Friday the Thirteenth Again

Steph Guthrie:

The Harper government’s horrifying, draconian sex work legislation will result in violence and death for countless sex workers. It cannot pass, and in order for us to stop it, we need to scream about it. All of us. Please read and share.

Originally posted on The Honest Courtesan:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.  –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

red umbrella ballToday is the first Friday the 13th in fourteen months, and since I’ve picked up quite a few readers since July of 2012 a number of you are probably wondering what that has to do with anything.  Well, it’s just this:  from soon after the beginning of this blog, I’ve asked those of you who aren’t sex workers yourselves to speak up for our rights on this day.  The gay rights movement didn’t really take off until the friends and families of gay people got involved, and it’s the same for us; since only about 1% of Western women ever formally work as whores, we’re going to need a lot of help to make our voices heard.  We need all the sex workers (such…

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Transferable consent: On Bill C-13, surveillance and cyber-sexual assault

Today I was invited to speak to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights about Bill C-13, the so-called Cyber-Bullying Bill. Here’s a transcript of my speech.

Thank you for having me here today. My name is Steph Guthrie, and for the last year I’ve been speaking and writing at length about the issue Bill C-13 claims to tackle. While the bill’s name in the press is the “Cyberbullying Bill”, the more specific problem addressed by components of Bill C-13 is known as “revenge porn,” a term I hate for both its inaccuracy and sexualized sensationalism.

Whatever you call it, we’re talking about sharing sexually explicit images without the consent of the person or persons depicted. While some such cases involve hacking, in many cases the subject consented to share the images with one person for private use, such as a sexual partner, and that person then violates their trust and shares the image with others, despite the subject’s (in most cases) obviously implied expectation of discretion.

The crux of the harm inflicted here is violation of informed consent. If I share an image with another person privately, that consent is not transferable. Had I known that the other person might later share the image with others, I would be unlikely to consent to letting that person access the image to begin with. So any consent I provide to a person accessing that image is pretty clearly contingent on them keeping the image to themselves.

For me, informed consent is an integral part of privacy. Indeed, in her influential Privacy By Design framework, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian cites freely given and specific consent as a vital element of digital privacy.

Cavoukian’s principle can be applied to non-consensual intimate image-sharing, which, let’s be honest, is an incredibly clunky way of describing what is ultimately cyber-sexual assault. A survivor of cyber-sexual assault did not provide specific consent for their image to be shared with others. The perpetrator simply treated their consent as transferable to any other use, any other disclosure.

And as I’m sure some other speakers will be sharing with you, the results of this are devastating. Women (and it does mostly happen to women, though men are not immune), well, their lives are destroyed. The images follow them into their job interviews and on their first dates and to the Laundromat. In some cases the perpetrator of the cyber-sexual assault incites violence or stalking against the survivor, publishing their personal information and the dates and times of their professional engagements, encouraging their “fans” to make an appearance.

In any case, the assault constricts the survivor’s ability to live life normally and comfortably, because they are constantly living with the idea that the people they encounter may know intimate things about them that they didn’t consent to share. Even if the survivor knows they did nothing wrong, they must still deal with the judgments, misperceptions and intrusions of others. So for many survivors, their ability to move freely, safely and happily in this world is limited.

I’m fortunate to not yet have been attacked and tormented in this way, but I could be. It’s common for authorities and the media to malign people who send so-called “sexts” as teenagers with poor judgment and impulse control, but that doesn’t line up with reality. According to a Harris poll in 2012, a full 40% of people who send these images are in the 18-34 age range, and 20% of all adults sext (a Macafee survey puts that number closer to 50%). And I’m willing to bet a lot more than 50% of us have trusted a romantic or sexual partner only to learn later that our trust was misplaced. Cyber-sexual assault can and does happen to a lot of us.

