When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

Summary: Open source software package Pantyshot sparked censorship and gender upheaval in the FOSS community: more that its original author is a woman resigning FOSS, and its current author is remorseless.

SHARE:

When an open source software package with the name Pantyshot appeared on The Python Package Index (aka "The Cheese Shop") it started a controversy around names, censorship and gender in the open source software community. Things got complicated when it was revealed that one of its primary authors was a woman.

It began with the post, Childish Behavior by Steve Holden, chairman of the Python Software Foundation. Well, the controversy technically didn't begin there, but it's where Holden describes the unusual situation the PySf Board found themselves in when someone wrote the Board asking if they thought a package called Pantyshot - using a MarkDown parser called Upskirt - was offensively named, and if they should do something about it.

Now, Python itself is named after Monty Python's Flying Circus, and along with the Cheese Shop hints that the community has a wry sense of humor and is cool with the wacky names. There has been a steady increase on software packages having herp-a-derp names, just for the lulz of it all.

However, Pantyshot had presented the community with a problem.

Holden wrote after the Board's discussion,

The general feeling was that the package name was offensive, but that unless we were faced with a legal request to remove content (as we have, very occasionally, from time to time, and with which we normally comply at some inconvenience to ourselves) we did not feel it was our place to police standards of decency on behalf of PyPi users. Censorship is a slippery slope, and can lead you into liability which transparency might not.

Given that I have done my best to encourage diversity, including gender diversity, among the international Python community, however, and even though I have on occasion been that guy, (as I suspect many of us have), it seems to me that if we truly want more women to feel at home in the open source software industry then we really ought to avoid giving our projects names like pantyshot.

I was somewhat surprised by the name (for a piece of software that parses the MarkDown language?) until I saw that the author of that package had implemented the upskirt MarkDown parser. WTF?

Like all discussions about sexualized anything and gender in tech, a good number of people reacted so strongly in the post's comments, you could practically see heads doing Exorsist-style 360s while bile and logic spewed in equal measure.

Parser? I hardly knew 'er!

Now, I don't know how much the FOSS communities know about upskirt porn, or how much you, dear and gentle reader know about what "upskirt" means. What the PyPi community did know is that it's a term for something sexually demeaning toward women in particular - not just a whimsical tee-hee naming of a library as Firefox's libpr0n, which could be argued to include all kinds of people. Pantyshot/Upskirt, beyond the uptight it's-about-sex-set, was not an equal opportunity offender.

"Upskirt" is shorthand for porn (images or video) that features a nonconsensual look up a girl's skirt or dress.

Because you are a fine, upstanding kind of reader, I'm sure you know very little about online filth such as pornographic subcategories, their nicknames or history. Luckily for you, I am here to go where bald eagles dare.

Back in the early days of porn on the open internet that there was one red-hot minute when upskirt porn was legal. It is, in fact, illegal. Though I don't think the FOSS community knows that detail - they were just up in arms about what to do when someone submits a package with a name that seems, well, sexist.

Pantyshot is a bird of identical plumage. It's basically the same thing, but that term (rather than upskirt) is what describes "an upskirt" instance in Japanese anime and manga: the term panchira refers to a panty-shot. Whoever did the naming liked the nonconsensual act so much, they gave it the same name twice.

Then the punchline was delivered. One of the central, original libupskirt authors was a woman.

She, not being a native English-speaker, had accepted on trust a foreign-language name for her library. According to Holden, the revelation - and the attention to her unknowing complicity - brought about with the name was so uncomfortable for her that she quit working in open source altogether.

It's by far the worst coding-related experience I ever went through. That made me retire from Open Source.

It's not that the names were simply sexual in nature: it was that they targeted a women over the very thing that makes them a minority in the Python community in the first place: you could call it a sexual exploit.

Upskirt's author Frank Smit took to the comments, chastising "the guys" for not emailing him about it directly and expressing his fondness for the name:

Looks like you guys don't like the name I choose for my package. I quite like it though. And I don't think it's an offensive word.

What I don't understand is that you don't send me an email. You can just say "We think the name you chose for your package is not appropriate. Can you change it?". My email is on the package page.

(...) Well, anyone got suggestions for a new name?

The next day, Smit commented that he'd renamed the package:

I changed the name of the package to Misaka. Not because of this blogpost, but because some people actually asked me and had a very good reason.

Don't Google the package

All's well that ends well... unless you're one of the few perverts on the internet (I speak for myself, and never for you, innocent readers) and you happen to know who Misaka is in regard to anything related to upskirts and panty-shots.

