WordCamps for Women?

Women in WordPress, Safety Officers and the Peanut Gallery

January 9th: I read and comment on this article about WordCamps and Women in WordPress.  Are these women serious?  I mean… come on…

January 10th: I read and comment on this article which basically rolls their eyes at that earlier article. Frankly, I’ve seen things go THE OTHER direction at WordCamps where women have behaved so bad – the glaring hypocrisy is too much for me.

I can’t stand the, “Women as Victims” mentality. It is a sore spot with me & one of the MAIN REASONS I dropped out of THIS pre-law program in the late 90’s where I would have studied under Sarah Weddington. If you know Roe v. Wade, Ms. Weddington won that case. I’m super sensitive to the issues women face – but I have no tolerance for victimizing women. My take on things is definitely different from 99% of the women I know. I believe in the sovereignty of personhood. I’m less about gender and more about that.

Anyway, I voice my opinion over both blogs and leave it at that. I’m also old enough to know that these sorts of discussions are for people other than myself. I’d rather sleep… or get caught up on a book I’m reading or go Twittering. I dislike conflict all the way around – I’ve done the activist thing. I’m tired. :)

Then: WordCamp Phoenix Happened

Here’s the Play by Play from Jan 16-18th:

Solid One Icon #126269Thursday afternoon, I arrive and check into the hotel. I run into a fellow WordPresser I’ve not seen in a while.  We chit-chat and then, for whatever reason – he ends our conversation – about parenting – with: “I can tell you are a woman who leaves a lot of men wanting.”  Me: “Um…(awkward laughter) ok…wow.” No worries, really. I consider him a professional friend. It was weird, but I know him – so its really just banter and it didn’t bother me…too much.  Male 1, Incident 1. 

Clear Number Two Icon #126256Friday morning conversation with some of the leaders in the community. They ask, “What is your take on Women of WordPress issues? We’re just curious.”   Me, “Honestly? I think it’s blown out of proportion. We’re all adults. We don’t need babysitting.”

This truly is sincerely how I felt:  the activist women should really get a grip.

Solid Three Icon #126272Professional based conversation on the floor Friday afternoon, with a male colleague. He randomly says in the middle of the conversation, “I really love your necklace, it’s beautiful.”  This was SO far off base from what we were talking about that it took me a minute to switch gears. We were discussing something WordPress-based. Not personal at all. My response: “Um, ok, ah…(check which one it is) … yeah, thanks.”  I cringe, a little, internally, when I realize he hasn’t been listening to ANYTHING we’ve been talking about. Waste of time. Moving on.  Male 2, Incident 2.

Solid Four Icon #126273Friday after-hours conversation about the need for a code of conductbecause of this “womanizing” that allegedly goes on at WordCamp conferences. The conversation is heated – and truth be told – I started it. I was making fun of the safety officers topic. Heated conversation turns to comedic situation and we all end the discussion near tears from laughing so hard. Yeah. You just had to be there. It was epic fun.

I end up talking, for a quite a while – and after most everyone else leaves – with a male peer. (actually Male #2 referenced above.) We have a great conversation … but… then it seems to turn in a direction I wasn’t quite expecting. I don’t remember all the details, but I do clearly remember him expressing to me that he thinks adults should be free to enjoy each other’s bodies with no strings attached – if that’s what THEY want to do.  I’m not thinking anything of it except, “Uh…nope… don’t agree…but whatever dude – to each his own!” and I let him rattle on about whatever.  There’s a few other people at the table and one female peer is pretty darn drunk – I specifically stayed to make sure  she gets back to her hotel room ok.  It’s 2am in Phoenix…I’m not worried about Male #2 taking advantage of drunk friend. But I’m not about to leave her at the bar alone. Hello, this isn’t rocket science.

However, much to my chagrin, this casual – questionable? – conversation ends in an unsolicited offer to hook up. I decline. Kind of taken  back, I call John and tell him all the juicy details. “Did I misread something?” He educated me on what it means when men are “fishing” for a hookup. We laugh it off. (Well, John’s not really amused.) 

Clear Number Five Icon #126259Saturday rolls around and I wake up thinking about all the different conversations from Friday. I kind of didn’t want to go Saturday. I wanted to sleep in, maybe do some shopping. The Phoenix Art Walk was happening and I really wanted to check that out. But Paul and Taylor were talking Saturday and I really wanted to be there for that. Plus WPEngine was rolling out Drad Cast T-shirts!  (Someone told me the night before about this little gem of awesomeness) and I really wanted to get a t-shirt for John.

Lucinda Six Icon #126284I mosey over to the venue and of course Male #2 was there. Because I am confident, and like to make people squirm a bit, I made eye contact with him, smiled, and greeted him with a friendly hello EVERY chance I got. It was kind of amusing watching him avoid me. He was uncomfortable. Good.

Solid Seven Icon #126276The day is going better. Then…professional conversation with Male #3 happens. He cuts me off mid-sentence and says, “You have the most beautiful color eyes.”  I’m again surprised by this and respond with, “Um… thanks?? I’ve been…working on that color for a while??”  In good news, another man overhears this and quickly turns around to remind Male #3, “…you’re married. Cut it out. You’re crossing a line.”  He tries to defend himself but is called out on it again. End of story. Dude now avoids me the rest of the afternoon. Awkward… but… innocent enough. Right? I guess….

I blow this all off…I’m a big girl. I can handle myself. And, really, all I have to do is completely avoid Male #1, 2 and 3 and I’m golden! But the truth is, these weren’t no-names in the community. They are all kind of important people…and avoiding them was starting to kind of interfere with my Saturday. But, it was all innocent enough….right?  I call John for some emotional reinforcement and I actually said, “I really wish I wasn’t here alone.” :/

Lucinda Eight Icon #126286After lunch chat on Saturday with Andrea Middleton about WHY there is this “Women in WordPress” issue –  I’m STILL not getting it. I consider myself a fairly objective person. (Stop laughing.) She discusses. I can start to see the situation from a more global point of view, but still have the “eh…” attitude. I tell her I was propositioned. She wants to know by whom. I refuse to disclose. I don’t really trust women anymore than I trust men. People’s motives are always unclear…

Clear Number Nine Icon #126263Saturday after-WordCamp party. Tell the funny story about getting propositioned for a hookup to some others whom I trust. I disclose who it is. No one is surprised. Actually there are rumors about him and some of his friends… There’s a “reputation.” :/ Disappointing…


As Lema says, I’m “Done, done.” with all of this.

I walk back to my hotel room Saturday night, feeling really out-of-place and the following stream of consciousness takes place: 

  • I definitely won’t come to a WordCamp again without John.
  • I guess I shouldn’t have smiled so much.
  • Next time I’ll definitely guard myself around these guys.
  • Maybe I shouldn’t have been so interactive.
  • Did I give off the wrong impression?
  • Really wish I had John here to run interference.
  • I’m not attending Sunday. This so exhausting. I just don’t want to deal with it.
  • Kind of an expensive trip to get blown b/c of all this. I was really looking forward to Sunday – now it’s a little too awkward. I feel like I blew $1500 for… what. WordCamp Stickers?
  • I’m not sure I want to come to a big event again. It’s just a lot of money to spend for all this. And traveling with John = twice the expense. I can just google all the WordCamp topics. Stick to local events.
  • I’ll spend the extra money to book it out of here in the morning. I wonder how early of a flight I can get back to Texas.
  • I sure wish John was here. If he were here this probably wouldn’t have all gone this way.
  • Wow Male #3 asked me to help him with something WordPress-y. But… why me? Because he thinks I’m actually helpful…or …  yeah… I’m not going to follow up on that. Disappointing missed opportunity…
  • I hope I don’t see hook-up boy anytime soon…so awkward now.
  • And God – seriously – I’ve never experienced so much peer pressure to get drunk than at WordCamps. Worse than high school!
  • I wish we weren’t always having casual networking in bars and loud party-venues. It’s really exhausting and … the smoke…the beer… the liquor… eh.
  • Next time I’ll just not introduce myself to the men I don’t know and stick a little closer to the women.
  • Next time I’ll have John stick close by so I’m not like – out there alone.
  • Sort of stupid that in 2014 I want my man with me I’m “protected.”  That’s so lame.
  • You know it’d be so awesome if we had a Women of WordCamp Day where it was just females only.