When Rehtaeh Parsons died by suicide after months and months of torment from her peers and indifference from authorities following her own sexual assault, first in the flesh, then online, I heard Prime Minister Stephen Harper say that “we’ve got to stop just using the term ‘bullying’ to describe things like this. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity”. At the time I was already a vocal advocate for legislation to tackle cyber-sexual assault, and was accustomed to hearing political and legal decision-makers blame the victim, so I was cautiously optimistic at Prime Minister Harper’s remarks.

Then I realized, as many Canadians realized, that most of Bill C-13 is not really about what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons. Buried within C-13 is a set of decent Criminal Code amendments to tackle cyber-sexual assault. Though I see some minor issues with those amendments that I may refer to in the Q&A, the base for good cyber-sexual assault legislation is there in Bill C-13. But you have to dig pretty hard to find it, amid the many other sweeping amendments that more closely resemble the lawful access provisions found in Bill C-30 back in 2012 – you know, the time when Canadians were told that opposition to the bill was tantamount to support for child pornographers.

While some of the more egregious elements of the former Bill C-30 have been removed from this latest incarnation, it still significantly expands the state’s capacity for surveilling Canadians without the pesky oversight of our court system. One of the most troubling provisions in Bill C-30 was that it mandated the disclosure of user information to police without a search warrant. The newly designed provision in Bill C-13 very cleverly softens this, instead stating that police can request information, and the person or organization to whom they direct their request can voluntarily comply. However, the very next provision in Bill C-13 removes all civil and criminal liability for anyone who discloses another person’s information to police upon request.

This granting of immunity removes much of the incentive for an internet service provider to deny the request. As law enforcement officers and prominent figures of power and authority in our lives, it is also debatable the extent to which a person might feel compelled to provide the information to a police officer, even if technically they are “volunteering” to do so. In the last week, a steady stream of damning media reports have indicated that the practice of voluntarily disclosing user information to police is already in full swing amongst Canadian telecommunications companies, with the state making over a million requests for user information in the course of a year. All without warrants – i.e. without due process. All, quite obviously, without the user’s consent.

Maybe most of Bill C-13 isn’t about cyber-sexual assault, but it violates the same privacy principle of freely given and specific consent. Most of us do not and would not give free and specific consent for the state to access any and potentially all of our data by way of our internet service providers if we had any meaningful choice in the matter. The consent we give is to our internet service providers, and if the police want our information because they suspect we are engaged in criminal activity, well, most of us would assume that’s what search warrants are for. Bill C-13 enshrines the idea of transferable consent in law, immunizing anyone who shares our information and violates our privacy without adequate legal justification for doing so.

While obviously different in many ways, the limitations on personal freedom imposed by Bill C-13 bear some striking similarities to those imposed by cyber-sexual assault. The state could be following us into our job interviews, on our first dates, to the Laundromat. The Bill’s provisions will restrict Canadians’ abilities to live life normally and comfortably, because they are constantly living with the idea that the state may know intimate things about them that they didn’t consent to share. Even if they know they have done nothing wrong or illegal, they must still deal with the judgments, misperceptions and intrusions of the state. So for many Canadians, if Bill C-13 passes, our abilities to move freely, safely and happily in this world will be limited.

That’s why it pains me to say, after a year of arguing for legislation that criminalizes cyber-sexual assault, that I cannot support this legislation as written. I cannot trade one set of civil rights for another. We should separate the components of Bill C-13 that deal directly with cyber-sexual assault from those that do not, and debate them as different pieces of legislation. Not only would this be in the best interest of Canadians, but it would do greater justice to survivors of cyber-sexual assault than amalgamating their cause with another one that serves the state’s pursuit of power more than it serves Canadians.

Why the cyber-bullying bill is a lie

I’ve been slacking off on the blog this year, gang. Ever since December of last year, I’ve been meaning to blog my thoughts about Bill C-13, which the Canadian government has dubbed the “Cyber-bullying Bill”.