While the PyPi community was having deep, worrying discussions about how to avoid censorship and ostracizing individuals, Mr. Smit decided to be a clever boy.

Smit re-named Pantyshot/Upskirt after a Japanese name. Not just any name, but popularly belonging to an Anime (adult comics) character whose superpower is electricity, and is controversial due to notorious upskirt shots of the character - most especially as she is depicted as being 11 years old.

Search for Misaka and upskirt, and you'll get a Chilling Effects message from Google about the removal of alleged child porn from their search results.

When challenged about the new name in the comments, Smit responded:

Still no satisfied with the rename? How? I did not explain in public what I meant with Misaka.

It depends on how you interpret it, but it's just a Japanese name. Like the name of my other Python module, Momoko.

Anyway, I chose a normal name this time. Linking it to other possible offensive is your own doing.

Depending on how you interpret it, Smit is using "just a Japanese name" for his package.

Like Momoko, who could be Momoko the Japanese porn star (AV Idol), or Momoko the coquettish 19-year-old Japanese female pop singer, or Momoko the 13-year-old Japanese Anime character. Just don't "interpret" Momoko along with the term upskirt on Google or you'll get the same Chilling Effects child pornography warning.

I'm sure it's all a coincidence. Though I am a bit bitter that I've Googled an open source software package's name(s) and now there are illegal porn term instances in my search history.

The PyPi community does not have an easy road with this. If someone's offended, a cry of censorship can make even the most sensible community moderators back away from problems. (Not that, to my knowledge, the Cheese Shop has seen many software packages with names like Manhole or Tinypenis.)

At the same time, as we're seeing with the News of the World/Murdoch/phone hacking scandal, some will always exist that feel they're smarter than the rest of us, and don't need to worry about other people's problems with their actions - as long as they get theirs. If we don't think it's okay, we're interpreting it wrong, and that's just our problem.

But in an open source community, I kind of think it's everyone's problem.

Image by Kevin Dooley, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Topics: Open Source, CXO, Software, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

166 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

    In strange timing, this news item just popped up:

    "Man gets jail for up-the-skirt photo in Colma"

    http://www.mercurynews.com/san-mateo-county/ci_18448223

    I think it's interesting that some people saw 'pantyshot' as damage to the community while some saw it as a matter of 'free speech.'
    Violet Blue
    • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

      @violetblue
      Name is just "freespeech" they do not put you in jail for shouting "Pantyshot, pantyshot, big pink pantyshot" publicly :)

      Its just illegal to damage privacy of others.
      przemoli
    • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

      @violetblue Don't they make fake upskirt porn by the truckload down in CA? Its not like all upskirt porn is illegal anyway.

      The guy deserve credit for the Misaka renaming. I found it very clever and funny.
      Tommy S.
      • Funny? Hardly

        @Tommy S. Not being familiar with all the cutesy little FOSS names or Anime or Japanese, I may very well have sat here at work and googled it to find out more. If its like the author said I would have had porn sites in my history and detected by the corporate filtering systems.

        I would have thought that if you take the trouble to write some code, that you would want people to actually use it. However, when you put them at risk of getting fired if they do a Google search for the product, then you sure aren't going to be making friends.

        All of these silly little names seem incredibly childish to me and certainly do nothing to promote open source software. They make it seem more like a hobby for teenagers.
        cornpie
        • Re: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

          Also to @violetblue

          As a senior high student from P.R. China, I found this during a discussion about the naming of this package on a technical forum with the main language of Simplified Chinese.

          Although this is post in 2011, I still want to state my opinions on this topic. As a fan of this series, I have watched nearly every episode and I have read the original novel, I found some of the statements of this article a little bit misleading.

          To cut a long story short, the name “Misaka” comes from Mikoto Misaka (Misaka Mikoto, 御坂 美琴)one of the protagonists two related Japanese anime series: A Certain Magical Index (Toaru Majutsu no Index in Romaji) and A Certain Scientific Railgun (Toaru Kagaku no Railgun in Romaji). Both of them do not really have very sexually offensive contents.

          Before I state my own opinion, I would like to share my results and evaluation on the problem you have mentioned before. I did do your experiment of typing “Misaka” and “upskirt” into Google, but by the time of 2013, the “secure search” feature of Google has been turned on by default and the word “upskirt” is automatically filtered out, living “Misaka” the only keyword, and the results are perfectly neutral. What I can confirm now is that the offensive results are related to the word that is now filtered out by default, the anime itself is totally sexually neutral.

