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jarich (4909)

jarich
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http://www.perltraining.com.au/
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I run Perl Training Australia [perltraining.com.au] with pjf [perl.org] and do a lot of the course writing and maintenance. I also organise the courses we run, so if you want one, just ask. I hang around a bit on Perlmonks [perlmonks.org] and also help run Melbourne Perl Mongers [pm.org].

Journal of jarich (4909)

Thursday May 14, 2009
03:08 AM

More porn isn't the answer

[ #38978 ]

When one of our own, foolishly, showed porn at a conference, and then apologised on use.perl for doing it; some of the commenters asked whether it would have been better if more female-focussed porn had been included. That was back in 2006.

Less than a month ago Matt Aimonetti gave a talk at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference entitled "CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star." which apparently started off well, with a few porn-related but funny gags, but when he moved into the topic proper "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 commenters to the above linked blog showed the same obliviousness to the issue at hand with suggestions such as "Maybe people would have felt better with some gay porn stars mixed in?" and "there was really only one risque image of a naked man ... if there had been a better balance would it have been just as alienating?"

I am stunned that this could possibly still be an issue. Matt Aimonetti defends himself by saying his wife approved of the talk and that there were only 5/82 risque images (presumably all the rest were just scantily clad women); other men say that they didn't find it offensive. A commenter says he showed the presentation to his wife who also just thought it was in good humour and claims that they are open minded, presumably suggesting that the original poster is not. All of them fail to grasp that the conference should be a professional setting, not a locker room.

Porn does not belong at conferences, or in user group talks, or in the board room. Porn, although a wonderful and fun thing, should be private; or at most - shared with close friends in an intimate setting. Neither of these conditions are what you have at a conference, user group or (generally) in the board room. Porn doesn't help keep your audience's attention, instead it distracts them. Those who appreciate the images are distracted by their hormonal reactions. Everyone else is alienated. If it's male, heterosexual porn; then the straight women, queer men and anyone who just doesn't like porn get the very clear message that they're different and not included. It's not nice to be made to feel like a sexual object in a room where it seems everyone else has just been turned on. It's uncomfortable and possibly threatening.

Women, in particular, are rare at FOSS conferences. The Golden Gate Ruby Conference had only 6 out of 200 female attendees. The highest percentage at a conference I've been to was 10%. We know we're minorities, yet most of the time everyone is awesome and clearly we belong, so we often ignore the fact that we're rare and go along thinking it's a meritocracy of ideas and code. Usually it is. But talks like these drag you back into realising that you are different and you are in the minority, and that ruins it for a while.

Including more porn to "cater" to the women and queer men is not the answer. Not only would it be impossible to cater to the wide tastes of the audience, but what appeals to some would be off-putting to others. More importantly, unless you're at a conference specifically about porn; then surely you want your audience to be paying attention to what you're saying and your main topic rather than being distracted by what's going on in their pants? It's not about hard-core or soft-core porn; or what you can or cannot show on TV at 8pm. It's not about whether you can see the same style of picture on a billboard on a major road. It's about being inclusive and respectful of your audience who have often chosen to listen to your talk instead of the other talks scheduled at the same time (or being part of the hallway track). It's always a bad idea to distract your audience's attention away from the topic at hand, but porn is an even worse way than usual, as it's almost impossible to get their attention back again and you've almost certainly upset some of them. Don't alienate your audience. The only correct solution is to include no porn.

Porn does not belong in an professional setting. It's a professional setting if a decent proportion of the attendees have their employers paying for them to be there (whether or not there's an entrance cost) or if attendees expect to gain employment-relevant knowledge from the event. If it's okay for you to have pin-ups in your office and include porn in your presentations at work then you are seriously in the minority. If you would think twice about giving your presentation to a technical audience which happened to consist of 50% women, attendees fairly evenly spanning the ages of 20 - 70, and where any one them could cause you to lose your job; then perhaps there are parts of your talk which need to be cleaned up. Just because most of your attendees are your age and gender is not an excuse to ignore everyone else. I don't care if your technology conferences are anti-professional, or volunteer run; if it's a technical conference, it should discuss technical (and related) topics; none of which need include pictures of scantily clad women or risque soft-core porn. Showing porn at conferences does make employers unwilling to send their staff to future events; and makes sponsors less willing to be associated with it also; so you've just made it harder to organise next year's event too.