Chances are if you follow this blog, you know that I care a lot about the issue of revenge porn (i.e. sharing intimate images of somebody without their consent). Late last year, after an opposition MP introduced a private members bill to prohibit revenge porn, our Conservative government introduced their own. It is very likely this legislation will pass.

Since I’ve been arguing for a year that we need criminal legislation to address this issue, you’d think I would be happy about this development. I am not. Find out why by watching this episode of CANADALAND with Jesse Brown, in which I lay out the issues with the so-called “Cyber-bullying Bill,” Bill C-13. SPOILER ALERT: they should really be calling it the Surveillance Bill.

Bystander intervention and myth-making in “Anonymous vs. Steubenville”

This morning I learned that Brad Pitt’s film production company purchased the rights to “Anonymous vs. Steubenville”, a Rolling Stone article about online citizens’ investigation and exposure of a cabal of teenage rapists in middle America and their enablers, which included both teens and adults, institutions and individuals. An advocate for Jane Doe, the unidentified survivor of the Steubenville rape, claims she is seeking input on the film. This whole thing could go very well, or very poorly.

So far, discussion around the new film has centred on the story frame created by the Rolling Stone article, which largely erases Jane Doe, and entirely erases the female blogger, Alexandria Goddard, who exposed the story and shone a beacon on it for Anonymous to discover. Instead, the Rolling Stone story focuses on Deric Lostutter, the Anon who became known as KYAnonymous and famously faces more jail time than the Steubenville rapists for his role in bringing them to justice.

Some folks think this framing is a bad thing, because the last thing we need is another story about sexual assault that erases the survivor in favour of crowing about the heroic man who intervened. Others disagree, arguing that we need to be telling more stories about men challenging rape culture and sexual assault.

I’m inclined to agree with both viewpoints. The truth is, men have an important role to play in solving the problems of rape culture and sexual assault, and it couldn’t hurt to give them more role models for bystander intervention. I think, for me, the problem lies in making the men who do intervene into heroes, and their interventions into acts of heroism and bravery, rather than imperfect acts of support and respect. This mythologization can actually make the act seem more intimidating to perform, and gives people license to stand down if that’s easiest for them, because they’re not a HERO or anything.

I understand that it can be intimidating to stand up to your colleagues if they are making rape jokes, or to tell your friends how fucking predatory it is that they’re scanning the party like Terminators to find the drunkest girl to bring home. Toxic masculinity means that some will interpret these acts as betrayals of your bros. And because of the aggressive ways in which men are socialized to respond to challenge, I understand it also opens up the possibility of physical violence in some cases, and we all need to be careful about that.

So okay, I get it, it can take guts to intervene as a bystander. But make no mistake, these are not True American Hero guts – they are Regular Decent Person guts, and we can all find them in ourselves if we do a little digging. In the case of sexual violence and rape culture, indeed, we all must find these Regular Decent Person guts in ourselves, because it will take that many acts of intervention, that many confrontations, that many snubbings at the bar or in class or at work, that many destroyed “personal brands”, that many damaged or ended friendships (among many, many other things), to solve the problem.

When I was in university, I found myself in a very Jane Doe-like situation: I was black-out drunk and, when my friends turned away for a mere minute, a man I didn’t know (who was sober) whisked me into his car, drove me to my house and raped me. It took a few weeks to begin to understand what happened to me as rape, because of the many messages our culture sends to the contrary (through vessels ranging from the film The 40 Year Old Virgin to my own roommates). One reason I did come to understand it as rape was through the counsel and support of a few close friends, including a couple I knew named Chris and Candace.

A couple of months after my rape, Chris and Candace and I went out to the same bar where my rapist had found me. As the night wound down, we were smoking out front when a good friend of Chris’s approached us to say hello. The friend said, “I want to introduce you to a buddy of mine,” and who should that buddy be but my rapist. I flushed and turned away. After exchanging a few words with Candace (i.e. “That’s him.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” “Nope.”), Candace whispered the guy’s identity to Chris. My rapist held out his hand, to be shaken by Chris. Chris looked at my rapist’s hand like it was covered with snakes.

