Grooming: two case studies

Daniel Mallory Ortberg had Anita Sarkeesian as a guest on his Dear Prudence podcast recently and they answered the following question for Slate Plus members:

Subject: Boss too much

I am employed at my until recently all-time favourite job. I like everything about it. But the number one reason was the relationship I had with my boss. I’m an executive assistant and we have the same toe-the-line sense of humour.

Last week though in the parking lot after a charity event he groped me and asked me for sex. He was very drunk which was why I stayed late in the first place, to be his designated driver. I got out of his car and left immediately after this happened. He followed up with a phone call on the way home, not to apologise but to reiterate his attraction to me.

Now I don’t know what to do. He has promised me and delivered to my predecessor a great promotion to a department of our choice after a few years of service. He’s also at the top of the organisation, only the foreign board is above him. He’s gone back to joking with me having never apologised. I also haven’t confronted him. He was so drunk that I’m not even sure he remembers it.

I have one year until I could be promoted out, as he plans to retire, but my new job is not guaranteed. He wasn’t forceful but he was and always has been highly suggestive. I don’t know what I want to do. What are my best options?

Dear Prudence: “Weapons-grade Pettiness” Edition (offset 47:10 for Slate Plus members)

Ortberg and Sarkeesian went on to discuss various options, including whether or not to involve HR (although without fully diving into the distinct possibility that this guy is the boss of the head of HR) or the board. But they didn’t dive into this detail: “we have the same toe-the-line sense of humour”.

There’s no more details, but I’m assuming this means that the letter writer and their boss do a lot of joking about sex. It sounds like the letter writer assumed, and continues to hope, that this means they and their boss have both a close, fun, sexy, relationship, and a shared understanding of remaining boundaries.

However, that’s not what’s going on. Now that we know he assaulted his assistant, we also know that the sexy jokes were him grooming them in advance of his assault.

Grooming is a technique used to prepare a future abuse victim to be accepting of abuse: gradual pushing of the future victim’s boundaries, encouraging the future victim to push boundaries themselves, plus plenty of positive reinforcement that this is good fun, we’re close friends, and so on.

Because of the positive reinforcement, which is a key part of healthy relationships too, grooming is tricky to identify in the moment: you may only be able to make it out in the rear-view mirror. In this specific case we have a big warning sign: the massive power differential between a (I assume) CEO and his executive assistant. That’s not a line you want to toe: one of the two people has a lot more say in where that line is, and he went on to prove it! But that’s not always so, grooming can occur between people without such an obvious power difference, and it’s often sexy or fun or silly to make sexual jokes! It’s the part where the abuse shows up that turns it into grooming.

This is a big part of the puzzle around “but whyyyy can’t we all have fun sexy joke times at work?” Aside from sexy joke times not being everyone’s idea of fun, there’s a history of exploitation around them. They’ve been used for grooming too many times, to turn the tables on someone who thought of their boss as their sexy-joke-buddy and found out they were actually a sexy-joke-predator. Now everyone who has had that happen, or who knows the dynamic, has to toe two lines: pleasing the sexy-jokes boss types, and constantly watching out for the groomer’s heel turn.

By extension, grooming is also something an abuser can do to other people in a position to report or stop their abuse of others. They set up a narrative of themselves as a good or harmless person. They can, for example, be the office prankster, or collective little sibling, or kind mentor, or hapless single person who is just so lonely. With these narratives in place the abuser has their defences put for them: prankster lonely person just needs to learn some social skills; mentor was just trying to help, little sibling is so cute and harmless!

In another advice column, we even find a description of someone who has managed to play almost all of those cards at once.

I recently got promoted into a HR manager at an office and have been working there for the past 3 years. Couple of months in my friend/mentor of a different department was accused of sexual harassment by an intern. She said that he kept hugging her, holding her hand when saying hello, asking about her dating life, joked about sex, and would invite her to private lunches or talks on the roof. Even to dinner or drinks after work[…]

He has been working here for the past 8 years and has helped countless of women feel comfortable in the office and is close friends with many other managers. I consider him a close friend and he knows about my personal problems. I don’t want to lose him or make him reveal my personal life out of anger [ed: emphasis] […]

I feel like the intern is overreacting since all the other girls are fine with it, and if she just told me, I would have told her to let it go. He is a good, friendly guy who was looking out for her[…]

Ask Dr. NerdLove: Do I Need To Fire My Friend? via Han and Matt Know It All #79 (offset 4:12)

What can you do about grooming? Knowledge is a great start: you can be aware that grooming is a possibility, that in hearing accusations of abuse or experiencing abuse the odd behaviours, relationships, and other puzzle pieces that you read as “not an abuser” may have been constructed for you deliberately.

When you are abused or an accusation of abuse is made, you might look back over someone’s history with their victim or with people in the same environment and watch for one or more of these patterns:

  • apparently consensual boundary pushing, such as sex jokes or heavy drinking together
  • an unusually bumbling approach to social interactions/romantic interactions/office politics/an entire class of people (often women)
  • a history of selecting clear favourites and helping them get ahead after a certain period of service

And it’s very tempting to read these as, in order, “a confusing situation with fault on both sides”, “someone who needs taking care of and would never hurt a fly”, and “a great mentor/boss who pays it forward”. Or even “a confusing situation with fault on both sides involving a great mentor/boss who is really deep down someone who needs taking care of!”

Instead when these stories come to mind consider the possibility that what you have is a practised abuser who has groomed both their victims and bystanders to underestimate them or to think well of their motives. The counterexamples or the odd puzzle pieces are in fact part of an arc of abuse, not a defence against it.

Likewise, someone who is very insistent on a shared narrative of themselves as a good or harmless person is a warning sign. Almost everyone thinks of themselves as a good person, it’s less common and more dangerous when someone says it out loud in so many words (“I’m one of the good guys!”, “I’m mostly harmless!”) or insists on this being the story other people tell about them.

Abusers push boundaries, and the groomer is a type of abuser who likes to push the earlier boundaries with some consent or participation from their future victim. Super-fun happy-times boundary pushing is still boundary-pushing, and you should approach sceptically and watching very carefully for what happens when the other person wants to stop.

Be selfish: if it needs to be done someone else can do it

In 2009, in “Girl stuff” in Free Software, I recounted a conversation with Brianna Laugher:

[Brianna] said — paraphrased — that she didn’t feel that she should have a problem or be criticised for doing what she is good at, or what’s so desperately needed in her communities, and have to be just another coder in order to be fully respected. And I said that while this was certainly true, women also need to have the opportunity, to give themselves the opportunity, to be selfish: if we want to code, or do something else we are currently either bad at or not notably good at, or for that matter which we are good at but in which we’d have competitors, we should consider doing that, rather than automatically looking for and filling the space that is most obviously empty

(See also Brianna’s response.)

