This page is intended to email, link, or print out and give to your new therapist to give them context of Geek Feminist background, issues, and incidents so they understand why you're so fucking traumatised.
We created it because many of us have spent lots of sessions explaining all of this stuff to our therapists, and thought it might help to have a short-cut/communal resource to save some folks (possibly our future selves) the time and expense of having to do it all over from scratch.
For a directory of professionals who have read this document or are otherwise aware of mental health issues particular to geek feminists, please see the Geek-aware therapists page.
Before we start
This guide is intended for mental health professionals to read and understand some of the background to their client's problems. It's written by women (and feminist allies) who have faced similar problems, and have gone through the process of explaining them (often repeatedly) to therapists, counsellors, and the like.
Throughout this document, "you" refers to the mental health professional, and "we" refers to women (or feminist allies) in geek communities such as:
- tech industry and academia
- tech hobbyist communities such as hacker spaces, open source software, etc.
- computer gaming
- science fiction fandom
- ... and related fields
These fields suffer from endemic misogyny, bullying, and harassment, especially aimed at those who are attempting to address those problems.
Pre-requisite knowledge of feminism
To effectively serve your client's needs, you need to have a basic understanding of feminism, feminist issues, and feminist terminology.
Some suggested readings:
- Book: bell hooks, "Feminism is for Everybody" (a good overview of feminism)
- Website: Finally a Feminism 101 Blog, http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/ (covers 101-level feminist issues, especially those which are most prominent in online discussion)
- Website: Geek Feminism Wiki, http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/ (covers feminist issues prevalent in geek culture, the tech industry, etc)
If you are not comfortable with these ideas, you may not be able to effectively help your client, and may want to refer them to someone who is better suited.
Where this document comes from
This document is part of the Geek Feminism Wiki, which has been operating since 2008 as a resource for women and feminist allies in geek communities. It is a well-respected website and has been cited frequently in mainstream and tech media, including Wired, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Some of the articles on the wiki have become standard references on their subject matter; for instance, our freely-reusable Anti Harassment Policy has been adopted by scores of technical conferences and other events. In 2011, two regular contributors to Geek Feminism founded The Ada Initiative, a US 501c3 non-profit which does similar work on a professional basis.
Explaining the problems we're facing
Women are a minority in geek/technical circles
Women represent a significant minority in geek and technical circles. For instance, most Western countries report 25% women or fewer in IT/ICT/STEM/etc fields, which (depending on methodology) may include women in a range of technical and non-technical roles. The numbers are significantly lower in some industries/communities: around 10% in startup tech companies, as few as 2% in certain parts of open source software, and so on. Attendance of 5-10% women at industry events is typical.
Similar figures hold true for other male-dominated geek communities such as computer gaming and science fiction fandom.
Figures are even lower for women of colour or those with other intersectional identities (sexuality, disability, etc.)
Women's authenticity is questioned in these fields
Women's participation in these fields is constantly challenged. Sometimes we are treated as invisible and outright told "there are no women present". Events and communications are tailored to (presumably straight) men: advertising is highly sexist, jokes to the tune of "bitches, right?" are common, and male participants commonly talk about girls/women as something desired by everyone present. Women (especially mothers and girlfriends) are frequently characterised as the most un-technical, ungeeky category of person (see: So simple, your mother could do it).
If our presence is acknowledged, we are accused of being Fake geek girls, only there to attract men, and must constantly assert and defend our skills and credentials. We are constantly aware that our performance reflects on all women, and many of us suffer from Impostor syndrome.
