Jun. 12th, 2009

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (disingenuous)
Well, apparently the Flash community has taken it upon itself to find out whether it's possible for a software community to be a bigger bunch of douchebags than the Ruby on Rails community. The preliminary verdict: yes. Don't be fooled: a speaker who gets invited to a conference and then illustrates use of a graphics app by drawing bukkake scenes during his talk is not an isolated douchebag. The existence of a context where anyone would pull such a thing denotes a socially coherent network of douchebags.

The comments on the above-link blog post are surprisingly clueful compared to the whole Rails clusterfuck, but there is just one thing that needs to be said. Guys: you do not get to dictate the terms under which women feel affronted by sexist behavior. Seriously. When you tell women, "You shouldn't be offended by this as a woman; instead, everyone should be offended by flagrant disregard for professional etiquette and good taste," you are not being a good ally. I'm not implying the talk, as described by Wilkes and Lyons, wasn't in bad taste. But complaining about its bad taste is like complaining about the bad smell in the Amtrak bathroom while your train is going off the rails. I'm going to say this in small words and I hope I'll only have to say it once:

When a speaker uses sexualized images of women in a technical talk, that is saying a couple of things. It is saying, "I consider my audience to be straight men, so I'm employing buddy-buddy beer-and-dick-jokes bonding as a good way to gain rapport with them. I don't care how many women I lose in the process. I don't see women as equal colleagues, because if I did, I wouldn't communicate with them in ways that I know will make most of them feel disgusted, alienated, or unwelcome. I know that using porn to communicate a non-sexual idea sends the message that I see women's bodies as tools for achieving my ends. And I don't mind sending that message."

Of course men should be outraged too. They should be outraged that their colleagues think it's acceptable to try to drive away the few women who have shown the fortitude required to assert themselves in a male-dominated field. But people who have never had to assert themselves professionally while also being seen as a woman do not need to claim that this task grants no special perspective to those who've carried it out. It might make you feel better to reduce the silencing of women to flagrant and isolated incidents of crude and adolescent behavior, but in reality, it's regular people being complicit in a sexist culture who behave this way. That's a little scary, isn't it? The next person to expose their complicity at the wrong time might be you. Trivializing the perpetrators as "boys, not men" is another non-answer. If only boys treated women as accessories, we wouldn't have a problem. The patriarchy comprises men, not boys.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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