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March 24, 2013


My God, there are so many apologists in this thread. This was a conference. These men were there representing their employer. If this happened in a conference room at PlayHaven HQ no one would be arguing that they were being harmless. Putting them in a bigger room with more people changes nothing.

I can't believe folks are still playing the "political correctness" card. Why is it too much to ask to go a business conference, and not have to hear sexual innuendo of any kind?

Some good comments here. But what really bugs me is that too many people are missing a couple of fundamental issues.

Assuming, for argument's sake, that the worst interpretation of Ms. Richards' behavior is correct, how on earth does that begin to justify holding women to a different standard than men? For instance, the idea up-thread, that employers will not scrutinize any woman for any shred of a possibility that they might be feminist zealots and have a chip on their shoulder - and justifiably decide against any woman if they have the slightest reason to believe that she is. But, we are not going to worry at all about male chauvinists at all or even think for a second that the guys being hired will act in grossly inappropriate ways - even to the point of alienating customers.


And, why is so much of the conversation focused on what she did wrong, rather than on what the organizations in question did? Or on the outrageous reaction by a significant portion of the tech net?! Are death threats really anything close to an appropriate response to a woman being "bitchy"? And is her behavior really a bigger issue than people literally trying to physically intimidate a woman into shutting up and "acting like a lady"?

Very, very disturbing.

While I agree with much you wrote, I have to take offense with the assertion that Adria did not "have much power". She does. She has the ear of tens of thousands of readers, and even orders of magnitude more by social osmosis. In fact, I learned about this (and was much more offended than I am now that I know all the backstory) from a feminist blog assailing the "aggressive white rape culture" of conferences, citing Adria having to witness sexist and "rape-y" remarks. A dongle joke (incidentally a much less offensive one than the one she posted minutes before that) is neither sexist nor "rape-y". She has the power to distort and demand. Neither PyCon nor the men she attacked do have that power.

Her tweet and the "I saved women in tech" blog post are now all but side notes in this, but Adria has and had considerable power. More than the guys she tweeted about, more than PyCon, and much, much, more than me. To call her powerless or even ascribe privilege to others where she clearly is the most public, vocal, and powerful in this scenario is disingenuous.

Thank you for your post: I disagree with just about every syllable in it (except for the condemnation of the truly hideous threats Ms. Richards has been a target of, which I fully share).

The current comment policy does not allow me to voice my main point of disagreement. But there is another which I find almost as important.

May ask you if you would support the right to be offended by comments that cross religious boundaries? For instance, in a scenario were two atheist persons at PyCon tell each other a joke on Jesus, overheard by a born again Christian in the front row? And if so, would you support excluding atheist talk from professional settings and the workplace (because it makes it threatening)?

If not, I would like to know what differences do you see in the hypothetical and real scenario.

If the fact I put atheists (a minority) in the hot seat is of import, they can be replaced by a member of a religious majority of your choosing, cracking a joke on Baal, and the born again christian with a Carthaginian, for that matters.

Best regards,

P.S. My take on other parts of this is here: http://sax-appeal.blogspot.com/2013/03/on-donglegate-adria-richards-and.html

People keep using the word offended when discussing this issue of sexual jokes in the workplace. I don't feel sullied for hearing a dirty joke int he work place. I am feeling anxiety.
You know what is going on in my mind when I am around men that act that way at times and places that it is obviously inappropriate? I am wondering when and where else he will act inappropriate and if it will also be of a sexual nature and what I need to do to protect myself. I am wondering if this behavior will escalate.
Around good friends, people I know and in settings that are more casual a dirty joke isn't going to phase me, I might even join in. But in the workplace, it brings on a level of anxiety.
So no, comparing it to our issues with rape in our culture is not out of line at all.

@Alf: People don't have a *right* to be offended--they simply are offended. It's a feeling, and nobody else can control it or say you shouldn't have had it. How you express your feelings is another question, and that's something that communities--be they workplaces, conferences, cities or other entities--can determine rights to. For example, in the US, we give people a lot of room to express their feelings, but we do draw a line on hate speech. That is, you can hate anyone you want--nobody else can control that or say it isn't your right--but once you put that hatred into speech or action that can affect other people, we have some limits. Make no mistake: I am *not* suggesting that the dongle jokes were hate speech. I'm simply pointing at that there's a gap between how people feel, how they express it, and what communities can do with those things.

In terms of your question about religion, the PyCon code of conduct, like most such guidelines, includes religion: "PyCon is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion." (I hope it goes without saying that religion is included, because it's a category that has been used to justify unequal and oppressive treatment of many kinds of people.) So, yes, if people were making jokes about Jesus, and it offended other people at the conference, the attendees would have grounds to complain, and the organizers would have grounds to address it with the people making the jokes. Note that most of the time, including the incident earlier this month at PyCon, the "punishment" is that the person or people who made the offending comments are asked to apologize. When you offend somebody, even if you didn't intend to do so, that's the appropriate thing to do. Codes of conduct help uphold that community standard.

But let's take it out of the hypothetical. Last year, at the entrepreneurship conference I co-host, one of the speakers included in his slide deck a joke that mentioned Jews, which I saw when I previewed the presentations. The joke didn't denigrate Jews, but it also wasn't in any way essential to his talk. Because it had the potential to distract and bother people, I asked him to consider using another joke. He agreed immediately and changed the deck. No harm, no foul.

@Melia: Thanks so much for sharing your experience and perspective.

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