Harassment, violence, and other aggressions against women
Harassment of various kinds is prevalent in geek communities/tech industry/etc. The Geek Feminism Wiki has documented a timeline of sexist incidents including many cases of:
- workplace discrimination, including hiring and pay discrimination, unwanted sexual advances, hostile work environments, quid pro quo harassment, etc
- sexist slurs frequently used by men in the community/industry, including many prominent public incidents
- sexualised work environments including sexually explicit material used in conference presentations, etc
- sexual assault at conferences and in other geek spaces
- stalking, intrusive photography and recording, invasion of privacy
- rape threats, death threats, and threats against family members/children/pets
- physical violence including murder of women in the field, or by men in the field
- women frequently fired for speaking up against these issues
Some well known and representative incidents include:
- Kathy Sierra incident
- Kathy Sierra was a well known blogger, author and public speaker on the subject of designing effective user interfaces for computer systems. In 2007, a group of men on an unrelated web forum started making rape and death threats against her, for no particular reason (i.e. she had not said anything particularly inflammatory, or anything of that nature). Scared by these threats, Sierra withdrew from several speaking engagements, and closed down her blog, making a final post explaining her reasons. When this became widely known, a second wave of threats and harassment occurred, which spread to some "troll" forums whose participants enjoy harassment for its own sake. Members of these forums started to distribute Sierra's home address and other personal details. Fearing for her personal safety and the safety of her family, Sierra was forced to move house and change career.
- Sexual assault at ApacheCon
- In 2010, Noirin Shirley, a Google employee, reported that they had been sexually assaulted at ApacheCon (a conference for a non-profit, open source software development community, held in Atlanta that year, which she had helped organise). They named their assailant as a senior Twitter employee. Despite reporting the incident to the police, there were no apparent consequences for the assailant. Shirley, however, was vigorously denounced by people who believed they had brought the assault on themself (by her dress, behaviour, etc) or those who believed they should not have spoken publicly about it. Since this incident, several other sexual assaults at tech conferences have been reported.
- Harassment of Anita Sarkeesian
- In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic, blogger, and video gamer, launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a series of Youtube videos on the topic of "Tropes vs Women in Video Games", covering such topics as the "damsel in distress" trope. A number of male gamers objected to this critique of video games; she was subsequently attacked via social media and received thousands of death threats, rape threats, etc. Her Wikipedia page was defaced with sexually explicit imagery, and someone created a game called "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" in which you could punch Sarkeesian's image in the face, making it appear bruised and bloody.
- Ecole Polytechnique massacre
- In 1989, a man named Marc Lépine shot and killed fourteen women, including twelve engineering students, at the École Polytechnique, a technical college in Montreal. His suicide note said that he blamed feminists (such as the female engineers he killed) for ruining his life. Later, in 2014, the perpetrator of the Isla Vista killings was found to have held similar sentiments, and participated in online "men's rights" and "pickup artist" forums, many of which are hate groups which often perpetrate harassment and violence against women online, especially those who speak up against sexism in geek culture (eg. Anita Sarkeesian, above.)
More typically, women in geek/technical communities need to deal with problems that can have a serious cumulative effect on their mental and physical health, even if each problem is less damaging on its own. Julie Pagano compared these problems to a distributed denial of service attack on a computer system: "People dealing with abuse stop being their best, stop working, and eventually fail. As an industry, we spend a lot of time trying to counteract attacks on our systems, but we often overlook abuses directed at the people who develop and maintain those systems."
- Navigating unfriendly spaces. Attending events at which one is in a minority, unwelcome, or treated as not belonging.
- Here with my boyfriend
- From Women-friendly events: "Many geek events are run on the principle of being like a gathering of close male buddies, only 100 times larger."
- Andromeda Yelton's account of attending her first hackathon: "...the bar for being a woman in tech is the ability to say 'Fuck you.'"
- Microaggressions such as patronising behaviour, sexual innuendo, sexist generalisations (which can result in stereotype threat), and unnecessarily gendered language.
- Dealing with assumptions about one's skills, experience, and interests based on gender, such as having to "prove" that one is a computer programmer
- Dealing with boundary-pushing behaviour which makes us uncomfortable, such as excessively intimate disclosures or male co-workers treating professional collaboration as a prelude to a romantic relationship
- Managing personal privacy, attempting to present a less vulnerable appearance
- Leigh Honeywell wrote about how Twitter unexpectedly changed how blocking a user who you don't wish to contact works, and why that mattered.
