Feedback regarding my YAPC::NA talks

Last week I got the survey results regarding my YAPC::NA talks, and I found that one of my talks was really badly received among the two that reviewed the talk. I was shocked, at first to their extreme dislike for my talk, and later to their reasons for disliking them.

The root of the problem that they both say is that my talk might have driven new programmers from the community, but I don't understand how, as they never say exactly why.

Now before I go any further, I want to say that I will go over the talk very carefully if I ever decide to give the talk again. This is not about me not wanting to fix my stuff.

After my initial shock, I realized that they both went into how there were a lot of women in the audience and that makes it way worse, because I was going to drive them away from the community. I actually take offense to this on the womens' behalf. What difference does it make that there were women in the room? I don't want to treat women any differently than men. To do so would be patronizing, and make them even more aware that there are only 10 women in a conference hall with 300 other guys.

I feel that if you want more women in the community you need to talk to them and invite them to join. Don't treat them differently after they arrive. That is possibly the worst thing you can do.

I was really offended by the implication that I should have changed my talk, because the few women in our community were there, I mean really, either it is appropriate to give at YAPC, or it is not. The gender of the audience shouldn't change the content of a talk for YAPC. We are trying to be inviting to women and inclusive? Then invite them! The worst possible thing you can do is to treat them differently. Just thinking about it gets me pissed off on behalf of the women who were adventurous enough to attend a conference in a Male dominated field/subculture, just to be patronized by the same types people who review my talk.

The problem is that they might not even realize thier transgression, and that is the real problem. When talking with several of the YAPC organizers, and women programmers around my office, Everyone echoed the same things: That women don't want to stand out because they are different. Which means that changing a talk because there might be a woman in the room, is offensive. Either your talk was offensive to begin with (like the Ruby talk back in April), or because you are now patronizing the women who are attending your talk, treating them like beginners.

Anyone who says I should have fixed my talk because women were there. Shut up.

On the other hand, if you think I should fix my talk because I could have driven newcomers away from the community, I would like to listen to your constructive comments, because I don't have a recording of my talk, and therefore cannot review it myself.

I have gone on long enough about this, and I hope that I don't offend anyone, but this is how I feel on the topic.
/end rant


The gender of the audience shouldn't change the content of a talk


I didn't see your talk, so my thoughts may or may not be constructive for you, but I feel gender issues are not as straightforward as "we should just act as though all the issues between men and women have already been resolved and move forward." Some women feel this way and feel comfortable with it, but others do not. Additionally, just saying "women feel" is overly globalizing and itself a possible bias, since different groups of people living in different social levels have very different relationships with these issues. Gender bias can be experienced very differently for educated white woman than for women of color, for example. On the other hand, some gender issues seem to cut across all social levels. Most woman (as most people in general) can't be shoeboxed into a particular identity based on skin color or educational background.

Given the ongoing evidence of gender bias at most nearly every social distinction (from salary, to political power) I'd give benefit of the doubt to the feminist theorists that argue for continued sensitivity and attention. When I say "sensitivity" I don't mean political correctness, or any other globalizing or suspiciously totalitarian ideology. I simply mean just that, being sensitive and aware.

I personally feel its naive to say, "Hey if we all just started to pretend there's no issue there will magically be no issue." Yes, I realize some people, including a lot of woman, would say that it is just that easy, so I agree I might be in error. Just I find in life experience, nothing is that easy :)

This messy transition period means that no matter what you do some women are going to feel offended. Some woman are going to feel like you are drawing attention to them and that is insulting because they'd rather we all just get on with it. Other women are going to feel like special effort and sensitivity are required. Some woman are even going to even demand extreme measures to correct what they see as a serious evil. Personally I prefer to err on the side of being sensitive and hope the women that wish I stop cut me some slack given the ambiguity and my good intentions.

It would really help if I could find your talk online somewhere, they I could respond more intelligently.

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This page contains a single entry by leonard published on October 2, 2009 10:48 AM.

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