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THIS JUST IN: @WebandPHP Embrace Women in an attempt to Enhance PHPness and Boost Subscriptions

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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:

  1. 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

  2. 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).

  3. 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

  4. 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.

Part 1: Rambo

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.

I believe:

  • 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.

II. Case against Web and PHP Magazine Docket SOTW #02-22-2013

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.

Section 3. Exposed.

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.

Section 4. Recognition

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.

Amy, I'm going to have to bookmark this post and refer people to it often. Brilliant post.

When I first saw the infamous picture get Retweeted, I honestly didn't even get the pun. Someone had to explain it to me on twitter a few hours later. I didn't think "sexist", I thought "tacky and childish". Penis jokes. Har har.

As you describe it above, yeah, it makes sense how it could get interpreted in a sexist way. As you note, though, the immediate "Booth babe" assumption that many apparently made is just that... an assumption. And that "rush to condemn" unequivocally is, as you note, a huge problem.

Thank you thank you thank you for bringing up the Geek Feminism Wiki, and the name-and-shame list in particular. I believe that to be actively harmful. The Dries keynote incident in Copenhagen (which you cite above) is on the list next to incidents of assault and GoDaddy's marketing campaign. There is no logical way to put those on the same level of severity, yet there they are. Not mentioned, of course, is that at the same DrupalCon, not 48 hours later, a female speaker made off-handed disparaging remarks about men business owners, yet no one made a fuss about it.

Yes, that sort of environment is actively harmful to the goal of decreasing discrimination, because it doesn't allow room for dialog, conversation, education, and improvement. It only allows for vilification. Yes, that is a hostile environment. Yes, we need to fix that.

The other important problem of course is Twitter itself. You can't have a serious conversation about sexist implications (malicious, careless, or genuinely innocent and unintended) in 140 characters with the entire Internet watching. I've seen it a dozen times. You can't get more detailed than "zOMG you sexist pig!", "STFU you feminist bitch!", which is a totally useless conversation to have. Plus, you have an audience. A huge one. There's a natural tendency to "play to your audience", which means either getting overly-aggressive (when pointing out an issue) or overly-defensive (when responding to an accusation of one). I've never seen that end well, unless the people involved take it off Twitter and discuss in a more private venue. (IRC is great for that.) I have seen those conversations, that are allowed to be conversations and not Twitter fights, be very productive. I've even pulled people off Twitter into IRC exactly so that such conversations could happen.

Name-and-shame and public debating doesn't convince people to change their minds or behavior. It just makes enemies of both the "target" and many in the audience. Constructive conversation, without an audience looking over your shoulder, can.

Thank you again, and amen!

It's impressive - and a great example - that you owned up to the mistake which you made, especially given that the mistake was in the realm of the original offense.

In fact, it's this "girls at a dev booth, must be 'booth babes'" mentality which can serve as a gateway to deeper insight, especially for folks who believe themselves to be (more) enlightened. I know that you were not alone in this presumption; I might have made the same mistake had I not been a late arrival to the controversy. The mistake is not without precedent, as there are still people hired to attend knowledge-based conferences based on their sex appeal. And, I suppose, it works - they attract attention to a vendor booth, where they are deflected/directed to the knowledgable salesperson/handler. By unfortunate association though, knowledgeable women (we're talking about women, given the predominantly-male, hetero dev world) who aren't attending based on sex appeal can be conflated with those who are. In this way, a kind of tone is set. While there are conferences and developers who are working to pre-empt this tone by establishing policies and complaint pipelines, there is something which each of us possesses which can ameliorate this unpleasantness: empathy, which is getting a good bit of press these days. I'm seeing and reading more and more about empathy-based approaches as a mechanism for improving organizations and customer interactions. I see no reason why our empathic capacity could not be used to effect an immediate and pervasive improvement for all.

The path to empathy requires an acknowledgement of the person with whom you are interacting, being aware of what you bring to a personal interaction, and being attentive to what others want and need. It's challenging as hell to do this well because it forces you to evaluate yourself with presence and persistence. Being present with oneself can be a terrifying; it is also powerful. Given the effort it requires, I use the following directives to help me focus my efforts:

  1. Be cognizant of your preconceptions of others, because those preconceptions are right now affecting your interactions with them
  2. Acknowledge and understand your fears (e.g. social anxiety, desire to fit in, etc), and do not let those fears motivate your actions
  3. When a wrong is being committed, speak up and address the wrong with reason (not with emotion), and do not pretend or presume to speak for the person or group being wronged
  4. Receive criticism when and where offered; accept or reject it in private

I know that from time to time I will fail to stick with these directives. I hope that when I do I catch myself, or at least graciously acknowledge when others point my failure out to me.

