Hey Safeway, your response to harassment in stores sucks

Today, at the Safeway #0995 at 1335 Webster St. in San Francisco, I had to yell “HEY, THIS GUY IS HARASSING ME. IS ANYONE GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?” I was so loud that everyone for 50 feet around me turned around to look. At this point a store employee finally came over and asked the man who had been repeatedly harassing me and another woman for several minutes to leave. Later, the other woman he was harassing found me in the chips and snacks aisle and thanked me profusely.

Harassers hate it when you take their photos

Harassers hate it when you take their photos

I’m writing this blog post because of what this woman told me next to the tortilla chips. She said that men harass her in this store all the time, and the employees never do anything about it. That they treat her like she’s causing the problem, and it’s a “fight” between the two of them. That the only reason they did anything this time was because two women had complained. This young woman was grateful to me – another customer – for being the first person to stand up for her and get her harasser kicked out of this Safeway. And I had to be willing to shout at the top of my lungs before anything happened.

I believe her, because until I got involved, that’s exactly what was happening. When I first saw her, there was a store employee standing between her and a man acting aggressive and verbally abusive. I decided to stand next to her and watch. Naturally, the man started harassing me too – can’t have the women standing up for each other!

Despite this, the store employee kept focusing on the victim, trying to get her not to call the cops. They told him to “keep shopping” and that they would “talk to her” and talk to me. I could not see why this was necessary since he was harassing us right directly in front of the employee. Meanwhile, the harasser would come back and say more nasty things to us as the employee talked to us.

This went on for several minutes, store employee talking to us, man coming back to harass us both, me asking them to kick him out. The store employee eventually went for help, leaving us alone with this dude and his equally scary friend. When he came back for the third time to harass us, that’s when I shouted “HEY, THIS GUY IS HARASSING ME. IS ANYONE GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?” Finally, another employee came over and kicked the guy out of the store.

Harassment is not between the harasser and the victim

I called the store manager when I got home and discovered that she was the exact employee who had been acting like the problem was the woman complaining about harassment and not the guy doing the harassing. I told her what the other woman had told me and what was wrong with the manager’s approach to harassment, that harassment isn’t “between” two people. It’s the store’s problem and they are clearly not handling it well and their staff need more training. Her response? “I told you I was taking care of it.” “That’s the first time I ever heard about her being harassed.” “I was trying to calm things down.”

Hey! News flash! If you’re the store management, I don’t want you to calm things down! If you are standing there as a witness to someone harassing people repeatedly right in front of your eyes, I want YOU to be the person who yells, “HEY! GET SOMEONE OVER HERE TO KICK THIS GUY OUT, PRONTO!” It shouldn’t take some random street harassment vigilante to risk her physical safety to make your store a place where women aren’t afraid to shop. I called Safeway’s national complaint phone number next; maybe that will get somewhere.

The ridiculous, victim-blaming, self-defeating response of the store manager – and the previous 4 times I was harassed today – made me write this blog post. As I was walking back home, I looked down the length of Geary Street and marked out all the places I was harassed this morning. I thought, “I want to own this street. I want to walk down it and never be harassed again. I deserve that right.”

Fighting street harassment

I know that I’m going to get punched or stabbed or seriously hurt someday for fighting back against street harassment in person. I don’t think people should have to risk their health and lives to fight street harassment. Hollaback harassment reporting appThat’s one reason I recently gave $250 to Hollaback, a non-profit fighting street harassment with some pretty cool ideas. The latest is a harassment reporting phone app for New York City that sends your harassment report directly to the City Council and mayor’s office – which is brilliant, send the report to the people who can do something about it. I’ve supported Hollaback since their first Kickstarter campaign and I’m excited to see their work growing and improving each year. Please join me in fighting street harassment the smart way.

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Meet Double Union, a new feminist makerspace in San Francisco

The Bay Bridge and a tugboat in the foreground

View from Mozilla SF

This upcoming Tuesday, September 17th, 2013, from 5:00pm to 6:30pm, the Double Union feminist makerspace is hosting a Tea Social and Lightning Talks at the Mozilla SF offices. Learn more and register here!

What is Double Union? Since the last AdaCamp, a group of open tech/culture feminists in San Francisco have been organizing what I think of as “AdaCamp year-round”: a feminist makerspace here in San Francisco. The idea of Double Union is to have a space where women can work together on fun, creative, and feminist projects in a supportive and women-friendly environment. I plan to work on projects like uploading my e2fsck parallelization patches to GitHub, sewing skirts that fit me well, and making clever, funny feminist propaganda. (Insert evil laughter here.)

