My first OSCON

I attended OSCON 2014, which happens to be my very first OSCON and O’Reilly conference.

The experience was a bit bittersweet. I will start off with the good: The sessions were awesome and the speakers were very nice and knowledgeable. The food was good and plentiful, and the after-parties were fun. I did manage to make a couple friends there.

Now, the bad. It was rather hard to make any friends there or get a decent conversation going with the regular attendees. In fact, I felt rather ostracized and was downright harassed. Here are a few examples:

Almost every attendee I have talked to, the conversation would start out like this:

“Hey, [my name], what do you do at [company name on my badge]?”

I would explain what I do and/or what my company does, then:

“Great. Do you have a BF? Are you looking?”

I would either say yes (even though I don’t have a BF, but saying no would make them not leave me alone) or say I’m not interested.

“Oh, ok, that’s too bad”

The conversation would end right there. That’s it, no other interest in me except what’s in my pants.

During many of my conversations at OSCON, the man would touch me somehow. Touch my arm, touch my back, touch my shoulder, touch EVERYTHING, even my butt. Yes, even my butt. I usually get treated better in a bar. It was incredibly aggravating, and telling them to stop or avoiding them doesn’t solve anything. This happened nearly every day during the convention.

I handed out about 50 business cards at OSCON. The people who I gave them  to seem interested in learning more about what I do or what my company does. None of them were used to actually contact me for professional reasons. In fact, about 1/3 of them were only used to ask me out. The reason why this bothers me is because they were ONLY used to ask me out. Not only that, but my company expects me to at least recruit a few people. It wasn’t just “Oh, let’s go get coffee and talk about your company” or something, it was “Hey, you’re pretty cute/hot, want to get coffee sometime?”

While my experience at OSCON was enjoyable otherwise, and I have learned a lot there, I truly did not feel treated like an equal. The experience was also a bit of a reminder of how alone I feel. Being a woman in the tech industry, is actually quite a lonely existence. There’s a reason why women shy away from science or engineering type roles. 95% of your colleagues will be dudes, and most of them will be incredibly socially inept, or have that “brogrammer” mentality. If you don’t share similar interests with them, it’s “Oh, she’s a girl, that’s why.” If you DO share similar interests with them, it’s “Wow, that girl likes [x], I should ask her out because she’s also hot” You really can’t win.

The reason why I’m still even in the industry is because I truly love what I do. I love anything that uses electricity, and building things that make people’s lives easier is an incredibly satisfying thing. I don’t want to let the negative experience shy me away from my passion. I think soon enough, things will change, which is why I wrote this post. To raise awareness of why you (possibly you, the reader as well) are preventing half the world’s population from innovating and making the future brighter for everyone.

102 thoughts on “My first OSCON

    1. anontechlady Post author

      I have been to many video game and comic cons, but this was my first large tech conference. It does happen at other conferences, but this was worse than usual, which surprised me. At tech conferences you’re generally expected to socialize and network more, so I conversed with attendees more than usual. It’s possible that might have contributed to the negative experience, because I usually don’t talk to attendees at other cons.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Kathy Lussier

        I think a big distinction here is that, unlike a comic or video game conference, a tech conference is supposed to be a professional conference and, therefore, people should remain professional. Sorry to hear about your experience. It’s disheartening that women are still fighting these battles.

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    2. OpenSorceress (@OpenSorceress)

      Dude,

      This is not unique. Not to her, not to these guys, and not to this conference. It’s pretty consistent with what I’ve experienced.

      Seriously, fyi: men treat women like sexually useful objects. Men do this anywhere and any time there’s a woman present for men to treat like a sexually useful object. It is among the shittier things men do.

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  1. Adam Culp

    Sorry to hear this. Thanks for helping raise awareness. Being a guy, I’ve not experienced this and have not witnessed it. I suppose the asking is natural if the attraction is there, but the inappropriate intrusion and harassing parts are indeed sad and should not be tolerated. Stay safe and keep spreading awareness in this peaceful and educational manner.

    Liked by 4 people

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    1. Mary Branscombe (@marypcbuk)

      No, the asking is not natural at a professional technology conference; you’re not in a bar or at a party, you’re at a work event, wearing a badge with your company name on. The intrusive and harassing part isn’t just the touching; it’s the fact that *almost every guy* saw her as a potential date, not a technical person in the context of a technical conference.

      Liked by 3 people

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  2. Rob Allen

    Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. That’s inexcusable behaviour.

    I hope that this experience doesn’t put you off tech conferences altogether, though I’m unsure that your next conference will be better, but I’m hopeful it would be.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. stormsweeper

      Sorry, but asking someone if they have a boyfriend is inappropriate in almost any setting, and especially any that is even vaguely professional.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Kathy Lussier

        Sorry, I probably could have stated it better. I totally agree it’s unacceptable anywhere. It just amazes me anyone would think it’s okay to behave that way in a professional environment.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. anon

    There’s no excuse for touching you inappropriately, but you should consider that some people will actually go to these conferences to meet people they know will share part of their background. I assure you that if I were gay, I’d use business cards as a conversation leverage with pretty much every guy there, probably not even bother googling their company name later.

    I think you’re making a mistake by grouping the people who are only interested in you and not your business with the other group that is only interested in women for their private parts. The former is just people looking to meet, the latter are morons.

    That being said, I don’t want to dilute your opinion in its entirety, and I also don’t want to imply that tech conferences are a haven of safety openness to women.

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. anontechlady Post author

      Yeah I understand, and I know that people will ask each other out and that’s perfectly fine — that’s just part of life and is also flattering at times. I don’t mind being asked out on dates, it’s just that most of my conversations (and same thing with business card contacts), which may seem professional at first, just led to me being asked out or touched, which made me feel objectified in some sense. It made me feel like that was ALL everyone cared about. I know there’s plenty of good people at the conference. Some of them were probably just unaware of their actions and didn’t mean to make me feel uncomfortable, and just need to learn that things like inappropriate touching are unacceptable. Anyway, that was just my experience.

      Liked by 2 people

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    2. jane

      Business card trade with the pretext of job/product/company interest but really using it just to flirt with someone is awful. Use it to trade contact info if you must but don’t pretend like you have a different purpose :/ Same goes to any unwanted touching and flirting and improprieties actually at a conference or at conference-sponsored events.

      I’ve had my fair share of fun due to tech conferences – even met my husband that way – but I keep it strictly professional with strangers until after-hours. There is no other feasible option. I’m sure I’ve missed all kinds of possibilities as a result but I’d rather live with that than ever making someone else feel uncomfortable in that way.

      Also, there is nothing wrong with wanting to talk or do things because of a conference – including for one night stands and for being friends or whatever differentiation you’re trying to make – but there is everything wrong with trying to do any of it at a place and time that otherwise demands a higher level of professional behavior.

      Basically, save it for hotel bars and parties if you have doubts at a conference, and always respect the boundaries of others no matter where you are. It’s not hard.

      Liked by 1 person

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    3. jamshid (@jamshid)

      Okay buddy hate to break this to you but if you were gay, you seem like the kind of guy who wouldn’t make it to the conference because you’d be too busy with grindr hookups in your hotel room. And I’m not slutshaming, I’m slutsplaining.

      Liked by 3 people

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    4. philtor

      Here, let me fix that for you anon, you said: “There’s no excuse for touching you inappropriately, but (lots of excuses)”…
      It should say:
      “There’s no excuse for touching you inappropriately.” Period, end of sentence. I don’t care if you’re some pasty white guy who never gets out of his cubicle except to go to this conference. Nope, no excuses for inappropriate touching AT ALL. Got it?

