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:
Thursday 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.
Friday 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.
Professional 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.
Friday 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.)
Saturday 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.
I 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.
The 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.” :/
After 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…
Saturday 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.
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.
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.