What the Backup Ribbon Project is all about

At the 2008 Dragon*Con in Atlanta, a friend and I were crossing the street back to our hotel. About 20 yards just outside the main lobby doors, a young man had a young woman backed up against the wall and was yelling at her quite loudly as she cringed away from him. It was obvious to anybody going in or out of the lobby.

Did any of the three dozen or more con attendees who walked right by this couple stop before we got there? No. Did one of them go over to ask the young woman if she needed help? Not a one. As it was, we stopped and asked her, and the guy slunk away.

This got us to thinking (dangerous at best). Why didn’t anybody else stop? Why did it take that many people walking by before somebody stepped up to say “Hey, do you need some help? Are you OK?”

It would be easy to say that fans either are too self-absorbed or they just don’t care. But in talking to other fans out there, we got a very different answer. There is a sense that fans are afraid to get involved. That they worry about if they have the right to step in if they  are not “official.”

So why not find a way for fans to give back to that fandom they so dearly love and embrace? In our case, we got involved with the Backup Project. Our way of doing so was to offer up con badge ribbons that were printed with the word “Backup” in large letters. It was, in essence, a way for people to signify that they wanted to help and would do so.

To date, we have given out more than a thousand ribbons. Stories have come back to us about “Backup” people helping to break up fights, escorting women to their hotels, distracting That Person from obnoxiously hitting on other fans. And each and every one makes us proud to be a fan. To know that our fellow fans do give a damn.

If you take a Backup ribbon or you wear a Backup t-shirt, you are promising one very simple thing: You WILL be That Person to help out anybody being harassed. Gender, orientation, presentation is irrelevant. You WILL find a way to help, whether by directly intervening, getting help from elsewhere, or simply listening the person being harassed. You WILL be there for them. You WILL accept that they believe they have been harassed. You WILL NOT question them or doubt them, You WILL give them whatever help they wish.

No judgment. No exceptions. We got your back.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to What the Backup Ribbon Project is all about

  1. pennylrichardsca says:

    Right next to the link to this post on twitter, I had a link to this one (gmta? Or about-damn-time?):

  2. Count me in, for whatever I can do to help. I’ve watched enough of this behavior at conventions, and while I know I can’t stop it by myself, I WILL make a stand.

  3. Nick Barone says:

    This will be my second year attending Burning Man, a place known for it’s lack of authority and presence of “security”. However – one man, who’d been going for 17 years, commented that as the level of official authority had risen – everything from great presence of law enforcement, to the growing ranks of the Black Rock City Rangers – has resulted in the same effect. Where once it was that anyone walking by would jump in, help out, resolve the situation, there is now a sense of “that’s somebody else’s job” merely because there are, in fact, people whose job it is.

    What you’re doing is amazing, and I love it. You’re going around, and you’re telling people that they, themselves, can get in other people’s business and help out. Nothing special to it

    It’s amazing how much changes when you do something as tell someone that yes, they /are/ qualified to help.

    But there’s a risk you’re running; it’s an inverted pandora’s box. You’re adding a mark of authority, freely given, with little training. Not everyone *is* qualified to help, even if most are. You can’t go the route of training and requirement (what the BRC Rangers chose) – that led to the problem in the first place.

    What do you do with a bad egg, wearing a ribbon? Whose help harms? I got ideas, but I don’t like the consequences of any of them. Harsher punishments for ribbon-wearers doing Bad Things leads to apprehension in the face of conflict; lax punishment leads to abuse.

    Guess the only sure thing you can do is keep good notes, so it’ll be easier to learn how it’s working.

  4. thatwordgrrl says:

    I’ve gotten variations on this concern (although few as nicely worded and eloquent as what you have to say), mainly the big ‘What if a harasser takes a ribbon?”

    And I admit, I have struggled with that. I’d like to think that every person who took a ribbon, either directly from me or from somebody who got them from me, really understood what it was all about. Sadly, as those who know me personally will attest, my rather cynical nature says otherwise. I do have several Burner friends, so I have heard stories.

    I decided to take that risk because I felt the benefits of a wide-spread program that did not pick and choose who was either qualified to provide backup (and there are many ways of doing so…more on that later) or receive it far outweighed the risks of that one bad apple. Or egg. Or whatever.

    I recognize it’s a giant leap of faith that my fellow geeks are pure of heart and motive in this. But the benefit is that it can spread much further the more people have been involved.

    FWIW, I have yet to hear of any harassment incidents being instigated by somebody wearing a Backup Ribbon (and I poke around for feedback, oh yes I do). Granted, the person being harassed may be too intimidated to say anything, but I do try to keep a bit of hope alive buried in the very bottom of my blackened heart.

  5. Pingback: All you need is linkspam (7th August, 2012) | Geek Feminism Blog

  6. Pingback: This Week in Gaming | Gaming As Women

  7. przemek klosowski says:

    I came to this link from the discussion on harassment of female geeks at DEFCON started by Valerie Aurora. I was disgusted by these manifestations of the dark underbelly of geek culture. I have never experienced nor witnessed anything like that, but the evidence presented here is too numerous to ignore, and it shook my self-image of geeks as do-good angels of progress.

    Transparency and awareness is certainly good reaction, and the ideas of Backup and Red/Yellow Cards (http://singlevoice.net/redyellow-card-project/ ) are quite clever. Social opprobium works if applied consistently and over time, and it’s a duty of a decend person to notice and react. What we shouldn’t do, hower, is allow the justifiable anger to justify vigiliantism. When people talk about policing and training, it implies the level of response that we should be careful about. Some of the decisive reactions that seem appropriate at first are ladden with unintended consequences—Valerie Aurora herself responded that she considered and rejected a suggestion to physically ‘hit back’.

    It reminds me of suggestions that people with personal firearms would prevent mass shooting situations. The idea sounds good, until we consider the actual tactics: what would you do faced with unknown number and location of armed assailants and friendlies?

    It’s easy to get fascinated by a quick and decisive solution that would look good in the movie, but the world is complicated and dirty and our best bet is a long-term improvement in norms of behavior.

    • thatwordgrrl says:

      Absolutely we (as in all of geekdom) need to work toward improvement in behavioral norms. We completely support the notion of long-term projects to deal with the problem.

      But there also needs to be a way to help in the moment. We are not comfortable with the notion of walking past that young couple at Dragon*Con and thinking that somebody else is sure to step in because we are afraid of looking like vigilantes. Sometimes — although not always — some of the best education can come from calling out bad behavior in that moment.

      Not all help in the moment needs to be physical. In fact, it’s better if not. It can sometimes be as simple as distracting the harasser or finding a pretext to get the person being harassed out of the situation.

      Being willing to be That Person in that moment, combined with long-terms educational goals, are the best way to combat the problem.

  8. Jeff Linder says:

    Just got linked this on Jim Hines Blog in relation to a recent incident and passed it on the the chair of a con I work at…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s