[LCA2011-Chat] Some Anti-Harassment Policies considered harmful

From: Mitch Davis <mjd+lca>
Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2011 16:14:33 +1100

<strong on rhetoric. can safely be deleted>


I really don't want to take anything away from your post. It's a
serious matter, you've put a lot of time into your response, and these
are very important issues. I have the utmost respect for all you've
done to help the cause of feminism and inclusiveness in IT. The issue
is very important to me, especially in my role as committee member of
our hackerspace. That's where I'm coming from, although I'm not
representing them in this post.

My points below are going to seem like I'm apologising for or excusing
sexual objectification, sexist or discriminatory behaviours, or
trivialising assault. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sexual (or any form of) assault is serious, abhorrent and unlawful.
However there are some minor points in what you've written that I'd
like to mention because I think they're just really unhelpful to the

> these authors in particular have really been excellent allies.

Language which talks about allies implicitly suggests enemies, with
all the divisiveness and polarisation of "You're either with us or
against us". I didn't know the world was so black and white. I'd
rather think that the overwhelming majority of attendees, while
protective of and sensitive to our rights to freedom, want to see an
inclusive and safe environment, and are keen to do what it takes.
We've all said and done things we shouldn't have. I think what's more
important is willingness to make amends and do better in the future.
Who gains from such divisiveness?

> A talk which uses imagery of sexual assault as a metaphor for the loss of personal freedoms.

Not to trivialise what you're saying, but I didn't see any sexual
image which could unambiguously be seen as about sexual assault, loss
of personal freedom or unwelcome power. From memory, the animals
image, the bondage image and the girl-with-halter image could just as
well involve consenting parties. I don't think a speaker can be
responsible for how a person interprets such images. Where does it
end? If I give you a Rorschach test, should I be responsible for what
you see?

Nobody coerces us to use GMail or Facebook or whatever. One weans
one's self from such teats with great difficulty. Injustices and
perils that happen slowly and insidiously can escape our gaze, and it
often takes someone like Mark to shake and wake us to the fact that
we've let the emperors remove *our* clothes. To me, Mark's f-bombs,
while crass, were just expressions of how in doing so, we can back
ourselves into a corner, expressed in an unfortunately common modern

(Rusty, re the disturbing image of Rapacious Ronald: Why shouldn't
such an image be used? Is it not a fitting picture for what many see
as predatory and exploitative marketing towards children by McDonalds?
 I'm outraged by the picture, but it's not directed at the messenger.
In fact, I thank him for using it).

I'm sure I'm not alone in regarding assault and other abuses of power
with abhorrence, with quiet rage, and with a determination to "be part
of the solution not the problem". My feeling is that Mark's use of
words and images wasn't done with the purpose of trivialising assault
or condoning marginalisation, but to leverage the disgust the majority
of people feel towards those issues, towards the increasingly
important issues of techno-dependency, inequality and vulnerability.
And why not?

> Let's do some numbers, shall we? Geeks like hard figures.

Indeed we do but these ain't them. The assumptions in this "hard
figuring" are so flawed as to be meaningless. I'm not even going to
try to deconstruct them, as we'd be here all week. Again, I'm not
saying this to excuse inappropriate behaviour, but to point out that
something is not as it seems.

> - at least some of the overwhelmingly male audience around me were thinking about sex.

OMG really?

I'm taking you literally here (do I have a choice?) but *I* can't
believe *you* said that. It may surprise you to hear that in our
conference of adults, a good proportion of attendees, men and women,
previously assaulted or otherwise, will have thought about it at some
stage while sitting in a talk during the conference. I may have, the
person next to me may well have, and indeed, it's statistically
possible you may have too.

This is such a blatantly obvious truism that *I* can't believe *I*
have to say it. What's the problem? Under which Act does this
Thought Crime fall? I'm not arguing the factuality of what you've
said here. But I feel it necessary to call out the conflation of
privately thinking sexual thoughts, with inappropriate ways.

Goodness. I think this will have to be my last LCA, as I really can't
guarantee that within the *private sanctity* of my thoughts, I won't
think of such things.

> some of whom may consider me merely as a sexual object

Being picky here, and I'm in danger of sending the wrong message, but "merely"?

And even without the "merely", is it a crime to look? It's in our
nature to look, and by "our" I'm including women and the marginalised
too. Balancing this is our culture and our personal values, such that
in general we don't translate that into inappropriate action, we don't
intentionally hurt those around us, and we work towards a way of life
free and fair for all. (For all I know, someone may well have
"looked" at me during LCA. Or at least they may have if I'd bothered
to shave and get a haircut. Mind you, no accounting for taste. Point
is, I'm not going to let the thought that someone "may" have had a
thought about me perturb me, and I'm not going to say "Hail Grace
Hoppers" for thoughts I *may* have had, which as an ethical and
responsible person, weren't translated into word or deed).

Up until now, I thought the conference Ts and Cs that we have, plus
the anti-harassment policy, were necessary to provide the fair and
safe environment we desperately need for women and the marginalised to
feel comfortable.
I'm now starting to think differently. Without these rules, and as
one of the "bad stupid men" who might *think* of sex, how can I
possibly know what is and isn't ok? Oh the comfort of those rules!
I'm starting to feel that the conf rules are there to protect *us*,
not the chicks.

In speaking my mind, I'm aware that I run the risk of people thinking
of me as one of the "enemies", one of the "bad men". But while I
totally support the drive of what you're saying, there are several
things in what you've said that illuminate my "unsupported but used
for hot button effect" detector. Just as that you being a woman
doesn't automatically sanctify anything you've written, neither does
my being a man mean I'm not doing my damn hardest to encourage
inclusiveness in my own way. You might not agree with every word that
people like dwmw2 say, but using cheap shots and hot buttons only
serve to alienate me, and I'm guessing people like him. We're not the
enemy, we're your friends given half a chance.


PS: This post-conf debate is one of the highlights of LCA2011 for me.
I have reflected on it, read as much as I can, learned much, written
some, and not posted aplenty. Thank you to everyone who has posted.
A robust dialog only makes us stronger.

From jason_at_jasonjgw.net Date: 3 Thu, 2011 Feb
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From: Jason White <jason_at_jasonjgw.net>
To: chat_at_lca2011.linux.org.au
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Subject: Re: [LCA2011-Chat] Some Anti-Harassment Policies considered harmful
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Theodore Tso <tytso_at_MIT.EDU> wrote:
> This one does a pretty good job of taking apart the Koss / Ms.
> Magazine study, which is the source for the "1 in 4" number. For
> example, it points out that over half of those cases were ones where
> undergraduates were plied with alcohol, and did not otherwise involve
> using physical force or other forms of coercion. And if you asked
> the women involved, only 27% of the people categorized by Koss as
> being raped called it rape themselves. Also found in the Koss study,
> although not widely reported, was the statistic that of the women
> whom she classified as being raped (although 73% refused to
> self-classify the event as rape), 46% of them had subsequent sex with
> the reported assailant.

None of which does anything to challenge the finding that the reported incidents
were not consensual, and hence amount to rape, whether the victims so
classify it or not. In fact, I have heard it reported that occurrences in
which victims are plied with alcohol are, as suggested above, not uncommon,
and that this is used as a strategy to weaken their resistance to what is
subsequently perpetrated. They do not, in these circusmtances, give free and
voluntary consent; and the absence of consent is the essence of the crime.

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Received on Tue Feb 01 2011 - 16:14:33 GMT

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