We spent Friday and Saturday at a PHP industry conference in London, which BTW, rocked and showed just how vibrant the PHP space is. Thanks to the organisers for doing such a great job and to all the devs who stopped by to say hello.
On Friday the following tweet was sent:
We were giving away the t-shirt at the event and 250 people wanted them, before we ran out. Not a bad uptake for a show with 700 attendees, especially as we were inundated with requests once we had run out, people even asking us whether they could buy the garment in question.
Outrage ensued from some quarters, support from many more. So what’s the deal? Why has this created such a fuss?
It seems that some decided the t-shirt represented some form of overt sexism and decided to air their views on it. Here’s what we have to say.
I’m going to take you back to the beginning before commenting on the here and now.
In late August 2012 the Web & PHP team were preparing to attend a PHP conference in California. We decided we should produce some t-shirts to giveaway – after all, doesn’t every media or vendor at a tech conference do the same? We wanted a catchy line to print on the t-shirts, one that is industry relevant and clever. We’ve seen the ‘Kiss My App’, 10 types of people binary gags, ‘PHP = Pretty Hot Programmer’ type things, so surely we could improve on that. A suggestion came up that we thought was funny, relevant and poked a little fun at the industry we work in at large.
The line: ‘Enhance Your PHPness’.
1) We are a magazine that every month delivers information that allows people to better their knowledge and understanding of topics in the PHP and web development sectors. By simply reading the magazine, we think people enhance their knowledge (of PHP), so we can therefore say Enhance their PHPness. Relevance? Check.
2) As a FREE magazine, we try to add value to the community, getting excellent authors to share their expertise. Does reading their contributions enhance a person’s understanding? Check.
3) But let’s not beat around the bush here. It’s a double entendre, a tongue-in-cheek gag about a male sexual organ. So humour (dependent on your outlook)? Check.
4) Wait, is there anymore to it than that? Of course there is. We are a team comprising 75% women. We’re not about to put out a dick joke just for the sake of it. Give us credit. If the internet industry had a resume, the list of positives would surely outweigh the negatives by some margin. BUT, no-one can deny that one of the biggest negatives is that the internet breathed life into spam and enabled it to go global. Spam continues to be part of parcel of the world we live in, enabled by botnets delivering irrelevance to millions of people every day. And a high percentage of spam is related to penis enlargement – truth.
5) So is what we have with ‘Enhance your PHPness’ a line that has relevance to the PHP and Web space, humour and intelligence in a single phrase? (in our opinion) Check.
After all, developers get jokes and are intelligent. They tend to have a pretty good sense of humour that allows for self deprecation (Atlassian’s Angry Nerds anyone?) and they tend to be passionate about the industry without being stiff and corporate.
T-Shirts were distributed freely during a week in October at a major, well-known conference. Problems? None. Adverse commentary? None. Scandal? None. Did we ship all our T-Shirt stock? Yes. Did we have people in attendance compliment us at the event? Yes.
Fast-forward a few months and should we do the t-shirts again for another conference? YES, YES, YES.
What happened next was nothing short of remarkable. We love the web. We love it for creating an open communication channel, where we can all share comment and opinion. Where each of us has an equal say. What we do not like is that some people use the web to troll, bully, and broadcast ill-conceived, bias comment without first checking all the facts.
So these sexism accusations all started with the photo above.
Ensuing was a stream of comment, some of which we find abusive, from a limited number of people (primarily men), which was ridiculous. It seemed that no-one stopped to think of who the two “chicks” or “chippies” (direct quotes) in the photo were. It was assumed that they were hired models, “booth babes” (another direct quote) who could not possibly have a brain cell between them. They were obviously puppets of a misogynist of a man who made them wear the t-shirts.
The reality is so far removed from the knee jerk reaction that ensued, with all the assumptions that went with it, that it’s hard to believe. The ‘chicks’ in the picture were in fact yours truly, Editor of the magazine, and the Relationship Manager. We not only came up with the slogan ourselves, but decided to wear it on our own accord. If anything, it was only with this reaction of a small-minded and misguided few when we become victims of sexism: it was almost as if to say that two women in their mid-20s exhibiting at a PHP conference, wearing these t-shirts, couldn’t possibly be an intelligent part of the PHP community.
One industry commentator went so far as to say he would boycott Web & PHP Magazine.
You may have noticed that a feature of our response so far has been to not name-check these people – if you are interested in who they are, take a quick trawl through Twitter and make your own minds up.
