THIS JUST IN: @WebandPHP Embrace Women in an attempt to Enhance PHPness and Boost Subscriptions
< sarcasm >
(PHP) -- A massive sexist storm spanning the globe dumped thousands of foreign messages on unsuspecting geeks as they watched as their tweet stream, normally depicting handy references to JS resources, object oriented design structures and REGEX utilities, turned into a thick sludge of sadness and despair, dividing the community.
Observers agreed, the divide also provided a distinct benefit by making easy work of identifying and arresting misogynist asshats who threaten the very fabric of a community, a community known for communicating using curly brackets, semi-colons and now, with PHP 5.3, namespaces.
Those detained now await no trail, but are able to exercise their right to a quick tagging and permanent display on the Geek Feminist Wiki.
</ sarcasm >
In this article, you will find:
RAMBO: A rambling, incoherent introduction that should be read for no other reason than to see just how fuzzy women's issues are in the brain of a self-described feminist with 30 years in the industry, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a person exploring the value of making mistakes and a need to clean up the Geek Feminism Wiki
CASE: A clear description of what will hither after be referred as "the offense" and a presentation of the prosecutions case as to why "the offense" was sexist along with a recommendation that ALL PHPnesses be banned for a period of no less than five years from any activity at all at PHP conferences unless accompanied by their wives or significant other (Note 1)(Note 2).
EXPOSED: Four mistakes I made (that I am willing to admit too) in my involvement in PHPnessGate 2013 that expose my own sexism and tendencies towards applying misogynist stereotypes
RECOGNITION: Men I want to recognize, symbolically shoved to the bottom of the page as a reminder you do not always come first.
- Note 1: The reference to 'wives' is not a sexist comment. First, women can also have wives. Second, the reference to wives is contained within a sentence where the primary topic is about those with PHPnesses. This does not in anyway suggest that those in binders are unable to attend. If they can free themselves from the binder, they are welcome to do so.
- Note 2: No, there is no section on the Defense. There is no defense.
It is always a little tricky to talk about women's issues in a public setting. There are very few topics more emotionally and politically charged with such definitional ambiguity. There have been too many situations where something someone said was misunderstood or blown way out of proportion. As a result, people are defensive, fearful and resentful.
I believe most people are pretty decent, they try to adapt, to not offend one another, to do whatever they can to ensure women feel welcome and get involved in technical communities. One of the endearing qualities of our geek hacker culture is that independent spirit that fuels a desire to learn, to accomplish goals, to share learning, to protect an inclusive setting.
If I had any doubts about women being welcome in the PHP community, those doubts were erased when I read the responses of Cal Evans, Matthew Turlan, Ed Finkler and Stefan Koopmanschap, the men I recognize below.
I believe most of us are confused as to what is okay and what is not okay in terms of how we treat men and women.
Geek Feminism Wiki
In my opinion, one of the problems we have even openly discussing gender issues stems from the fact that well intended groups like the Greek Feminism Wiki have used punative measures and in doing so alienated a lot of people and created damage.
I always cringe when a group talks about adopting a Code of Conduct. My experience has been it gets used as a club and those who enforce it tend to be the ones who most frequently abuse it. In discussion over gender issues it is critical to be polite. These talks can look unconsiderate, disrespectful, and personally attacking. These are CoC violations. What good does it do to put a policy up when those who call for it do not see how they violate it?
After awhile, groups focusing on sexism can get so finely tuned they begin to turn on their own. It was sad to watch Hack of the Sexes targeted and now listed on the Geek Feminism Wiki because they wanted to hold an event where boys and girls compete against one another with technology. I am not so sure I see an issue here. Are we assuming the girls teams would lose? But if I did believe there was a problem, I might speak with them, but never would I list a group intended to promote women and technology as bad on a feminist wiki. I find that maddening.
There are names of many men, descriptions of their offenses, shamed.