WTF did I just say??

I literally stopped dead in my tracks in the courtyard of the hotel.

Think about my conversation with Andrea Middleton.

A Paradigm Shift 

You know what? This is wrong. This is not how I should feel at the end of a WordCamp where I just landed a kick-ass job! (True story.) And where I had just spent $1500 on airfare, travel, hotel, registration, etc – and left John and kids at home – to come to WordCamp Phoenix. And on top of that….after talking to a few people, I find out the the offending parties are actually kind of known for this?? Creating a reputation for themselves – and ruining it for everyone?

This is NOT OK.

I expect to get hit on at the grocery store.

I expect some of the normal male/female banter (to some degree) when we’re at bars drinking. Professional or not. But …. you know what?  I think I agree with Andrea & Co. I actually don’t think I should HAVE to expect this. The standard needs to be raised.

I’m a VERY confident person. A very confident woman. And I  know that’s an automatic attraction for some men. It’s human nature. But there are a handful of guys ruining it for everyone and maybe they do need to be kicked out. OR at the very least – educated about how their behaviour really does affect women.

And you know what else? What about the other women who aren’t as confident as I am. Who don’t have the balls to speak up? Who don’t have the fortitude to rise past it? Who aren’t well connected, who are starting out…  What about women who attend a WordCamp and this is their FIRST introduction to the community? My entire career in WordPress started at WordCamp Austin, 2013. WordCamp Phoenix  2014 = me joining forces with WebDevStudios. But you know what? Had I experienced THIS in Austin…I wouldn’t have even bothered with WordPress.

It’s not ok.

It’s just not.

Oh, and Sarah Gooding, I owe you an apology.

 IMPORTANT Post Script:

I’ve let several peers read this as I ruminated on whether or not to post this entry. Both male and female. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s with much trepidation that I share this story. But I hope it helps to open up a conversation that I really do believe should be had. Women deserve better. And – quite frankly – MEN deserve better. I’ve attended WordCamp Austin – never had a problem. I went to WordCamp San Francisco, had a super great time – no problems. I spoke at WordCamp Denver – was treated with the utmost respect by everyone there.  I attend WordCamp Phoenix – solo – and BAM. What the heck?!?

Let’s raise the standard for everyone. Only the utmost professionalism at WordCamps. Save your personal pursuits for Twitter and Facebook and off-the -record events. WordCamps aren’t JUST community events. It’s work. And this kind of behaviour – by even just a handful – is starting to taint what I think is one of the MOST supportive and encouraging environments for women in tech today.

Thanks for reading.

Be kind to one another in the comments.


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65 thoughts on “WordCamps for Women?

  1. Pingback: Dr. Vincent Malfitano

  2. Sarah,
    Although I’ve just stumbled in here, never having been to a camp, I have read almost every word, fascinated by your writing style. Such a complicated subject, and, as you put it, such tossing around, so well-done, is very enlightening reading.
    I must say you are right; it does happen everywhere. Everywhere I go, I find the same thing. And it will always be on a low simmer. But it is possible to put a lid on it and it is right to try.
    Thank you, for this labor of yours. Women everywhere, not just at camps, need this.
    Oh, and I loved your comment to the guy at the grocery store.

  3. OMG, Sarah! I was just writing an article about women in open source and came over here to make a link to you. I had no idea any of this was going on!

    So glad I saw this, because my article had a tongue-in-cheek section about needing to make tech more sexy. It was headed from the other direction on the issue. I was wishing we had more geeky male sex symbols in our lives, but you made me realize that line of thought is probably just as inappropriate as what you describe here coming from men toward women.

    I have always felt uncomfortable complaining about gender issues, just as you described, because I’ve never felt like a victim. I totally get that, and I really LIKE men. I think you do too. But it’s refreshing to see someone have an experience that proves them wrong, and be willing to admit it.

    Thanks for your honesty-

    • I really was hesitant to post anything. I spent a week or so mulling it over. And it’s been taken out of context, it’s been thrown to every extreme, it’s made some headways, stirred some water – so that’s good.

      What I find interesting is that we are so quick to cast stones at the men for their purposeful or thoughtless actions, but reticent to call ourselves out in our own hypocrisy. I see this in the WordPress community at large and it’s disheartening.

      In fact, I’ve just had a male leader in the WordPress economy contact me today to tell me that HE was harassed at an event. He was hit on and propositioned for sex. Even though SHE knew he was happily married man with a family at home. Granted, he also said she was drunk – but never the less….there it is.

      Women cannot have it both ways. If we want to be taken seriously, we have to behave in a way that commands respect and never apologize for that. BUT we also have a responsibility to the community to not perpetrate against them, the very situations we are speaking out against.

      I read an article this week about a women’s only coworking space. The women were tired of dealing with this level of harrassment – passive aggressive – but present. So they created a workspace just for them. Kudos to them. Except – the entire article they refer to men as “jerks” and it just hits me the wrong way.

      Do they even know the full connotation of that word?

      They want respect for being female, but show no respect for their male **perceived** adversaries.

      I don’t think ANY of the situations I encountered were meant to be harmful. Perhaps even the suggestion for a hookup was a compliment. I don’t know. The point of the article wasn’t “oooh, look what he did/said.” It was – “Oh. Crap. This IS an issue.”

      *shrugs shoulders*

      Maybe something good will come out of it.

      Also – thank you for linking me in that awesome write up you did. I’d like to reblog it here, actually!

  4. Pingback: January 2014 - AITP Region 18 CommuniGram

  5. Pingback: Grow Up: WordCamps, Drinking, And What May Come — Brandon Kraft

  6. It’s disappointing that the WordPress (and tech industry in general) conventions are like this. You said it correctly, it’s work, not a singles bar or high school. And some of the offenders are people with some clout? And people wonder why no one (men or women) speak up and call this behavior out?

    We need to grow up as an industry. Either that or we’re not any better than other skeevy industries that we say we are above.

    Thanks for your objective account of WCP.

    • John,

      Sorry I’ve been late in responding. I think this happens everywhere. I wish it didn’t – and I kind of wish I wasn’t aware of it. But I am and I think I’ll be able to navigate it at the next WordCamp. Because it will be there. Put a handful of humans in a room and signals are gonna get mixed up.

      What I think it comes down to is professionalism. There’s really no other excuse. It’s not a man v woman thing. It’s about respect, it’s about common courtesy and empathy for one another, it’s about humanity.

      It makes me equally sad to hear that men have been dealing with WordPress women throwing themselves at the male leaders/community members almost as much as I’ve heard about the guys making inappropriate commentary and hook up requests.

      Adults are messy humans.

  7. Carol,

    Thank you for patiently dealing with my mocking of the safety officer situation. :) I’m glad you chimed in about this. It was all in good clean fun – and we were all in tears from laughing so hard!