      Liked by 4 people

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      1. other anon

        Hmm no, he said “There’s no excuse for touching you inappropriately, but for the other stuff there may in some cases be”. And even the OP replied saying flirting is not the problem, it’s the fact that *everyone* was doing it that left a sour taste.

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      2. puffball

        That’s not what anon said. Anon did not make any excuses for touching of any kind. Anon talked about using conferences as places to meet (implied: with the goal of dating/hooking up) people with similar backgrounds or interests. It is entirely possible to meet someone, ask them about their relationship status, or ask them out, *without touching them*, inappropriately or otherwise.

        Personally, I think 1) going straight to “do you have a BF?” is inappropriate at a conference anyway (even without any touching), and 2) the massively high proportion of that type of behaviour (as observed by anontechlady) indicates that it is not just a few people trying to use the conference as a dating service, but a larger cultural problem.

        Liked by 1 person

    5. xcbsmith

      I’m trying to reconcile this with the fact that I’ve never been hit on by a man at a conference, nor do I know any other man who ever mentioned such a thing happening (unless they were looking for it to happen ;-). Given that at some tech conferences gay males are probably more prevalent than heterosexual females, either the heterosexual men are far more socially inept than the gay ones, or something else is at play here…

      Honestly, conferences in any industry tend towards the meat market experience. Yet you don’t hear women complaining nearly as loudly. I have a hard time believing it is due to the women at tech conferences being or behaving differently.

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      1. Crad

        “either the heterosexual men are far more socially inept than the gay ones, or something else is at play here…”

        The “something else” is her being a woman in a male-dominated environment, and how that dynamic leads to harassment. That’s literally the entire point of the post.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Anon

        Look , just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t make it any less real. You’re in the majority group of at lest 80% male audience. Now gay men looking for other gay men are a minority looking for another minority, they’re discrete because the risk of offending a straight man is incredibly high. Yes, some of her interaction were possibly innocent but they were tainted by the ones which were wholly inappropriate. How can you blame her for letting it get to her though when she’s in an environment so obviously unequal. There have been studies that show when a majority group so disparately out weighs a minority group their actions become bolder and their empathy for that group plummets. This is a huge problem in the tech industry that’s being talked about in all avenues of the business and for you to just brush it off as “I haven’t seen it” is frankly callous.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. spaf

    I wrote on this general topic a while ago about infosec conferences and women. There may be some elements in that post that you find helpful. See http://snipurl.com/iswomen

    And despite the bad experience, I hope you get to some professional cons where there are some better-behaved guys. There are a few around.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. Tina

    I’m sorry you had such an aggravating experience. It is shared by other women and it’s important to know it’s not only happening to you.

    I will tell you one thing, this doesn’t happen at all with older women. I’m guessing you are in your mid- to late-20s? By the time you’re 35, a woman is considered ancient to these tech people unless you are in VC or are a company founder. While sexual attention is frustrating if you are trying to conduct business, as you get older you’ll find that you’ll be completely invisible to these guys, they won’t even see you. They see women as potential girlfriends or employees (or both) and if you’re neither, it’s like you don’t exist at all unless you have some financial clout.

    I will say things are much better at social media/new media conferences that touch on tech (like the old Web2.0 conerence, by O’Reilly) because there are plenty of female bloggers, journalists and women in marketing ends of the field. Harassment can still happen but it is less likely when there are more female attendees. I do hope you send a link to your article to the folks at O’Reilly.

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    1. another_techy

      Yes, it CAN happen even if you are in your 30s and 40s. Not everybody looks their age, younger or older.
      Besides, trying to console yourself and others that 35 is the cut-off for sexual abuse is honestly pretty ludicrous.
      I was hoping for people to come up with better solutions in their posts..

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Gina Blaber

    I’m really sorry to hear that this was your experience at OSCON. I’m VP of Conferences at O’Reilly, and if you’re up for it, I’d like to talk with you about your experience. Not to drag you through the details, but to hopefully figure out some things we can change to make the event a better experience for everyone, going forward.

    Liked by 4 people

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  7. audreyr

    This reminds me of old, buried memories from attending tech meetups by myself in Silicon Valley, when I was single and had to go alone cautiously. I’m sad that you went through this. Thanks for writing this up, sharing your experience in detail, and building awareness.

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  8. dubsh

    Felt the exact same way at OpenSource Bridge in Portland earlier this summer. Men assumed I was a designer, PM, etc- then when they found out I am a dev, it wasn’t even “oh how cool” or “sorry for my assumptions” but instead “oh, like front end HTML CSS stuff?” and then aggressively hitting in me because I was “rare”. I’ll never go back to that conference, that’s for sure. Sad to hear OSCON is no different.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Christie Koehler

      Dubsh – I’m sorry to hear you had such a negative experience at Open Source Bridge. Agressively hitting on anyone at our conference is not acceptable behavior. In addition to the reporting system in place for code of conduct violations, Reid and I as co-chairs are there to help any attendee having a bad experience. I’m hear to listen if you’d like to discuss your experience further (christie@opensourcebridge.org).

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  9. A Sharma

    Many of these men rarely get outside their cubicle. Have you seen how they grab free ball point pens? Or t-shirts? They don’t particularly like or hate t-shirts, they follow their mindless natural inkling. It’s stupid, it’s demeaning because you are not a pen; you deserve respect.

    They don’t even realize that the best way to meet women is to be genuinely be interested in them as human beings.

    They are clueless. I don’t know they will learn any time soon except when we have more women in tech – who can teach them.

    I hope we have more women in tech.

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    1. AntiSlice

      Feel free to gently point out their cluelessness to men you see acting like this around women. It’s not our (women in tech’s) job to teach other men in our field how to behave. It gets old real fast.

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    2. other anon

      As someone who used to behave like that until I got wiser:

      That’s not the issue. They *are* genuinely interested in her as a human being. (Ok, maybe not all — that’s too big an assumption to make. But a large number of them.)

      I understand the instinctive reaction of “he’s hitting on her so quick before knowing anything about her, therefore he’s only interested in what’s in her pants” — that’s just not true, though. These guys define themselves by being clever (whether or not that’s in fact true) techies. Seeing you’re also a clever techie is pretty attractive. These guys are often labelled as anti-social or asocial; in fact they just have no interest in most people, because they’re boring from their point of view. So over time they developed a pretty sharp skill for finding people who will be interesting, and when they do from friendships, those tend to be very tight. Finding a potential partner, then, is an occasion to be cherished.

      The real problem IMO is lack of empathy; all right, I’ve determined that you’re probably interesting according to my criteria, so I immediately jump to throwing the metaphoric pokéball. It takes some maturity and experience to realise first I need to convince *you* that I’m potentially interesting to you as well.

      Then again, I guess I tend to ascribe most problems of humanity to lack of empathy… thinking of other people as people would make the world so much better if it were to become the rule, or even at least fashionable. Sigh.

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  10. AntiSlice

    That sounds like a shitty and obnoxious experience, and I’m sorry you had to go through it. I don’t have any words of advice that don’t sound trite to me, but just wanted to offer some support.

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. philtor

    As an OSCON attendee for many years and a review-committee member, I’m very sorry that this was your experience. A code of conduct was added a few years back to specificially address these kinds of issues, but your experience shows that’s not working. We probably need to take stronger measures since the code of conduct probably isn’t even read by most attendees.

