[NetBehaviour] Questions, Not Answers, Regarding the Post-#PyCon 2013 Fallout

mez breeze netwurker at gmail.com
Mon Mar 25 00:13:28 CET 2013


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
<http://blog.playhaven.com/addressing-pycon/>employee for making
alleged offensive
comments <https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5398681> at the Python
Developer Conference (PyCon
2013<http://pycon.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/pycon-response-to-inappropriate.html>)
while in earshot of Adria Richards, a SendGrid Employee. Richards
tweeted<https://twitter.com/adriarichards/status/313417655879102464>about
the incident and complained to PyCon organisers, resulting in Alex
Reid <http://www.linkedin.com/in/microwavedboy> and
“mr-hank”<https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=mr-hank>(the fired
PlayHaven employee) being knuckle-rapped over the incident.
Subsequently, Richards herself has been
fired<http://blog.sendgrid.com/sendgrid-statement/>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 <http://blog.sendgrid.com/a-difficult-situation/>.

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<http://butyoureagirl.com/14015/forking-and-dongle-jokes-dont-belong-at-tech-conferences/>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 <https://twitter.com/adriarichards/status/312265091791847425>),
   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<http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/08/26/faq-what-is-the-%E2%80%9Cmale-gaze%E2%80%9D/>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) also in play?
   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?

*[Originally posted at GeekGirl
Oz<http://geekgirl.com.au/blog/2013/03/22/questions-answers-post-pycon-2013-fallout/>
]*

-- 
| http://mezbreeze.com/
| http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mez_Breeze
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