Ohai! I’m Socially Awkward!


So KC reported her experience of being sexually harassed at Defcon.

Here’s some choice moments that she wrote about:

Let it be known that I went to Defcon with a reasonable amount of armor on already. I was reasonably aware of the frat party environment I was stepping into. I have many friends who are involved with helping make Defcon roll smoothly each year, from speakers to goons. And still, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of bad behavior I experienced.

Like the man who drunkenly tried to lick my shoulder tattoo. Like the man who grabbed my hips while I was waiting for a drink at the EFF party. Like the man who tried to get me to show him my tits so he could punch a hole in a card that, when filled, would net him a favor from one of the official security staff (I do not have words for how slimy it is that the official security staff were in charge of what was essentially a competition to get women to show their boobs). Or lastly, the man who, without prompting, interrupted my conversation and asked me if I’d like to come back to his room for a “private pillowfight party.” “You know,” he said. “Just a bunch of girls having a pillowfight…. fun!” When I asked him how many men would be standing around in a circle recording this event, he quickly assured me that “no one would be taking video! I swear!” I’m pretty sure this is the point where my lovely partner Morgan asked him if he thought propositions like his had anything to do with contributing to women not feeling welcome at Defcon. This was a very difficult concept for this poor soul to wrap his head around.

PZ Myers over at Pharyngula decided to write about it, as well. And on his blog about it, some dude named peterhearn wrote the following comment:

I’ve been to several computer science related conferences. I’ve never been to DefCon, but it would be the kind of event I’d go to. In my experience its almost all men, nearly all of them socially inept. Most of them don’t have it in them to even talk to a woman. Out of the few guys that do have social skills, they are very bad at them. Every social interaction is awkward. Especially talking to women. Thats usually what you get when dealing with people who spend most of their time coding and very little time socializing in the real world.

I don’t see this woman’s account as an accurate portrayal of the normal behavior at these kinds of conferences. Maybe theres something else going on specifically at DefCon.

I’d suggest going to one of these conferences and seeing for yourself how people behave.

Ohai peterhearn! I’m socially awkward!

Okay… I have to clarify that, because if you don’t, it’s a pretty empty claim, seeing as anyone and everyone can make that claim, at least in some sense.

I am absolutely terrified of social situations. In fact, they are my main phobia. The reason for this is that I simply cannot talk to people.

I mean… okay… if the conversation happens to revolve around music (such as bands/artists/genres/styles that I like, solos [especially guitar solo], musical instruments, and so on), stand-up comedy, politics, philosophy, science, or religion, then yeah, I could talk to people for hours, even days. But small talk? Random shit? Gossip?

Yeah.

Not happening.

I’m even worse at asking questions to fish for a conversation. I just can’t do it. I can’t initiate at all. Someone else has to get the conversation started before I have enough confidence to even cough.

I find any and every excuse to avoid a party because I’m absolutely terrified of being surrounded by people.

And you are more than welcome to read my blog post on the “Ignore It” lie to understand a major part of the reason why I’m like this. I think there’s a mental component, too. I plan on being tested for something like adult ADD or Aspergers. But the main reason is my past; not something that I find very easy to forget/move on from. And it doesn’t help that I blame myself for most of it, either.

But anyways…

I think my “social awkwardness credentials” are well and set. So I’m quite curious on what planet licking tattoos and grabbing hips and “show me your tits so I can get some special from the security guards!” and “come back to my room for a private pillow fight” qualify as “socially awkward” actions. They seem more like sexual harassment fueled by a very blatant misogyny evident in viewing women as nothing more than sex toys.

I can tell you right now that my social awkwardness would never allow me to do anything even remotely like what those men did to KC. At best, I expect to end up in the mythical “Friend Zone”… assuming her and I even talk at all. I simply don’t have the confidence, or the lack of respect for women, to do things like this.

For the record, I wouldn’t do this even if I was a social god who could make every guy alive want to hang out with me and every girl alive want to have my babies. I have way too much respect for people in general, including women, to be this base and animalistic around them. I’m simply replying to someone who seems to think the above can be excused as “social awkwardness”.

You can hide behind that moniker all you want, but it does not give you license to treat women the way those men at Defcon treated KC.

Period.

Of course, peterhearn, you also called KC’s account into question. You admitted that you’d never been to Defcon, questioned her account, then told us that we should go there ourselves.

Have you considered taking your own advice?

I’ve never been to Defcon, either, and I’ve no interest in going, but I know men who have gone and would go, and quite frankly, I’m not at all surprised she received this treatment.

It’s not social awkwardness, peterhearn. It’s misogyny, pure and simple.

About Nathan Hevenstone

I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men.
This entry was posted in Bullying, Feminism, Misogyny, Skepticism, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Ohai! I’m Socially Awkward!

  1. Sinan says:

    Hi Nathan, thanks for posting about this issue. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, because I don’t think Peter’s argument holds water(he hasn’t been to the conference and wasn’t aware that there is a significant number of misogynistic assholes who calls themselves “brogrammers” in the community) but to me it is EXTREMELY clear that he meant no one could possibly do these kinds of acts since all programmers are apparently socially inept. Which heavily implies by the way that the woman who wrote that piece is either lying or mentally ill, another reason why his argument is very bad.

    I honestly can’t even see how anyone would misinterpret his post as: They are socially inept, so its OK for them to be misogynistic assholes. To me his interpretation is the only one that came to my mind and I was baffled by the amount of people who read it like you did. The reason is probably there are actual people who tried to defend the indefensible by saying these people are just socially inept, so he was probably regarded as that kind of apologist.

