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Posted by on Apr 7, 2013 in Atheism, Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs, Guest Posts, Politics, Skepticism | 58 comments

Sunday Sinner Guest Post: Iamcuriousblue

 Bio: By way of background, I am a mycologist, taxonomy geek, naturalist, and microscope tech from the San Francisco Bay Area. After earning an undergraduate degree in botany from University of Washington, and doing graduate work in fungal taxonomy at San Francisco State, I switched gears, professionally moved toward microscopy and biotech rather than tenure-track academic research while at the same time, sharing my knowledge as a community science educator and workshop leader in the Bay Area. I am currently president of the SF Microscopical Society, one of the oldest extant amateur scientific societies in the US. My CV, if anybody is interested, can be found here. Under the nom de guerre “Iamcuriousblue”, I write about various topics related to science and its place in society, rationalism and skepticism,sexuality, sex work and the sex industry, and free speech, and attempt to bring a rational and evidence-based approach to controversies around sexuality, gender, and freedom of expression issues, of which there are many these days.



My first reaction upon reading the bulk of articles about Adria Richards and the “Donglegate”/PyCon incident was to seriously wonder if people had lost their minds en mass. The debate in the mainstream media and “feminist blogosphere” seems to be between those who believe Richards to be some sort of victim of sexual harassment that needed to punish those who offended her in the strongest possible way, versus those who take a more measured response and feel that she should have told the guys in question off face to face. But there were very few voices even considering the possibility that perhaps this was a private conversation and that third parties had no place jumping in at all, much less constituting an incident of “harassment”. So much for respect for basic rights like privacy and free speech having any part in discourse these days.

Now it’s no help that Richards’ account of the incident itself is damned vague – it’s not clear at all whether she simply overheard something that offended her, or whether the guys in question were talking loudly and being disruptive, or even heckling. The type of response merited was, of course, very different depending on the kind of behavior at hand. However, there seems to be a common sentiment that any comments that are “sexual” in nature and said within earshot of someone who’s offended, especially a woman, is something that should invite censure and quite possibly punishment. And that to speak negatively of Richard’s actions at all constitutes a form of “harassment” in and of itself.

In fact, this whole incident has been used by the usual suspects as a reason to once again attack those who defend free speech and sexual expression as fools and haters blinded by entitlement and privilege. Even worse, litigators are now trying to jump into the act and making some very creepy statements that stand somewhere between Orwellian and McCarthyist:

“My advice will be: Don’t engage in this kind of behavior because the person sitting next to you or behind you or in front of you has the ability to record on video and audio what you say. If that person is offended, your behavior may not be suitable for your continued employment.”

The lack of proportionality at work here, the view that any man who crosses a woman for any reason in a professional context should be punished, and the calls for outright censorship are all quite simply astounding. But then, we are talking about the Gender Wars here, and reason and nuance walked off the field a long time ago.

I suppose at this point, the “Adria Richards got rape and death threats!” line of argument inevitably rears its head. First, this has no bearing on whether Richards as the receiver of such attacks is actually right about her original complaint or not. Endorsement of Richards’ position based on little more than this is simply an “appeal to martyrdom” fallacy, and I’m amazed at how many self-proclaimed “rationalists” are advancing such an argument. Second, at the risk of being dismissive, I’ll point out that in practically every single case since the high-profile controversies around Rebecca Watson and Anita Sarkeesian, practically every warrior woman who gets into a conflict on the internet drops the “I’m getting rape and death threats” line, almost inevitably without pointing to actual evidence that it’s taking place (how hard is it publish threatening emails, tweets, etc?). Quite often in a blatant attempt to shift the topic of discussion to the reaction rather than the original issue itself. Such reactions to Richards or anybody else are, of course, totally reprehensible, a use of censorship to ostensibly fight censorship, and completely indefensible, but I see little evidence that, insofar as there’s any reality to the report of such threats, that it likely comes from the usual band of 4chan idiots and the like who have nothing to do with any serious critics of Richards or other feminists.

To their credit, there have been a few critical and/or nuanced takes on the PyCon affair from feminist bloggers, including this one by Amanda Blum, and this podcast by Timaree Leigh. Unfortunately, this has not been typical of mainstream media and feminist blog coverage of “Donglegate”, which ran with the “Richards as Joan of Arc” angle.

What’s Really at Stake

We need to look closely at the nature of the kinds of rules that feminist bloggers are coming out of the woodwork to support in the light of this latest controversy. Basically, these involve a subset of anti-harassment policies that involve prohibition of “sexualized” language and imagery in “professional” settings. The boilerplate for such rules coming from passages in the Geek Feminist model policy that is promoted heavily by the feminist blogosphere and the group Ada Initiative:

“Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks.” “….exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff (including volunteers) should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment.”

Of course, they claim the rules can be tailored for more sex-positive events, all the while making dire warnings about making any exceptions at all:

We do not recommended including this addendum unless you have specific real-world examples of content that absolutely require discussion of these topics.

Now ostensibly, the purpose of such rules is to prevent a frat-house atmosphere at professional meetings that is exclusionary toward women. Those of us who are critical of such rules are portrayed as merely defending the right of men to make juvenile insults toward women, whether through “big dongle” jokes or hitting on women in elevators.

However, another recent incident that has not gotten nearly so much publicity speaks to what’s really at stake here. In February, Violet Blue, a well-know Bay Area sex-positive feminist and tech writer, put together a presentation on harm reduction in the hacker community, including the role of sex, drugs, and risky behavior in the hacker lifestyle. An important topic, to be sure, and one that is topical at some tech conferences, but when it was to be presented at the BSides Conference, Valerie Aurora of the Ada Initiative went into full panic modeFull story here (and additional interesting dirt in this podcast interview with Violet Blue), but the upshot was that the presentation was canceled. Ada Initiative has issued a number of rationalizations about their role and their actions, but ultimately issued this missive as to why sexual presentations, no matter how feminist and sex-positive, should not be allowed anywhere near any conference that is tech-related. Apparently based on the lame old excuse that any mention of sex might be “triggering” or “offensive” for some, and apparently the most offended minority gets to determine what everyone else can and can’t see and hear.

