A memorable EuroPython, for the better

July 12, 2012

EuroPython marked many memorable experiences for me, as a PyLady, as a member of the Python community, and as a newbie to coding & programming.

First, it is widely known and very well accepted that the folks at EuroPython did a fantastic job in organizing the whole conference. Every detail was well thought out.  Coming from 7000+ miles away, I did not feel like a foreigner.  Little things, including inviting me to join them in the evening a couple days before the conference; having cordial side conversations; and making connections & introductions, it all really helped me out.

To be given an opportunity to speak about what I've been doing with PyLadies in San Francisco and Women Who Code is fantastic; and to have it elevated to a keynote was all the more surreal.  I thought it was pretty well received by the audience.  Many folks asked really good, difficult questions; things that needed to be discussed.  My approach to the talk was to provoke some thought in the audience without really alienating them.  

Yet many still wanted to get to the elephant in the room: “what are we doing that we don't know we're doing?” Long answer short: It's not Python community-specific, but how we bring general societal norms into the community.  We, the python community, have been very open minded with who joins us.  I'm not sure why, if it's a precedent that Guido set, if it's the type of people the language attracts, or if it's because it's the model child of FOSS. It's certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the likes of Java or C (no offense, well, maybe…).

Another hot question was “Is Guido's t-shirt, Python is for Girls, sexist?”  From the point of view of a woman, it ostracizes me.  It feels like someone is trying to dress up programming with the color pink.  Or like Lego trying to appeal to girls with it's easy-bake oven twist.  But when talking to Guido one-on-one, as I would have thought, he of course didn't mean it to be offensive.  Rather, he means to challenge the programmer paradigm. After the keynote, many approached me.  One gal from geekgirlscarrots.pl gave me the greatest greeting and sincerest thank you I've heard.  Men came up asking for help and ideas how to get more women involved in their communities back home.  I felt this talk was very well received (despite being so nervous for it!).


The most-talked about event, in my opinion (probably because I was the center of it), was the incident outline in my previous post. Namely, a conference attendee tweeted something offensive in reference
to #pyladies, I called him out, addressed it with the EuroPython organizers, and allowed a discussion (if you can call it that) happen on my blog. My first thought about that event: The organizers of EuroPython handled it exceptionally well.  I went to the venue early before the conference started for the day, and they were already aware of the tweet (and I assume my reaction to it via twitter or my blog, as well).  They were very diligent in consulting the appropriate people on the EuroPython/Python Italia board.  The result was, I felt, adequate in addressing the situation.  A public apology (two, actually) from the attendee via twitter and on my blog, a public stance on their Code of Conduct via twitter, and plenty of reassurance in private. I can't stress enough that the organizers were very respectful, and did exactly what I thought should be done.  This is exactly why there needs to be a CoC at conferences, and why the Python community is very adamant about signing the Let's Get Louder campaign. I'd like to quote a comment on the Let's Get Louder campaign from someone who I met at EuroPython, but didn't know at the time of when this was posted:

It’s amazing how people who have never been affected by any type of discrimination decide for the rest, that it’s not a big deal and not our problem. But it *is* our problem. Because *this* is *our* community. And I will not tolerate that people get discriminated or harassed … without any reaction from *inside* the community.

Because that’s bad for our community. For every single person of us. A code of conduct is not about giving women or other minorities the power to get people they dislike out of conferences just by accusing them.

So stop bringing that up. It is a firm statement by the organizers and everyone who decides to take part of such an event that *we* as a community value every member of it and don’t want assholes make them feel not welcome. That if someone harasses them we’ll be there for them and won’t just shrug our shoulders and/or relay cowardly responsibilities to ominous third parties.

When this incident happened, I teared up a bit cried. Not because I took the tweet to heart, but because I knew that I was in a safe space, here at the conference.  I had this comment in the back of my mind already, and to reflect back to it gave me some comfort.  I was comfortable showing up to the conference, having normal conversations with folks, and did not feel ostracized. The apology, while I don't doubt the sincerity, showed lack of cognizance & self awareness of the issue at hand. For clarity: some people don't get it.  From another community that I shared this incident with, this response hits the point pretty well.  I want to illustrate a female point of view that I heavily agree with, but can't seem to voice it as well as her.  With her permission, I am posting anonymously:

Without #Pyladies it's not a joke, it's just a contentless anecdote. The hash tag wasn't just accidental or in poor taste.  It would still have been sexist and offensive and objectifying and rape-culturish if he had tagged it “#ladies?"or ”#Wife?“  (God forbid we say so though, or expect men to actually think about women as people instead of blow job machines.)  

It is extra-special-nasty because he implied that specifically technical women who were where he was right then are *still* nothing more than objects for his sexual pleasure, and so it becomes a specific and personal threat/dehumanization of actual, specific women whom he could probably see at the time.  That is offensive and sexist and objectifying *and* creepy and discouraging and alienating and perpetuates the culture that creates the gross gender imbalances in our industry. Until these dudes start deconstructing their thoughts themselves, I will deconstruct their thoughts for them.  

If they don't like what their jokes say about them, they should start thinking before they speak now shouldn't they? It is entirely possible to make dirty jokes that don't rely on a blind sense of entitlement to sexual relations with the generic category of "women” (or any other generic category, for that matter.)  

For example, “Sucked the marrow out of my osso bucco at #Europython.  Waiter said I will have "very good orgasm.” He was right. #Flexible" Or “Sucked the marrow out of my osso bucco Waiter said I will have "very good orgasm.” Wasn't practicing for me #LoveYouDear"

This isn't an overreaction; this was a perfect situation to bring to light the type of incidents women do face.  Sure, maybe one comment can be easily brushed off.  But it isn't one, it's many.  From both in private at home with silly, innocuous jokes, to a$$hat comments made in public.  It adds up.  The general creepy comments from being the only female at a table drinking; the hurtful, disrespectful, and gaslighting tweets & blog comments; the crass jokes; the “calm down, just breathe. You're overreacting” conversation (!).

For simple, lightbulb moments that I've witnessed some men get, it's gratifying and reassuring.  It's the reason I'm speaking.  The soft “a-ha” speaks loudly. The support that I got that evening and the rest of the conference was amazing. Some went up to bat on behalf of me/PyLadies/women in tech.  Some simply asked how I was doing. Overall, I could not have asked for a better experience.  I met many prolific and awesome people in the Python community.  I've made friends that I know will last beyond the sunny days of Florence.  And I've made a pretty hard dent in my liver.  I'm looking forward to next year.

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