          Just to be sure, I checked the rating of the two anime on MyAnimeList.com. The rating of A Certain Megical Index is R-17+, for the anime contents some violent scenes and religiously offensive plot. The rating of A Certain Scientific Railgun is PG-13, roughly the same as CSI, though unstated on the website, the possible reason, I guess, is that the anime contains some morally controversial plot such as cloning of Mikoto herself in the second episode and the conduction of high-risk experiments in the first episode. I have also inspected my collection of promo images, most are released by the official filmmakers, related to these two. They are also nearly neutral.

          Basically, these two anime are based on the Japanese novel A Certain Magical Index, which is mainly the story that happened in a fictional Japanese city named Academy City, which is famous for the top-level education the city can offer and the city’s emphasis on psychic powers. Mikoto is a junior student there, who is the third most powerful psychic in the city. A Certain Scientific Railgun is how she and her friends live in the city and discover some of the scandals there. The anime is not meant to be what you haveve thought and it is not. All the official promos also followed this rule.

          Back to the topic of the sexually offensive contents you’ve found. These contents, which I cannot see by now, are most probably fan-made artwork. Fan-made artworks are usually more radical and offensive then the official ones, as they do not have to follow the rules. I really did not surprise about the fact you have found offensive content, but as a matter of fact, they are not really related to the anime itself, nor the name “Misaka”.

          To draw a conclusion, I personally do not agree with the opinion that “Misaka” is offensive as this is not based on canonical sources, and I believe that “Misaka” is a totally suitable name, just like the name of the Linux Security Module “TOMOYO Linux” which comes from a heart-warming Japanese anime.

          Anyway, I am not accusing anyone but just to express my opinion on this topic.

          By the way, I really admire Mikoto Misaka for her persistence and courage, and what she did with the boy she fall in love with is just so cute.
          butangmucat
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @cornpie First, use encrypted.google.com

        Our Cisco Iron port cant even block it, ive tried lowering my own internet access to No_internet and it still goes through. The head office cannot see what you are searching, as long as you dont click on a link, of course. They cannot see what is in the packets and they cannot see the search terms by looking at the URL, its safe.

        FOSS is not serious business.

        They wont fire you over a search term, theyll fire you if you pick your ass looking at porn all day long.
        Tommy S.
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @cornpie
        All of these silly little names seem incredibly childish to me and certainly do nothing to promote open source software. They make it seem more like a hobby for teenagers.

        A lot of FOSS code is created by hobbyists, in fact the hobbyists are arguably the primary FOSS developers. A small percentage of FOSS code actually becomes serious. It should not be surprising that some hobbyist developers simply don't care about promoting a movement, and are just messing around.
        zoredache
  • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

    For the record, Natacha Porte has since informed me that she chose to leave the open source world not particularly because of the controversy with the name but because of the way she has been written out of the history of the best-known wrapper for or fork of her package.<br><br>I felt that Frank Smit had actually chosen quite an apt renaming: apparently while Misaka is an anime kick-boxing characters she chooses to wear boxers over her panties to avoid the impropriety of fighting in her underwear and the possiblity of pantyshots.<br><br>One thing we *don't* need on the Internet is places like ZDNet changing the word "p a n t i e s" to a row of asterisks. That's just childish.
    steve@...
    • Porte's post on the name and Smit's pattern

      @steve@... Thanks for commenting, it's great to see you here.<br><br>I noted that Porte had twin issues - the name of the package and the omission of her authorship. I kept the article on one track because it revealed the pattern in Smit's ongoing behavior and naming proclivities, which is worth a serious look and should be taken into consideration. There is a pattern, and what connects the dots is unsavory - keep in mind that I am pro-porn, pro-sex, anti-censorship (I have worked alongside the EFF on a number of projects FWIW), and love a good prank. Have you looked at the names of his other projects?<br><br>I disagree about Misaka - Smit himself is an Anime fan, and to dismiss Misaka as anything but a reference to Railgun and its p-shot controversy would be an oversight in this context.<br><br>I also kept the article focused on the naming issue because while you seem to be downplaying it here, it actually had a huge impact on Porte and her experience in your communities.<br><br>Porte is indeed leaving FOSS for both reasons - but especially because of the controversy. She wrote:<br><br>"People asking for a rename are not actually that much interested in a new name, they mostly want the old name gone. That's done just as well by destruction as by renaming.<br><br>The whole github-triggered curse has been extremely painful for me. It's by far the worst coding-related experience I ever went through. That made me retire from Open Source."<br><br><a href="http://fossil.instinctive.eu/libupskirt/wiki?name=about-the-name" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://fossil.instinctive.eu/libupskirt/wiki?name=about-the-name</a><br><br>The shame expressed over the name issue is simply heartbreaking. I would not be so embarrassed/mortified, but I am not the same woman as Porte.
      Violet Blue
      • Problem is with nonsensical names generally