- In 2012, the "Girls Around Me" app made it easier for potential creeps and stalkers to physically locate women who used social media.
- Lindsey Kuper wrote about the pressure women face to adopt a less feminine-coded appearance in order to be less vulnerable.
- The issue of pseudonymity on the Internet was especially prevalent in 2011, when Google+ debuted, and continues to be controversial.
- The link-aggregation web site Reddit, for a time, had a section devoted to pornography depicting non-consenting subjects.
- Google Buzz, a precursor to Google+, was designed without enough attention to privacy issues and its contacts feature potentially exposed personal information to abusers without the victim's consent.
- A trans woman was outed to her employer, without her consent, because of an Android smartphone feature that combines text messages with Google Chat messages.
- Internet stalking, including stalking aimed at survivors of rape and incest by their abusers. Geek women are at especially high risk for this kind of stalking for a number of reasons: because they need to use the Internet to maintain their livelihoods, because they may use the Internet to distract themselves from sexism they experience offline, because their abusers are likely to also be Internet-savvy, and because the possibility that their motivation for getting involved in geek communities in the first place was the desire for a safe community or distraction from pre-existing abuse.
- Dealing with insults, abuse, or general shittiness on social media
- PyCon 2013 forking and dongles incident
- @elevatorgate harassment and stalking
- Ashe Dryden writes about how online abusers and harassers punish those who speak up in favor of women's right to be in tech and online.
- When who you are is off-topic
- Online harassment as a daily hazard: when trolls feed themselves
- Jill Filipovic on why online harassment isn't "just" virtual
- Hacker News, which along with (to a lesser degree) Reddit, may both be required reading for professional advancement and a constant source of misogyny.
- Feeling torn between wanting to speak out when any of these issues occur, and knowing that speaking out is likely to be met with a litany of silencing tactics.
- Awareness of major incidents (rape, murder, violence) and that we could be a target, even if we are not currently targets.
These problems are well documented and widespread throughout a range of geek communities.
Trying to understand where this is coming from
Where does all this negativity, hatred, and violence come from? We're not in a position to diagnose or even to speak for the men who do these things, but some of the themes we've seen emerge include:
Economic and status incentives
Computing used to be a "pink collar" profession -- in the 1940s-1950s computing was mostly done by women. However, as it became more important and higher paid, it shifted to being a majority male occupation.
In recent years, geeks have shifted from being seen as marginalised underdogs to being a major, mainstream force. Geek culture is now part of the mass market, and geeks like Mark Zuckerberg are widely admired. As geekdom becomes more mainstream, more men want a part of it, and to achieve the financial and social success that can come with it.
The rise of venture capital beginning in the 1990s has been an influence on this cultural shift: as large amounts of money controlled by a group that is overwhelmingly white and male and frequently overtly racist and sexist have entered technology, cultural changes have followed the economic ones in predictable ways. While venture capital originally primarily affected Silicon Valley startups, much of the rest of the technology industry treats Silicon Valley startups as a cultural gold standard.
Men may act, intentionally or unintentionally, to exclude others from their arenas of success. For instance, many tech companies look for "culture fit" when hiring, and venture capital firms use "pattern matching" to find startup founders who match their existing assumptions about what startup founders should look like. These are means by which women and other minorities are excluded from the tech industry.
Within tech companies, women are often channelled into lower-paid, lower-status, feminine-coded roles such as customer support and quality assurance, while masculine-coded roles such as engineering are reserved primarily for men.
- "I now believe the most dangerous time for a woman with online visibility is the point at which others are seen to be listening, “following”, “liking”, “favoriting”, retweeting. In other words, the point at which her readers have (in the troll’s mind) “drunk the Koolaid”. Apparently, that just can’t be allowed.