I’m not sure I even should need to explain all that’s wrong with this approach, but considering the number of “social justice” and mainstream media types promoting these ridiculous policies, I guess I have to. For starters, it harkens back to the very worst of second wave antiporn feminism, which holds women can only stand in relation to sex and sexuality in the role of victims, and to even older conservative notions of women as the moral minders for both sexes. Not to mention what discourse such rules a priori shut down in regard to the subject itself – sex overlaps with technology (and technologists) in a myriad of ways, after all, and to demand a blanket set of rules that proscribe mention of sex across the entire range of technology conferences and forums, and to censor for all to protect the sensibilities of the few, all of this is stifling to far more than a few idiots and bad actors and has tremendous splash damage. Reasonable rules to keep more explicit or challenging discussions in spaces where people who don’t want to be exposed to such can avoid them are one thing. The comstockery practiced by “geek feminism”, Aurora, and the Ada Initiative is quite another. As Violet Blue has pointed out, such censorship is not only not a form of harm reduction, but constitutes a form of harm in itself.

I should also mention that last year, I pointed out in comments on “sex-positive” feminist Greta Christina’s blog just what was wrong with the inclusion of this kind of language in anti-harassment policies. For this, I was hounded mercilessly by the usual Freethoughtblogs gang of flying monkeys, called a “troll”, and booted from the forum by Christina herself. Unfortunately for everyone, however, my predictions have turned out to be right on the money.

Censorship American Style

The issue of free speech inevitably comes up in debates such as this. It’s a complicated issue, however, because this campaign is, by and large, not the action of government entities (except in relation to a broad interpretation of “hostile environment” sexual harassment laws), hence, not classic a priori state censorship. And yet, people face very real silencing and punishment due to the actions of various private groups and individuals that campaign to shut down “sexualized” or “sexist” speech and expression.

An often-expressed sentiment by those supporting campaigns against “offensive” speech and expression is that they’re not the government; therefore, what they’re doing cannot possibly be censorship. And further, that an important part of free speech is the ability to operate one’s own forum or venue where one has editorial control of the content. (The corollary canard is that those of us who protest for “freeze peach”, as they disparage it, really just want unlimited access to other people’s forums, and that there’s nothing more to the issue than that.) The first claim is posited on a very limited view of what constitutes censorship – non-State entities can and do practice censorship all the time. It is patently obvious that if, in a hypothetical example, someone wanted PZ Myers silenced and acted on it by going out and shooting him dead, they’d be committing an act of censorship as well as murder. Of course, one does not need to go nearly so far to censor – poster destructiondenial of service attacksheckler’s veto, or intimidation tactics against speakers and audience members can accomplish this as well. This is a reason why free speech protection means that the government must protect those lawfully exercising their free speech rights from those who attempt to unlawfully deprive them of them, something a few “social justice” protesters don’t seem to understand.

The second argument, the fact that you don’t owe anyone a platform, is a position I happen to fully support. In fact, I made a video to that effect a few years back. The problem comes when you launch campaigns to tell other people what to do on their forums, and marshal this crusade across as many forums and venues as you can find to make sure those expressions you don’t like can’t find a platform anywhere at all. Albeit, there are tricky grey areas here too, because certainly consumer boycotts can play a legitimate role in influencing opinion. The recent Michelle Shocked incident comes to mind – her homophobic statements caused an immediate and near-total loss of her core audience, and venues for her to perform dried up accordingly. (Albeit, the story I linked to does mention a wholly redundant petition, whose organizers apparently miss the point that sometimes it’s best to declare victory and move on.) But there are some key differences when venues are threatened with retaliatory action if they don’t drop a particular speaker, or behind-the-scenes campaigns by one or a few people resulting in the loss of venues for those voices who many others might want to hear.

Add to this mix the phenomenon of “hostile environment” law, the overbreadth of which can clearly rise to the level of state censorship. Further add the over-application of this concept by various interest groups, the inherent gun-shy nature of employers when it comes to potential for lawsuits, and the slippery slope of ever-expanding definitions of what constitutes a “workplace”, and you end up with a kind of censorship on your hands that’s every bit as real as state censorship (the kind routinely called for in countries where authoritarian and strong-state sympathies are more mainstream), only in this case, censorship enforced by employers rather than the police powers of the state, and often driven by behind-the-scenes pressure groups like Ada Initiative. In a sense, this is a very American approach to censorship – after all, in the US we privatize things like warprisons, not to mention access to necessities like healthcare, which is doled out through a system of employee serfdom. So how very in keeping that our society privatizes censorship, and has corporations and nonprofits do the dirty work that the state cannot due to that pesky First Amendment. But what’s really surprising is that self-described liberals and leftists are some of the biggest supporters of this approach. And that’s truly a shame.

  • Thanks for the platform for addressing this important issue. (Minor nitpick: I would have put the bio after the article rather than before it.)

    An interesting development since I submitted this article. This CNN story from the 2011 South by Southwest Conference showing Violet Blue giving a decidedly “sexualized” presentation on hooking up at conferences, and who should appear but Adria Richards giving her full approval:

    This increasingly makes me wonder just what Richards’ agenda actually is, considering the above is the very opposite of her getting super-offended at what was likely a very mildly off-color joke by the guys at PyCon. Unless she’s had a major change of heart over the last few years. Val Aurora’s agenda I’m pretty sure is just straight-up prudery in the guise of feminism along the lines of Gail Dines, but less sure what motivates Richards.

    • bluharmony

      But that’s part of the problem isn’t it? The consistent inconsistency (and hypocrisy). One set of rules for a certain group of people, a different set for the rest.