Dries is listed for:
- including a woman's tupperware business on a slide as a lower end website. Wait. Huh? What is the problem with that? Women do have tupperware businesses that are run out of their homes and depicting their websites as low end would be accurate. Is there only a select set of business we are allowed to admit too? I do not get it.
- He's listed for showing a picture of male butt and some legs apparently people having sex in a ball pit. Perhaps a little too racey? OK, I can buy that. But, I don't see this as a woman's issue. We're going to have to come clean with it -- men and women do have sex. Sorry, if that's a shock.
- For saying "So easy, your mother could use it." Now, this one, for me, starts to tilt my women's moral compass a bit. If I had bumped into Dries I probably would have taken him aside and said, look, given who you are and the fact we want women to feel comfortable, that might not be a great thing to say. But, it's not the end of the world and certainly nothing to shame him for.
- For predicting the DrupalIcon will have a serious sex scandal by 2020. Oh boy. We are talking about graphic sex. Well, if the wiki people think that's wrong, then they are blaming themselves because they are the ones who made that prediction come true when they posted the prediction on their site.
Can someone please explain to me why Dries is listed as a problem for women on this site? I know this man and he has been nothing but supportive and encouraging, listens well, gives feedback, polite and appropriate. I am stunned. This type of extreme sensitivity and public shaming harms people. And, these people are sometimes responsible, in part at least, for creating huge opportunities for women. And it creates distrust, fear, worry, all needlessly. There is no court, jury, feedback loop, way of redemning yourself. Just condemned and listed.
It is time to clean up that site and to build a more balanced representation of geeky women because that site is creating fear and resentment in the technical community.
Why does that matter? What does it have to do with the penises?
Communities that embrace failure and open discussion of failure become rich environments for learning. But, if those who fail (or are perceived to fail) are publicly shamed and left forever and ever, a black mark on a site where there was no trial, there is no process, there is no redemption, create a community where there is no learning.
I believe there is good reason for some of the push back we see from men (primarily) when a woman's issue is raised. I believe there has been severe over treatment of problems that are minor or non-existent and that trust, fairness, and a sense of community have been harmed.
- The practice of public naming and shaming needs to stop.
- Attacks on other groups assisting women has to stop.
- This constant rumble about women's issues, sometimes nothing more than a complaint the use of a single word, has to stop.
- No more punishments. That has to stop.
If we ever expect to create an inclusive community where it is safe to fail. And safe to talk about failure. And safe to try again. It has to be safe for everyone, not just women.
Note: SOTW stands for a brand new acronym 'Serious Offense To Women' that was JIBM.
Note 2: JIBM is another new one I whipped out that stands for 'Just Invented by Me.'
Note 3: Neither are trademarked.
Recently, a tweet RT'd by Web & PHP Magazine created a whirlwind of response. On the plus side, many more PHP devs are now aware of the Web and PHP Magazine resource, so that's cool. big smile And, on the other plus side, a good discussion about what is and is not welcoming for women resulted.
On the negative side, I am humbled to admit that I am sexist, emotional, reactive and make bad assumptions, assumptions I am not even aware of, when I am in that state. More on this later, first, why others are wrong, then, why I am wrong. Always polite to let others go first.
Now, the tweet that rocked the PHP world:
From Mark Hazell, who might be seeking protective relocatoin somewhere, not sure, but I hope not tweeted:
The #webandphp girls looking to grow PHPness in London today # phpuk13
My point I feel strongly that a picture of beautiful women wearing a tight t-shirt that says "Enhance your penis." with a tag line that says "The Web and PHP girls looking to grow penis in London today at the UK PHP Conference 2013" is the wrong message to send women attending a professional conference. It does not fit my moral code. I would never allow it if I were in charge. There is pretty much no way I can be convinced it is the right thing to do.
Let's walk it through.