Since then, I’ve seen this pattern recur, most recently in some of the discussion around Valerie Aurora’s Advice for women in tech who are tired of talking about women in tech: women who are doing things because, well, the thing needs to be done and no one is doing it, even if what drew them to the job or the project was something else entirely than the chores they’ve ended up with. This is particularly true when the chore has some benefit to others: writing documentation, welcoming newcomers, setting up the translation team, establishing the not for profit and such.

This not only can make women miserable as they find themselves doing a lot of things out of a vague sense of duty, it quite frequently leads to no rewards whatsoever. For others, it’s really nice when the documentation gets written or the notes get taken or the funds get raised without having to figure out how to give someone a promotion or a keynote slot for it, or how to build up a healthy chain of people moving through the task and onto other things! How fortunate for your boss or your project, and how unfortunate for you.

Quite often a good dollop of selfishness is what this situation deserves, and what you deserve too. There is of course a tight limit to which women can or should personally solve the problem of being handed or expected to quietly assume chores and hover around in the background making sure all the wheels are greased, but let’s explore how far you can get, when it’s time to be selfish.

Note throughout this entry that “chores” are very relative. You may not be a natural fit for translating conversations or documents just because you’re fluent in multiple languages! You might want to write some code or do the accounting or answer the phones instead! But this doesn’t mean that documentation or translation are worthless activities that no one should do, just that they’re something that, at this time, and for this project, you want to stop doing.

Figure out what you’re getting out of the chore, and keep doing it.

I’m very often the notetaker in meetings that I’m in. While this is quite gendered (and I’ve occasionally had senior male colleagues notice and call it out, which is appreciated), I do get something out of it. I have trouble paying attention to and understanding conversations I’m present in that I don’t also write up; and, while we’re talking about being selfish, one of the more effective ways to control the agenda is to write it, and one of the ways to control the findings is to write them too.

So, I keep taking notes quite often, but I’m clear on what I’m getting out of it. I don’t take the notes for their own sake, and if I find myself in a situation where I’m losing the ability to participate in or lead a meeting due to being its notetaker, I’m more likely to reconsider whether there need to be notes and if so, whether I need to take them.

But let’s say you’ve thought about it, and you’re not getting something out of the thing, and you want to be done. But the thing is important, it is in some way making the world a better place. If so…

Accept that the project could fail without the chore.

Something to work through is knowing that the chore might be important to the success of the project, and that you’re deciding not to do it anyway.

Maybe the conference will be better with a more diverse lineup and so will the careers of the speakers. If no one sees the notes of the meeting then some important decisions will be missing context. A major security flaw might be hiding in those untriaged bugs.

But if the project’s success seems to depend on you, a single person, quietly stepping in and doing what must be done while everyone else does fun things, the project is either so fragile that it’s at high risk of failure regardless of your exceptional bug triaging and speaker finding skills, or it’s somewhat quietly robust, and will actually carry on just fine.

A related failure mode — “I’m so valuable that my boss won’t let me take vacation” — is something of an Ask a Manager perennial. As she tends to advise: what if you quit? If you quit and your chores are super important, your boss will either find a way to get them done after you leave, or the project will fail, and if it fails in your absence, it probably wasn’t that likely to succeed in your presence either.

So. If you’re the only thing standing between success and failure, you’re not on a great project. It might have great aims or ambitions, but it’s not a great project. So now it’s time to…

Stop doing the thing.

Just don’t do it. Let the bugs go untriaged, the newcomers go unwelcomed, the documentation go untranslated, the meeting go unrecorded, the conference not schedule any unicorn talks, the conference not have any women speakers at all.

While you worked through thoughts about the project failing above, many times, you’ll find that the thing wasn’t that important in the first place. No one much read the notes of that meeting, so maybe there didn’t need to be notes, and in fact, on reflection holding the meeting wasn’t that important either. The conference copped a lot of justified heat on Twitter for their all-male all-white lineup and… probably they deserved it since they were using you to shield them from it before. Speakers of your other fluent language migrated to other software that had a translation team dedicated to their needs, and were better off for it. And so on.

How to just stop:

  • Unsubscribe from the project email list.
  • Block your browser from letting you look at the bug tracker.
  • Delete the request for help finding women for the panel.
  • Read back over your personal notes from the meeting, update your own todo list, but don’t type them up to send to the team.
  • Go on a long holiday.

Give some warning you’re going to stop doing the thing.

If you’re not truly silently labouring away alone, you might want to let people know you’re stopping. That’s fine; but be firm about it, give a date at which you’ll stop, and resist conditioning leaving on another volunteer stepping up. “I’d love someone to take over the server and I’m happy to train you” may work, but it also may not. In embracing selfishness per this post, you need to step down even if no one else is stepping up.

Some scripts:

  • “I’m not available as a volunteer sysadmin after the 1st. I’d love to hand off cleanly to a new sysadmin if possible. However if there’s no volunteers by the 1st, I will shut down the server and provide the data backups to [other person].”
  • “This is the last newsletter from me! If someone else wants to pick it up, here’s a one pager to get you started.”
  • “After some reflection, I’ve decided not to contest the next board election. I’m looking forward to seeing where a new president takes us.”

Ask if you can hand off the thing.

The above two strategies work less well in hierarchical situations like workplaces. If you’ve silently taken on chores or you’re volunteering for things outside your core position you can still use those strategies, but if your boss or another authority figure has told you to do the chore (especially if they told you to recently), probably you shouldn’t just stop and see what happens, let alone send an email unilaterally announcing you’ve decided to stop doing your job from the 1st.

But that doesn’t mean you need to silently do what you’re told at the expense of important work, or do unrewarded tasks while your peers get shiny things. There’s some alternatives you can explore with your workplace:

  • Ask if you can stop: make a case for the chore not being important at all, or not being as important as the other things you need to do
  • Rotate chores: set up a formal rotation of the chore between teams or members of the team
  • Pay someone: pay a bookkeeper for your organisation rather than relying on a series of burned out volunteer treasurers
  • Pay a specialist: hire a project manager or an office admin or a backend dev or a fundraising lead
  • Transition to a more junior staff member: maybe there’s someone who’d learn from writing those docs or triaging those bugs
  • Transition to a team: maybe there’s so many chores that there needs to be a project team addressing the chores and the source of them, and maaaaybe you could lead that team?

That said, in workplaces and other hierarchical organisations, ethical leadership should be avoiding disproportionately handing unrewarding tasks to women, younger people, and members underrepresented minorities, and should be actively considering these solutions themselves. If you’re in a situation where your leadership is happily reaping the rewards of you patiently picking up scutwork unrewarded…

Quit your entire position.

