LCA Day 4 & 5: It got better before it got worse

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I've taken a bit longer than planned to write this final post, as it has required some ruminating. Apologies for the delay, and a trigger warning for discussion about (and links to) sexual and offensive behaviour.

The Good

Thursday was hot and humid, but it was nice to have my official duties over for the week, and to be able to kick back and just be a conference-goer for the day.

I went along to the GLBTI+ lunch as an ally (or a "+" I guess). As another group that is under-represented at technical and open source events, I feel it is important to stick together. Unfortunately, the lunch venue required a long trek through midday Queensland heat, and we were all feeling less-than-chirpy by the time we got there. A few beers and a pleasant lunch put us all back in good spirits though, and we invested in a taxi-ride back the conference.

Thursday evening was the Penguin Dinner, held in the Conference Centre at Southbank. I had an awful lot of fun drinking cheap champagne and poking fun at the poor spelling in the trivia slides (let this be a lesson to you: never put two tech writers on a table together, and never try to outdrink an Irish woman!).

The Bad

Friday morning started with the keynote speaker, Mark Pesce. I'm not going to recount his talk in detail here, as it's already been done in other places, with much better commentary than I'm capable of producing. It's very googleable, if you so desire.

One of the things that is most interesting is seeing which of the several different offensive images most upsets people. It just proves yet again that we are all human and all perceive offence, discrimination, and humour in very different ways. What some see as funny, others will perceive as mildly amusing, disturbing, or deeply offensive.

I had seen Pesce's tweets in the lead-up to the talk mentioning that the talk included some swearing, so when he provided his "PG-13" warning, I naturally thought it was relating only to language. Oh boy, was I wrong!

Of course, the talk through the day, especially amongst the assembled haecksen was about the Pesce talk, harassment and offence in general, and the anti-harassment policy in particular. Suddenly, every infraction stood out in relief: The guy who seemed to always be in my face taking photos, the ones who were just a little too friendly and a little too helpful, the guy who asked me out on a date over IRC, despite never having actually met me. These are all the kinds of things that happen daily to most women, especially those who hang around in tech circles as much as I do, but the incidents were starting to mount up. However, an apology for the Pesce talk was given with aplomb and good grace at the closing session, and it seemed as though the worst had blown over. With a sigh of relief, the conference drew to a close.

By the time Open Day was over (and I'll have another post about that to come soon) I was exhausted, but happy. I'd had a great conference, heard lots of interesting things (many that made my brain spin with new ideas), had a great time with old and new friends, and had successfully pulled off both the miniconf and my talk.

I wasn't angry, yet ...

The Ugly

The emails began within twenty-four hours of the apology. I was originally intending to selectively quote some of the better gems here, but I have decided against it. I'm sure it is obvious where I stand on the issue, and this blog is here to record and organise my thoughts, not beat a dead horse.

However well intentioned and delivered the apology from the LCA2011 committee was, it was very clearly not echoed across the board of conference-goers. Even other committee members stood up against the policy, and defended Mark Pesce, which I find totally appalling.

I have only one question: if Pesce had given his talk at a corporate event, would the attendees have spent the next week arguing over whether or not it was appropriate? If it's not suitable for a corporate event, why should it be appropriate for a technical conference?

It wasn't the conference that let me down, in the end. It was the attitude of the conference-goers in the wake of it. I haven't decided yet whether I'll attend next year's event, and if I do whether I'll offer to run the haecksen miniconf again. The fact that I even have to consider these things is an indication that my perspective has changed, though.


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