Drum roll, please! The third major “hacker” conference to publicly adopt an anti-harassment policy is Chaos Communications Congress 29! CCC is a conference about technology, society, and creativity, and is one of the most popular conferences in the field. Thousands of people travel from all over the world to Germany during the last week of December each year to attend CCC.
We at the Ada Initiative are astonished and amazed to close out 2012 with so much progress in the area of harassment of women at conferences – and it goes way beyond conferences. Each time conference organizers make a public pledge like this, it kicks off a conversation that reveals people’s opinions and beliefs about the role of women in their community – and often changes them for the better. What we find out is often not pretty, but it is also the reality that women in our communities experience. Becoming aware of the problem is the first step in fixing it and becoming the kind of community we believe we truly are.
Bravo and congratulations to the organizers of CCC, BruCON, DeepSec, and everyone else who worked in 2012 to make open technology and culture more welcoming to people of all genders!
Note to conference organizers: The title is still open for the first non-European hacker conference to adopt a public, specific, and enforceable policy against harassment. The honor could be yours!
Why is December the biggest month of the year for giving to charities? No matter how many times it plays on TV, “A Christmas Carol” can’t explain everything. Donations to some charities are tax-exempt in the U.S., but only the most Scrooge-like folks donate just because their accountant recommended it. ‘Tis the season – but why?
We decided to interview two Ada Initiative advisors about end-of-year giving and how they decide which charities to support year-round. Lukas Blakk is a release engineer for a popular open source company, and Kellie Brownell is a professional fundraiser for a prominent open technology non-profit.
But first, here are seven of our favorite open tech/culture and/or pro-women charities (yes, we included ourselves – we’re biased).
Ada Initiative: Supporting women in open technology and culture (that’s us!)
Now to our interview with Kellie and Lukas:
Q: What’s the general idea of end-of-year giving? Why do people do it?
Kellie: According to nonprofits that took part in a survey by Charity Navigator, they receive on average over 40% of contributions between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Non-profits tend to go all out during this time. We’ll send more appeals to more people in one month than we will have during the rest of the year. To a certain extent non-profits condition all of us to give during the holiday season.
Here are some of the reasons why people prefer to give now:
My family makes our philanthropic decisions when we are all together during the holidays
I love to procrastinate and December 31 is the final deadline for making tax deductible donations for the year
I receive my bonus in December
It’s a better time for me to assess my financial situation
I think about what I can do to make the world a better place around the end of the year
Combined, these reasons make year end giving a pretty important time for the non-profit sector. As a fundraiser, it’s obviously my favorite time of the year because I get to meet and thank some people with great generosity of spirit and hope for our success defending the rights of technology users.
Q: What’s your strategy for donating to organizations?
Lukas: I have a few monthly giving amounts set up for organizations because I know that having a steady, reliable source of income makes a big difference for small organizations trying to do big things. These are organizations whose missions I feel closest to. Then I also donate to some organizations at one-offs like yearly fundraisers. Finally there are several annual memberships that I renew every year.
Q: What are some ways to increase the impact of the money you donate?
Kellie: This is a really important question for anyone who gives to the non-profit sector. It has one common answer and one uncommon answer. More often than not you would probably be told to support one out of two charities that more efficiently fulfills its mission. For example, if you want to support animal shelters, your donation will have a greater impact in the hands of a shelter that places more kittens in homes per dollar spent. That’s the common answer and companies like Guidestar and Charity Navigator are there to help you assess things like financial management (which is different than mission fulfillment, but in the absence of better metrics, many donors use financial management as a proxy).
Sumana Harihareswara, Ada Initiative matching donor (Tobias Schumann CC BY-SA)
But talking about your donation will increase the community of support for a cause you value. I have thought back many times to the extraordinary gift Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson gave the Ada Initative in October. Their commitment to a future in which women are supported and thrive in open source communities inspired a great deal of generosity in other people. Sumana and Leonard’s pledge to match up to $10,000 was fulfilled within 24 hours. If supporting a good cause adds meaning to your life or brings you joy in any way, share that with people who you think might also care. It can be a tweet, it can be a blog, it can be a conversation over coffee. One of the most powerful forces I see at play in civic society is someone simply saying: I believe in this and have staked by time or money to see it happen, won’t you join me?
Q: What do you get out of donating to these organizations?