After what seemed like hours, Chris said slowly and clearly, “I can’t shake this fucking guy’s hand.” His friend looked confused. My rapist looked like he was trying to appear confused, which infuriated me so deeply that my anger exploded in a shove (sorry, I am not an advocate of physical violence, but please, this guy raped me), pitting him against a nearby garage door. In front of a crowd of people smoking nearby, I screamed that he might want to wipe that confused look off his face, since a couple of months prior he raped me without a condom while he was sober and gave me a curable STI. I wasn’t embarrassed, I just wanted everyone witnessing the confrontation to know exactly what he had done. Then I ran away crying, because yeah. When Candace caught up to me a few moments later, she told me that Chris had punched my rapist (again, sorry, see above) and was now having a conversation with their mutual friend about why he should not befriend my rapist.

Chris’s response in this situation was not perfect, and is not intended as a script for how one should always deal with these situations. But he intervened in a way that demonstrated clear support for me, first and foremost, as well as challenging rape culture. Chris wasn’t a hero, he was just my friend. He knew that, if he cared about me and my right to exist in safety without feeling like I can never again return to this bar or be in the presence of his friend again, it was incumbent upon him to act. So he found his Regular Decent Person guts, and he acted in the ways that made the most sense for him in that moment.

I almost wonder if understanding bystander intervention as a challenging act, rather than a supporting one, is part of why men’s intervention in cases of violence against women is so likely to be deemed heroism rather than care and responsibility. Perhaps it’d be helpful if we understood bystander intervention as support and care for the survivor first and foremost, which is in and of itself a challenge to rape culture and gender violence. Maybe then, stories about bystander intervention in cases of violence against women wouldn’t be reduced to, as my friend Heather Cromarty so succinctly put it, “Good Men vs. Bad Men, and damn the ladies in between.”

Don’t drain the moat, Twitter. #RestoreTheBlock

Google definition of "block" as a verb

What does “block” really mean, anyway? A cursory Googling bears out the definition above: “make the movement or flow in [...] difficult or impossible,” “put an obstacle in the way of,” “restrict the use or conversion of,” or “hinder or stop the movement or action of.”  According to Twitter, on the other hand, “block” just means “blindfold oneself.”

Twitter’s block function has never been perfect. In the old days, blocking a user did not prevent them from tagging you in tweets or signing out of Twitter to view your tweets (if your profile was public). However, blocking someone at least used to kick them from following you and added an extra step if they wished to continue accessing your tweets. Twitter’s newly announced changes to their block function mean that this step is no longer necessary; blocking a user does not prevent them from following you, viewing your timeline while signed in, or interacting with you in any way.

As Zerlina Maxwell points out, this means that harassers can now retweet a user who has blocked them and incite their own followers to join in the fun. It also means that the only way to prevent an abusive user from following you is to set your account to “private.” Many astute Twitter users like Hijabinist and GradientLair.com‘s Trudy and have pointed out that this creates a chilling, silencing effect for the voices of marginalized folks who are most vulnerable to harassment and least represented in mainstream discourse.

There are many reasons to set one’s account to “private” and it’s a personal choice. But is it really a “choice” when folks who deal with online violence like stalking, threats and harassment are told that going private is the only way to control – at any level – their contact with an aggressor? Is fair to remove people’s access to a public platform, and all its tangible social, personal, political and economic benefits, for reasons they cannot control (i.e. another person’s abusive behaviour)? Some people’s jobs revolve around the ability to tweet publicly. Should they change careers because of another person’s abusive behaviour?

In cases of abusive behaviour, the old policy at least placed the (admittedly mild) consequences in the abuser’s court: “you now must face an extra hurdle to access this person’s content, and you will not have the ability to retweet it.” The current policy places consequences for abusive behaviour in the target’s court: “deal with this person’s stalking or cease your participation in a major online public square while your aggressor continues to enjoy a public platform.” There is something about this that smacks profoundly of blaming the victim.

