Dear Fellow Rubyists

Today someone sent me a link to a post from a GoGaRuCo attendee who is upset about one of the presentations. This talk is titled “CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star”. The attendee says,

“If he had left it at a few introductory jokes, I would be writing a very different post. Instead the porn references continued with images of scantily-clad women gratuitously splashed across technical diagrams and intro slides. As he got into code snippets, he inserted interstitial images every few slides. The first time it happened, he mentioned that he wanted to keep everyone’s attention. It had the reverse effect. This technique was distracting and disrespectful to an audience who, frankly, is turned on by code. This crowd had just watch hour upon hour of code slide shows and live irb sessions, often on the edge of their seats as they absorbed the latest whiz-bang plugin or coding technique from one of the masters.”

You can go to the post and read the comments. In fact, go read it and come back to this. The reaction (from women and men both) is mixed, and heated. No big shock, right? If I knew the presenter, I’d want to tell him, “Seriously? Didn’t you see this one coming?”. Because here’s what I see:

I’ve been a member of the Ruby community for three years, and for the first year of that, I didn’t know any women working with Ruby. This has changed, especially thanks to DevChix, but it’s still pretty normal for me to be the only woman in the room at Pdx.rb meetings. Women are a tiny minority in the Ruby world, and we know it. Even before someone says, “hey, it’s cool to see women working with Ruby”. (These sorts of comments are often heard as “holy cow, there’s a chick in this room.” It’s not an issue of intent. It’s that we already felt like we have a blinking arrow over our heads.)

And since we’re a minority, and we often encounter awkward responses to that, we feel marginalized. We also tend to feel marginalized when we encounter sexualized images when we’re in a room full of men we don’t know very well. Even women who like porn can feel that way. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether we like sexual content, it’s whether we’re okay with seeing it in a professional context. Some women may be fine with this (especially if they know the presenter), some may find it tacky and awkward, and some may have the immediate urge to flee the room and be anywhere else right now.

I struggle constantly, as a member of this female minority in Ruby and technology in general, to negotiate a representation of my sexuality that gives me a comfortable working space, but without feeling like I’ve compromised some part of my identity. I’m not female by default (because of my physical body); I have a gendered identity. I have a sexual identity too, parts of which used to be more public before I started working in the technology world. I know I’m not the only one who is frustrated trying to deal with this.

“Being professional” for women often involves making sure we dress to an appropriate level of modesty (the men I know worry more about hygiene and not being too casual or formal). Similar standards apply to content and communications. NSFW is the shorthand for “sexual content found here” for a reason. We can argue about what the appropriate level of sexuality in professional contexts should be, but for many people this is already set, either by their employer, their colleagues, or their own comfort level.

Here’s another problem in this tangle: Ruby (and Rails in particular) loves the rock star image. You see it in job posts, how people talk about their work, and the way Rubyists rant on their blogs. It’s macho, it can be offputting to both genders, and it makes it easy in this kind of situation to say, “what’s your problem? I’m just busy being awesome”. It’s also a significant barrier to adoption for people who aren’t already a part of this culture, and don’t find it appealing. There’s a great comment on that blog post:

“I understand that the ruby community prides itself on its un- or anti-professionalism. But some professional norms exist for very good reasons: because they make it easier for people of different backgrounds and life experiences to come together and work productively and respectfully.”

I care about all of this because I love Ruby. I love the work I do, and I think I’m good at it. I want everyone to be able to experience the joy of working with Ruby, including other women. Like I said above, I have a gendered identity, it’s important to me, and I don’t want to have to “act like a guy” in order to be here. I am very frustrated that the Ruby and Rails leadership is male-dominated and does not seem to view the lack of female participation as a significant threat to the health of the technology (as well as the community). Over the last three years, I’ve carved out a pretty good space for myself. I’m even working on a conference about open source world domination. But world domination requires an inclusive culture, and I think the discussion about this GoGaRuCo presentation demonstrates how far Ruby has to go still.

I’m not mentioning anyone’s name here because I think the presenter, the GoGaRuCo organizers, and everyone involved is trying their best. I’m writing this because we have a serious cultural problem (which is a microcosm of some bigger cultural problems, outside Ruby) and so far we have failed to address how we can work toward keeping Ruby fun, without excluding who want to work with the technology but find these aspects of the culture unwelcoming. Let’s start talking about how we can make this better.

78 responses to “Dear Fellow Rubyists

  1. You keep on mentioning Ruby, as if the problem is unique to just this community. It would be interesting to see some contrast, if any, with other communities. Does Django’s pink flying pony make things significantly better?

  2. Matthew Boeh

    Thanks for bringing attention to this, Audrey. I don’t think this is just an issue with Ruby nor with just a lapse of professionalism. The entire programming community has a kind of endemic sexism — or at least an almost complete lack of sensitivity to the concerns of women — that arises from being an overwhelmingly male-dominated profession in a sexist culture. Too many male programmers seem to have no interest in accommodating women, and far too many of the rest are unwilling to speak up about it.

    I do think the casual nature of the Ruby community (which is good!) and this kind of hyper-aggressive “rock star” persona we seem to encourage (which is bad) make the problem more obvious. I’m not sure how to solve any of this, though.