    Prior to my changing positions on this, I did think the conversation was important but you know – as I expressed to you – I just CANNOT support something that will ostracize men for the sake of women. That’s just as awful as women being hit on constantly… people deserve respect, regardless of gender. My wanting for a respective place to grow a career cannot supersede the same for men.

    Perhaps it’s a lofty goal.

    Perhaps it’s unreal.

    But – I agree – it’s a conversation that should be had.

    Thanks again for everything – you’re amazing!

    • Sarah,

      I am so sorry you felt this way during WordCamp Phx. Had I of known, I would hope our actions would have make things turn out differently for you after the event. I take very seriously that everyone feel safe and comfortable to attend these events, we’re all here to learn, that’s the objective.

      For many of us, our interest in WordPress is linked to our professional lives, and I would think that people who attend these events could appreciate this and act professionally. I’m not saying it’s not possible to strike up a love (or strictly sexual) connection at a WordCamp (some have), but that really shouldn’t be on your “goals” for camp. Especially hitting on people who are in a happy monogamous relationship, that’s REALLY not a good way to show professionalism. :(

      The compliments and flirting are a hard thing to monitor. This is a really slippery slope, I hear quite a bit of sexual innuendo and flirting going on at WordCamps and at other tech events like SXSW (some know it as a geek spring break). Who’s to say how much of this is wanted and appreciated and how much of it is an issue with the two sexes not being able to communicate in a way that doesn’t come down to sex or a sexual comment at some point. I myself have been known to have a lewd sense of humor that some may not appreciate, if I were to ever be approached by anyone who took what I said in offense, I would apologize immediately and make sure that I watched my behavior for any slip ups. I would think that anyone else would do the same, but if not, I think we have the community culture to take a stand and say that repeated unwanted behavior is unexceptable.

      I think that any good culture and community should be able to self-regulate (this includes both the issues of inappropriate comments and substance abuse). This really comes down to the person who has experienced something uncomfortable saying something to either the person who made them feel uncomfortable or in some way to come forward through other safe channels so it can dealt with appropriately. The person who said something that made you uncomfortable should know that they did so. Then they can either correct their actions, or if they don’t stop, then it needs to be escalated to the point where other people can know that this person doesn’t conduct themselves in a manner which our community sees fit. Compliments are great, and I don’t want everyone who wants to pay someone a compliment feeling like they can’t, so it’s really on the shoulders of the offended party to come forward and let them know when the other person’s advances or actions aren’t appreciated.

      As a fellow woman in tech industry for the last 15 years, who shows up regularly unattended, I completely understand your spirit of independence and I also usually haven’t “gotten on the bandwagon” with the whole need to sexually segregate tech industry meetups. Honestly, we’re better together as a society if men and women can work next to one another to create the solutions to solve the worlds toughest problems. To do that, we have to be honest about our feelings about the actions of others and speak up when we’re not comfortable, and if we feel like we can’t do more alone, we get others who support us involved.

      I hope you know that it’s not our intention at all to make anyone feel unwelcome or unsafe, that’s why we took so seriously the safety and accessibility position (suggested by the national community) and made it public during our event so if someone experienced anything like this we could address it. Please let me, Carol, or Andrea know if there’s anything we can do to help you come to a better place about interactions that occurred at our event with other participants. Coming forward is the first step, it really sucks that a few jerks made you feel unsafe without John by your side. :( You should feel safe and confident by yourself getting your learn on! :) We’re here to support you as you need it. :)

  8. Nickie,

    Thank you for the kind words. I think really highly of you and Rob even though I’ve only met you in person once! Even still, I think of you both as friends and appreciate the support here.

    There’s a conversation within the community that has already been started. Happy to encourage it to continue!


  9. This really stinks that this has happened to you. I am the same type of confident person and typically dismiss those types of comments. The men who do this need to realize that WordCamps are not a college frat party but a joining and collection of great WordPress minds and topics. We are there to better each other, not hit on each other. If there are any WordCamps around the Illinois area that you are wanting to go to hit me up! Women are more powerful in numbers. Do not let their actions sway you on doing something you genuinely enjoy. Unfortunately, there will always be bad apples no matter where you go. Hopefully, more of these types of people will be turned in and become banned from the WordCamps. We do not need them ruining it for everyone.

    • Michele,

      Thanks so much!

      I agree – it does stink! And I’m the same way: generally blow all this off. And I’m not sure I would have even posted about this – had Sarah Gooding not posted her commentary on WPTavern a few weeks ago. It really wasn’t until I got to the last statement in the bullet points where I thought, “BULLSHIT!”

      I think as the conversation takes root and grows, this behaviour will be SO blatantly obvious that I hope it prompts us all to behave better. For ourselves. For those around us.

  10. Exactly, KLM. Though I suspect that a couple people I’m aware of that have trouble keeping their hands to themselves after a few drinks may not think that their behavior is affecting their targets negatively, it absolutely is. Sexual harassment is about power dynamics as much as anything else, so when the harasser has what’s perceived to be greater social capital than their target, standing up feels like an impossible task. I look forward to policies being in place at future events and support staff being in place.

    • “Sexual harassment is about power dynamics as much as anything else, so when the harasser has what’s perceived to be greater social capital than their target, standing up feels like an impossible task.”

      That’s an extremely cogent point that bears repeating.

      • Thanks, Mike. I think it’s important to keep it in mind when we’re discussing reports of harassment. A lot of people, men and women alike, are quick to dismiss someone who has experienced harassment because the accused is handsome and doesn’t need force to get what he wants, or has a beautiful wife so why would he stray…etc. It’s not about sex. It’s about power.

  11. Oooh, I totally agree, Sarah W, and so I think my “WordCamp is not an appropriate watering hole” metaphor was misused. Event to come and have a few drinks and network in comfortable social settings — yes. Event to use the convenience of a gathering of people to find your next sexual conquest — no.

  12. Seth, not every compliment given to a woman is taken as an attempt to get her into bed. It’s all about context – in this case, interrupting a professional exchange to pile on the meaningless compliments about someone’s appearance. The subtext there is “I’ve just been pretending to be interested in talking to you about professional things as though you have anything of value or meaning to contribute.” An exchange like “Oh hey, I’m Seth, that is a rad necklace by the way. So what do you do?” would not be seen as creepin’.

    That said, I think it’s awesome that you want to make future WCPHX’s a more awesome experience for all women. However, I think getting “drinking is unacceptable at WordCamps” from this story is a bit reductive.

  13. Pingback: Sexual Harassment at WordCamps | Ian Dunn

  14. Pingback: People are People, Not a Gender | Beka RiceBeka Rice

  15. 1) There’s a difference between “impaired” and “drunk.” A single beer is enough to get most people to the “impaired judgment” stage, though they will deny it.
    2) I was writing my comment at the same time you were making your first statement that no one was drunk, so hadn’t seen it.
    3) I’d’ve made the comment much earlier, except the page kept cutting off the “submit” button, so it took me 4 attempts. Max page height somewhere?

  16. I’m a married professional woman that enjoys going to more and more WordCamps each year. I’ve attended on my own, but mostly with my husband, who the community knows is a pretty big deal to me. So getting hit on outright isn’t much of a concern for me in particular these days, but I recognize each of the dynamics Sarah outlines here.

    Including her realization that calling out this behavior risks some unintended reaction from the men in the community where they may — give less compliments — share less heartfelt hearty hugs — make less bawdy jokes (around women) — have less deep conversations with women that may naturally delve into sexual-social issues — and they may include women less in sidebar or after-party or after-after-party situations less.

