As I’ve just finished another CodeMash, I’ve got to admit that there were a lot more women there than at past CodeMashes.


It was great to see this, but at the same time, my inner dread of hearing about asshattery at the conference came true too.  Apparently while CodeMash was going, CES – a massive tech conference  – was also going on with asshattery of its own.  Talking with my husband, he thought this was something of the past.  Unfortunately, this awfulness is still prevalent today.

Booth Babes Should Not Exist

I caught wind of this article on Mashable about a particular booth at CES 2013.  Then there’s this article on The Atlantic Wire about CES’s booth babes.  There’s’s “Why So Many Booth Babes, CES 2013?” article.  Finally, Business Insider did an article called “Meet the Booth Babes of CES 2013”.  Ah… CES…. you’ve yet again showed me why our industry isn’t mature and tends to sexualize things when they don’t need it.  Booth babes?  Nude models?  Just how are these ladies relevant to technology?  That’s right… they aren’t!  As stated in the article, this gimmick works  in a purely male industry.  But wake up, vendors!  Technology may be male-dominated, but it isn’t solely males.  Not only are you doing a disservice to the females in the industry, but you’re also doing a disservice to the guys in the industry who find this behavior not only uncomfortable but uncalled for.  Overall, you’re doing a disservice to the industry as a whole. 

Not All Hot Women Are Booth Babes

Now I have to say this, especially about CodeMash.  Many of you who’ve talked to me know that I’m curious about the other women at these conferences.  If their name tag doesn’t give an idea of what they do, I tend to chat with them to find out what they do.  There were women there who had “booth babe beauty”, but they weren’t booth babes.  If you talked with them, you’d find that they were in marketing/copy writing  recruiting, and yes even some in development.  However, men and women alike are quick to make the assumption that if a woman is hot, then she is a booth babe.  This is very far from the truth, even in technology.

Just Because She’s Hot Doesn’t Mean You Can Hit On Her

When we’re at these tech conferences, we are there to learn more about things that interest us and can help us further our career.  This does not include sleeping with co-workers to get ahead – such an outdated practice that never works anyhow and leads to complications in the office.  Trust me, ladies – don’t prostitute yourself just to advance your career as you will regret it later.

Men, the last thing we want to deal with are guys hitting on us and making assumptions that giving our room number to people for a party later means something more.  For those who are out there and dating, about 95% of them are not looking for a potential mate at a tech conference.  And if a one night stand happens, there’s most likely alcohol involved.  But still, just because it happens to a few doesn’t mean you have to follow their “lead”.

Rather than treating women as ladies to be potential dates, see them as people who share tech interests as you and may be interested in friendship.

Why The Gender Card Complicates Things

The gender card complicates things a lot.  I know many males and females who are friends who later are rumor fodder due to the immaturity in our field.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals can be just friends and aren’t necessarily sleeping together (even if there appears to be that chemistry between them).  But unfortunately, not everyone believes this, which complicates things further.

One of my favorite authors, Shel Silverstein, writes in his poem “No Difference”:

Maybe the way to make everything right

Is for God to just reach out and turn out the light

This is how I feel about the gender card.  Turn out the lights and you can’t tell gender.

Speaking of Cards… The Idea of Creeper Cards

My friend Zee pointed me to the Red/Yellow Card project.  While this is an interesting way of making it a point that someone is getting close to crossing a line or may have even crossed the line, I don’t see how effective it would be to hand them a card.

Anti-Harassment Policies

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, of the Python community, wrote an article called “Why conferences need a code of conduct”.  While codes of conduct are nice in theory, they do no good if they aren’t upheld/enforced.  The problem with reporting someone not adhering to a code of conduct or anti-harassment policy – which also applies even further to someone making a harassment claim in the workplace – is that there’s always the fear of retaliation for being reported.  CodeMash does have an anti-harassment policy, and I’m sure if the incidents were reported to a staff member that the policy would have been enforced.  But between the fear of retaliation and the general uncomfortableness of situations (including the room number incident that made one of my guy friends who witnessed it uncomfortable), it’s honestly difficult to report these things.

One Other Factor… Social Awkwardness/Issues in Geekdom

There’s one other factor that complicates this topic as well.  A lot of geeks are socially awkward and some even have some type of issues that make it hard for them to read people.  So unfortunately, they can misread a cue and say something totally inappropriate without having a good read of a situation.  This is a character flaw that can’t always be changed.

What Should WiT Do About This?

Since WiT are more often than not on the receiving end of such asshattery, I want to put some of the onus on them.  We as WiT need to be more aware of our surroundings and try to avoid these guys.  Travelling in groups and even having guy friends watching out for you can help in learning to deal with these situations.  It sucks that they happen, but realistically, we have to be aware that these can happen and not say “Oh this conference is great!  We don’t have to worry about that here.”  And when those guys are acting up, we need to put our collective foot down and call them out on their bad behavior.  Going back to your room and crying (which I have done in the past) does not solve anything and just makes you feel more miserable.

