This is saddening stuff. At a recent Ruby conference (that I’m not going to name because it wasn’t their fault), a speaker (whom I’m not going to name for reasons of taste) had porn-flavored slides in his presentation; people were offended and said so. Some in the Rails community, including its leader, pushed back hard, in a way that offended many more people. If you haven’t been following the story, I think Martin Fowler’s SmutOnRails has a good aggregation of links, and also I agree with most of his commentary. I’m going to add two observations, one link, and some recommendations.
Observation · I’m a technology generalist who attends every flavor of gathering. It’s impossible to avoid noticing that, even by the lopsided standard of high-tech culture, the Ruby and Rails communities are dramatically, painfully short of female members.
At next week’s RailsConf, five of the 100+ speakers are women. It’s unfortunate that this includes none of the featured speakers, but on the other hand, 5% probably exceeds the proportion of women in the audience.
Observation · In this case, the speaker apparently had not meant to stir up trouble. When you find yourself in this situation — you’ve unintentionally given offense — there are a range of reactions available to you:
Ignore the situation.
Become visibly angry at the offended parties because you don’t think they should have been offended.
The people at the center of this affair have so far chosen #3.
Link · A long time ago in this space I published Two Laws of Explanation. I think the principles it espouses are relevant in this context.
Recommendation · We don’t want the online community to adopt a bland homogenized “marketing” voice. Which means it’s sometimes OK to be offensive. I have published several pieces here which I’ve known in advance would deeply offend certain people; in some cases that was the objective and in others I just didn’t care. But if you do this, I think you should know what you’re getting into and be prepared to live with the consequences; no whining.
Smart people give offense in a calculated way and to a good end.
Recommendation · RailsConf is next week in Vegas. I think the organizers and the community should have the courage to bring this issue up, feature it on the center stage, focus on it, and achieve some clarity.
Recommendation · When you offend people but didn’t mean to, you should just fucking well apologize. And do it in an unreserved way, unless you think that offending them is a good thing and will produce a result that you’re in favor of.
[Update:] Commenters point out that the person who originally touched this all off now has apologized. Good on him, but clearly the center of the issue had moved elsewhere.
[Update to the update:] Other commenters characterize his statement as a “non-apology apology”. You be the judge.