    And they may hit on women (or men) less.

    To the last point, I can’t second Chris Lema’s more (in his post today) — Everyone’s watching you; you represent yourself, your company, and this community; be an adult, figure out your intoxicant tolerance and intake less than that limit.

    And for the sake of the ongoing growth, health, and integrity of this community, keep in mind the ancient axiom… “Thou shouldst not defecate proximate to where thou dost procure thy sustenance.”

    I have no idea who you’re referring to here, Sarah, but yes, there are a few that (in some cases after many drinks past the “fun” line) exhibited similar behavior with me as you describe here. But it did not escalate to harassment (i.e. no means no); it was probably only flirting, at the worst testing the waters. I’m not offended, not uncomfortable, and it’s easy for me at 41 to laugh it off or laugh directly at it, take what can be taken as a compliment as such, and give them the pity hug or look that says — let’s agree this moment does not equal the whole of you.

    If I’d ever had do deal with a no-means-no situation (which I have many times in the past pre-WC), I have no problem reminding the person they’re being a pathetic asshole, (if necessary) that I’m confidently trained in Kenpo (no weapons needed) Karate, and calling any alarm necessary beyond that.

    But no, I certainly wouldn’t want to see that person again. And I would be horrified and feel powerless if it turned out that in the future this person became a vendor, vendor partner, or even closer colleague, to my company — which in this community is definitely a possibility. Which means I will go out of my way (barring name publication) to make sure everyone I know knows you are that kind of person.

    (See me at any WordCamp about no-means-no harassment that has not yet been maturely apologized for and resolved, that you’ve experienced personally, and you will see the power of community self-policing.)

    Hooking up between consenting adults is fantastic (IMHO / good for you). Please have the respect for yourself and the women who attend these conferences as professional people to make these kinds of connections when you’re sober so you can be absolutely sure of the nature of the rapport. Or best — broach intimate connection in another time and place other than a WordCamp. Please?

    While I support each of my colleagues’ and friends’ (male and female) right to seek pleasure, joy, or even just distraction in sex — call me uptight, WordCamp is not an appropriate watering hole.

    If we can get that out of the picture, then the compliments, the bawdy jokes, the (welcome) heartfelt affectionate hugs, the multi-gender sidebars and social gatherings, and the intense conversations that can deepen evolving friendships between men and women who happen to meet professionally and (**YOU NEVER KNOW**) may end up working together in the future too, can continue unfettered.

    • Kari,

      Thank you so much for this!! It means a lot to know my friends understand where I’m coming from and have my back. It is hard to distinguish what is ok and what isn’t with regards to all of this. It’s too hard to nit-pick the actions and say if something was unethical or not.

      I think, for me, the most telling part was my reaction to it all. That surprised me. That’s why I felt compelled to share. The whole situation completely changed my previously narrow understanding of it all.

      I completely agree – WordCamp is not the place for meandering around the proverbial “watering hole.”

  17. I absolutely agree with Troy. Wordcamp Phoenix was the first I have ever attended. Knowing that this kind of nonsense was happening behind he scenes puts a damper on attending events.

    Sorry this happened to you and thank you for being vocal about this, Sarah. It’ll help bring more awareness.

    • Bringing more awareness – that’s all I really want to see happen. People will be people. Regardless of what tech event they are at. :)

      To that end – I will say that 99% of WCPHX was PURE AWESOMENESS. It was frustrating that these different situations made it not worth sticking around for….

  18. Thanks for posting this Sarah. I hope your experience combined with your status in the community will help shed some light on this issue and quell some of the “are we infantilizing women” criticisms which as you’ve clearly exemplified are not valid.

    The tragic part of this is that what you experienced at a WordCamp is what many women experience on a daily basis in their professional and personal lives. Unwanted advances, sexist attitudes, flat out harassment. The fact that women have to take this into account when attending events or even interacting with men is depressing.

    I worked as the “Discrimination Contact” (essentially Safety Officer) at my university years ago. The stories I was presented with, from women, people of color, the LGBT community, even those older or younger than the norm, were terrifying. That discriminatory, sexist, and abusive attitudes existed in a community of highly educated and well intentioned people was a rude awakening but in hindsight I realize I was just naiive. Discrimination is all around us. We have just trained ourselves to ignore it. That has to stop.

    When the position of Discrimination Contact was created it was heavily criticized as being anti-women, anti-men, infantilizing, unnecessary, destructive, you name it. After holding the position for a single year I can tell you it was both necessary and inadequate. While the position gave students a person to talk to and bring up their concerns, there was often little I could do for them other than listen and help them file a formal complaint. In a professional setting like a university there are guidelines for accepted behavior and how to handle complaints. Not so with communities and community events like WordCamp. But there can be.

    I drew two conclusions from my year in that office:

    1. Having a Safety Officer is vital for any diverse community. Even if the position is there only as a person to talk to or to document complaints it is a vital role that needs to be present.
    2. Addressing harassment in all forms is not about infantilizing or protecting or diminishing the worth of women / people of color / etc. It’s about making the community and its members more empathic.

    These issues cannot be solved with a crackdown or policing. This will do nothing but cause indignation and opposition. What’s needed is education and empathy training. More often than not the people that step over the line are not aware they are doing so. They are mimicking observed behavior, taking on established gender / race / sexual roles, or simply acting without considering how their behavior impacts others. By being more aware of your actions and how they are perceived and interpreted by others in a social and historical context we can all improve and discriminatory behavior can be reduced dramatically.

    It all starts by talking about it and that’s what you have done.

    • This is an amazing comment. Thank you for taking the time to share all of that. It’s nice to have someone who knows, and can share his experience and wisdom, with our community. I think we’ve hit a growth pain – it’s time to grow past it.

  19. People who have too much to drink–which is usually far less than they think it is–have impaired judgment. They lose the internal censor which would keep them from saying everything that pops into their heads. I always avoided parties when attending conferences alone, and I don’t have that much fun at them when I’m with my husband, because most of them are too loud for conversation.

    The incidents during the day, though relatively minor, make me wonder whether people actually understand what’s appropriate in a professional context. It’s not that a man can never compliment a woman on her clothes or jewelry–but in the middle of a conversation about code, it does make it sound like he’s not listening, which is rude even if it’s not sexist.

    On the other hand, a married man flirting with a married woman–unless he’s over 80 and they both know it’s a joke–is never appropriate.

    • Again, in every situation (including after after party at San Tan) neither myself nor the other party mentioned was drunk.

      Re: commentary at the event … I do really think it’s a matter of educating ourselves on how out casual conversations can make others feel.

  20. Sarah, Thank you for posting this publicly. I’m disappointed that this ruined your WCPHX experience (and that it even happened in the first place) but truly thankful that you were willing to share this experience to help move the conversation on appropriate behavior forward.

    I agree with Josh that it’s about raising the bar and being thoughtful about what you say to others. In my opinion it’s not just about how people handle themselves at the parties while drinking – some people seem to want to focus on that. A couple of the incidents seem to have happened during the day, at the event. Not acceptable.

    • In not one of my personal encounters was anyone drunk.

      This is not a drinking issue, IMO. I think it’s 1) lack of awareness and 2) an unsavory character or two whose reputation is preceding him. Not something anyone should have to deal with.

    • I wanted to write a better comment – I was jotting off quickly earlier b/c you were the first person to note that these were not drunk people situations. These were just inappropriate situations.