Getting more women to come to a conference is a hard job; I've been doing my best (with some success) to achieve this for the Open Source Developers' Conference since 2004. Stupid talks which alienate parts of the audience make that much harder; in fact I'm not sure OSDC has recovered in that sense from 2006. :( But we're working on it. If you ever think it would be nice to have more than 2-3% of women being involved in FOSS (keeping in mind that studies suggest there's 25% women involvement in proprietary systems) then don't use porn metaphors in your talks, and don't let your friends do it either.

The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
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  • Reenforcing your point, here's a link to a (well known) sober page with collected responses by female attendees [hackety.org].

    The main reason to include it here, is because a few days ago I tried to find it back, and it took me quite a while to find it. Google doesn't search too well for a word like "_why", as it always drops the underscore.

  • So it seems the Ruby community is following along in the same footsteps as Perl, just a few years later. From experiencing the perils of AUTOLOAD and monkey patching to doing stupid things like porn references at conferences.

    Well, from what I've seen they'll never catch up on the last one.

    • The big difference is that when Adam did a similar thing, he apologized soon after. While making a mistake like that is unfortunate, making a mistake like that, and then defending it (and seeing it defended by others) is much, much worse.

      Kudos to Adam for admitting to making a mistake.

      • Perl also doesn't have Larry or anyone else writing, apparently with a straight face, Hitler had Eva -- and I'm cuter, so get over it [loudthinking.com].

        • The post you've linked to is certainly short-sighted w.r.t how existing norms keep women out of programming, however it doesn't appear to include the quote you're linking with. A search [google.com] for "Hitler site:loudthinking.com" doesn't find anything that matches either. Do you have a better link?

          • That's the right link. I was mocking the argument there with the least appropriate analogy I could imagine.

  • Everyone else is alienated. If it's male, heterosexual porn; then the straight women, queer men and anyone who just doesn't like porn get the very clear message that they're different and not included.

    I completely agree. But as I'm in the last category on your list, that technically means that I don't agree with all of this bit :-)

    Porn, although a wonderful and fun thing, should be private; or at most - shared with close friends in an intimate setting.

    I just don't like it. I'm strange. But the technical inn

  • I think this is a case where you can actually say "Won't somebody think of the children?"
  • Sigh... For me there was a certain sad irony that the reason I put up the porn/erotica/semantic-definition-du-jour image in the first place was to intentionally distract the audience. :(

    As you noted, it worked. It just worked far far far far better than I would ever have intended it to. What I had hoped would be a 10 second distraction as a joke punchline turned into a 2 month long distraction.

    As another data point for your collection of information on this topic, I think I can identify the female equivalen

  • Matt's talk was tame compared to this [geekgirlsguide.com] Flash conference incident.
    • The example I referenced, at the conference I organised, was tame relative to Matt's talk too.

      I'm not sure how to read your response. If you're alerting me to what happened this past week at the flashbelt conference; thank you. It's a shame this kind of thing could happen in such close time proximity. I was reading about it earlier today, and have yet to see if Hoss Gifford is going to apologise or if he'll leave his twitter comment as good enough. Fortunately I haven't (yet) seen people suggesting th

      • It was just an alert. Don't read too much into it.
        • That's what I expected, thanks for the clarification.

          By the way, I agree entirely. Although I did not see it, Hoss' talk is by far the most offensive and juvenile I've heard of (and well beyond what I would like to think I'd stay in a room to watch). I think it'd be difficult to make a more misogynistic-sounding, yet still sort of technical talk; but I won't say that it'd be impossible lest someone take it as a challenge.

          I'm planning to role-play the situation a few times so that should I ever been i