Unsurprisingly, no shortage of Twitter users (almost entirely men so far) have come at me with pompous assertions that it makes sense to loosen the policy because of the old block function’s shortcomings. I can’t even begin to address the flaws with the argument that “Harassers have always been able to log out and view your tweets, so it makes total sense to remove the necessity of logging out at all”, though Ana Mardoll does a decent job of it. The old policy was not a fortified wall protecting against online harassment, but it was a moat of sorts. Easily passable, sure, but many would look at the inconvenience of getting their clothes wet and say “ugh, to hell with it.”

Some folks have suggested the change is benevolent because it clears up a false sense of security some people may have felt by blocking someone. But why wouldn’t Twitter simply clear up the misinformation about the old block function? Twitter seems to have no problem being clear about what blocking does and doesn’t do now, after the policy change. Could they not have made a public statement to ensure users were aware of the old block function’s limitations, instead of applying a change that favours abusers? The old block function may never have been a fortified wall, but that does not in any way justify draining the moat.

For me, privacy rests on two key principles: consent (I know what I am getting into and have the opportunity to say no) and control (to share what I want with whom I want and prevent contact with who I wish). If my only opportunity to say “no” is to say nothing at all, that’s not really consent. If my only opportunity for control is to disappear, that’s not really control.

Goldie Taylor hits the nail on the head when she says “Privacy should not require fully closed or fully open. All social networks should be ‘selectively permeable’ with user control.” General PSA for mansplainers telling me that “Twitter is a public space! Either deal with being vulnerable to anyone who wants to contact you, go private or GTFO”: online privacy does not have to be an all-or-nothing game. And an imperfect mode of personal protection is not a valid argument for no mode of personal protection at all.

The new Twitter block policy is yet another example of how institutions and organizations (including social media platforms) typically reflect dominant societal views. In this case, the dominant societal view is that the onus for preventing abusive behaviour rests with the person being abused. This view holds especially true when the target of abuse is marginalized on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality, physical or mental dis/ability, gender expression, etc. Perhaps if more of these traditionally marginalized voices were involved in conceiving and building the tools we use to communicate with one another, those dominant societal views might change. But it seems that Twitter has a long way to go in that regard. In the meantime, we’re left with a “choice” between total vulnerability and forced silence.

Update: In response to public outcry, Twitter reversed the changes discussed in this article. Massive props to Suey Park, who created the #RestoreTheBlock hashtag, and everyone who participated.

Rob Ford and Toxic Masculinity

I initially published the following post on the Women in Toronto Politics blog. It was subsequently re-printed at Rabble.ca, the Huffington Post and iVillage Canada.

Violent temper. Refusal to admit wrongdoing. Penchant for expressing every feeling as anger. Penchant for expressing anger through physical intimidation. Homophobia and transphobia. Impulsive, risky behaviour with no consideration of potential consequences. Obsession with the competitive parts of politics (campaigning) and disdain for the collaborative parts. ”Boys will be boys” brand excuses for egregious behaviour. Yup. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford sure is winning at Toxic Masculinity Bingo.

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about Rob Ford’s embodiment of the socially-constructed norms that shape and constrain our culture’s understanding of what it means to Be A Man. I thought about it a lot after the Mayor violently confronted journalist Daniel Dale on the property adjacent to his home, fist cocked and charging at full speed.

I thought about it after reports quoted him calling Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau a homophobic slur. And when he asked if a transgender person was “a guy dressed up like a girl or a girl dressed up like a guy.” And when he made homophobic comments about who really contracts HIV/AIDS and whose life is really worth something at the end of the day.