- From the hater’s POV, you (the Koolaid server) do not “deserve” that attention. You are “stealing” an audience. From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.
She also commented on something that others have pointed out as well: that often, young men who engage in Internet trolling seek primarily to impress each other (to out-do how vicious they can be in order to impress peers) and women, to them, are merely collateral damage. Even though it may be a game from the trolls' perspective, the damage to women is real.
Men who identify as geek or who are part of geek cultures (tech industry, gaming, science fiction fandom, etc) may have grown up feeling less masculine, or have been bullied or ostracised for their lack of masculinity.
These days, with geekdom becoming mainstream yet remaining such a strongly masculine field, a geek guy's knowledge of computers or Star Trek may actually help him feel more masculine. The definition of masculinity has been expanded beyond sports and cars, and geek men are the beneficiaries.
Expanding geekdom to include women would dilute geekdom's masculinity, and hence dilute the benefit that these guys have gained. Therefore, they are invested in policing the boundaries of geekdom, and not letting women in.
Geek culture as escape mechanism or coping mechanism
Closely related to the theme of threatened masculinity, many boys and men -- particularly, but not exclusively, boys and men in their teens and twenties -- use hobbies such as video games, science fiction fandom, or programming as escape or coping mechanisms (to deal with problems ranging from severe trauma to difficulty relating to girls or women). Because of the permeable boundaries (see Open Source Software) between programming as a hobby and programming as a career, young male tech workers often approach their jobs in the same way.
Many girls and women use these hobbies as coping mechanisms as well, but the predominance of threatened masculinity among the reasons why boys and men flee into geekdom means that these girls and women face hostility both inside and outside their coping mechanisms. Outside, they face all of the underlying sexism and misogyny of their own culture. Inside, many of the very people they would like to form social bonds with feel threatened by the presence of girls and women (or, at least, people seen as girls and women) inside what they would prefer to be a treehouse (a comfortable space for boys and men who are scared of girls and women).
The Gamergate coordinated harassment campaign provides a particularly vivid example of how boys and men who are in denial about their genuine problems (including but not limited to threatened masculinity or insecurity about their own genders) are apt to lash out at women who they perceive as threatening the safety of the spaces into which they attempt to escape from women.
Many men in geek culture espouse an anti-establishment ideology, and see mainstream feminism/gender equality as part of the establishment.
To give an example, open source software originated mostly with volunteers who were setting out to build something in opposition to the software developed by large corporations. Open source forums, gatherings and conferences are notoriously casual (in terms of behaviour, dress, social norms, etc). This community sees "professional behaviour" as something imposed by "the man", and rejects attempts to rein in argumentative, abusive, or oppressive behaviour just as it would resist a suit-and-tie dress code.
This tendency is at its strongest in Men's Rights forums, where men see feminism as the mainstream norm, and believe women have more power than men in modern Western society. This means that they see their sexism as a righteous stand against oppression, rather than the reverse. (Men's Rights activists have been identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected non-profit organisation which tracks such groups.)
Some online forums and communities partake in "trolling", i.e. upsetting people for the fun of it. This trolling may be aimed at anyone, but is often more vicious when aimed at women and other minorities.
"Just trolling" is not in itself an adequate explanation for why people engage in what is often really harassment and abuse, because so-called "trolling" tends to target and affect some groups much more severely than others. These groups often coincide with groups that experience more marginalization both in technology and geek culture, and in the broader culture.
Women who take anti-feminist stances
There are a few women who take actively anti-feminist stances and harass, abuse, and generally make life difficult for feminists/allies in geek communities. Their reasons for doing so are varied and sometimes obscure, but may include:
- defending their own hard-earned success/status ("fuck you, got mine")
- finding safety/acceptance in the geek community by allying themselves with men
- avoiding or protecting themselves from harassment and abuse
- internalised misogyny
- dealing with other personal/mental health issues (we've seen examples like abuse history, eating disorders, etc)
Julie Pagano has written about the tech industry as like being in an emotionally abusive relationship. This resonated with many of us. If this is true, then some women in that abusive relationship may respond as if they were in an abusive personal relationship: denial, defending their abuser, difficulty leaving, etc.