Lukas: Many things. In the organizations I donate monthly to, I just am glad to know they exist and continue to do the hard work that I alone cannot put the appropriate focus on doing. The amplified impact of those organizations isn’t necessarily something I benefit from in my daily life but I never have doubts that the areas they touch are greatly impacted and I love being a silent patron to those shifts and improvements in our society. For one-off fundraising I will sometimes get art or other physical items that have been donated to the org, so it’s more tangible benefit in terms of having something to ‘show’ for my contribution. Then with yearly memberships to organizations I get member privileges as well as knowing I’ve helped support an organization in a sustainable, dependable way. I enjoy getting membership benefits at these places – like discounted admissions, member-only events, and feeling like I’m part of the organization’s fiber.
Today is Ada Lovelace’s 197th birthday. This is a repost of our Ada Lovelace Day article on Ada Lovelace, focusing on the debate over her authorship of the first computer program and attempts to write women out of the history of science.
Lovelace published the first computer program in a paper in 1843. It was presented as “Notes” to a previous, less complete paper on the subject which she also translated, but her “notes” were longer than the original paper and were considerable more insightful. She spent many months perfecting the paper, writing letters back and forth with Charles Babbage to check her work.
The depressing part? Some people argue that Lovelace did not write the first computer program, instead Charles Babbage wrote it for her and she took the credit. Despite ample contemporary evidence in the form of Lovelace’s letters to Babbage while she was writing the Notes, people have many arguments (often tinged with anger and contempt) for why she didn’t write or even understand the first computer program.
Arguments against Lovelace’s authorship include that Lovelace made mathematical mistakes when she was learning mathematics, Lovelace failed to correct a mathematical error introduced by a printer in a reprint of someone else’s work, Lovelace was literally insane, Lovelace had too high an opinion of herself, etc. Interestingly, these arguments are rarely used to question men’s authorship of joint works; indeed mental instability or difficult personalities sometimes seems to add to the reputation of male scientists and mathematicians (Nikola Tesla, John Nash, and Isaac Newton, to name just a few). Certainly I’ve personally never seen a single published mathematical error (actually, in her case merely failure to correct someone else’s error) used as an argument against a male scientist’s competency as a whole.
As another example of the lengths to which Lovelace’s critics will go, Charles Babbage’s biography, written long after Lovelace’s death (and after they worked on the paper) has this statement on Lovelace’s paper:
I then suggested that she add some notes to Menabrea’s memoir, an idea which was immediately adopted. We discussed together the various illustrations that might be introduced: I suggested several but the selection was entirely her own. So also was the algebraic working out of the different problems, except, indeed, that relating to the numbers of Bernoulli, which I had offered to do to save Lady Lovelace the trouble. This she sent back to me for an amendment, having detected a grave mistake which I had made in the process.
People argue that “the algebraic working out” of the numbers of Bernoulli means that Babbage wrote the program to calculate the numbers of Bernoulli. Yet the paper contains an actual algebraic equation for calculating the numbers of Bernoulli – separate from the computer program – which would seem much more likely to be what Babbage is referring to.
More contemporary evidence in Lovelace’s favor includes her extrapolations of what a general purpose computer could do, which stretched far beyond Babbage’s ideas for its use (printing mathematical tables, mostly). She even proposed that computers could make music, which definitely wasn’t Babbage’s idea as he was famous for his passionate hatred of music. The Computer History Museum’s biography of Ada Lovelace says, “The idea of a machine that could manipulate symbols in accordance with rules and that number could represent entities other than quantity mark the fundamental transition from calculation to computation. Ada was the first to explicitly articulate this notion and in this she appears to have seen further than Babbage.” On balance, the evidence would suggest, if anything, that Babbage was the person who did not fully understand the computing capabilities of his invention and Lovelace had the greater knowledge.
In the end, most arguments that Lovelace did not write the first program only make sense in the context of a common assumption: in any partnership between a man and woman, the man did the important work and the woman assisted and polished. Look at Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet. Du Châtelet was a pioneer in the new discipline of physics, publishing several seminal papers in physics, a physics textbook, and a translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Voltaire and du Châtelet were long-term collaborators in the areas of physics and mathematics, working closely on many works, as well as lovers. However, Voltaire’s primary or sole authorship of many of their joint works is rarely questioned.
As one example, only Voltaire’s name appeared on a book he published, of which he later wrote, “Minerva dictated, and I wrote.” Voltaire often referred to du Châtelet as Minerva (interesting in itself as it suggests that du Châtelet was a channel for the goddess of wisdom rather than the originator of her ideas). Is there any serious contention that Voltaire was not the primary author of his publications during the time he collaborated with du Chatelet? No. Was there plenty of evidence that she contributed significantly to his published works? Yes.
“How to Suppress Women’s Writing” by Joanna Russ shows the patterns in how people dismiss women’s writing: “She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it but look what she wrote about. She wrote it but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art,” ad nauseum. (Substitute “computer programmer” for the last – people also argue that what Lovelace wrote wasn’t really a program, either.)