Historically, makerspaces and hackerspaces have had difficulty attracting and recruiting women to their spaces. In my day job at the Ada Initiative, I spend a lot of time helping people create a culture and environment that is more welcoming to women. I’m excited to test out that knowledge at Double Union.

So if you’re a woman who has visited a hackerspace before and thought, “Nope, not for me,” come join us for some seriously good food, funny talks, and good company. Or if you are any gender and think a feminist makerspace sounds intriguing, or know someone who might be interested, please come too!

(Just in case it isn’t clear: Double Union is my hobby and Ada Initiative is my job, and they are not related to each other, other than being awesome feminist projects for women in open tech/culture.)

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I am much less disabled!

I wrote a difficult post a year and a half ago in which I accepted that I was actually for real disabled, not just the unlucky victim of a series of unrelated injuries for 7 years straight. (This was probably around the time I bought a second cane in case one cane wasn’t enough to get me the 15 feet from the couch to the bathroom during one of my bad times.) Well, I’ve been waiting to write this post until I was sure, but I’m sure: I am now mostly abled again!

What happened? I stopped eating wheat. Yeah, the whole gluten-free thing? Is trendy because it works for many people. I hesitate to use the term “gluten-free” for myself because I honestly don’t know which part of the wheat I’m sensitive to, but since there’s basically only one wheat product that doesn’t have gluten (purified wheat dextrin, a laxative) it doesn’t matter at a practical level. I’ve had the celiac test and I don’t have the gene for that specific gluten allergy (there are several kinds of gluten and other wheat parts that can cause allergic reactions, celiac is an allergy to a specific one).

I have a lot more details in my Dreamwidth journal about the various weird health problems that cleared up when I stopped eating wheat, but the major one is that my whole body no longer hurts. It was weird when the first major pain center cleared up – it felt like there was an empty hole in my body where the pain had been. I had gotten used to using pain to tell where my body parts were and how they were moving, instead of proprioception. I’m slowy redeveloping that sense, but I still catch myself being surprised when I make a movement and it doesn’t hurt in the way I expect.

I’m not entirely sure what the future holds, other than change. I still have hypermobility problems and I’m working with a sports massage therapist to uncramp the muscles that got injured during this time. While I’m not depressed right now, I fully expect that to change again in the future. My family has a lot of genetically-linked health problems and I already know I have two of them. So I’m not taking my current relatively good health for granted but I plan to take advantage of it while it lasts.

I would love love love to get back to serious hiking but I still feel afraid after years of being unable to even sit up for 2 hours at a time. Today I walked 4 miles like it ain’t no thing, and a couple of weeks ago I went 16 hours straight without lying down. I’m definitely never hiking Mount Whitney again, but the Grand Canyon with an overnight at the lodge at the bottom? Maybe in a year or two.

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2013: Tipping point for the Linux kernel community?

As the last days of the Ada Initiative fundraising drive come to a close ($103,000 so far!), I’m reflecting on what’s changed for Linux in the last 2 and half years. And it’s pretty awesome.

This is the year I’ve been waiting for in the Linux kernel community: the year that 7 new women are learning kernel development at once, the year that kernel developers directly called out the leader of the Linux kernel for fostering a hostile, shitty culture, the year that we as a community realized that the “graying of Linux” is a serious threat to the future of the kernel.

Back in 2011 when I quit my Linux kernel job at Red Hat and co-founded the Ada Initiative, making the Linux kernel community less hostile and more welcoming to women (and all people) seemed like an impossible task. Many Linux developers, past and present, donated to the Ada Initiative anyway, in an act of what I can only call rampant optimism. I decided to focus on more achievable goals, like never getting groped by another Linux kernel developer at a conference again. (So far, so good!)

So I was thrilled to hear about the 7 Linux kernel internships, and the call for civility, and the recognition of the lack of new kernel developers, but I didn’t think the Ada Initiative was directly involved in any of them. But then I kept learning more about ways that the Ada Initiative played an influential part in these events.

As one example, Marina Zhurakhinskaya, head of the fabulously successful Outreach Program for Women in open source, wrote last week about how AdaCamp brought her together with new mentors for the Outreach Program for Women. She told me that the connections she made and the discussions she had at AdaCamp were key to making this year’s 7 Linux kernel internships for women possible. She also credited the increase in the percentage of women speakers at GUADEC this year (from 7% to 21% in one year!) to skills she learned from reading a post on the Ada Initiative’s blog.

It took 2 years to make a noticable impact on the culture of the kernel community, but the Ada Initiative’s approach is working, thanks to people who believed in us back when we were just a web site and two programmers turned activists. My personal goal is to make the Linux kernel community as functional, productive, and enjoyable as the Django community or the Python community. Just imagine: What would a Linux kernel developer event with 20% women be like? What if Kernel Summit was dominated by polite people who just wanted to work together to make the kernel better? How many top developers who left the kernel community could we convince to come back?

