Should I go to Missouri? (#SIGCSE #SIGCSE2015)

The amazing PBL team (Raja, Zbsyzek, Ed and me) have been accepted to run a Puzzle-Based Learning workshop at SIGCSE 2015 in KC, Missouri. I was really excited about this until the recent news about Anita Sarkeesian in Utah broke and it suddenly occurred to me to check to see whether Missouri had concealed carry laws that applied the same way and whether the SIGCSE people had a policy to prevent guns being carried into the auditorium space.

As it turns out, open carry  (for handguns, not long weapons) is permitted in Missouri as of October 11, 2014, (yes, that’s 5 days ago) and these state laws override any local laws on open carry. Concealed carry is also an option but you have to have your permit with you at all times – not carrying the permit will attract a $35 fine! Goodness! I know that would put me off – that’s almost $40 in Australian currency and is nearly 20 minutes of consulting work.

From wikipedia, a gun locked out for safe transport.

From wikipedia, a gun locked out for safe transport.

Missouri also has no permit to purchase, no firearm registration, no owner licensing, no assault weapon law, no magazine capacity restriction and no restriction on “NFA weapons” – which means machine guns.

As far as I can see, SIGCSE has an anti-harassment policy (which is great) but I can’t find anything about guns. I think that far too little heed is paid to the intimidatory nature of someone with a visible gun starting a discussion/argument with a speaker. If we are prepared to stop speakers being stalked, why are we prepared, as an educational community, to allow them to be intimidated by visible firearms?

I am, genuinely, considering whether I should be attending conferences in the US in places where the gun control laws are so at odds with what I’m used to at home. I have a lot to think about on this one and I wonder if this has been brought up with the convenors? Should the international community be thinking more about this as an ongoing issue with attending conferences in the US?

(Please, if I’ve got any of the facts wrong – leap in below and I’ll fix them. Note that “Oh, but KC is perfectly safe” is not actually a fact as KC is in the top 25 most-dangerous cities for gun violence in the US.)


Today, I am furious.

[Not tagged as education, for once. This is still part of my philosophy but has no direct teaching relationship.]

It turns out that my mention of Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) in a previous blog was horribly prescient. It now turns out, after having death threats made against her (again) for a talk she was going to give in Utah, that Utah’s concealed carry laws meant that any number of people in the auditorium could have been legally carrying weapons and the police could not scan for these or remove them as it was public space. As a result, she has cancelled her talk because she is, quite understandably, wanting to stay alive.

Most of you will know the amount of trolling that the owner of this site has endured for (perfectly reasonably) pointing out that women are badly represented and served by most video games.

Most of you will know the amount of trolling that the owner of this site has endured for (perfectly reasonably) pointing out that women are badly represented and served by most video games.

I am incandescently angry today. Because, once again, for having the audacity to say that “Video games have some pretty stupid female stereotypes” and advocating female equality, Sarkeesian has once again been threatened in a vile and cowardly manner and she has had to take sensible steps to protect her own life. Like the other poor women caught up in the sewer of GamerGate who have had to leave their homes because cowardly attackers have published their home addresses and exhorted people to rape and murder them for, basically, being women.

There are many disingenuous arguments being bandied around under GamerGate but, if you look, you’ll note that they’ve been discredited, so now we’re just down to that game that weak men never seem to get tired of – blaming and attacking women because they feel out of control.

I’m sure that some people will say “Ah, but the presence of good guys with guns in the audience will mean…” and then you will stop because, having thought this through, you will realise that human reaction times and the fact that most gun carriers have not trained for urban conflict means that an attacker can stand up and shoot the speaker before anyone does squat. Yes, great, then all of the handgun heroes can shoot down the bad guy – Pow! Pow! Except that people aren’t fungible and gun vengeance will not miraculously bring the speaker back to life. In Utah, guns were used in 51% of all murders in 2011, an 18% increase over 2010, so people have a right to be scared of guns when a death threat (for a ‘massacre’) has been issued. As Ms Sarkeesian wrote herself on Twitter:

To be clear: I didn’t cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats, I canceled because I didn’t feel the security measures were adequate.

The only way to stop guns being used in a venue is to remove the guns. When a death threat has been issued, the easy availability of guns makes them the most likely form of effective implementation of that threat. But, apparently, Ms Sarkeesian did not deserve a safe venue and her talk had to be cancelled.

(Before anyone starts on my gun fears, I was a soldier and have fired everything from 9mm pistol up to tank weapons, including rocket launchers and grenades. I have no fear of weapons, I just don’t trust many people who carry them around with them all the time for what appears to be no reason, especially in the terribly fragile urban environment.)

This is a terrible day for everyone. As a species, we have failed to protect women. As a state, Utah has failed to provide safety for people wishing to freely express their opinions. As a group, the thugs and bullies who have been harassing women are making the world a horrific place.