  3. I demand that _why illustrates this issue!

    Can someone bring it to his attention!

    The foxes need to discuss it.

    _why do you read this! Someone email him!!! THIS ARE SERIOUS! IT IS LIKE ANGRY LOLCATS ATTACKING AND I CAN FEEL THIS WILL GROW BIGGER AND BIGGER!

    On another note, I want to point out ONE simple fact – the ruby community is huge. It is MUCH bigger than guys who attend to confereneces or talks. (Not everyone has the cash to travel abroad and similar.)

    So when talks about the “ruby community”, one needs to understand that there is no hive mind.

    And since this was brought up, this involves _SPECIFICALLY_ sexual content.

    This can *hardly* be a problem of the WHOLE ruby community.

  4. @tony

    she’s a Rubyist, apparently – and speaking on what she knows. There’s nothing wrong with that; actually, to me, it’s preferred over conjecture.

  5. This sounds like a big overreaction to me.

    Some guy is an asshole, and you have a bit of a rant about gender identity.

    Ruby, like most/all (?) current software projects is male dominated. This may or may not be because of an essential difference in the interests/motivations of the sexes – but this isn’t important – the only factor is the competence and passion of the individual.

    Open-source projects, in particular because of their distributed nature, have values based around contributions. If you’re able to make good contributions, then regardless of your identity, you’ll do well.

    This has always been my experience – coders listen to people whose code they respect.

    Men being interested sexually in the bodies of women is not sexist, but bringing your sexuality into a public space is inappropriate. This is the error the presenter made and I’m happy that he should be called on that.

  6. “You keep on mentioning Ruby, as if the problem is unique to just this community.”

    It’s not unique, but IME it is significantly worse here than average. I see more sexism from one night of Ruby hacking than I ever have in years of Python hacking.

    “Does Django’s pink flying pony make things significantly better?”

    While it’s true the Django pony (which is white, BTW) is usually depicted in the nude, it’s not clear to me that it was intended to have a specific sex. Men and women can disagree on many things, but I think I speak for all men when I say that flying ponies are awesome, regardless of their sex.

  7. Matthew Boeh

    I always find it instructive that programmers, whose craft relies on an ability to see patterns and understand how units behave in a system, suddenly lose this ability when it comes to culture.

    @lofi: Yes, this one guy did something wrong. In a way that the original poster has seen before. I’ve seen it before, too. But the situation isn’t just that this one guy made a mistake/is an asshole/whatever; it’s that stuff like this keeps on happening. And when it does, people who speak up about it get dismissed as oversensitive PC weirdos out to ruin everyone else’s fun.

    DHH didn’t just defend and condone the use of girlie pix in conference presentations, he said (jokingly or not) that he’d like to see more of them.

    You say that the presenter’s behavior was inappropriate. Why are so many of his colleagues defending that behavior, especially with such vigor?

  8. @Matthew

    I’ll have to take what you are telling me at face value – if the Ruby community really is as described then its great that this has got the visibility it has (its on reddit now), and hopefully some change will come from it.

    I’ve worked in a few medium/large open source projects, and the fusion of programming and internet culture has always seen liberal and enlightened attitudes running along side.

    I’ve also seen people use identity politics as a crutch, and I think this is actually disruptive – the word I think is relevant here is fairness – fairness that code contributions are the currency of status and influence on a project. It sounds like maybe this is not what is happening here though.

  9. Matthew Boeh

    @lofi

    It think it’s more about social behavior in the community (at user groups, conferences, online discussions, etc.) than about the issue of recognition for work or status.

  10. This is exactly the reason why women are treated in another way than men are in the workplace. Women have this ‘woohoo, look at me, i”m a woman” attitude which is generally just a way of drawing attention to itself. If people in general want attention they usually do this. They seek one thing in where they are different than other people and use that as excuse for issues, insecurities they might have. Grow up.

  11. Wow.

    That is just incredible.

    And some of the comments here are just sad.

    I think we should be mentioning names. The person responsible is Matt Aimonetti. I am not sure how he can be perceived as “trying his best”.

  12. Singling out “rubyists” does a disservice since it implies this is somehow different than the rest of the industry. It’s not. For example, there was an almost identical low-level controversy over a risque presentation at the Open Source Developers Conference a couple years ago:

    http://use.perl.org/~Alias/journal/31986

    Really, if you actually care about the issue you should be working to change the culture of industry overall.

  13. There are some things I really love about ruby but the s/community/clique has never been one of them. Some of the comments here have reinforced that.

    Thanks for the post. I am sure you knew there would be hateful and abusive comments when you posted it, but they still suck.

  14. CLocks: projection much?

    If women have been such a problem in your life, perhaps you should go join a monastery. Or go gay and join an all male commune.

  15. @toby.. it was matt aimonetti that she’s talking about?? i figured that someone of his stature in the ruby community would know better. then again, i’ve only read her side..

  16. Thanks for writing up your thoughts about this. I had a twitter-discussion
    with @merbist about his presentation and came away pretty frustrated.

    I don’t think for a second that Matt intended to offend anyone. I think he’s
    genuinely a bit taken aback by the reaction: he really was, as you say, just
    trying to be a ‘rock star’.