    How do we deal with this kind of behavior? The problem is that in a crowd it can be tough to see this kind of behavior happening in order to confront it. I was thinking as I read this that maybe we need some kind of signal that indicates that someone is experiencing inappropriate behavior so that others can come to confront that behavior. Perhaps a whistle in the swag bag or attached to the conference badge lanyard? It seems a little drastic, but it also seems that there are those who are too immature to behave themselves, so maybe if nothing else works we can try to shame them into behaving properly?

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. jane

      Oooooooof. No. No whistles. Please. No preemptive shaming either.

      Codes of conduct are not a bad way to get people to think twice about their actions, but they need to be publicized and enforced to work. Ineffective CoCs have done more harm than you think. If you think attendees aren’t reading it, then make it easier to do so. Short and concise so most of it might actually be read, somewhere in the registration process and you can’t continue until you agree to follow them. Or make it as easy to find as possible – as easy as the speaker list, for example. Send the full text out in emails. Ashe Dryden has covered this in great detail already: http://www.ashedryden.com/blog/codes-of-conduct-101-faq

      You should also train all your staff/volunteers at the conference what to look for, who to report things to, and how to help a problem in progress. Make attendees understand that no problem is too small to talk to conference staff about.

      For individual people that experience these problems but are like me where I don’t always trust myself to speak up in the right way about it – no, it’s not a whistle and not something to include in the swag bag. Try something like http://singlevoice.net/redyellow-card-project/ – not only does it let you disengage easily, but also it will tell the person that gave you grief what they did wrong, to _hopefully_ avoid doing it again. Just a springboard for an idea – you can play around with the text and what you want to warn people about, and use them. Share them! Personally I’d get rid of the “punch in the face” text and add a link to something like Julie Pagano’s posts: http://juliepagano.com/blog/2014/05/10/so-you-want-to-be-an-ally/#making-mistakes

      You do not want to shame or guilt random people into “you should protect yourself” or “publicly mob a person” – just be better about educating people on what to look for/what inappropriate behavior is, how attendees can get help from conf organizers if needed, and everyone should learn from mistakes to avoid repeating them (the mistakes we all inevitably make at some point).

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      1. philtor

        Yeah, the whistle thing probably won’t work. But the problem is that for some of these brogrammers education and conduct codes haven’t worked either. It’s really frustrating, we’ve been discussing this problem at tech conferences for years now and nothing much seems to change. I think some kind of public shaming of the perps is probably what it’s going to take. That and banning the bad actors from coming back.

        Yes, for the rest of us education about what to look for and how to confront the guys who are stepping over the line into bad behavior is important, but again, in a crowded expo hall it can be pretty tough to know if “that guy” needs to be confronted (hence the whistle idea).

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    2. Anonymous Coward

      Bad plan. No whistles. Otherwise you’re going to desensitize people to the whistle. Not to mention piss off and drive away the ones who are innocently misunderstood.

      Look, at the end of the day, there have been douchebags and worse in every industry and in lots of different scenarios. People who just want to meet you or talk to you for reasons that have nothing to do with the reason you want to be there. Salespeople in a department store that refuse to just let you look around, for example. That guy in the restaurant who insists on talking to you despite having your nose in your book. The dog in the park that refuses to just let you soak up the sun. That’s part of the social experience. Attributing malicious behavior to everyone who strikes up that conversation is not going to help solve the problem. Consider this scenario:

      I (a geek) spot a woman standing nearby. She is not talking to anyone, and we make eye contact. “Crap”, I think. “I need to say something or she’ll think I’m being rude”. So I say, “Hi, what’s your name, what do you do?”

      She says, “I’m Betty Sue, and I work at Malbolge.” She hands me her card, which I pocket without really looking at it.

      Crap, I think, I hate Malbolge. Or, I have no idea what Malbolge does, nor do I care to know. She’s probably some sales type or a recruiter, and I don’t want to engage her at that level, because I don’t want to get caught up in a boring sales preso or have to wave off yet another persistent recruiter type. What can I ask that’s totally out of the technical realm? “So, do you have a boyfriend or something?”

      She says, “Yes, he’s over there.”

      I could care less where your boyfriend is, lady. Frankly, I’m running out of social niceties, and I just want to get over to the Apple booth because I heard that they’re giving away more Apple stickers and the one on my iPhone 1 is starting to peel. That’s where I was headed before we made eye contact, so…. “Well, nice to meet you, see ya!”

      Is this an attempt to excuse every man who you met? Oh, by all means, no. This is merely an attempt to show that sometimes, what you perceive isn’t what they did. And then, when they’re accused of “predatory” or “unacceptable” behavior, they get defensive and, from their perspective, rightly so.

      You’ll notice, though, that at no point in the above fiction did “I” reach out to touch you–that’s usually the sign of somebody trying to make a deeper emotional connection–which salespeople and politicians have known about for years. (Hence the “politicians’ handshake”, one hand shaking hands, the other clasping your arm above the elbow. Supposed to signify solidarity and connection or some sh*t like that.) People touching you on the ass? If it’s not an accident (yeah, not likely if you’re not in a crowded room), then that’s uncool. Not going to try and explain or defend that.

      All I’m saying is that you cannot legislate good behavior. Nor enforce it. The only thing you can do is punish bad behavior, but before you do that, you need to make sure it was bad behavior, and not good behavior read wrongly.

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      1. anon

        I don’t want to be mean, but I need to call out a few things you’ve said because they fall squarely in the “not okay” camp.

        First, the most obvious: “Do you have a boyfriend?” is NOT a social nicety. This is a personal and probing question. If you think this is an acceptable question to ask someone you’ve been speaking to for less than 5 minutes, see the OP’s point on social ineptitude. A conference is a professional environment and not suitable for questions of a personal nature. Even in non-professional situations, this still isn’t an acceptable question to ask someone you just met. If you need to ask social nicety questions, try “are you enjoying the conference?” or “which has been your favorite presentation?” To stress this again, asking someone you just met if they have a boyfriend is rude. Do not do this.

        Second, I want to take a moment to call you out on the subtle sexism there. “She’s probably some sales type or a recruiter” is straight up sexist bullshit. This line of thought is extremely damaging to women. You’re making this assumption based on gender – you wouldn’t assume a random guy you encounter is a recruiter, only that women are. Beyond that, before you even interact with her you’re mentally categorizing her as some who isn’t an equal; she’s a recruiter, she’s not my peer, she’s not my equal, she’s not worth my time – all before you’ve even spoken to her. This type of attitude is not okay. If you won’t assume it about a male, do not assume it about a female. And before you start talking about probability, I don’t care. Act like a decent human being and assume that everyone there is your equal and that their time is just as valuable as yours. Women notice it when guys start a conversation assuming that the female doesn’t have the same technical chops as the male and they get offended and feel less valued each time it happens. Don’t be that guy.

        I know you probably think you’re one of the good guys, but you need to re-evaluate your assumptions and thoughts on women at tech conferences and acceptable interactions with them.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. VS

    I was at OSCON this year, really sorry that this happened to you. I wish I had heard/seen this there, I would have interjected no matter what. It is inexcusable for anyone to behave like that.

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  13. James Staxon

    Meh, what do you expect from bunch of neckbeard nerds?

    I’m not down with the whole “I’m a sensitive feminist dude thing”, but I will say it’s pretty pathetic to not have even the vaguest clue about social cues and slobber pathetically all over some woman at a conference. Pathetic.

    Listen, neckbeards – get a life. I mean it. You will know if a woman is interested in you, unless you’re a complete social retard. Don’t bother her unless your interest is returned.

    And no, you don’t have “aspbergers”, you neckbeard.

