Rape Apology and LCA 2011

After a lecture at LCA 2011 included some inappropriate slides there was a long discussion on several mailing lists about the issues related to this. In February 2011 I wrote a blog post debunking some of the bogus arguments in question [1]. Of course the matter didn’t end there, at LCA 2012 I was drawn into a few debates IRL about the issues, as long as there are more than a few men who want such porny pictures used in LCA talks the issue can’t be properly resolved.

The most serious aspect of the discussion in question is that of rape apology, the bad ideas that were presented have a real impact on the way people behave, merely making public statements saying that something is OK is going to increase the incidence of it happening. The Geek Feminism Wiki has a good page summarising the issue [2].

The Finally Feminism 101 post about Rape Culture is also worth reading in this context [3].

Recently Valeria Aurora wrote a post for the Ada Initiaive blog about the rape apology issue and how the community needs to act to prevent such behavior [4]. This inspired Matthew Garrett to write about the issue and state the position that “In the absence of an apology and explanation from Ted, I’ll be interacting with him to the bare minimum that I’m compelled to as a result of my job” [5]. I agree with Matthew’s article, everything he writes is logical and I believe that it is all for the benefit of the FOSS community as a whole. I think that most guys have quietly defriended guys who are rape-positive in the past (for example when I was 12 I refused to play D&D with boys who were raping NPCs). But blogging about it, explaining the problem, and giving the offender the possibility to reform is a good idea and it’s something that should be done more often.

Sam Varghese has written about the issue for ITWire [6]. He has taken the wrong approach to this, he specifically claims that “Matthew Garrett has kicked off what could be a damaging episode“. I think that Matthew’s approach is necessary and the situation demands it. If Matthew had been on holidays and I had read the TAI post earlier then I would probably have written a blog post which Sam could have described in a similar manner. So I don’t think that Matthew kicked anything off (I think that someone had to do it). I also don’t think that this has to be damaging – it depends on how everyone reacts.

On her personal blog Valerie says “When I first read Ts’o’s comments, I couldn’t sleep for two nights. I wanted to throw up every time I thought about it. I was furious and frightened at the same time. Every time I think about this, even now, I literally have nightmares. I can’t bear the thought of working with him even over email, much less attending the same conferences” [7]. I don’t think that any of us who are seriously involved in the FOSS community have a way of avoiding this issue, allowing Valerie and other women who have the same understanding of the situation to go through that without any support is not a neutral action. I think we need to consider whether someone who gives other delegates and speakers nightmares should be welcome to attend a conference. Valerie’s post makes sense to me and I can understand why she doesn’t want to associated with Ted, my understanding of the issue isn’t important or even required, I merely note this because I’m sure that there are lots of readers who will ignore anything that a woman might say.

ITWire has a follow-up article with Ted’s response, Ted fails to address all the issues and seems to think that the people who disagree with him merely don’t appreciate his “nuance” [8]. The thing is that the issue of the incidence of rape was raised in discussion to consider the probability that rape survivors would have been in the audience for the Mark Pesce talk in question. None of Ted’s claims indicate that rape could be rare enough that a crowd of 500+ random people could be expected not to have multiple rape survivors so his comments weren’t even relevant to the discussion. Ted seems unwilling to try to understand the position of all the people who disagree with him.

16 comments to Rape Apology and LCA 2011

  • brother

    Those ads on the side here. Interesting choice by whomever made it. “idateasia” and “thaikisses”. just me seeing the irony here?

  • Erik Johansson

    Thanks for posting this, from reading Ted’s comments on mjg’s blog it was very clear that he didn’t get it at all. But that’s true for so many people, sadly.

  • uau

    It’s worth noting that both Valerie Aurora and Matthew Garrett make dishonest statements about what Ted actually wrote. The one that is easiest to verify is Valerie Aurora’s statement that he “wrote that rape was impossible if both people were drunk enough”, as she directly links to the mail that allegedly supports this claim. In the mail Ted is arguing against an overly simplistic way to count something as rape if the other person was drunk. What he’s actually saying is that if both people are similarly drunk, then you’d have to say either that there is no rape or that both partners are rapists. This is used as an example of the possible classification problems. Valerie Aurora incorrectly interprets, or at least describes, this as Ted making a general statement of his views about all cases where both partners are drunk.

    I think “willing to understand the position of all the people who disagree with him” would be a bit much to ask, when the “disagreeing” occurs in the form of not-quite-truthful public personal attacks.

  • etbe

    brother: Yes, the advert selection can be strange and ironic at times. At the moment I’m seeing adverts for book sales, helpdesk software, and 4WDs – none of which interest me at the moment.

    Erik: I’m glad you agree. It’s good to have input from men who agree on issues like this, it sends a good message.

    uau: From Ted’s email:
    “if both Alice and Bob were drunk, there’s no rape that has taken place”
    “I’m also predisposed to not have a lot of sympathy for both parties — male or female, attacker or victim — who put themselves in such situations”

    Ted was replying to (and had quoted) the following:
    “occurrences in which victims are plied with alcohol are, as suggested above, not uncommon, and that this is used as a strategy to weaken their resistance to what is subsequently perpetrated. They do not, in these circusmtances, give free and voluntary consent; and the absence of consent is the essence of the crime.”