      • It is – perhaps the difference in reaction to Violet Blue’s talks have to do with the fact that Adria Richards is friendly with Violet Blue, while Val Aurora doesn’t know VB at all. Also, if you listen to the Exotic Liability podcast, you’ll find an odd piece of dirt about how Aurora really wanted to give VB some bad publicity in Marie Claire and was talked out of it by Adria Richards.

        But in any event, what subjects you can talk about in the tech or secular community shouldn’t be about who you know.

      • MosesZD

        Well, yes. PZ Myers can make a total ass out of himself by sexually harassing a woman over him being the ‘sex toy prize’ at some atheist convention. (And was one of the most pathetic and creepiest things I’ve witnessed in years.) But a guy asks Rebecca “Cheesecake Calendar” Watson up to his room for coffee and it’s a national crisis…

        Quote mining is bad, except when A+ does it… Being abusive in language is bad, except when A+ does it… Being a dictionary ‘whatever’ is bad, except with A+ does it…

        And I could on and on and on…

        • jjramsey

          Let’s be fair here. First, Watson didn’t make a “national crisis” out of what “Elevator Guy” did. She just pointed out his behavior and said “Guys, don’t do that.” Second, so what if she did a cheesecake calendar? That’s not an invitation to proposition her out of the blue.

          • bluharmony

            After a series of attacks on males in her blog, Watson made the now infamous video. As the penultimate story, sandwiched in between discussions of rampant misogyny in the atheist community, Watson told all guys everywhere (on behalf of all women everywhere) not to do “that.” What that is, no one really knows. I chat with men in elevators all the time, sometimes flirtatiously, and it’s not a big deal. I just notice it more after “Elevatorgate.” But if people were abusing Watson for just that, shame on them. She has a right to say whatever she wants. People have a right to disagree. But it shouldn’t bring out sexist behavior. Except the problem was that Watson’s behavior was sexist and based on assumptions about men — exactly the kind of thing feminists are supposed to fight.

            The real problem for most of us was Watson calling out and attacking McGraw, dragging Dawkins through the mud, and running to every news outlet with her story. While her buddies had no problem making fun of me for being raped, Watson’s 10 seconds in an elevator became the worst trauma a woman can suffer. Sadly, it’s due to nonsense complaints like this that real complaints don’t get taken seriously. And people like Watson are responsible for the harm that comes to women (and men) because of it.

            As for the cheesecake. It’s fine with me. In fact, if it’s done right, I’m quite fond of it. And that’s how Ms. Watson got famous. Also there were the bordello parties, showing her boobs and letting men stuff money down her bra, wearing suggestive t-shirts and pins, objectifying other women, blogging about fantasy tickle fights, implying bi-sexual promiscuity. But now she chastises younger, prettier women for doing the same? Says it’s wrong to pose nude? Methinks there’s something else going on here. (As an aside, I think that overt sexuality was the wrong way for the few women in the movement at the time to engage an intellectual, activist community.)

            If Watson had something of substance to contribute — an education about something, even feminism — I’d appreciate her a lot more.

          • jjramsey

            But now she chastises younger, prettier women for doing the same? Says
            it’s wrong to pose nude? Methinks there’s something else going on here.

            “Do as I say, not as I do” is hypocrisy; “do as I say, not as I’ve done” is not, especially if after one has done it, one has found it to be problematic. From what I’ve seen, it looks to me like Watson started out being more suggestive and sexual, found that it often led to getting the wrong kind of attention, and over time moved away from that approach.

          • I think that’s the charitable interpretation, so I’m happy to accept it, although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with nude modeling in the right context.

          • Clare45

            ” Sadly, it’s due to nonsense complaints like this that real complaints
            don’t get taken seriously. And people like Watson are responsible for
            the harm that comes to women (and men) because of it.” Exactly. Speaking as someone who actually was physically attacked in an elevator at a conference. I am also so tired of hearing that all Watson did was say “guys don’t do that”.

    • SleeZee Lyers

      I am willing to believe, based on her past remarks, that she was genuinely annoyed and felt entitled and proper to issue tweet the photographs. That is, *never ascribe to malice what can be attributed to stupidity*. The problem is that she is wrong, has had many people tell her she is right, and she has gotten far as a bomb thrower.

      Also, I predict you will be called out by the usual suspects as issuing a death threat against PZ Myers. Again professional bomb throwers intentionally misinterpreting your comments and feeling empowered and even brave and fighting the good fight to lie.

      • I took that into consideration, but somebody would have to really be reaching to do so, and that would say a lot about their credibility.

        Basically, I think it’s a stronger anti-censorship statement when you posit the silencing of somebody you and your readers don’t like as being a potential victim of censorship or violence if X took place, and that such a situation would not be a good thing.


  • SleeZee Lyers

    This was a very good column, thank you.

    When people say that “this isn’t a free speech issue, it doesn’t involve the government”, correct them that they are thinking of “First Amendment” issues and that “Free Speech” issues are much larger than that and have to do with how each of us, as humans, respect and honor our fellow humans.

    Voltaire: “Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privelege to do so, too.” (Essay on Tolerance)

    “‘Monsieur l’Abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.'”

  • pentheus

    So, insisting that people at a professional conference comport as though they are at a professional conference is a slippery slope to the 2nd wave feminist censorship panels because we privatize prisons?

    And when women point out that they get rape and death threats they’re “appealing to martyrdom” but when you mention that you were “hounded mercilessly by the usual Freethoughtblogs gang of flying monkeys” it is evidence of the inherent rightness of your position?

    When the Dworkin Committee on SafeThink is regulating our Internets, I’ll be with you on the barricades, comrade, but I think stating that locker room humor is inappropriate for the main presentation room of a large conference is hardly the Ministry of Love.

    • bluharmony

      I think you might have missed the point. All of us (almost) think that sexist abuse of women on the internet is wrong. Extremely, indefensibly wrong. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t listen to *other* women (and men) and their opinions about the core issues.