    But then he made the mistake of thinking that lack of intention renders one
    blameless. Matt didn’t think about it, but in choosing to present in that way,
    he was literally ignoring the possibility that women were a vital part of the
    community he was addressing. Or if he did consider it, he ignored their
    reaction as one he ought to consider.

    It’s this expression of privilege that really bothers me, speaking as a man.
    Any man who truly believes in the meritocracy of code should feel ashamed for
    anyone who presumes that they need only address young white men when talking
    about technology. Not offended by; ashamed for.

    I don’t assume that Matt is a card-carrying sexist any more than I assume that someone who’s publicly drunk at a party is a die-hard alcoholic. It’s not for me to judge. But dude–you still puked in the punch bowl. That deserves an apology.

    The lack of any acknowledgement of wrongdoing is disturbing and worth talking about.

  17. @Henk, I think it’s pretty funny that a guy giving a talk using irrelevant pornographic content as it’s draw isn’t considered attention-seeking in your mind, but people objecting to it is.

  18. If the Ruby community as a whole is adopting the rock star image, it’s entirely due to the Rails community. Maybe the Rails community is large enough in North America that there’s no difference, but there certainly used to be.

    In fact, I always considered the two communities rather separate (consider the fact that there are books out there to teach Ruby to Rails developers). It’s a shame the rock-star image is overtaking the friendly, playful hacker one Ruby used to have.

  19. I think you might all find it surprising that Aimonetti’s wife was almost assuredly either in attendance at this presentation or was aware of the slide contents beforehand. I met him and his wife at RubyConf and my impression of the slides and my (limited) understanding of him was that he would have likely genuinely thought they would simply garner the audience’s attention and be amusing. Also, he’s clearly not a raging mysogynist, either.

    Having said that, it was clearly a mistake on his part. This kind of thing doesn’t happen at Java conferences. Many more women attend Java conferences than RubyConf or the like.

    I’ve been using Ruby since 1999 (professionally since 2002) and it wasn’t always this way. The inception of Rails appears to be largely responsible for this shift towards the macho behavior and more overt unprofessionalism. Its a mixed bag: lots more people are using Ruby now (including this post’s author) but lots more people are using Ruby now. Some of us Ruby oldheads consider Rails our little version of the Eternal September ;-) This probably stems from DHH’s very public antiestablishmentarianism and his frequent use of graphic language to create sensationalism. As to the difference between the Python and Ruby communities, I think this is the biggest factor causing the dichotomy. If Guido was wont to throw a “fuck you” in his slides, you’d see the Django kids throw up slides like this, too.

    The problem is systemic in all of IT but I think its right for Audrey to be vigilant about calling it out. People are going to look at those slides and think that’s the Ruby/Rails community is OK with things like that (and possibly generalize to IT as a whole, as some above have done) when it is clearly not. One can only hope that this comes back to bite Aimonetti when looking for future work… hopefully, he’ll then blog about it and maybe the community can move a bit more into adulthood.

  20. “But dude–you still puked in the punch bowl.”

    that’s funny

  21. Grow up. He can give any presentation he likes. Stupid whiney feminist.

    Btw, nice way to single out a guy for his presentation and make it a ‘gender’ issue and lambast the whole community based of on it, because they are sensitive and defensive of feminist rhetoric.

  22. Matt Aimonetti

    As the speaker on question, I think I can answer some of the questions raised and maybe explain my view point. First of all, I’d like to thank the author of this post for explaining her view point and not being agressive.
    To answer your question, I totaly didn’t expect the reaction and was realy surprised when someone called me home at 8am to complain about my presentation.
    I didn’t mean to offend anyone and prepared this talk with my wife who’s also part of the community. While I expected my talk would not please everyone, I didn’t expect anyone would be offended.
    I never thought of porn as something sexist. I didn’t know porn was only reserved for men.
    Furthermore, I didn’t show any porn, I just used the topic as a metaphor.
    Since then I talked with different men and women. Some were offended by the topic, some didn’t see a problem with the talk at all.
    If I knew people would take my presentation as a sexist tentative, I would certainly used more gay imagery. Now I assumed that it would have been worse.
    Some people just were offended by using a sexual metaphor and they thought it was innapropriate, I think that’s a different issue and that’s not what the author is adressing in this post.
    So to sum up, I’m not sexist and I didn’t think using a porn metaphor would offend people (I know some people think it’s the problem).
    I’m sincerely sorry that so many people got offended, that was not my goal in any ways.

    Now, blaming my talk for being the reason why we don’t many women seems short sighted. Does the fact that there is almost no hipanics/blacks in our community due to the fact we don’t have slides with people representing minorities?

    While I think the balance between men and women inour community is a real challenge, I think we should look further than few talks considered by some as sexist.

    Once again, I’m sorry for offending some people, if you feel you need to talk with me, feel free to find me at RailsConf, I will make sure to listen to your concerns.

  23. Audrey, thanks for having the strength to speak out. If anyone doubts the need for more voices like yours, all they need to do is read the depressing string of comments above mine.

    It’s disgusting how many people defend the Ruby community as “no worse” than other programming circles. That only says that other communities need to be fixed too. I’m not a part of the Python community or the Java community, so I can’t fix it for them. I do write a lot of Ruby, so I’d like to do my part here. This shit has to stop.

