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Post Retracted: It’s Not a Ruby Inside Thing

By Peter Cooper / April 27, 2009

sweet-running-boy.pngUpdate: I retract the post Be Professional or Be Edgy: How Context Can Keep Everyone Happy of April 27, 2009 in full. It covered an issue that started as a Ruby-related thing, but quickly became focused on the behavior and sentiments of some Rails communities. Ruby Inside is a Ruby news blog; therefore my editorial was unuseful and made for dull reading. I apologize for falling into such boring territory.

If you have no idea what I'm going on about and have time to kill, go here or here or visit one of the several threads on RubyFlow about it.

Regardless, I am leaving the comments here for the public record as they have been referenced elsewhere.


  1. Matt Henry says:

    What I don't get from your post is whose job it is to choose the context. Is this controversy GoGaRuCo's fault for not properly defining the context or is it Matt's fault for not correctly /judging/ the context? One suspects that if Matt were going to give a presentation on CouchDB to the Queen, that he would've cleaned it up a bit. But that's a case where the context is defined extremely clearly. If there's one thing this whole situation shows, it's that the Ruby community has a long way to go before there's a broad enough consensus about how to establish those kinds of unambiguous contexts, if such a consensus is even possible.

  2. Peter Cooper says:

    I think that should be defined by the organizer or chair of the conference.. or in a publication or blog, that'd be the editor's job.

    For example, Obie Fernandez is chair of the Pro Ruby Conference. From the name of the conference and knowing Obie's tastes (to a point), I know that Matt's presentation wouldn't have been approved. Attendees can also pretty much be sure they'll only see "professional" distinctly unexperimental presentations. It's not an experiment-fest. Ditto for QCon.

    Likewise, other people post to Ruby Inside from time to time. As editor, it's my job to not publish anything that's blatantly against the sensibilities of the audience. Ruby Inside has a reputation for being reasonably neutral and objective with a little family-friendly banter here and there. I'm not going to allow a post with porn, racist jokes, or whatever, to go up.

    Personally, I get the feel from the GoGaRuCo site that it is a professional conference (sponsor list a mile long and a well designed conservative-looking site) so in a sense, the presentation was inappropriate for the context.. but if the organizers allowed it, then they're the ones setting the tone.

  3. Lar Van Der Jagt says:

    Very well said.

    Regardless of the context of the conference of the whole, I think Matt's title did all the defining you need. If you go into a talk with "Perform like a p0rnstar" in the title, you should be expecting something outside what is normally considered professional.

  4. Aditya says:

    "There's a time, a place, and a context for each."

    I absolutely agree with this core sentiment expressed in the post. The presentation was inappropriate for 'that' conference and audience, and if it was reviewed by organizers before it was given out, i guess it was a big miss from their part.

    However, extrapolating this mistake to tie it with rock star-ism, and very less number of female programmers, is just taking it too far. (As has been done by a certain blogger).

    Yes, women deserve all the respect and their space, and to think that most of the ruby (and rails) community doesn't do it, is just not true. Yeah, one might laugh at an odd F word in some presentation, but that doesn't imply we would be stupid enough not to know how to work respectfully in a professional environment.

    I hope we can genuinely look at ways to expand the ruby community. The best way (IMO) is to be welcoming and friendly with new users irrespective of their gender, and making things as easy for them as possible.

    p.s. As a side note, I am not exactly in agreement with the "set" demarcation of edgy, experimental folks vs professionals in this post. One can easily be both.

  5. josh susser says:

    I'm one of two co-organizers of Golden Gate Ruby Conference, and the technical program was my responsibility. I agree that context is important, and apparently I didn't do a good job communicating my expectations for presentations and tone. But I don't think it's typical or even expected that a program chair pre-screen presentations for acceptability, and I've never been given guidelines for the tone of my presentation when I've spoken at conferences. Everyone assumes that everyone else is going to infer the appropriate tone and trusts they will do a good job. That doesn't mean I'm off the hook for the content at my conference, but I do think it's something that could happen anywhere, and probably has.

