At Software Freedom Day this year, I was zoning out in a conversation that had drifted into Colin McGinn. McGinn, the person I was talking with explained, was a Oxford published philosopher. He studied disgust and wrote a book and was worth checking out. He had also been fired for sending a grad student e-mails saying he thought about her while masturbating. He was going to really destroy the school, because he had a great case against them imroperly firing him. He studied disgust. The student was his grad student. She knew what she was getting herself into, the person said.

I wondered how long I had to nod and say “yeah, okay,” before they would leave me alone, or at least change the topic to something I didn’t think was both offensive and actually wrong. I wondered if I could somehow redirect the conversation. I looked over at DR, and wondered if he could save me from the conversation.

That was when I also saw all the other people at the table. SFD this year was inspiring in the minority representation: “non-dudes” in all shades of developer, journalist, activist, interested person, and partner. I saw ladies who had come up to me after my talk and thanked me for being honest about having difficulty with understanding software and technical issues. One man came up to me and noticed the subtle mentions of sexism I’ve encountered. He thanked me for mentioning it, even when I didn’t want it to be the focus of my talk.

What that man did was not okay., I said.

A few further sentences were exchanged, I was told that I couldn’t talk about things reasonably. I said that such behaviors were sexual harassment and an abuse of a power dynamic. I was told that this was just a topic of discussion and interesting to think about. I said that assuming it is okay for someone to be sexually harassed, to harass someone, because they “ought to know it could happen in context,” is what we call “blaming the victim.”

I was told that I wasn’t ready to have a reasonable, calm conversation about a topic worth thinking about.

I’ve been thinking about this since then. It’s one of those thoughts where I’m not really sure where it’s going or what I ought to (or want to) do with it. I’m really disgusted that I could have this conversation at an event about something as great as the ideals of freedom, transparency, collaboration, and openess. What’s even worse is that I had to have this conversation after having another one where I told somewhat that it was never appropriate to make rape jokes.

These stories aren’t novel, and they’ve been shared in variation so many times across the internet. What do we do with that?

2 thoughts on “unacceptable

  1. I can’t decide whether I’m glad I wasn’t at SFD so I didn’t have to deal with this, or disappointed because I didn’t get a chance to back you up. We know the organizers (last year I was an organizer) – I think it’s reasonable to have a code of conduct next year.

  2. Just got found you through a link to Feminist Philosopher article on McGinn, almost a year later (from a commenter, “offtotheraces” on the Jezebel article on yet another rape/how it was handled (would you guess, poorly????)…saw your comment to the Fem Phil article on McGinn, piqued my interest to read more. I am beyond outraged, yet again, not surprised, just outraged at how you were treated/demeaned when you responded so appropriately at the SFD 2013 conference. Deeply saddened that no one was there to back you up. Been there, done that. We will just have to keep working at it, chipping away at the Patriarchy. For some strange reason, I thought Philosophy environment might not be as bad, how naive of me….the roots grow down and out, poisoning all, it seems…..patriarchy, thy name.

    Rape Culture goes so deep, there is no bottom and I go back a long time, to when being chased around a desk or otherwise sexually harassed at work/anywhere didn’t have a name, and I just left jobs when unable to stop the assholes, to put it frankly. And thankfully, when the constant sexual harassment in words, looks, innuendos escalated into outright attempts at rape, I remembered my parents who, taught me and my brother at young ages that no one has the right to our bodies without our explicit consent and we do not ever have the right to another’s, without their explicit consent. They also taught me how to strike back, to repel an attack, and they were not gentle in their suggestions, which worked. I was lucky to have them, and be able to execute the defense moves that extricated me from some frighteningly hideous situations….survived, intact, and thrived despite 4 attempted molestation/rapes, 2 by boys, 2 by men, thanks to the great training by my parents. Feminists added to my survival, thank goodness, arriving in my 20’s, to articulate my almost constant rage for the “thing that had no name”. And today, reading, knowing women (and some few men) like yourself, I am reassured that we are still deep in the weeds of this horror, but we will fight on out of the muck.

    Our society in the main is still not adequately advancing. Few are carrying my parents’ important teaching forward or at least doing it sufficiently, because rapes and sexual harassment continue, non-stop…..Workplaces, schools, colleges, everywhere is a hostile environment possibility. Patronizing, still to me from men, even at my advanced age, continues. If you haven’t already, read Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things To Me”, another warrior. Sorry to say, we have a lot more than a “long way to go, Virginia Slims”, we have barely begun, and the future has women like yourself.

    I am always brightened significantly to read women’s responses like yours, knowing you would be treated as “less than”, you stood tall and made the important points. It was not easy. Sometimes those comments, your courage and others will hit some future, more fertile ground, and sprout and we will advance a step or two. (we also need some humor along the way, appropriate humor, like: “OffToTheRaces” comment on the Jezebel article on another recent college rape, where she says: (paraphrase) “can’t comment on these kinds of articles (rape/sexual harassment) too often, because I want to keep banging my head on my desk and my Dr. thinks that is what is causing my concussions.”) I had that feeling after reading your report of SFD above….

    Not in my lifetime will we get rid of Patriarchy, but in the struggle is the light, so I Never give up, Never give in, keep pushing back, I hope you do too. I also hope you see more progress than I have, and that in spite of any future inappropriate treatment you receive that you have a fantastic, full, colorful and fruitful life that you absolutely love….and that you Never give up, Never give in.

    So, at the end of our response ‘Unacceptable’, you were wondering, “These stories aren’t novel, and they’ve been shared in variation so many times across the internet. What do we do with that?” My answer: keep sharing, keep supporting one another, “liking”, “commenting”, in whatever way we can to build the web between women, feminists and non-feminists, between men and women (if that is possible), between generations, between so many new people outside our regular circles, share and explore others’ realities/stories, support those still wondering what to do with all these stories, and how to move forward, so we really can move forward and make different stories.

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