Beautiful women going to the UK PHP Conference. (So far, so good.) Why are they going? They are "looking to grow penis." That is exactly word for word what the tag line on the picture says. So, stated slightly differently, they are going to the PHP Conference to help men get erections. There is no exaggeration there. It is so blatant, given my moral compass, I have no choice but to say something. And, in all honesty, that kind of pisses me off because I don't want to create drama or divide around women's issues and the only time I want to make a stand for women is for a standing applause.
Lots of people talking about the humor. So, let's walk that through, too.
PHPness is a clever play on the word penis and the PHP language. Got it. Those who love to wear penis t-shirts can now celebrate the fact that a new option available for your wardrobe! (No problem there. Happy for them.) People say that is funny, and I don't doubt it makes them giggle. I'm not sure why, maybe it's my age, but penis t-shirts have never really struck me as terribly funny.
Now, the penis itself, I find that kinda funny looking.
But, there is no picture of the penis on the tshirt, so for me, it's a clever, naughty twist of language, at best, it might be amusing, but not really funny, and it would be sort of confusing for someone of my gender to pull out of a conference goodie bag since I don't actually have a penis to enhance.
If I found such a t-shirt in my bag at a conference, I'd dig through the bag looking for the penis they must have provided for women attendees because no one would want to exclude a gender when selecting gifts for attendees. Right? It's a valid point, but nothing I would likely speak up about.
Now, this part is where my blood starts to boil
The objectification of women as sexual objects by depicting them as people who attend tech conferences for the purpose of helping men achieve erections is NOT funny.
- It is not funny to me to see women depicted as eye candy for those with penises that they specifically came to help grow.
- To be a form of entertainment for those strapped with male body parts in order to help those body parts extend, to me that's not funny either.
- As attendees whose primary role is to serve as erection builders? Funny? Not even close.
Sorry, all I see is objectivation of women as sex objects for men.
Said in a stern old woman British accent, "That is most inappropriate."
I'm annoyed I have to use the word inappropriate which I find to be prudish and mockable. Please, do not make me say that is most inappropriate, again.
So, why does objectivation of women as sex objects matter?
I am disappointed for the women who attended the conference to learn, to share their knowledge, to be noticed for their work, for their accomplishment, to be faced with instead with this message that women are sexual toys for men.
It is intimidating, folks. You start to think
- "Are my ideas going to be considered?"
- "Will I be judged on my attractiveness?"
- "Am I too old? too fat? too tall? too poorly dressed?"
- "Will I be safe?"
- "Will someone make me defend my point of view if I voice my opinion that I find this offensive?"
- "Will someone mock me, reminding me that it's just a joke, suggest I get over it if I share my honest feelings and perception for how it impacts how women are received as professionals?"
Even women not at the conference, people like me, begin worrying that maybe this type of thinking is this going to impact the male point of view in my community. It's not right, it's not necessary, it's not the best we can be. (And this is why the male response matters, reassurances that no, these men are not going to stand by and watch that attitude creep in. Bravo to those men listed below.)
Having said all of that, and truly believing what I said ... I accept it is the right of those women to do what they want to do, to attend the conference for whatever purpose they find appropriate, that my moral code does not need to match theirs, that they do not need to comply with my expectations or give up their rights for anyone, even another woman. I will defend their right to do so.
But, I ask, please, pleading even, that more thought be given to find another way to build attraction that doesn't objectify a woman as sexual objects but rather empowers her as the professional she is, amplifies her a voice in an industry that values her and helps her go far.
This trial is over. The defendent is found guilty of poor taste and creating a climate for women that isn't the climate we should be aiming for. (my court, my rules).
The defendent is sentenced to give this some thought and thanked for doing so.
WebandPHP.org magazine. I know it's not been easy, there has been a lot of negative attention and controversy. But the truth is, you made yourself a target. You took a risk and the community said no. If you don't do it again and you should be fine! Otherwise, not to worry, you can fail and we'll help you again! <3
Also, I want you to know I understand these kinds of things are not cut and dry and we don't all see it the same. In general, it's good to think a bit about how a group might feel and if both genders are treated the same and how welcoming the message might be. If you ever have another great idea, maybe one you think is really, really funny, but you're a little uncertain and you'd appreciate another pair of eyes to consider it, then I'm your woman. Just reach out anytime! I will at least let you know what my moral code might call for.
