Sexism and douche-baggery in the hackersphere



blog Your writer has long been a huge fan of Australian self-described journalist, information-activist and commentator Asher Wolf (not believed to be her real name), whose Twitter account has over the years become precisely the kind of courageous anti-authority technology nexus which we love. Maverick Wolf has contributed a great deal to the Australian and global information security environment, not only through her information distribution efforts but also through her founding of the CryptoParty movement, which has done much to promote the use of information security tools by individuals.

All of this is why we’re so disappointed to see the kind of behaviour going on online which Wolf alleges has been, in this angry blog post slamming segments of the online technology community for what Wolf says are examples of “misogyny, sexism, and harassment”, as well as just “down-right douche-baggery”. Wolf writes:

“I didn’t create Cryptoparty just so a bunch of privileged white boys could exclusively hang out together, slurping down ClubMate while trying to figure out how to anonymously use BitCoin to buy Aderall off SilkRoad.”

Without knowing the exact situations which Wolf is referring to (and subsequently not being able to take sides on this one), it’s not really a secret that the technology industry and community has some issues with sexism; it’s such a male-dominated industry and this kind of issue pops up regularly over the years. We like to think things are getting better in workplaces in Australia with regard to this kind of issue, but on the Internet, where anonymity and even simple physical distance can give people confidence to be rude, the problem is doubtless still somewhat entrenched.

We’re sorry to hear that Wolf has been having these kinds of problems, and hope the online community can take positive action to rectify this kind of thing. If the extremely lengthy comment thread under Wolf’s blog post on the issue is any indication, at least the topic is being debated now. And we believe Wolf is a strong enough person to be a lightning rod for this kind of debate to happen. We need more debates like this in the Australian and global technology community.


  1. Wow, that truly is a disheartening and depressing read. What a bunch of misogynist arseholes. Its good to see this being talked about at least. Not that much can be done about these things I fear, other than highlighting and discussing them, and hope a few people are educated in the process.

    Regardless, I detest sexism in any form. It’s just so childish and pathetic. Usually it comes from males who feel consciously or sub-consciously threatened by intelligent women; especially women who are popular or in positions of power. And bigtory towards single mothers is again all too common, but equally as inexcusable. I have a few friends that are single mothers, and all of them work their arses off to support their child, while still managing to be a great Mum. To suggest that the “soft” nature of being a mother disqualifies someone from a position of power is the ultimate misogyny.

    Things have gotten so much better for females in society over the last 50 years, but unfortunately the bigotry remains all too strong behind the scenes. And of course there’s nothing like the anonymous nature of the Internet to amplify stupid viewpoints from such people. Very sad.

  2. Unfortunately people like to discriminate against people who are not like themselves. Not that it is an excuse, but it has been found to be partially in our genetic makeup. (sorry no link, saw it ages ago in a news article).

        • No I don’t agree with him/her.
          I think saying “it’s not an excuse, but it’s partially in our genetic makeup” is total BS. That is an excuse, and there is no excuse in the 21st century for sexism.

          • Is it OK to debate about what racism or sexism entails, though? I know that for a lot of, let’s call them “anti-bigots”, simply arguing about whether something is bigoted shows that you are bigoted. I think that’s a sad thing. The other thing is that you can’t celebrate diversity without first acknowledging diversity. Men and women are different, the baseline is not equal representation (that is an ideal) but equal opportunity. If a man is chosen over a woman as, say, a soldier, because he is found to be more suited towards it, then that’s that. If a woman is chosen over a man as a childcare worker, because she is found to be more suited towards it, then that’s that. Not that women can’t be soldiers or that men can’t be childcare workers. I think that I’m being perfectly reasonable and objective in saying this, but some would call my views sexist.

          • Well, I read the blog post and I agree that the way she was treated was definitely sexist in some instances. In other instances… well, it just seems like the kind of shit-talkers you deal with when you play public online games.

          • I don’t really understand your distinction. Of course you can debate the issue of sexism without actually being sexist yourself. As long as the debate doesn’t try to de-construct the definition of sexism or try to play it down or make excuses for poor male behaviour.

            Its a fairly black and white issue at the end of the day – Either you genuinely believe (and behave in an according manner) that women are every bit as capable at everything a man can do (yes, physically speaking too) and should be entitled to exactly the same entitlements and freedom as men. Anything less is not true equality.

