things that actually matter

I had just gotten some very relevant facts about this and was about to update with corrections, when Alex Sexton posted his comment below. Please scroll down and read that before taking this without a giant grain of salt. I definitely jumped to some incorrect conclusions, and he’s got the real story down in the comment section.

I was really disappointed to see that jsconf is now the most recent “incident” on the geek feminism wiki. If you’re not familiar, that wiki collects things like sexual assaults and jokes about things being so simple even your mom could do it. That is, damaging and insulting shit. I may catch a lot of hell for this, but I didn’t find the presentation that happened during lunch on Monday at jsconf sexist. I assumed the guys presenting were trying to call attention to the lack of women at the conference in a humorous way. It definitely ended up being awkward, but my impression was that their hearts were in the right place. As for the thing about homeless transvestites, I admit I was only half paying attention, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to simply mention homeless transvestites. Homeless transvestites exist. Anyway, someone explained later that the homeless transvestite thing was part of a botched anecdote about one of the presenters getting flashed, which had the potential to be a funny story.

However.. jsconf and nodeconf were the first two conferences where I’ve ever actually felt uncomfortable as a woman, and neither had anything to do with grade school humor onstage. This is why it fucking annoys me that what gets blown out of proportion on the internet is “OMG someone was mentioning women by name”. That’s not something anybody can do anything about now. If you saw the presenters afterward, it was pretty evident that they felt awful about it. I’d like to talk about shit that can actually be corrected, and I think it’s going to be a lot less well received than “don’t make jokes about how there aren’t enough women at this conference”.

“Are you a wife, or a girlfriend?”

Admittedly, I haven’t been to a whole ton of technical conferences. However, jsconf was the first I’ve ever been to where anyone assumed upon meeting me that I was there to do anything other than learn about tech shit. And – with apologies to any of the organizers or anyone else involved who may read this – I blame this on jsconf’s Significant Others Track. (Colloquially referred to as “the ladies”.) It was difficult for me to even purchase the ticket to my first serious technical conference because I was afraid I wasn’t qualified to be there, that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I don’t have any facts, but my guess is that a lot of women go through that, and it keeps a lot of women from ever attending a conference. But no one ever treated me as though I didn’t belong, until this week.

My impression was that the Significant Others were exclusively women (and babies), and that they outnumbered the women actually attending the conference. For me, this created a really upsetting dynamic where it was statistically correct to assume that any woman you saw hanging around the conference venue was not there as a developer. Good lord, it’s hard enough just mustering the confidence to attend these things. But generally, once you’re in the door, you’re safe. People know without asking why you’re there and there’s mutual respect among the attendees just for showing up. I shouldn’t have to wear a sign around my neck saying that I’ve been doing this for over a decade and paid a fucking grand to be there to be entitled to that default level of respect, to not be assumed to be there merely as arm candy. Filling a conference with women who are not developers makes it that much fucking harder to be a female developer at that conference.

I told a friend how I felt about this and she pointed out that the SO track makes jsconf more family friendly, and allows men who might not otherwise be able to attend to come to the conference without leaving their wives/kids/girlfriends behind. My opinion is that if you want to be family friendly there are better ways to accomplish that. If you just want men to be able to bring their families, nothing fucking prevents them from doing that at any other conference. Their SOs can still go tour all over the city while they do their important man stuff, assuming they’re homemakers or otherwise in the position to take a week off to go chasing after their man while he pursues his professional interests.

I was really not trying to hate on the SO track but, bluntly, I do hate it. I hate that there’s a special place for women at this conference and it’s not in the seats watching the presentations. I hate that, as many times as I’ve had to jump the fence between what a woman is supposed to be doing and what I personally want to be doing, I come this much closer to my goal – as far as where I want to be and the kind of developer I want to be – to find that same fence erected again where I least expected it. I hate that the comfort and community involvement of wives and girlfriends is more important than the comfort and involvement of female developers because we are outnumbered. But I’ll try to quit ranting and actually say something productive.

the perfect couples’ getaway

Rather than offer free SO track tickets, it would be super cool if jsconf/nodeconf offered discounted tickets to the actual conference for significant others whose partners had already purchased regular price tickets. Don’t think anyone would use them? Maybe not, but then what the fuck are they doing at a JavaScript conference? You want a family vacation, take a fucking family vacation. You want to interact with the JavaScript community, go and fucking do that. If you want your girlfriend to interact with the JavaScript community, buy her a fucking ticket. I did actually meet someone on the SO track who was interested in front-end dev, so there. She was already a developer, just not working with JS. While I’m sure there were plenty of women on the SO track with no interest in dev, I’m betting there was more than one with the aptitude and motivation to have actually gotten something out of the conference itself.