So, as it turns out, I have considerable gender issues of my own. I made assumptions without even being aware. If I dug deep, I'd probably find dozens of examples but I am going to admit to only four.
Several times, I identified these women as models hired for the purpose of being eye candy, sexual attractions, and so on. In fact, in my first tweet I boldly demanded the name of the man who hired 'em.
Heavy sigh. It is so much more fun to show how others suck. Explaining how you suck is far less enjoyable.
My four mistakes
Mistake #1: Several times, I identified these women as models who were hired. So, how did I know they are hired? Duhhhhh. stammer, stammer, stammer. Yea, that's a good point. I have no idea. I assumed they were hired. Hope that's okay!
Mistake #2: How did I know they were models? Duhhhhh. stammer, stammer, stammer. Well, they are so pretty. So, [optimism increasing] they must have been models, right? Sound of Very Loud Buzzer Bell indicating Wrong Answer Internal voice begins shrieking, "For goodness sake woman! Are you suggesting that attractive women can't be PHP Devs? YOU SEXIST, MANOGONSITIC PIG!" /me runs away to mistake 3.
Mistake #3: How did I know a man hired these presumed models, presumably hired, obviously beautiful women? OK, Fine. I get it. Back off. I can see that was another assumption. First, I find I am sexist, now I find I am the other extreme, too, one who grabs stereotypes about men and lathers it all over before having even one bit of evidence that such an approach is warranted.
Mistake #4: Wasted my time and the time of others on Twitter spreading my assumptions, my sexism, and my use of misogynist stereotypes thus rendering damage at least equal to the problem I intended to correct, waste material swirling thru the bowels of the Internet where the sound of my mistakes ricochets against the wall of sound judgement. Forever.
I want to say that my experience talking to people in the PHP community the past few days has affirmed my faith in the decency of people. That includes those who agreed and disagreed on this topic. There was intelligent, humorous, sensitive, reflective exchange that could not help but make participants adapt to one another.
Specifically, I want to thank these men:
Cal Evans - http://blog.calevans.com/2013/02/22/sexism-and-php/ - I've always appreciate how he talks about his wife, how he has been careful not to jump on the bandwagon of social issues but is willing to make a stand when sees something he believes in. I respect that independent thought and moral fortitude.
Matthew Turland - http://matthewturland.com/2013/02/22/why-i-love-the-php-community/ What a genuine, sincere, heartfelt post effortlessly relating life experiences in both unwelcoming and welcoming settings and a desire that everyone be able to experience the "honor and privilege" he has found as a member of the PHP community to learn and share and grow and have opportunity. If you wonder what the goal is => What Matthew said.
Ed Finkler - https://gist.github.com/funkatron/5015140 Well, Ed, Funkatron, What can you say about Ed? He's the cat's meow, baby, he's always a nice person, reaching out, doing the right thing. He's the kind of guy that people acted shocked about if they were to learn that he's been knocking off old women for their inheritance, for years. Hearing that about Ed would be a really big shock because Ed is an exceptionally nice fella.
Stefan Koopmanschap - http://www.leftontheweb.com/message/On_SexismRacismAnyotherism_and_the_PHP_Community who makes many good points about how overly sensitive we have become to this issue and how in doing so we are imposing our moral code on other, something that really should bother everyone. But, Stefan is not perfect. As you will see in his post, he inaccurately depicted my involvement in "twitter-riot" as having engaged in a serious and polite discussion. And I hate like hell to give up such a nice title but my discoveries about my own issues have made me not so proud of my involvement.
To be clear, these men have nothing to do with my message. This is my message, and mine alone. Their stand did not come without cost and I want them to know it is appreciated.