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    1. Nix

      Uh, might I just point out (as someone *with* Asperger’s) that, no, we generally *don’t* know when women are interested in us: to me at least, the facial expressions relating to curiosity, interest, and sexual attraction appear identical, and there’s not much cue in the tone of voice either. On the other hand, on the rare occasions we do figure out what’s going on, the response is often immediate terror and flight. Those of us who have managed to get good enough at social interaction to function in society at all thus assume that nobody is interested in us, and don’t hit on anyone.

      Why on earth would we want to hit on anyone, anyway? Even if successful, which it almost never would be because we can’t detect the signals that indicate that a positive-feedback loop is likely to form or manage to keep one side of it going, it would just mean intense and prolonged social interaction of a variety we have rarely done before and thus would be disastrously bad at. Why would we want to get ourselves into that sort of trouble at a professional event?! Conferences of any kind are stressful enough as it is. Our problems at conferences relate to managing sensory overload and avoiding avoiding panic attacks, and have nothing to do with becoming some sort of accidental sexual predators!

      People acting like this almost invariably do not have Asperger’s, and Asperger’s is not an excuse (merely an explanation). These people are the very *opposite*: functional social animals with an overwhelming sense of entitlement who feel that members of the opposite sex are merely there for their convenience. Disgusting.

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  14. zooniecait

    I didn’t get to go to many conferences given that just at the point I and colleagues started to go, I had my first kid and the lack of any childcare zapped me out. Now I’m guessing I fit in to the “Older woman, ignore her, my thick-headed genes aren’t telling me to procreate” category, so I’m guessing I’d be left alone. A mixed blessing.

    Very glad that Gina from O’Reilly commented here and I hope she continues to read the comments. I’m just thinking about the way my approach has protected and limited me over the years. You go to conferences with friends, never alone. You don’t eat in hotel restaurants alone, only in your room. You certainly don’t go in to the bar for a drink on your own (etc, etc). In this way, I can shrug and say “Well when I have been, it hasn’ t been too bad”. (Thunk).

    More women. More women. More women of different ages. More women. Childcare and more women. Single and not single. More women speakers. Just MORE women.

    That is the thing that will change the atmosphere, the behaviour and the outcome for *everyone* who attend, for the better.

    Also, anonolady: xxx. Sticking your head above the parapet is brilliant. Huge respect and support.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Gina Blaber

      I’m reading all the comments, and I appreciate all the feedback here and on twitter. This kind of behavior is totally unacceptable at OSCON or at any event. We’re working to try to find ways to make sure that everyone is treated onsite at an event with respect. The Code of Conduct is one useful tool; we’re looking at others.

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      1. Tim Bray

        Hey Gina, Maybe put anontechlady, or someone else willing to share a similar narrative, in the opening-keynote sequence? Codes of conduct are bureaucratic and boring, whereas an actual person saying “this happens to me and it sucks” is probably way more high-impact.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Gina Blaber

        Really interesting idea, Tim; thanks. We’re looking at that and a few other ideas for how to raise people’s awareness around the need to be respectful at a conference. Specifically, around what behavior is not respectful or welcome at a conference. Some people do tune out when they hear “Code of Conduct”, so we’re also focused on presenting the info in multiple ways and formats.

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      3. skud

        To Tim Bray: oh HELL no. I keynoted OSCON in 2009 with a much milder topic — how to get more women involved in your open source project, because that means more contributors full stop — and I wound up getting harassed about it for *years* afterwards. Ugly, hateful harassment, with serious consequences on my personal and professional life, including the fact that I no longer attend large tech conferences *at all*. I knew this going into it, but did it anyway. My boss at the time was bewildered by my ambivalence about being invited to keynote, and didn’t understand why I wanted to do it under my own name and not my employer’s, not wanting them to get the blowback, until he saw the responses after the conference — and then he was like, “whoa, I had no idea.”

        Things have changed a bit since 2009. People are more aware of harassment at conferences. But the online harassment we experience for speaking out about has got far worse. Before then, we’d usually get the odd death threat by email. Now my friends have to hire PAs to filter the death threats out of their inboxes so they can get their work done. I am not even remotely kidding.

        There’s a reason why anontechlady is anon. Putting her or any other harass-ee on stage to talk about it, unless she volunteers for it and chooses to deal with the fallout, is not a great idea.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. GreggB

    Being a minority in the tech community sucks. Offhand, it certainly sounds like you ran into plenty of assholes.

    Ultimately I’ll have to disagree with you on the loneliness and friends part. When I used to attend these shows every visit was a bit of a reminder of how alone I felt. Being socially inept in the tech industry, is actually quite a lonely existence. There’s a reason why geeks like me tend to shy away from conventions like this. 95% of your colleagues will be some dude working on something you’re not that interested in, and most of them will be incredibly socially inept, or have that “brogrammer” mentality. If you don’t share similar interests with them, it’s “Oh, he’s a SysAdmin, that’s why.” If you DO share similar interests with them, it’s “Wow, that guy knows how to program in [x], maybe I should offer to grab a beer with him because it sounds like he knows what he’s talking about”. More often than anything, my profound hearing loss tends to make most verbal communications extremely difficult in a busy environment…You really can’t win.

    What’s totally crazy, is that the guys which were fawning over you probably had no idea what it’s like to actually share their geek stuff with the opposite sex; it sucks. You have to share your toys, she always gets the better computer upgrades (because she actually knows the difference between an HD5450 and HD6990), and not being able to “escape” a world of code kinda sucks after a while. If they only knew the harsh realities…they’d likely appreciate having a partner around whom actually specialized in something non-compy related, and they’d stop fawning over the opposite sex at these shows…

    I’ve had other guys, and gals, touch me before. When its unwanted, it’s creepy…I can’t imagine being a women in a world where men feel entitled…

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  16. TNT

    Not the best way to attract more women into IT. We (techies) really need to get with the whole Geek Girls are not Gawk Girls mentality.

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  17. graffic

    Wow, when someone end up posting anonymously on the internet to raise awareness of a problem… many things have went wrong.

    – What kind of code of conduct is in place? are just good words that nobody enforces?
    – What kind or reporting mechanisms are so bad that it is better to put this post on the internet?
    – What kind of empowerment is given in that conference that makes normal a worst-than-a-pub behavior?

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    1. philtor

      Sure, you can have the greatest code of conduct ever devised, but it needs to have teeth. Inappropriate touching should be grounds for being immediately expelled from the conference and never being allowed to attend again in the future.

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      1. Nix

        Uh, conference expulsion? Sorry, this is sexual harrassment. i.e, a serious crime. The police should be involved — only, judging from the number of times this seems to happen at every tech conference, the police would probably end up shutting the whole conference down.

        I am no longer sure they would be mistaken to do so.

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  18. puffball

    This is really bad. Often I read about specific instances and the description makes it seem like there could be some reasonable explanation, but here the only explanation I can come up with is that there’s a huge, huge problem of the men at this conference (and by extension the men at a lot of tech-related conferences) having completely the wrong idea about what type of interactions are acceptable.

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  19. Michael

    There is some discussion of a code of conduct above, I think the crucial thing to remind people is that work functions are work, if your behavior would put you in front of HR at the office or client site, then that behavior is not ok at the conference.

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  20. Phil

    It’s not just lonely young IT guys – I think it runs deeper than that. I used to work on a magazine for AS/400 users; we did a lot of trade shows where the people attending were IT managers from SMEs. They were almost all male and over 30; most of them (presumably) were already in long-term relationships. My younger female colleague was staffing our stall one day when the plenary let out. She said it was like being in a zombie film: rank after rank of men in suits came out, looked around, spotted her and shambled towards her, drooling a little and muttering “wo-maaan…” It was a great story, but at the time I think she felt genuinely unsafe & highly creeped out.