          • I should add to that – respect is paramount. If people don’t hold the same amount of respect for women as they do men, their behaviour will generally reflect this. Like Tony Abbott for instance. Who thinks he believes in equality, but who behaves in an openly sexist way (not as bad as he used to be, but he still does) and his core belief in Catholicism discriminate by stating that the man is “the head of the household” (just one of many discriminations of the Catholic church).

          • @Simon: Umm.. not wishing to utterly change or derail topics completely but the whole “men are head of the household” line in Catholicism has a lot more context than just “being in charge”. As is with everything it’s usually taken as an “easy way out” w/o nitpicking at the actual context.

            The whole point of the line is actually to act as a burden of responsibility – as head you are to take care of your family, provide for them, *respect* them and make sure they are brought up *respect everyone*. We are already talking about problems w/ assumptions and stereotypes lets not propagate some more shall we? =P

          • I apologise for mentioning Catholicism. Or if you are a believer of another sort, and if I offended your particular Church’s interpretation of the bible (which quite seriously sounds more progressive and sensible) I’m genuinely sorry. However, let’s not pretend for a second that religion is not relevant to sexism. The “head of the household” line has been interpreted a thousand different ways over different eras, almost always negatively impacting upon women and their rights to do anything in society.

            Its because of that ancient religious notion that the woman should ‘only stay home and cook and care’, that up until the last century prevented women from having any rights whatsoever; whether it was to vote, to have the right to a divorce (or who they wanted to marry in the first place), to be the legal beneficiary of a man’s property if he died and countless other things that men and their various religious institutions have held back from women over thousands of years.

            If it wasn’t for the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century, then the cultural revolutions of the 1960’s and feminist movements of the 70s-80s (all of which all the various Churches condemned at the time) women’s equality through changes to the law would never have taken place in 1st world countries.

            Sorry if you believe I’m going off topic, but I think its very pertinent to the history of sexism, and its also worth reminding ourselves that we still haven’t achieved full equality for women. However at least the western world (and other secular societies) have come a long way to making things better for women in relatively short period of time.

          • @Simon: No offense taken :D A common misconception is that the bible is be all and end all for Catholicism. It’s not… rather its not supposed to be the whole picture. We also have the Catechisms which is meant to be a guide and give some context to the “good book”

            But I’m definitely not going to say religion is “innocent” of existing prejudice and inequality between the sexes. Religion has been a big part of western culture and the cultivation of a lot of stereotypes/prejudices. It’s just that it’s also very easy to throw away tag lines as an excuse to do “X” w/o taking into account context something a *lot* of people (myself included) do at various occasions. That’s usually when I throw in my 2 cents on the context =P

            At the topic at hand.. IMHO all just boils down to common decency and mutual respect folks!

          • I don’t believe that though, and I think it’s a fiction. The best women are not as capable as the best men in some respects (!), and the best men are not as capable as the best women in some respects (?!). I don’t think equality is something we should value or strive towards, but instead equity. Sometimes they are the same thing. In intellectual pursuits at least, they often are the same thing.

            Here’s a good discussion of the difference between the two (that admittedly I found with a cursory google search of “equity vs equality”):
            It even includes a bit on the (two) feminist movement(s), which is closely related to (but not the same as) this discussion about sexism.

            There ARE differences between men and women’s capabilities (if not necessarily potential) in different fields, and if the actual root cause is barely nature and mostly nurture, then you can continue to bitch all you want about the outcomes (e.g. hardly any women in IT and engineering), give as much lip-service as you want and change nothing; or you can work to change the environment that nurtures this unnatural disparity between men and women’s capabilities in different fields. But then that’s your prerogative. Personally I’m currently trying to compete against both men and women that are more employable than me, so I don’t have the time or inclination to be an ally of justice. I will only give advice, however harsh or sweet.

            As far as taking offense goes though… this puts things in a bit of perspective:
            Not that that’s an excuse for being a dick, but some people just need to not leave themselves open.

          • Offense is after all taken, it can not be given. Taking offense is pretty much someones inability to accept that everybody is different and in the world of 7 billion people not everybody will hold the same moral view on something as them.

          • @Harimau: Speaking personally (as I can’t possibly claim to speak for all women), it’s legitimate to discuss whether something is actually sexist—although I’ll note that in the vast majority of these discussions in online fora, this is used by (some, not all) men as a derailing tactic.