Sharing the Onus

Men, please look out for the ladies there.  Remember that they are somebody’s daughter.  They may be someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife, someone’s partner, someone’s mom.  If you don’t know them that well, then play nicely and talk to them to learn more about their tech perspectives.  But please. please. please… lose the brogrammer approach to things.  Realize that at the conference, we’re all professionals who want to hone our crafts (and I don’t mean that euphemistically) in one form or another.  And when you see improper behavior going down, please call them out (or report it if you don’t feel comfortable calling them out).

Let’s put an end to the asshattery at these conferences and make them more enjoyable for everyone!

One thought on “Asshattery in Technology – Why WiT Struggle at Tech Conferences

  1. You were there? Dang it! I don’t think I got to meet you. So many people to meet, so little time.

    CodeMash has a particular problem in this sphere: lots of people in bathing suits drinking. Drinking amplifies asshattery, and being in a bathing suit make it sting more.

    You’re right that as women, if we stand up for ourselves and inform the dude that it was an asshat thing to say, we help the next woman he talks to.
    And if all the people at the conference are supportive, and the guy or gal next to us says, “Yeah, dude, that was a douche move, not cool” then we’re empowered to speak up.

    1. Jessica,
      It’s fascinating how opposite our conference experiences seem to be. In fact, your Pecha/Kucha inspired me to want to write a blog post simply contrasting my experiences/opinions/perceptions with those you expressed (although I have yet to find the time :-), just to show that diversity can exist WITHIN subsets of minorities as well (yes I’m calling WIT a minority in this case). But, everyone travels a different path.

      I’ve been to the waterpark parties at all 3 Codemashes I’ve attended (and also at ThatConference) & not once have I felt objectified in any way at any of them. In fact, I was even comfortable taking my 9yo daughter with me to the waterpark party at ThatConference.

      Interestingly, those who have made me feel the most uncomfortable have actually been the NON-TECHNICAL “booth babes” and wait staff (“Why are you here? What do YOU do? Are you a girlfriend or a wife?”); specifically the ones hired to service various wonderful events held during /BUILD/ 2011 (not a knock against that conference in any way – it was amazing). They (non-technical hired females) have been the worst with assumptions (& most opinionated), in my experience, which is actually why I wanted to blog why it IS important to me TO wear my “Geekette” shirt… to show other women who don’t believe in themselves that women geeks exist & are awesome (I think this response just saved me from writing a blog post haha).

      In the meantime, if I get arrested, it’s probably because I slapped the sh*t out of someone who giggled through the sentence, “I can’t even turn ON my computer,” as they were dismissing something I said 😀

  2. I find the maturity level in our field to be poor and frustrating on all levels. Back when I was in the 8th grade I loved dropping the F bomb for shock appeal. Probably 20% of what I said was a curse word. It was cool to cuss behind my moms back. I enjoyed making people uncomfortable. At this same time, my treatment toward females was equally as poor.

    I objectified them.

    Then this crazy thing happened… I grew up. I became a man. I became a father. And I must say a very influencing factor is that I became a Christian, but one doesn’t need to be a Christian to grow up. I actually don’t curse. I just don’t. I don’t do it at home, I don’t do it with friends, I may do it in my head… but that is where it stays. I find it rather silly that a grown man or woman does. It is obvious that it offends others it adds no value to a person in any way. Ultimately it always seems to bite people in the behind. Just look at the countless news casters that get caught with a live mic while off the air.

    Many people (male and female) in our field haven’t grown up. This is a major pet peeve of mine. I hope that I am raising my 3 boys to be men.

    With all of that being said, women are not off the hook here. What you wear matters. If your boobs are hanging out… you’re going to attract that kind of guy. Guys are visually drawn to things like that. Fair or not.. that does happen. I’m teaching my daughter about this very subject of modesty on a daily basis. Wearing enough clothes to cover up. I explain to her why and am hopeful that this habit stays with her as she grows up. When I saw some images of booth babes at CES I was saddened. I hope I’m raising a daughter with more self respect than that.

    1. I totally agree that women aren’t off the hook here either. Sadly, I know of a few women (including one that an anonymous poster sent to me) who are just as guilty. Being in the community and as networked as I am, I’ve unfortunately witnessed both sides of the stories, and seeing these incidents (be it the males causing the situations or the females causing them) just saddens me about the immaturity of many. 🙁

  3. I hope that more women continue to attend these conferences. Bad behavior will be increasingly frowned upon as women achieve parity in historically male dominated cultures. If you’re getting treated unacceptably at conferences, the solution isn’t to stop going, as some have said, it’s to come back with reinforcements next time.

  4. The subtle, unconscious ones get me. The things people do, never meaning to be mean, that just remind me how culturally ingrained it is.

    Here’s the scene:
    I’m having a great conversation with another developer, enjoying it a lot. And then he says something like, “I don’t think you were at [whatever event], because I would have noticed a beautiful woman.”

    And I think, “Oh. I see. I thought we were being programmers together. But apparently we’re not.” I lost all savor in the conversation and found him tedious and quickly escapable the rest of the week.

    Can’t I just be a person? An intellect you respect and enjoy? A programmer you want to debate cloud-based deployment strategies with?

    No. Apparently not. /sigh

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