Good for
+Adria Richards for speaking up about inappropriate humor at a conference, and good for Pycon for dealing with the problem quickly and professionally.

There's a lot that could be said about this story. There are parts of it that make me really sad; if it's true that the guy's company fired him for that one incident, that's a shame. We need space between "you're fine" and "you're fired". It fuels the accusations of male "persecution" when (relatively) minor offenders don't even get a chance to say they are sorry. Education & communication 1st; punitive action as a last resort.

There was one repeated refrain in the responses I read, though, that I want to address. It's the idea that Adria should have just confronted the jokers there & then, rather than enlisting social media or the conference organizers in her cause. According to these commenters, that's how civilized people resolve things.

Actually, I kind of agree. It would be nice if we could handle things that way. Unfortunately, we can't have nice things. And the people who are making these objections are part of the reason why.

Here are some things that are true about me:

- I'm a white male. (This is empirically a fact)
- I'm charismatic, reasonably eloquent, and have a commanding speaking voice (these I infer from what others have said, and from the fact that I can often influence people by speaking to them)

Here's something you may not know about me:

- I'm quite emotionally sensitive.

You might not know this because I'm almost never in a situation where it shows. And the reason I'm not in those situations is because of those previous attributes. The fact is, I can feel quite secure saying "Hey, not cool!" in most contexts, because I'm confident that because of all those beneficial  attributes I listed above, when I say "not cool" the response will be respectful, even deferential.

But what if I didn't have that expectation? What if I knew from observation of similar situations that the likely outcome of saying "hey, not cool" would be a pile-on of defensive reactions? Reactions ranging from "lighten up, we're just kidding around" (translation: our intentions are pure, therefore your feelings are invalid), to "don't get your panties in a bunch", to outright mockery, even to threats? You don't have to look very long to see this kind of pile-on in action every time a woman says the equivalent of "not cool!" in a tech forum.

If I knew that the result of my speaking up was at least 50% likely going to be a confrontation that ended with me wandering the halls crying, would I speak up? And note, I'm not saying "If I were a woman, I'd cry", I'm saying that I know myself, and I know that on the extremely rare occasion that I've been in a tense confrontation, that's been exactly my reaction. Although it's been many, many years because again, people tend to respond well to me.

The answer is no. I'd probably keep my mouth shut rather than risk turning discomfort into full-blown anguish.

Robert Heinlein said "an armed society is a polite society". There are two sides to this. On the one hand, someone who knows they are protected has the luxury of being humble and patient, because they know they don't need to intimidate in order to stay safe. And on the other side, if you know the other person in an argument has the means to end your life, you have an incentive to keep things civil.

Like firearms, both social media and authority figures are equalizers. Maybe once the men in our industry have seen several examples of a woman "going nuclear", they'll have an incentive to be as respectful to a woman saying "not cool" as they would be to, say, me. Maybe then a woman will be able to turn around and say "knock it off" and be 99% sure that the guys she's talking to will say "crap, sorry about that". And then we'll be able to have nice things.
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