In a pretend world where something like this would exist, it would be really awesome. Yeah, any woman who took advantage of it would have to get over the whole arm candy stigma, but it’s a lot easier to go to a conference if you know someone there. If that someone has to be a husband or a boyfriend, it’s better than nothing. We need more female developers so we don’t keep losing female developers due to the lack of female developers. As far as I’m concerned, anything that gets ’em in the door is rad.

what about the children

I had a really interesting conversation with a friend at jsconf about getting kids into development. I had another conversation with another friend about how daycare would be a lot more inclusive than an SO track. At some point these ideas merged and I began wondering why jsconf doesn’t have a kids track. There were certainly plenty of kids there. I guess you’re probably not supposed to take your kids out of school for a week so they can go to a JavaScript conference, but what if you could? What if young kids were learning how to make a simple webpage while their folks were learning about collision detection and unit testing? What if single parents could attend as easily as dudes with wives? What if people could trade a couple hours watching babies or teaching kids for a free jsconf ticket? I think that would be fucking awesome.

I guess this goes back to the big thing I don’t understand, which is why, if jsconf is supposed to be a family event, there aren’t family JavaScript activities. With the amount of talent present and given that offspring of developers are going to grow up around development anyway, it seems like a natural place to teach kids fun, simple development shit. It’d be like the best bring-your-kid-to-work-day ever.

the ladies’ room is called that for a reason

Nodeconf was a complete sausagefest, but I don’t want to pick on them too much. As far as I know, there are no famous women within that community. There weren’t any female speakers. With no female role models, you’re just not going to see many women getting involved. The ground has yet to truly be broken there, but that’s not the organizers’ faults. (Ahem. Ladies.) However, there was one fairly wrong thing that happened. To their credit, it was corrected almost immediately, but it still kind of blows my mind it even happened in the first place.

Developers – male and female – can sometimes be more logical than is healthy, and I assume that it was in the name of efficiency that the women’s bathroom was relabeled a unisex bathroom, with a single stall reserved for ladies only. Like I said, I think the sign was gone before the first talk had ended, but it’s important to know why this was uncool. There were totally way more men than the men’s room could accommodate and so few women in attendance that I only saw another person in the ladies’ room once. But the ladies’ room is the one thing that’s ours by default. We had to fight to be taken seriously as developers, fight to get good jobs and interesting projects, fight to overcome the fear that we’re not good enough.. we shouldn’t have to fight for a bathroom without boy-pee on the floors. I feel like seeking out more diverse participants is an endeavor best left to more mature communities than node’s. But that doesn’t mean you can reclaim resources already dedicated to diverse participants if you don’t see enough people using them. It’s always good to keep a women’s bathroom around and work toward the day when there’s a line out the door.

I am so tired of talking about this

Something you might not know about me: I write approximately one women in technology blog post per month. I usually don’t publish them. I get angry and then, by the time I’m halfway through writing, I’m sick of it. This one is going to make it cause I think the stuff about the significant others needs to be said and I don’t think anyone else agrees with me and is going to say it. The bathrooms thing shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently folks need a reminder sometimes.

There was one thing about the lunchtime presentation at jsconf that bugged me. It wasn’t the things being said, but the way they were said. It felt as if the presenters didn’t think of the women at the conference as their peers, as being exactly like them in every way but their sex. I’m scared to talk about this stuff. I’m scared to isolate myself, to always be part of some exclusive third party my male peers have to tiptoe around when mentioning us. I would rather be down in the mud listening to dick jokes and #twss than be part of a group that’s on some pedestal where no one can talk about us or to us without complete political correctness and unfailing reverence.

I think with a slight shift, the lunchtime presentation could have been fucking hilarious (while also a little tragic). If they’d brought up a close female friend they knew they could fuck around with instead of a guy as their first “guest”, there could have been some very funny teasing of the giant elephant in the room. I think. It made me wonder if those guys knew any of the female developers there well enough to fuck around with them on stage. The change in tone when they finally did bring a woman up made me feel like maybe not, or maybe they did know her well enough for that but were worried about what the audience would think.

I no longer think the scrutiny we apply to this issue is healthy. I’m actually having doubts about the All-Girl Hack Night, based on this week. I’m tremendously worried about mentioning the bathroom thing outside of an intentionally-not-hashtagged tweet, lest that too fucking end up on the geek feminism wiki. We need to be able to talk about this shit without fear of repercussion. That means men, too. We need to be able to make jokes about it. We need to do this so we can stop fucking discussing it.


30 Responses to “things that actually matter”

  1. Victoria Pickering Says:

    I was interested in reading your post, as one of the only females (actually, I didn’t see any others) at the first JSConf in 2009.
    As someone who is both female and twice the age of the average attendee, I remain amazed that such powerful technological advances are considered the almost-exclusive province of young males. Growing up in a much more sexist climate than today, it would have been a foolish luxury to focus on the sometimes negatives of being in a male environment rather than concentrating on getting into the center of what you want to do. Is it lack of interest, lack of knowledge, distaste for the environment, or intimidation that keeps young women out of conferences and many fields of technology?