            Of course there are some (usually over-exaggerated) differences between men and women, but studies looking into those differences tend to find that the variability /within/ each sex is at least as great as the variability /between/ the sexes. (I’m deliberately using a sex binary here as getting into sexual variability is probably out of current scope).

            There was an interesting (peer-reviewed) study released last year that found that unconscious bias is a demonstrable thing, even among academics who are supposedly trained to be strictly evidence-based and objective.

            Interestingly, this particular study found that both men and women were prone to unconscious bias. So no-one’s suggesting that (most) men are acting deliberately to exclude, persecute, or harass women (although some men undeniably are). But there are a range of factors, from social conditioning, to genetics (usually a fairly minor issue, especially in ‘brain-use jobs’), to our innate preference for ‘people like us’, up to those bitter/damaged/crazy men who are vehemently and incorrigibly hateful and misogynistic on a day-today basis.

            If you haven’t read the HOWTO I linked to, it’s a great starting place. And I’m happy to provide links to further reading if you’re interested.

            And please guys, remember: if someone says “some guys are X”, and you’re *not* X, then they’re not actually attacking /you/. Just the people who actually *are* X. It’s a common thing for guys who would otherwise see themselves as allies to women in IT to get defensive in these discussions. If you’re not actually part of the problem, we really do want you to work alongside us to be part of the solution. :-)

            Anyway, that’s enough of me being a unicorn^ for one day. ;-)


          • You’re probably right that the variability within each sex is at least as great as the variability between the sexes, but then you also have to consider peak performance and average performance. For example, men may be (I don’t have statistics or research to refer to, but I’m fairly confident), on average, stronger than women, and the strongest men are stronger than the strongest women, although the strongest women may be stronger than the average man. But I guess those are simply physical capabilities.

            As far as intelligence goes, I have no doubt that men and women are equally matched, although I’ve read some studies showing that we each have our specialisations (for instance that men are better at spatial reasoning – I haven’t read whether it’s been discredited or not). But at the same time, our intelligence and specialisations almost certainly vary a lot more within sexes than between sexes.

            I’ve also read the argument that men are often selected over women for higher corporate positions because men are more likely to stay in that position longer due to women having family commitments (pregnancy, maternity leave, etc.), but that may be an invented rationalisation. I think people will always think like that until medical science gives us a way of having men give birth. Having said that, I hope you’ll appreciate that I’d prefer to abstain from such medical advancements. Alternatively, there’s cyberisation… which would be cool.

            Actually I read a great article on The Conversation about this topic, unconscious bias:
            The basic gist of it was that people invent rationalisations after making their decisions, rather than deciding something through rationalisation.

            As far as women in IT go (or engineering, which I’ve recently completed studies in), I’d posit that it’s a matter of interest more than anything… I think women generally just aren’t interested in IT and engineering. That’s probably more of a cultural thing. Part of it is that they might see the male-dominated industry as being too much of a barrier, or part of it is that it’s just not “cool” or something, it’s less socially acceptable or it just doesn’t register on women’s priorities. But that’s just my theorising, you’re probably in a better position to understand why women don’t take that step into IT or engineering, since you took that step.

            It’s easier to exclude minorities, so perhaps you need to push for greater representation of women in IT – but that’s not really something you’d talk with men in IT about, it’s something you’d talk with women outside of IT about. Get them interested.

            I guess there’s also, well call it how it is, sexual tension. There’s the cliche that men and women can’t really be friends (or at least it’s very difficult – cue the chorus of guys saying “but I have many close female friends I have no romantic interest in!”; guys, those are exceptions, or you’re lying). So of course a man isn’t going to treat a woman the same as he’d treat a fellow man; but isn’t it the same vice versa? A truly asexual society is a possible solution, but personally, actually not one I’d care to live in.

            As far as men abusing women go though… well, dicks will always be dicks. Pun not intended.

          • @Harimau: Yup, you’ve completely derailed this thread. Kudos!

            I’m willing to continue the discussion, but only if you’ll agree to stop with the “I just don’t believe X”, or “I posit” without any kind of supporting evidence other than “I reckon”. These ideas and rationalisations have been brought up, discussed, and most refuted time and again in many online fora. A little (non-cursory) Googling, followed by reading and reflecting with a genuine desire to engage with the material (rather than dismiss out of hand based solely on your own experience or assumptions) would be a great start.