      I think it’s important to talk about them – and open the dialogue. We all need sensitivity training and learning to be empathetic towards one another. I personally don’t want to ostracize men or women. But as professional peers, we shouldn’t have to be fielding all this at our community events – which are not **just** friends hanging out together. It’s a professional event.

  21. Yeah, that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable, anywhere, in my opinion. Support seems to be growing for WordCamps for Women, but I don’t think that’s the right answer to the problem. Partition of the WordPress Community would take away one of its greatest strengths: that’s it’s for everybody. It’s not just for men and it’s not just for women.

    That’s why I think you hit on the perfect solution, Sarah: raising the bar. We’ve gotta stay professional.

    • Josh,

      Thanks for posting. I agree – I mean we really can’t police humanity. We can raise the bar. For ourselves. We can each make the choice to:

      -not get wasted at a professional event
      -not make untoward remarks about and/or to others
      -remember that we represent a community – not just ourselves
      -strive towards personal integrity

  22. First things first, I appreciate not only the fact that you told the story, but also that you apologized to Sarah Gooding. It isn’t common that people will actually change their views on things anymore. I can fall victim to that myself.

    Now to the issue at hand: since I quit drinking years before my first WordCamp, I haven’t fallen into the “drunken mistake” group, nor have I made random comments to a woman (or anyone) about appearances in the middle of a professional conversation. Maybe that’s just me. But it doesn’t surprise me that others do that. It’s sad, but something I’ve seen at pretty much every event, WP or not. Should those offenders be called out? Not sure. I’m sure they’d either claim too much booze or deny all together. But I’d sure as hell back channel that info to other women. If that’s their M.O., then it’ll become public soon enough.

    Point being, please don’t let this permanently taint your WordCamp experience. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be ogled and commented at all the time (well, I can, but for different reasons) but there is far more good than bad.

    • Norcross,

      I appreciate your support.

      Re: “…random comments to a woman (or anyone) about appearances in the middle of a professional conversation…something I’ve seen at pretty much every event, WP or not…” I was, until WCPHX, honestly unaware and that really limited my ability to understand what the other women have been talking about. I’m thankful for a change in perspective.

      And I completely 100% agree re: far more good than bad. I need to write up a post about all the amazing things that DID happen at WCPHX. That’s my “morning after” post. LOL

  23. Pingback: This one time, at WordCamp... (my take on drinking & harassment)

  24. Wow, I’m still a little shocked and set back. I didn’t see anything like this happen at the event. I’m pretty sure were were at the same bar Friday, vaguely remembering the conversations you describe, think you joined us after we had already sat down for a bit. Mostly though I just wish you would have said something sooner, so as not to have let the rest of your trip be ruined. As an organizer I feel responsible for what happens at my events.

    In reference to your statement about peer pressure on drinking… this is a vacation for most of the people I know. Most of us, enjoy drinking. Some of my friends don’t drink at all, I don’t remember twisting anyone’s arm to get them to drink. This is happening to you? For me, its an end of year’s planning “god i need a drink”. Not understanding how this came to play in your review.

    After reading all of this I now worry, every compliment I give a girl, she is gonna think I’m trying to get her in bed? (ummm no) Its unprofessional to compliment somebody of the opposite sex at WordCamp? Drinking is unacceptable at WordCamps? Where would you suggest we hangout after the party besides a bar at 11PM? I would assume your talking more about issues at the “after parties” then the actual parties themselves? I’m not trying to belittle how you feel, just trying to understand exactly what we are trying to protect against next year. Makes me sad, WordCamp Phoenix wasn’t awesome for you. Unacceptable.

    • Seth, imo, you just touched on the very unfortunate thing about this whole scenario and that is your trepidation now to even give a compliment to someone of the opposite sex. What if Sarah was wearing a very cool necklace and maybe it is a color that you know your wife would love, and Valentine’s Day is around the corner… That scenario – NOT INAPPROPRIATE AT ALL. But the fear to not engage in general human conversations is really sad. Because that line can be so fuzzy, I don’t have an answer. I also think that such a complient alone may not have raised the flag, it was the series of happenings that make said comments suspect.

      • It really wasn’t one comment …one situation… one questionable remark. It was the sum of it all. By the end of Saturday night I was tired of playing defense. Or was it offense? I don’t know – I’m not a sports person. The point is not what each individual situation represented… but for me – the telling point was my internal response to all of it.

        I wasn’t expecting it.

        I am thankful for it though – never stop learning, listening and growing. We can all evolve into better human beings. So, let’s just do that!

    • Seth,

      I really appreciate the empathy. I really would have said something sooner, had I really recognized and internalized what was happening. It was just the sum of it all, really. One comment wouldn’t have bothered me. But to have been fielding that all day long – it just got exhausting. I just wanted to get home.

      Re: drinking. People can do what they want. I don’t expect people to NOT drink at a wordcamp – or other social gathering. What I was taken aback with was the pressure for me to imbibe. I like micro-brewed beer – usually dark – usually a nutty brown, maybe even a dark porter depending on the mood. I prefer them to be raw – not homogenized – love a good hoppy brew. It’s a treat! And after a long day, I love a nice cold pint to help me wind down. But… that’s at home or in small social gatherings. For me, personally, I don’t imbibe at work events. Especially not alone.

      Frankly, I don’t really care if people drink. But if I say “no thanks” there’s a reason why. If I was a recovering alcoholic I’d have been given a high five! But I’m not. I just don’t do the social drinking thing anymore. The responses I got: “I’ll buy! Let WPEngine pick up the tab! Automattic is paying! (Owner) can buy your drink. Lema’s getting the tab. Etc.” It wasn’t about money, y’all. I can buy a $3 pint. Although let me say this – thank you to Torque Mag, Drew Jaynes, and a few others who bought me a drink here and there. Also, now you know why – for the most part – they were left at the table almost full. :)

      But yes, on more than one occassion I said, “No, thank you, really I mean it – I am good with water.” I had to defend my reason for not drinking. Why? I’m almost 38. If I don’t want to drink – who cares? I’m not judging YOU for drinking – I just really don’t drink socially.

      RE: the rest of your comments:

      After reading all of this I now worry, every compliment I give a girl, she is gonna think I’m trying to get her in bed? (ummm no)

      Understood. And it’s why I was hesitant to really post this at all. I do not think it’s fair that men have to be MORE on guard b/c of a few dudes who are making poor choices in the community.

      Its unprofessional to compliment somebody of the opposite sex at WordCamp?
      Put it in context. But frankly – yes. Comments about my jewelry and eye color? Honestly .. yes – no real reason to mention them. :/

      Drinking is unacceptable at WordCamps?
      A stream of conscious… not a list of conduct standards. Please put it in context.

      Where would you suggest we hangout after the party besides a bar at 11PM?
      I honestly don’t care. I’d prefer something less rowdy than a bar though. My throat was so sore from yelling at peers from Thursday night through Sat. night that I really couldn’t even talk for a few days. That also is exhausting.

      I would assume your talking more about issues at the “after parties” then the actual parties themselves?
      Well the drinking occurs from the time people arrive till the last night of, day of whatever. Again, this whole post was not about drinking.

      • I’m very cautious to comment on these types of things because I feel no matter what anyone says there’s too great a chance of saying something innocent in a manner than triggers someone’s hot button and causes something to escalate out of control, especially since I’m male. But I feel compelled to ask a question here because I’m still struggling to understand the offense made by male #2 and male #3. (Note, there is obviously context I am not privy to, i.e. that they males were known for predatory behavior, but that wasn’t known by you at first so for purposes of discussion I’m hoping to set that aside for my help in understanding.)

