July 2nd, 2014


women and def con: I'd go back.

There's been lots of talk lately about women at computer conferences having to listen to sexist bullshit, including this one that's making the rounds on my twitter feed Def Con, Jeff Moss, and Sexism: why I won’t be going to Def Con again.

I've been to Def Con twice. Alexis Park, and the Riviera. The Riviera experience was definitely different so if there's one thing I will hands-down agree with it's this: Def Con isn't the same. You have to search to connect, people aren't out sitting waiting to meet each other, share drinks and talk shit on the man. The parties are more likely to be closed off. It's starting to feel more subdued.

It's getting more cautious, and feeling more corporate.

And I guess that's where part of me doesn't want to be a feminist killjoy ordering them to be less sexist, because I know what that will mean. It's that old stereotype people have about feminists pointing to a woman in a bikini saying "HERE, SHE is the PROBLEM!" - yes women are used for window dressing at def con. But I was dressed up going along with it, feeling hot in cosplay, what does that make me? And at the same time I was finding really cool, supportive guys willing to teach me about lock picking, and willing to eye-roll at that creepy dude at the Alexis Park pool who asked if I wanted to be this year's Pool 2 Girl (do not google).

Yes, I am in SWE. I'm a former chair of my company's women's network, lead outreach projects to get girls in engineering. I also donate plenty to funds that help women around the world with microloans, or to just achieve justice in the eyes of the laws of backwards countries. To me that's really where feminism is.

At Def Con? I feel like leaving it at home. We are privileged. To the right audiences, we can be heard... there was a presentation I attended in 2005 about why there weren't more female hackers. Well, it was lead by a man and AWFUL, this guy had no idea. But what were we standing up and presenting? It's not like I was rolling out SWE research. And I didn't want to... if I spoke at Def Con, I wanted it to be about security, because just for once I wanted to relax for one weekend and be part of the crowd. And I could be! Arms around sweaty hackers at karaoke, singing our lungs out to "small town girl" drinking coronas and swapping funny stories about times we'd crashed servers by accidentally leaving a sql query in a loop, I felt accepted.

Def Con is just unsexist enough for me... I find jerks, but I find friends. I find nerds who've never been accepted, and that's when I as a woman feel like someone relates to me not being accepted. I am not there to advance my career, not worried about who's passing me by, because there are enough cool people listening to me. It's not like a professional conference, it's not IEEE. I don't need everyone listening. I'd rather everyone just be totally honest - and they are.

And I might want to wear a leather miniskirt, and not wonder what social gender constructs lead me to chose that. I just want to relax.

I realize that I have said women engineers shun feminism as a defense mechanism. A shield we have around us to act like "one of the guys".

But just for one weekend a year of cussing, alcohol, and debauchery, I like the shield.