PyCon 2013 and Codes of Conduct, more generally

The tech community is messed up in da head, yo.

Several times since Steve Holden's I'm Sorry post I've written long blog posts about my own views on codes of conduct and professional behavior, including the views informed by some of my own extraordinarily embarrassing transgressions. I never felt that the end result had much to add to the conversation so I never posted any of 'em. Plus, they were really embarrassing transgressions.

If you want to know, until last week, I was fairly publicly on the fence about the proposed Python Software Foundation code of conduct (which is not yet public, but is based on the Ubuntu CoC, I think) because I was worried about CoCs being used to whack people inappropriately, due to nonspecificity and other things.

Three things happened at PyCon 2013 that made me decide to (a) change my mind and (b) post this short note saying so.

First, I came to PyCon with two women colleagues, one of whom was harassed nearly constantly by men, albeit on a low level. Both of them are friendly people who are willing to engage at both a personal and a technical level with others, and apparently that signals to some that they can now feel free to comment on "hotness", proposition them, and otherwise act like 14 year old guys. As one friend said, (paraphrased) "I'd be more flattered that they seem to want to sleep with me, if they'd indicated any interest in me as a human being -- you know, asked me why I was at PyCon, what I did, what I worked on, what I thought about things. But they didn't." (Honestly, if I were to judge by that reported set of interactions, any genetic component to such behavior would be weeded out in approximately one generation, 'cause such guys would only be able to reproduce through anonymous donations to sperm banks.)

Second, at an event for a subcommunity that I help not run, bad shit happened. At the same event, derogatory and not-fun sexist remarks were made, publicly and loudly, about a presenter. This made the main organizer for that event feel horrible, and put a damper on the whole event.

Third, this happened. As with #2, I found PyCon's response perfectly appropriate, which makes me much happier about the way PyCon specifically and the PSF in general are likely to enforce any code of conduct in the future. As for the person who posted Twitter pics identifying the men she felt were being sexist, I am not very upset by her actions, because she is not an official representative of PyCon or the PSF, and she did not post anonymously, so she is taking responsibility for her actions -- unlike the people harassing Jesse Noller for doing his effin' job. I do reject the notion that Adria speaks for me in the particulars, and I would guess that her claim to speak for all future women is similarly rejected by many women. Again, PyCon is not responsible for her tweet or her picture, and they should not be held accountable in any way for it; that's her personal action. (I'm more upset by the company that took this to the extent of actually firing someone over it, and I'm really glad my employer (Michigan State University) has rules, procedures, and formal hearings -- if they fire me, it will be after a certain amount of due process and not due to what is presumably Internet hearsay.)

In the end, the latter two incidents are completely overshadowed by the first, though. I'm not the parent or guardian of either of my colleagues, and I suspect they would similarly reject the idea that I speak for either of them - they're both perfectly capable of telling people what they think, frankly (and I would love to be an audience for some of those conversations). But, as both a visible member of the Python community and as the father of two small girls, I am appalled at the second-hand reports of male behavior. I'm particularly appalled at the systemic low-level harassment that seems to be considered normal behavior by some. It's not cool, it's not fun, and it doesn't even have the dubious virtue of being effective.

In summary,

  1. GOOD JOB, PYCON. The way the incidents were officially handled was really well done and speaks well of the people we have chosen to run PyCon.
  2. We need codes of conduct because they provide some minimal guidelines for people that (apparently) need 'em, because they can't figure out how to tie their own shoelaces without such guidelines.
  3. As a community, we need to change the way we treat women, because my daughters will TASER YOU ALL INTO OBLIVION in 10-20 years if we don't.

--titus

p.s. Sorry, no comments. Go blog 'em and I'll link to the blog posts, just send them to @ctitusbrown on Twitter.

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