Regarding the recent Golden Gate Ruby Conference…
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. Amidst this normally warm, welcoming community, I spent an uncomfortable half hour wondering if I had somehow found myself in 1975.
If he had left it at a few introductory jokes, I would be writing a very different post. Instead the porn references continued with images of scantily-clad women gratuitously splashed across technical diagrams and intro slides. As he got into code snippets, he inserted interstitial images every few slides (removed from the slides below). The first time it happened, he mentioned that he wanted to keep everyone’s attention. It had the reverse effect. This technique was distracting and disrespectful to an audience who, frankly, is turned on by code.
Here’s another problem in this tangle: Ruby (and Rails in particular) loves the rock star image. You see it in job posts, how people talk about their work, and the way Rubyists rant on their blogs. It’s macho, it can be offputting to both genders, and it makes it easy in this kind of situation to say, “what’s your problem? I’m just busy being awesome”. It’s also a significant barrier to adoption for people who aren’t already a part of this culture, and don’t find it appealing.
For what it’s worth, I think the original presentation was an inappropriate and regrettable mistake. However, far more disturbing to me are the reactions to the discussion on the part of some of the Rails community.
Folks, the idea that women are disproportionately underrepresented in engineering and software in general, and open source development in particular, should not be new and controversial in 2009 – anyone who cares to look can find such things as the FLOSSpols findings, or any amount of academic literature on the subject. Anyone who cares to take the time to actually talk to the women who are a part of the open source community will have no trouble getting an earful about how challenging it can be to participate.
But unfortunately for me, in parallel to the public discussion there have been private ones. I can’t reveal details without breaking confidences, but suffice it to say that a significant number of Rails core contributors – with leadership (if that’s the right word) from DHH – apparently feel that being unwelcoming and “edgy” is not just acceptable, but laudable. The difference between their opinions and mine is so severe that I cannot in good conscience remain a public spokesman for Rails.
DHH’s attitude seems to say that the more we lower ourselves to the most base level of marketing scum in the name of entertainment, the better, even if at the end of the day there are no more women, or anyone worth knowing, in the room. It kind of makes me want to never touch Rails code again.
What chaps my ass about the whole thing is that it’s doing little more but reinforce the bullshit “developers are immature, overgrown 14-year-olds” stereotype. I’m sick to death of that one, especially because I run into that type of jackass more often than I care to.
We kinda have a “chicken and egg” scenario going on here… unless there are more women who attend these things then the few women who do will always feel like outsiders… but if the few women who attend now are offended, then why will more attend?
In the case of my talk, people knew what to expect, they *picked* the talk, and were warned by the organizers before I started that I would be using imagery potentially offensive to some. The topic of my talk was obvious, and I would have hoped that people who were likely to be offended would have simply chosen not to attend my talk or read my slides on the internet. It’s like complaining that television has too much material unsuitable for children, yet not taking steps to limit their viewing of it. You can’t have it both ways.
We can argue forever about morals, professionalism, ethics, respect, etc., though this is all a distraction from the real problem that was raised by Sarah, namely that we have very few minorities in the Ruby community, especially women. Minorities do need to be more represented!
I fear that it will rip a community apart. A community that should be working together on getting past this issue and bettering themselves, not regressing to childish bickering. That’s what gives this community an “immature” stamp by the [insert other programming language here] groups.
All I ask for you guys is to…
Other reactions include pathetic “I am being victimised” attention-seeking, lame attempts at demonstrating how much “I truly care about women” etc, hilarious “I am leaving the Ruby community and re-installing Visual Studio” threats (please do!), and every combination thereof. I cannot help but think that if Matt’s presentation has the effect of getting rid of these disingenuous wowsers then he should henceforth be invited, nay required, to present at every Rails conference.
DHH, the father of Rails
But wait…there’s more…
You certainly have to be mindful when you’re working near the edge of social conventions, but that doesn’t for a second lead me to the conclusion that we should step away from all the edges. Finding exactly where the line goes — and then enjoying the performance from being right on it — requires a few steps over it here and there.
Excellent aggregation of opinions from women in the Ruby/Rails community. Particularly liked Amy Hoy’s take in comments
If you are going to try to be edgy and push boundaries and shit, you should at least be sure you’re good at it and know how to handle that kind of content, first. Otherwise, it’s just destructive.