        I have deep blue eyes and I am constantly getting compliments on my blue eyes, usually from women (I guess hetero men just don’t notice other men’s eyes, of if they do they don’t dare mention it for fear of having to forfeit their “guy card!”) Anyway, maybe I’m obliviously but 99% of the time I don’t perceive these compliments as “hitting on me” but instead that they have just noticed my eyes are especially blue and thought it would be gracious to pay me a compliment. And I can’t remember when I haven’t appreciated the compliment.

        So the idea that I might compliment a female whose eyes I find noticeable and attractive would be taken as harassment dumbfounds me. If that is the case I’ve probably unknowingly “harassed” tens of women in my lifetime. Is complimenting eye color really that bad? If so, please help me understand why?

        Moving to jewelry, I’m also taken aback that complimenting a woman’s jewelry (as an act taken on it’s own) would ever be considered harassment. Google’s definition of “jewelry” is “personal ornaments” and their definition of a “ornament” is “thing used to make something look more attractive” so I believe (prior to reading your post) that I subconsciously assume anyone wearing jewelry is doing so that look more attractive (though not necessarily in a sexual manner) and thus would generally appreciate a compliment, but without any intent of a sexual advance on the complimenter’s part. Please help me understand how a compliment of jewelry would so easily be viewed as harassment?

        Now I’m going to guess that there may have been an unspoken yet sensed undercurrents of sexual advance in these “compliments”, and if that’s the case I completely understand. I’m really hoping that innocent compliments are not reasonably interpreted as harassment because if they are I’m just going to have to crawl into my shell and stop interacting with women for fear I might inadvertently “harass” them with a completely innocent interaction.

        Note that my self-image is that in the professional world I view woman as just as capable as men, and in most cases, more capable. And I think I’ve proven that because I ran a company from 1994-2006 with 43 employees at peak and 3 out of 4 top level people in the company (besides me) were women, and one of them (director of sales) was the highest paid person in the company, more so even than me (as President/CEO), and she joined the company 3 years earlier making 1/3rd her per compensation. Further I’m currently planning to launch a startup and my co-founder is a woman.

        Socially, I also believe that I’m highly respectful of women. Professionally I’m extremely confident but socially I always fee awkward, especially related to the opposite sex, i.e. I can talk to a women all day long about business or coding but I’m far less likely to make an advance on a woman I’m attracted to because I fear she might not feel the same. So much so that my women friends tell me I’ve been oblivious to what they have said are “obvious signals” that a women has been interested in me.

        And I would *never* “hit on” a woman who I know to be married because beside it being both wrong and likely to offend I would never want to be the source of guilt for a woman if she were to say yes to me. Finally, as I’m still single I don’t think I’m in the same “gross” category as a married man hitting on a woman; if I were to hit on a woman it would be because I was truly interested in her as a person with the potential to form a longer term relationship not because i wanted to “hook up.” (I lost interest in “one night stands” many years ago because of the potential ongoing complications and awkwardness, and after-the-fact emptiness such encounters can generate.)

        So with all those aspects of my personality revealed bare, I’m truly trying to understand how behavior I could only have ever envisioned to be as innocent and gracious could ever be conceived as harassment. Please help me understand because I never want to be “that guy.”

        P.S. Yes, I completely agree that guy #1’s compliment was crossing over into “ick” territory, and anyone ever telling someone “You know you want it” after they have stated no interest is completely over the line.

        • The difference between the interactions you describe about women saying they like your eyes and what Sarah described in her piece is power dynamics, Mike. I think I mentioned it already in another comment to someone else, but let’s say he mentioned her jewelry at the beginning of the conversation if he genuinely liked it. That would be like “Hey, I’m _____, and by the way nice earrings.” Seems like an innocent way to make conversation.

          But, to interrupt the flow of a more professional conversation with a frivolous comment on jewelry is dismissive at best. The subtext there is, “I’ve engaged you in professional conversation because it’s expected of me, but really I’m not listening to a word you say and I’m just trying to get through this.” That act of interruption communicates that this is not a woman that has anything of any import to add to a professional discussion. THAT is why it’s a big deal.

          As a general note, and this really isn’t directed entirely or solely at you Mike, I really wish we could discuss a report of inappropriate behavior towards a woman as a community and really as a society without it devolving into hand-wringing over whether a man can talk to or compliment a woman at all without it coming across as harassment, or whether a man can pick up a woman at a bar without it being sexual assault. I get that there are issues of subtext and implications that are perhaps more keenly felt by women and may not be immediately apparent to men. But with all due respect, guys, this report is not about you and your behavior.

          • Thanks Sarah for taking the time to elaborate your view on this and providing an explanation of why this might be viewed negatively.

            > But, to interrupt the flow of a more professional conversation with a frivolous comment on jewelry is dismissive at best.

            But let me pose an alternate situation. Let’s say a male knows of a female’s professional contributions, let’s say from a presentation or a blog post and sees the woman and approaches her to discuss professional topics because he is truly interested in her professional opinion and insight. During that conversation the guy notices jewelry or eye color that he hadn’t noticed when he first approached the woman and, at a break in conversation he makes a compliment about that which he noticed.

            Here the man definitely believes the woman has something of import to add professionally, and fro a 3rd party observer the same exact scenario occurred, but was the man in this scenario being unprofessional? Is any compliment that occurs after the initial greeting interpreted by a woman as something other than a compliment? In this specific scenario would it not be a case of mis-perception on the woman’s part instead? Is it not the case that the man does not receive the benefit of doubt, guilty unless proven innocent?

            Again, my interest is understand so as not to ever be “that guy” so I’m asking to ensure that when trying to eradicate bad behavior we don’t fall prey to perceiving innocent behavior is bad.

            > I really wish we could discuss a report of inappropriate behavior towards a woman as a community and really as a society without it devolving into hand-wringing over whether a man can talk to or compliment a woman at all without it coming across as harassment, or whether a man can pick up a woman at a bar without it being sexual assault.

            Unfortunately when people make public comment about “inappropriate behavior” and call for it to be addressed it opens up questions in the mind of everyone in the category mentioned as to whether they perhaps were inadvertently being offensive or not, especially when the mentioned behavior could be intended by the person behaving is completely innocent. So I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to call to a halting of a set of behaviors and also to expect that those in the group mentioned as the guilty ones not be introspective to question of whether or not their innocent individual behavior has been or will be perceived negatively.

            • If coming across as professional and not as “that guy” is important, I’d say why fret over when it’s appropriate to compliment a woman’s appearance and just not comment on it at all? I mean, not like anyone, male or female, ever walks away from a professional encounter and says “I guess that person is smart but what the hell, my eyes rule and s/he said NOTHING about them.” I truly and genuinely do not understand why we are fretting collectively over how and when to compliment someone’s appearance in a professional setting. I tell my friends they look nice all the time, regardless of whether we’re at a bar or a meetup or a WordCamp….but they’re my friends, and we’ve established a certain rapport.

              • If coming across as professional and not as “that guy” is important, I’d say why fret over when it’s appropriate to compliment a woman’s appearance and just not comment on it at all?

                That’s probably exactly what I’m going to do, especially at a WordCamp. But I think sanitizing human interactions to that level simply extracts too much of the humanity out and makes life overly sterile, and in that I will mourn the loss.