Actual quotes on the subject of women, feminism and geek culture
- The biggest enemy of hackerspaces and techshops is probably girlfriends and wives.
In response to a report of a sexual assault at a technical conference:
- You are an attention whore. It’s cunts like you that make it difficult for real women like me to get anywhere in the tech industry. Please die in a fire.
- Yea you've become a developer and have done nearly nothing except shill your feminist shit and try to turn debian into a woman's project (you are succeeding, men are leaving debian because of you and your ilk, worthless bitch).
- I pray you find your way into a feminist unfriendly country one day. God willing, you will die.
- Happily the feminist-unfriendly countries are immigrating to you. Remeber the netherlands? Feminists die there.
Related issues / contributing factors to our difficulties
Many of us, especially in the tech industry, work in high pressure environments.
- Overtime, up to and exceeding 80 hours per week, is common. Companies encourage this by providing food, nap rooms, and services such as dry-cleaning to keep staff in the office as long as possible.
- In the United States, most tech industry jobs are classified as highly skilled salaried positions, and therefore people with these jobs do not receive overtime pay.
- Extreme deadline pressure is common. Deadlines are often externally set and non-negotiable.
- Mistakes can have enormous ramifications (eg. bringing down important websites).
- Many of us have responsibility without authority (eg. being required to maintain a poor-quality product we didn't build)
- Many of our jobs involve frequent travel for conferences, visiting remote offices, etc.
- Many of us are shunted into "pink collar" areas of work such as customer support, community management, and project management, which requires a high degree of exhausting emotional labour.
- Most of us are expected to be checking email and otherwise accessible for work emergencies outside of work hours.
- We are also expected to do professional development on our own time, and to volunteer our time (eg. on open source software projects). Our ability to do this extra work is a factor in our hireability; many companies explicitly ask for evidence of volunteer work when applying for a job.
Another problem is that some tech companies, especially smaller ones, have unstructured workplaces which mean that there is a lot of ambiguity and unclarity. For instance:
- No management structure, unclear who to report to (some companies consider this a benefit!)
- No formal performance review process, meaning that we're never sure if we're doing well enough.
- No HR department, and nobody trained to deal with personnel issues, harassment, discrimination, or other problems that may come up
Most of us are under a high level of public scrutiny.
In geek culture, the tech industry, and similar fields, online presence is used as a professional communications medium. We use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media not only for entertainment and keeping in touch with friends and family, but also to promote our work, network with colleagues, and stay informed of new developments in our fields.
However, social media and online presence also bring heightened scrutiny and increased access for people to criticise and abuse us. Many of have received inappropriate personal comments, sexual advances, harassment, abuse, or threats via social media while using it professionally.
Public speaking (at conferences, user groups, and meetups) is also common in our fields. We are encouraged to do this to advance our careers and get our names known in public. However, when we speak publicly, we are again subject to unwanted comments and harassment. Women are particularly at risk of this when they speak on the subject of women in the field (and this will always happen -- we have a saying, the Unicorn Law, that any woman in tech will eventually be asked to give a talk about being a woman in tech.)
When photographs or recordings of us are posted online -- as they may be, for instance, when we give a talk at a conference or other event -- we are often subject to harassment or unwanted personal comments based on our appearance, bodies, or simply for being a woman. For instance, there have been incidents where Twitter users have commented, in real-time, about the appearance and sexual availability of speakers whose talks are being live-streamed on the Internet. We are also subject to being photographed or recorded without our consent when appearing in public, and these images/recordings being posted online, sometimes for the purpose of mockery and abuse. (See for instance the Wiscon troll incident in 2008.)
