“Ending sexism in hacker culture: A work in progress” – The Ada Initiative

"Ending sexism in hacker culture: A work in progress" - The Ada Initiative:

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Author Valerie Aurora discusses bringing about social change to fight against sexism in the hacker community.  Aurora makes a strong case for the necessity of pushing hacker conferences to enforce anti-harassment policies and reminds readers that “social change is a process.”  The article has plenty of great quotes but here are some key highlights:

On fighting sexism and social change as an ongoing process —

Success depends on continuing to push for accountability from powerful people, whether or not [it] is uncomfortable or unpleasant for them to address.

In response to backlash against addressing sexism at conferences —

The answer to “Stop ruining my conference” is not “Stop pointing out the sexism,” it’s “Stop being sexist.” Don’t blame the victim for pointing out that sexism is happening, or for doing it in a way that makes you uncomfortable – after all, sexism is already making men and women more than just uncomfortable, it’s harming them and driving them out of the community.

It’s important to note that part of what makes Aurora’s arguments for social change — especially the first quote above — so apt is that they speak to a variety of contexts that involve a subset of a community being subjected to marginalization and oppression by the very community in which that subset participates.  Whether it’s an issue of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc., social change is an ongoing uphill battle that involves first and foremost raising awareness.  Aurora’s piece makes a convincing argument for why open dialogue and a willingness to put pride and ego aside are key to moving towards progress in resolving an issue.

i dunno man when i see “end sexism in hacker culture” it gives me the same sort of feeling as “end autobot discrimination in decepticon culture”. hacker culture is specially awful (i’m assuming we’re talking black hats here? because too me that’s the only one with a culture worth separating from regular geek culture) and basically plays out what 4chan wants to be when it grows up. the problem isn’t sexism, it’s hacker culture (sort of like how the problem isn’t discrimination against autobots, it’s decepticons.)

you’re free to decide that you think it’s too entrenched but you should still support other people’s attempts at being included. it’s kinda patronising to say ‘ah no, it’s shit anyway, you wouldn’t have liked it’ - that’s not a real consolation for being excluded. choosing not to be part of something is different.

hacker culture has entrenched sexism, and also entrenched racism, entrenched fucking everything. it’s also full of petty revenge taunts, petty boasting about how cool you are for doing some dumb account hacking and is probably the worst subculture on the internet. it’s not that i wouldn’t support it, but i think hacker culture basically needs a demolition ball and not a renovation

While I understand the sentiment, I disagree.  Hacking is both an art and a skill that involves an intense amount of creativity and its existence has helped push technology forward — whether intentionally or not — by forcing other developers and companies alike to become more aware of software vulnerabilities and address them.  In my opinion, hacker culture has its rightful place in the CS community and is a necessary [not always] evil.  That said, I disagree with the idea of demolishing it completely; I believe what mainly needs to change is the common association of hacker culture with a varied form of masculinity that includes the examples of male nerd bravado and boastfulness you mentioned.  The compulsion to boast these “badges of honor” i.e. successful hacks is deeply rooted in heightening one’s feeling of masculinity.  I think breaking this emphasis on masculinity is critical: it’s what will allow more underrepresented groups (e.g. women and minorities) to fully participate and gain equal respect within the hacker community without being forced to find a way to fit themselves within the confines of white male nerd masculinity.

we are talking about black hats and not grey hats, right?

I was speaking generally to hacker culture.  Black hats aren’t the only ones who exhibit the male nerd bravado I described above, though it’s possible that they do it the most egregiously within the hacker community.

when i hear hacker conferences i automatically think of stuff like defcon and black hats so if you’re talking about non black hats like i havent’ got a huge problem with non black hats, but you’re 100% on the money when you talk about nerd masculinity because that’s a big problem with the hacker community (and virtually every other nerd subculture too) but with black hats it’s virutally foundational since they’re selling botnets and writing up malware and doing that sort of shit. i’m not talking about the guys who are after anti-sec stuff either, i’m just talking about the straight up wankers (i’m guessing you know about some of the stuff that’s gone on at defcon right?)

Yeah, I’ve heard about the stuff that goes on at defcon. I agree that black hats are known for being just straight up malicious and that that mentality is very much tied to demonstrating masculinity. While I definitely don’t agree with hacking with purely evil intent, I still wouldn’t say that black hats need to be demolished for some of the reasons I mentioned previously … although one could argue that attempting to remove the prevailing nerd masculinity specifically from black hat culture where it is so deeply engrained would essentially be equivalent to demolishing the culture in a sense but even still, a worthy endeavor IMO.