                  • That’s not the point. Rather than interact with women as I always have, as another human who I can enjoy interactions with and respect based on their abilities and their character this post and dialog makes me feel like if I’m interacting with woman at WordCamp I will have to constantly monitor everything I say, not for whether it’s appropriate but for whether there’s some small chance something benign I might say would be taken as harassment. Think of it like speaking a foreign language in which I’m not fluent, I will constantly need to interpret every single interaction. That’s not the atmosphere that makes for a good gathering of people, social or professional. BTW, if any women who know me face-to-face personally are reading this, please comment to whether you think I’ve even been inappropriate around woman as far as you’ve witnessed.

                    • Mike:

                      I get that you’re a big deal in the WP community, but there’s a lot of stuff in your comments that seems to reflect the blind spot that our community has.

                      WordCamps and industry conferences are a professional setting. I think many people do see it the same way as they would working in an office. While men may see what they are saying as “compliments”, they may be completely unsolicited and unwelcome, therefore making situations awkward and uncomfortable.

                      —> “Here the man definitely believes the woman has something of import to add professionally, and fro a 3rd party observer the same exact scenario occurred, but was the man in this scenario being unprofessional? Is any compliment that occurs after the initial greeting interpreted by a woman as something other than a compliment? In this specific scenario would it not be a case of mis-perception on the woman’s part instead? Is it not the case that the man does not receive the benefit of doubt, guilty unless proven innocent?” <—

                      If your *boss* was a woman, would you tell here she has pretty eyes? What if you have a client who is a woman? I'm pretty sure you would not be telling here she has pretty eyes.

                      Yes, nothing my be meant by these comments, but they are not appropriate in a professional setting.

                      Here's an analogy to put it in perspective: Would you be 100% comfortable if a *man* you were speaking with at a WordCamp all of a sudden told you you have pretty eyes? Or would you find that unprofessional behavior?

                      Men in the web industry need to realize how they make women feel when they drop unsolicited *compliments* on their female colleagues. Men need to stop acting like they are the victims in the scenario, because they actually have to watch what they say to women. Step back and analyze it from a fresh perspective before going on the defense.

                    • @John Locke:

                      I wrote a long reply, but then decided to throw it away write a shorter one.

                      I get that you’re a big deal in the WP community…

                      Point of note, I don’t think I am. 20% of the web uses WordPress, I’m just another person who uses WP professionally. I in no way want my comments to be viewed as “Mike (thinks he) is a big deal.” I’m not. (P.S. Cult-of-personalities really turn me off, and I especially don’t want to be the center of one either.) Judge me by what I write and what I do, not by who I am.

                      WordCamps and industry conferences are a professional setting. I think many people do see it the same way as they would working in an office. While men may see what they are saying as “compliments”, they may be completely unsolicited and unwelcome, therefore making situations awkward and uncomfortable.

                      This is a book that influenced how I behave around others. From this post and comments I could envision people being made “uncomfortable” by the things Dale Carnegie tells you to do to win friends and influence people. I commented simple because I think the standard that this post and some of the comments establish create a catch-22 for people who have nothing but the best of intentions.

                      Men need to stop acting like they are the victims in the scenario, because they actually have to watch what they say to women.

                      Let’s be clear, nowhere did I say I was “the victim” here. I shouldn’t have stepped into this, because this is a heated topic where messengers are attacked. I am an INTP with a high “T” on the Meyer’s Briggs scale with which means I want to rationally discuss issues with hopes to find a best path. But that’s a mistake here so I’m going to do my best to back away from this thread moving forward.

        • Mike,

          I am genuinely touched by your comment/questions. You put a lot of thought and time into the comment above – but I think we are on the same page.

          I care about my peers, deeply. I may not know all of you on a personal level, but I would never want something I say or do to have a negative impact on you in anyway. That’s why I was hesitant to post this report anyway.

          What happened to me has happened to men at WordCamps, too.

          I wonder if – by the very nature of our open, caring and inclusive atmosphere – we are cultivating a genuinely warm and inviting vibe within the community.

          The VERY LAST THING any of the sane women that I know, and have spoken to, want to alienate their male peers and colleagues. We don’t want you to walk on eggshells around us – we just want you to be respectful.

          There’s a LOT of context I left out of the report, because the report was about MY experience at the event, my shift in perspective… not what he did when, why, where or how.

          Oddly, I found Male #1’s interraction to be the least of all my concerns. Like I said, I consider him a friend and KNOW that he was not trying to hook up with me. Does he need to maybe learn when to kind of keep weird comments like that to himself? Yeah. He probably does. That’s ok – we’ve all said really stupid things. I’m not burning him at the stake over it.

          Guy #2 with the necklace and then the situation at the bar (in which neither of us were even drinking) – just awkward. All the way around. And there’s so much more to the story.

          But again – it wasn’t about what he did necessarily … but my gut reaction to it – which surprised even me.

          Guy #3. Out of line. Sorry. He was out of line. And it’s made things a little awkward. Nope, you have no business complimenting a woman on her eye color at a professional gathering. Nope. You just don’t. Sorry. Reign that one in.

          Imagine – we are at a conference. I don’t really know you – but I know who you are. You don’t really know me. We’re talking about plugins or whatever. And I stop you – mid sentence – and say, “Wow, Mike, you have such a nice strong jawline. It’s … very nice.” or “I really like your dark, thick eyebrows. The spacing between them is just perfect.” Or “My, what broad shoulders you have…I just had to tell you how nicely they frame out your torso.”

          Can you imagine?! It’d be a hilarious skit to put on at a WordCamp re: awkward social scenarios.

          If you’re a normal human being – you’re going to say thank you for the compliment … . and then spend the rest of the day/night wondering about what I meant by all that. And who knows what I meant. And you know what – it doesn’t matter – it’s inapprorpiriate.

          Let me tell you another story.

          There was a super cute guy at the WordCamp. A couple of us 30-something moms were like, “Oh he’s totes adorbs! I couldn’t hardly say hi to him at dinner … have you seen his eyes!? They’re amazing. Wow great coloring too – yep – he’s hot.” OMG YES women talk like this. But I would NEVER — EVER — even approach him for conversation. I already know that my thoughts are a little bit out of line. I’ve voiced them to my girlfriend who has also said, “Yeah, I noticed him too. He has great hair!” Sometimes there’s this beautiful piece of human creation that you can’t help but notice. Frankly, I don’t think I fall into that category – which is why writing this report is weird to me. But I digress. Humans appreciate beauty. I believe it’s in the core of our being – to seek out beauty … a muse… the arts… so on. And if I were a statue in The Louvre, I guess I’d be OK with the constant compliments or critiques.

          But I’m not, I’m a human. Who gets complimented on my eyes ALL THE TIME. Usually by guys who are fishing for a hook up. So random men who throw that comment at me have no idea that I’ve got 38 yrs of people complimenting me on my eye color and the track record isn’t great. I’m on alert because women have been trained to BE on alert.

          But I’d like to not be. I’d like to think all the compliments and commentary is innocent. From what I’ve heard back – privately – since posting this report … it seems it’s not. It seems it’s actually a problem.

          I think it’s time for WordCamps to grow up a little.

  25. OK… This is absolutely terrible, Sarah.I really do wish, for the sake of you and WordPress in general, that this experience had never happened.

    WordCamps need people like you there, and you need to be there! The fact that this experience has changed your views on perhaps attending them with or without John in the future is quite sad (although I do hope he comes with you to San Francisco again, as I found talking to him to be really awesome).

    I can only say I’m saddened by it.It’s not much, nor enough, but it’s all I really have besides pledging that if I ever see any of this going on in the future, to you or anyone else, male or female, I’ll do my best to stop it.