    The macho Ruby rock star crap is played out. It was cute when it was pointed at Java, XML, and SOAP, but it’s been mutating and spreading for far too long. Being clever isn’t good enough anymore–you have to be an ass if you want respect.

    It’s been over a year since I’ve worked on a team with a woman, and the projects and environment definitely suffered. It’s about gender, not sexuality. I wish more people recognized the difference.

    I like to think that most Rubyists were at one point free thinkers. It was a fringe language for a long time, and only recently has gained mainstream traction. When did we all trade in our individuality and become cultists? If you don’t do TDD, or use right version control software, or relish in shallow, male, heterosexual stereotypes, you’re not worthy.

    The community needs a healthy injection of humility and compassion. Mono-cultures are weak and boring. There’s no reason we can’t have a more diverse and interesting community. Don’t accept the status quo.

  24. gendered identity

    I’m male by default because that is how I was born.
    WTF is a “gendered identity”?

  25. Matt: Porn isn’t sexist. Sexist porn is sexist.

    You could have made a non-sexist presentation with porn as the metaphor (challenging, admittedly).

    Some gay porn references plus some female-oriented porn references might’ve actually done the trick! That way you would have signalled to a non-sexist audience that you were at least tacitly aware that the subject matter is usually, at the very least, somewhat controversial with regards to its portrayal of women.

    Instead (and I say this as someone who’s looked at the full deck 3 times looking for exculpatory interpretations) the whole metaphor is driven from a male perspective. It simply assumes that the audience is right there with you, in the role of the male pr0n performer.

    Why do *you* think there aren’t more women in tech? Do you think that it’s a problem there aren’t more women in tech? That’s the issue here.

    It’s not puritanism to think that your presentation is an *example* of the larger problem.

  26. I love the dumbasses demonstrating the problem in the comments here. QED, gentlemen.

  27. I understand what you mean. I went to a ruby conference last summer and felt awkward with some of the presentation slides being overtly sexual. I have seen this issue raised more and more lately and hopefully the situation will come to a head soon so that all members of the community can be proud. Ruby is too great and Matz is too nice for this to be what people expect from rubyists.

  28. Off topic, but not.

    1. Why we see these hateful misogynist posts: circumcision. The US is the only developed country in the world that practices routine genital mutilation on its males. If you don’t think that MAJORLY shapes the culture you’re not thinking about it hard enough. The practice started in the victorian era SPECIFICALLY to destroy sexual pleasure (it’s a different operation from biblical-era circumcision). If you want to fix the problems rearing their head in these hateful misogynist posts, look no further than circumcision.

    2. Why women aren’t in CS – I think there’s a 15-20 year lag-time for women getting involved in CS. There will be a lot of serious computer user girls coming out of the generation that’s 10 years old right now. But unfortunately as a female you were lucky to catch this wave – computers inherited the really insidious “girls don’t like” attitude that math has always suffered with, even though IMHO computers can do more for women, by fixing the ways the education system is broken with how it teaches women, than anything we’ve ever seen. I am overjoyed to see lots of young women picking up computer science these days, but it will take ten or more years for them to all come online as experts. The wave is coming, we just have to wait it out.

    In the meantime the community evolved with everyone taking it for granted that women just weren’t there. So now we have to backtrack and stop all the immature BS that was seen as appropriate back when girls never showed up in the chat room or on the message board. It’s frustrating to still see. Anyway, tip of my hat to you, you’re part of the push-back.

  29. @ madsimian
    “Why do *you* think there aren’t more women in tech? Do you think that it’s a problem there aren’t more women in tech? That’s the issue here.”

    I do think it’s sad that we don’t have more women and people representing more minorities in our community.
    Did you notice that in out conferences we usually have an average of 2.5 black people?
    I personally never met a woman who told me that she was not working on a specific field because people were presenting things from a male perspective.

    Ask women why they are not interested in joining the IT world. I seriously doubt the main answer would be because people talk about sex from a male perspective or make macho jokes.

    I hope things will change and our community will be more homogeneous. I agree with a previous comment who said that we should see a big change in the next 10 years.

    Interestingly enough, people seem to want a scape goat.
    However, people have a short memory (or jumped to quickly to conclusion).
    I was part of the MerbCamp organization last year and as I was in charge of the schedule. I invited Lori Holden (female developer) to give a presentation on a topic she’s an expert on. As far as I remember I never treated a fellow developer differently based on his/her gender, sexual orientation, skin color, hair color or political opinions.

  30. I don’t understand where every woman gets off being offended on behalf of their gender. Whenever I have a reaction, I’m the one having the reaction, not every goddamn man that ever existed. If I see a man getting anally probed, I don’t think, “wow, this really sets men back a long way”. I guess you can argue that men weren’t subjugated throughout history but a lot of us come from ethinicities that were slaves… if that helps. I mean if everyone of these pictures in Matt’s presentation was some picture of a man getting a limb sawed off, I would just think he’s weird. I wouldn’t think he’s really “out to get men”.

