Every year I make my pilgrimage to DEFCON. I do some outreach for the Mysterious Workplace and maybe do a panel or give a talk or speak at BSides. I did both a panel and a talk this year, which was relatively low-key, since the panel required almost no preparation and the talk was in a small side room. For the first time in many years, I attended DEFCON without J, who has somehow managed to be more busy after escaping his Corporate Masters and entering "retirement" than he was when he had a full-time job. J ran the burlesque show and went to Outside Lands instead of spending the weekend in Las Vegas, which meant that all of my conversations started with, "No, J is not here this year. He's really busy." I did not go so far as to get this printed on a tee-shirt, but I gave it some serious thought.
Attending DEFCON as an unescorted female resulted in a couple of awkward moments, but nothing too terrible happened. I couldn't support this statement with any actual facts, but the gender balance at DEFCON seemed to be a little bit better than last year. The crowd is still overwhelmingly white, but it's a little less overwhelmingly male. The only people who talked down to me were people who were attending the conference for the first time.
"What kind of badge is that?"
"It's a speaker badge."
The half-dozen young female legal interns the Mysterious Workplace brought to DEFCON escaped with a positive impression of both Las Vegas and hacker culture in general, which I consider to be a great victory. I have been around for a long time and am most commonly described as "terrifying," so they are a far better barometer of how DEFCON is treating women who are relatively new to the scene. I had attendees tell me stories about seeing men call out other men for inappropriate comments or behavior, which pleases me.
Having said that, I heard longtime DEFCON attendees, including one Goon, make disparaging remarks about the "diversity in tech" panel. "We don't need this panel," said the Goon. "Just look around the room--it's plenty diverse!" The former spooks who have been wining and dining me for the last several conferences (nice, dull, Virginia-suburb people) opined that "feminists" want them to "feel bad about being white men" and that they were powerless to turn back time and right all of the wrongs that have been done to women and people of color. I broke out the verbal jujitsu and suggested that there were a few concrete things they could do in the "mentoring people who are not white men" and "calling out bad behavior when you see it," departments. We reached agreement and ate very expensive hamburgers at the Cosmopolitan.
There happened in Las Vegas that did not involve feminism. My talk was very well-received--so well that I may put together some slides and submit it as a real talk to a real conference, rather than a 30-minute rant delivered with a blinding hangover based on notes sketched on the back of a napkin. I made progress towards fixing some Mysterious Workplace-related problems with the security community. People who troll me relentlessly online were quite pleasant and polite in person. I made it out to the pool and it rained on me, right there in the middle of Nevada desert! I got a solid quote in the Washington Post. I returned home refreshed rather than exhausted and outraged, which is a pleasant change of pace.
I feel as if I have done battle with Las Vegas and won.