I thought about it when he voted (on every occasion possible) to cut all kinds of community programs that help all kinds of children and youth, believing instead that personal support of a football program exclusively for boys was sufficient to help at-risk youth in Toronto. Boy-only football programs are great for boys who like football, but not all boys do – and there’s a whole lot of other kids out there who aren’t boys, besides.

I thought about it a lot when I launched my personal blog with a post about my suspicion that Rob Ford is a woman abuser – based on the consistent history of domestic calls to his home (including one charge that was later dropped) – which I later deleted because a handful of male non-libel lawyers said it left me vulnerable to libel suits.

But it was hard not to think about it extra-hard when a video surfaced of an inebriated Rob Ford ranting in disturbingly graphic terms about his desire to “first-degree murder” someone. He was blind with anger and the evidence poured out of his erratic movements and rhetorical violence. His explosive anger appeared to be a result of things a third party had said about him; in other words, he craved physical violence as a response to some ostensible verbal wrongdoing.

The nail in the coffin came later on when his mother sneered at a television reporter that she wouldn’t want her son, who clearly has a debilitating issue with substance abuse, “off in some rehab” – she’d prefer to focus on the size and shape of his body as the real problem. It hurt to watch. It was a painful reminder of how men are socialized to never show weakness or softness; how often a man caring for himself is perceived as unmanly, how men must be strong at all times. It said a lot about why he may have ended up in the sorry state he has.

There has been a lot of talk in Toronto this last week about enabling in the context of Rob Ford’s substance abuse, which is good, but the public writ large seems to enable his toxic masculinity. People who called Daniel Dale a wuss on Twitter for being afraid of a much-larger man approaching him violently? Enablers. People who said Ford’s “murder rant” was just the kind of murderously violent speech we all engage in when we’re a little angry? Enablers.

But then, when it comes to the replication of gender norms, most of us are enablers. Toxic masculinity is not “men being awful”; rather, it is people of all genders holding, performing and perpetuating rigid ideas of who we are allowed to be. Rob Ford, in particular, has spent a lifetime striving to perform what a Rich, Powerful White Man should be (a whole other level of toxicity beyond the merely masculine). His pursuit of idealized masculinity seems unmistakably modelled after that of his simultaneous bully and protector brother, who has often been framed by the media as “the smart one” and seems to have always been perceived as more competent, more likeable, more of A Man.

Articles imploring Rob Ford to step up to some ill-defined code of manhood do not help matters. It is not useful or accurate to frame honesty, accountability and “honour” as masculine traits, nor is it ever helpful to implore someone to “be a man.” Why not just “be a decent, trustworthy human being”? Why gender that? This kind of macho posturing only serves to validate idealized masculinity and reductive, binary understandings of how gender can and should influence identity.

Consider for a moment if a woman sharing Ford’s documented track record of physical aggression would ever have been elected Mayor of a major city. More likely she would have long ago been perceived as “unhinged” and cast out of the leadership pool in her chosen field. Yet we laud – or at least will grudgingly accept – this behaviour from a man, so much so that we elect him to a prime position of public trust. His impulsive expressions of anger are part of what endears him to so many as a ‘regular guy,’ one they could ‘have a few pops with.’ Boys will be boys, right?

If we want more gender diversity in politics, we need to understand that a) a good politician can come equipped with a wide variety of character traits, not all of them about cutthroat aggression and cold calculation, and b) there is immense diversity within genders and no trait is “naturally” masculine or feminine – we choose to understand and value traits in these binary ways, and if we want to, we can choose to change that.

(Web)making it better for girls in tech at MozFest

Me standing in front of the MozFest "To Make/Making/Made" scrum board. Photo by Sammy James Dodds.

The MozFest “To Make/Making/Made” board. Photo by Sammy James Dodds

My passion runs high for getting more girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), so I was thrilled to be invited to Mozilla’s annual festival in London, UK this October to facilitate the development of a Girls in Tech teaching kit. MozFest is a sprawling, buzzing, beeping, humming multi-floor combination of science fair, conference and hackathon. I knew from previous experience with Mozilla that MozFest would be colour-saturated, high-energy and hospitable for a variety of learners. What I didn’t know is how hospitable the space would be for a critical feminist perspective on girls in tech.