    I don’t know what the answer is, except to hang in there and offer support to any younger women in IT you meet – “it won’t always be like this. At least, I damn well hope it won’t.”

    Liked by 1 person

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  21. hataibu

    In my opinion, this will only change when the proportion of women attending such events increases considerably. That is one of the reasons I am a strong supporter of gender quota. Because there has to be a certain “critical mass” of women to remove them from their “rare bird” status.
    On the other hand I can’t understand all these men on the conference. Even if they’re only after asking you out, what better way to succeed could there be, than to show some genuine interest in what you do and what you are. Alas, many men (I won’t say most) do not respect women for the person they are.
    But: don’t ever give up! You can be a role model for young women with tech interests, you can support them when you meet on such conferences, you could even change the opinion of the occasional male just by your presence and your voice.

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  22. Pingback: Technical Conferences and (In)Appropriate Behavior | J Metz's Blog

  23. Reza

    This should not have happened to you, and thank you for sharing. This is part of reason I support White Ribbon campaign to educate males on gender equality and mutual respect. (soap box) We need re-education on gender, race, and many other issues …

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  24. DwP

    Harassment is not OK. Period. It is sad that his lady experienced unpleasant sexual attention. It is not OK. I can imagine that people might ask questions such as ‘do you have a bf?’ in a bar. But on a conference floor. Really?! People suck.

    My experience:

    I attended OSCON 2014 for the first time this year. OSCON is a large conference with many tracks and many, many topics. I rarely got to speak to anyone, I rushed from one room to another to get a chair. I did get to meet other attendees at lunch and generally listened as most people that I sat with were more knowledgeable than I or talked about things that I had little interest in. I did not go to any evening social event ( I was too tired). The talks on the whole were pretty good to outright awesome. There was a keynote about ‘privilege’ that spoke to everything that was ‘politically correct’ – I wondered how helpful this really is in a technical conference. But this is a ‘trendy’ thing to do for American organisers even though all it is doing is preaching to the converted. I’d recommend that the organisers focus on technology instead. Top class techncial women speakers (and there were several at OSCON) do more to eliminate stereotyping than anything else. The *only* time I heard negative comments were after this keynote (i hear positive comments too, but I am emphasising this was the only keynote that I heard negative comments).

    In my opinion there were more women (as a proportion and in terms of quantity) than any other technical conference that I have been too. Did I see aggression (towards me)? Yes twice, once from a pushy woman who kept interrupting (cutting across sentences) and once from a Chinese man who behaved similarly. Did I see pleasant people: yes several of various backgrounds. Did I think I was in a different place to anywhere in middle class white America? No. Yes, this was some sort of business environment and on the whole the people were ‘normal’ Americans (I came across very few non North Americans and those that I did meet were speakers).

    I am not a conference junkie, but I have been to a few (especially related to Javascript/nodejs). there are some differences between OSCON and some of these others. To put this in perspective I attended two in Europe two. Are the type of people that attend largely different no? But the white Americans of *both* sexes are more aggressive. An important difference that I see is when I see companies send ‘booth people’ or defacto company representatives – they tend to be more ‘company business’ like. This latter type I saw much more at OSCON than any ‘community conference’. Other community conferences e.g. Ruby or Nodejs tend to be ‘cliquey’ and OSCON for sure was not like this.

    (a) So ladies and non white people of both sexes: here is what I suggest: Please please please volunteer to give *technical* talks, they improve your profile and they improve the conference.

    (b) Conference organisers, please make it easy for people to report harassment during the conference. What happened to this lady must be eliminated quickly.

    (c) Companies brief your people before they got to a conference.

    (d) People, what the hell are you doing? This is a conference you are here to learn not pick anyone up. FFS.

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  25. YAWomanInTech

    I also attended OSCON 2014 for the first time last month. I had a great time, met people from many different backgrounds, and talked with lots of women at the conference. This conf had the highest %age of women of all the confs I’ve been to.

    And yet…

    The first morning I walked down the hall and two guys had taken off their shirts to put on the OSCON shirt. This is a small point in light of everything else, but seeing two shirtless dudes changing in the middle of the hall was really off-putting, so I ended up ducking into a nearby room to wait.

    The next evening I went to one of the main parties. I saw a guy I had met earlier that day, but our previously neat conversation devolved as he kept making comments about my clothes and appearance, and he put his hand on my shoulder, elbow, until I left.

    It’s incidents like these that darken the experience of a conference. I spent the rest of the week avoiding him and hanging out with many of the women at the scene. Most of the people I met throughout the week were quite welcoming, but I still ran into this same machismo attitude from other male attendees, to the point where I mostly withdrew from talking with people at the conference.

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  26. allthoughtswork

    Text every single one of them back with: “Let’s get together. I have a mastermind group coming up for [insert technical thing here] this Thursday and we’d love to hear your ideas. My boyfriend has really gotten a lot out of these groups and I think you would, too. Call me.”

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    1. Joel (@cajunjoel)

      No. Just no. The idea that a woman is to be treated better because she has a boyfriend continues to undermine the woman, as it implies she has no value as a person without the boyfriend in the equation. She should be treated well and with respect because she is a person and an equal to other people, not because she has a boyfriend. This also ties into the idea that men only respect other men and won’t infringe on his “space” (read: property) by hitting on his girlfriend. So. No.

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  27. DL

    I am not sure what happened was due to “being a woman in the tech industry.” Perhaps it was just being a “woman at a conference.”
    Many guys have that “business travel/hotel conference affair fantasy!”
    Peace :-)

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  28. Spinning For Difficulty

    That kind of behaviour is certainly not appropriate, but women can be just as bad. But as with most things men and women have slightly different approaches.

    The main difference is that women generally do not take such a direct and straightforward approach and just ask guys they like the look of if they have a girlfriend or if they want to go out sometime. Instead women are more likely to flirt and tease men and wait for men approach her and ask her out, at which point she will play them all off each other and eventually select the most high status, attractive, wealthy, charming and committed man from the list of willing suitors. This is what the phrase ‘men propose, women dispose’ means.

    Part of the reason why men are so prone to taking the pro-active, straightforward direct approach and just outright asking if a woman wants to go out is because so many women insist men should take the pro-active, straightforward direct approach and ask women out! Men are also (generally speaking) expected to initiate physical intimacy, initiate sex, get down on one knee and propose etc etc. All of these things risk rejection and place power in the hands of the person being proposed to – ie the woman.

    Insisting on certain codes of conduct for the workplace is fine – I’m not against that at all. But how many women have you every heard complaining that a rich, handsome, high status male (or just some guy they found attractive) behaved ‘inappropriately’ and asked her out at work, or paid her a complement in public (thus ‘objectifying’ her)?

    The men women complain about are always nerds, techs, construction workers …. ie low status males. If an inappropriate man happens to be high status and desirable then suddenly it’s OK, suddenly it’s called ‘being swept off your feet’.

    Iif men did not proactively pursue women then women would have to ask men out and suddenly the power balance would shift more in men’s favour. All you’re really saying is that the men who asked you out were not attractive prospects for you. If one of them had been an attractive prospect and you had accepted a date with him, would you have still written this blog and condemned his inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour?

