Offense and Industry

So there’s been a bit of a brouhaha over in the Flash/dev community over a presentation that was given at Flashbelt; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend (so I can’t speak from firsthand experience about what happened), but I wanted to chime in on some of what’s being said – and not being said – throughout the community as a result.
In a way, it all boils down to this: a presenter displayed some images and made some comments that were crude & offensive to some of the people there – and for what it’s worth, ‘some of the people there’ is NOT synonymous with ‘women.’ Words are being thrown around like ‘pornographic’ and ‘misogynistic.’ But the two words being strewn about with the most frequency are these: ‘professional’ and ‘prude.’ The people that are vocally objectifying what happened are quick to be on the defensive that they are not prudes, that they can take a joke, etc., but that the material shouldn’t have been allowed at a Professional event. But why do they have to be defensive at all? Is it only okay to be offended so long as you’re not a prude? It seems that these people are apologizing for being themselves and/or for feeling that this was inappropriate for a professional event, whereas the presenter hasn’t apologized at all. To the extent that I hope to be able to be free to do and say what I want to, I also accept that that privilege doesn’t come free of responsibility – especially not in a professional venue.
There are some industries where being involved within the communities means accepting the tribal customs; back when I was in the music industry, for example, the attitudes and expectations for ‘professional’ behaviour were quite different than they were when I was a government contractor. But in a way, the rules at a tech conference aren’t always clear, and that leaves some ambiguity as to what’s considered acceptable. Many of the tech males that I associate with liken themselves to rockstars, and seem to equate that with a juvenile, sexist sort of bent. Tech conferences are billed as being laid-back, cool, and daring – all of the things that tech people aren’t necessarily well-known for being – and as a result, a lot of their insecurity manifests itself in overcompensation and in the men trying a bit too hard to prove that they’re no longer the outcasts, that they can reject and objectify women just like the rockstars do. But a real rockstar doesn’t need to resort to gimmicks and putdowns to prove themselves, unless they have no genuine talent.
I’m disappointed to see that something like this ends up overshadowing all of the positive things that the Flash community does, and all of the great things that were at Flashbelt & that Dave did for the event. Many of my dear friends & colleagues were there and I know that there was so much more to this event than this one presentation. But a professional event either needs to be designated like a treehouse with a ‘no stinky girls allowed!’ banner from the get-go (which would be just as much of a pity as having an all-girl tea party with a ‘no stinky boys allowed!’ one), or the professionals there need to act as, well, professionals.