Code of Conduct timeline and postmortem

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Last week, Geek Feminism announced we’ve adopted a Code of Conduct.

As Annalee said in that announcement, this comes long after adoption of codes in other communities, especially events:

You’ve been promoting Codes of Conduct for years. Why didn’t you adopt one of your own sooner?

We dropped the ball in a big way here. We’ve known for at least two years that we needed a Code of Conduct internally. We’re sorry for the inexcusable delay.

We thought it would be useful to other communities to discuss how this happened.


May 2008: Skud founded the Geek Feminism wiki, two and a half years before anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct began to be promoted by geek feminists.

August 2009: Skud founded the Geek Feminism blog, more than one year before anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct began to be promoted by geek feminists. At the time of launch. the blog had a strong comment policy which remains in essentially the same form (albeit expanded since). We weren’t the first by a long way to have such a policy (in fact it was based fairly closely on that of Hoyden About Town) but this was at the time unusual among the technical blogs and forums that many of the original bloggers frequented.

November 2010: Warning for assault Nóirín Plunkett was assaulted at ApacheCon. Within the month, Valerie Aurora had released a draft anti-harassment policy for events and finalised it for events to adopt. This is the policy that is now maintained on the wiki.

I have not found any discussion of Geek Feminism adopting such a policy internally at this time, which isn’t surprising considering it was envisaged as being for in-person events.

Early 2011: there were person-to-person complaints within the Geek Feminism community that an individual within it is harassing people when Geek Feminism contributors meet up in person (as sometimes happens at conferences we attend and similar).

January 2012: AdaCamp Melbourne (the first event I know of run by Geek Feminism community members that occurred after the development of the event anti-harassment policy) has an anti-harassment policy.

July 2012: Blogger Nice Girl reported harassment at OSCON by attendees identifying as geek feminists and using terminology from our wiki. (We do not know the identities of these people.) In August, Skud wrote on the blog:

We are taking a few different steps to address the specific concerns raised. One is that we are reviewing our wiki pages to make sure that we have information on slut-shaming and that it is appropriately cross-linked with articles about sexualised environments at geek events to help reinforce/educate people that criticising an individual woman’s choice of clothing is very different from criticising (for instance) a business that uses booth babes as a marketing device.

The second thing is that we are setting up a process so that people can contact us if they experience harassment by someone associated with GF. This is a work in progress, especially since GF is (as mentioned) a loose affiliation with no official membership, and because we may be asked to deal with harassment that occurs outside our own spaces. However, if someone is harassing another person under GF’s name or in a way associated with GF, then we want to provide a private way for people to contact us, and respond appropriately.

On the same day, Skud wrote the first version of the wiki’s Slut shaming page.

At around this time, Skud founded Growstuff, reducing her available volunteer time; her participation in the blog and other Geek Feminism activities dropped drastically over the next few months.

July/August 2012: Emails about the harassment by a Geek Feminism member discussed earlier began to circulate among Geek Feminism bloggers, presumably with our awareness of internal harassment risks heightened by the public and private discussions of Nice Girl’s reports. More than one person reported feeling unsafe and no longer recommending our backchannels as safe spaces. Skud first became aware of these reports at this time.

Given the seriousness of a known harasser operating in a community central to anti-harassment policy promotion, it didn’t seem appropriate to wait for a policy and response group as mooted by Skud to be in place and instead Valerie Aurora spearheaded a letter asking this person to leave the community, which was signed by several others including myself. The person left our community.

After this, I cannot find any further internal discussion of an anti-harassment policy for approximately another year.

April 2013: Recognising her lack of availability for volunteering due to work commitments, Skud formally announced she was stepping down as a Geek Feminism administrator. There was a discussion about handing over various technical responsibilities but not (that I can find) about the anti-harassment status.

July 2013: I sent an email to the blogger backchannel reminding them that an anti-harassment policy is still to be developed. There was a short and inconclusive discussion.

October 2013: Annalee produced an early draft policy document with many unresolved questions, particularly who the policy was intended to apply to, and how reports would be resolved. Comments on the document were made by several community members.

November 2013: Rick Scott began to formalise existing editorial practice on the wiki in the Editorial guidelines page, which was revised over a few months by a small group of wiki editors. It is intended more to communicate norms to newcomers and onlookers than to protect wiki editors from each other.

January 2014: Discussion had died down on Annalee’s draft. I sent an email with some open questions but no one including myself follows up before May.

