Asshattery in Technology – Why WiT Struggle at Tech Conferences
As I’ve just finished another CodeMash, I’ve got to admit that there were a lot more women there than at past CodeMashes.
— Alyssa Diaz (@alycit) January 12, 2013
It was great to see this, but at the same time, my inner dread of hearing about asshattery at the conference came true too. Apparently while CodeMash was going, CES – a massive tech conference – was also going on with asshattery of its own. Talking with my husband, he thought this was something of the past. Unfortunately, this awfulness is still prevalent today.
Booth Babes Should Not Exist
I caught wind of this article on Mashable about a particular booth at CES 2013. Then there’s this article on The Atlantic Wire about CES’s booth babes. There’s VICE.com’s “Why So Many Booth Babes, CES 2013?” article. Finally, Business Insider did an article called “Meet the Booth Babes of CES 2013”. Ah… CES…. you’ve yet again showed me why our industry isn’t mature and tends to sexualize things when they don’t need it. Booth babes? Nude models? Just how are these ladies relevant to technology? That’s right… they aren’t! As stated in the VICE.com article, this gimmick works in a purely male industry. But wake up, vendors! Technology may be male-dominated, but it isn’t solely males. Not only are you doing a disservice to the females in the industry, but you’re also doing a disservice to the guys in the industry who find this behavior not only uncomfortable but uncalled for. Overall, you’re doing a disservice to the industry as a whole.
Not All Hot Women Are Booth Babes
Now I have to say this, especially about CodeMash. Many of you who’ve talked to me know that I’m curious about the other women at these conferences. If their name tag doesn’t give an idea of what they do, I tend to chat with them to find out what they do. There were women there who had “booth babe beauty”, but they weren’t booth babes. If you talked with them, you’d find that they were in marketing/copy writing recruiting, and yes even some in development. However, men and women alike are quick to make the assumption that if a woman is hot, then she is a booth babe. This is very far from the truth, even in technology.
Just Because She’s Hot Doesn’t Mean You Can Hit On Her
When we’re at these tech conferences, we are there to learn more about things that interest us and can help us further our career. This does not include sleeping with co-workers to get ahead – such an outdated practice that never works anyhow and leads to complications in the office. Trust me, ladies – don’t prostitute yourself just to advance your career as you will regret it later.
Men, the last thing we want to deal with are guys hitting on us and making assumptions that giving our room number to people for a party later means something more. For those who are out there and dating, about 95% of them are not looking for a potential mate at a tech conference. And if a one night stand happens, there’s most likely alcohol involved. But still, just because it happens to a few doesn’t mean you have to follow their “lead”.
Rather than treating women as ladies to be potential dates, see them as people who share tech interests as you and may be interested in friendship.
Why The Gender Card Complicates Things
The gender card complicates things a lot. I know many males and females who are friends who later are rumor fodder due to the immaturity in our field. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals can be just friends and aren’t necessarily sleeping together (even if there appears to be that chemistry between them). But unfortunately, not everyone believes this, which complicates things further.
One of my favorite authors, Shel Silverstein, writes in his poem “No Difference”:
Maybe the way to make everything right
Is for God to just reach out and turn out the light
This is how I feel about the gender card. Turn out the lights and you can’t tell gender.
Speaking of Cards… The Idea of Creeper Cards
My friend Zee pointed me to the Red/Yellow Card project. While this is an interesting way of making it a point that someone is getting close to crossing a line or may have even crossed the line, I don’t see how effective it would be to hand them a card.
Jacob Kaplan-Moss, of the Python community, wrote an article called “Why conferences need a code of conduct”. While codes of conduct are nice in theory, they do no good if they aren’t upheld/enforced. The problem with reporting someone not adhering to a code of conduct or anti-harassment policy – which also applies even further to someone making a harassment claim in the workplace – is that there’s always the fear of retaliation for being reported. CodeMash does have an anti-harassment policy, and I’m sure if the incidents were reported to a staff member that the policy would have been enforced. But between the fear of retaliation and the general uncomfortableness of situations (including the room number incident that made one of my guy friends who witnessed it uncomfortable), it’s honestly difficult to report these things.
One Other Factor… Social Awkwardness/Issues in Geekdom
There’s one other factor that complicates this topic as well. A lot of geeks are socially awkward and some even have some type of issues that make it hard for them to read people. So unfortunately, they can misread a cue and say something totally inappropriate without having a good read of a situation. This is a character flaw that can’t always be changed.
What Should WiT Do About This?
Since WiT are more often than not on the receiving end of such asshattery, I want to put some of the onus on them. We as WiT need to be more aware of our surroundings and try to avoid these guys. Travelling in groups and even having guy friends watching out for you can help in learning to deal with these situations. It sucks that they happen, but realistically, we have to be aware that these can happen and not say “Oh this conference is great! We don’t have to worry about that here.” And when those guys are acting up, we need to put our collective foot down and call them out on their bad behavior. Going back to your room and crying (which I have done in the past) does not solve anything and just makes you feel more miserable.
Sharing the Onus
Men, please look out for the ladies there. Remember that they are somebody’s daughter. They may be someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife, someone’s partner, someone’s mom. If you don’t know them that well, then play nicely and talk to them to learn more about their tech perspectives. But please. please. please… lose the brogrammer approach to things. Realize that at the conference, we’re all professionals who want to hone our crafts (and I don’t mean that euphemistically) in one form or another. And when you see improper behavior going down, please call them out (or report it if you don’t feel comfortable calling them out).
Let’s put an end to the asshattery at these conferences and make them more enjoyable for everyone!