The insinuation was that the two women exhibiting at a PHP conference should not be approached. They are all hired babes there to satisfy the sexual appetite of randy developers, and surely cannot have any technical knowledge or the ability to join in or enjoy a geeky conversation. Furthermore, the assumption was that we were incapable of making our own decisions, evidently being controlled by a man. As should be becoming apparent, this too is not true, yet we will return to this argument of control later.
Thankfully, the devs at PHP London rocked! Not one assumed the above. All who spoke to us were respectful, immediately started talking shop with us and were genuinely interested in hearing what we had to say and what we were about: “two awesome geeky girls” according to one tweet. Furthermore, everyone got the joke. Not one person said they found the T-shirt disrespectful. In fact they were so popular amongst devs (men and women) that we had run out of all but XL sizes by the end of Friday. Once gone, we had people asking if we were going to print more, where could they get them and that they would even like to buy them. The reception was amazing, and shows that this industry deserves more credit than it gets from certain quarters regarding their attitude towards women.
Another intimation underlying the responses received reveals something we find more worrying. It’s one surrounding censorship, freedom of speech and how to tackle the problem of sexism in general.
Certainly anti-harassment codes and strict penalties for perpetrators are no bad things. However, rules that censor out parts of everyday existence are simply adding to the problem. To blanket ban any reference to sex because it “encourages men” to behave in such a way has little respect for men, and worse provides an excuse for their behavior should they commit an offence. One thing that struck us almost immediately at these comments were parallels with the issues which brought about by “Slut Walk.” If you are not aware of the issues behind this, here’s a quick run down. It came about a Toronto policeman told a group of law students that in order to avoid being raped ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts’. Effectively the notion of women being the problem – being the victims because they chose to behave in a certain way which men can’t handle, therefore passing the blame back to the victim themselves. Pandering to a mind-set that we should censor innuendo at conferences because it provides men an excuse to visualise women sexually, is not helping women at all. We need to work on the attitudes behind this, and hiding them from view is simply being unrealistic and naive.
Telling us to adapt our behavior or not speak about sex because it makes men uncomfortable is not the answer. It’s taking us back to mid-century attitudes that a woman must be demure, not show anything above the calf, stay in the home etc, or she deserves what’s coming to her. By exposing those who feel uncomfortable about it, we’re making them acknowledge and deal with attitudes that lead to harassment, rather than providing them with an easy way to brush the issues under the rug.
Another issue which arose here centered the around choices women make and what they should / shouldn’t be exposed to. As we’re sure you’re all aware by this point, we’re pretty ballsy girls at Web & PHP Magazine. We make our own choices; we work early mornings, have late nights (and occasionally drink the bar dry), we’re comfortable hanging out in male dominated environment. There’s an intimation rolling around here that women can’t take sexual humour. That they should be bubble wrapped and kept away from it. How many of the men that believe this will make inappropriate jokes in their work places to other male colleagues? I’m betting there are a few. By setting aside risqué humour because women may be offended, you’re encouraging inequality even further. It smacks of a similar attitude which was held in the first half of the 20th century: that women are virginal wall flowers who shouldn’t hear about the facts of life till their wedding night, while it was okay for men to gallivant around bars having the time of their life. It’s like the notion then prevalent that men shouldn’t swear in front of women lest they be offended. In most of our lives now, the women who are offended by swearing are because of their lifestyle choices and not their gender. And that is fine, but please don’t reduce it to a gender issue.
Furthermore, another worrying Tweet we found said “would you want your wife or girlfriend to wear it.” We frankly don’t care. That any man thinks this is still an acceptable comment to throw out in an attempt to defend women’s rights just shows the contradiction and inconsistencies behind the thought process here.
And so, to the end…….
This whole incident has given rise to many issues that should be debated by and addressed by the industry.
Sparked by a play-on-words, the whole incident has brought to the fore many more interesting issues.
It is our right to produce and wear a t-shirt that was not designed with any sexist connotation, one that we were not instructed to wear in order to pick up our pay packets, one that we think has merit in the sector.
Does this magazine regret producing those T-Shirts? No it does not. If we offended anybody, that was not our intention. We understand that not everyone will share our sense of humour and respect anyone’s right to disagree, after all wouldn’t it be a dull world to live in if everyone was the same. However, please do not mistake humour with sexism, or escalate cheeky banter to questions of gender and equality. This is not helping our cause.
Morally, we do not feel that we overstepped the mark. However, we believe some people may have used the internet to be sexist toward two female colleagues.
We will rise above it and continue bringing you a FREE monthly publication for the PHP sector. We appreciate your comments, and in particular any feedback you have regarding the excellent features and authors Web & PHP Magazine continues to bring you.
For now, regards……..
Anna & Ellen