    The female equivalent of these kinds of men is the women who objectifies herself with totally inappropriate clothing for work (which is supposed to be about WORK not showing off your body). Often this clothing prevents them from being able to even do basic menial tasks around the office (which men always end up having to do). Imagine if men showed up for work with bare legs and an exposed chests with clothes which were so tight they could not lift boxes (requiring women to do it for them) and could barely negotiate the stairs! LOL

    A lot of men find these kinds of inappropriately dressed women extremely distracting and annoying. Instead of touching a man’s butt these kinds of women are more likely to shove their breasts in a man’s face or ‘accidentally’ brush her breasts on a man in the corridor. And yes, women often touch men in the workplace environment (that’s not a euphemism BTW!), but women touching men in a friendly/ flirty way is deemed socially acceptable. When a man does it it’s practically assault. I’ve seen women during normal working hours literally sitting themselves down into a man’s lap (totally uninvited) but again, men are expected to be cool about it or enjoy the flirting and be thankful for the attention. If a man sat in a woman’s lap (or the equivalent, like pressing his crotch into her behind) suddenly it’s a serious violation and sexual harassment at work. The double standards for men and women at work are a mile wide.

    Women use the workplace (or college) to look for a suitable mate just as much as men do. It’s just that women’s tactics are a bit different to men’s. This is all down to the biological differences between men and women. If we’re going to insist on a totally asexual, non-contact, professional workplace culture then we have to at least be consistent and demand it from women as much as from men. Otherwise you know sexism and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. AntiSlice

      If you genuinely believe this was inappropriate behavior, stop trying to rationalize it. Full stop.

      I’d try to address the rest of the comment, but I don’t think we could have a rational conversation about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Spinning For Difficulty

        “…If you genuinely believe this was inappropriate behavior, stop trying to rationalize it…”

        Rationalise is a loaded (ie negative) term. Yes I was trying to be rational and empathetic and look at it from all perspectives…. but that is not quite the same as ‘rationalising’ – which implies I was condoning, supporting, promoting or excusing it.

        Black crime statistics in most cities are pretty shocking but we try to be rational and empathetic about that. We don’t just write blogs complaining about blacks oppressing whites. We deconstruct the issue and figure out what social, economic, cultural, political and historical factors might cause blacks to commit more crimes than whites. In short, we don’t just react emotionally, we try use a bit of empathy and objectivity.

        Young children often get grouchy, hysterical and uncooperative, especially on long car journeys or at the end of a long tiring day. But we try to be rational and empathetic about that too. We deconstruct their behaviour and figure out that they are probably tired, constipated or stressed out. As much as they give us a headache we try to look at it from their perspective. We don’t just assume they are kicking and screaming deliberately and maliciously to annoy us.

        Dogs in the park can often be completely out of control and annoying but we don’t just assume the dog is out to deliberately ruin our picnic. We figure they might have had terrible owners since they were puppies who don’t know how to treat dogs properly.

        I’m sure you agree that thinking *beyond* our own impulsive emotional reactions is the intelligent and compassionate thing to do in these kinds of situations. If any other group annoys us we always try to see it from their perspective and figure out what is causing them to behave that way – including things that WE might be doing to provoke or encourage that kind of behaviour. But if the group in question happens to be men (and especially young men) we feel it’s OK to just whine and complain about it and play the role of ‘poor oppressed me’ victim without trying to figure out WHY they might be behaving that way.

        “..I’d try to address the rest of the comment, but I don’t think we could have a rational conversation about it…”

        I’m sure we could. Just name the things I said that you disagree with and then explain why you disagree.

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    2. Joel (@cajunjoel)

      “That kind of behaviour is certainly not appropriate, but …”
      By saying this, you are completely dismissing what anontechlady said. And then you go on to complain about “other” women doing the same thing which makes you just as bad as the people who were harassing her at OSCON. You’re adding insult to injury here. Next time, maybe you could try responding with “I’m sorry this happened. That behaviour is not appropriate at a professional conference. I am going to learn from this and try to be a better person and educate those around me.” THAT is standing with anontechlady, not against her.

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      1. Spinning For Difficulty

        “..By saying this, you are completely dismissing what anontechlady said…”

        In what way, can you explain? I agreed that these guys were being jerks. Just because people act like jerks doesn’t mean we should shut down our brains and not bother asking WHY they might be acting like jerks and what effect we might be having on the interaction. Did you read my second comment which compared complaining about men with complaining about black crime? It was a response to the other person who accused me of being dismissive.

        “…And then you go on to complain about “other” women doing the same thing which makes you just as bad as the people who were harassing her at OSCON. …”

        Trying to understand their behaviour and trying to put it in context is not the same as ‘complaining about other women doing the same thing’. What I wrote is not even remotely a form of harassment. You are just being a ‘white knight’ which is incredibly patronising and belittling to all women.

        “…Next time, maybe you could try responding with “I’m sorry this happened….”

        Say what? …… some guys at a conference (total jerks unfortunately) found her attractive enough to ask her out and you want me to apologise to her on their behalf? Is that what you are saying?

        Look here’s the bottom line…. she claims it’s not appropriate to use conferences to socialise or hit on attendees. But let’s imagine an attractive/ rich/ charming/ high status man had approached her and hit on her and she found him attractive enough to want to get to know better. Do you honestly think for one moment she is going to tell him that’s inappropriate behaviour at a professional conference, lie to him that she’s got a boyfriend and then walk away? Of course not. Life is too short right?

        So her real complaint is not about being hit on at a professional conference, it’s about being hit on by low status socially inept jerks who she did not find attractive.

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    3. anonymous cowherd

      Can you do me a favor, and just, read what you wrote, out loud, to a single real person in your life who is female? and post the video on youtube.

      just saying.

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      1. anonymous cowherd

        i.e. 1. you probably dont really believe it when you have to bring it to the light of reality, 2. the negative reaction you get will probably be very humorous.

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      2. Spinning For Difficulty

        Yes… well thank you for emotionally belittling me. If you have anything specific / relevant to say about what I actually wrote feel free to say it…… criticisms, other points of view, counter arguments etc ….. it’s all good (you should check out the other conversation I had with tenderlytina further down this thread).

        FWIW not every women views men as sociopaths or views women as somehow morally superior to men by default ( EXAMPLE ONE and EXAMPLE TWO. And not all women view men as any less deserving of analysis and empathy, even when they annoy us or appear to be acting like jerks. Empathy is not the same as sympathy – one can empathise with a person while still acknowledging their jerky behaviour.

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  29. tenderlytina

    When things like that happen I try to make them teaching experiences. I don’t deal with techs in my line of work I primarily deal with sports enthusiasts, athletes etc. In this field we often experience the same type of issues even if we’re older. It’s the position that draws in our pervs and not our youthful good looks, but the results are the same: unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. I pull out my stop ‘em phrase book. Sometimes confronting the issue openly and publicly will make them think a little more in the future. They continue to do it because they get away with it. For some it’s simple honest social ineptitude for others it’s a form of intimidation. Either way they should not get away with it. Try something like…

    “Wow, I can’t believe you just made such an unprofessional comment to me. I have no idea how to reply to that”

    “I am ignoring your unprofessional comment and offering you the opportunity to regain your dignity by moving on to business topics which I’m sure you must have or you would not be here.”

    “This is not a singles meet and greet it’s a professional conference. I assume you have something to offer professionally?”

    “Let’s pretend you didn’t just make that inappropriate comment and start over as business associates, shall we?”

