Best of Systers, Community Voices

The Boys are not in the Yard

Ayori S.



Happy women’s history month. How about we celebrate this special time of the year by changing the focus of the recent firestorm topic in the tech community centered around Adria Richards? We as a community must evaluate what this incident means through the lens of the personas that it affects in our tech community, then perhaps we can agree on a plan to fix it. For the duration of this blog post, rather than thinking about Adria and her actions, I’d like you to focus on the principles of PAM (Professionalism, Awareness, Maturity) and the 3 personas below:

  • Adult woman in tech
  • Teenage girl in tech
  • Young girl in tech

By taking anyone of these personas and placing them into the same #donglegate situation at PyCon, overhearing a private conversation that includes snickers about “forking the repo” and “big dongles” (minus the ensuing twitter scandal) you can imagine how other personas may or may not react. A 16 year old girl for example is not as likely to to feel empowered enough to turn around and tell 2 grown men to watch their language when they are talking about a topic as embarrassing as their “dongles”. At least less so than a 35 year old, who also probably finds this “uncomfortable”.

What this is NOT about

This is not about Adria Richards or the two men who names are unknown to most of us. This is not about humor, battle of the sexes, or the appropriate course of action. PyCon officials address the issue on the spot like any professional organization should, the men apologized and it was a lesson learned, it could have ended there. Perhaps the reason it did not end there had nothing to do with the two men or the woman involved in the incident. Maybe it had something to do with us, the public responses, the battle of personal indifference vs. professional responsibility and how these voices shape the urgency of action.

The outrage of uninstigated threats of violence, the stirred conversation of race/gender, and the deprecation that is instinctively kindled by non-silent complaint may suggest to people in decision making positions (or responsible for the safety of others) that a no tolerance policy is mandatory. If you read the combination of threats and violence, mix that with sentiment of “overreaction” and “what’s the big deal” you have the ancient breeding ground for rogue.

The Red Herring: “She never told us she was offended” & “public shaming”

Take Adria in that row at PyCon and replace her with the persona of any other adult woman in technology, now replace her with a 16 year old girl, now a 10 year old girl. What each of these personas would experience seated in that auditorium is the reality of a woman in technology, being frequently subjected to pitiable behavior. The appropriate response is the subject of many comments and blogs. Few people are talking about about making tech a safe environment for everyone who loves tech (including women, young women, and girls who want to hear about tech, and not other peoples “dongles”).

Perhaps before the internet community began issuing out the standard insults normally designated to women, prior to the web’s most deginerate trolls announcing that it is open season for rape, murder and assisted suicide, even before the customary -“you should not apologize”- is given it’s customary reign, Adria ought to have politely said “That’s not cool” to the two men behind her. Hmm… But now I must consider that maybe that’s not a smart thing to do. Assume that there is a 50% chance that if you turn around and say “that’s not cool” to the person who offends you that they would then turn around and post online the next day that you should be raped or killed. Or assume you mentioned it to an official who viewed you as a whistle blower or a snitch (which thankfully was NOT the case with Adria at PyCon), how would you know that you are not speaking to the side of personal indifference? Could the public responses to this story cause someone to be very cautious of “working with the community”, and rather send a public message? Why is she responsible for making her complaint private when it is about a statement made in public? Is the burden of responsibility intended for the offended?

Boys will be boys is not an acceptable excuse

When we were young many of us were taught that “boys will be boys”, and offensive and immature behavior from boys is excusable.  Many comments and blogs in response to the jokes made at PyCon allude to the jokes being harmless, or very low on the scale of offensive/harassment.  Let’s not create a fictitious “comfort meter” for immaturity, rather, let’s help our “boys” become “men”.

When you’re a kid you only think about your needs, you don’t think about other peoples needs.  As we mature we become less self-centered and learn the process of carrying ourselves in a manner that is respectful of those around us. Holding men accountable for their behavior is not the work of a “mother” or “nanny”. Women in tech are not babysitters to men in tech such that we must be relegated to teaching men what is or is not appropriate behavior. Rather it is up to the entire community to develop an ethics standard which can coexist within the existing culture of groupthink. This new standard must hold individuals accountable for having good judgement in the same way we hold people accountable to their code. In other words, jokes about “forking” and “dongles” may be considered just as offensive to a man as it is to a woman.

