Hey, folks. You all might be seeing the giant mess that is coming out of the firing of several people over two jokes at PyCon 2013 this year. I’m Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, and I and my colleague Liz Dahlstrom were there. We had a great time this year, and will certainly be at Montreal next year. (Some of you may know that I and Liz are co-founders of LadyCoders; we’re not wearing that hat right now and we’re not writing on that site. We’re just two devs who have some thoughts on this topic)

I’ll try to relate the facts as dryly as possible: Adria Richards, a developer evangelist at SendGrid with more than 10,000 Twitter followers, overheard two PlayHaven devs speaking behind her at a large speaking panel at PyCon in Santa Clara
last weekend, and took offense to their language, which by their later admission was in violation of the PyCon code of conduct. Adria turned around and took pictures of the two men and posted them on Twitter, with a comment about the sexual nature of their conversation. The men (Alex Reid and supposedly Hacker News handle mr-hank) were publicly outed. mr-hank, who says he is a father of three, lost his job. Richards wrote a post explaining her side, and so did the man who lost his job. There’s an excellent post up at Ars Technica that also tells the tale.

As the Internet does upon occasion, it lost its $#1%. Richards was just fired from SendGrid; arguably she can no longer function in her role in developer relations, and
her site has been DDOSed. mr-hank has been fired from his job at PlayHaven, and a petition is now up asking for his reinstatement.

Liz and I were also at Defcon last year, and will be this year. In fact, we’re writing up our speaker proposals now. How many of you remember these?

rugby cards

Liz and I have been talking about the situation. We’re wondering–how can we give people who become uncomfortable at PyCon more options? How much of this problem could have been fixed if Richards had had some way to tell these guys that what they were doing was making her feel uncomfortable without having to confront them? I can tell you now that at Defcon, when I saw a woman pull out a red card and show it to someone,
every single person’s attention instantly fixed on that situation. A quiet apology was issued, the (now) gentleman exited the room, chastened, and having learned not to talk about his manparts loudly and drunkenly, and in front of someone who didn’t want to hear it. 99.9% of the time, we are just socially clueless nerds. I have been known to tell some truly appallingly clueless jokes, and I actually got yellow carded last year at Defcon. I’m serious. If we had a way to make our wishes known while taking most of the confrontation out of the situation, I think that the convention would be a much happier and more comfortable place for everyone.

We don’t want to see PyCon ruined for everyone. It is one of the most overall open and friendly environments in tech that either of us has attended, and we’d like it to stay that way. We don’t want silence to begin as soon as a woman enters the room because everyone there is afraid of public shaming and losing their job. We also don’t want women to be
afraid to speak up because of the nastiness that has ensued over the last few days.

So, Liz and I are going to carry on the work of KC from Defcon. Read more about this amazing woman: The Red/Yellow Card Project.

See these three cards? We just mocked them up. We want to put them in the swag bags next year at PyCon 2014 Montreal. All please note that we will ask for Diana’s ok (Diana is next year’s PyCon chair) on the wording. We think it’s ok, but we’ll check to make sure that it doesn’t give anyone legal hiccups before we send them to the printers.

pycon_coc_warning

pycon_coc_violation

pycon_coc_defender

We want to make this convention better, and without a tool to help us communicate with tact and clarity, we think the confusion will continue. If you’d like to help us out with printing costs, you can donate to the paypal account below. We’d like to put these cards in swag bags for everyone.

[paypal-donation]

Look, we were playing Cards Against Humanity in that exact same game that Adria was playing in. We had a great time. This was in the
hotel, away from the con, and nowhere near where the Code of Conduct applied, but even there we would have respected anyone’s wishes to be quieter, kinder, or chill out if someone had been unhappy. There’s no joy in making other people uncomfortable or unhappy. All most nerds need is to know that what they’re doing is inappropriate, and they’ll stop.

Twitter   tarah   dirnonline  kennethlove ...

We’re all really inappropriate people. Let’s make an easy way to tell each other when it happens.

29 Replies to “PyCon Code Of Conduct Warning Cards”

  1. Cool! I'm glad you guys liked my card project enough to carry it on in your own way. I totally support adding more tools to the pool of options for dealing with upsetting behavior, especially ones that don't rely on public confrontation. Thank you!

      1. For the record, I still have a small number of the physical cards that I'd be happy to send you as souvenirs. I also have high res images of my cards and a slew of discount codes for printing with moo.com if you'd like em. Just email me at consentcards @ gmail 🙂

          1. But I bet that there are a few folks that would really dig more. See, if you really wanted to do more of these, we have a few suggestions for an updated version. You might have noticed that our mockups are white text. It's hard to read dark-on-dark, especially as many areas of Defcon are poorly lit. Some of the language could get updated to help out with conflict resolution. I know that you took a lot of crap for doing this and you might be completely exhausted from it; as you can see, we're taking our share now too, but if you want to give input, we will always listen and would love to hear from you and have you involved as much as you want to be. I will DM you on Twitter to give you my email 😉

  2. Could we make the cards general-purpose? Replacing "PyCon CoC" with "Code of Conduct", "PyCon code of conduct" with "conference code of conduct", and perhaps "con" with "conference", and the designs can be used in any conference, anywhere, not just PyCon. Success in promoting anything, including good behavior, is a matter of repetition, repetition, repetition. Having a standardized design and language that could be used repeatedly would seem to be worthwhile.

