At Software Freedom Day this year, I was zoning out in a conversation that had drifted into Colin McGinn. McGinn, the person I was talking with explained, was a Oxford published philosopher. He studied disgust and wrote a book and was worth checking out. He had also been fired for sending a grad student e-mails saying he thought about her while masturbating. He was going to really destroy the school, because he had a great case against them imroperly firing him. He studied disgust. The student was his grad student. She knew what she was getting herself into, the person said.
I wondered how long I had to nod and say “yeah, okay,” before they would leave me alone, or at least change the topic to something I didn’t think was both offensive and actually wrong. I wondered if I could somehow redirect the conversation. I looked over at DR, and wondered if he could save me from the conversation.
That was when I also saw all the other people at the table. SFD this year was inspiring in the minority representation: “non-dudes” in all shades of developer, journalist, activist, interested person, and partner. I saw ladies who had come up to me after my talk and thanked me for being honest about having difficulty with understanding software and technical issues. One man came up to me and noticed the subtle mentions of sexism I’ve encountered. He thanked me for mentioning it, even when I didn’t want it to be the focus of my talk.
What that man did was not okay., I said.
A few further sentences were exchanged, I was told that I couldn’t talk about things reasonably. I said that such behaviors were sexual harassment and an abuse of a power dynamic. I was told that this was just a topic of discussion and interesting to think about. I said that assuming it is okay for someone to be sexually harassed, to harass someone, because they “ought to know it could happen in context,” is what we call “blaming the victim.”
I was told that I wasn’t ready to have a reasonable, calm conversation about a topic worth thinking about.
I’ve been thinking about this since then. It’s one of those thoughts where I’m not really sure where it’s going or what I ought to (or want to) do with it. I’m really disgusted that I could have this conversation at an event about something as great as the ideals of freedom, transparency, collaboration, and openess. What’s even worse is that I had to have this conversation after having another one where I told somewhat that it was never appropriate to make rape jokes.
These stories aren’t novel, and they’ve been shared in variation so many times across the internet. What do we do with that?