I'm currently at the GOTO conference in Aarhus, where I am spending a lovely time going to some great talks and meeting some great people, and I had planned on spending the evening blogging a bit about my impressions from the first couple of days at the conference.
That was until I had lunch with a couple of other people, and I heard about this incident (opens in a new window). Please go there and read the post.
As people who have been around me since I heard about this will attest, I've been pretty damn furious ever since first hearing about it, and then reading Cerian's blogpost (which was posted shortly after I heard about the episode).
I don't think I really have to explain why this incident makes me furious, but for good measure I will try to do so.
First of all, it is an incredible rude way to behave, and even if there were no other considerations, I think that unwarranted rudeness against complete strangers at a conference shouldn't happen.
But of course, it is not just the rudeness - it is the sexism that really gets me angry.
Can anyone even for a second imagine that a guy would have been addressed in that way? Yes, I am sure that there a few men who have been accused of being hired because of their looks, but it is not something people would say about a complete stranger that they had never met before, much less to that complete stranger. I mean, WTF? How can anyone think that it is OK?
Unfortunately, for women, this is a common remark, though not usually said directly to their face (though it happens all too frequently as well).
And it is not just men who makes this sort of remarks.
When we had a meetup of the bloggers/web media people before going to GOTO Aarhus, there was a woman among us who expressed her opinion that among the women studying Computer Science, there were two types:
1) The pretty ones, who got their (male) group members to do the work, and thus, couldn't code.
2) The non-pretty ones, who had to do their own work, and thus, could code.
In her mind, it was obviously not possible to be conventionally pretty, and be able to code.
I could now make some kind of argument about knowing pretty female programmers, but that would just be feeding the sexism. Rather, I'll just say that I cannot fathom why anyone would think it is acceptable to make that sort of comments, yet here there was a woman publicly stating these things. Among people she didn't know.
We seriously have a long way to go. A very long way.
Now, back to the incident. The thing that made me furious about the incident was not the fact that it happened (though that should be enough), but the fact that nobody spoke up when it happened. This is not mentioned in the blogpost about the incident, but I asked Cerian about it, and there wasn't. Or rather, one person said to her that she should ignore it, but nobody said anything to the guy about it.
The GOTO conference has an incredible good track record when it comes to not only getting female speakers, but also getting female attendees (once having to go to court for the right to give a discount to women in order to make the gender less underrepresented - a court battle they won). Yet, even at such a conference, not only does a guy feel entitled to make this sort of remarks, but nobody spoke out against him.
That shows me that the whole culture is still sexist at its core. Not that I think that the people who was there with Cerian are particularly sexist, or even that they agree with the guy, but I do think that they can't see how this sort of remarks are not only incredible hurtful towards Cerian, but also helps create an atmosphere where women, or a sub-group of women, don't feel welcome.
We, the IT sector as a whole, need to change that. Not only because it robs the sector of so much potential talent, but also because it is the decent thing to do.
So, if you see this sort of thing happening, speak up, and make clear that you don't find that sort of stuff acceptable. This is the only way to change the environment, and get rid of the sexism. We need to stop implicitly accepting this behavior by keeping quite, and instead explicitly express our disdain of it.
And it is important to note that it is extra important that we men are very active in doing this, showing our support in changing the environment.
On those words, I think I only have left to thank Cerian for speaking up, and that I hope that there will be some kind of official reaction from the GOTO conference. I know for sure that I will be following up on this issue, so expect more blogposts dealing with sexism, GOTO, and IT in general.
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