Because we work long hours, attend conferences and events with other people in our field, and follow and are followed by professional colleagues on social media, for many of us the boundaries between work and personal can be extremely blurry. This is especially the case in hot spots like the San Francisco Bay Area.
These blurred lines can lead to difficulties when, for example, you cross paths with a colleague on a dating website, or run into team-mates at a party. This can lead to awkwardness where someone may offer or seek a degree of personal intimacy with which we are not comfortable.
Additionally, many of us are involved in voluntary but professionally-related activities such as contributing to open source software, running meetups, or serving on committees or boards for non-profits related to our field. This means that we work with people -- and sometimes manage or are managed by them -- even though we are not technically in an employment relationship. For those of us who run projects or events that depend on volunteer labour, we need to balance the needs of the project (for free labour) with our own personal needs (maintaining boundaries and not getting harassed).
Another exacerbating factor is that there is also considerable crossover between geek culture and various sexual subcultures such as kink/BDSM communities, polyamorous communities, and certain sex-positive groups/cultures. This means that we might run into our colleagues at sex parties or on fetish websites. For instance, we have heard reports of a manager at a technology company who sent private messages to one of his reports via a fetish website; she felt unable to report his behaviour as doing so would out her as a member of the site.
In other cases, people have used women's known sex-positivity or involvement in sexual subcultures to dismiss claims of harassment, failing to acknowledge the difference between consensual sexual activity in private/personal spaces vs non-consensual harassment in professional spaces.
Many of us feel obligated to be aware of not only the problems we directly face in our careers and lives, but those that our friends face. Because our friends are often other women and people in gender/sexuality minorities in tech, and because of the power of the Internet for diffusing information quickly, that means many of us are constantly aware of a number of ongoing incidents in which people we care about are being harassed. Some of us also feel an obligation to help and support our friends, and be in solidarity with them in a public way when that's appropriate. This potentially exposes us to more harassment; but the alternative is to turn one's back on a friend. For those of us with an existing history of PTSD or traumatic experiences, these examples of secondary trauma may trigger the same reactions in us. Even for those of us who have had relatively few traumatic experiences in our own lives, the cumulative effect of secondary trauma can cause lasting harm to us.
Related mental health issues
Autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorders are notoriously common in geek/tech circles. (Note, however, that we're not sure of the actual figures on this, and many people self-diagnose.)
We may, ourselves, be on the autism spectrum or have ADD; conversely, our harassers may be on the autism spectrum or have ADD. This can complicate how we process and respond to interactions with harassers/abusers.
In the case of some mental health issues that intersect with our communities, a therapist should not work with members of these groups unless they have genuine knowledge about these issues. For example, a general understanding of the autism spectrum -- or even direct experience with some people who have autism -- does not necessarily prepare a therapist to work with a client who has Asperger's. Likewise, although being trans or gender-variant is not a mental illness (although oppression can cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety for trans and gender-variant people), a therapist who self-identifies as "queer friendly" is not necessarily prepared to work with a gender-variant client. When in doubt, a therapist should seek consultation with an expert or refer the client to a therapist who is better prepared to deal with all of the client's intersecting issues.
It is commonly claimed that much bad behaviour by men in geek/tech circles is because they are autistic/Aspergers/etc. That is, that they are unable to understand social norms, and that their abusive or harassing behaviour should be excused on account of this. This has been widely debunked; see our article Autism is to blame.
Another related mental health issue is suicide in geek, tech, and adjacent communities. There have been a number of suicides in recent years, often of people known to us through our tech or activist circles.
- Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in 2012 while facing 25 years imprisonment for relatively minor computer crimes, was personally known to many in the tech/activist community.
- Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the co-founder of a Kickstarter-funded, decentralised replacement for Facebook, committed suicide in 2011. His family attributed his suicide, at least in part, to the stress/high pressure of his work.