    “I don’t see this woman’s account as an accurate portrayal of the normal behavior at these kinds of conferences. Maybe theres something else going on specifically at DefCon.” part of his message pretty much cleared that possible confusion for me.

    I read the whole thread and he actually clarified his position at comment #64. So while your argument is certainly correct, you were attacking a straw-man. Peter is wrong, but not for the reasons you wrote.

    Cheers.

  2. peterhearn says:

    Hey Nathan,

    Ok so you quoted me and then went on to talk about yourself for most of the post . I guess I’m the scapegoat for your rant/personal anecdote. Its cool, though. Anyways, you seem to be confused on what I’m saying because you end it with this:

    “It’s not social awkwardness, peterhearn. It’s misogyny, pure and simple.”

    I’m guessing you didn’t continue reading my responses because after my initial post I said:

    “Just to clarify I’m not saying they think its ok to sexually harass someone because you’re socially inept. I ment they’re not likely to behave that way because the thought of licking a girl’s shoulder or grabbing her hips unprovoked terrifies them. Seriously, the kind of person she is talking about is the opposite of what you’ll find there.”

    and then later said:

    “Also as some have pointed out I haven’t been to DefCon and I could be completely wrong about everything.”

    So I think if you continued reading you’d find that I actually agree with you. Basically I’m just saying that the type of guys that lick and grab women are not likely to be found in groups of programmers. Programmers are mostly anti-social and are afraid to do such things. I’m not saying KC lied. I’m just saying the guys she was talking about aren’t the typical programmer crowd, in my experience.

    I stand by every word I said and its very amusing that my honest opinion based on my experience prompted almost a hundred replies that were people twisting my words or trying to make me feel bad. Pharyngula is apparently full of crazy people. But good luck overcoming your social anxiety.

    • The only comment I had seen from you over at Pharyngula is the one quoted in this post. In fact, it was the only comment of yours over there when I wrote this initially.

      If you could link to your subsequent comments at Pharyngula, I’d be happy to update this blog reflecting the new posts… or perhaps even write a new one.

  3. Scba says:

    I’m a woman. I’ve been to Defcon. First time in 1996. Most recently, yesterday. I knew exactly what to expect, or thought I did, but it was worse than I could have imagined. I’m not thin skinned by any means, but holy crap, the behavior of many was boorish and obnoxious. The only way to fix it though is for more women to attend and let it been known that asshat behavior on the part of men toward women is not ok. Defcon has grown up a lot over the past 20 years, but parts of it still have a way to go.

    • The main reason I’m not interested in attending is because I’m not a hacker. Actually, despite the ridiculous amount of time I spend online, I know very little about computers. Can’t do language or any of it. I’d feel incredibly stupid at Defcon…

      But after reading KC’s account, I honestly couldn’t help but think of The Amazing Meeting and what’s going on in the Skeptic community right now.

      For TAM, the women are basically calling for people to just stop going. But there is a pretty big difference. Defcon appears to have a strong anti-harassment policy in place and appears to want to do whatever possible to make Defcon a safe space for women. In light of that, I’d say that you’re absolutely right. Defcon looks to be a place that wants to change, so working to change it is the right way to go.

      TAM, on the other hand, seems to really not give a shit what happens to women. They had a policy in place last year, but decided to just drop it this year, and instead spent all that time making women who felt uncomfortable at TAM in the past feel like shit in general, basically driving them away. In this case, I think a boycott is certainly in order. TAM will feel the heat if women (and men who are allies) just stopped showing up.

      So I’d say it’s a case-by-case basis. It always falls in to the hands of the organizers as to how they will handle harassment. The better they do, the more attendance they’ll get. The worse they do, the less attendance they’ll get.

      • Scba says:

        Part of the awesomeness that is DEFCON is that you don’t have to be a hacker to get something out of it. There are plenty of people there who really want to teach you skills and impart knowledge. Heck, I spent half a day in the lockpick room, learning to pick locks. Spend some time polishing up (or learning) social engineering skills, or just enjoy the amazing parties! The only thing to feel stupid about at DEFCON is walking away from it without learning something! I will definitely keep going, and keep pointing out bad behavior when it raises its ugly head.

      • Now that I didn’t know. Actually sounds like fun… lock-picking room?

        I could enjoy that… :D

  4. Thanks for writing this. What I liked most of all is how social awkwardness/anxiety pops up. When I’m onstage, performing, or talking from a knowledge I’m good. When it comes to mingling or being social? I hide. I’m in my apartment reading or working from home on weekends. Ackward shouldn’t mean dumping social anxiety on someone else to alleviate your own, that’s bullying.

    Thanks for writing. Xo

    • Exactly! It’s the small talk itself that completely ruins me.

      it’s weird, because I absolutely hate attention, but give me a guitar and a microphone, and as long as I have a band behind me (preferably with another guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a keyboardist… even better if they can all sing), I’m set. But mingling with people who enjoyed the show afterwards?

      I’ll hide in the green room, thanks…

      Some of the bullies who went after me were, as I found out later, dumping their own social anxieties on me. Those were the ones who angered me the most. The ones who had issues at home (abusive and/or non-nurturing parents, etc) didn’t anger me so much when I found out because I just pitied them. But the ones who bullied me out of their own lack of social skills ruined any chance I had at ever trying to be social, so I’m just like “thanks, hypocrites. Do you feel better now that you’ve made another one of you?” It hurt.

      But yeah…

      You’re welcome. And thank you.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and respond. Seriously, I think you put into words why social awkwardness isn’t an excuse better than I ever could have on my own.

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