    Anyway, stop taking everything so goddamn seriously. People fuck, people get dominated, and sometimes there’s evidence. It’s not an assault on the gender whenever it happens. Would you have felt better if the pictures were of women dominating men? Or of women knitting happily? Is it a professionalism issue? It seems like you don’t expect much professionalism from the ruby community, but you’re shocked when it acts unprofessionally? I just don’t understand.

    Oh and while I’m killing time, this “it’s so hard for women to fit in in a man’s world” applies to men too. What, do you think we just show our “man card” and get free admission? How fucking ridiculous. Communities are communities by means of exclusion; every member meets a certain basic criteria, otherwise the community is meaningless. Life is a meritocracy, should you feel shut out of a community due to gender, be awesome and make a better community. Or just shaddap.

    Also, I really couldn’t give a fuck about the female head-count in CS. In life, you do things because they make you feel good or they help you avoid feeling bad, and what I mean by that is I’m pretty sure none of us guys got into CS for the girls; I’m pretty sure we’re into CS for money or because we actually like it. If you don’t fall into these categories well, if I were you I’d consider a different job/hobby/whatever. And sure, I can see your post as an honest, “hey, I think this hurts our community”, but if we allow that 90% of all programmers are male, and 10% of all programmers are female, why should we bend over backwards for minimal gain? How many female ACM award-winners are there? How many high-profile open-source projects are lead by women? I guess I have 2 points:

    1. Code doesn’t care what gender you are, and code is what matters.

    2. Put up or shut up. Why should we make you feel welcome? “Because you’re nice guys” isn’t an acceptable answer, because clearly you can be a big asshole and still give a presentation at , so evidently we’re not nice guys.

  31. You know you really just have to get a thick skin. I’m a pretty big guy and I get shit for it, but I also know that 95% of the people I know don’t judge me that way. You can’t let 5% run your life or you’re letting them get not only their own playground kicks, but some more satisfaction from pissing/depressing you. Just get over it, and do your best. Because someone rants on a blog doesn’t mean it’s macho, that’s just the way the world of work IS. Females and males both can act like assholes.

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  33. @matt

    I imagine you’ve had a rough few days. I hope you’ll agree that I have never called you sexist, misogynist, or otherwise ideologically hostile to women, minorities, or what-have-you. I don’t believe you are.

    Just look at some of the comments on this page, though, and tell me that’s true of everyone in our community. These are not nice bedfellows (so to speak).

    I have spoken to many women in tech, and yes, *all* of them have had absolutely disgusting stories about ways their fellow geeks completely disrespected them. And these are the ones who stayed with it the work.

    I believe that these displays of verbal hostility against women in general, usually manifested as aggressive sexual display, has definitely, definitively, contributed to many women choosing other ways of making a living.

    It’s more complicated to explain the lack of black or hispanics in the community, but it’s not unrelated. I’m simply befuddled why you’re trying to *expand* the argument at this point, though, so I’ll not go there.

    What else would you attribute the lack of women in technology jobs *to*? You simply beg the question, but so far haven’t answered it.

    Some people have no doubt gotten really personal, really quick. Lots of people take this issue quite personally! I’m sorry about that, because I genuinely believe that you didn’t intend to bother anyone, only to amuse and enlighten.

    You should really stop taking it personally, as hard as that is, and admit you made some kind of mistake. You’re not a cause of the problem (unless there really were women in the audience who felt uncomfortable), but you have contributed a nice example of the problem. A symptom.

    Until you separate yourself from that presentation, you are going to continue to sharpen a lot of axes.

  34. Jimmy the Geek

    If after you give your presentation, the discussion isn’t about the topic of the presentation, then you have failed.

  35. Those slides are sad.

    In most industries, they would have got the presenter in serious trouble. In some places even looking at those slides at work might cause offence.

    I have sat through a good many presentations with predominantly male audiences (some small audiences were even entirely male) in an industry often accused of being sexist, and have never seen anything like this.

    It is irrelevant whether one finds the images themselves offensive or not. They are not appropriate in this context. The comment about professional norms existing for a reason is spot on.

    All his wife’s approval of the slides proves is that she lacks judgement as well.

    Matt Aimonetti is the biggest loser though: his presentation is now much better know for the porn theme than for the content. I doubt that is what he wanted?

  36. @madsimian as explained on twitter, I think the education and culture are the primary reasons for not having many women/minorities in the IT world.

    I agree that you never personally attacked me or being rude to me.

    Regarding disrespecting women and stories they have to tell, as it was mentioned by someone else, this is the same problem with most of us. We are disrespected because of our skin color, religion, weight, height, background, sexual orientation etc.. Does that mean that’s the reason why people with the same attributes don’t join a specific community? I don’t think so.

    Try asking young teenage girls why they don’t want to become software developers. Again I’d be surprised if they say, because of the macho environment.

    “I’m simply befuddled why you’re trying to *expand* the argument at this point, though, so I’ll not go there.”

    I actually think it’s related and as concerning if not even more concerning.

    Regarding making a mistake, I wasn’t trying to offend anyone so if I would do the same presentation again, I would probably try to avoid the whole sexist reaction. However, I would probably get blamed for using an inappropriate topic. Maybe because all the women I work with/live with and spend time with are not offended by the topic or presentation, I have a hard time seeing how other people get offended.
    To be clear, I probably won’t give this talk again, if I do, I would change some of the images used.