  2. Ryan Corradini Says:

    I’m glad you published this piece, it needed to be said. I have a 13-year-old daughter who is absolutely in love with web design, and things like this make me think really hard about encouraging her. I think to be a female in our industry means having to have REALLY thick skin, because so many of us guys can be absolutely freaking clueless about things that in hindsight (like Aaron & Paul’s skit) are obvious problems.

    I really like the idea of a conference with a kids’ track, especially if scheduled in the middle of the summer, so school isn’t a concern. Sounds like a fine opportunity for some aspiring conference planner.

  3. Adam Backstrom Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. As an expectant dad who may have a girl on the way, I see my child’s future when I hear you speak of your own fears and frustrations. I appreciate the opportunity for a little reflection.

  4. Chris Says:

    “If you just want men to be able to bring their families, nothing fucking prevents them from doing that at any other conference.”

    Absolutely agree. Honestly I thought when I read your tweet about the Significant Others track that it was some sort of tongue-in-cheek joke. Very strange. I wasn’t there but was there anything redeeming about this idea at all? Anything that sets it above say touring the city by one’s self/with the kids or just having some time apart from your SO? Absence makes the heart grow fonder :)

    Thanks for posting this, the opinion is well put from your perspective.

  5. garann Says:

    @Victoria – I’d be curious to know, too. Speaking for myself, lack of confidence in my own abilities kept me from participating for a long time, and is still more or less what prevents me from e.g. jumping into an open source project.

    @Ryan – I think your encouragement would probably help your daughter develop that thick skin. :) But I want to say again that I don’t think the skit was a problem. I think it’s easy to talk about it as a problem because we’ve gotten used to reacting that way when people talk about women in tech without some certain level of humorlessness and hand-wringing, but I didn’t hear them say a single thing about women being bad developers, unwelcome, or anything negative. I think it’s easier to talk about than a well-intentioned program that may be making a small minority of women feel they actually are unwelcome. And I think that sucks.

    @Adam – I hope this has nothing to do with your kid’s future. Plenty worse has happened at tech conferences, and I think it’s great being able to assume that anything that makes me uncomfortable is just something that wasn’t considered from all angles, not something malicious. There are women who’ve actually had to contend with malicious shit, and I hope that’s becoming a lot less common in all tech communities.

    @Chris – I admit I still don’t totally understand why that track exists. But, you know, I also admit that jsconf is probably not a conference where I belonged in the first place. I’m not a library author, I don’t create dev tools, I don’t work in a JavaScript shop, I’m not a Ruby developer (zing!).. Maybe I don’t get it because jsconf just isn’t *for* me. But agreed about the absence makes the heart grow fonder angle. :)

  6. mde Says:

    Incredibly well said. Really glad to have people like you in the community.

  7. polotek Says:

    Let me start by saying that I agree with almost all of your points. There are a few I would debate, but not in the sense that you’re wrong. Just that there are multiple viewpoints.

    But here’s one issue I have. You say you’re not confident to participate more. But it seems you are more than confident enough to write a long blog post ripping apart the people who worked hard to put on this conference. In my mind, that is part of the problem. I would argue that this is part of the reason men walk on eggshells when women are around. You never know when you’re going to get blasted for something that you didn’t think was even an issue. Getting men to be more cognizant of the issues takes education. But you don’t educate people by yelling at them. In fact, that pretty much has the opposite effect.

    The fact is that the SO track was an awesome idea. I signed my girlfriend up for it and was going to surprise her if she could make it. Turns out she couldn’t, and when I told her about it, she was bummed. It sounded like an awesome trip to her. She likes to talk to me about tech stuff even though she doesn’t get a lot of it. She likes to meet other tech people and she would’ve loved an excuse to see Portland. But she wasn’t going to sit through a dozen sessions for a whole day. So having other activities planned and other people to hang out with would’ve been great. The alternative is her roaming around the city alone.

    I think your suggestions on trying some different incarnations of an alternate track are great too. But the way they were delivered was unnecessary and unfair. I get that this is a big issue. But there are also other issues that have nothing to do with bringing more women into tech. Let’s try to keep things in perspective while we work on all of them.

