the podcast episode I recorded for Sharp Pointy Objects with a few of my friends who are sex workers - Diva, Saskia, and Vylette. And I was reminded what they had to say about living in a patriarchal society where sex is still a commodity, where men (and women) don't see women as equals, and why women are objectified at every turn. The same episode that concluded with me asking why feminism is considered a dirty word among women.

And then I went back to KC and found a follow up post in which she states: "I am not a big bad, huffing and puffing feminist. Actually, I have problems identifying as a feminist at all." She then goes on to say, "Also, please PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, stop telling me to simply not go to Defcon if I don't want to deal with this kind of behavior. That is a cop out of epic proportions. It is an attitude that devalues women in this scene that only serves to keep us invisible."

And, from that and the conversations I'd had earlier, I came to some conclusions.

1. Sexism exists everywhere. Even if I don't see it or recognize it, it's there. Some would disagree with this statement but I'll put it out there anyway...sexism particularly exists at con.

2. I gaslighted women when I made fun of the cards.

3. No matter what a woman does for a living she does not deserve to be harassed or assaulted. No does mean no regardless of the language you speak.

4. While I honestly do think the cards are ridiculously passive and silly - and disdainfully thought of them much the same way I would think of a junior high peer hall monitor handing out detention slips for sticking my chewed gum in the water fountain - they do serve a noble purpose. To get both men and women to pay attention and talking about what is acceptable and what most decidedly is not.

5. I am a feminist. And that's not a dirty word.

6. Finally, if I ever EVER see anyone I know (and luckily the jerks I know are actually good guys who wouldn't ever do this) harassing and/or assaulting a woman or a man who is clearly uncomfortable - even if it's just in "good fun" - I will, at the very least, verbally spank them and send them to his/her room. 

I think it's the least I can do.

I'd like to see more women at DEFCON...

Even if I do have to stand in line to pee.

Here's KC talking about the cards she made...


MsSparrow said...

I thought of many things to say but the words are not coming out right.... I'll get back to you. Thanks for the read.

Masked Mom said...

Excellent and honest piece on a touchy topic. I have lived most of my life sheltered from this sort of issue because either my environments were overwhelmingly female or I was in something of a power position with the men around me (whether because of my job title or my personality or both). I still face precious little of it, but I watch my daughter and nieces coming up and trying to make their way in the world and am flabbergasted by the nerve of some men/boys. FLABBERGASTED.

Working in a halfway house with seventeen male clients has given me a rather horrifying window into the unhealthiness of a certain sort of male mentality. Granted, the men I see there are often dealing with significant mental health and other deficits, but something tells me their attitude toward women is as much a function of society's attitudes as a whole as it is about any individual weaknesses they are bringing to the table. Society tells them a million ways that these attitudes are "okay." What happens in front of me is rarely treatment OF women--mostly remarks ABOUT women. These comments and attitudes are rarely directed at me, of course, but I am a great practicer of the verbal smackdown and, to the extent the therapeutic setting will allow, I practice it on a daily basis.