- Igal Koshevoy, who died in 2013, was involved in a wide range of volunteer work in the open source community and in the Portland, Oregon tech scene. He was one of the organisers of a social-justice-oriented technical conference attended by many geeky feminists.
- There have also been numerous suicides attributed to social media bullying, among teens and adults, worldwide.
Awareness of these suicides, which are widely covered in mainstream and social media, can be triggering for those of us who suffer depression. We do not know of any geek feminists who have attempted suicide as a result of harassment, abuse, or other related pressures, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many of us are at risk.
You client may suffer from one or more of the following, which you will probably want to discuss with them. (We have identified these common complaints by comparing notes among some of us who have previously sought mental health care in relation to the issues described above.)
- social anxiety
- disordered eating
- disordered sleep
- body/gender dysphoria
- lack of focus/dissociation
- relationship troubles
- "burnout" -- total inability to continue in the field, or complete breakdown
Common coping/self-care mechanisms
Here are some mechanisms that geek feminists have taken, as a community, to protect ourselves from or cope with the impact of harassment and misogyny.
- Anti-Harassment Policies and Codes of Conduct
- We have drafted policies and made them freely available for organisations/events to use, and encouraged their adoption. Hundreds of conferences now have such policies, and many have used them to effectively deal with harassment which may occur. You can find out more about this at http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment.
- Formal support groups, networks, and events
- A number of groups exist for women in various geek fields. Non-profits such as The Ada Initiative support women in open technology and culture. The Anita Borg Foundation holds the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of women in computing. Smaller groups such as Black Girls Code, Trans*H4CK, and a number of explicitly feminist hacker spaces exist to support women and provide safer spaces.
- Some projects exist to document sexist incidents, responses to them, and common frameworks for discussing and understanding issues. The Geek Feminism Wiki is one such project. See also Why We Document, a blog post written by a Geek Feminism contributor.
- Many of us use informal backchannels to discuss sexist situations and incidents in our communities, and to provide mutual support. These may be online or face to face. These backchannels provide an important space for us to discuss subjects where privacy is important, or which may be dangerous to talk about publicly.
- Counter-trolling, in-jokes, and black humour
- We often use humour to deal with the problems we face, for instance by taking and subverting criticisms and insults made against us. For instance, after too many claims from men's rights activists that online feminism is just misandry, you can now buy a tshirt that says "Misandry!" in sparkly pink letters. These in-jokes provide a sense of camaraderie but may seem odd (even offensive or self-hating) to those not in the know. The specific jokes change over time, but don't be surprised if your client says some weird stuff and claims it as a joke.
- Talking it out, venting, and ranting
- We are often driven to talk about what's bothering us. Sometimes we do this publicly, on our blogs or other such forums. This can help us clarify our own thoughts around an idea, raise awareness, or seek support. Unfortunately it can also lead to further backlash and harassment, and it's hard to tell in advance how much or in what form that backlash may occur.
- Self-soothing activities
- We use puzzle games, cat pictures, dumb TV, knitting, and other self-soothing activities to take our minds off what's going on. Sometimes, perhaps, the amount of soothing activities we need to deal with our problems can negatively affect our work or other aspects of our lives.
- Self-medication/substance (ab)use
- Many of us drink and some take other substances to deal with the pressure we experience.
- Filtering or muting online media
- We are generally adept at filtering or muting online media so that we see less abuse or triggering content.
- Remote working
- Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, from home or another location, and may do so to take it easy when things are hard. Working in your pyjamas (or slacking off while pretending to work) can be self-care. Remote working can also help with social anxiety.
- Privacy measures
- Most of us take privacy measures to ensure that our phone numbers, addresses, and other personal information are not readily available online. Many of us use pseudonyms online for similar reasons. Some of us who are at particular risk may be careful about disclosing even their general location or travel plans, even for such things as conferences. Some of us try to minimise the number of photographs/videos of us online, as we have experienced harassment based on them. Those who operate businesses (especially solo/small businesses) may need to take additional steps for privacy, such as using virtual offices or phone answering services, which may come with additional expense.