  8. garann Says:

    @mde – I don’t know that I’m actually in the community, but thanks. :)

    @polotek – I’m not ripping anyone apart. This is a criticism of the SO track, not the people who put it together. There’s not a doubt in my mind that they did so with the intent of making the community better. I don’t feel good about saying this in a blog post instead of to their faces, but I don’t know them and when I tried to talk to people about this at the conference I felt like I was upsetting people. Then I saw the geek feminism wiki and realized that people are going to say whatever the hell they’re going to say, and saying something doesn’t make it automatically true. This is open for debate. This is just my opinion. It’s an opinion from someone who won’t be back to jsconf (not because of this, but because I don’t think that, as an implementor, I belong there), so it’s not like the organizers even have to consider it. But it’s not unreasonable for me to be saying it.

    I’d dispute that your girlfriend’s excitement about the SO track is evidence of its awesomeness. Bluntly, I feel like as someone who writes JavaScript, was interested in the technical content of the conference, and paid to be there, I’m more entitled to be comfortable than she is to get a free vacation.

  9. polotek Says:

    “I’m more entitled to be comfortable than she is to get a free vacation”.

    I’d call that a pretty myopic view of things. It’s not a free vacation. It was paid for with conference funds. If you were a vegetarian you might feel slighted that there was so much bacon at the conference. The rest of us thought it was great. And also, those families and couples had to pay to fly or drive the SOs out there. Not insignificant depending on where you’re coming from.

    “This is a criticism of the SO track, not the people who put it together.”

    That doesn’t make any sense. The SO track was intentionally put together by the conference organizers as an amenity. It was an attempt to be inclusive of those people who have to deal with their husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend running off for days and having a good time without them. Those people do matter, because if they weren’t cool with this, then there are lots of people who wouldn’t get to participate.

    But no one is stopping you from participating. The fact is that those people who made you feel uncomfortable are to blame. Not the organizers, not the SO track, and not the majority of people at the conference I would imagine. Yes, it’s a problem. No, you shouldn’t have to deal with it. But I think your ire is directed at the wrong culprit. Killing the SO track will not make it easier for you. You’ll just have a different kind of awkward conversation when you run into those same close-minded people.

    Instead I would recommend that you find people who aren’t that way. Hang with them, and try to focus on having a good time at the conference. We would love to have you. I am NOT dismissing your concerns. But as a person who also has to deal with a certain amount of uncomfortable (I literally didn’t see one other black person at the conf), I think sometimes you have to push past that and make sure you get what you paid for. And then find a good way to educate people about what makes you uncomfortable. Name and shame those people if you have to. I guarantee the rest of us will help.

  10. garann Says:

    @polotek – I am actually a vegetarian, but I didn’t have a problem with all the bacon cause none of it said anything condescending to me. :)

    The people making me uncomfortable were from the SO track, or men whose SOs were participating in it. The discomfort came from comments made to me directly and things I overheard. That’s why I’m trying to make the point that good people can have bad ideas, or good ideas can backfire, cause that’s what seems to me to have happened. You’re right that it shouldn’t keep me from participating – it didn’t. It just made me feel bad, and I didn’t (and still don’t) think there’s any reason I should have to feel that way.

  11. Alex Sexton Says:

    Hey Garann,

    I (and other conf staff) appreciate the feedback. We are always interested in taking the feedback from the women who do come, and making their experience better. Nothing I say in this reply has been gone through by Chris or Laura or anyone else, so please only consider it my reply, and not representative of JSConf. I do, though, have the unique position of knowing you relatively well and having my nose in some staff stuff and planning (though I take no credit for the awesomeness, that’s all Chris and Laura and the people they surround themselves with).

    As a little bit of history around the SO Track, it was actually originally suggested by a female because she wanted to bring her family, not the other way around. The SO track was started because of direct feedback by attendees. I assure you that Chris and Laura would love to not have to worry about even more planning than a two-day tech conference. It was in reply to jsconf specifically not tailoring to families, and cries of exclusivity (that women with families were being left out). The argument that ‘no other conference does this’ is often used to the _credit_ of JSConf going out of it’s way to accomodate the attendees. The developers/attendees who assumed you were an SO seem like the sexist part of this equation, not the SO Track itself. I cannot speak for those who called the SO track ‘The Ladies’ but that is likely out of line. I doubt, unless they were talking about very specific ‘ladies’ (their SOs) that any staff member would condone calling the entire SO track that (hence it being called the SO track, to include everyone).

    The bathroom at nodeconf issue was actually the venue (or some rogue attendee, as we had no idea about it). As soon as the staff found out about it, it was immediately taken down. That was completely unacceptable, but it was not through sexism or any other naive programmer logic of the nodeconf organization that that happened.

    As for your suggestion that we subsidize tickets for women, jsconf actually tried that last year (via google) to huge cries of favoritism and sexism. The organization now tries do more generic things for encouraging more women, as to try not to offend anyone. One example would be the large donation that was made to education for young women in computing (announced during the opening keynote).