  37. I guess it’s just me but i really don’t understand what’s so important about “communities” nowadays.
    I mean: the internet has provided us an awesome way to learn and share our work and i think it’s kind of natural for people with same interests to form groups but, IMHO, it should be focused on code and learning much more than it is.
    You “struggle constantly to negotiate a representation of your sexuality”? WTF? “Ruby
    loves the rock star image”? Who the hell cares? “I don’t want to have to “act like a guy” in order to be here”? What are we even talking about? Writing code or playing with friends in the backyard?
    You don’t like how the “community” is, that’s totally fine, me too. Just avoid it and keep writing good code, if that’s really what you care about.

  38. I appreciate the OP. This shit is out of line.

    @Aimonetti:
    “I’m sorry you found my offensive presentation offensive” is not a real apology. As a man, I didn’t understand that women had problems with sexism in Computer Science. The few girls I know in the field never said anything about it. But there’s a lot of well expressed criticism that you can find and read that might help you understand why sexism makes it difficult for women to get into the IT field.

  39. Audrey – Kudos to you for this post. I’m so disappointed by some of the comments that have been left here.

    “Ask women why they are not interested in joining the IT world. I seriously doubt the main answer would be because people talk about sex from a male perspective or make macho jokes.”

    @matt – You’re right, but getting women *involved* in the IT world is not the main issue here. It’s about those if us that are already here. I, and many like me, have felt extremely uncomfortable in work situations because of the men I worked with & their “macho jokes.”

    However, I don’t even really think that this particular issue is a women vs. men debate. I was disappointed by the presentation simply because it was, in my opinion, inappropriate for a professional setting.

  40. @lindsay points taken. I agree that “macho jokes” don’t make women’s life easy and they should be avoided. I didn’t intend for my presentationto be a macho joke.

    Regarding your disappointment, I can totally understand the fact that you think the topic was inappropriate for a professional setting. This argument makes much more sense than all the others I’ve heard.

  41. There are two facets to attracting more women to tech and to ruby.

    Recruitment & retention. As i’ve said before, this has nothing to do with recruitment, and trying to get more people into ruby. Matt’s presentation was alienating (i.e the opposite of retention).

    Frankly the behavior of commentors across the various threads on this subject have been far far more egregious and offensive than anything Matt has said or done.

    Misogyny is alive and well in the tech world, but that’s not Matt’s doing.

  42. “I am very frustrated that the Ruby and Rails leadership is male-dominated and does not seem to view the lack of female participation as a significant threat to the health of the technology (as well as the community).”

    To the (minor) extent that I’m part of the Rails leadership these days, there is not complete unanimity on this. I think the presentation in question was wildly inappropriate, but DHH’s public endorsement of it (and the private endorsement of several other core team members) is seriously disturbing. I’d be happy to hear concrete ideas on what I, as part of the Rails Activist team, could do to make the community more welcoming for women. As knowtheory points out, though, there’s a tremendous reservoir of misogyny here (lightly disguised with a frat-boy veneer of “oh it’s all in fun”) that is the more serious problem that one presentation that should never have happened.

  43. This speaks to a level of unprofessionalism in the conference planners. Try slipping in some pron in a medical conference and see how fast your abstract is kicked to the door. Why the Ruby community is defending this low-brow behavior is beyond me. You should be trying to elevate your profession, not dragging it into the sewer. If the presentation was ‘using Ruby to develop a highly profitable pron site’ then it would be appropriate. Otherwise it’s self-masterbation and something better left out of a ‘professional’ conference.

  44. Wow. It’s really sad to see the reactions (except a few sane voices, most notably madsimian) – I am in the Ruby community for 3+ years only, but I am seriously shocked by the changes that happened in this relatively short period. Of course, every community does have it’s share of anti-social, insensitive or downright idiotic members, but unfortunately it seems to me their ‘market share’ was much, much lower when I entered the Ruby (and Rails) community. This makes me much more sad than Matt’s fiasco (yeah, I think it’s a screw-up). I think this inevitably happens once a community’s size reaches a tipping point. The challenge is to do something about it.

    One of my friends used to hang out with Christian Neukirchen (rack’s author) at Ruby conferences since Chris was 14. His dad called up my friend to make sure little Chris is in bed by 9 etc. Not the best audience for pr0n ;-)
    I am not sure how Matz and his Japanese colleagues/friends going with him to conferences would have felt during a slideshow like this (knowing Matz personally, even though we didn’t talk about pr0n, I doubt he would feel very good). And yeah, having a wife who is a Ruby/Rails hacker and going to conferences together, I know how she (and consequently, I, otherwise not particularly bothered by a few pr0n images inside a slideshow) would have felt.
    In general, porn, politics, religion and stuff like this are not the best material to come up with at a conference where people are going for code, technology, Ruby, Rails and not porn, politics, religion and stuff.
    In short: I believe this was not a good idea!