If your current position (paid or volunteer) is full of chores you aren’t rewarded for but that no one can be bothered sharing around or finding someone who’d be a better fit, and you’re fortunate enough to be able to find another position or you don’t need to, quitting is something to seriously consider. Head out the door and selfishly go find somewhere where what they need someone to do is the same thing that you want to be doing.

Book review: The Wife Drought

My quest to be a paid book reviewer remains stalled for two reasons: first, I’ve never once asked anyone for money to do a book review, and second, this book review comes to you express, hot out of the oven, fresh from the year two thousand and fourteen.

Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why women need wives, and men need lives is titled and marketed on the old “women need wives” joke, ie, an adult in their home to make meals and soothe fevers and type manuscripts for free.

Crabb is also a well-known Australian political journalist — the ABC’s chief online political writer — who is best-known for hosting a cooking with politicians TV show, and probably next best known for her comic writing style, eg:

Right then. The parliamentary consideration of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has concluded. The nation has experienced the special thrill of watching its elected representatives fight like ferrets in a bag over a legislative clause even John Howard couldn’t get excited about, and can now dully register the fact that all this fuss has produced exactly zero changes to the clause in question.

Annabel Crabb, There is nothing free about Mark Latham’s speech, April 1 2017.

One or the other of the title’s reliance on the hackneyed complaint about women needing wives, or Crabb’s journalist persona, caused a lot of people I know to write off this book unread. The marketing runs with this too:

Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.
Penguin Books Australia

I suggest you don’t write it off, at least not for those reasons. It’s quite a serious book, and Penguin has buried the lede: intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia. The research is central to the book: Crabb did a lot of one-on-one work with demographers to extract answers to questions that no one had answers to about gender, work, money, and career progressions in Australia. Some of the findings the book contains are in fact new findings prompted by Crabb’s questioning of demographic collaborators (who are acknowledged by name, although not as co-authors).

I found two discussions especially interesting: the way in which Australia makes part-time work fairly readily available to women with young children and the many limits of that as a solution to pay and career progression disparities between men and women; and the evidence suggesting that, contrary to the widespread perception that men are hailed as heroes by men and women alike for participating in the care of their young children, they are actually discriminated against by their workplaces when they do so.

After that Crabb’s writing style is just an added bonus to keep you going through the book. If you’re going to read a demographic exploration of gender and labour in Australia in the 2010s, it’s certainly a nice bonus that it happens to be written by Annabel Crabb of all people. Instead, the major caution I would give is that it’s very middle-class in both point of view and content, without much discussion of that limitation; and is largely focussed on women partnered with men. Assuming that the work lives of middle-class women partnered with men in Australia is of interest to you, recommended.

No more rock stars: how to stop abuse in tech communities

This was co-written with Leigh Honeywell and Valerie Aurora, and was originally published on hypatia.ca. It’s also available on blog.valerieaurora.org and en français sur repeindre.info.

Content note for discussion of abuse and sexual violence.

In the last couple of weeks, three respected members of the computer security and privacy tech communities have come forward under their own names to tell their harrowing stories of sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse committed by Jacob Appelbaum. They acted in solidarity with the first anonymous reporters of Jacob’s abuse. Several organizations have taken steps to protect their members from Appelbaum, including the Tor Project, Debian, and the Noisebridge hackerspace, with other responses in progress.

But Appelbaum isn’t the last – or the only – abuser in any of these communities. Many people are calling for long-term solutions to stop and prevent similar abuse. The authors of this post have recommendations, based on our combined 40+ years of community management experience in the fields of computer security, hackerspaces, free and open source software, and non-profits. In four words, our recommendation is:

No more rock stars.

What do we mean when we say “rock stars?” We like this tweet by Molly Sauter:

Seriously, “rock stars” are arrogant narcissists. Plumbers keep us all from getting cholera. Build functional infrastructure. Be a plumber.

You can take concrete actions to stop rock stars from abusing and destroying your community. But first, here are a few signs that help you identify when you have a rock star instead of a plumber:

A rock star likes to be the center of attention. A rock star spends more time speaking at conferences than on their nominal work. A rock star appears in dozens of magazine profiles – and never, ever tells the journalist to talk to the people actually doing the practical everyday work. A rock star provokes a powerful organization over minor issues until they crack down on the rock star, giving them underdog status. A rock star never says, “I don’t deserve the credit for that, it was all the work of…” A rock star humble-brags about the starry-eyed groupies who want to fuck them. A rock star actually fucks their groupies, and brags about that too. A rock star throws temper tantrums until they get what they want. A rock star demands perfect loyalty from everyone around them, but will throw any “friend” under the bus for the slightest personal advantage. A rock star knows when to turn on the charm and vulnerability and share their deeply personal stories of trauma… and when it’s safe to threaten and intimidate. A rock star wrecks hotel rooms, social movements, and lives.

Why are rock stars so common and successful? There’s something deep inside the human psyche that loves rock stars and narcissists. We easily fall under their spell unless we carefully train ourselves to detect them. Narcissists are skilled at making good first impressions, at masking abusive behavior as merely eccentric or entertaining, at taking credit for others’ work, at fitting our (often inaccurate) stereotypes of leaders as self-centered, self-aggrandizing, and overly confident. We tend to confuse confidence with competence, and narcissists are skilled at acting confident.

Sometimes rock stars get confused with leaders, who are necessary and good. What’s the difference between a rock star and a leader? We like the term “servant-leader” as a reminder that the ultimate purpose of a good leader is to serve the mission of their organization (though this feminist critique of the language around servant-leadership is worth reading). Having personal name recognition and the trust and support of many people is part of being an effective leader. This is different from the kind of uncritical worship that a rock star seeks out and encourages. Leaders push back when the adoration gets too strong and disconnected from achieving the mission (here is a great example from Anil Dash, pushing back after being held up as an example of positive ally for women in tech). Rock stars aren’t happy unless they are surrounded by unthinking adoration.

How do we as a community prevent rock stars?

If rock stars are the problem, and humans are susceptible to rock stars, how do we prevent rock stars from taking over and hijacking our organizations and movements? It turns out that some fairly simple and basic community hygiene is poisonous to rock stars – and makes a more enjoyable, inclusive, and welcoming environment for plumbers.

Our recommendations can be summarized as: decentralizing points of failure, increasing transparency, improving accountability, supporting private and anonymous communication, reducing power differentials, and avoiding situations that make violating boundaries more likely. This is a long blog post, so here is a table of contents for the rest of this post:

Have explicit rules for conduct and enforce them for everyone

Create a strong, specific, enforceable code of conduct for your organization – and enforce it, swiftly and without regard for the status of the accused violator. Rock stars get a kick out of breaking the rules, but leaders know they are also role models, and scrupulously adhere to rules except when there’s no alternative way to achieve the right thing. Rock stars also know that when they publicly break the little rules and no one calls them out on it, they are sending a message that they can also break the big rules and get away with it.