    “You are aware that you are touching my ass/breast etc, right? Things like that are considered a crime, you might want to maintain better control of your hands before you end up in cuffs”

    “I’m pretty sure your company officers don’t feel like fielding sexual harassment charges today so you’d better control those hands of yours”

    I say them firmly but with a grin to allow them the opportunity to jokingly apologize and save their pride. Most of the time I get something like, “Oh I’m sorry, you’re right, I was outta line, sorry I offended you.” and sometimes I simply get the muttered “stuck up old bitch” as they wander off but either way the words hit home and that is the goal.

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    1. hataibu

      I like this very much. It actually might work.
      If a woman is harassed, but behaves like nothing has happened, the guy in question will never alter his attitude against women.

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      1. tenderlytina

        Women too often worry that we will be labeled as the dreaded B word when we stand up for ourselves but it’s way past time when we start calling bad behavior what it is and bringing it into the light. I find that a polite but firm approach that leaves room for the fella to pull himself up without too much of an ego shot tends to work best in social situations but I didn’t master the trick of it till well into my 30’s. I was raised to be the polite soft spoken southern belle and I had to adapt my approach to keep the polite and soft spoken and lose the doormat. It does work. I use it on a daily basis.

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      2. tenderlytina

        I guess that depends on how you look at it. I tend to look at life a little outside the normal scope. I believe that the ones least deserving of compassion are the very ones whose lives might most benefit from it. I think we teach more by offering unwarranted kindness than by returning scar for scar. Women are not required/expected to care but I think the world is a better place when we do.

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      3. allthoughtswork

        Yeah, when I nurture my oppressors they really get a boost. It just fills them up with confidence to get back out there and really make their “mark” on more innocent people. I’m surprised Hallmark hasn’t come up with a greeting card line for this.

        Outside of card: “Your disgusting comments demean women and your inappropriate physical contact soured my evening….”

        Inside of card: “…But it really made my day that you considered me pretty enough to be called a Ho.”

        Gloria Steinem is dry heaving as we speak.

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      4. tenderlytina

        There are many ways to nurture some bring about growth. I go for the “That’s not acceptable, want to start over?” Mode The cards would be a hoot. I bet they have those out there somewhere. My son would like to have some that remind the cougars at the club that he’s not a piece of meat and it’s not OK to ask to see his abs or grab his arms to feel his muscles too.

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    2. Spinning For Difficulty

      “..I was raised to be the polite soft spoken southern belle and I had to adapt my approach to keep the polite and soft spoken and lose the doormat. …”

      So would you agree it would be unfair to blame men for the fact that you were brought up to be a doormat?

      As a general rule boys have always been raised (for better or worse) to be assertive and stand up to jerks and bullies, whereas girls have always been raised (for better or worse) to run for help or display a ‘distress signal’ and wait for help to arrive. That’s the basic formula for a ‘patriarchal/ chivalrous’ society.

      But we are much more equal these days (something feminists SAY they want). And so part of that gender equality is the idea that women can be assertive. But the OP seems to want to be free of jerks without having to be assertive. That’s having you cake and eating it. No other group in society has that privilege, and especially not men. If men want to keep jerks at bay they have to always be assertive, because nobody else in society is going to shield them from jerks and allow them to be precious delicate flowers.

      The OP is basically demanding special privilege that nobody else enjoys. She basically wants to be free of jerks WITHOUT having to assert herself.

      You yourself have obviously had to figure out what men are told from birth – if you want to get rid of jerks you have to assert yourself and actually tell them to go away. And when women do assert themselves they soon find society is far more protective of them than it is of men.

      Just take the case (last year) of two guys at some tech conference who made a stupid joke *to each other* about a dongle. A woman in the next row overheard them and complained about it (why?!!!! , it was a private joke and not even offensive, just silly) and the men ended up getting fired! So you see when women do assert themselves our culture totally (over) protects them, and certainly far more than it protects men. Can you imagine a man complaining about a joke made by two women and those women getting fired?!

      Imagine this hypothetical scenario…. at a conference a man and a woman separately go up to the organisers or the security staff and make a formal complaint that they were asked out on a date and touched in an inappropriate way (let’s say the arse) by another attendee of the opposite sex.

      I think we all know which one is going to get taken seriously and which one is going to be told to run along and stop being so over sensitive.

      Most men also find it uncomfortable and a hassle to be assertive. Men are just as likely to be called derogatory things if they stand up to jerks (male or female). Women are free to be assertive and when they assertive society always protects them far more so that it protects men.

      This issue is all about wanting special privilege. It’s about wanting all the benefits of patriarchy/ chivalry but while still having all the benefits of gender equality too. That’s not how it works. Gender equality means having to be assertive and thick skinned – just like men have always had to be. Women who want special treatment are opposed to gender equality by definition.

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      1. tenderlytina

        I don’t blame anyone for the way we were raised. It simply is what it is and we all have to use the hand that is given us to the best of our ability. From the original post it seemed to me as if she were just relating her story as it happened from her point of view.

        Yes, women are, in my opinion, more likely to be “protected” when they seek that protection but I think it comes at a price. On the other hand they are also the ones more likely to have their ass grabbed at a conference. ;p Who wants to be viewed as the delicate flower out in the business world? Not me, they will eat you alive. I’d much rather be the B word but I’m seeking a balance that doesn’t land me with either.

        My experience is that when a woman seeks out the protection of the “powers that be” they will as you said, respond and help her but those same powers that be will then view that woman as weak and it can affect future job offers and promotions. So it’s a double edged sword.

        Women and sometimes men who choose weakness as a weapon will generally reap the consequences of that choice. I’ve seen it play out many times in life.

        On the other hand men who stand up for themselves are considered assertive, powerful, and strong. While women who do the same are in general considered bitchy, controlling, etc.

        In the end though, no one votes for a CEO to run their company who can’t stand up for themselves so there is a huge advantage for both male and female when we can find creative ways to educate those in our circle instead of playing the tattle tale game.

        Gender equality has a lot of growing up to do and I’m more inclined to adapt to what is than to sit around wishing for what should be. For me the issue isn’t about wanting special privileges or even about getting what I “deserve”. It’s about adapting what is to fit into what I want my life to be.

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      2. Spinning For Difficulty

        “..Yes, women are, in my opinion, more likely to be “protected” when they seek that protection but I think it comes at a price…”

        Yes I agree (and that was kind of my point too).

        “.. My experience is that when a woman seeks out the protection of the “powers that be” they will as you said, respond and help her but those same powers that be will then view that woman as weak and it can affect future job offers and promotions. So it’s a double edged sword….”

        Exactly. Asking for special treatment on account of your gender means abandoning (to whatever degree) the notion of gender quality. Gender equality must logically mean having to be as assertive and thick skinned as men have to be.

        But a lot of women only want the benefits of gender equality and none of the drawbacks. They want to be ‘equal’ while still getting special treatment based on patriarchy/ chivalry.

        In fact a lot of the so called ‘oppression’ claimed by modern women is just women living in a more gender equal society and so finally experiencing some of the burdens and annoyances that men have always had to deal with.

        “..On the other hand men who stand up for themselves are considered assertive, powerful, and strong…..”

        Yes and women are largely responsible for that positive association. Throughout history women have always encouraged (and raised) men to be assertive, powerful and strong…. so they don’t have to be.

        Women have always looked down upon or even shamed men for not being prepared to protect and provide resources to women, and women have tended to choose to marry men who are assertive, powerful, strong and protective of women.

        I’m not saying that is necessarily ‘bad’, just that it is true. It’s how we have survived as a species.

        Male’s entire male identity has always been defined by their basic utility to women, children and society. When life was harsh and surviving depended on lots of manual labour women demanded men were rugged and burly like beasts…. but as technology has enabled women to become more financially independent by creating lots of comfortable, safe, indoor ‘office’ type jobs women have started to demand softer and more sensitive men.

