Recently, there has been quite a row about a tweet sent out by the DrupalCon Twitter account. The tweet suggested that people look at the attendees page to reconnect with the attractive developer/designer they met at last year's DrupalCon. A number of people pointed out that this subtly (though inadvertently) promotes a sexually charged environment at the conference.
For the most part I have stayed out of the discussion, but in catching up on some blog posts last night I saw some troubling reactions, with people being quite callous to the experiences of those who found the tweet off-putting.
I don't usually blog about these kinds of issues, but I wanted to share some of my experiences that I think can help inform the discussion and help people understand some of the sensitivities.
Not all of these experiences are directly related to the tweet at hand, but I do believe the "Drupal isn't immune" section does directly relate and is a very concrete example of how women can sometimes be treated at these events.
I'm a geek through and through, though a lot of people assume otherwise because of my physical appearance.
I was using the command line at 4. When my parents got a new Windows computer, I spent the whole summer clicking every single icon. I went to summer school to learn Visual Basic. In high school, I taught myself C++ to get into the college level computer science class. This paid off when I got college credit and could take Advanced OO Programming in Java at Carnegie Mellon for fun.
Throughout all of those experiences, I found I was underestimated, many times in infuriating ways. On a number of occassions, people said "You're smarter than you look!" to me as if it were a compliment. And, of course, I found that I was often treated as an "other", an oddity who's experience wasn't worth considering because it didn't hold for the majority.
This is the main reason why I shied away from a deeper involvment in computer geekdom... at least, until Drupal.
I was working on a Web development team and I could tell that our CMS just wasn't working for us or our clients. I heard about Drupal and looked for the first easy to grok resource I could find, and luckily stumbled upon the Lullabot podcast.
I really liked the engaging way that the bots talked about tech topics, but more than that I appreciated the sense of community that they exuded. As I started following more, I realized what strong supporters people like Angie and Eaton (and many others) were of active inclusivity. I realized that this was a community with many people who shared my values and where I could feel reasonably safe that people would listen and care about the things that impact me.
But Drupal isn't immune
As much as I would like to say I've never, ever dealt with discomforting behavior in the Drupal community, it isn't true.
At DrupalCon Chicago, I was in the core conversations room when a man somewhat older than me sat down next to me. I recognized him as a colleague of some of the devs I had been palling around with, but he and I had never met.
He proceeded to put his arm around my chair. This made me uncomfortable, so I leaned forward so he wouldn't be touching me. He leaned in from the side so he was touching me again. This continued until I was hanging on to my seat with just the right pocket of my jeans when I thought "This is absurd", stood up and walked to the back of the room.
If this had been my first DrupalCon, instead of my 3-4, and if I didn't have such confidence in the Angies and Eatons and ArianeKs in the community and the fact that they do not condone this behavior, I would not have walked to the back of the room... I would have walked straight out the door and not come back.
Until now, I didn't speak up about this experience. I dislike the emotional trauma of reliving these types of uncomfortable situations, having people question whether the other person was really at fault, or whether you were "asking for it" and I didn't want to be at the eye of a sh**storm, so I brushed it off. I'm lucky to be in a social position in this community where I can brush this off without thinking about it too much. But I know what it feels like not to be in that position.
So please consider
So please consider when talking about this issue that there are experiences that some of us face that the majority does not.
I do understand that it has been tough for the people who have faced the criticism. My heart goes out to the person who tweeted it originally because I know he/she had no ill intent, and I'm sure said it from a feeling of fun and community.
This isn't the first kerfuffle of this sort. When I got back from DrupalCon Copenhagen, a friend asked me about the one that happened there. I told him that to me the important fact was that we could have open discussions about these issues... the fact that I didn't feel silenced. By and large, it seemed to me that the community rejected the voices that tried to silence the women who were expressing their concerns.
I don't expect perfect behavior from anyone (or my version of perfect), I just expect to be able to openly say "that made me uncomfortable" and have the other person really think about why that's the case and try to fix it. And I appreciate having a community that supports that.
Both sides of the discussion need to have compassion for each other. I can definitely see why people are standing in support behind friends and fellow volunteers on this. But please do not belittle the experiences of others while taking that stand.