      Once again, I repeat, that abuse of women on the internet (or anyone else for that matter) is wrong. But I’ve never seen the author of this piece be abusive to any individual, quite unlike the people you’re defending.

      Also, sexism exists and we need to deal with it. Shutting down conversation is not the answer.

      • pentheus

        Can you explain how the author thinks sexist abuse is wrong when he states that people point out rape and death threats do so “Quite often in a blatant attempt to shift the topic of discussion to the reaction rather than the original issue itself”?

        • bluharmony

          Online trolling is common to anyone (male or female) who speaks out online, especially if voicing an unpopular opinion in an obnoxious, self-righteous way. Just because one is subjected to such trolling does not excuse the original misdeed and does not preclude its discussion.

        • I’m saying that quite a few people making such charges are either blowing up low-level trolling into a huge threat or perhaps even making up such incidents to gain sympathy. As I said, how hard is it to repost such emails, etc, it they’re actually receiving them.

          Your argument is a non-sequitur – of course I think any actual “sexist” or any other kind of abuse is wrong when it happens. What makes you think otherwise?

          • pentheus

            Yes yes, there really is a burden of proof for people to prove their harassment to you when the search button on twitter is right there.

          • Yes, because naturally the “search button on twitter” is going to turn up whatever remarks ostensible victims of harassment might be complaining about.

            I’m convinced you’re simply trolling at this point. Why don’t you take it somewhere else?

        • Can I now shout out to the internets that I’m being “threatened” by being trolled in this manner, or do I lack sufficient feminist credo?

    • Deansdale

      Yep, *insisting* that people in *private conversations* adhere to arbitrary and everchanging feminist speach codes lest they be overheard and punished by losing their jobs is a slippery slope, if not a freakin’ jump into the abyss.

      “Inappropriate” used to mean impolite, which is not a crime punishable by law for Pete’s sake. Talking about dongles in a dongle conference is no grounds to be offended, much less to fire anybody. Feminists should grow some skin instead of trying to censor the whole world. Well, not the whole world actually, because they themselves can talk about anything they want, as examplified by Richards’ own penis jokes and her approval of Violet Blue’s stuff. They are hypocrits of the highest order.

      About your Dworkin committee, you do realize that in Norway feminists are actually in the process of outlawing antifeminism and officially censoring it on the internet as hate speech?

      • pentheus

        I’m a little confused. How is having a conversation in a crowd in the main room of a keynote speech in any way “private”?

        Is the concept of “appropriate to the context” foreign to you? Here is a hint: If there is Sponsor page, and “Corporate rate” it is probably inappropriate to make (technically accurate) dick or fuck jokes.

        • bluharmony

          A conversation that can be overheard (w/out effort) is not private. The guys — or at least one of them — admitted that the dongle joke was not workplace appropriate due to the conduct policy in place. But the joke was sexual, not sexist (the forking comment was, according to him, neither). However, Adria’s reaction was way out of proportion to the “offense.” She was not harassed; her gender was not demeaned; and she had the option to report the conduct according to policy rules if she chose to do so.

          Have you seen the popular TV commercial where a woman is making as very sexual dongle joke? Why in the world is this a big deal?

          • Stephan Brun

            Indeed, forking is a technical term (derived from ‘fork’) denoting a split in the codebase. It used to be a big deal (see gcc vs egcs), but since Linus made his ‘git’ source control system, forking became a common occurence. The Jargon File may have more.

        • So do you consider any conversation between two people that you happen to overhear your business to intervene in? What poor manners and sense of boundaries you must have.

          • pentheus

            I’m sorry, I missed the part where the sanctity of dick jokes was to be preserved above all fucking else? I’m glad that the freedom of speech to make dick jokes is the thing that we should endeavor to protect above people having a voice in communities.

            Are you saying that Ms. Richards has no voice in a community of which she is an active part? Are you saying that members of a community can not demand that other members comport themselves like civilized human beings in a professional context?

            Moreover, are you implying that any speech between these two gents would have been utterly unimpeachable? That any subject they discussed would be unable for reasonable or rational people to turn around, tweet or call conference organizers to say “cut that shit out”?

          • You know, I really can’t figure out exactly what bee you’ve got up your bonnet, or whether you’re just trolling for reaction. I gather you prize civility in public spaces, so it might behoove you to practice it here.

            Again, you’re derailing – I am not arguing there’s any particular “sanctity” to dick jokes, but simply that policing overheard comments is not OK, and it robs no one of a “voice in a community” to not police other people’s private conversations. It seems like you see rights as a kind of zero sum gain, and that reasonable expectations of privacy and free speech can only be gained by the loss of other people’s rights. I don’t find such a view very appealing, but if you think you can make a well-reasoned case for it, be my guest.

            As I’ve pointed out, it would, of course, be a very different story if the “dongle guys” were being loud, heckling, or otherwise disruptive, which would be violating the rights of the speaker and those who wish to listen to the speaker, but so far, I’ve heard no evidence that that’s what actually took place.

        • Deansdale

          Any conversation between *other* people is not your business. If you overhear something either you’re eavesdropping which is rude, or they are louder then they think which is still no reason for you to consider yourself an authority figure with the right to censor their (still private) discussion. You can tell them to tone it down.

          “The context” here is anything the speaker says and any conversation between the speaker and the audience. That should be kept appropriate (but not by threat of actual punishment, mind you). You can still have a private conversation sitting in the audience for f_cks sake, what is this, a nazi concentration camp where your right to speak is restricted to the subject at hand? Don’t tell me anyone would accept that at a tech conference they absolutely can’t utter a single word about anything offtopic. This is quite insane. Try to tell me that Adria Richards did not have any offtopic conversations with anybody there and I’ll laugh at you publicly.

          They did not make a dick or a fuck joke, they made a dongle joke at a conference at which some of the topics actually involved dongles. And it’s not the joke that’s “sacred” (I’m referring to your sanctity argument) it’s other people’s privacy. If you are not interested in their private conversation, don’t listen to them, tell them to tone it down, go sit elsewhere or ask them to do so, etc.

