Black Hat had invited Rep. Will Hurd to keynote the Black Hat security conference this year but quickly pulled the invitation after a backlash from some in the cyber security community who believed Hurd has a bad track record in supporting women’s rights. Critics pointed out Hurd’s position enacting legislation that
voted for allowing states to restrict abortions (which has gained momentum)
voted to defund Planned Parenthood (which does not use federal funding for abortion)
voted against a bill to support women in STEM fields
Rob Graham, a significant member of the computer security community, tweeted out that this was just “political correctness.”
The problem with this view is that it shows a complete lack of understanding or at least empathy of what it is like to be a woman, and especially a woman in tech these days.
Harassment and assaults against women is well documented, and the cyber security community has it in spades.
Bruce Schneier wrote about it back in a 2012 blog post “Sexual Harassment at DefCon (and Other Hacker Cons)”.
Last year Emily Chang’s book “Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley” highlighted how pervasive this horrible behavior by men is.
Last year Ava Kofman wrote about the horrible treatment many women are still experiencing in the cyber security community - “CAN #METOO CHANGE THE TOXIC CULTURE OF SEXISM AND HARASSMENT AT CYBERSECURITY CONFERENCES?”
And Black Hat event tried to begin to address this problem last year. “BLACK HAT HACKER CONFERENCE BEGINS TO GRAPPLE WITH GENDER DISCRIMINATION AND SEXUAL ASSAULT IN CYBERSECURITY“.
Many women in cyber security that I follow on Twitter have posted about their #MeToo experiences.
Just listen to them.
So at a time when women’s rights across this country are being rolled back (mostly by men lawmakers and judges), and then Black Hat invites a keynote speaker who has been instrumental to rolling back those rights for women, only the ignorant should be surprised that many feel this was somewhere between a brain dead to offensive move by Black Hat organizers.
Having said that, I have to admit that I have been ignorant too. As a straight white male with an American sounding name, I honestly cannot remember ever being harassed (except by the occasional Trump troll) much less having to fear for my safety. I had been blind to how much of it was going on. But with the #MeToo movement I have had a chance to learn. And since then, several personal friends have told me their stories.
I encourage others, especially those like me who have had few to no negative experiences, to listen to the experiences of others and try to have a little empathy.