    I am not bringing any of this up to make excuses or say that jsconf is perfect, but it seems that anything the conference does, even at the suggestion of a women in order to fix some problem they have with how jsconf is treating women, causes someone to call the conference sexist. One female’s solution to the problem is another’s definition of the problem. (Think, how if SOs wer given ticket discounts, how many people would complain about how mostly uninterested non-developers were taking slots of real, interested developers, specifically women (read: this already happened)). Everyone involved in the jsconf organization understands how important the issue is, and more time is spent trying to get this aspect of the conference correct than any other area, easily. It’s by far the thing we discuss most, and we still have been unable to make everyone happy.

    Do you have any ideas (outside of the obvious: ‘dont let people on stage say sexist things’) on how we can make all women happy? A few of us specifically talked to other women about this at length during the conference, and the most substantial suggestions were to do things like donate to women in computing (we do already, they just didn’t see), or to do things that we’ve already been called sexist for (anything SO related, ticket give-aways, even-count of women talks, etc). If I may include myself, we’d love a win in this category, because it’s important to us. Chris and Laura run this conference together, and I have never seen two, more dedicated organizers with such a passion for doing things right and making the conference comfortable and productive for _everyone_.

    I would very honestly like a dialog, specifically as TXJS approaches, on how to make the best conference for women (or more specifically, an equal conference for men and women, that happens to be awesome).

  12. Laurie Says:

    One of the other women attending jsconf and nodeconf here. I agree with a good portion of your post (especially the “I am so tired of talking about this” section). I’m sorry I didn’t run into you during the conferences! ! I was lucky enough not to experience most of the SO-track-confusion at the conference itself, though the parties were frustratingly similar to what you described.

    I was in the rare position of also having an SO attend jsconf and nodconf on the non-SO track (we’re both software developers, though I’m less involved in the javascript community than he is) and sharing the conference experience was awesome! I highly suggest it for even the slightest tech-curious significant others.

    As far as the existence of the SO track: Some other conferences I’ve gone to have had SO tracks and some have not. In my experience, those with the SO track have actually been more pleasant — different (yes, family-friendly) vibe and you don’t have nearly as much “OMG, A girl! I will hit on you now!” icky, unprofessional stuff going on. Because they’re all assuming you’re an SO? Maybe. Still, I’d take that over the ick.

    Anyway, I can’t say enough how much I like the last section of your post. Thank you for blogging!

  13. garann Says:

    @Alex – Thanks for setting the record straight. If I’d known the back-story, obviously this would have been a completely different post, if it had happened at all. And I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions. Trust me when I say that I feel properly like a douchebag.

    Believe it or not, I don’t know either how you make all women happy. :) What I was trying to say above, before getting off on the SO track tangent, was that I think we need more humor in dealing with this, we need to be mocking it and laughing about it and diffusing all the ridiculous tension around it. I don’t know how a conference creates that kind of atmosphere, but I think it’s important that something sexist can happen and no one feels like it’s the end of the world, that it becomes a joke instead. But that’s just a gut feeling, and it’s all I’ve got.

    @Laurie – Thanks! It’s rad to hear another woman in favor of not talking about this. :) And thanks for the perspective on having a male SO at the conference. I guess there were a bunch on the SO track – I had no idea. I still saw a little of the ick, but you raise an interesting point. I’m not sure I’d make the same trade-off, but it’s a bonus I hadn’t even considered..

  14. Joshua Says:

    I don’t have a lot to add, I just think it’s awesome that you wrote this. (Not awesome that it happened, but …) From what I can tell, it’s seems to me like you belong there just as much as anybody else.

    @Alex: You can’t make all *anybodies* happy. It’s impossible. I get the feeling you’re letting “perfect” hold you back from “better”?

  15. mikeal Says:

    Hi, I’m Mikeal Rogers, I was the curator/organizer of NodeConf.

    I think there are some good criticisms/takeaways and the comments here have been pretty productive. But, I thought that I could give a little perspective on why I did a few things and what the intended goals are.

    The entire purpose of NodeConf is to build community. You can learn about all the projects and the content of the talks by reading the internet. You can also talk to almost all the speakers regularly on IRC. The point of having a sizable in-person destination conference was to bring people together and connect about this thing that we all love and build a stronger community.

    I’ve been working in open source for a long time now. The greatest thing about being part of that has been building deep personal relationships with the people and work that I do. Community is about people, not about code or companies. Enriching the community enriches everyone’s lives, personal and professional. This is a serious passion of mine that you can see through a lot of the organizing I’ve done previously (CouchCamp, oak.js, jsBBQ), but this is the first event I’ve ever done at this scale (and I owe it to Chris Williams that the whole thing didn’t come crashing down on me).

    The intention of the SO track is to build a greater community. We **want** people to bring their families. My fiance organized the SO track for NodeConf and did a tremendous job. I wish more people would have made it. Shout out to Tim Caswell for bringing his whole family **everywhere**, it’s great!

