Three days ago, Adria Richards published a blog post about an incident that happened at the PyCon conference last week. Two guys made a sexual joke during one of the lightning talks and Adria responded by taking a photograph of them and posting it on Twitter. In a separate tweet she asked the organizers to address the issue, which they did. You can read her blog post here: http://butyoureagirl.com/14015/forking-and-dongle-jokes-dont-belong-at-tech-conferences/
Two days ago, one of the guys making the joke posted an apology and an explanation to Hacker News. It turns out he was fired from his job as a consequence: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5398681
There are several questions here that need to be addressed: Is making sexual jokes at a conference acceptable? If someone is breaking a code of conduct, is it acceptable to post their photograph to Twitter? What will this do to the developer community?
Is making sexual jokes at a conference acceptable?
No, it’s not acceptable. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if I heard someone make a sexual joke, but some people might find this offensive and therefore it’s a good idea to save your sexual jokes for a more private audience. As Adria states in her blog post, the PyCon conference had a pretty extensive Code of Conduct: “All communication should be appropriate for a professional audience including people of many different backgrounds. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks.”
If someone is breaking a code of conduct, is it acceptable to post their photograph to Twitter?
Absolutely not, and I find this to be a much bigger offence than making a sexual joke. Public shaming is never an acceptable solution, and as we’ve seen in this case it can have terrible consequences. As Adria points to the Code of Conduct regarding the jokes made, I’d like to point out that the Code of Conduct also states that “Harassment includes […] harassing photography or recording”.
What will this do to the developer community?
This is the question that worries me the most. There are a lot of people working very hard to make more women interested in technology, and they have identified the need for more women in the business. There are, however, an alarming number of skeptics out there, and by skeptics I mean men who prefer the business to be male dominated and who don’t actually want more women to take an interest in technology.
My fear is that Adria’s reaction to the jokes at PyCon will cause the number of skeptics to increase. One of the jokes she perceived as being sexual was in fact not sexual at all. Should a male developer have to censor himself in fear of a female developer overhearing and perceiving what is being said as sexual? If that is the direction we’re going in, I’m not sure I want more women to enter the business myself. No one, neither men nor women, should have to censor themselves out of fear for being publicly shamed.
I sincerely hope Aria will apologize for posting the photography, and delete the blog post and tweets from the conference so that the man will not be affected by this when he goes looking for a new job.