    • Sometimes it isn’t realized until after the fact. Like here. I think I was just a bit out of touch about the reality of all this.

      When I worked at the grocery store, I expected – and was prepared – for dealing with idiotic men. I’ll never EVER forget the man who said, “Is that wedding ring real?” Um… yeah. He said, “Oh I was hoping it was a fake.” I told him – and I quote – “Even if it were fake, I would have lied to you. Have a nice day. Here’s your groceries.” He walked off… then came back and – I KID YOU NOT – gave me a salvation tract… you know a little booklet that would lead me to Heaven if I’d just read it. Of course it had his number attached to it…how convenient. :/

      True story: that little nugget of awesomeness went on the bulletin board in our breakroom with a note that said, “If you want to get saved and/or date a creeper… give this guy a ring.” HAHA

      I expect that when working at a grocery store, managing the front end checkers and making $10/hr.

      I didn’t expect to deal with it at WordCamp when I’m there to interview for a professional level job and to network/catch up with some of my colleagues. I was really just caught off guard the whole weekend. It wasn’t 100% horrible – but eventually it all got to be just too much.

  26. Thanks for sharing your experience Sarah and I’m sorry a few jerks ruined your WordCamp. I can attest that this kind of behaviour also makes it hard for the rest of us men who have honourable intentions and a genuine interest in networking and learning from others, regardless of gender. Years ago I once had a female colleague tell me at a conference after -party (not in the WordPress community) that “all you men are the same and just want sex” before abruptly ending our conversation to return to her girlfriends and giggle.

    And of course if you say anything like “it’s okay I’m taken” or “I don’t want to shag you I’d just like to talk about that awesome plugin of yours” in an effort to put someone at ease, there is instant awkwardness.

    I have been smitten with people before at WordCamp social functions and enjoyed chatting for hours and then quietly taken the admiration I have for them away with me without them ever knowing.

    Perhaps in the spirit of open-source you should name these douche-bags.

    I know you won’t and I understand why, but that would be one way to make sure people put their brain into gear before letting their testosterone control their mouth.

    Please keep attending WordCamps. They are valuable events and are richer for you being there. Keep your head up high and keep kicking ass. The douche-bags will eventually grow up.

    And for the rest of us – if you see or hear this kind of thing at your next WordCamp – say something. It makes a lot easier to protect your personal boundaries when there is someone there to support you.

    • Troy,

      Re: “I can attest that this kind of behaviour also makes it hard for the rest of us men who have honourable intentions and a genuine interest in networking and learning from others, regardless of gender.”

      I am very sensitive to this fact as well. And part of the reason I had 3 male peers review the post before publishing. I don’t want to ostracize men. At all. I don’t want to be a part of anything that makes it MORE frustrating for the good guys that are there to just interract with the other humans that are there – male or female. I don’t want to be part of anything divisive. Been there, done that, have the emotional scars to carry from it all.

      I don’t really believe that the men in these scenarios understand how their commentary has such a strong negative impact on others. I just don’t. I wonder about the men at WordCamp San Francisco who were dealing with a really sexually aggressive female – who was a bit too sloshed… I wonder how they feel about that? I see her interacting with these same men on Twitter – these prominent YOUNG male leaders in our community – and I wonder … what do they think? If I were them I’d never want to have to deal with her again. She was out of line. But I digress… kind of.

      I’m not going to name the men in question because the issue IS being handled internally right now. An Automattician who is also a friend of mine and Jen from the Foundation are dealing with it. Naming them was not the point. How the interactions made me feel about WordPress / WordCamps was the point. It doesn’t matter WHO it was today. There will be others tomorrow.

      I really appreciate the support. Of course I’ll continue to attend WordCamps. It is one of my favorite aspects of my current career: the community. Unsavory characters aside…

      Hope to meet you in person one day soon!

      • Sarah,

        Sorry to read about this. Not sorry to see it take the blogosphere by storm. Being silent about misogyny does nothing to address it. Making it known, at the very least, draws a line in the sand.

        I wish this was “new” or “unusual” – but it isn’t. Over a decade a go I fought with several individuals in a certain international professional software developers association (not web developers.) It took weeks and weeks of fighting. I ended up allowing myself to be elected Vice President *purely* to see the ring leader be given his marching orders from the org – via Fed Express.

        I sincerely hope it gets better at WordCamp. Sometimes – the line in the sand can do that.

        That I’ve had to defend clients staff from other web designers contracted to build their website – for other varieties of misogyny (dismissing them because their women – not hitting on them) kind of points to a deeper, still existing social problem that still hasn’t been addressed.

        As I tell my daughters – Don’t ever stop because of the aberrations you meet in life. Keep right on going.

        • Love the last line!! And thanks for your support.

          I agree – nothing new under the sun. I think my reaction, awareness of it, was what was new for me. And why I wrote the post. Not so much about who did what – but my internal, visceral, REAL reaction to what had taken place.

          This was new for me. Thanks for championing equality and decent treatment for everyone -regardless of gender. If a female developer dismissed a male client b/c of his gender, I hope she’d be dealt with the same way.

          It’s 2014 already for crying out loud! :)

  27. Thank you so much, Sarah for publishing this. As the “Safety and Accessibility Officer” for WordCamp Phoenix I appreciate your opening this up for some much needed discussion. In addition, I was at the table at San Tan when hilarity ensued and everyone got just plain silly talking about the role of the safety officer. I laughed so hard that I cried. At that point, people were having fun and to my knowledge no harm had been done.

    Despite the fun, I took my position seriously but want to explain the role as we conceived it to be. This position was so much more than a “women’s activist” role as so many believed. If someone with a disability needed help accessing the facilities, I want to help. I would have pushed a wheelchair, found seats closer for someone who is hearing impaired, or done whatever I could to make our event a welcome place for all. That position serves not just women, but men. If there was a situation when a male was being harassed, then it is just as serious. Sadly, because of the society we live in, most often the harassment so happens to be directed toward women and that is how the safety officer became a women’s activist role. I think that is a shame. The idea is to remove barriers for anyone and make our community a welcoming one.

    Unfortunately, I am afraid that this blog post will bring up the argument that by having such a position is demeaning to women. There is also an assumption that women should be able to stand up, be strong and a sad belief that if they cannot or will not do so for themselves means they are weak and it harms women as a whole. I disagree with this with all of my being. Prior to my conversion to geekhood, I was a clinically trained social worker and one of my duties was to respond to people in crisis at the Emergency Room. I have spent many hours sitting with survivors of rape and sexual assault and survivors of childhood abuse. In doing so, I learned that everyone’s life path is different and I cannot pretend to know how it is to walk in anyone else’s shoes. To say that the burden to handle inappropriate misbehavior lies on the shoulders of the person who experienced it is just plain wrong in my opinion. Many women may stand up and fight back and address it, but I can’t fault anyone who struggles with the confidence and ego strength to do it on their own. I am so glad that there are so many strong and outspoken women in our community who would be willing to take that conversation head on. I applaud you all. But not everyone may be willing or capable of this. In summary, as a member of the Phoenix WordCamp organizing team (and Safety and Accessibility Officer), I want all attendees to feel welcome and not burdened with the issues that Sarah shared.

  28. I am so sorry that this happened to you. It really makes for a bad time to not feel safe,secure and among friends when you’re away from home. People making a name for themselves as creepers is disturbing. I’m glad you didn’t get this vibe last year because we would have missed out on a great asset in you and you as a person.


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