Geek Arrogance and Chauvinism

I read with mounting horror Aaron’s post about the Ruby conference, and the various things that he linked to from it. Unfortunately, it’s an old and familiar story.

Unfortunately, it reminds me of attitudes in another community I used to be very involved in – Perl. Attitudes within Perl seem to have changed an awful lot in the last 10 years. I’m sure a lot of that had to do with the discovery that Allison Randall was smarter than any half-dozen of the rest of us put together. But, too, it had a lot to do with the examples of folks like Larry Wall and Casey West, who demonstrated by their actions that it was possible to be brilliant, but still be professional. This is a message that many boys (I hesitate to call them men) within the Ruby community haven’t grasped yet.

Having been involved in the planning of ApacheCon for the last seven years, I’m also horrified that the planning committee for a (seemingly) respectable conference would accept a talk that made no secret of the fact that it would use jokes about pornography to make its points.

I’ve written before about how pornography is treated as acceptable for public discourse. That was 6 years ago. At least in the technical circles *I* work in, this attitude has lessened, but not vanished, in that time. It is far less common for me to hear reference to porn in every day technical discussion than it was back then. I don’t assume that the people in question believe, as I do, that pornography itself is damaging. I think it has more to do with the realization that some discussions simply don’t belong in professional settings. When someone spends good money to travel and attend your conference, they deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect, not treated to a stream of pornographic images and sexual innuendoes.

And this isn’t just about alienating the women in your audience. Turns out that some heterosexual men actually believe that objectifying women isn’t a good thing. But even if you don’t accept that belief, you owe it to your audience to treat them with professional courtesy, and recognize that they are paying a LOT of money to attend a technical conference, not a peep show.

Shame on Matt for putting together this presentation. Double shame on GoGaRuCo for accepting this talk. Shame on the decent men in the audience (assuming there were any) who didn’t get up and walk out after the first slide. Shame on the chauvinistic boors who are defending Matt in the various forums where this is being discussed.

Turns out, in the real world, it actually matters if you’re a jerk. It’s time for the Ruby On Rails community to grow up and realize that being professional isn’t a weakness. But it would be grossly short-sighted to merely point the finger at them and not take a close look at the attitudes within our own communities – be they technical or otherwise – and seriously reconsider our common courtesy in the work place.