Hacking Rhetoric

Blue Blog: Hackerspaces and Safespaces


I found the  reading  “Feminist Hackerspaces as Safer Spaces?”  very thought-provoking. I have visited very inclusive, open, and friendly hackerspaces, and though they were not specifically for women,  I felt perfectly safe and at ease. Many of the spaces’ by-laws worked to construct a “safespace” environment for all members of the community– the #1 tenet of the first havckerspace I ever visited was “Be Excellent (to each other)”. The wiki on safe-spaces quotes Advocates for Youth, defining a safe-space as:  “A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability ; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others”. I wish for all communities to strive to be safe-spaces. But, the term safe-space is unsettling to me,  and maybe others are perturbed by it as well. To me, the word ‘safe’ has connotations of being safe *from* someone. It conjures images of both a victim and a predator. Safe is a word with weight, and I worry it may serve to exclude rather than facilitate inclusion.  I feel like this sense of ‘other’ that ‘safe’ can convey is detrimental to all members of a community– queer or straight, male or female.

The author mentioned the term ‘radical inclusion’ early in the piece– perhaps this could be a more fitting moniker? A google search of radical inclusion lead me straight to burning man–It is one of the ten principles of the festival. “We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” Bullying, harassment, and violence can not be tolerated. All deserve safety. Yet, I cant help but feel that ‘safespace’ just isn’t the right word for the ideal it connotes.  This piece really was a sort of can of worms for me– got a lot to contemplate on!


4 thoughts on “Blue Blog: Hackerspaces and Safespaces

  1. I felt very much the same way regarding this article. It speaks about how “Feminist hackerspaces can be understood as safer spaces where a set of common values is foregrounded by its members.” The entire article seems to be about politicizing hacker spaces. By their very definition, at least in my mind, a hackerspace is a place where you leave you politics, gender, race, and identity at the door — it’s all about what you want to do, what you can do, and what people can create together. Sure, conversations will arise with a political bent, but I think those who seek to shape or transform hackerspaces to something more conducive to their personal political persuasions are violating the entire spirit of the hacker ethic.

  2. I thought I was the only one who was a little uncomfortable with the word “safe” to describe these hackerspaces. I kept thinking, are these people in danger??

  3. Unfortunately, there are some aspects of hacker culture where women have found themselves in danger and harassment beyond just ‘political incorrectness’. This post on defcon http://www.blogher.com/defcon-why-conference-harassment-matters is just one of the many horror stories I hear of women in tech. But I dont think that it is at all limited to hacker culture, nor do I find anything about hacker ethos that would promote sexism or abuse. Sexual harassment is prevalent across all fields and cultures in our society. I have no idea how we can address these issues but I have been thinking about it a lot

  4. The word ‘safe’ has a long historical context here — while in the popular imagination, it might mean safety from predators or similar (in Australia, for example, we have ‘safe houses’ with stickers on their mailboxes to tell kids there’s an adult there if they feel unsafe, are lost, being followed, etc; the term also turns up with, say, the Underground Railroad in US history).

    In this context, it’s more about ‘feeling safe’ than exclusively a question of ‘physical safety’ — and as Blanche has just said, seemingly not a reaction to any inherent aspect of hacker culture, but rather to issues present in society at large. Women in tech are subject to very blatant harassment at times — as are women in arts or women walking down the street … and establishing feminist spaces within hackerspaces is a response to that. I didn’t read the piece as arguing for the reinvention of existing hackerpaces to meet feminist norms of behaviour, but rather to create new imagined spaces (within existing hackerspaces or in new institutions) which are committed to anti-sexist behaviour.

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