          And what’s so wrong with dongle jokes? Can’t feminists handle overhearing some childish humor? What are they, freakin’ 5 year olds with the unlimited power of the state and the media behind them??? You wrote “fuck” numerous times here, should anyone be offended? Why aren’t you offended at your own language? Why are neoliberals/feminists so hypocritical?

    • MosesZD

      Then feel free to ignore it. You know, adult behavior. Instead of tattling to the teacher and getting all totalitarian on others because you’re hypersensitive…

      • pentheus

        Wait, we’re fully grown adults trying to shame certain behaviors because of elementary school fears of “tattling” to “the teacher”?

        • Asking adults to deal with each other in an honorable, civil, face-to-face manner is hardly playing on “elementary school fears”.

        • MosesZD

          Elementary school fears… Tattling to the teacher… You lamely mock, but that is meta-behavior of what’s going on… Toe-the-line or we’ll get you because We Have Rules (we will selectively and arbitrarily enforce) and if you violate them, we’ll tell the teacher and have her punish you.
          But we won’t stop there. We will go after you in other ways. We’ll get you fired from your job…. We’ll label you and destroy your reputation… We’ll make you lose your volunteer positions… Label you as part of the ‘out group’… Pariah… Black-balled… Outcast… Dehumanization…

          It’s the grade-school behavior of the Mean Girls Club who seek, above all things, to cement their position on top of the social heirarchy by controlling the behavior of others through manipulation, force and/or intimidation.

          That you can’t see it only points to your limitations and your ‘unchecked privilege’ as a wanna-be beneficiary.

        • Oolon, is that you? The repeated blatant misconstruing of what people write looks familiar.

    • Pentheus – It looks like you found a few random keywords from my article and went for a grand mash-up! In any event, that hardly constitutes an argument. If you want to actually take the time to read my article and engage with the positions I’m actually arguing, I’d be glad to have that discussion. But I won’t engage with this pseudo-discussion.

      As for my treatment on Greta Christina’s blog, it isn’t evidence for anything except the one-sided and trolly nature of that venue, not the rightness of my position. That evidence is the fact that I argued at the time that the “anti-sexualization” language found in the Geek Feminist model anti-harassment policy was going to be used to censor a very wide range of sexual speech. And less than a year later, my prediction has been confirmed. It would be big of Greta Christina and the like to admit in the light of latter evidence that they were wrong at the time, but considering how partisan and inflexible their politics have become, I don’t see that happening.

      • pentheus

        Is your thesis not that anti harassment policies at cons is a burdensome restriction of free speech because “we privatize things like war, prisons, not to mention access to necessities like healthcare, which is doled out through a system of employee serfdom”?

        Are any restrictions on speech by private organization acceptable?

        It’s just that your entire thesis really makes the BsideSF issue do the heavy lifting as evidence as “feminist censorship.” So, putting it plainly, Violet’s talk was posted, sans abstract, as “Sex + Drugs: Known Vulns and Exploits.” Would you explain to me how any person with any knowledge of terms common in the security industry would not interpret this talk, based on evidence available to them, as advocating or explaining how to rape people using narcotics?

        Because without that doing the heavy lifting, this all seems to be people interested in creating inclusive communities asking for you to display a modicum of the “professionalism” you look down your nose at.

        • Actually, I think it’s an absolutely stretch of anybody to interpret the subject of the talk in question as “advocating or explaining how to rape people using narcotics”? Not sure how you manage to arrive at such a paranoid interpretation.

          As for interpreting my thesis, you go into a complete derail at “because” in the first paragraph. Try actually reading what I wrote – I know it’s a lengthy essay, but not to much for any intelligent person to process.

          Get back to me when you’ve done the “heavy lifting” of reading and understanding what I wrote. Or not – I don’t really care.

          • pentheus


            “An exploit (from the verb to exploit, in the meaning of using something to one’s own advantage) is a piece of software, a chunk of data, or sequence of commands that takes advantage of a bug, glitch or vulnerability in order to cause unintended or unanticipated behaviour to occur on computer software, hardware, or something electronic (usually computerised)”


            In computer security, a vulnerability is a weakness which allows an attacker to reduce a system’s information assurance.
            Vulnerability is the intersection of three elements: a system susceptibility or flaw, attacker access to the flaw, and attacker capability to exploit the flaw.

            Please. Demonstrate, as an intelligent person, how framing a talk about sex and drugs in the contexts of exploits and vulns is not inherently ignoring consent?

          • Well, that’s a rather creative interpretation on your part, Pentheus. I’m hardly in a position to argue with such superior –cough– logic as that.

        • Karmakin

          Speaking for myself, my argument against anti-harassment policies at such events is that I find people don’t really want them as some broad-based reflection of ethics and values within a community that are fairly and consistently followed. People largely want them as a weapon to be used against “creepy” or undesirable people/ideas.

          It’s pretty clear that’s the case, considering how much defense Richards is getting for her bullying…and that’s what it was..bullying, in violation of the policy. As well look at the endorsed content at some of these conventions that is in direct opposition to the stated policy (then defended), and so on.

          To make it clear, I actually do think that strong anti-harassment policies that focus on behavior and not group designation are potentially a good idea and can lead to new audiences (although I disagree that the main axis here is gender). But that’s not what people seem to want. They want the ability to bully. And sorry. I can’t support that.

          • I would also echo Violet Blue’s statement that the behind-the-scenes campaign against her by Val Aurora and the Adria Initiative represents a kind of harassment, which their gaming of the “anti-harassment” system has only perpetuated.