May 2014: Annalee produced a new draft anti-harassment policy and circulated it for discussion. Skud, Tim, Valerie and myself all commented and edited substantially. Annalee asked for consensus on adopting it, Valerie suggests she JFDI, and I ended up proposing a timeline through to late June for circulating it more widely, giving people time to familiarise themselves, appointing the Anti-Abuse team, and then making the document public.

June 2014: The Anti-Abuse Team was appointed after an internal feedback process. Annalee announced our Code of Conduct publicly. I made our policy made available for reuse and promoted adoption by other communities.

Post mortem

Things we did right

Skud established best practices (particularly the comment policy) at the time our community was founded.

When it became clear that harassment in our community was a periodic problem, we acknowledged publicly that we had not put best practices into place (a anti-harassment policy) and began discussing one suitable to our community.

We returned to the issue periodically without further external prompting or known (to me) incidents of harassment and eventually got a policy in place. In the process, we hope we have developed a new best-practice policy for communities to use so that others do not have to go through this process.

Our new policy has a pretty sophisticated description of various types of harassment, based on a wide variety of personal experiences and reports of harassment received by those of us who do anti-harassment action or advising in other communities. It is better adapted for a long-lived community than the event policy is, by, eg, considering incidents of harassment in the past and in other communities. It has a more explicitly feminist stance in, eg, stating that it centres the concerns of marginalised people, and that tone-policing will not be regarded as harassment.

Things we did wrong

Various individual members of the community were slow to recognise harassment in our community based on first-hand reports from victims.

We were very slow at responding to the known need for a policy, especially for a group which was among the leaders in advocating that in-person events adopt policies. Even on the most generous reading of this timeline, there was explicit discussion of an internal anti-harassment policy in August 2012, at the time Skud discussed Nice Girl’s harassment, meaning that nearly two years passed between us explicitly committing to it existing and it being put in place. We seem to have been caught in a common problem here: we had no active need for the policy (that I know of personally), and so we did not push ahead with it.

Less central members of our community report that they wondered why we didn’t have a code of conduct, but did not feel empowered to ask about it.

Where to from here?

It is far better to have clear documentation concerning safety in particular, and common problems in general, before they are needed. We hope our reusable policy gets adopted by other communities or assists them in drafting their own, to avoid some of the slowness involved in starting from scratch.

Skud reviewed our community structure and documentation in the lead-up to her Open Source Bridge talk and found various inadequacies. She and Annalee have each raised the issue of reviewing our community’s processes,. We would need to look at questions such as:

  • are we following best practices in anti-harassment, anti-abuse and establishing safer spaces?
  • is our group unusually reliant on certain individuals and if so (it usually is so in any community), how can we share knowledge and resources so that there are less single points of failure?
  • is our documentation sufficient for a newcomer to the community?

Does anyone have pointers to similar review processes in other groups? That would be really handy.

Skud suggests that in addition, with important projects like a code of conduct, a relatively structureless group like ours explicitly appoint people to the project, so that they feel empowered to act on it. We particularly need to be alert to Warnock’s dilemma (does silence signify consent, ignorance, lack of understanding, lack of interest or contempt?) in discussing changes to our community. We also need to be alert to hidden hierarchies, to, eg, the sense that nothing can go ahead without approval from, say, Skud as founder or myself as the most frequent poster.

Annalee suggests that we need to improve our institutional memory with documentation like that above, together with internal private documentation where it is impossible to make things public. This helps identify when things were done for a very good reason, versus having emerged essentially by accident, versus never having been done at all by anyone. We also need to clarify (probably continuously) about whether we are a JFDI community, or whether projects must have people appointed to them, or other.


Thanks to Annalee, Maco, Skud, Valerie and one of the linkspammers for their review of this post. Except where explicitly attributed, all opinions herein should be taken to be mine, informed by discussion with others in Geek Feminism but not necessarily co-signed by them.

Is harassment in your community unwelcome? Adopt a Community Anti-Harassment Policy!

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Last week, the Geek Feminism community announced that we’ve adopted a code of conduct in our community. Our code begins:

The Geek Feminism (GF) community is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.

This code of conduct applies to all Geek Feminism sponsored spaces, including our blog, mailing lists, and wiki, as well as any other spaces that Geek Feminism hosts, both online and off. Anyone who violates this code of conduct may be sanctioned or expelled from these spaces at the discretion of the Geek Feminism Anti-Abuse Team.

