Part II: Female Hackers Face Challenges

Dark Tangent, head of Defcon and a prominent male hacker, remembers a “scene whore” having videotaped sex with a male hacker in an elevator at the convention’s Las Vegas hotel. He warns of “evil groupies” who condition poorly adjusted male hackers to think of women as sex toys.

Natasha says she regularly has to throw women out of the IRC chat room that she hosts because they disrupt the tech talk by offering cybersex to her teenage charges.

“It’s really bad as far as the women ripping each other to shreds. This whole cybersex thing really bothers me,” Natasha says.

“A_kitten,” a 34-year-old woman from California whose Web site features sexy photos of herself, has been described as everything from a “scene whore” to a “cult leader” by terrified male hackers unwilling to give names to a reporter for fear of her “legion of groupie script kiddies” who used to crash sites on her command.

She doesn’t deny using her femininity to get her way in a male-dominated society.

“People just assume that since I am a girl and I have that power that I must be abusing it,” she says. “I think some guys are intimidated or offended by the natural power that women possess.”

But “St.” Jude Milhon, a prominent hacker from Berkeley, Calif., doesn’t see using feminine wiles as part of the spirit of hacking. “It wouldn’t be sporting. Simply be present, honest, reasonably competent, female, and everyone’s aghast.”

Fighting to Be Heard

But it’s a hard battle for women to be respected in a culture dominated by teenage boys. The experience of women at the “entry levels” of the hacking scene, mostly in online chat groups, is one of relentless sexual harassment.

British sociologist Paul Taylor, author of Hackers: Crime in the Digital Sublime, terms this the “Wild, Wired West,” a rough-and-tumble social environment determined by the attitudes of insecure teenage boys trying to impress each other with “typed testosterone.”

“It’s almost like some Lord of the Flies-type environment,” he says, referring to William Golding’s novel about a group of teenage boys who descend into feral savagery when cut off from civilization.

The anonymity of online interaction also fuels sexual harassment, making it more difficult to enforce social rules and freeing the most maladjusted young men to take out their sexual frustrations on people with feminine handles, Taylor says.

“The first time I posted, I posted with a woman’s nickname. I was ripped to shreds: ‘You’re a woman, get off here, we’re not going to help you,’” Natasha says.

When RosieX, founder of the Australian cyberfeminist magazine GeekGirl, got into the online bulletin board scene in 1990, she found women so intimidated by that attitude that they pretended to be male to avoid harassment.

“I was frustrated, because I wanted to learn skills and all the boys wanted to do was f---,” she says.

Even a_kitten, who takes pride in her power over those boys, sneers at them.

“For every 50 jerks on IRC, I stumble upon one nice guy that I can talk to,” she says.

Non-Sexist Elite

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