Yesterday, Richard Stallman wrote something that I do not like at all in his political notes:
A man got fired for making jokes in Pycon that alluded to sex.
Making jokes referring sex, as such, is not wrong. Making a joke about "fork" or "dongle", as such, is not wrong. To criticize these things is prudery.
I don't know precisely what those people said; there might be more information in Richards' blog post, which I cannot access. Perhaps their words deserved criticism for some other reason I have not seen.
In the absence of that, they are the ones who were wronged. Pycon should not have criticized them for this (not even privately), they should not have apologized, and they certainly didn't deserve to be fired.
This appears to be an attempt to reimpose oppressive 1950s prudery. Richards and her supporters deserve to meet firm resistance. However, I would not have called for her to be fired for this, and sending her threats of violence was inexcusable.
I have been following this debacle closely, really avoiding to make a blog post condemning the horrible sexism and misogyny in the Python community. Probably because I am a coward. But also because I am not really part of that community at all, and I doubt anyone would care. However, this post by RMS is a breaking point. It worries me because I call myself a supporter of Free Software. I even released free software code and a terrible game that no one plays at all. I promote Free Software operating systems and programming tools. This is why I cannot stand seeing someone in such a high position of influence in the Free Software world to do this.
Where do I begin?...
Conferences and codes of conduct
Fun thing about programming languages and tech conferences: They cannot really afford to deny entry to 50% of the potential population that could be interested in the topic. It is important to make sure that no one is uncomfortable at the conference. And it is also nice for the environment to be professional and have no sexual harassment. I think this is a good thing for everyone... men and women. It really pains me that it looks like the main reaction (similar to the main reaction when similar incidents happen in other communities that are mostly composed of 'geeks') is ... OPPOSITION TO OUR RIGHT TO MAKE JOKES!. People behave with such a sad and ridiculous entitlement about this. Do you mean, do you you REALLY mean that it is important for your comfort at a tech conference to withhold your right to make sexist jokes and innuendo and other things? Is it really that important? Is this really the sort of issue that requires your FREE SPEECH ACTIVIST tone?
I don't think so.
I wonder if part of the reason for Stallman's reaction is not being well-informed about the case. PyCon had an easily accessible code of conduct. It was against the code of conduct to make sexist jokes at that conference. And this has nothing to do with a conspiracy by Richards and her supporters to ruin conferences. This code of conduct existed well before the incident. Maybe the free speech activists should have reacted to it when it was first revealed, and not when a woman used the code of conduct to ask the conference organizers to do something - she was feeling uncomfortable because of the dongle and forking jokes (One of the guys has admitted that at least the dongle jokes were sexual in nature).
I am going to speculate, maybe the reason Richards and perhaps some other attendees to the conference decided to attend the conference was that the Code of conduct contained clear guidelines about these issues. I don't think there is anything wrong in expecting other attendees to follow the Code of conduct. I actually think that when the code of conduct is this well established, then those guys who really think their right to make sexist jokes is very important should avoid going to that conference. I think that for the most part this is true. The two guys who were making the jokes recognized that it was not good behavior and apologized.
In addition, Richards did not ask for anyone to get fired.
Contrary to how Stallman feels about this, those of us who would like there not to be sexist jokes at conferences are not killjoys. If anything, we would like conferences to be enjoyable for everyone. That is a bit of an issue though, because if we allow guys to freely make the conference an uncomfortable place for, for example, women, we would be failing our main objective. The entitled dudes with the jock mentality would be enjoying the conference, but ... no one else would.
Then Stallman talks about "oppressive prudery"... I really don't think this is a free speech issue. I think that guys are still pretty much able to make their own blogs where they can make compilations of all dongle jokes they can find. Of course, it could get you fired, specially if you do something like make the blog post in the your company's official blog. Or if you are found making the sexist jokes at a conference. A conference that explicitly bans those jokes. A conference that you are attending in representation of your employer.
In these regards, Free Speech is not really a right not to be criticized. I think that as entitled as people are to make sexist jokes, other people are also entitled to criticize that action. Publicly, even.
This brings the side issue of "public shaming". Stallman did not mention it, so I will be brief about this. If you do things in public, you should consider the possibility to be called out in public about them. If these jokes are really a source of shame for you - To the point you would consider getting called out on them "Public shaming" then I have a good solution for you: Do not perform shameful acts in public. A frankly ridiculous defense is that the jokes were "private" jokes. No, the guys were standing in a conference room surrounded by people. So no.
Those who really deserve firm resistance
It challenges my suspension of disbelief to read Stallman saying that Adria Richards and her supporters "deserve" firm resistance. Altogether ignoring the outburst of awful sexism and misogyny in the community after the event.
- Sexism: If you are confused or undecided about whether or not the reaction included a whole bunch of sexism. Detecting sexism is easy, it takes the guise of a double standard. Look up to those reactions that make a pretty big deal about a father of three getting fired and actively ignore the probable repercussions Richard's life is going to have for getting fired herself.
- Misogyny: Much worse and obvious than the sexism, but for some reason there are people that deny it even when it is flaunting. If a person's main reaction to a woman complaining is to call her a B word. If the reaction includes projecting negative views about other women on her or if the reaction includes the words rape or ugly in any form or any other form of violence. That is how a misogynist comment looks like.
The thing is that after the ridiculous explosion of sexism and misogyny anyone would worry about Richards herself. Or spend anytime criticizing her actions. Whereas there is clearly a much bigger issue at hand. While Richards may be a threat to your freedom to make dongle jokes; The sexism and the misogyny are a threat to women in the Python community and as such a threat to the community itself. How do you intend there to be any progress. To make more techs to join. And to make the conventions seem safe and comfortable. When these people seem to have the louder voices? Asking people to oppose firmly to Richards after this incident is a serious mistake. There are certainly much greater threats to the community that were made evident after the incident.
If you really think that making a public tweet was a big sin, you are probably unaware of reality. Asking nicely is not a reliable solution.
Plenty of commenters have fallen victim to the fallacy of the middle. Yadda yadda yadda, "making sexist jokes in the wrong place and in a conference that explicitly forbids it is wrong an unprofessional BUT it is also wrong to tweet pictures of it " yadda. I strongly disagree. Richards acted within the code of conduct. PyCon later updated the code of conduct to forbid public shaming, which is a frankly terrible move.
To sum up
I find Richard Stallman to be disturbingly wrong in this topic. A bad sign that the free software movement is hostile to the idea of making conferences a safe and comfortable place to everyone. As a free software fan, I feel forced to state strong disagreement.
Richard Stallman is in Bolivia right now and I was going to attend one of his conferences next Monday. I decided not to do it. Just a quite meaningless action and I really doubt there will be an empty seat or that anyone will actually care, but still.
Unfortunately, this is not a first time either. In June last year he showed concern against the notion that maybe guys shouldn't make sex propositions during conferences. Oh well.