I’ve worked and volunteered in a wide variety of “women in tech” spaces and, in my experience, most of them serve up gallons of delicious status quo Kool-Aid. Everyone laments the lack of women’s representation in the field, but the solutions usually espoused are typically of the “Lean In” variety: “If we all just work hard!…” We foist the solutions onto women’s shoulders and refuse to do anything about the commonly accepted beliefs and behaviours that perpetuate the problem. Beliefs and behaviours like rampant objectification of women (Titstare, anyone?), industry worship of a faulty concept of meritocracy, and those pesky, deeply-held sexist cultural beliefs about gender (and what different genders are capable of).

There is an intimate and nuanced connection between how women are treated and represented as technology makers, users, and in the products themselves (e.g. video game characters). This means that, in the long game, changing how women are treated in one sphere will probably impact their representation in other spheres. But it also means that we can’t just focus on creating spaces for girls to become technology makers, without making changes elsewhere in the industry culture. Otherwise we’re helping girls build the skills and confidence they need to kick ass in tech, then sending them into an occupational community ill-equipped to understand and welcome women kicking ass.

Much like how our culture treats the problem of sexual assault, we are more comfortable prescribing ways that women can think or behave to improve their lot in tech than we are prescribing changes for men and the industry’s gendered normative behaviour. Perhaps that’s because, as Clementine Ford suggests in the context of sexual violence, it is easier to understand the women in our lives as potential victims than the men in our lives as potential aggressors (or Part Of The Problem).

That’s why, when I had the opportunity to build a Girls in Tech teaching kit at MozFest, I wanted it to touch on gender stereotypes and sexism – despite the fact that, in other “women in tech” spaces, I have been explicitly discouraged from describing myself as a feminist or addressing the industry’s problems with sexism. When I worked with Mozilla before, they heartily encouraged my feminist muckraking with their Webmaker suite (they even shared some of it on the main stage at MozFest!), so I was hopeful. I felt I was in the right space to make a gender-critical Girls in Tech kit happen, but was still pretty sure I’d come up against pushback from a prospective scrum participant.

Imagine my surprise when every single conversation I had at MozFest about the kit (or women in tech more generally) delved comfortably into critical and political territory. Imagine my surprise when, even if a few of the people at the table had a less critical understanding of the problem, there was always someone to back me up. Imagine my surprise when every. educator. I worked with. understood my need to combine positivity and encouragement with critical analysis of industry and cultural norms and the false premises on which they rest. Imagine my surprise when I sheepishly proposed a less political angle for one activity, and the scrum group I was facilitating unanimously disagreed with me. There just aren’t enough <3’s in the world.

The first iteration of my Girls in Tech teaching kit is the product of 10 people, many of them educators, who were drawn to the project because they are passionate about making the STEM fields more hospitable places for women. MozFest was a gigantic event practically exploding with awesome things to see, do and make (highlights in the MozFest blog, Flickr and Tumblr), yet most of these people spent the better part of Saturday building a component of the Girls in Tech kit. Many others stopped by to ask questions or show their support of the project. Within nine hours we completed the kit’s first iteration, from learning objectives to activities to examples to discussion questions. And then I slept for, oh, five minutes, and hopped on a plane back to Toronto to do a(n also very awesome) workshop with Long & McQuade department managers on how to not be this guy.

The pace of work, the support and independence afforded to facilitators, the level of talent and commitment, and the tone of MozFest in general left me feeling exhilarated and inspired. I can’t wait to workshop the kit with a few more educators, refine its content and hopefully encourage a few organizations to adopt it as a free teaching tool. Feel free to use and remix the Girls in Tech teaching kit yourself, or share it with a parent or educator in your life.