Thursday, April 30, 2009

You put WHAT on your slides?

The vast majority of time, I don't have to think about sexism. But every once in a while, someone crosses the line. It sounds like this is what happened at a Ruby on Rails conference recently:

The second low point was Matt Aimonetti’s talk “CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star.” It is unfortunate that he took this joke too far. What might have been a short, juvenille, eye-rolling bit of humor continued throughout the talk to become increasingly disturbing.

Awkward. Definitely awkward:

Then I encounter a woman’s thonged rear on the screen at a conference, 20 feet tall, and I remember, oh yeah, people like me don’t belong here.

But, honestly, this sort of thing happens often enough that I hear stories about it all the time. So why am I posting about this one? Well, this time, someone helpfully collected a selection of thoughts from actual women on the subject, and it's pretty illuminating, even funny:

What about a presentation about writing code on deadline: “Delivering Like a Birth Mom.” Or how about graphic images of up-close breastfeeding in a talk titled “Nursing Your Projects Along.” I have four kids. I breastfed. I’ve hunted. I even like porn! But two great tastes don’t always taste great together, and that is the point that so many seem to have failed to make, or to get.

The quotes include some great commentary on the usual "it's a joke!" defense:

And if people don’t “get” your “jokes,” the correct response is not “There’s something wrong with you” but rather “Lemme take that one back to the drawing board.” Teachers don’t get to blame their students, writers don’t get to blame their readers, and comedians never get to blame their audience.

And they talk a little bit about how sometimes the responses in the aftermath are much more problematic than a few softcore porn slides:

The key is the right to complain safely. When complaints are predictably met with accusations of “overreacting”, “political correctness”, and “intolerance”, the resulting message is: Be like us, be silent, or leave.

I feel a bit like an onlooker at an accident scene reading this stuff after the fact. But it is rather fascinating to see the reactions. Unsurprisingly, they are varied, although most tend toward unimpressed with the slides and the talk.

One of the women who tweeted about this commented that it reminds her some of a previous incident in another community, so I'm going to end with a choice comment from the post she linked:

It is an unfortunate situation that often people when they're told, "hey, would you please be polite?" they respond with "NO, BECAUSE THAT INFRINGES UPON MY HUMAN RIGHT TO BE AN ASSHOLE!"