BACK UP: the open source women back each other up project & gentlemen's auxiliary

FAQ (version 1.2)


What is the Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project?

The "Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project" arose in response to an proposal from some guy on the Internet (who will remain nameless) to promote a breast-groping-friendly atmosphere at SF conventions. Many female (and male) fans were infuriated by said proposal, and the resulting Internet firestorm burned quick and bright, thereby laying to rest any notion that the original proposal would be widely embraced or appreciated by the distaff side of fandom. The incident served to highlight the fact that unwanted attention from "creepy guys" was a familiar experience for women attending fan conventions (and any other area of life, for that matter). Furthermore, it is often difficult to extract oneself from a "creepy guy" situation without escalating it, increasing one's feeling of danger or discomfort, or being rude. (Not that there's anything wrong with being rude in such a situation, but social conditioning is hard to overcome.) In reaction to the Internet explosion, Livejournal user vito_excalibur made a proposal that turned out to be popular:

I would like to start the Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Program. Here's my pledge: if I see somebody groping you in public, and you're not moaning Yes! Yes! Yes!, I will break through your Somebody Else's Problem invisibility field and come over and ask if you're okay. If your situation looks dangerous enough I can't help on my own, I will call over friends or, if it's a situation in which I think the cops would be on your side, I will call the cops. If you're being harassed by a guy, you can say so to me, even if you don't know me. I pledge I will distract him so you can get away, or I will tell him that he needs to leave, or whatever I can do to the best of my ability. I pledge that yes, actually, because you are a woman I will give you the benefit of the doubt. If you tell me that a guy just did something shitty to you I will not refuse to look at any evidence and tell you that I know him and he's a great guy and you must have been imagining things. I have great loyalty to my male friends but I will not allow that to blind me to the fact that none of us are saints and even my best friends can screw up and may need to be called on it. I pledge that I will walk you to your car if you don't feel safe walking alone at night, and then you can drive me to mine. Yes, even at Wiscon. I pledge that even if I don't know you, if there is a creepy guy following you around, you can say so, and I will not say to you go hide in your room; I will say to him go find another party, or if necessary, go home. I will come with you if you need to talk to the con organizers. I will not make you feel like your right to control over your own body is not a big deal.


So who is in charge? Who runs the Back Up Project?

No one, and at the same time, everyone who chooses to participate. You are in charge of how, and whether, you decide to Back Up. (See How can I get involved?) There is no central organization or structure.

What are the goals of the Back Up Project?

  1. To encourage ourselves to be aware of situations where women are being harassed, and to help those women out to the best of our abilities, rather than ignoring it as Somebody Else's Problem.
  2. To actively provide assistance to women who need it and who want it.
  3. To promote an atmosphere where creepy behavior, random groping, and harassment will not be silently ignored or tolerated. It will not be considered "just the way cons are" or "just something women have to deal with." In an ideal world, that would be the default atmosphere, but we all know we don't live in that world.

How can I get involved?

There's only one basic requirement: decide for yourself to do it. Once you've made that decision, there are more things you can do, if you choose. You can wear t-shirts or buttons to let women know that you'll help them out of a creepy situation if they ask you. You can lobby conventions, events, and organizations to adopt official anti-harassment policies. You can join or create forums to discuss the Back Up Project with like-minded people. You can encourage your friends to participate. You can use your own imagination and initiative to contribute in ways others haven't thought of yet. Or you can just stick with the basics.

Who is a woman?

Anyone who says she is or identifies as one.


What is the "Gentlemen's Auxiliary"? Why is it auxiliary?

While the Back Up Project is conceived as women helping women, men can and do follow the same philosophy, and seek the same goals. Many men may wish to participate in the Project, and we are glad to have allies. So, if you are a man, and want to support the Back Up Project, then you are part of the Gentlemen's Auxiliary! Why the Auxiliary, and not the main Project? That comes back to the gender-related social issues the Back Up Project is attempting to address. For example, it is unlikely that a woman who is already being followed around a con hotel by a strange guy will feel as comfortable asking another strange guy to walk with her to her car as she would asking another woman.

That does not mean that the Auxiliary isn't important! One of the important things that men can do that women cannot is to challenge other men. Saying "Hey, dude, she said no" to another man can be very powerful. We do ask that men who choose to participate understand that many women are wary of direct intervention and "rescuing", with good reason, and that helping a woman or challenging a man in no way obligates the woman towards you.

For more thoughts about the Gentlemen's Auxiliary, see the following:

Why only women? Men can be harassed, too!

Participation in Back Up Project does not require you to coldly ignore any men who need help! However, it is not an equal situation. Differences in the way men and women are socialized (on average--individual people will of course vary), compounded by the numerical imbalance between the genders at many fannish events, and a number of other factors that are beyond the scope of this FAQ, mean that this is a problem that is experienced far more frequently by women. Pretending otherwise is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. The Back Up Project is about women helping women, in an attempt to redress a small portion of that imbalance.

What other social justice issues should I be aware of when participating?

Project participants are trying to figure out some of the thorny issues that need to be addressed in any project of this type. Two discussions you might want to take a look at are under the racial issues tag and the trans/genderqueer issues tag on the Livejournal community.

What does "open source" signify?

The term open source comes from the world of software development, and in that context, comes with a long set of principles attached. This literal definition is not the one we are using! The "Open Source" in "Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project" indicates that it is decentralized effort. There is no governing body, and you don't need anybody's permission to participate or create your own sub-project.

Is there a forum or discussion group?

Can I buy buttons, t-shirts, etc?

Some merchandise is available at

How can I find out if there'll be any Back Up Project members and/or activity at the event I'm going to?

The best way is to ask in one of the forums or discussion groups.

Is the Back Up Project limited to fandom?

No! Because it was inspired by events related to sf fandom and conventions, much of the initial focus and development has occurred in that context. However, the principles behind the Back Up Project can be applied to any sort of gathering or event, and even to everyday life.

How can I contribute material (graphics, manifestoes, cat macros, etc.)?

Contributions to existing sub-projects (e.g. web sites, gatherings at conventions, discussion forums) should be discussed with the organizers of the sub-project in question. If you have a general contribution you'd like to share, you can post or link to it in one of the discussion forums.


How can I contact the web maintainer?

If you need to contact the web maintainer, email or post in one of the discussion forums. Please note that the web maintainer only maintains content on the site & does not "run" the Project. This website was created to give people something to refer to and to provide links to information that might be of assistance.



v. 1.1 authors: Livejournal user desdenova, Livejournal user jacquez. v. 1.2 changes by Livejournal user jacquez.