    Audrey: Kudos! As I mentioned, my wife is into Ruby/Rails too (we are usually pair programming) and I know how hard is to her, even with me by her side to go to these all-male conferences and “have a blinking arrow over her head”. This year, even I as a male felt for the first time that the situation got worse (being in Europe, I attended Europe-based events: FOWA, Scotland on Rails and going to EuRuKo in 2 weeks – maybe the situation is different in the US): It was awkward to socialize with people who I am having constant twitter/blog discussion/other on-line social interaction with. There is just too much on-line interaction and thus not much info to share ‘live’ (besides, f2f interaction is more exhausting and whatnot). So I can imagine it can be even worse if you are a part of a small minority. We are just starting to get more anti-social offline, IMHO.

  45. @Thomas Oh. My. God.

    My experience with sexist and otherwise strongly prejudiced people is that should be repelled like the plague.

  46. Ad Andrea: “You don’t like how the “community” is, that’s totally fine, me too. Just avoid it”

    Great, let’s get back to our caves, we will surely achieve great things being cut off alone. After all, one man was enough for Rails right? (wrong: currently 1400 commiters and growing). Let’s chat on IRC even with neighbors next door, you’ll know what’s going on from their twitter stream! Welcome to being anti-social 2.0.

    a, knowtheory, Bandy, mb and other simpletons: Fuck you too! I am really hoping you are not members of the Ruby/Rails community because we don’t need douchebags like you. Please do us a favor and fuck off. Go back to PHP/Java or whatever and have a nice, cold cup of STFU.

    Ad DHH and this whole rock-star shit: Pleases note that David (unlike you) wrote a game changing framework, was the Best Hacker of the Year 2005 according to Google and O’Reilly, is partner at 37singals which I probably don’t need to introduce, spoke at a slew of conferences etc. During this process he developed his own style, and it’s pathetic to think that you can mimic it by being arrogant, trying to look like a rock star or throwing F-bombs around. Grow up please and develop your own style. The Rails community should not be about trying to look like DHH, (even though a lot of people think it is) but creating great web apps!

    Shit, I wrote a whole blog entry. Peace out. I mean, MINASWAN.

  47. I think what’s important as a lesson here is that sexuality is best kept between friends and not co workers or professional peers.

    As a young women in tech, I can tell you I would be extremely uncomfortable in a classroom of thirty young men and me if an instructor used sex as a metaphor for teaching. There are so many other things in nature and society that can be used it’s best to not bring sex into it because most people are uncomfortable in public because of it. I think my discomfort comes from the fact that we need to maintain a respectable attitude towards one another to get along and a lot of men have enough trouble seeing women as intellectual equals without a respected community expert or leader bringing those attitudes to everyone’s attention.

  48. @Peter
    As I said, the internet has given us great tools for communication, which is a great thing. I’ve never said we shouldn’t cooperate. What i was trying to say is that i don’t see a reason for all of this personal/social/racial/sexist/whatever bullshit… again, bonding and feeling a group and all that stuff is totally okay by me until it’s not in the way of writing great code. Honestly, if this is the outcome of social contact between devs i’d rather prefer to interact with a faceless SVN user than having to read to this femminist crap.
    I don’t see the point of using porn to get focus from the one you’re speaking to, if they’ve come all the way they’re probably interested no matter what, no need to advertize but come on, what is this post about? Is is about a bad presentation (i’ve seen plenty and i’ve seldomly felt the need to go and write a post about how much they sucked) or is it about somebody who dared to commit the crime of politically uncorrectness in front of your eyes? You tell me.

  49. @Andrea,

    Sorry, I misunderstood your original comment, my apologies. I absolutely agree with your last one – if I have to choose between ‘real’ social interaction that results in this bullshit, or silently coding away and communicating via gihub/blogs/twitter and not having pr0n and other BS pushed into my face, I’ll go for the latter.

    It’s sad we ended up here, though.

  50. Eero Saynatkari (rue)

    0. Some people are assholes.
    1. Some presentations are unprofessional.
    2. Many Rubyists in particular attempt to follow _why and others’ whimsical/clever footsteps without having the necessary talent.

    And;

    3. The number of female (or gay/lesbian/transsexual/black/young/old) hackers is less than the number of participating in open source development, which is less than the number who program on their own time, which is less than the number who program professionally.

    My initial reaction to this article was that of a gut-level defensiveness: not (I think) because I am a born- and gender-identifying male, or because I am misogynistic, but because the singling out of the Ruby community (although, as I like to say, once the “c” word gets used, it is time to move on to the next language.) Ruby is a part of my *adopted* identity, and as such more important to me than my intrinsic identity (inasmuch there actually is a distinction, biologically/psychologically.)

    Defensiveness on a particular detail of the post is bad because it clouds the judgment and often puts one on the defensive for the entirety of the post. On the other hand, getting over it requires the “thick skin” I prescribe later on. Justified or not, most people’s response to this article will be affected by similar processes (aside from the few obvious trolls.)

    I would like to address that one particular by stating that, in my experience, Rubyists are no worse–nor better–than any of the other still largely “hacker” type programmer communities. I am not sufficiently “in” with the Rails folks to be able to say anything definitive there, except that the two are not the same and that I do not suspect they as a whole are particularly misogynistic either. There are, however, as singled out above, a substantially larger number of people in the Ruby world who are trying to live up to the whimsy/clever ideals without the necessary faculties (although I would not not peg Matt in that group–from the sound of things, this was just extremely poor judgment on your part, Matt.)