We took quite a long time to do this, after two harassment incidents associated with the Geek Feminism community (albeit, one probably not by people who are actually active in our spaces and who therefore can’t be excluded from them). We’d love it if others learned from our example and adopted a policy within their own communities. To that end, as of today, our Community Anti-Harassment Policy is available for re-use under Creative Commons Zero/public domain and we are beginning to develop associated resources, just as we have done over the past few years for the Conference anti-harassment policy

Here’s what you need:

  1. a policy (remember, ours is available for re-use, either as is, or in a modified form)
  2. a contact point where harassment reports can be received
  3. a group of responders who receive reports and have the power to act on them up to and including excluding harassers from your community

If your community does not have an obvious way to create a group of responders, start discussing how you can create one. In many communities, there is likely to be an existing volunteerocracy at the very least. Can these people reach consensus that your community should be safer from harassment, and that they are unwilling to work with harassers? Simply announcing to people that they must cease a behaviour, or they must leave the community, is in fact very effective as long as there is basic consensus around community norms. For online groups technical structures can help, but social structures are in fact the root of anti-harassment. You don’t need ops or admin power or the crown of the ancient rulers to enforce anti-harassment policies in your community, you need consistent anti-harassment responses by people with social power.

If you don’t know that your community has concensus on being anti-harassment. as a start you can declare your own personal anti-harassment stance, and publicly call for your community to adopt a anti-harassment policy, and a structure that enables the response team to exclude people from the community.

As Geek Feminism shows, activist groups or groups that have advocated for anti-harassment are not safe from internal harassment and still need a policy. And groups with no known harassment incidents are also not safe; it’s quite likely that people in your community have experienced harassment they felt unable to identify or report. Take steps to ensure harassing behaviour becomes known, and that it is known to be unacceptable.

One specific model we encourage you to avoid is the Our community is amazing! So wonderful! We rock! PS no harassment model in which you spend a lot of time affirming your community’s goodness and make a general statement about anti-harassment in passing. We discourage putting this in your anti-harassment policy for these reasons:

  1. you probably do not know the extent of harassment in your community without a policy and a reporting mechanism, and may not rock as much as you think
  2. stating that you are “anti-harassment” without saying what harassment means to you doesn’t give your existing community and potential new members the information they need to find out if their safety needs are a close enough match for your community’s norms

Stating your community’s great work or exemplary behaviour can be really useful for establishing social norms and letting people understand what joining your community means. They form a good basis for specific policies. But don’t make such statements in your anti-harassment policy, make them in a separate document listing your community’s values and goals. And it may be best to say that you aspire or intend to create an amazing space, rather than that you have definitely attained that goal. Statements that you are definitely no questions amazing may be used to silence people with critical feedback and in the end reduce your amazingness.

We also discourage private anti-harassment policies (shared only within a community or within its leadership), for reasons outlined by the Ada Initiative [disclaimer: I co-founded the Ada Initiative].

Do you already have a community anti-harassment policy, or have we convinced you to adopt one? List your community on the Community anti-harassment adoption page! And thank you.

Geek Feminism: a family cloud

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Skud and I were both separately musing recently on the complex ancestry of some of the Geek Feminism, geek feminist, geek social justice and similar initiatives. Things like this: Double Union arose partly from discussions among AdaCamp San Francisco alumni, AdaCamp is a project of the Ada Initiative and draws on my experiences with my earlier LinuxChix miniconf (later Haecksen) event, the Ada Initiative exists in turn partly because Valerie Aurora and I met through LinuxChix, and so on.

Skud then founded the Geek Feminism family tree project which maps influences from one project to another in geek feminism and geek social justice projects. It’s enormous!

As an example, here’s the portion of the graph that relates most closely to the origins of the Geek Feminism blog and wiki, and the projects that have arisen from them:

Flowchart of relationships between geek feminist and social justice projects
Part of the Geek Feminism family tree

Important note: this is an edited version of the graph that excludes many projects not so directly related to the Geek Feminism blog and wiki. You can see the most recent version of the full image for a better idea of how complex this is. Please check it before reporting that your project hasn’t been added yet!

Contribution guidelines:

  • This project is ongoing and does not claim to be complete. We’d love your help. Corrections and additions welcome! If you’re a github user you could submit a pull request directly to Skud. Otherwise feel free to leave comments here with suggestions of what nodes and lines to add, change, delete or annotate!
  • A line is intended to denote some form of influence or inspiration, not ownership or perfect agreement. So, for example, a project might have been inspired by another, or filling gaps in another, or founded by members who met through another, and so on. The two projects may or may not be aligned with each other.
  • You can view a fuller description of some of the relationships between projects in the source file for the graph.