A number of you will stop following me today. Ok. A number of you will want to say “Ah, but those women…” to which I say “Shut up and come back to me when you have a sound justification for rape and death threats in the face of criticism, you idiot.” Today I have no patience with dissemblers, “Devil’s advocates” (seriously, he needs help?) and men who want to blame everything wrong in their lives on women who dare to keep striving for an equality that they have not yet achieved. Today I have no time for people who make arguments that more guns make things safer, when all that more guns do is put more guns into the equation, especially in spaces where a known threat is in effect.

I am already worried that, by writing this, I have made myself a target. There are people out there, searching for women and their supporters, so they can bring harassment to our doors, expose our personal details, and drive us off the Internet so that the only voices are theirs. I am proud to be a supporter of women, of their ongoing fight for equality, and for the perfectly legitimate cause of feminism. Tomorrow, I may be regretting this because some little person with a computer has decided to ruin my life. I’m scared and there is no way on Earth that my tiny blog, read by hundreds of people, should have such weight that I should be worried. And, yet, I am because the people who are attacking women and their supporters have made it clear that there is no low point to which they will not stoop in order to silence people that they don’t agree with.

We have built a miraculous machine to send information around the world in microseconds and we are using it to hurl our faeces. If you ever wanted proof of our descent from a common ape ancestor, there it is.

Today, I am furious. And so should you be. A woman was silenced by threats and people stood by and did not do enough to protect her. We should all be furious because this is not the world that we want. Let the last words here be Anita Sarkeesian’s:

I’m safe. I will continue my work. I will continue speaking out. The whole game industry must stand up against the harassment of women.


A Disappointing Reality

I read metafilter.com relatively regularly because aggregators help funnel information and their filter bias is not completely exclusive. An article that popped up recently dealt with the Kickstarter project of Anita Sarkeesian, who was asking for $6,000 to make a web series about “tropes vs women in video games”. There’s a New Statesman link here that you can follow for the whole unpleasant story but, assuming you’re in a hurry, let me summarise it for you.

  1. Blogger sees, from copious amounts of evidence, that video games seem to have trouble depicting women in reasonable and non-stereotyped ways.
  2. Blogger decides to set off Kickstarter to get money to produce a web series discussing this, money to cover research, playing more games and producing videos. (Blogger already has a track record in doing similar things for film.)
  3. Blogger becomes the target of attack, persistent, personal, vicious, violent, sick and twisted attacks from a skulking pit of suck that we call the Internet.

Anita Sarkeesian in her Kickstarter movie. (This image from newstatesmen.com.)

Here is a direct quote from Sarkeesian:

The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as “terrorism”, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.  These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen “jokes” to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape.  All that plus an organized attempt to report this project to Kickstarter and get it banned or defunded.

You know what makes my heart sink? “The typical <x> jokes” because, of course, as a woman, I’m sorry, as a known woman on the Internet, she has seen and heard at least some of this before, just because she’s a woman. On her Wikipedia page, to quote the New Statesman article:

There are also references to Sarkeesian being “of Jewish descent”, an “entitled <racial epithet>” and having a “masters degree in Whining” (because why stick to one prejudice, when you can have them all?)

I can’t give you any more quotes because I try to keep this blog generally readable and there’s not much more I can say without having to ‘Adult rate’ this post.

Last year I attended a public seminar given by Professor Caroll Seron, who was a visiting international scholar in sociology and law at Flinders University, usually at UC Irvine, with talk entitled “The Changing Landscape of Women in the Professions: Why women study law and not engineering”. I went along, as an educator in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), I’m always looking for insight into why our female enrolments are so low and how we can improve them. What was most depressing about Professor Seron’s talk was that young women have similar reasons for going into engineering, they tend to do better financially but they tend to get relegated to gender roles once they go into work experience or work place environments, and then they leave. That is, a big group of mostly men will get the women to do what they think women should be doing, rather than letting them practice as engineers with their male counterparts.

It should come as no surprise that if you run a two-speed environment, or a free/constrained partitioning, the people that you are excluding will get the message and then they’ll leave. Which leaves fewer women in engineering, which gives us the same ‘women’s work’ nonsense workplaces.

So, much as I would like to think that it’s only the mindless Internet trolls that would act in such an obvious way, Professor Seron’s work suggests that the insidious attack on the validity of women in certain parts of the workplace is happening everywhere, every day. Until we address it, until we fix our culture, until we recognise that professional qualifications represent a capacity to do a job, regardless of which genitals we have, then what happened to Anita Sarkeesian is just a more obvious and, in some horrific ways, more honest account of how women are thought of every day, if they have the audacity to enter a ‘male sphere’.

Someone asked me for a name for a metadata repository today – for research and education. I suggested Hypatia. 2000 years and we haven’t got this rubbish sorted out yet? Seriously? Let’s strive for better.