A friend of mine posted about this project she was doing on her Facebook wall. When I saw it, I got really excited.
One of the things I hear a lot about boundaries and negotiations is that people are nervous to confront others. Sure, it’s scary to call someone out on their shit- or, if you’re not nervous about it, you’re probably tired of having the same conversation over and over and over again, arguing with someone about why what they said was sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise inappropriate. Finding the words can be hard. Finding the guts can also be hard, especially when the response is often defensive and angry.
While these cards could totally be useful in an altsex environment, it’s important, to me, to point out that they weren’t in fact made for a dungeon or a play party. No, they were made for something fairly different- DEFCON, a large, underground hacker conference. One that women repeatedly feel uncomfortable at.
I want to quote her post, because she explains the reasoning and the concept very well.
“I am currently writing this post from an airplane in the sky. This airplane is hurtling me at hundreds of miles an hour towards New York City, where I am excited to be attending the ninth incarnation of HOPE- Hackers On Planet Earth. This will be my first time attending, as well as the first time I’ll be visiting New York as an adult. This will be the first of two hacker cons I’ll be attending this summer with Defcon being the second in a few weeks.
Because I am a Very Bad Adult, I finished packing my bags at a completely unreasonable hour of the morning last night. While I was deciding what clothes to take with me to New York, something dawned on me; I was already thinking about what clothes I would avoid taking to Las Vegas for Defcon. Short skirts, low cut tops, tight dresses, and anything that might be overtly attention-grabbing have been bumped to second priority on that packing list.
Why? Please, I invite you to find any woman who has attended Defcon for the answer. Go ahead. Go ask one. I’ll be here.
Are you back?
For anyone who wasn’t able to immediately find a female Defcon attendee, I will let you in on a not very well kept secret. Defcon is hell for women. Defcon is also many wonderful things. It is a fantastic environment to learn, network, and connect with friends old and new. But I’m not here to talk about that. There are plenty of other people who have been going to Defcon for longer than I, and who have gained more from it, who are infinitely more equipped to speak about it’s strengths as a conference. All I can speak to is my somewhat jarring experience last year, the first time I attended.
Let it be known that I went to Defcon with a reasonable amount of armor on already. I was reasonably aware of the frat party environment I was stepping into. I have many friends who are involved with helping make Defcon roll smoothly each year, from speakers to goons. And still, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of bad behavior I experienced.
Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo. Like the man who grabbed my hips while I was waiting for a drink at the EFF party. Like the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff (I do not have words for how slimy it is that the official security staff were in charge of what was essentially a competition to get women to show their boobs). Or lastly, the man who, without prompting, interrupted my conversation and asked me if I’d like to come back to his room for a “private pillowfight party.” “You know,” he said. “Just a bunch of girls having a pillowfight…. fun!” When I asked him how many men would be standing around in a circle recording this event, he quickly assured me that “no one would be taking video! I swear!” I’m pretty sure this is the point where my lovely partner Morgan asked him if he thought propositions like his had anything to do with contributing to women not feeling welcome at Defcon. This was a very difficult concept for this poor soul to wrap his head around.
After that last interaction, Morgan and I ran into one of his kiwi hacker brethren. In a huff, I told him about Mr. Pillows. Being of the Rugby-watching persuasion, he jokingly mentioned the idea of being able to hand out yellow and red cards to the men of Defcon who crossed boundaries.
So I went back to my hotel room and made these two cards:
They ended up being quite the hit! My tweets with links to the .jpgs went viral on the #defcon hashtag and they apparently got circulated on some internal goon mailing lists. I knew I had done well when a woman who I had just met excitedly told me that there was “some girl who had made these awesome cards to deter creepers.”
I know I’m not alone in being frustrated with the climate at Defcon. Last year at Deepsec in Vienna, I met a fantastically intelligent woman developer who flat out refused to attend Defcon because of interactions like those listed above. I can think of countless other women I know in the tech industry who are regular Defcon participants and speakers who are just as fed up with this crap as me. I wonder why we’ve all been so polite about such an unhealthy atmosphere.
I ended up not being able to do a print run of the cards last year because of time and money constraints. However, this year I am making a new run of actual physical cards! The original ones, while they were great at the time, were thrown together quickly with Gimp. This year I’m going to update them slightly so they look nicer. Mostly, I want something that women will feel eager to hand out should the need arise. I think this is an incredibly playful and relatively non-confrontational way to engage with behavior that women at tech conferences are all to eager to simply shrug off.
Regardless, I am excited about Defcon. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about getting the chance to hand a few of these bad boys out.”
KC originally expected that she wouldn’t have enough funds to make any for conferences. She was overwhelmed by the financial support to make this happen, thus allowing her to give handfuls of cards away freely. She got to redesign them, too, and is even trying to work out what to do with the leftover cash. So many people felt there was a need for these that she got $1000 and had to tell people that she had enough and they could stop now. That suggests an issue, right?
Also, I want to mention that there are also green cards you can use in an interaction for positive reinforcement. So if a guy starts to tell a rapey joke, and another guy says “hey, man, not ok”, you can give him a card, too, and say “thanks for not being an asshat”. That sounds silly, but its actually really important to not just discourage bad behaviour, but encourage what we want to see more of.
I’m really curious to hear how these went- what the reception was like, how many people used them, how people responded when they were given a card. I think these could be a helpful way to encourage people to use their voices. I struggle to speak up all the time, myself, and I think that having tools is really important. I can’t wait to get my hands on a handful myself! I think I’d like to have these embraced as part of the Safe/Ward workshops.
Finally, I’ll close with a quote from KC’s latest blog post:
“Yes, I have received some disheartening comments. Yes, I have been told that I’m being a bitch. I have been told that I need to grow a thicker skin. I have been told that I’m just trying to ruin everyone’s fun time. And yet for every one of those comments, I have about five coming from women saying thank you. For every comment that tries to devalue the work that I’m doing or the discussion that is happening, there are so many more thanking me for taking this on.
But you know what the coolest response has been so far?@KdotCdot: @mikeestee At this point I think I’m ok re: design, I just need to sit down and decide on a final size (depends on $$) and make em
When the founder of the conference you are writing about is willing to support your project to address sexism at his con, you know you’ve done something right.”
Yes indeed. And may there be more where that came from!
Anyway, further info, with photos of the latest, general version of the cards:
“Use of the cards
While you can use these cards however you see fit, I feel like I must point out that these were meant to be a non-confrontational way of engaging with harassment. If you are planning on handing out these cards, I recommend keeping a couple in your pocket or purse. If the opportunity arises to hand one out, simply chose which one you feel is appropriate, pull one out, and hand it to the perpetrator. At this point I recommend calmly walking away. You have said what you need to say and are under no obligation to discuss anything further. Congratulations! You’ve just carded someone!
Where can I get these cards?
If you are at Defcon 20 this year, drop me a line at email@example.com. I’ll be around the conference, likely with a stack in my bag. I’m bringing a lot of cards and I am more than happy to meet up and share. They will also be available at the EFF‘s booth. I’m incredibly thankful to have the support of the EFF at Defcon this year. After the conference, I am more than happy to mail a stack to you free of charge. There are a wealth of opportunities to use these cards outside of Defcon. If you run another conference (tech related or not), a consent working group, a BDSM space, or if you are someone who just wishes you had an easy way of sidestepping creeps in bars, get a hold of me! Just drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.”