Can We Fail At Feminism? If Yes, Are We?


This post is about some recent activity that has been flourishing because of a blog post by Nice Girl on the blog Nice Girls Like Sex Too. The blog post, titled “The Dark Side of Geek Feminism” reports the perception of one woman on attending OSCON (a foss conference). Rather than the post being about the usual issues at open source conference like sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the like, this post is about being excluded and “shamed” by the geek girl community for wearing low cut tops and being flirtatious. The poster had experienced this kind of this from the geek community before, and thus claims to have amped up her behavior (looking to draw some blood, it seems).

This post definitely started a shit storm—I came to it because I have a google alert for “open source sexual assault” which returned to me a disgusting rant on reddit about how feminazi trolls are always making up sexual assault stuff because they’re bitches in solidarity with Nice Girl’s post (which, I imagine, she finds equally as disturbing).

Geek Feminism, which is probably my favorite hub for geek girl activity, wrote a response in defense of Nice Girl, calling out the geek feminism community. Author Terri writes, “There’s a difference between hoping to see better representation of women at different levels of geekery on panels and in high profile spaces and just being a dick to attendees. Watch that you don’t cross that line.”

Some authors wonder if the backlash to Geek Feminism—which is still very new—is here. Bruce Byfield who has been pretty active in the geek feminism community writes, “Meanwhile, the only good thing about this situation is that it clarifies issues. I may have had differences with individual Geek Feminists, but, in such circumstances, the answer to the question, “Which side are you on?” suddenly becomes very simple. The Geek Feminists have the potential to improve the FOSS and free culture communities. Those who attack[sic] them can only assure that the present state of affairs continues.”

Now, I don’t think that some people getting snubbed by others in the community is signaling the end of anything—but Bayfield has a pretty good point. Feminists have never been a single, unified group that believes one thing. There have been many waves, countless oppositions, and seemingly infinite nuances to opinion. But, theoretically, and hopefully, we are all moving in a similar direction: increasing the respect of women in a field where they rarely receive and often have to fight diligently for it. As one commenter on Bayfield’s article wrote, “Be careful that a well-deserved kick in the butt does not turn into a witch hunt against feminist geeks, because there are certainly many men (and even more pseudo-women IDs) who would welcome any and every opportunity to undo the work of Geek Feminists.” Well said. We can police and criticize and improve our own communities without needing to splinter, right?

I read Nice Girl’s article, and I read her follow up, and it seems to me like she is not trying to undo the geek girl community. And maybe it is painful to hear about one’s own shortcomings, particularly when many, many women and men have fought so hard to gain what little respect they have won. But condemning those who could be allies has never worked for feminism. Creating bullshit rules and regulations hasn’t worked either. I hope that Nice Girl can align with the geek feminism world, because her position is not an unreasonable one. Likewise, the community should be seeking women with differing positions and opinions in order to strengthen the community overall.

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One Response to “Can We Fail At Feminism? If Yes, Are We?”

  1. Terry Peterman says:

    A few things here, Layne. Great work.

    First, I suggest we start an rock/rap group called, “Bitches in Solidarity.” We could be like a geeky academic Rage Against the Machine. We have to make this happen. It is a moral imperative. Don’t under estimate my prodigious rap skills. I “rock the mic like a vandal” to quote the greatest living rapper of all time, Vanilla Ice.

    Second, I followed your link to NiceGirls post. I was surprised at her reluctance to file a complaint when prompted by Valerie from the Ada Initiative. I understand her reluctance to name and shame but it seems that this could be a very important teachable moment. By documenting the behavior she could open up a discussion. I also understand her reluctance to bear the brunt of anyone else’s venom. However, do you think she should have filed a formal complaint? Would you have? Seriously, all “I would have kicked their asses” aside. In her shoes, would you have pursued this through formal channels?

    Third, I could not help but think of my wife during all this. When we were under grads we took an Intro to the Profession of English course as Juniors. It was taught but a self affirmed “Feminazi” (said so in her syllabus). She told my wife (in front of the class) that she, “could never be a feminist because she is locked in the beauty game. As long as she work make up, sexualized her image (fixed her hair and wore what the instructor found to be inappropriate attire), and continued to make self depricating jokes she would always be seen as a whore and would, thus, undermine the feminist cause.” My wife cried and left class at break. She still holds a bit of a chip on her shoulder like NiceGirl about her image and feminism.

    Anyway, my point is that you seem to strike a middle ground that says there are not necessarily stone tablets with the ten commandments of feminism, and if you don’t follow these ten commandments then you are condemned to exodus from the field. You are right: the community should be seeking women with differing positions and opinions in order to strengthen the community overall. Difference of opinion makes a unit stronger. Knowledge is not made in agreement. Knowledge is made along those fractures where consensus break down and questions are proposed. On the flip side you are correct that there certainly many people who would welcome any and every opportunity to undo the work of Geek Feminists. I think you do a great job of offering a middle path that acknowledges both sides.

    Good work.