    Just like we’re trying to reduce the barrier to women attending in many ways, the SO track is there to reduce the barrier to people showing up with their whole lives not just their work lives. People in this community leave jobs and even travel to different states or countries but those of us who are in the community continue to see them and talk to them every day because the community is about more than just a company or a job.

    The SO track is not the “ladie’s track”, if someone says that just punch them in the face for me. There is nothing “girlie” on the SO track, in fact I was jealous that I had to run a conference instead of doing a culinary walking tour and getting some cocktails (two favorite things are food and drink, code is a close third).

    At jsBBQ the fact that other women were attending (because they were significant others) actually helped me get a few of the female engineers I knew to the event. The first question a lot of them had was “will I be the only female” and I could say “no, my fiance, and this developer and that developers wife/gf will all be there” and the thing is, because we have a healthy community here they already all know each other at this point.

    It’s really easy to criticize a conference for low female attendance because the numbers are almost always there. But I really think that anyone who cares about this issue and is a female engineer should organize a local meetup or a conference because handling these issues is not simple. The best thing to have is women who are connected to the community helping to organize and run the conference. If you’ve ever attended Open Source Bridge you know how powerful it is to have strong female leadership running the conference. Whenever I have questions about what to do to encourage female participation I bug Selena Deckelman (who is probably annoyed with me at this point).

    The suggestions you hear a lot (invite a minimum number of female speakers, subsidized tickets) are met with a lot of criticism when implemented, in particular by frequent female attendees. Calling out females at a conference distances them from the rest of the attendees. I don’t know the best way to fix this, none of us really do. Other than “have Selena run your conference” I don’t know the best strategy but we are trying.

    I think that the best thing we can do is make this not about the technology and more about the community. When everyone comes as a real person and not as a spokesperson it reduces the barrier for everyone to come, including women. At least that’s been my experience. And I personally will take all the help I can from anyone, especially women, who want to help organize community events. And if you organize something, feel free to hit me up for help and I’ll be more than happy.


    Huge apology for the bathroom thing. I don’t know how it happened but once I found out it was immediately taken down and I apologized to the person I saw tweet about it. I’d like to apologize to anyone else who felt uncomfortable as well, it shouldn’t have happened and I acted as quickly as I could.

  16. Alex Sexton Says:

    @Joshua Fair. s/everybody/as many people as possible/ig – How do you get the feeling that ‘perfect’ is holding me back from ‘better.’ While it’s clever, I don’t think it accurately reflects _anything_ I relayed in the above post. The entire comment talks about how tirelessly people have worked to become better at this stuff over time. It’s entirely about how much of a feedback loop that we have tried to create to maximize the experience for everyone – at the cost of no one.

    My question at the end is nearly rhetorical. While I’d love to know how to please everyone, I was pointing out that there isn’t a solution that anyone has found. So if every path is wrong, should we just not have conferences? How can a conference organizer win? If no one knows how, how could you fault them for doing their best? It’s a tiring ordeal, and Chris and Laura do it for the community, not for profit. (I’m not implying that Garann has any beef with Chris and Laura, but it’s still incredibly disheartening to them that someone felt the way she does about the conference.)

    I think it comes down to people – not to the conference, why any sub-group would feel singled out. Perhaps a beginning of conference talk that’s straight and to the point. “Stop taking everything so seriously. Don’t be a huge jerk. Be inclusive. Don’t assume women don’t belong here. Let’s be adults.” – however, I think Chris tried that too.

  17. Updates on geek conferences and sexism | Erik Pukinskis, Snowed In Says:

    […] Means wrote a great post about her experiences at JSConf and them being tainted by sexist bullshit. Amongst other things, […]

  18. Luigi Montanez Says:

    There was a kids track at RubyConf last November:

    Put together by RailsBridge:

  19. jess jacobs Says:

    I totally hear you on this one. From being overlooked and underpaid to that awful feeling that despite efforts and qualifications, there’s still some marginalization. I’ve worked on teams where a co-architect has basically ignored everything I’ve said simply because I’m a “silly woman”, whimsical, perhaps, when nothing is farther from the truth. I am focused, meditative individual with deep knowledge across the web platform.

    I think often the most innocuous of jokes, labels, groupings, or processes end up being the most insidious. Something that, in the eyes of one person (a male) seems like a great joke opportunity, and it’s ok for them to say it because “duh! everyone knows I/the community don’t/doesn’t really feel this way! it’s just funny!” but funny things still reinforce cultural norms and attitudes. It’s no more okay to say “so easy a woman could do it *snicker*” than it is to say “that’s gay *snicker*”. Even if you have woman and gay friends! MAYBE if we’re all at a comedy show… but even then, there’s a fine line.