        If a meteor struck earth tomorrow and sent us back to the middle ages women (even feminists) would demand strong, traditional ‘patriarchal’ men once again.

        “…. While women who do the same are in general considered bitchy, controlling, etc…”

        I disagree. Assertive women are only called bitches by jerks, and their opinion doesn’t count for obvious reasons.

        But a lot of women really are bitches, just as a lot of men really are assholes. To be a ‘boss’ or high flying exec you have to be a bit of a bitch/ asshole.

        These ‘ban bossy’ type campaigns are just another example of demanding special treatment. They are a joke. I mean you have Beyonce who demanded $3million to play a private gig for Gaddafi’s son acting like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth talking about how women’s lives are ruined by being called bossy.

        “….For me the issue isn’t about wanting special privileges or even about getting what I “deserve”….”

        Yes that’s how I read your comment. I just thought you made an excellent point about being raised as a doormat due to being female. Men and women’s gender identity (and their attitudes to the opposite gender) are mostly laid down in early childhood. And this means women (mothers) play a huge part in this.

        When women have a problematic, unhealthy and dysfunctional gender identity (like acting like a doormat) we all agree that it’s mostly due to being raised that way.

        But when men have a problematic, unhealthy and dysfunctional gender identity (like being brash or callous) we usually blame them, as if their parents had nothing to do with how they turned out.

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      3. tenderlytina

        I think we agree for the most part. I blame adults for their behavior, full stop. There are, of course, reasons for that behavior and a good deal of it is in the upbringing; but once we become adults we are responsible for our actions and choices. So although there are reasons for various behaviors, in the end the full blame goes to the adult who freely chooses to continue as they were raised or to change their behavior for the better.

        My method is to continue to work on me (I have a long way to go) and at the same time to tenderly reach out to those around me who are struggling with much of the same baggage that was put upon me.

        I’m not sure of the merits of ‘gender equality’ since female and male are very different and I kinda like that we are… but I am sure of the merits of treating one another with kindness and compassion since we’re all in this life together and it’s much more fun to work together than it is to build walls and throw rocks.

        Parents play a big roll in their children’s lives but in the end adults must make choices.

        It has been fun discussing this with you. I can tell that you’ve put a lot of thought into your words.

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  30. Sander Z.

    start with treating the other gender/person just like you would be treated. Getting compliments about your hair/clothes etc. is fine, but you are there on a conference and talking about experiences/work is what you should do.

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  31. EcoGrrl

    I’m a tech recruiter and very rarely go to any tech conferences. I’ve found other ways to hire for my clients, as conferences like charge outrageous fees to be in their job fair area, making it virtually impossible for the budgets of the smaller companies (not just recruiters) to attend. And with all that I’ve seen over the years, it’s just not the type of comfortable environment that I want to leave my home for to deal with.

    The TED talk “Where is Men’s Roar” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivvU6_aaIrY) is one that I bring up a lot because there are not nearly enough men calling this behavior out – it’s almost always women. The behavior starts and ends with men.

    Going to conferences shouldn’t require special preparation for women – it’s like telling women they have to always be accompanied when they go into a parking lot, walk home at night, etc, or watch how they dress so they don’t look like they’re asking for it.

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  32. The Moon is a Naked Banana

    This is unbelievable! If only there was some sort of blanket rule, like in the Army, where asking out was not permitted at professional events. Shouldn’t people be thinking about work? And if they’re can’t concentrate that much, then maybe they should get a job that requires less attention and expertise.

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  33. Sharon Lee Levy

    I am so sorry that you experienced what you did at OSCON. Event hosts need to do more than espouse an anti-harassment policy; words on a piece of paper are meaningless without enforcement. But, will they? Where’s the motivation to enforce said policy when customers are paying good money to attend and these could be repeat customers in the years to come?

    I can empathize that you went to OSCON expecting to be taken seriously as a fellow techie and instead were objectified by male techies. That’s why some women feel that to succeed in this industry, they must forego feminine first names for gender-neutral ones, avoid attire that emphasizes a woman’s figure and instead guzzle beer and use foul language to prove that “they’re one of the boys.”

    If you enjoy doing technical work, don’t let some rude people attempt to chase you away. Stand your ground in a way that feels right to you; you’re not alone — some of us have just been doing this a bit longer.

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  34. anonymous cowherd

    Maybe there are places out there in open source land that can form kernels of a new way of doing things, and grow from there. While we are waiting for the sociopaths ( ” brociopaths ?” ) to decide to change, maybe we can just build our own thing and leave them wishing they were on the inside, instead of the other way around. When I say we I dont just mean women I mean the whole anti-bro community.

    First kernel would be Adafruit and all it’s attendant open source content and it’s successfull business model.

    Second kernel would be Nixie Pixel’s Patreon , a crowdfunding for her linux videos. The fans of her videos have put in around 8/k a month, putting money where their mouth is.

    Im sure there are many others.

    I note as I write this that these two are monetary success stories, i.e., they aren’t charities, they are real life open source businesses supported by open source users / fans / creators / makers with real money.

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  35. anon2

    I hesitated to respond to this as I don’t want it to come out wrong – writing is no longer my strong suite after I plunged into the world of tech for the past 10 years.

    Let me start with saying that I believe in the validity of your experience as I have experienced similar things in other environments. Inappropriate touching (not even by strangers at a conference, by people at work), being invited to what I thought was a mentoring/networking lunch which ended with the person behaving with what I can only describe as creepy fondness (I suppose I should have realized he has Aspergers but I generally try to not discriminate against people regardless of their appearance or mannerisms), being man-splained to about how to set up Eclipse when I already had the entire tutorial completed the day before.

    That said, 2014 was also my first OSCON, I’m a female software engineer, and this is my story. OSCON was the first place where I felt a great kinship with a community that is extremely passionate about the craftsmanship of technology. I felt more at home at OSCON than any other tech meetup, conference or company. True, I did not go out of my way to network with anyone – mainly because doing that has backfired on me in the past (see previous paragraph), but also because I wasn’t there to expand my network, I was there to improve my craft.

    What I did notice was the most interesting conversations about the mechanisms of different languages or other software constructs seemed to happen between men that do not seem to even notice my existence. I have overheard at least one conversation like this that was interspersed with the word ‘porn’. I could be stereotyping here, but I’ve learned that there is nothing like too much caution in a male-dominated world, so while I would be extremely interested to be part of these conversations, I know that I’m not professionally at a point where I would be taken seriously, and given my status as a female, any interest in my presence would serve another purpose, a purpose that I have no interest in serving. I do not, however, want these interesting debates and conversations to stop.

    I did have several interactions with random (male, due statistical reasons) attendees who made small talk about the technical sessions and tutorials that we attended together. That was a great positive experience for me, as they did not ask any personal questions and were happy to part ways when the session ended. These interactions were very valuable to me as it made me feel like I’m part of the community. In fact, it made me realize how much I initially misjudged them. Did I wish that I do not have to be so guarded in my interactions with a community that clearly has the same passions as I do? Yes. Would I take the risk? No, I deal with enough risks that I did not sign up for.

    OSCON is a great community, and I would support any effort to make it more welcoming. I do hope that it’s not at the cost of extinguishing its passion.

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  36. Stephan

    There is something that puzzle me, 100% of guys had the wrong attitude in the conference, and 100% of the guys here have the opposite attitude here. Are you guys never go to conferences ? or you never talk to women ?

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