  • Thank you for writing this. My reaction upon reading the first accounts of this (on the BBC, no less) was the same as yours, and I had to do a double take upon realizing that a large number of commentators of ‘liberal bent’ (which – I thought – would also be my bent) were supporting the so called naming-shaming (by individuals) as appropriate and ethical. The similarity between this and vigilante justice appears not to matter. Nor does the fact that this kind of reasoning will make an order of scrambled eggs unfeasible within earshot of a vegan. These folks appear to cherish a world that’s a cross of “The Scarlet Letter” and “1984”.

    The mainstream media have been blatantly disregarding the consensus reply of the techies in favor of the “somone could coneivably say that she could have acted better but…” type of comments (on which I have something to say here: That was the “Wired” position for instance.

    In fact, even when they see the social-media-misuse angle of this story, mainstream/liberal media avoid the controversy and almost dare not name the name (e.g. the NYT:

    And so the story morphed from “Egomanic blogger with chip on shoulder misuses large social media stick, falls on own sword” to “African American woman gets evil threats on the internet for exposing sexism in the tech industry”.

    In my view, all this offers quite a bleak view of the way stories unfold and become deformed almost beyond recognition and of what ‘liberal’ means to a number of people.

    Best regards,

  • Clare45

    Thank you iamcuriousblue for a great column. So glad there is finally some communication on this page. Like you, I was also a bit confused as to the details of the Adria Richard’s incident. At first I got the impression that she was the speaker and that the men were heckling. If that was the case, there might have been some slight justification for her actions. However, it turns out she was merely sitting in front of the men, so in effect was eavesdropping on their conversation. Do we even know what the exact “double entrendres”computer related jokes were? I suppose Benny Hill reruns should be censored as well. My immediate reaction to the incident was “How childish” of Adria, but then I am quite a bit older.

  • MosesZD

    In fact, this whole incident has been used by the usual suspects as a reason to once again attack those who defend free speech and sexual expression as fools and haters blinded by entitlement and privilege.

    I laughed because I was certain it was going to be that phony Myers… The perfect example of what he would call ‘privileged white man.’

    Personally, I think most of his is his mid-life crisis which he’s sublimating into white-knighing. Because, based on the Paul Myers that rode his wife’s support to his family, PhD and failed science career… His behavior just doesn’t add up.

  • UnbiddenKarma

    If the reactions to Adria Richards is indicative of a greater Misogyny the culture holds for women who stick up for themselves then why isn’t the firing of a gentlemen for what many consider innocuous jokes equally valid to derive cultural standards from? What does that say when a person can tweet such an event to over ten thousand of their followers and it creates such a perceived uproar that the company in question just naturally thought it better to fire him. If a dongle joke is going to keep women out of the tech industry won’t super censorship limit others involvement and prospects for an enjoyable career?

    I can’t help but always compare this incident to gun rights in America. One side says we need
    the right to defend ourselves the other explains we should rely on impartial authorities who can sort out right from wrong and act on their own. The first side will emphatically tell us you can’t trust the authorities to do what (at least they think) is right and it is highly immoral to leave someone defenseless and dependent on someone else when there is clearly a chance they could be harmed. Are we not even allowed to defend ourselves anymore? You see Adria didn’t want that gentlemen to be hurt but in reality it was his fault, he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, where he shouldn’t of been doing it. The reality is he got himself “fired”.

    The problem being of course Adria Richards is a complete hypocrite who by her own actions in the past would be just as guilty as the man she harmed. She’s not so much a victim as a gun nut who spends most of her free time proclaiming the terrors of the society she lives in and the dangers of the group the gentleman belonged to. She states how she wasn’t just making herself feel safe but reversing the power dynamic itself. In her eyes she was John Wayne and Dirty Harry (lol I mean Joan of Arc) making an unsafe world livable through grit and
    determination. So the other side the ones who felt like they’ve been intimated all along blow up at the blatant abuse of power the first group had over them, after all they’ve had this gun
    pointed at them for a while now and it seems their worst fears had been realized.

    I enjoyed the article by Amanda Blaum with one small caveat of how she continues to decry the sexism in the tech industry. My critique isn’t to diminish it if it does exist but to temper this attitude because it seems like we’re just reloading the gun that just went off. Despite what some news articles published this wasn’t the tweet that spiraled out of control. It was a mini zeitgeist that happens when both sides are primed for outrage and believe vigilantism is the
    only way to realize an outcome that they might consider “just”. And I’m left wondering do we as a people really want these types of guns in our community? Can’t we do better? After all there will always be another Adria Richards who’s going to come along and pull that trigger and we’ll be sitting in the aftermath again debating if it was justified after the consequences have
    already been dealt.

  • The plot thickens – Why did Valerie Aurora cross the road? To flee from the sight of scary, scary Violet Blue.

    I wish that was just a poorly-told joke:

  • I completely agree… so many people talking about her reporting it, or acting like she’s a victim of sexual harassment, and thus minimizing real victims.. BUT WHAT ABOUTTHIS: SHE HAD NO BUSINESS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    And Maria, (or is this iamcuriousblue?) it’s implied that she overheard it from the way she turned around, smiled at them to make them feel at ease, and took a picture. This was something she’d overheard, which is why she was able to make em think she was being cordial. SO yeah, she wasn’t a victim AT ALL. I can’t believe this shit is even getting ANY coverage whatsoever. I can’t believe she is getting any sympathy whatsoever. This is a non event.

  • ool0n

    Commented at Jason Thibeaults post about this – but you may not get to respond there… Wondering why you think this is true ->
    “I was hounded mercilessly by the usual Freethoughtblogs gang of flying monkeys, called a “troll”, and booted from the forum by Christina herself”

    Did you even read your own thread? *You* are the only one to call anyone a troll, you also got an apology from Emburii for some reason, didn’t look like you deserved it!

    Are you so tied to the narrative of #FTBullies that you just believe this shit is true? To the extent you’ll link to the post and not expect anyone to see its an out and out fabrication… Including you being “booted” from the thread… Where?