  20. garann Says:

    @Mikeal – Actually, I am a female engineer who organizes a local meetup. It’s all women, all developers, and I’m still not making everybody happy. Please don’t think (also Alex) I’ve got any illusions that this is easy, or even solvable.

    The community aspect of jsconf/nodeconf is something I’m just now fully grasping. I’d been *told* beforehand, and I obviously saw it in action while at the conferences, but it’s only over the last couple days that I’ve seen the big picture. I don’t know why. The focus on community instead of exclusively on dry, non-offensive technical material seems to me incredibly brave and dangerous. If I go to a conference and I see a talk and I don’t find it perfectly applicable to what I’m doing, bfd. If I go to a conference and feel like I’m not really part of the community.. well, then you get long shitty blog posts. People are all different and, like Alex says, impossible to please. Props to the organizers of both conferences for taking on the challenge of focusing on those people instead of just code.

    People can wonderful and they can also be jerks. They sometimes make nasty comments to you, tweet stupid things about the caterers busting their asses to keep them in bacon, and write ill-informed and hurtful things about you on the internet. I have to disagree that it’s better if people aren’t spokespersons. When it comes to communities, maybe what’s needed is to drill it into their heads that they ARE spokespeople, for their community. Or, analogy that makes more sense to me, neighbors. That they can’t just sit on their porches throwing rocks, that they have a responsibility to take care of the neighborhood.

    Alex says this has already been tried, but maybe it’s worth it to keep trying? Maybe there’s some way to kick the conference off with the idea that you are not ALLOWED to hide behind your twitter account/blog/husband, that if there’s something you want or need from your community, you’re accountable along with everyone else until you find some constructive way of changing it. I probably needed to be told that. I would have liked it if certain other attendees had been told that. Most likely it’s due to my own thickness that I’ve only now realized it, but there’s nothing wrong with setting that expectation early and in no uncertain terms. Unless of course it ends up offending someone else..

  21. Elise Worthy Says:

    As a non-programmer who is voraciously devoted to learning programming (Ruby in particular) and getting others as excited as I am, I would love to see a novice track at an upcoming conference. I think this would serve many purposes, including 1) having talks that are interesting to SOs, 2) bringing a greater diversity of people to the conference, including more women, 3) creating an inclusive community that breaks down feelings of inadequacy that I have heard female devs often talk about, 4) inspiring even more people to learn to program. Please do this! I will help.

  22. Heather Says:

    I was one of the girls attending NodeConf. I really feel you about the uncertainty about attending conferences. I found myself telling people that “my company had an extra ticket” as an excuse for being there. After hanging around awhile I found that there were several guys there that had used node less than me. If I were a guy, I don’t even think I’d care if I were qualified or not, because I wouldn’t be representing an entire gender. Anyways, very welcoming people and constant reassurance helps, I’m not sure how to fix that problem, but I do feel you.

    As far as the SO track, I was pretty happy about it. Having girls at the after events made me all the more comfortable and eased the atmosphere for me. It was also a great opportunity to make (maybe unsuccessful) node pitches to unsuspecting SOs.

  23. garann Says:

    @Luigi – That’s very cool! Did you have kids attend/do you know how it went?

    @jess – Respectfully, I disagree. It would be a fair accusation to say I rely on humor too much, instead of being comfortable being serious about things, but I truly from the bottom of my heart feel like we need MORE jokes. Even when they don’t come across well, even when the motivation is misunderstood. The truth is, the “women in tech” issue is painful stuff to think about and deal with. It’s had me crying in the shower on more than one occasion. I think being able to laugh about it and make fun of ourselves for crying in our showers is a necessary part of being able to talk about it more openly, and maybe hopefully someday figure out how to put it all behind us.

    @Elise – I totally agree that beginner-level talks and trainings are crucial to increasing diversity. But having read the accounts of all the things jsconf has tried in the past, my gut feeling is that a beginner’s track at the same conference would also backfire. Replace the assumption that a given woman is someone’s date with the assumption that she’s brand new to JS, etc. :/ However, I think it’s worth noting that while jsconf’s talks were all pretty advanced level stuff, there were pieces in many of them that would have been relevant to a novice. I’m basically a node novice, but I still learned a ton at nodeconf (even though some of the most hardcore server stuff didn’t resonate). I think novices need to know they’re welcome, and that’s one of those things people can tell you a zillion times but you never really learn until you get brave and buy the ticket. :)

    @Heather – That seems to be the consensus, about the SO track. It’s good to know that my reaction to it isn’t representative of all women. :) It’s awesome that you were going around trying to get SOs into node! I hope some of them do actually start playing with it.

