Offense and Industry Part II

I had a feeling that I’d want to add a bit more to what I wrote yesterday, as it’s a complicated subject filled with a lot of tangents (me?? tangents??) and, quite frankly, emotion. The sad thing is, none of this is exceptionally new, and it usually follows a predictable pattern: person does something that offends someone, person states that they’re offended (in a rational or irrational manner), offendor gives passive-aggressive and dismissive rebuttal to offendee, calls offendee some sort of name (like prude) to try to justify/warrant/excuse their behavior, offendee is now on the defensive and making disclaimers, focus is now off of the offendor via smoke and mirrors, lather, rinse, repeat.
And you know what? It’s a great trap. After all, how can I (or anyone else) write about “someone giving a presentation at a professional conference with material that offended people” without making a bunch of disclaimers about how I’m not a prude, that I’m not easily offended, etc. – but when the hell did it become about anything other than his actions and his actions only? Why does it resort to that? It isn’t – and shouldn’t be – about me or my feelings; but in a way, the topic can’t exist if it focuses solely on what was done – because we’ve gotten to a point where if someone disagrees with you and your feelings, you have to make disclaimers that your feelings aren’t related to the negative badge they’ll automatically stick you with to be dismissive of you (in this case, it was ‘prude,’ right? or did it sink so low as to be ‘girl?’). And I was really encouraged (initially) when I saw that very insightful blog post that blatantly stated that it wasn’t about any of the usual off-ramps (like prudishness), but rather about what is considered professional conduct within the tech industry. But how long did it take before there just seemed to be more knee-jerk ‘zomg women should be offended!’ and ‘zomg lighten up free speech’ crap than the actual insightful, productive discussion that could have been occurring instead?
I was very hesitant to say anything at all about the matter, because I am about the farthest thing from the ‘token female’ that you can get. I make men blush constantly (not a disclaimer, just a fact). And I don’t feel like I’ve really written anything terribly deep or profound here, and hopefully no one thinks I have any obligation to do so (as I don’t). But I’m kind of sick of the cycle of people finding it appropriate to push boundaries in professional settings and then retaliating as if the person who expected professional conduct at a professional event was in the wrong. I think it’s sad that so many people are having to justify their opinions – and themselves – when they have nothing to be defensive about. they’re entitled to their opinions AND to have those opinions be respected, even if/when they’re disagreed with. I find it rather sad that Dave now has to deal with the brunt of this; not only because it wasn’t his actions, but because a lot of the knee-jerk response he’s getting don’t help anything, and this could be a great opportunity for the tech community to start thinking about its accepted behaviors and how to be more inclusive of different levels of thinking of what is/isn’t appropriate conduct. Do we get into a ratings system at conferences? Do we make disclaimers? Or do we automatically dismiss any presentation and content that may be considered edgy and pushing boundaries? Should I put up a poster of Dr. Manhattan during my presentations from now on? What’s the right thing to do?

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