            Or, you could just agree to invoke Rule #1 of holes right now…

          • That sounded like a blanket reply to the general gist of what you think I said. I don’t know what arguments you think I made (that apparently have been commonly refuted – hell, I didn’t think I was even making any arguments, just continuing a conversation) since you didn’t really respond to anything in particular.

            So for the sake of argument, I’ll put forward an argument: I believe that men and women should have the same rights and opportunities, but I don’t call foul when the outcomes are not equal. I might as well complain why graduates new to the workforce like me are not getting paid as much as a corporate CEO. Sometimes I do.

            I am supportive of (though admittedly not actively campaigning for) greater acceptance and a greater presence of women in traditionally male-dominated industries like IT and engineering. And why not? They can do just as good a job, and no one deserves to be singled out and mistreated.

            But you know, talking and doing are different things. Unless of course you’re a politician, then talking is what you do.

            I don’t know you, so I have to ask. What are you doing to bring women into the IT industry?

            “And this is relevant because…?”

            It’s relevant because it’s a lot easier to exclude a minority. Everyone can say “men should just stop being pricks to women”, and you’re right, they should, and it’s not the women’s fault at all, but both men and women can do more about it – and with more women in the workplace, a greater representation of women gives them a larger voice. Numbers don’t win a war, but they certainly help.

          • @Harimau: So now I have to prove my feminist activist street cred to you before you’ll take me seriously?

            Fuck you.

            “I am supportive of… …greater acceptance and a greater presence of women in traditionally male-dominated industries like IT and engineering.”

            Yeah, except judging by your words here, you’re really not.

            I’m out. (Happy to continue to engage with others here though.)

          • @itgrrl

            No swearing at others, please. Delimiter’s fundamental rule is that posters must be polite:



            Look, sorry, but you’re sidetracking the main issue here quite drastically and I believe that some of your comments are bordering on sexist (such as what you said about women in engineering and IT). You’re not being overtly sexist, but your comments are definitely bordering on offensive. Be very very careful with what you post here in future. This is your first warning. I will not tolerate further explorations into the angle you’re pushing. Your behaviour is also why I didn’t delete @itgrrl’s ‘fuck you’ comment out of hand. Their anger was justified.

            Delimiter Ubermind

          • @itgrrl: I’ve re-read all that I’ve written and I can see how someone might take offense. You think I was questioning your ability or your dedication. I wasn’t. But nevertheless, I’m sorry. Often I’m too blunt with my words and I should learn to be more politic. For example, when I used the word “bitch”, I was using it in the same sense as “that Facebook friend always bitches about his life”, rather than any of the female connotations. An unfortunate coincidence, honestly. I should definitely choose my words better.

            @Renai: I think this was largely a misunderstanding. I’ll be more careful in future. Honestly, I didn’t expect this to get so out of hand. I find it actually quite hurtful, the suggestion that somehow I am sexist or that I am intolerant of women in the workforce. It’s a splash of cold water and I’m re-examining my views, but… really the point I was trying to make was that if more women joined these traditionally male-dominated industries, these terrible incidents and this culture of exclusion would become a thing of the past.

            Actually, you have a thread titled “What do you want to see from Delimiter in 2013?”, well I’d like to suggest more news about or even guest articles by women in IT in Australia.

  3. What happened to Asher sucked.

    She deleted her twitter account yesterday, by the looks.

  4. Yep, there are a surfeit of penises with ears in every sub strata of society, just seems that the ‘hackerdom’ is inordinately packed with ’em… after all these years it would seem that they will never realise that their pathetic little dufus shtick is boring, irrelevant and passe now, if it wasn’t for the harm to nice folks that their anonymous packrat tripe can cause…

  5. It’s great to see that here, at least, the issue isn’t being trivialised or denied. As a woman in IT, I really appreciate that. It makes Delimiter feel like a much more welcoming/inclusive space to hang out in. So yay! :-)

    If anyone’s keen to dive a little deeper into the issue, and/or is wondering about practical steps you can take to help make IT communities more inclusive of participation by women, have a read of Val Henson’s HOWTO on encouraging women in Linux (it applies to the whole IT sphere just as well) –

    There are plenty of other great resources out there too. Ping me if you want more links (a few are in the links sidebar on my blog, but there are lots more).

  6. So I should modify my first para above. Change it to “…*mostly* isn’t being trivialised or denied…”

    Most of the posts are supportive of women being encouraged to participate fully in IT and other traditionally male-dominated fields. I still appreciate that. :-)

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