  24. Elise Worthy Says:

    :( Bummer you think so. When we threw RailsBridge Seattle, which is marketed as a totally novice workshop, we had women with 7+ years of programming experience sign up. They hadn’t hacked on Rails, though, so technically they were Rails novices. But we also had people that had never opened terminal.

    It was fun. Experts taught beginners. Beginners taught experts. Everyone learned a heck of a lot.

    On the flip side, when I go to programming conferences as a total n00b, I actually do feel welcome, but I get absolutely lost in the code. I do learn a little bit, but a lot of the talks go _way_ over my head. I’ve been to about half of a dozen of them, for context.

    In terms of other people labeling – yeah, some people will, because they’re boneheads and don’t know any better – but over time, it will change. It’s not a reason not to do it.

  25. Amy Says:

    You realize that, by complaining that the SO track was all women and babies, you are actually taking issue with the choices of those women? You are angry that you are a statistical outlier… and the gender-neutral SO track made you one. Because all those women weren’t programmers. And they had babies! The nerve.

    I recently made a long post about the lessons I’ve learned, and I think you ought to read #1 (because you remind me of me a few years ago):

    Your whole post is simply ridiculous, and hurtful to the conf organizers, who do a great thing — and have absolutely no control over the fact that no women devs brought their men as “SOs.”

  26. garann Says:

    @Elise – RailsBridge sounds like a really cool and effective way to introduce people to a language. Glad that it went so well! My concern was whether having something similar alongside a more advanced track would make people feel weird. But, geez, ignore what I think. Recent events demonstrate pretty clearly that I do *not* have my finger on the pulse of the JS dev community. If you think it’s something that could work out and be an asset, maybe it’s worth exploring. :)

    @Amy – Yep, you got it. I’m taking issue with the choices of certain of those women to be at a developer conference if they’re not going to be nice to the female devs, or for that matter anyone else who (wait for it) made different choices with their lives. Point #1 in your post says I’m going to die, BTW. Fair point, but I’d think that *everyone* would remind you of yourself in that way.

    @anyone else who cares – I know that this post was hurtful to the organizers, and, sincerely, I apologize. There are gentler and more constructive ways to say what I said. I was upset, and it shows in the snarky comments and the digs that ended up derailing what might have been a useful outside perspective. I went off half-cocked, made a lot of assumptions, and I’m sorry for making people feel bad right after they’d gotten done with two massive and already stressful productions.

  27. Amy Says:

    I meant #21. That was a typo. 21 applies to your situation directly:

    21. Be yourself on your own terms

    Don’t compare yourself to other people. No, really, I mean it. Don’t identify with any labels, or traits, or habits, or tools, or things you do — and take careful note when you find yourself doing so automatically, anyway.

    It took me years to embrace being a woman. You know why? Because I believed in the label, despite hating it. I believed that “woman” actually meant something… and then I’d look around at all the girls and women I knew, and the way they behaved and what they valued, and I’d feel embarrassed to be “one of them”. Or, if not embarrassed, just terribly out of place, because I couldn’t identify with them or understand them at all.

    But you know what? Turns out the label doesn’t mean a damn thing. There is no such thing as Women, The Group. It’s just a bunch of people who have the same anatomy (mostly) and some shared traits (sometimes). By buying into the label, I was not only alienating myself, but insulting & denigrating other women for not living up to my idea of what it should mean. What a total ego trip!

    So now, every time I see some kind of “holy war” rage on the internet (whether it’s about gender, politics, industry acronyms, or programming styles), or a rift form in a real life community, I thank my lucky stars that I’ve given up the job of defining & judging the world.

  28. garann Says:

    @Amy – I figured that was what you meant. It’s an easy platitude to tell people that they shouldn’t let other people bother them and should just be themselves. It’s a lot harder to practice. Sometimes people will come up to you and be dicks to you because they perceive your choices to be an indictment of their own. If you’re perfectly in control of this tendency and your reactions to it, congratulations.

  29. Buck Says:

    polotek said: “Getting men to be more cognizant of the issues takes education. But you don’t educate people by yelling at them. In fact, that pretty much has the opposite effect.”

    This is the tone argument. I see, @garann, that you’ve apologised for your tone, but I don’t know that that was necessary. See Derailing for Dummies:

    The sum of your experiences led to the frustration that produced your post. A lifetime of oppression makes one build up significant pressure, and eventually something will make it burst.

    It’s not the responsibility of members of an oppressed group to hold the hands of members of a powerful group to educate them. Instead, members of a powerful group (men, in this case) should educate themselves if they actually care about being decent.

    Came here via a link from @steveklabnik to a later post, just reading back a bit. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  30. Buck Says:

    Umm, I meant to say something in there that OF COURSE you can apologise if you feel like it! But that one in your situation doesn’t have to, and people should be careful when they find themselves making the tone argument.