    “Unfortunately for everyone, however, my predictions have turned out to be right on the money.”
    Finally, more on topic, how does there being a successful panel on sex at the skeptech conference *despite* the harassment policy which you see as too restrictive, prove you right in any way? Seems to show your slipperyest of slippery slopes “argument” was just that, fallacious. (Have a look in the thread, IACB argues his slippery slope argument is not fallacious as its a *really* slippery one!)

    • Hi Oolon – Yes, I did read what you said and I think you’ve done a great deal of misreading, or otherwise let your partisan views run away with you, because the inaccuracies of your above statements are so glaring.

      I will admit to one thing – I only linked to one of Greta Christina’s posts where our discussion took place, and the discussion in fact played out over the comments sections of several posts. Greta Christina specifically said that I’d gone from being one of her favorite commentators to being “the biggest troll”. I was banned soon after. It was also abundantly clear that she was practicing a very two-faced moderation policy, issuing “that means you” reminders about not insulting people in response to anything I’d post, while letting her favored commentators rip into me in extremely insulting ways. Sorry, but I think either you moderate in an even-handed way, or you keep a hands-off policy, such as there is on this blog. Unequal moderation policies, such as those of Greta Christina, Jason Thibeault, and the rest are a symptom of extreme bad faith, and speak badly about the so-called moderator.

      If I have time, I’ll dig up links to the several threads in question.

      As to what I ostensibly reacted badly to, approaching somebody out of the blue and demanding an apology (for what?) is about as uncivil and domineering as it comes, and I’m certainly not going to stand for it. As for Emburii, when he toned it down, I toned it down – I deal with people the way they deal with me, and I make zero apologies for that. And as for the others, I think Setar in particular is indeed an extremely nasty little troll, and his conduct at IRL demonstrations is outright criminal. One day his behavior is going to catch up with him, and I’m sure he’s not going to like the outcome much. No apologies for anything I’ve ever said to that jerk – if anything, I’ve been kinder to him than he deserves.

      Now, as to your last point (finally, about something other than last year’s blog drama), all this shows me is shows me is that you and Jason are so freaking wedded to your own groupthink that you miss the entirely obvious. HELLO – the censorship of Violet Blue’s talk at BSides! Details in the post above. (Oh, and let’s make short work of the claim that VB “voluntarily” cancelled the talk – even Jason has dropped that horseshit now that VB herself has set him straight on this.) This is the kind of censorship that takes place when the letter of such rules is actually applied. The fact that SkepTech, by contrast, had a sex panel is in direct violation of the stated rules of that conference (the same language that got Violet Blue nixed) is an example of the sheer hypocrisy such language encourages. If you’re a group of “insiders” in the organization of that conference (as the members of the SkepTech sex panel were), you get a waiver to the stated policy. Not so much of an insider, or get on the wrong side of somebody with more influence than you, as was the case with Violet Blue vis-a-vis Val Aurora, and your presentation gets nixed under the same rules. What constitutes proper discussion of sexuality-related topics comes down to the whims of the conference organizers and “who you know”. I think what’s wrong that as a policy should be pretty fucking obvious.

      I’ll add that Jason shows how completely out of touch he is when he states “I want to know why people don’t recognize “sexual language and imagery” as being, say, telling others to suck your cock, or that they’re only good for being fucked, or photoshopping them into porn pictures, for instance.” This “obvious” definition is obvious only to him, and is certainly not the working definition the Ada Initiative uses. Couple this with Jason’s insistence that discussion of the Violet Blue/BSides incident, the very example that *demonstrates* that his definition is *not* the one being used in practice, is a “derail” and he refuses to discuss it, and you’ve got a prime example of somebody practicing a closed loop set of arguments. Doubly astonishing that such FAIL is coming from an ostensibly “rationalist” blogger.

      All this, in short, is why this toxic language about “sexual language and imagery” needs to be written the fuck out of anti-harassment policies, the whims of prudish pressure groups like the Ada Initiative be damned!

      Let’s get one more thing out of the way, since Greta Christina is now strawmanning my position as being against all anti-harassment policy, and apparently pro-open season on women at public events. I’ve never said I’m against all anti-harassment policy, in fact, I’ve stated on several occasions I support a clear, sensibly-worded policy, without loaded ideological language about “sexualization” etc. More here:

      So, Oolon, consider yourself schooled. I hope whatever further arguments you bring to the table, if any, will be based on actual facts, not your suppositions and empty accusations.

      • ool0n

        You don’t get it, the panel was not in direct contravention to the policy as human beings do not parse rules as set in stone or use the most restrictive interpretation of those rules. Not even religious people parse their holy rules as a computer program to be followed step by step… Hence your argument that a policy worded in a such a way that it *could* be used to restrict all sex positive talk/action/clothing at a conference *will* restrict said activity is fallacious. That is why it is a fallacious slippery slope argument you make as it does not follow… Its even been proven to not follow at skeptech but rather than celebrate that and suggest they change the wording a bit to make it even clearer you decide to attack based on supposed hypocrisy. Greta nicely destroys that point here ->

        “Greta Christina is now strawmanning my position as being against all anti-harassment policy”

        -> Hope you don’t mean in the above link as you are not mentioned from what I can see, so where?

        BTW I don’t know about this Violet Blue situation so I’m only talking to the skeptech example. The report Jason linked to said they had no harassment policy, so I’m unclear how having a strongly worded policy applies there.

        • ool0n, you don’t only “not know” about the Violet Blue situation (proving, BTW, that you’re arguing with me without reading what I’ve said or checking my links for background), you’re willfully blind to it, because it demolishes the entire argument you make in the first paragraph. The Ada Initiative is promoting the very anti-“sexualized language” policy Jason is claiming to not mean anything beyond sexual harassment and interpreting this policy *far* more broadly; Violet Blue’s talk was the first casualty. If this policy continues to be pushed, there will be many more censorship incidents of this type.