One of the authors of this post believed every first-person allegation of abuse and assault by Jacob Appelbaum – including the anonymous ones – immediately. Why? Among many other signs, she saw him break different, smaller rules in a way that showed his complete and total disregard for other people’s time, work, and feelings – and everyone supported him doing so. For example, she once attended a series of five minute lightning talks at the Noisebridge hackerspace, where speakers sign up in advance. Jacob arrived unannounced and jumped in after the first couple of talks with a forty-five minute long boring rambling slideshow about a recent trip he took. The person running the talks – someone with considerable power and influence in the same community – rolled his eyes but let Jacob talk for nine times the length of other speakers. The message was clear: rules don’t apply to Jacob, and even powerful people were afraid to cross him.

This kind of blatant disregard for the rules and the value of people’s time was so common that people had a name for it: “story time with Jake,” as described in Phoenix’s pseudonymous allegation of sexual harassment. Besides the direct harm, dysfunction, and disrespect this kind of rule-breaking and rudeness causes, when you allow people to get away with it, you’re sending a message that they can get away with outright harassment and assault too.

To solve this, create and adopt a specific, enforceable code of conduct for your community. Select a small expert group of people to enforce it, with provisions for what to do if one of this group is accused of harassment. Set deadlines for responding to complaints. Conduct the majority of discussion about the report in private to avoid re-traumatizing victims. Don’t make exceptions for people who are “too valuable.” If people make the argument that some people are too valuable to censure for violating the code of conduct, remove them from decision-making positions. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are asking yourself if someone’s benefits outweigh their liabilities, recognize that they’ve already cost the community more than they can ever give to it and get to work on ejecting them quickly.

Start with the assumption that harassment reports are true and investigate them thoroughly

Over more than a decade of studying reports of harassment and assault in tech communities, we’ve noticed a trend: if things have gotten to the point where you’ve heard about an incident, it’s almost always just the tip of the iceberg. People argue a lot about whether to take one person’s word (the alleged victim) over another’s (the alleged harasser), but surprisingly often, this was not the first time the harasser did something harmful and it’s more likely a “one person said, a dozen other people said” situation. Think about it: what are the chances that someone had a perfect record of behavior, right up till the instant they stuck their hand in someone else’s underwear without consent – and that person actually complained about it – AND you heard about it? It’s far more likely that this person has been gradually ramping up their bad behavior for years and you just haven’t heard about it till now.

The vast majority of cases we know about fit one of these two patterns:

  1. A clueless person makes a few innocent, low-level mistakes and actually gets called on one of them fairly quickly. Signs that this is the likely case: the actual incident is extremely easy to explain as a mistake, the accused quickly understands what they did wrong, they appear genuinely, intensely embarrassed, they apologize profusely, and they offer a bunch of ways to make up for their mistake: asking the video of their talk to be taken down, writing a public apology explaining why what they did was harmful, or proposing that they stop attending the event for some period of time.
  2. A person who enjoys trampling on the boundaries of others has been behaving badly for a long time in a variety of ways, but everyone has been too afraid to say anything about it or do anything about other reports. Signs that this is the likely case: the reporter is afraid of retaliation and may try to stay anonymous, other people are afraid to talk about the incident for the same reason, the reported incident may be fairly extreme (e.g., physical assault with no question that consent was violated), many people are not surprised when they hear about it, you quickly gather other reports of harassment or assault of varying levels, the accused has plagiarized or stolen credit or falsified expense reports or done other ethically questionable things, the accused has consolidated a lot of power and attacks anyone who seems to be a challenge to their power, the accused tries to change the subject to their own grievances or suffering, the accused admits they did it but minimizes the incident, or the accused personally attacks the reporter using respectability politics or tone-policing.

In either case, your job is to investigate the long-term behavior of the accused, looking for signs of narcissism and cruelty, big and small. Rock stars leave behind a long trail of nasty emails, stolen credit, rude behavior, and unethical acts big and small. Go look for them.

Make it easy for victims to find and coordinate with each other

Rock stars will often make it difficult for people to talk or communicate without being surveilled or tracked by the rock star or their assistants, because private or anonymous communication allows people to compare their experiences and build effective resistance movements. To fight this, encourage and support private affinity groups for marginalized groups (especially people who identify as women in a way that is significant to them), create formal systems that allow for anonymous or pseudonymous reporting such as an ombudsperson or third-party ethics hotline, support and promote people who are trusted contact points and/or advocates for marginalized groups, and reward people for raising difficult but necessary problems.

Watch for smaller signs of boundary pushing and react strongly

Sometimes rock stars don’t outright break the rules, they just push on boundaries repeatedly, trying to figure out exactly how far they can go and get away with it, or make it so exhausting to have boundaries that people stop defending them. For example, they might take a little too much credit for shared work or other people’s work, constantly bring up the most disturbing but socially acceptable topic of conversation, resist de-escalation of verbal conflict, subtly criticize people, make passive-aggressive comments on the mailing list, leave comments that are almost but not quite against the rules, stand just a little too close to people on purpose, lightly touch people and ignore non-verbal cues to stop (but obey explicit verbal requests… usually), make comments which subtly establish themselves as superior or judges of others, interrupt in meetings, make small verbal put-downs, or physically turn away from people while they are speaking. Rock stars feel entitled to other people’s time, work, and bodies – signs of entitlement to one of these are often signs of entitlement to the others.

Call people out for monopolizing attention and credit

Is there someone in your organization who jumps on every chance to talk to a reporter? Do they attend every conference they can and speak at many of them? Do they brag about their frequent flyer miles or other forms of status? Do they jump on every project that seems likely to be high visibility? Do they “cookie-lick” – claim ownership of projects but fail to do them and prevent others from doing them either? If you see this happening, speak up: say, “Hey, we need to spread out the public recognition for this work among more people. Let’s send Leslie to that conference instead.” Insist that this person credit other folks (by name or anonymously, as possible) prominently and up front in every blog post or magazine article or talk. Establish a rotation for speaking to reporters as a named source. Take away projects from people if they aren’t doing them, no matter how sad or upset it makes them. Insist on distributing high status projects more evenly.

A negative organizational pattern that superficially resembles this kind of call-out can sometimes happen, where people who are jealous of others’ accomplishments and successes may attack effective, non-rock star leaders. Signs of this situation: people who do good, concrete, specific work are being called out for accepting appropriate levels of public recognition and credit by people who themselves don’t follow through on promises, fail at tasks through haplessness or inattention, or communicate ineffectively. Complaints about effective leaders may take the form of “I deserve this award for reasons even though I’ve done relatively little work” instead of “For the good of the organization, we should encourage spreading out the credit among the people who are doing the work – let’s talk about who they are.” People complaining may occasionally make minor verbal slips that reveal their own sense of entitlement to rewards and praise based on potential rather than accomplishments – e.g., referring to “my project” instead of “our project.”