@crell

Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated to understand your point of view. We kind of guess, but sometimes it is hard to even say anything because it's not clear how people are going to respond. I know that should matter but there are only so many enemies I can take at one time! ;-)

I've felt for a long time that I'd like to try to help the Feminist Geek Wiki evolve into something more positive. But, it is really hard to tell who is involved, whether they are open to it, who supports it. I think of Drupal when I think of it, but I have not been clear on how supported it is in Drupal, if that makes sense. If you have ideas on others, especially women, who want to join in and have those shared goals, please, let me know, or let people know about me.

Went ahead and put an idea in for the Feminist Geek Wiki http://t.co/Uuo2vLuLKL I really would like to see those approaches not used. My sense is a more punishing approach drives fear into people and they don't come to you, they hide from you. But if it's safe, most people want to do the right thing and have questions, want to learn.

I would like to see the Incidents sections removed. But, if it cannot be abandoned, for whatever, reason, it would be good to at least address documenting the inclusion process, how these are selected, who makes the call, what is the criteria, how we perhaps build a reasonably representative group to make those calls.

Also, what is the process for involving the one accused? Do they have any rights? Can they rectify the problem and have it removed? Is there a certain timeframe for display maybe a "sentence" or something.

Maybe that sounds like I am defending bad people, but the truth is, I do not agree with some of those items.

A prediction that the DrupalIcon will be involved in a sex scandal by 2020 is cause for shaming?

Evening, family viewing television is going to give you a whole lot more than that. I don't understand, I really don't.

Those beautiful sex models can write. And, they kicked our asses all the way around the world. I am humbled. I have been schooled. I admit I was wrong.

I am sorry, but I am so glad they got to write that post. This post is just what the PHP community needed to hear at this time.

Give up "Thou shalt not do this" and shaming people for talking about an icon having a sex scandal. The Victorian Era of Geeky women is over. It is time to make room for a Today's Feminist. As a head's up, this generation of strong, confident, kick ass women are not afraid to be beautiful, to make off color jokes, and to explain to you in the kind of polite and exacting detail what empowering women is -- and what disempowering women is -- while slipping in the word bubble-wrap as extra measure.

Bastards.

webandphpmag.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/phpness-gate-raising-interesting-issues/comment-page-1/

You combine that power packed in that post with a little more thoughtfulness about the old feminist group, at least until both of our feet are in the ground, and that is one amazing recipe for a woman.

Just in time, too. We need leaders.

It's their conference. They get to do what they want. That's one of the benefits of being in charge.

@pmjones - don't understand.

I applauded out loud when I read the WebAndPHP response linked above.

Me, too, @Crell. They might just save us.

My comment to Paul Jones's 'You said you'd shoot yourself in the Head, now do it" post to his friends:

A man who makes a stand for women never needs to answer 
    the pompous jackass who doesn't understand 

  - it's not about being right, it's about being there.

http://paul-m-jones.com/archives/4477/comment-page-1#comment-438970

Awaiting moderation at @pmjones

Always fun to see those brave blog posts that come out after all the data is in, and then, only to rub a friend's nose in it. So brave and doubly classy. completely from of slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails

Note 2: JIBM is another new one I whipped out that stands for 'Just Invented by Me.'

I am horribly offended at such a sexist statement! "...I whipped out" is rooted in the male practice of displaying ones genitalia and the use of such an idiom in this context is tasteless and reeks of misogyny.

All joking aside, I REALLY like this post.

This is a comment I left on another thread related to this topic, which I think applies here as well:

My feeling is that, if you look hard enough (no pun intended), you can find an instance of sexism, racism, or any ISM, in just about any situation. However, by doing so, and then shunning any instances you do find, you end up trivializing the serious and intentional issues that do deserve such harsh treatment. An example I am always reminded of is this: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/GiveMeABreak/story?id=123728&page=1

Things like that not only demean and insult people that actually have faced racism in their lives, it also leads to a "boy who cried wolf" situation, where later claims are viewed with much more skepticism, if not out right dismissed.

doh! I tried to work all the sex out of it!

I had not heard that nursery rhyme story. We are out of control. Good people, doing harm to good people. History repeats.

@chasepeeler - Thanks for your comments, appreciated.

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