          The version of events Jason linked to is the story according to the Ada Inititative, not exactly a reliable or objective source on this, by the way, and shows me just how limited your frame of reference is. It seems you look no further than people like Jason tell you to look. That’s kind of sad, really. In any event, I’ve linked to a number of sources above, and I suggest you actually have a look at them if you are to speak with any credibility at all on this issue. A good place to start would be Violet Blue’s side of the story:

          You continue to beat the drum of “Skeptech allowed a sex panel” as if this was the final word on the issue. Sorry, buddy, but it is not. This was one panel at one conference that managed to slide in through a combination of loose interpretation and favoritism. The situation with Violet Blue and BSides demonstrates definitively that other more far-reaching interpretations of this policy exist, and given the power of Ada Initiative, are far more likely to be the prevailing interpretation than the soft-peddled version Jason and Greta are pushing.

          The slippery slope has been demonstrated – the policy has been enforced this way in a high-profile incident backed by the political power of a high-profile organization. There is a clear and present danger to sexual speech hard-wired into this problematic subset of anti-harassment policy. It needs to go. Dumping this prudish language *does not* mean that anti-harassment policies are in danger of disappearing entirely, and it’s about time you and the rest of the FTB crowd stopped promulgating the fiction that it does. Ironically, *that’s* a slippery slope argument too, and a *truly* fallacious one.

          BTW, I can’t believe you would point me to Greta Christina’s post as if that was a new argument, *after* I had responded to her argument and pointed out that it’s a straw man as it applies to me – I’m fine with antiharassment policy in general – just not the prudish kind.

          Unfortunately, ool0n, this is symptomatic of the way you argue. If you’ve been rebutted, you don’t bring any new arguments to the table, you simply repeat yourself and make it clear that you’ve utterly ignored the counterargument and supporting information presented to you. Not good argumentation skill, and if you’re trying to succeed in advancing a point, and not just being annoying, you might work on it.

          • ool0n

            In regard to the Violet Blue incident it appears to be not particularly relevant unless they had a harassment policy like the one you are referring to as causing the issues. If they had none and an autonomous organisation interfered then you should be railing against autonomous organisations interfering not harassment policies. I note you did not answer the question of if the conf she was to speak at had a harassment policy which prohibited sexual language? If not then I don’t see how it applies, at all. Its definitely no demonstration of the slippery slope you seem to like to invoke. If anything them defining a well thought out policy would have meant they did not need to take advice from the Ada Initiative in the first place.

            I agree one sex panel at Skeptech is no proof these policies won’t cause a problem but it is an anecdotal case of negative evidence against your position. Even if the Violet Blue incident was in regard to a harassment policy and one positive in your favour then that would not prove the case the other way. If anything your position can be characterised as “not proven” … You are taking a position that requires proof and one barely relevant incident does not cut it, especially as I have at least one in contrary to it that is relevant! That you take this one incident and pompously assert you have “demonstrated” the slippery slope is ridiculous and I think you overestimate your own “argumentation skill” rather a lot there. Try applying some scepticism, when does one incident ever demonstrate anything absolutely unless the person doing the “demonstrating” is rather biased?

            Also in regard to Gretas post, it was not about you, why do you think it was? It didn’t mention you, hence I was confused by your reference to “Greta strawmanning me” and had to ask if you really meant that post. What did you think of her and Jadehawks suggested rewriting of the relevant bit of the policy? Does that solve your issues? I see none of that tackled in your posts.

          • Sorry, ool0n, but the proof is *entirely* clear, and it is only your own obstinance and love of arguing for its own sake that is keeping you going. You claim one incident doesn’t prove anything. What it proves is the potential for censorship implicit in the language of such policies is not just an implicit, theoretical threat, but now a realized one. I don’t know the exact nature of BSides policy, but I do know the policy that Ada Initiative was pushing when it shut down Violet Blue’s talk, and it happens to be the same language found in the Geek Feminist policy that you FTBers are pushing.

            In any event, I think Russell Blackford has adequately addressed elsewhere the sheer recklessness of your approach, namely, to adopt overly-broad language, then let organizers interpret it. Such is a recipe for hypocrisy, favoritism, and abuse, and you don’t do yourself any favors by sticking to your guns in support of such nonsense.

            As for Greta’s response being ultimately a response to my point, take a minute to trace back the chain of responses. Greta’s post refers to the “discussion” on the Lousy Canuck blog, which is in turn a response to what I wrote on Twitter, and referring to me, inaccurately, as “pro-harassment”. So, yes, as a matter of fact, her post is addressing me, however indirectly, and I’m not “anti-policy” on the whole. At the very least, she’s ignoring a position (pro-policy, but anti-“no sexual imagery and language” provisions) that’s inconvenient to her argument, even if I was a minority on my “side”. And I don’t think my position is an isolated one on “my side”, so really, GC is ultimately strawmanning.

          • ool0n

            Fair enough seems like we are at an impasse, I cannot argue against your belief of being strawmanned, only say it didn’t look like it to me. Equally if one tangential incident of your prediction of issues with these policies is enough for you to meet your burden of proof in your view then that’s your issue. I again disagree.

            Hope you manage to get the policies changed for the better FWIW – as that should always be the ultimate goal IMO.

    • One more thing – since I kind of skipped responding to your last sentence. Yes, I in fact linked to a very well-argued piece that slippery slope arguments are not always fallacious. Slippery slopes are *often* a fallacy, but not always and not inherently. There are additional layers of proof that need to be argued when invoking a slippery slope, such as showing that costs to going further down the “slippery slope” are significantly lowered by the first action, that there’s a lack of barriers protecting a fall down the “slope”, and/or precedents demonstrating the original limited intent has been breached. I think I’ve clearly demonstrated the third point wrt anti-“sexual language and imagery” policies.

      Pity that this violates your “list of logical fallacies” paint-by-numbers rationalism. However, it is indeed that case that not every “fallacy” is always fallacious, as WWJD wrote about just recently:

      Further discussion here:

  • deltaexmachina

    The Culture Industry – The Ideology of Death





  • Dave Mabus