Insist on building a “deep bench” of talent at every level of your organization

Your organization should never have a single irreplaceable person – it should have a deep bench. Sometimes this happens through a misplaced sense of excessive responsibility on the part of a non-abusive leader, but often it happens through deliberate effort from a “rock star.” To prevent this, constantly develop and build up a significant number of leaders at every level of your organization, especially near the top. You can do this by looking for new, less established speakers (keynote speakers in particular) at your events, paying for leadership training, creating official deputies for key positions, encouraging leaders to take ample vacation and not check email (or chat) while they are gone, having at least two people talk to each journalist, conducting yearly succession planning meetings, choosing board members who have strong opinions about this topic and a track record of acting on them, having some level of change or turnover every few years in key leadership positions, documenting and automating key tasks as much as possible, sharing knowledge as much as possible, and creating support structures that allow people from marginalized groups to take on public roles knowing they will have support if they are harassed. And if you need one more reason to encourage vacation, it is often an effective way to uncover financial fraud (one reason why abusive leaders often resist taking vacation – they can’t keep an eye on potential exposure of their misdeeds).

Flatten the organizational hierarchy as much as possible

Total absence of hierarchy is neither possible nor desirable, since “abolishing” a hierarchy simply drives the hierarchy underground and makes it impossible to critique (but see also the anarchist critique of this concept). Keeping the hierarchy explicit and making it as flat and transparent as possible while still reflecting true power relationships is both achievable and desirable. Ways to implement this: have as small a difference as possible in “perks” between levels (e.g., base decisions on flying business class vs. economy on amount of travel and employee needs, rather than position in the organization), give people ways to blow the whistle on people who have power over them (including channels to do this anonymously if necessary), and have transparent criteria for responsibilities and compensation (if applicable) that go with particular positions.

Build in checks for “failing up”

Sometimes, someone gets into a position of power not because they are actually good at their job, but because they turned in a mediocre performance in a field where people tend to choose people with proven mediocre talent over people who haven’t had a chance to demonstrate their talent (or lack thereof). This is called “failing up” and can turn otherwise reasonable people into rock stars as they desperately try to conceal their lack of expertise by attacking any competition and hogging attention. Or sometimes no one wants to take the hit for firing someone who isn’t capable of doing a good job, and they end up getting promoted through sheer tenacity and persistence. The solution is to have concrete criteria for performance, and a process for fairly evaluating a person’s performance and getting them to leave that position if they aren’t doing a good job.

Enforce strict policies around sexual or romantic relationships within power structures

Rock stars love “dating” people they have power over because it makes it easier to abuse or assault them and get away with it. Whenever we hear about an organization that has lots of people dating people in their reporting chain, it raises an automatic red flag for increased likelihood of abuse in that organization. Overall, the approach that has the fewest downsides is to establish a policy that no one can date within their reporting chain or across major differences in power, that romantic relationships need to be disclosed, and that if anyone forms a relationship with someone in the same reporting chain, the participants need to move around the organization until they no longer share a reporting chain. Yes, this means that if the CEO or Executive Director of an organization starts a relationship with anyone else in the organization, at least one of them needs to leave the organization, or take on some form of detached duty for the duration of the CEO/ED’s tenure. When it comes to informal power relationships, such as students dating prominent professors in their fields, they also need to be forbidden or strongly discouraged. These kinds of policies are extremely unattractive to a rock star, because part of the attraction of power for them is wielding it over romantic or sexual prospects.

Avoid organizations becoming too central to people’s lives

Having a reasonable work-life balance isn’t just an ethical imperative for any organization that values social justice, it’s also a safety mechanism so that if someone is forced to leave, needs to leave, or needs to take a step back, they can do so without destroying their entire support system. Rock stars will often insist on subordinates giving 100% of their available energy and time to the “cause” because it isolates them from other support networks and makes them more dependent on the rock star.

Don’t set up your community so that if someone has a breach with your community (e.g., is targeted for sustained harassment that drives them out), they are likely to also lose more than one of: their job, their career, their romantic relationships, their circle of friends, or their political allies. Encouraging and enabling people to have social interaction and support outside your organization or cause will also make it easier to, when necessary, exclude people behaving abusively or not contributing because you won’t need to worry that you’re cutting them off from all meaningful work or human contact.

You should discourage things like: semi-compulsory after hours socialising with colleagues, long work hours, lots of travel, people spending almost all their “intimacy points” or emotional labour on fellow community members, lots of in-group romantic relationships, everyone employs each other, or everyone is on everyone else’s boards. Duplication of effort (e.g., multiple activist orgs in the same area, multiple mailing lists, or whatever) is often seen as a waste, but it can be a powerfully positive force for allowing people some choice of colleagues.

Distribute the “keys to the kingdom”

Signs of a rock star (or occasionally a covert narcissist) may include insisting on being the single point of failure for one or more of: your technical infrastructure (e.g., domain name registration or website), your communication channels, your relationship with your meeting host or landlord, your primary source of funding, your relationship with the cops, etc. This increases the rock star’s power and control over the organization.

To prevent this, identify core resources, make sure two or more people can access/administer all of them, and make sure you have a plan for friendly but sudden, unexplained, or hostile departures of those people. Where possible, spend money (or another resource that your group can collectively offer) rather than relying on a single person’s largesse, specialized skills, or complex network of favours owed. Do things legally where reasonably possible. Try to be independent of any one critical external source of funding or resources. If there’s a particularly strong relationship between one group member and an external funder, advisor, or key organization, institutionalize it: document it, and introduce others into the relationship.

One exception is that it’s normal for contact with the press to be filtered or approved by a single point of contact within the organization (who should have a deputy). However, it should be possible to talk to the press as an individual (i.e., not representing your organization) and anonymously in cases of internal organizational abuse. At the same time, your organization should have a strong whistleblower protection policy – and board members with a strong public commitment and/or a track record of supporting whistleblowers in their own organizations.

Don’t create environments that make boundary violations more likely

Some situations are attractive to rock stars looking to abuse people: sexualized situations, normalization of drinking or taking drugs to the point of being unable to consent or enforce boundaries, or other methods of breaking down or violating physical or emotional boundaries. This can look like: acceptance of sexual jokes at work, frequent sexual liaisons between organization members, mocking people for not being “cool” for objecting to talking about sex at work, framing objection to sexualized situations as being homophobic/anti-polyamorous/anti-kink, open bars with hard alcohol or no limit on drinks, making it acceptable to pressure people to drink more alcohol than they want or violate other personal boundaries (food restrictions, etc.), normalizing taking drugs in ways that make it difficult to stay conscious or defend boundaries, requiring attendance at physically isolated or remote events, having events where it is difficult to communicate with the outside world (no phone service or Internet access), having events where people wear significantly less or no clothing (e.g. pool parties, saunas, hot tubs), or activities that require physical touching (massage, trust falls, ropes courses). It’s a bad sign if anyone objecting to these kinds of activities is criticized for being too uptight, puritanical, from a particular cultural background, etc.