For the first time, I’m starting to believe this idea could come true. You can make that day come faster by donating now. And when you meet the new OPW interns at LinuxCon, smile, say hi, and let them know that you’re on their side.

Donate now

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Coding is a human right

Today I was walking down the street, thinking about how barbaric it was that many women were forbidden to learn to read and write in the 19th century in England (some people felt that illiterate women made better wives). Then it struck me:

Preventing women from learning to code is the moral equivalent of preventing women from learning to read and write in the 19th century.

Now, I don’t believe that everyone should learn to code, any more than everyone should learn to repair cars, or write a legal opinion. But I do think everyone should have an equal opportunity to learn to code. Perhaps a better analogy is that access to computer programming is the modern-day equivalent of access to higher education.

I co-founded the Ada Initiative in part to address the stunning gender disparity in open source software: 2% women at the last measurement. And it’s working – as a community, we’ve made more progress for women in open tech/culture in the 2 years the Ada Initiative has been in operation than in the previous 10.

During the month of August, we are running our annual fundraising drive to raise money for our next year’s work: running AdaCamps, teaching Allies Workshops, and working for codes of conduct in online communities. You can help by donating now and by spreading the word about our work. Thank you so much!


Software is changing the world. Women should be one half of the people writing that software.

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Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos

I’m super excited about my keynote at the Ada Lovelace conference coming up in October. Today I wrote the draft abstract and title for the keynote and wanted to share it with all of you and get feedback. Comment away!

Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos

Ada Lovelace has become an almost mythological character in the history of computing. In one story, she is Athena: the world’s first computer programmer, springing into existence fully formed a century before computers existed. In another, she is Bacchus, a delusional drug addict who was reverse-engineered into a feminist icon. But the real Ada Lovelace a complex, multifaceted person who mixed the best of science, art, and philosophy in her own life. What new stories could we tell about Lovelace that reflect the reality of her work and beliefs, and how would that change our view of the role of computing in our society?

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Strong women and the military

My typical morning news routine is listening to NPR’s Morning Edition while catching up on Twitter from the night before – which can be a hilariously jarring experience. Take the news cycle about removing the no-combat rule for women in the U.S. military, in which dozens of reporters uncritically repeated various military units’ contention that women were not physically strong enough for their combat positions.

I was listening to one such story when I read a tweet from Sarah Robles, the Olympic weightlifter. She often tweets things like:


I’ll bet most of Seal Team 6 can’t front squat 363 lbs. Somehow, they assassinated Osama Bin Laden anyway (maybe with the help of, I don’t know, guns and helicopters?).

Or take this one, recently I had the pleasure of watching a strong woman circus act at the Kinetic Arts Center in which the performer climbed – no, rocketed – up a 25 foot long rope, hand-over-hand (look, no feet, ma!), while smiling and holding a girlish pinup pose. She then proceeded to demonstrate vaccuuming and other housewifely activities using an entire adult man as a prop.

And then today I read about Carla Esparza, a 5-foot-1 mixed martial arts champion who won the Invicta Fighting Championships in the “Straw-weight” division. When she’s not competing, she usually trains with men – and beats the crap out of them.

But those are Olympic athletes, circus performers, and martial arts champions – women so rare we can ignore them, right? Then how about my own college weightlifting experience, where I regularly leg pressed twice the weight that my male classmates used? I only ever saw one person at that gym leg press more than I did, and he won the local race to the top of a nearby mountain the following year. As anyone who has ever met me will know, I’m hardly an athlete, but when it comes to physical strength, I have some genetic advantages over many men.

Sarah Robles

Sure, women are, on average, not as strong as men. But strength follows a bell-curve distribution in both sexes, and for all but the most incredibly elite steroid-fueled few men, you can find women who are just as strong. Part of our misconceptions about women’s physical strength is that literal strong women sometimes don’t look like our society’s current stereotypes of “fit women.” If you saw Sarah Robles walking down the street, you’d probably peg her as a couch potato, never knowing that she could bench press the athletic-looking guy walking past her.

But military service isn’t about looks, it’s about ability to get the job done (or it should be). Ironically, the military is already having to turn down more than 75% of applicants – because the (mostly male) recruits of today aren’t fit enough to pass the basic physical fitness tests after a lifetime of too many video games and not enough running around outside.

If this is the competition, women don’t need to be Olympic athletes or martial arts champions to serve in all military combat positions. They just need to train, be determined, and not be kept out by the old boys’ club.

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