    And in case you weren't aware, half of our program was selected through a voting process. Registered attendees voted on submitted proposals and the winners were presented. I wanted to see how well the experiment worked, so I was reluctant to interfere, even when I saw talks selected that I may not have selected myself - that was the whole point. Matt's talk was one of these voted talks. Again, that's not me trying to duck responsibility, but I did want people to understand that his talk was selected by the conference attendees (though many didn't participate in the voting). I think a talk with that title and description could have been done in a way that offended no one at the conference. If we do voting again next year (and I'd like to, since the feedback on using voting was very positive), we'll have to see if anything can be done to avoid a repeat of this kind of mistake without losing the point of voting.

    Matt's talk wasn't a bad talk, and in many other contexts it would have passed without anyone batting an eye. But the mere fact that people reacted to it the way they did shows that it was not appropriate to the audience. Blame American prudery, or Matt's choice of material, or my decisions as program chair, but you can't argue that people were offended. I'm sure there are lessons to be learned all around, but I don't think they'll be learned in blog comments.

    Personally I'm frustrated that this is the thing that people are talking about (this appears to be the first post about GoGaRuCo on your blog), when in all other respects our conference was a huge success and in some ways raised the bar for regional conferences.

  6. Snacky says:

    I found one of the key speeches at the last Portland Rails conf offensive for similar reasons. (Me -- male.) I forget the details, though.

  7. Rev. Dan says:

    I'm bummed that I missed out on the conference as a whole. My friends who attended seemed to have really enjoyed themselves.

  8. Alex says:

    Cool presentation, it seems that Matt Aimonetti is not only good developer but also a good advertizer. :)
    Don't be so sensitive.

  9. Brandon says:

    The things you've described (and I don't care to see it for myself) are not edgy, but crude and inconsiderate. Eschewing some of the ridiculous wrappings of "professionalism" may be good, but that doesn't mean we should take an "anything goes" attitude.

  10. ab5tract says:

    "Blame American prudery, or Matt's choice of material, or my decisions as program chair, but you can't argue that people were offended. I'm sure there are lessons to be learned all around, but I don't think they'll be learned in blog comments."

    That's odd. How else are you expecting the community to digest and approach the issue?

    Love how you put American prudery before Matt's choice of material, when in fact it is not "prude" to get really sickened by the objectification of women. Go ahead and try to argue that people who take objectification seriously are prudes, it is expected of males in this culture. But doing the expected thing will only solidify that this presentation and the defense of it are more important to the Ruby community than recognizing that gender inequality is real and destructive.

    Peter's point about context is interesting and valid, but misses the real issue presented by this flap to the community by simply suggesting "oh, this objectification would be fine in a situation where no one would object to that objectification." Yes, racist jokes work better in white club houses than they do in the supermarket, but is that your point Peter?

  11. ab5tract says:

    The point about racism is to draw an analogy, in case you didn't get that.

  12. David says:

    Where is the emoticon for "I'm laughing so hard it hurts"

  13. David says:

    Oh, and that's not the "I'm laughing with you" kind of laugh. :)

  14. Peter Cooper says:

    ab5tract: That is, vaguely, what I'm saying, yeah. I think people have the right to band up and say what they want in defined settings, whether I or anyone else finds it offensive or not. My implicit, but overarching, point, though, is that supposedly mainstream conferences need to decide if they are really mainstream (with women, kids, and all) or cliquey male get-togethers.

  15. Steve says:

    I agree about context. If there are children there it's obviously not appropriate, regardless of the subject matter.

    But when I read things like this: "By being part of the Rails community people associate me with Railsy stereotypes automatically, which aren’t nice at all right now.", a certain Katt Williams rant about "Haters" comes to mind.

    Now THAT is certainly not conference material, but it does bear the ring of truth in my view.

  16. Jay Levitt says:

    There's a difference between edgy and inappropriate, if I do say so myself. And I do:

    @David: Yeah, those are pretty funny. I, too, have conclusive statistical proof that I can't possibly be a prick.

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