Your organization should completely steer away from group activities which pressure people, implicitly or explicitly, to drink alcohol, take drugs, take off more clothing than is usual for professional settings in the relevant cultures, or touch or be touched. Drunkenness to the point of marked clumsiness, slurred speech, or blacking out should be absolutely unacceptable at the level of organizational culture. Anyone who seems to be unable to care for themselves as the result of alcohol or drug use should be immediately cared for by pre-selected people whose are explicitly charged with preventing this person from being assaulted (especially since they may have been deliberately drugged by someone planning to assault them). For tips on serving alcohol in a way that greatly reduces the chance of assault or abuse, see Kara Sowles’ excellent article on inclusive events. You can also check out the article on inclusive offsites on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

Putting this to work in your community

We waited too long to do something about it.

Odds are, your community already has a “missing stair” or three – even if you’ve just kicked one out. They are harming and damaging your community right now. If you have power or influence or privilege, it’s your ethical responsibility to take personal action to limit the harm that they are causing. This may mean firing or demoting them; it may mean sanctioning or “managing them out.” But if you care about making the world a better place, you must act.

If you don’t have power or influence or privilege, think carefully before taking any action that could harm you more and seriously consider asking other folks with more protection to take action instead. Their response is a powerful litmus test of their values. If no one is willing to take this on for you, your only option may be leaving and finding a different organization or community to join. We have been in this position – of being powerless against rock stars – and it is heartbreaking and devastating to give up on a cause, community, or organization that you care about. We have all mourned the spaces that we have left when they have become unlivable because of abuse. But leaving is still often the right choice when those with power choose not to use it to keep others safe from abuse.

Responses

While we are not asking people to “cosign” this post, we want this to be part of a larger conversation on building abuse-resistant organizations and communities. We invite others to reflect on what we have written here, and to write their own reflections. If you would like us to list your reflection in this post, please leave a comment or email us a link, your name or pseudonym, and any affiliation you wish for us to include, and we will consider listing it. We particularly invite survivors of intimate partner violence in activist communities, survivors of workplace harassment and violence, and people facing intersectional oppressions to participate in the conversation.

2016-06-21: The “new girl” effect by Lex Gill, technology law researcher & activist

2016-06-21: Patching exploitable communities by Tom Lowenthal, security technologist and privacy activist

2016-06-22: Tyranny of Structurelessness? by Gabriella Coleman, anthropologist who has studied hacker communities

We would prefer that people not contact us to disclose their own stories of mistreatment. But know this: we believe you. If you need emotional support, please reach out to people close to you, a counselor in your area, or to the trained folks at RAINN or Crisis Text Line.

Credits

This post was written by Valerie Aurora (@vaurorapub), Mary Gardiner (@me_gardiner), and Leigh Honeywell (@hypatiadotca), with grateful thanks for comments and suggestions from many anonymous reviewers.

The 92nd Down Under Feminists Carnival

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

In blue on a white background, the DUFC logo: in a square with rounded corners, there is the female/feminine symbol; with the Southern Cross inside, above which it says 'Down Under' and below 'Feminists Carnival'.

Welcome! This post is the 92nd monthly Down Under Feminists Carnival. This edition of the carnival gathers together December 2015 writing of feminist interest by writers living in Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to all the writers and submitters for making this carnival enraging, sorrowful, celebratory, and joyous in different ways and at different times.

Highlighted new(er) Down Under voices

I’ve highlighted posts that come from people who began been writing at their current home in 2015, such posts are marked with (new in 2015) after the link.

This carnival observes the rule that each writer may feature at most twice.

Race, ethnicity and racism

Celeste Liddle was angry that Andrew Bolt of all people will be centered by the ABC in the constitutional recognition of indigeonous people debate.

The inquest into the August 2014 death of Ms Dhu in custody in continued in early December (now to resume in March). December writing about Ms Dhu’s death and the inquest included:

Stephanie explored peak white person in travel writing about drug tourism to Colombia.

Bodies

Australian feminist bike zine 3rd Gear launched, with Issue #1 available and Issue #2 calling for submissions (new in 2015).

Catherine Womack swam at McIver’s Baths in Sydney; a women-and-children space.

Ashleigh Witt asked why private health insurers in Australia won’t pay for contraception?

Jo Tamar detected classist overtones in the reporting of bulk-billed IVF treatment in Australia.

Kath asked for marketing of plus-sized clothes that is unashamed and aspirational, using models in the size range of the clothes.

Rebecca shared educational information about breast cancer after another treatment.

Workplace

Stephanie made fun of the silly IBM #hackahairdryer campaign.

Deborah observed that there are more men named David running NZX-listed firms than there are women.

Harassment and abuse

Brydie Lee-Kennedy discussed her experience in the Australian comedy community as a domestic abuse survivor.

On December 1, Clementine Ford shared abusive messages she’s received online. In the followup Kerri Sackville kicked off a Twitter campaign sharing the names of men who send abusive messages on the #EndViolenceAgainstWomen hashtag. Other writeups include:

Clementine Ford, Van Badham, Lou Heinrich and Hoyden‘s own Viv Smythe spoke to Tanya Ashworth about optimism in the face of online abuse and Viv followed up about her feminist burnout.

Lauredhel invited people to resolve to oppose rape culture in 2016.

Deborah Russell condemned NZ PM John Key’s participation in a prison rape joke.

Relationships

Emily wrote about the myth of “spoiling” children by being kind and compassionate (new in 2015).

Celeste Liddle celebrated seven years of singledom.

Jo Qualmann reflected on her experiences being aromantic and asexual in a relationship.

Sky Croeser collected intersectional and anti-capitalist resources on solidarity and healing.

Media and culture

Doctor Who Season 9 wrapped up and Liz Barr mostly but not entirely liked the final three episodes.

Daily Life announced their Women of the Year finalists, with the eventual awardee being Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.

Scarlett Harris looked at women’s friendships in two media phenomenons: Taylor Swift’s performed-friendships and in Grey’s Anatomy.

Ju wrapped up her 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge reading and reviewing.

Anna Kamaralli drew out less-recognised abusive parenting themes in King Lear.

Year end

2015 retrospectives included: Emily (new in 2015), A.C. Buchanan, Avril E Jean, and Rebecca.

