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August 15, 2012


Neil K

Hey, since I know both of you, I am obviously qualified to talk about this. ;)

I think there are a few different things in play here. The red card/yellow card idea isn't the same thing as the idea that conferences should have rules about conduct. And inappropriate relationships or behavior between individuals aren't the same thing as systemic issues.

I agree that official policies about how people behave with each other can be dangerous. They can get in the way of human interactions. And when there are official sanctions and a process for achieving them, some people can manipulate the process to their advantage.

The cards are the opposite of an official policy. Conference attendees spontaneously participate. No coercion other than personal request, no punishment other than shame. I see the cards as being a kind of peer to peer conversation, and they're even optimistic about human nature, because they suggest that personal interactions may change behavior.

The rules you quote about Intel have a couple of virtues... one is absolving the company of all responsibility. ;) But it also seems that the organization then supports what boundaries people want to set, rather than the organization having a universal model for how people are going to interact. I approve of that.

That said, the Intel policy seems to be limited to personal interactions. I don't think that Intel ever had a problem with someone projecting hard-core pornography in a public area, which is something that I witnessed at the last tech event I went to. KC encountered a scavenger hunt for tit-flashing, that was perpetrated by the security of the conference themselves. There's no personal boundary setting to be done here; it's that a collective expectation of a safe space has been breached. Some people could argue that you need conference rules to stop this, and maybe they are right. But I'm not sure that I'd like to see official rules as a response. This particular conference had alternative thinkers of every stripe, and it's hard to make a rule that stops frat-house style crassness while also making a space for people to express themselves about sex and sexuality. So I still like the card system in that instance.

Charles Miller

Except we've seen exactly what happens when somebody tries to declare their personal boundaries by, say, stating quite matter-of-factly in a web video that she doesn't appreciate being cornered in an elevator and propositioned.


Oh, Charles, you mean this, don't you? http://www.atheistrev.com/2011/07/elevators-and-sexism-in-atheist.html

Danese Cooper

alecmuffett: thanks for linking to all that again, and how the heck have you been?

NeilK: your comment is pretty close to one of the process loops I've traversed contemplating how to talk about the whole complex of issues. I came to the conclusion that the Code of Conduct trend isn't a bad thing so long as it is applied rationally (and I really think the Ada Initiative version's suggested penalties for infraction are a step too far). I like the card thing for the same use case you do but I'd hate to see people handing them out to people in their everyday lives (in other words not in the special circumstance of a conference or other meeting) because its too easy to distance oneself from any personal responsibility if you just slap a card on anybody who makes you uncomfortable. And as the mother of a young man, I'm also concerned that the cards inform infringers post-facto of the victim's boundaries in a way that may well feel like an ambush. I can imagine usually very respectful son saying "She was really pissed off and I can't figure out what I did to upset her, and she wouldn't even tell me".

Suzanne Axtell

Hi Danese, thanks so much for your post.

Have you seen this guide to not creeping at cons? It also calls for taking responsibility, but by potential creepers, to avoid being harassers in the first place.

Looking forward to the con where everyone takes responsibility for their own boundaries *and* behavior! :)

See you soon I hope,


Great Read! I totally agree with your points and hope that others can relate to your experience. Keep up the great work!


To much sensitive work.Its a deference article to cared ourselves. I like this one.Thanks for share.

Homa Sapiens

Danese, as you point out, life isn't always fair, and it's a shame that life won't always be fair for your son either. Perhaps you can introduce your son to the concept of "Schrodinger's rapist" in explanation of those mean women who didn't want to talk to him.

But seriously,

I think you have mischaracterised almost all of the code of conduct women. Yes, we would like people to take on the burden of thinking about what they do before they do it. (obligatory women as well as men inserted here)

yes, we know that may not be possible for many people, for many reasons-- not the least of which is the overwhelming culturally nurtured notion that they shouldn't have to behave respectfully. We would like to change that cultural assumption.

Yes, we know that a few people will accost other people regardless.

In fact, we know that some few of those people will continue to accost others no matter how many times or how clearly the words "NO" have been said.

In which case, we would like to know that there is some way of removing those few people from the many. We would like that knowledge to be widely known and assumed. We would like it very much, if a guy would decide one day, to NOT accost a woman in an elevator, because he knows he will be ejected from the conference for doing so.

Homa Sapiens

also-- those cards might not be effective when one has to hand over a red card.



I think there are a few different things in play here. The red yellow card idea isn't the same thing as the idea that conferences should have rules about conduct. And inappropriate relationships or behavior between individuals aren't the same thing as systemic issues. Keep up the great work!

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