    (besides, "CoC" may not be a recognizable term at many conferences, or for many attendees)

    (also besides, making them reusable means attendees with interest can bring their own cards to conferences that do not supply them)

    I speak at a few conferences annually. If you can arrange to create standardized card designs (PDFs ready for printing, maybe?), I'll work on getting them distributed at the events that I speak at, and will donate towards your use of them at PyCon.

    1. Better yet, why not just use the term "Py-Conduct". That would solve a lot of problems right there.

      Also, Richards did have a means of expressing herself to those two guys who, incidentally, she was eavesdropping on, listening in on their conversations in an entirely intrusive and completely inappropriate way. Perhaps there should also be a rule that would strongly suggest future PyCon participants to respect the privacy of others, which would greatly reduce the need and use of those cards.

  3. " How much of this problem could have been fixed if Richards had had some way to tell these guys that what they were doing was making her feel uncomfortable without having to confront them?"

    She was in a room of 300 people, she had already spoken to these guys, she never once describes any threatening behavior on their part.

    Why is she afraid to confront them as any normal human and citizen would using. "Hey, can you keep that to yourself?", or "Pardon me, I dislike hearing that sort of speech."

    You make Richards and all women out to be frails, needing protection from normal everyday encounters through use of passive aggressive mechanisms and threats to escalate to parental, patriarchal bodies.

    I kind of think women are better than that, and that as rational humans with agency in a roomful of other professionals can express their opinions and desires effectively without resort to passive aggressive intimidation.

    That was Richards' problem, that is the problem with your analysis.

    1. In this particular instance, yes. That would absolutely have worked as far as we can tell. This is not true in all circumstances. Sometimes the outcome is public shaming toward the person complaining, sometimes it's outright hostility. We're trying to help create an option that (hopefully) avoids those possible outcomes.

      Not everything

      1. It may be the phrasing of the sentence but the "How much of this problem could have been fixed if Richards had had some way to tell these guys…" sentence annoyed me as well because my first thought was "She did have have a way to tell them – it's called 'telling them'."

        For the most part, I do agree with the rest of your article. Many of us are on the lower end of the "socially adept" scale and don't always realize the impact of the things we say.

        Advice I would like to see given, though, is not to avoid confrontation. Cards like these, while convenient, are passive aggressive and, ultimately, set a negative standard of conduct for those who use them. Yes, confrontation can be difficult and uncomfortable, but you have to go through difficult and uncomfortable situations if you're actually looking to improve a situation. Saying "How can we tell these people something without having to do the hard work of telling them?" is like saying "How can I lose a lot of weight without doing the hard work of exercising and eating better?" Sometimes you just have to put in the work if you want to see a situation improve.

  4. You should fix the spelling of CoC. It is usually spelled cock. Better yet, just change the word to dick.

    What's that? It was an unintentional pun? Hmmm… maybe just delete CoC altogether since most people have no idea what it stands for and the first guess will be that it means cock, a synonym of dick,

  5. P.S. just read the comments and realized that your error was to write PyCon CoC instead of PyCon Conduct

    The people giving cards are Conduct Defenders. What kind of Conduct? Why PyCon Conduct, of course!

  6. These cards are proof enough that women are not only not equals, but ruin everything they come in contact with with petty dramas. Seriously. If I as a male handed out these childish cards at every obnoxious thing I heard women say, I'd have to pull a tote of the things around behind me everywhere I went. Here's an idea, when you go to these conferences, how about you go with the intention of focusing on the conference instead of with the intent of finding a crusade to stroke your egos over.

    1. I was going to mod this as a troll, but then I realized that while you’re throwing a fit, I completely agree with you. Except, substitute the phrase “hypersensitive internet troll” for “women”, and there you go. See–I actually agree with even the sentiments behind what you’re saying. I think that we should all just say when we’re mad, and the world would be a better place.

      However. I was not joking earlier in the post when I said that I got yellow carded at Defcon last year. These cards gave me a way to learn something, and save some of my dignity at the same time. I am going to tell you how your comment isn’t a joke at all. I, a woman, told an inappropriate joke that made a man uncomfortable. Now, imagine the world of Defcon. It’s uber-masculine, the expectation is that everyone ‘gets the joke’, and that if you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be there. In a room full of dudes, I told a rude joke that genuinely made someone uncomfortable. He held up a yellow card, and gave me a serious hairy eyeball for about two seconds, and everyone laughed. He did too, and then said “No, but seriously,” and stopped smiling. There was a brief uncomfortable moment, I realized I had gone a bit too far, I apologized, stopped what I was doing, and it was all good. The room’s atmosphere did not change, no one got butthurt, and the party didn’t die. I went up to him later and apologized more thoroughly, and learned my lesson.

