For women hackers, there’s a different kind of glass ceiling to break.
Hacking has traditionally been a man’s world. But women are quietly breaking into the hacker subculture, a loose group of computer enthusiasts who meet in online chat rooms and at real-life conventions.
Not surprisingly, as in other male-dominated spheres, these women are often harassed and mocked by certain insiders — though here it is by teenage boys, who make up most of the “entry levels” of hackerdom.
The chat rooms where beginning hackers often learn technical tricks are stocked with “little hacking boys from hell … how awfully rude they are, and how intelligent they are,” according to a hacker who goes by the handle Natasha Grigori and heads antichildporn.org, an organization of hackers who track down child pornographers on the Net.
But the few female hackers don’t network with each other — in fact, some of their greatest trouble comes from other women, called “scene whores” — hacker groupies who use sex to get ahead. Fortunately, the few women who break through to the “elite” ranks of hacking find that at the top, what matters is your technical skills, not your gender.
“If you can match their [male hackers’] skill level and better it, they’ll give you every ounce of respect. … It’s when a female comes in and tries to play on her being feminine, that doesn’t get you anything,” says Blueberry, a 32-year-old woman from Brisbane, Australia, who founded condemned.org, another anti-child porn organization.
ABCNEWS.com spoke to more than a dozen female hackers from the United States, Australia and New Zealand for this two-part series. Last week’s piece (see related story, right) looked at who the female hackers are; this week, we examine the challenges they face.
A note about names: Like most hackers, these women choose to go by online handles. Real names will be specifically marked as such.
Hackers vs. Scene Whores
There are plenty of women at hacker conventions — they’re just not all hackers. Some are girlfriends, some wives. But the female hacker’s nemesis is the “scene whore.” These latex-clad hacker groupies haunt conventions and offer teenage boys cybersex in chat rooms to boost their own self-esteem, female hackers say.
“The average woman, in today’s society, could remain unnoticed,” says Blaise, a 29-year-old woman from New Zealand. “Looking at an average woman in a computer society that consists of mainly antisocial men, she will be the center of attention. It’s those girls that give every woman a reputation...and that’s what you have to prove yourself against before you gain any respect.”
And the prevalence of scene whores has shattered any female solidarity that might exist among the hacker community, as groupies fight over the most highly skilled men and real female hackers fight the boys’ assumption that all women in the scene are groupies.
“When I first started in the scene, this one person said, you know, you can be my cyberwhore and you’ll be elite through association,” says Blueberry, who says she rejected the advance.