Lovelace’s current Wikipedia page reflects the effect of thousands of people arguing against giving credit to Lovelace: “[...] She is sometimes considered the world’s first computer programmer.” [Update: As of Dec. 9, 2012, it is now "often considered" - the debate rages!] But what Lovelace needs is not a better Wikipedia page, but a better biography.
The most evidence-based biography, “Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers,” quotes heavily from Lovelace’s letters, but is written by someone without a deep understanding of computing. Other biographical works are written by people who appear to be heavily biased against Lovelace, often making extremely critical personal judgements and sweeping statements contradicting contemporary evidence without citing evidence to the contrary.
In 2012, we should not be denigrating women’s accomplishments in science based on specious arguments about personality, occasional errors, and collaborations with men. That’s one of the purposes of Ada Lovelace Day: to bring recognition to women who have had credit for their accomplishments stolen from them.
[Trigger warning: description of violence against women, death threats, homophobia, and fat-shaming]
École Polytechnique massacre memorial
December 6th is the anniversary of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, when Mark Lépine murdered 14 women and injured 14 other women and men on the campus of École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Montréal. Pierre Phaneuf remembers that day vividly, despite being only 12 years old at the time: “I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened, and I knew right there that this was Very Wrong.” For him, that day was the turning point at which he decided to actively support women and especially women in technology.
This anniversary is important for women in technology in part because it connects obvious, overt crimes against women in technology with the ugly root system of “everyday” sexism that feeds and sustains it. Lépine left a long note explaining why he targeted women: feminists had ruined his life (“les féministes qui m’ont toujours gaché la vie“). In particular, he told people that women in technology caused him to be unable to get a job or complete a university degree in technology.
The motivation behind every comment of “if women wanted to be in tech, they would just do it” on Hacker News traces back to the same basic thought process that motivated Lépine: “As a man in technology, women in technology are taking something away from me – and I will get it back by making women leave technology.” Lépine’s explanations make it clear that these murders did not occur in isolation: they were shaped and formed by a part of society that feels threatened by women in technology.
Some argue that the École Polytechnique massacre is an isolated incident that had nothing to do with wider society because Mark Lépine may have been mentally ill. While Lépine’s mental health at the time of the homicides can’t be determined because he committed suicide, mental illness can’t be the whole explanation – most mentally ill people are not violent, much less mass murderers. Lépine’s note explaining his motivations shows they weren’t developed in isolation: he repeats stock complaints about maternity leave, women in the Olympics, and cheaper insurance giving women undue advantage over men. Praise of Lépine’s as a hero by modern men’s rights activists is more evidence that his actions are part of a larger societal movement. In the end, 14 women died because they were women at an engineering school, in a society that feared the growing power of women.
Murder of women in technology, death threats to women in technology, and nasty comments about women in technology are not the same thing, but they grow from the same roots and support each other. Words lead to actions, words support actions, words are themselves actions. The next time you want to speak up about sexism in technology, but aren’t sure why it matters, remember the École Polytechnique massacre, and the way that words grow into deeds.
In 2012, the Ada Initiative helped kick off a discussion in the computer security and “hacker” community about the treatment of women in the community. People started asking questions like: “If we’re so committed to human rights, why are we treating women so poorly? Can we protest Bradley Manning’s imprisonment and at the same time approve of groping women without their consent?”
As one example of the changes that happened in 2012, two computer security conferences, BruCON and DeepSec, adopted conference anti-harassment policies banning things like pornography in slides and unwanted touching (based on Ada Initiative examples), with several more conferences discussing similar steps. In the case of these two conferences, the policies simply formalized the organizers’ existing standards for behavior. Other conferences will have more work to do to change the culture of sexual harassment and groping that has become the norm at their events.
SC Magazine also interviewed KC Crowell, a journalism student, self-described geek, and leader in the grassroots movement to end sexism in hacker culture. She created the “Red/Yellow Card Project,” an initiative to highlight sexism at conferences by handing out brightly colored cards in the style of sports referees. Her take on the Ada Initiative: “They have the amazing ability to connect women in tech who want to share resources and collaborate to bring about major change. That level of open collaboration and networking is so vitally important, especially in the relatively small community of women working within the tech industry.”
The computer security and hacker community is in the middle of an important discussion about their ideals of social justice and how they should apply to the treatment of women in their own community. We look forward to working with you, the community, to turn that discussion into action and bring many more women into the computer security community.
The first computer programmer, Countess Ada Lovelace, was one of history’s more interesting mathematician-philosophers. She was unusual in not only being allowed but positively encouraged to study mathematics – in an era when many people believed that too much education damaged women’s uteruses (no really). What made Ada Lovelace’s education so wildly different?