    I think that the interpretation that Valerie, Matthew, and I have made is reasonable and supported by the evidence. I think that a major factor determining the different interpretations is how important people think the issue is. People who think it’s just an issue of a fun debate being taken the wrong way (EG citing the “someone is wrong on the Internet XKCD comic) have a different interpretation from those who think it’s an issue of whether the culture promotes and accepts violent crime.

  • uau

    The correct reading of that “So if both Alice and Bob were drunk” is “So in the above-mentioned thought experiment case with Alice and Bob both similarly drunk and with nothing else distinguishing them”, and not “So in every possible case where there are two people, let’s call them Alice and Bob, and both are drunk”.

  • Robert

    I think the real problem here is that each side of the argument is arguing something slightly different from what the other thinks they are.

    And I’m really not sure hyperbolic statements about not being able to sleep for two nights and feeling physically sick just thinking about Ted Ts’O is at all helpful. It’s a bit scary how someone can so easily turn from someone who “doesn’t get it” into a demon so quickly & easily.

  • etbe

    uau: In either case there is the possibility for a criminal to deny responsibility on the basis of being drunk, and that happens in Australian courts.

    Robert: I think we understand what Ted is trying to say. However Ted is denying any understanding of why it is offensive and makes women afraid to be around him.

    Also a description of someone’s experiences is not hyperbole by definition.

  • etbe

    Sam has written another article about this issue at the above URL. He criticises Matthew for blogging about work and non-work topics on the same blog without a disclaimer. He also quotes a vacation message from Valerie, it seems a bit strange to quote someone’s vacation message – Valerie, I hope your holiday was fun. Sam also quotes Jonathan Corbet who seems to think that the whole thing is just a difference of opinion that doesn’t matter.

  • etbe

    Will Woods (who happens to be a Red Hat employee who is also not representing Red Hat in his blog) has commented on this issue at the above URL. Apart from apparently thinking that Ted’s apology is sufficient Will seems to generally agree with me and Matthew.

  • etbe

    Craig Sanders has written a satirical post about this topic and violated the Godwin rule among other things.

  • etbe

    Craig has written another post about this topic, it’s long and not really worth reading. Matthew Garrett has written some good comments which are worth reading though.

  • etbe

    Paul Wayper has written a post about the issue of privilege, it was inspired by this incident but covers some different areas to most posts.

  • etbe

    The above blog post and it’s comments are also worth reading in the context of this issue.

  • Sam Varghese

    You seem to have a very limited understanding of how reporting is done resulting in many uneducated and silly comments about my articles on the issue.

    First you say that I have taken the “wrong approach”. You are confused – I have merely reported the facts. The use of the word could – which signifies that something is hypothetical and possible – also indicates that the opposite may eventuate. This is standard usage in English-language reporting around the world and here you are pontificating on it in what I can only term supreme ignorance.

    There was no comment made by me on whether the post on Ted Ts’s was necessary or unnecessary – yet you seem to infer that I did so, compounding the level of ignorance in your post.

    Thinking in straight lines does not help anyone to understand anything; there are many nuances in the world we live in, none of which figure in Hello World statements. And the latter seems to be about your level of comprehension. The guy from Red Hat is another one with similar comprehension and I’m sure you were cheered up by the fact that someone else also agreed with you.

    I have met Craig Sanders but once; however having read his posts on the LUV lists since 1999, it is easy to see that he possesses far too much commonsense to indulge in blind reasoning the way Matthew Garrett and you have done. He is no Talib and it is unlikely that his understanding of the issue will ever filter throuhg to people like you. Sad, because the level-headedness and no-BS approach he brings to an issue is something geeks badly need.

  • etbe

    Sam: Firstly please note that the manner of your comment is the type of thing that decreases your own popularity while not being particularly effective at making a point. If you want to convince anyone (regardless of whether the agree, disagree, or have a neutral opinion of you) then almost every other option is probably going to give a better result.

    In terms of your wrong approach, where we disagree is not about the “could” section but about whether Matthew kicked it off. I believe that Matthew only distinguished himself by being the first man to comment on this issue and get some readers. If he had been on holidays then you would probably be claiming that I had kicked it off.

    The fact that you claimed this discussion that Matthew allegedly kicked off as being something that “could be a damaging episode” without noting that it could have led to improvements in the community (and may still do so) is a clear indication that you think it’s something that shouldn’t have happened (given the assumption that “damaging episodes” are bad).

    In this instance I am agreeing with Matthew, he wrote the first blog post and I cited it.

    Violating the Godwin rule isn’t what I consider level-headed.

  • Sam Varghese

    The last thing I am bothered about is cheap popularity.

    If Matthew Garrett did not kick off this latest bout of name-calling, then who did?

    Garrett is calling someone a rape apologist with no proof at all. You think that is not incendiary? You think Garrett’s views are very popular? You think it will not polarise opinion? If your answer to any of this is yes, then you inhabit a different planet from the one I live on.

    Improvements can come about through a level-headed approach to things. Not by Garrett’s approach. He is no angel to call out people on anything – he is grandstanding to try and somehow be considered a “leader” in the FOSS community. He has been trying to do that for a long time – recall his bid for leadership of Debian? – but the Debian crowd saw through his BS.

    Now if you tell me that someone like Jonathan Oxer is trying to improve things in the FOSS community, you will get no argument from me. Or Arjen Lentz, Or Andrew Tridgell. or Andrew Bartlett, Or… But I think I’ve made my point.