- Job/career change
- Many of us have left one or more jobs as a result of sexist incidents or work environments. In some cases, we have changed the direction of our career to reduce our exposure to such things: working in a slightly different field, or choosing work that comes with less public exposure. Some of us choose to leave our industries entirely (the dropout rate is notoriously high, and is not correlated with motherhood or any of the other commonly claimed explanations.)
The following messages are things that we've heard from therapists in the past when discussing these issues, which for the most part we don't find helpful.
- "but you're so talented"
- Being smart, talented, or generally great doesn't protect us from harassment and abuse. Knowing we're talented doesn't protect us. Addressing our impostor syndrome is important, but is only a tiny part of this problem.
- "leave your job"
- Most people don't have the financial wherewithal to quit a career in which they've invested years or decades of their lives. Sometimes it's necessary to leave a particularly toxic work environment, but there's always the risk that our next workplace will be just as toxic.
- "don't use the internet"
- While short time-outs from social media can help as a coping mechanism, we can't fully disengage from the Internet any more than we can disengage from speaking. Our communities and our careers are largely located online. Disconnecting means losing professional reputation and networks, as well as social support and friendships. In practice, the Internet serves as both a support system and a source of triggers for geeky women, and these dual roles cannot be separated easily, as Andrea Garcia-Vargas wrote about.
- "the internet isn't real"
- The Internet is a professional and social space that has real meaning and real effects on the lives of geek women.
- "it's not that bad"
- The cumulative effect of microaggressions can be severe. Consider that any particular incident that we're recounting to you may be a proxy for many other incidents we're not talking about. If we're telling a therapist about it (and likely paying out-of-pocket to do so), it really is that bad.
- "why don't you just..."
- It's not helpful to leap into problem-solving without validating our emotional responses first. For one thing, if there's an easy solution, we've probably thought of it already. For another, we generally experience constant invalidation of our own thoughts and reactions to things that happen to us, and one of the most useful things a therapist can do is remind us that we are not overreacting and our reactions are justified.
- "do you really need to be so PC?"
- Dismissing respect for other people as extreme, unnecessary, or "too PC" is widespread, and therapists aren't exempt from that. In Political correctness, as well as all the articles on this wiki about silencing tactics, we've tried to show why this isn't helpful.
- victim blaming in general
- We didn't ask for this. We aren't responsible for what is being done to us. No change in our behaviour will prevent it happening. Don't blame us. Help us cope, and help us fight back.
- "tell HR"
- Even if our company has a human resources department (many don't), many of the microaggressions we face are not ones that corporate HR departments will help us address. Moreover, we face job-related harassment from people who do not work at our companies. Our personnel departments have no control over them.
- therapist processing their own impostor syndrome about technology
- You may not be adept with computers, but your sessions with your client are not the place for you to talk about this.
- therapist pretending to know more about tech, gaming, anime, or science fiction than they actually do
- It's okay to ask questions or admit that you just don't know some of this stuff. The same goes for pretending to know more about gender variance, autism, ADD/ADHD, or other psychological issues that may affect geek women disproportionately than you actually do, if these areas aren't your specialties.
- using inappropriate or oppressive language about us
- Using incorrect pronouns for a trans, gender-variant, or gender-nonconforming person is not okay; the therapist/client relationship in one in which it's generally a good idea to ask which pronouns someone prefers, and use them, even if it's a pronoun set that you aren't familiar with. Likewise, ableist language, such as "nonverbal" for a person who uses alternate communication modalities, is also hurtful.
- fear of or inability to process discussion of traumatic experiences or suicidal thoughts
- We hope that a therapist will be someone who can calmly listen to these experiences, which we may not feel comfortable talking about with anyone else.
- Thanks to Cat Pivetti, a licensed professional counselor practicing in Portland, Oregon, for several detailed suggestions that improved this article.