Kate Beaton, the popular cartoonist, drew a hilarious comic called “Young Ada Lovelace” (below). The short version is that Ada’s father was Lord Byron, a famous poet who was also famously violent and dissolute. Ada’s mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, worried that Ada would inherit her father’s personality and die young and miserable. She theorized that mathematics would counter poetry and unbridled emotions, and taught young Ada advanced mathematics to prevent her from following her father’s example.
You can get a print of this comic signed by Kate Beaton by donating to the Ada Initiative to support women in open source software, Wikipedia, and similar ares. The next 5 donors at the Ada’s Angel level before the close of our fundraising drive on October 31, 2012 will receive a print, in addition to an Ada Initiative t-shirt and/or Ada Lovelace pendant.
Whether or not Ada’s mathematics education prevented any poetical tendencies, it allowed her to write the world’s first computer program, over 100 years before any general purpose computer was actually built. Perhaps if all women had the opportunity and encouragement to study mathematics, the Computer Age would have started 100 years earlier.
The Linux Foundation will match up to $500 of donations to the Ada Initiative between now and November 1st. Double your donation and donate today! If your company is one of many that matches employee donations, you can triple your donation by donating now. Matching donations to non-profits is a perk of employment at Google, Red Hat, Microsoft, Apple, and many other companies – don’t miss out on it!
The Linux Foundation is the primary non-profit supporting the Linux community, including the Linux kernel, Linux conferences, and the Linux ecosystem overall. The Linux Foundation is a long-term supporter of the Ada Initiative’s work to make Linux more welcoming to women, most recently sponsoring AdaCamp, a conference for women in open tech/culture, and donating $2000 to our current fundraising drive.
Today yet another story broke about a U.S. politician making comments downplaying rape. This time, it was a candidate for U.S. Senate Richard Mourdock describing pregnancies from rape as “a gift from God.” Before him were Roger Rivard, a U.S. State representative, with “some girls rape easy,” and U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s with “legitimate rape” never resulting in pregnancy. As a result of these stories, many Americans are now familiar with the effects of powerful people dismissing and redefining rape: at best, it is horribly insensitive and blames the victim, at worst it condones a serious crime.
That’s why I was shocked and horrified when a prominent leader in the Linux open source software community – our equivalent of politicians – made comments that also downplayed the seriousness of all rape. (If you’re not familiar with open source software or the free Linux operating system, they are the technology behind everything from Google searches to Facebook updates to Android phones.)
But harassment doesn’t end when the conference ends. It also happens online: in mailing lists, in IRC channels (a kind of online chat room) and in blogs. How effective is a policy banning groping if a speaker at the conference says women who get groped were “asking for it?” What if a person on the organizing committee routinely makes sexual comments on the project’s official IRC channel? How can we expect women to feel safe at conference receptions when other people at the party believe rape is impossible if they get drunk enough?
We have to act together as a community to send the message that actions like these don’t reflect the values of the majority of the open source movement. We can do this in many ways. Here are just a few:
Reply publicly online and disagree with the person’s opinions
Publicly advocate adopting specific, enforceable codes of conduct in your community’s online spaces
Send email to organizers of conferences expressing your discomfort with being in the same physical location as someone who condones assault
As event organizers, do not invite the person to speak or attend your event
As administrators of mailing lists, IRC servers, and blog aggregators, design and adopt policies governing behavior
Some people argue that the principle of free speech requires us to allow people to say whatever they want in online communities, even if it is threatening, hateful, or discriminates against women and minorities. But as many have pointed out, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of what you say. People are free to say whatever they want – and you are free to react in any (legal) way. Neither do you have any obligation to publish someone else’s free speech. You and your community can support free speech while refusing to condone speech you find abhorrent by publishing it yourself, or supporting the person who said it.
The Ada Initiative has already had many successes in making open source software conferences welcoming spaces for women. We want to work together with open tech/culture communities to keep this culture change moving forward. Let’s increase civility and respect for women in our online spaces in ways that strengthen our communities and our work.
Due to the incredibly generosity of the open tech/culture community, we’ve hit 2/3 of the Ada Initiative’s fundraising goal – that’s 2/3 of the funding we need to operate until March of next year!
With your help, we can reach our goal in the next 7 days before the end of the drive on October 31. Tell your friends why you donated to support women in open tech/culture: Because you want your daughters to have a chance to have an open tech/culture job? Because Wikipedia is the 5th most popular web site in the world but only 9% of editors are women? Because you are tired of sexism in your community? Send an email, write a tweet, post on Facebook – just let people know!