When we grow up we are taught to assume that maturity is expected in a professional environment – common sense says that you don’t enter a professional environment and make jokes about your penis. Honestly, I highly doubt that even boys would do that. As a community, we need to be smart enough that more people speak up when someone says something that is ignorant, offensive or detrimental to the intelligence of of our community. You’d stop your “best bro” in his tracks if he made an ill-informed assertion about how iOS is better than Android if you disagreed with it, you would speak up without hesitation. Similarly you must speak up when your buddy makes sexually inappropriate jokes that undermines the integrity of the community by making it less safe and more uncomfortable for women and girls to participate and be present.

# Be aware that sexual humor is offensive.

Pejorative jokes are not acceptable in a professional environment

Some of the responses I’ve read categorize offensive jokes masked or fashioned around tech concepts such as “forking the repo” and “dongle” as just a part of the tech culture, as if women should be able to just “laugh it off” and “take a joke”. These jokes are less like “tech culture” and more like occupational hazards, and they should be treated as such. If enduring bad jokes of a sexual nature are truly part of our culture then our culture puts a significant percentage of women in the field at risk for psychological harm in the form of occupational hazard.  Most companies, conferences and other professional environments don’t want to foster an environment fraught with occupational hazard and as a result professional organizations create policies that prohibit such behavior, (such as PyCon’s infamous code of conduct) which includes jokes of a sexual nature.


Cat Watermelon


How do you know what is acceptable and what is not?

You might be rolling your eyes right now saying “Where does this bs- politically-correct-measure of joke ‘appropriateness’ start and end?” I’m here to tell you this isn’t about being PC, it’s about being empathetic and considerate of other people in your company. It’s not so complex in execution, I recommend you try the following logic:
If ([myJoke.offends isPossible] && (earshot = yes)

{Appropriate = NO;


In other words, if you know some people won’t be offended, AND that some people will be offended, OR that some people within earshot MIGHT be offended, then the choice is easy- Don’t say it.





Abolish Inhospitable Environments



So unfortunately this isn’t really the first time this has happened. Women have been complaining about this for a while, and we’ve been getting burned at the stake for it as well. Check out the history of tech violence against women who speak out here. Let me underscore the fact by saying that the death and rape threats that Adria and these other women have received is inexcusably wretched, disgusting, and most importantly criminal. No one should be subjected to such behavior.  Our tech community must take a stand against this. Everyone should speak out and take action against this behavior adamantly. A threat against one of ours is a threat against us all. This creed includes women.

In Conclusion

We as a tech community must require a standard of professionalism. Our culture allows us the privilege of wearing flip flops, khaki shorts, and rock band t-shirts to work while still being considered professional where in other industries this is NEVER allowed. We must make room in our community standards for being considerate of others, including when we THINK it’s just a joke. This extra “oomf” of professionalism and tact can only help us focus. A male friend of mine gave me the following advice:“Don’t treat people how you want to be treated, treat them how they want to be treated.” This includes people within earshot.

Regardless of who you are and what you think, by now you know that immature behavior in a professional environment causes problems, if you continue you are either a bully or asinine.

If this notion becomes embraced by the industry then tech becomes a more mature and safe environment focused on innovation and advancement. If we do not embrace this then the bad guys who make rape and death threats win and this is a step backward for the entire tech community (not just women in tech).

In closing, let me announce that this will be the last incident of this type for our community. I assert that the boys are not in the yard when you are in a professional environment. As long as you consider tech your profession, when you come to work, leave the boys at home.

Dialog for Progress

  1. Know the personas of women in technology & embrace the principles of PAM (Professionalism, Awareness, Maturity)
  2. Empathy makes you human (Josh Susser)
  3. Keep talking/asking about it until our community establishes a new standard
  4. Leave the boys at home
  5. Take the Mr-Hank pledge “I will joke and socialize with everyone but I will also be mindful of my audience, accidental or otherwise.”

Positive and Negative Sentiment Analysis of #donglegate via Radian6