New sites

Blogs and sites started in 2015 featured in this carnival were:

Next carnival

The 93rd carnival will follow at Zero at the Bone. Submissions to chally.zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com by 2nd February 2016.

Volunteers are needed to host carnivals from April onwards. Volunteer via the contact form.

Quick link: decriminalise abortion in NSW

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

In 2013 and 2014 there was a push to introduce legislation which incorporated fetal personhood into law in NSW: Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill (No. 2) 2013. See for example Julie Hamblin’s commentary at the time on how such legislation could be used to further restrict access to abortion in NSW, even when the stated purpose is to allow for abusive violence to fetuses to be punished. The bill passed the Lower House of NSW Parliament but was never put to the Upper House, and thus lapsed in November 2014 when the 55th Parliament ended. It never became law.

Leslie Cannold, speaking to a Greens forum in September 2013 (video here, not subtitled) called on NSW to not only fight a rear-guard action in defending pregnant people seeking abortions from further rights being granted to fetuses, but to follow Victoria (and later Tasmania) in decriminalising abortion entirely. And now Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi, is campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW. Here are some of the facts about abortion access in NSW her flyer gives:

The laws surrounding access to abortion in NSW are very confusing. Abortion is currently in the Crimes Act (Sections 82-84), although court decisions have established that abortion will not be unlawful if a doctor reasonably believes it is necessary to save the woman from serious danger to her life, or mental or physical health[…]

In NSW, an abortion is unlawful unless a doctor deems that a woman’s physical, psychological and/or mental health is in serious danger. The criterion of ‘mental health’ can include economic and/or social factors[…]

Any amendments to the Crimes Act, such as those proposed by supporters of foetal personhood laws risks changing that interpretation. By removing abortion from the Crimes Act, it will no longer be a criminal offence and women and their doctors will no longer have to rely on the interpretation of the law by a court in each case in order to avoid criminal liability.

Learn more about the campaign at the Decriminalise Abortion page on Faruqi’s website. You can help by signing the online petition in support of decriminalisation or collecting signatures offline.


Featured image credit:
Pro_Choice_March-Texas_State_Capitol-2013_07_01-9378.jpg
by ann harkness on Flickr.

Blogging for Geek Feminism, a short history

With yesterday’s release of Spam All the Links, I’ve finished my long awaited project of departing the Geek Feminism blog.

I was involved in the blog on, if not from the first day of its existence, at least from the first week of it. My involvement in the blog was huge, and comprises among other things:

  • over 200 posts to the blog
  • founding and for a long time running the Ask a Geek Feminist, Wednesday Geek Woman and Cookie of the Week series
  • doing a linkspam post by myself multiple times a week for about a year
  • recruiting the initial team of Linkspammers and setting up their manual, mailing list and of course, the script that supports them
  • recruiting several other bloggers, including Tim, Restructure! and Courtney S
  • a bunch of sysadmin of the self-hosted WordPress install (it’s now hosted on WordPress.com)

My leaving the blog is delayed news. I initially told the co-bloggers I was leaving close to a year ago now (mid-August, if I’d waited much longer on writing this I could have posted on the one year anniversary), because my output had dried up. I feel in large part that what happened was that I spent about ten years in geekdom (1999–2009) accumulating about three years of material for the blog, and then I ran out of things to write about there. I also have two more children and one more business than I had when I was first writing for it, and, very crucially, one less unfinished PhD to avoid. But I had a handover todo list to plod my way through, and Spam All the Links was the last item on it!

I remain involved in Geek Feminism as an administrator on the Geek Feminism wiki, on which I had about 25% of total edits last I looked, although the same sense of being a dry well is there too.

The blog was obviously hugely important for me, both as an outlet for that ten years of pent up opinionating and, to my surprise, because I ended up moving into the space professionally. I’m glad I did it.

Today, I would say these are my five favourite posts I made to the blog:

“Girl stuff” in Free Software, August 2009 (original link):

Terri mention[ed] that she had resisted at times working on things perceived as ‘girl stuff’. In Free Software this includes but is not limited to documentation, usability research, community management and (somewhat unusually for wider society) sometimes management in general. The audience immediately hit on it, and it swirled around me all week.

Why we document, August 2009 (original link):

I do not in fact find writing the wiki documentation of incidents in geekdom very satisfying. The comment linked at the beginning of the post compared the descriptions to a rope tying geekdom to the past. Sometimes being known as a wiki editor and pursued around IRC with endless links to yet another anonymous commenter or well-known developer advising women to shut up and take it and write some damned code anyway is like a rope tying me to the bottom of the ocean.

But what makes it worth it for me is that when people are scratching their heads over why women would avoid such a revolutionarily free environment like Free Software development, did maybe something bad actually happen, that women have answers.

(I’d be very interested in other people’s takes on this in 2015, which is a very different landscape in terms of the visibility of geek sexism than 2009 was.)

Why don’t you just hit him?, December 2010 (original link):

This is the kind of advice given by people who don’t actually want to help. Or perhaps don’t know how they can. It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating “ignore it”, “fight back with fists” or whatever fairly useless advice you yourself were once on the receiving end of. It’s expressing at best helplessness, and at worst victim-blaming. It’s personalising a cultural problem.

You are not helpless in the face of harassment. Call for policies, implement policies, call out harassment when you overhear it, or report it. Stand with people who discuss their experiences publicly.

Anti-pseudonym bingo, July 2011 (original link):

Let’s recap really quickly: wanting to and being able to use your legal name everywhere is associated with privilege. Non-exhaustive list of reasons you might not want to use it on social networks: everyone knows you by a nickname; you want everyone to know you by a nickname; you’re experimenting with changing some aspect of your identity online before you do it elsewhere; online circles are the only place it’s safe to express some aspect of your identity, ever; your legal name marks you as a member of a group disproportionately targeted for harassment; you want to say things or make connections that you don’t want to share with colleagues, family or bosses; you hate your legal name because it is shared with an abusive family member; your legal name doesn’t match your gender identity; you want to participate in a social network as a fictional character; the mere thought of your stalker seeing even your locked down profile makes you sick; you want to create a special-purpose account; you’re an activist wanting to share information but will be in danger if identified; your legal name is imposed by a legal system that doesn’t match your culture… you know, stuff that only affects a really teeny minority numerically, and only a little bit, you know?

But I’m mostly listing it here because I always have fun with the design of my bingo cards. (This was my first time, Sexist joke bingo is better looking.)

I take it we aren’t cute enough for you?, August 2012 (original link):

… why girls? Why do we not have 170 comments on our blog reaching out to women who are frustrated with geekdom? I want to get this out in the open: people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women.

The one I’m still astonished I had time for was transcribing the entire Doubleclicks “Nothing to Prove” video. 2013? I don’t remember having that kind of time in 2013!