        @violetblue

        The open source community ( and even perhaps by extension the Linux/Unix communities) have always had a tendency to use weird names.

        yum
        lisa
        squid
        amanda
        anaconda

        ...seriously? Granted something like Amanda is actually an acronym, but call me a stick-in-the-mud for thinking names should be utilitarian to easily infer their purpose.

        It's almost like a little club of children who use a secret language to keep others out. However, that can also become a barrier to wider public acceptance.
        croberts
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @violetblue > chu! there is one thing I found out while working in the corporate world going in, from the get go you watch your "P's" & "Q's". I too am pro-porn and and liberal toward women reaching their limits sexually. Even though individuals do not have the same freedom of speech entitlement as Lawyers, Pasters and Published Columnist like yourself. All of which answer to a higher power ultimately before political correctness.
        Rob T.
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @violetblue
        As a test, I did a Bing search for "violetblue upskirt". I'm certain that you can already tell where this is going. Do we need to read anything into that? (that was rhetorical)

        It's unfortunate that Porte felt she had to go that way, it shouldn't be like that. I'm fairly certain that it wasn't explicitly because of her sex that she didn't get the recognition she deserved for her FOSS work, a lot of people get passed right over. This article may just give her the attention she had previously missed, but not the attention she necessarily wanted to receive.
        superdragonpoop
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @violetblue <br><br>I realized that Smits knew exactly what he was doing when I saw this sentence:<br><br>"Depending on how you interpret it, Smit is using just a Japanese name for his package."<br><br>He got a kick out of the whole thing, and the controversy only made it better. He was able to get people to reference 'pantyshot', 'upskirt' and his 'package' - sometimes all in the same sentence. For an emotional 14 year old, that's pure gold.
        bknabe@...
      • Nontroversy.

        @violetblue
        "I disagree about Misaka - Smit himself is an Anime fan, and to dismiss Misaka as anything but a reference to Railgun and its p-shot controversy would be an oversight in this context."
        I wasn't aware there WAS a 'controversy'. Prior to this article, the entirety of my thoughts on the matter were "oh hey, an instance of somewhat sensible clothing choice". It's not a unique aspect to the series, it's not played as demeaning to the character (if anything, it's a point-and-laugh at the viewer's expense, as if to say "what, you wanted to see her underwear? You sick bastard!").
        It is almost certainly a reference to Index/Railgun, but only to the extent that Mikoto is a character 'immune' to an attempted pantyshot.
        psuedonymous
  • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

    Good naming should take into account whether anybody can reasonably be offended, not just whether the author didn't intend offence. In a respectful world, when pointed out that offence is possible, an author would only be too willing to change a name - no censorship required.
    pjcordell
    • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

      @pjcordell

      Freedom of speech means freedom for the speech you hate.
      josh92
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @josh92 "Freedom of speech means freedom for the speech you hate."

        And with Freedom comes Responsibility, which too many have ignored for the past 40 years.
        Media Whore
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @josh92 Freedom of speech, okay let's call it WhiteGuysAreRacistSexistSelfishBastards. It's all over Family Guy, it's the basis of every script. But what's that you say, that's not funny? It's not even true? I believe that's not the point, it's about freedom of speech, right? Not about the dignity of 50% of the global population.
        tusuzu
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @josh92 [i]Freedom of speech means freedom for the speech you hate.[/i]

        You're more than welcome to say whatever you'd like, but you're also welcome to deal with the repercussions.
        Badgered
      • RE: When software offends: The Pantyshot package controversy

        @josh92
        That's exactly why the founding fathers of the USA included that in our Constitution. No needs to protect the speech we agree with, it's the offensive or controversial that needs to be protected. As the saying goes (paraphrasing), "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.

        I think that Smits is just trying to get his name in print in as many places as he can, and he's an immature idiot for doing it this way, but at least he and his software are being discussed somewhere.
        BrewmanNH