11 AM | 22 Mar

Questions, Not Answers: Post-PyCon 2013 Fallout

Buy The "Fork My Dongle" T and Support Girls Who Code

Buy The “Fork My Dongle” T and Support Girls Who Code

I’m always curious – as any decent news-hound should be – regarding certain aspects of controversial tech-related dramas. I’m especially curious about those dramas that play out very publicly and create substantial character/brand damage.

So this morning I’ve been intent on writing a long-form post regarding the firing of a PlayHaven employee for making alleged offensive comments at the Python Developer Conference (PyCon 2013) while in earshot of Adria Richards, a SendGrid Employee. Richards tweeted about the incident and complained to PyCon organisers, resulting in Alex Reid and “mr-hank” (the fired PlayHaven employee) being knuckle-rapped over the incident. Subsequently, Richards herself has been fired and although initially there was ample conjecture that this “news” may have been the output of some elaborate DDoS hack, it now seems more likely to be accurate.

Fortunately, my intentions have now jumped up and poked me firmly in my common-sense gland, and in lieu of finishing and posting that traditionally crafted article complete with the oily title of “If it doesn’t add value to the conversation, then it gets deleted” (a direct quote from Richards herself regarding why she’s currently deleting blog comments), I’ve instead started crafting the following list of questions as ponder-fodder. The list isn’t especially comprehensive and, in the effort of full disclosure, it’s undoubtedly laced with my own complicated bias.

Then why do it? Because I’d rather offer readers something that may just break those horrible and vitrolic “win-lose” mentality loops that plague certain social media/blog commentators regarding such controversial issues. I’d also prefer to present an alternative to the multitude of closed-ended and exclusionary “facts” and “answers” such as those being offered by all and sundry regarding the fallout post-PyCon 2013:

  1. Were the comments observed by Richards at PyCon 2013 actively (or even latently) sexist, or simply incidences of thoughtless comedic material that peppers (and may even attempt to parody) aspects of sexist geek culture? Could they also conceivably have been a mixture of both?
  2. Were these comments misinterpreted – deliberately or unconsciously – in order to create an incident that would create ongoing controversy and accelerated pageviews?
  3. If the comments under question had been voiced by two women developers mentioning “big dongles” or “forking” (or shoving socks down their pants), would Richards have complained?
  4. If the actions Richards undertook regarding the alleged sexist comments were performed by a man instead of a woman, might the outcome, and corresponding furore, be different?
  5. Is the male gaze in constant operation during events like PyCon, and if yes, how do we create a workable solution for its removal? Should we also acknowledge and discuss other types of “gazes” (or other power loaded stereotypical behaviours embedded within unconscious neurotypical agendas) that might be present at such institutionalised events, with associated bias and layered prejudice (involving privilege and status)?
  6. When faced with what they think is offensive or hate-based commentary that makes an individual “feel uncomfortable”, how should they react? In today’s constantly “on” world where reports of any action may be instantaneously broadcast, should an individual’s ability to magnify an incident (to the extent where no reasonable or concluding course of action can result) be considered prior to any action taken?
  7. Is the right to refuse to openly engage – or directly communicate with – an individual who you think is displaying offensive behaviour acceptable, especially when this refusal is based on entrenched bias or inequality?
  8. If you choose to expose those you think are “in the wrong”, should you be prepared for a certain level of backlash from those who do not view the behaviours as you do?  If this level of backlash becomes threatening or vitriolic, how should you respond? How should society at large respond?
  9. How do we ensure that well-meaning discourse isn’t hijacked for the sake of attention grabbing “netbytes”?
  10. Would decent journalistic input regarding all of these questions actually help?

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