Thanks to my many co-bloggers over the five years I was a varyingly active blogger at Geek Feminism. I may be done, at least for a time and perhaps in that format, but here’s to a new generation of geek feminist writers joining the existing one!

Hand holding aloft a cocktail glass
from an image by Susanne Nilsson, CC BY-SA

Image credit: Cheers! by Susanne Nilsson, Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike. The version used in this post was cropped and colour adjusted by Mary.

The 79th Down Under Feminists Carnival

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

In blue on a white background, the DUFC logo: in a square with rounded corners, there is the female/feminine symbol; with the Southern Cross inside, above which it says 'Down Under' and below 'Feminists Carnival'.

Welcome! This post is the 79th monthly Down Under Feminists Carnival. This edition of the carnival gathers together November 2014 writing of feminist interest by writers living in Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to all the writers and submitters for making this carnival outstanding, amazing, sad, outraging and uplifting.

Highlighted new(er) Down Under voices

I’ve highlighted posts that come from people who began been writing at their current home in 2014, such posts are marked with (new site) after the link. Hopefully this will be a quick guide to sites you may not be following yet.

Also, this carnival (broadly…) observes the rule that each writer may feature at most twice.

Feminist identities and practices

Kelly Briggs explained how her intersectional feminism supports Aboriginal women:

Critique of pop culture does nothing for me and my sisters. It does nothing to aid in our struggle to be seen as equal, which is why I stick to critiquing the policies of governments that use black women as whipping posts… At my last reading of the statistics surrounding this heinous human rights violation [the intervention] incarceration rates have more than doubled, self harm rates have more than doubled, suicide rates are at unprecedented epidemic proportions and forced rehab is nothing short of criminal. WHERE ARE THE FUCKING FEMINISTS?

Catherine Deveny republished her Destroy the Joint piece Feminism in Twelve Easy Lessons.

Tulia Thompson explored the limits of conceiving of bargains with hetero-patriarchal culture as an individual choice.

Race, ethnicity and racism

Kelly Briggs wrote about racism and resulting self-harm and she and Christine Donayre wrote about Aboriginal deaths in custody and how they seem invisible to Australians (new site) compared to police killings of black people in the US. Kelly was also interviewed by Saffron Howden about racist barriers to accommodation and employment for Aboriginal people.

Celeste Liddle listed terrible failures of top-down approaches to Indigenous safety and wellbeing.

Ruby Hamad asked why Australian media continually assembles panels full of white people to discuss race issues and non-white people and communities? She also recounted how she and other people of colour are commonly dismissed as having a lower bar for their work.

Bodies

Jessica Hammond took us on a pictorial tour of the truth of her body. (new site)

Kath at Fat Heffalump described the double-bind of fat women’s sexuality.

Jes Baker asked why the hourglass figure is the only version of plus size that we see?

Tracey Spicer showed us how she uses makeup, how she looks without makeup, and how various pressures changed her makeup use during her career.

Disability

Some of what were to be Stella Young’s last pieces appeared in November:

Danielle Binks discussed differing portrayals of Deafness in Young Adult fiction.

El Gibbs explored other people’s attitudes to disability, and how it’s those that make disability hard.

Carly Findlay wrote about unsolicited comments and advice in the workplace about both disability and appearance. She also debunked claims that autoimmune illnesses are caused by “self-hatred” and cured by “self-love”.

Kathy writes through the five stages of chronic illness (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).

LGBTQ

In the wake of Apple CEO Tim Cook coming out, Rebecca Shaw argues that coming out is still important and heroic.

Harassment and abuse

Jem Yoshioka explored the alignment between activist organisations in the technical community with misogynists and abusers such as Julian Assange and weev. (new site)

Jo Qualmann asked why rape is tolerated as a subject of “masterpieces” of Western fine art?

Roger Sutton, chief of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. Writings included:

Jenna Price reported on the Australian government denying responsibility for violence against women in a report to the UN.

Deborah Russell highlighted the many chilling aspects of the Roastbusters ongoing rape scandal in Auckland, including police failures.

Ada Conroy talked about her work as a men’s behavioural change practitioner.

Jane Gilmore debunked claims that women are as likely to commit violence as men and observes that offender demographics are far harder to access than victim demographics. Jennifer Wilson followed up urging men to stop feeling unfairly attacked.

Motherhood

Lisa Pryor wrote a column about surviving medical school and mothering with the help of caffeine and antidepressants. Former federal Australian Labor Party leader Mark Latham responded in the Australian Financial Review with commentary (which I’m not going to link) called “Why left feminists don’t like kids”. Criticism of Latham’s piece included:

Penni Russon talked with her daughter Una about time travel, women heroes, and community.

Andie Fox told her story of hiding her caring responsibilities while proving herself at a new job as part of the broader picture of women’s caring responsibilities and workplace roles.

Education

Camilla Nelson followed up some October pieces in counting how many of the various states’ English curricula texts are by men.

Clementine Ford wondered what would an anti-sexism school curriculum look like?

Media and culture

Sharon Smith attended PAX Australia and found that the Australian gaming community proved that it was not GamerGate.

Danielle Binks remembered Heartbreak High, including its exploration of gender and racial politics, and the role of public broadcasters in creating diverse programming.

Scarlett Harris explored feminist themes in the musical Wicked and anti-feminist themes in Gone Girl.

New sites

Blogs and sites started in 2014 featured in this carnival were:

Next carnival

The 80th carnival will follow at The Scarlett Woman. Submissions to scarlett.harris [at] y7mail [dot] com by 5th January.

Volunteers are needed to host carnivals from March onwards. Volunteer via the contact form.

Vale Stella Young

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Photograph of Stella Young
Stella Young: Twitter photo

As a few people already wrote in the Welcome back thread, Australian writer, comedian and disability activist Stella Young died suddenly on Saturday, December 6.

I didn’t know Stella in person; I knew her work mostly for her writings on ABC’s Ramp Up, but the many other places she appeared as a performer, speaker and writer included TEDx Sydney, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Global Atheist Convention. You’re welcome to link your favourite appearances and pieces in comments.

I loved Stella’s writing, and I’m really sad. I wish 80-year-old Stella had got to read the letter. Goodbye Stella.

Call for Submissions: Seventy-Ninth Edition @ Hoyden About Town

I’m the next host of the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival! Here’s the call for submissions:

The next edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 December, 2014 and will be hosted by Mary at Hoyden About Town or perhaps puzzling.org, as circumstances permit. Submissions to mary-carnival [at] puzzling [dot] org.

Submissions must be of posts of feminist interest by writers from Australia and New Zealand that were published in November. Submissions are due on 2 December at the latest, but it’ll be easier on Mary if you submit sooner rather than later. So submit early and often, please, and spread the word!

Submit away, please!