      What the cards did was give everyone a way to handle the situation with some dignity. The person screwing up (me) realized exactly what had happened, the person who was uncomfortable didn’t have the burden of finding the right words to express his discomfort or of having to defend his masculinity, and instead had a socially accepted way to express himself that was cross-gendered and totally understood by everyone there, and as soon as the situation was done, it was over. The lesson was learned, no feels were damaged, and most of all, no one got fired or doxxed or threatened with rape/death/4channing.

      In fact, after a while at Defcon, the cards became a joke, but a kind one. When someone started talking in a way that made someone else uncomfortable, someone else could simply say “Yellow card!” or “Red card!” and everyone would laugh, but the person would stop. This is a real thing, guys, and it really does help. I SUPPORT MAKING THESE CARDS NOT BECAUSE I WANT TO USE THEM, BUT BECAUSE I HAVE HAD THEM USED ON ME AND I KNOW THEY WORK WELL AS A LEARNING TOOL.

  7. Hey Tarah. Looking forward to seeing you again on Monday at the Seattle Mob Programming session.

    I've not heard of these cards before but I do like any effort to make it easier for people to communicate that they're feeling uncomfortable, and explaining what would work for them in the future, and perhaps what they'd like to hear right now that would help them.

    What I don't like is the "you made me feel X" approach. I worry that the language will piss off a lot of people, because it sounds like – like Adria – someone ain't owning their feelings. Sure, certain behavior is bound to end up with someone getting upset, and other behavior is very unlikely too, but the grey area in between is so huge that "you made me feel uncomfortable" – and indeed "you're breaking the rules" – both seem unnecessarily provocative and confrontational.

    My wife and I learned from a Gottman-trained relationship therapist that "I need to hear that X" helps. Also, I like the NVC (Non-Violent Communication) model in general.

    So here's my yellow card that would bring at least these ideas into the mix:

    "Hey, I'm feeling uncomfortable, and I need to hear that you agree with the Code of Conduct and that you'll talk to me afterwards."

    That would probably work for me even if I thought what I'd been doing was totally fine. Either way I'd probably stop whatever I was doing.

    1. I like the thought that we can edit the language to make this work. I think we'd probably want to talk to a few people, but I really like your NVC suggestion! There does need to be "You're breaking the rules" on the cards, because that's the point of them–that the code of conduct is being broken. That's the justification and the appeal to an external authority. However, you're right; it can be phrased differently such that both parties can walk away with a different feeling. We'll work on it 😉

  8. I can understand the purpose of the yellow/red cards, but I can't see the positive impact of the green cards. If someone is not creating a sexualized/sexist atmosphere, that's good, but it should also be considered the normal or default behavior.

  9. I'm surprised that no one has suggested the obvious solution: give every attendees a Bluetooth
    microphone to wear at all times. That way, if anyone makes an inappropriate remark, it can be dealt
    with readily. Monitoring at all times wouldn't be possible, of course, but it wouldn't be
    necessarily, since each attendee would aware he might be monitoring, and consequently remain
    vigilant about making other attendees feel unwelcome.

    I can't take credit for this idea. I got it from a book.

    Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up
    by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded,
    he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being
    watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any
    individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But
    at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live–did live, from
    habit that became instinct–in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except
    in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

  10. One addition might be nice — an "Apology" card. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, I will correct my behavior right now." This card to be handed to the person who handed you the warning or violation card, with appropriate body language indicating regret and humility.

    1. Allan, this is a great idea. We're thinking this could be a blue card. It's tough to come up with words sometimes. It may sound like this is all a big joke, but it's not funny to come up with an apology, or to correct your behavior, or to deal with squeezing out the right words when you all of a sudden realize you have made a mistake that really made someone else unhappy or uncomfortable. I like your thoughts. I bet others will too.

      The biggest key here is this: for all that many people don't like this idea and think that we should all be adults and that the status quo is fine, I think that the rest of us acknowledge that the status quo is broken. Something is wrong, and at least this is a proposal to help out. If someone can come up with a better idea, we're all for it. In the meantime, Allan here has helped us to improve on the idea, and we're grateful.

  11. I think I'd prefer verbal communication. A card doesn't provide context always. This whole situation is getting out of hand. Maybe I'm just being stupid but trying to solve an issue with bureaucracy or passive aggressive methods simply doesn't work.

    If someone's being a douche, tell them or if called for, tell the authorities. Don't summon an army of trolls – that goes for either side of this story.

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