Names, glorious names

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Some time back, I wrote:

We [on the LinuxChix lists] also had a long-standing problem articulating what it was that led to the extreme gender imbalance in Free Software development and many of its user communities… There was sexism in computing and in Free Software”¦ probably? Some women had stories, some women didn’t.

Now we have our long list of incidents, but I want to highlight another list which I’m happier about, our list of women in FLOSS. Back in the olden days, say 1999 or 2000 or so, LinuxChix tried to make a similar list. The Wayback Machine tells us it got to ten names, and I recall a significant amount of head scratching going into that. Now we have a list of women that is no doubt badly incomplete, probably uncompletable, but nevertheless something like ten times the length.

Today, instead of scratching our heads about what women could possibly deliver a keynote presentation at a technical conference, we started listing women who have done so, and I suspect that list too is fated to remain drastically incomplete no matter how actively it is updated. This is an inexpressibly happy thing for me: too many women to name! Thank you geek feminist flowering of 2008/2009!

Are there recent sources of geek feminist inspiration the Internet has tossed your way? Any treasure troves of women doing things you hadn’t heard about before? (Recall, we define geekdom broadly here, there’s no need to limit yourself to tech.) Who are you a mad fan of right now?

Why we document

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

A comment over on the Geek Feminism wiki asked whether we aren’t damaging the community by documenting sexism. I don’t want to get too 101 on our fine blog, but I do want to talk about why I consider our pretty long list of sexist incidents in geekdom a success.

My first geek feminist forum, and still the one I participated longest in and therefore in many ways most influential on me, was LinuxChix. Things I learned over there included the reasons why having men dominate conversations can be anti-feminist, via the discussion around the document now available as behaviour in technical forums, which was originally a response by Valerie Aurora to a problem where the LinuxChix techtalk list was seeing fewer and fewer posts by women and was generally perceived as scary and hardcore.

We also had a long-standing problem articulating what it was that led to the extreme gender imbalance in Free Software development and many of its user communities. I can’t speak for the community, but what I remember feeling about those discussions was a major unease. There was sexism in computing and in Free Software… probably? Some women had stories, some women didn’t. There was social, peer and societal pressure on young women considering science and technical careers or even on developing those skills… probably? Again, some women had stories, some didn’t.

Had you asked me in 2003 for troublesome incidents in Free Software””are we doing anything wrong, or is this a problem we’ve inherited from other people who did things wrong, or is this just a thing about women, that they don’t like to be too nerdy in their spare time?””I don’t know that I would have been able to give you examples of anyone doing anything much wrong. A few unfortunate comments about cooking and babies at LUGs, perhaps. Things started to change my awareness slowly. Valerie’s 2002 HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux dug up some incidents at LUGs. In 2005 LinuxChix itself got some attention from (trigger warning) the troll Skud posted about. I was personally present at a sexualised presentation, the Acme::Playmate presentation at the Open Source Developers Conference in 2006. And in 2007, very soon after I had seen Kathy Sierra keynote 2007, she was scared out of her work writing about technology by (trigger warning) online harrassment and for the first time, I personally saw the Internet explode over the issue of active, virulent sexism against women in technology.

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. It’s not the only answer, there’s still all that social, peer and societal pressure, the shorter leisure hours, and so on, after all. And there’s no level of harrassment or cruelty that won’t find someone, plenty of someones, prepared to immediately argue that it’s really no big deal, what are you doing here, giving up? Letting them win? But now if when I’m asked about whether geek women have problems and why there aren’t more of us, I’m not left fumbling to explain it even to myself.

I don’t know what the Mary of 1999 (my watershed geek year wasn’t 1998, in fact) would have done if she’d come across that page in more or less the condition the wiki comment described, “the girl entering the community without any predispositions”, the woman vulnerable to being misled into thinking that geekdom is full of scoundrels (or, we might argue, not entirely misled). Maybe she would have run, I can’t say for sure that she wouldn’t have. But what woman is without baggage? In 1999 as a teenage girl with hair flowing down to my waist (I tell you what, short hair has cut my street harrassment down nearly as much as it cut my grooming routine down) I walked down the street to the steady beat of rape threats from passing vehicles. At least I would have found that geek women were talking about it and had got together and got each other’s back.