    So, that takes care of my defensiveness, I hope.

    The scarcity of women(/gay/lesbian/transgendered/black/green/etc.) in our little universe is not problematic in itself. There is absolutely no value in having someone around for a characteristic so extraneous to programming. To frame the issue perhaps more constructively, the problem is those characteristics still warrant noticing or mentioning; the challenge is to remove those considerations.

    How, then, to achieve that? And, for that matter, should the efforts be different for drawing in more women vs. drawing in more African-Americans, for example? In a field so passion-driven, it seems dubious that there is much that can be proactively done. We cannot–and should not want to–draw anyone in for any other reason than their interest in programming. The only thing here, really, is adding opportunities for people to participate and ensuring that there are a variety of interests catered to at conferences, for example, be it in the form of actually establishing more user groups, holding more conferences (and, in particular, reducing the cost of attendance–EuRuKo2009, for example, only costs 30 Euros to attend, and takes place on the weekend–although the travel is still a problem for many) and marketing thereof. The same general principles apply to generally getting people interested in programming–as a positive example, apparently the iPhone has gotten many complete newbies to dive into the SDK. The “marketing”, if you will, has to take place in schools, universities, and essentially the world at large. Programming is a form of artistic expression in the sense that it, too, is ideally about the process of creating something.

    Realistically, though, this leaves us with reactive solutions–particularly in the short term. I am not sure if there is a “How Not To Be An Asshole” book, but if there is, everyone should probably read it. (Everyone should also read “How To Understand That Everyone Is An Asshole Occasionally, And To Subsequently Move On Constructively Together”, but of course we have a little less control over that.) It is a delicate balance to be encouraging and supportive of “different” people, making everyone feel welcome and appreciated without being patronising. It is almost as hard to avoid being overly cautious: censorship for fear of someone somewhere possibly being offended. In most cases, it really is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

    Here is where I do have one request: please allow us, initially, to be far from perfect.

    Especially in the case of women, we may be a bit patronising, fawning or awkward (or, on the flipside, apprehensive or distant.) We may lapse into “male behaviour.” When it comes to gender-, race- or any other relations, there really is no “correct way,” except that which we make up as we go. It is always toughest for the first ones, but if they stick it out and all “sides” learn from it, the external characteristics will eventually become a non-issue.

    It is somewhat difficult to make a fun, obvious and *positive* slogan for “we only discriminate on your love of programming, be it budding or blooming” (In particular since I, personally, prefer the company of people who are nice and fun in addition to being programmers inasmuch I prefer people at all) so it will likely be a struggle on both the proactive and reactive fronts for some time to come.

    This is probably long enough as it is, and does not really even touch upon concrete solutions, but there you go. Thanks for getting the topic out there.

  51. @Peter
    “It’s sad we ended up here, though.” I couldn’t agree more. Sadly that’s what often happens when egoes, not ideas, are the focus of the debate.

  52. I sort of agree, as a male having been dogged by many women over the years at different jobs with various sexual approaches. I have to say that it is really disappointing when you thought you had a strictly professional work relationship and it turns out she’s after more than that.

  53. @Matt:

    “Regarding your disappointment, I can totally understand the fact that you think the topic was inappropriate for a professional setting. This argument makes much more sense than all the others I’ve heard.”

    I’m sorry, but I call bullshit. Matt, I sent you a long email three days ago, the subject of which was to explain that the issue is not one of being shocked by pictures, or even a gender issue (although it’s related), but a context issue. And the fact that you fail to see the context issue.

    I spent a whole paragraph on a metaphor about why you can be in a bikini on a beach but not in a restaurant. Why you would not be surprised to find this preso at a John Waters festival, but not at a professional conference.

    You have completely avoided or not acknowledged my point in all of your responses. I am glad you are starting to see the point, but don’t pretend this is the first time you are hearing this argument.

  54. An exceptional post which addresses the issues of gender, sexuality and professional community thoughtfully, regardless of whether we are looking at technology or not. The technology culture (and Ruby in particular) adds an additional layer of complexity that you address beautifully. These are issues we often over simplify (e.g., objectifying women vs. coddling women) where you bring out the nuances of “some women like pornography, but are made uncomfortable by it in a professional setting.” This is an important addition to the conversation.

    Thanks for a being a strong and insightful voice in the community.

  55. My $.02:
    - don’t bring sexuality into the workplace
    - consider others feelings (and your own)
    - yes it is about the code
    - and we do need women’s talents
    - i enjoy this train wreck a bit – i admit…

    Guys listen to your women – be smart and give respect. It will pay more dividends than being an alpha coder ever will.

  56. Yeah so I heard the slides included creampies, I can understand why that is distracting. Kinda tickles my fanny too and then I’m out of my coding groove

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  58. Thank you everyone who stopped to read and comment and discuss this.

    I deleted several comments that weren’t adding to the conversation, but you can see screencaps at http://skitch.com/spinnerin/.

    I’m closing comments now because I don’t want to just talk about Matt’s presentation or sexism in the tech industry. I created a second post to discuss what we can do to make things better, and I hope you’ll join me there.

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