Cultivating a Culture of Respect in the WordPress Community

photo credit: Kristin Stith
photo credit: Kristin Stith

The WordPress project is going through some growing pains. After 10 years there are millions of people around the world using this software and interacting with one another on a daily basis. The vast majority of these interactions are positive and respectful and for a long time we haven’t needed any kind of official code of conduct, but this is changing.

“Women in WordPress” is currently a hot button topic and has been for years, with many discussions centered around how to make women feel more welcome.

A few incidents of harassment have popped up in our community and other open source communities, prompting a movement to create a Code of Conduct or set of Community Expectations. Jen Mylo is currently heading up the Community Expectations team that will create a first draft for everyone to review and send feedback on. In the meantime, how can the community handle situations on the front lines at WordCamps or other events where people are gathering?

Do We Need A Safety Officer At WordCamps?

Stephanie Leary posted on the Women of WordPress site concerning harassment at WordCamps after speaking with a couple of people who experienced minor harassments at events but hadn’t reported it. She suggests that WordPress create its own harassment policy and that WordCamp organizers designate a safety officer:

Once we get to the after parties, the badges come off and the drunken propositions begin. It’s difficult to remember at that point who’s an organizer and who isn’t. Someone on the WordCamp staff needs to be designated as a Safety officer, and that person needs to be introduced at the opening remarks so everyone knows who it is. That person’s contact information needs to be on the Camp website so people can get in touch with him or her when needed.

The question that naturally follows is: What should the safety officer or WordCamp organizer do if someone reports harassment at a WordCamp? Should they be expected to police attendee behavior off-site?

Even if these officers are in place, will WordCampers report incidents of harassment? What happens from there? If the expectation to handle these situations is placed on WordCamp organizers, they will need training for how to respond in different scenarios. Hopefully procedures will be included in the Community Expectations for how conference staff should respond to reports of harassment.

Why Harassment Commonly Goes Unreported

photo credit: RebeccaBarray - cc
photo credit: RebeccaBarraycc

When I first started blogging I often received many unprofessional comments on my posts that had nothing to do with the content. I have been harassed in live chat support sessions and on Twitter, but those things rarely happen anymore. These issues have improved over the past five years that I’ve been involved with WordPress.

Unfortunately, I was harassed at my very first WordCamp by an attendee at an after-party. He was heavily pressuring me to go to his hotel room with him and used some crude phrases not fit for print, mixed in with: “C’mon, I know you want to f*** me.”, “Your husband doesn’t have to know.” and “You know you want it.”

How could the conversation degrade so quickly from building websites to sexually explicit advances? I politely refused several times so as not to make a scene and then the conversation was dead. He apologized the next morning right before I was scheduled to speak in the BuddyPress track.

As someone who is not a natural public speaker, I was already very nervous about my presentation. In my mind I was thinking, “These developers know EVERYTHING about WordPress and BuddyPress. What am I even doing here?” But on top of that I was nervous that I might see in the audience the face of that guy who had just completely objectified me the night before. Being seen as an object compounded my existing lack of self-confidence and made me feel like a total fraud. I wanted to disappear.

Everyone I spoke to about it afterwards told me there was nothing to be done and to just forget about it. They meant well.

At the time I agreed that there was nothing to be done. The reality is that there was no code of conduct, no expectations for after-party behavior, no boundaries set by the organizers, through no fault of their own. But even if there had been a safety officer, I don’t know if I would have reported it. I certainly didn’t want anyone to lose his job over a mistake for which he apologized.

There are a lot of reasons why women and men choose to stay silent and not report these experiences, a few of which include:

  1. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
  2. They don’t want to appear to be weak or seeking pity.
  3. They’re afraid that somehow they may have invited the unwanted attention.
  4. They don’t want to rock the boat.
  5. They don’t want to be treated like a victim.
  6. They fear retaliation or legal action.
  7. They assume that others have had it much worse and they should just be grateful nothing serious happened.

Even with a code of conduct in place and a safety officer on hand, it is often difficult for victims of harassment to find a good reason to report these kinds of incidents, especially if nothing technically criminal took place. It’s not an easy problem to solve. To truly change behavior we need to look deeper at fostering a culture of respect.

Creating A Culture of Respect

photo credit:
photo credit:

Community can make or break a project. A set of community expectations is the first step in laying a foundation for respectful behavior. I wish we didn’t need them, but we do. WordCamp-specific community expectations would also be helpful for communicating those values within the context of that event. Though there are many differing opinions about a WordCamp organizer’s responsibilities to attendees and speakers, I think we can all agree on doing more to highlight respect as one of our chief values.

Respect means holding each other in high esteem and honoring each other. Giving and receiving respect isn’t something that anyone wants to have to enforce. Nobody is fond of excessive rules and regulations. It’s something that needs to be part of our culture. The underlying idea is to always approach people with the attitude of “I respect you and I appreciate that you’re here,” whether that’s in the forums, on Twitter, in IRC, or at WordCamps.

Respect is a learned behavior. When new people see it modeled they are more likely to perceive it as a cultural value that we hold. We need to learn to give it unconditionally. There shouldn’t be any “If you respect me, then I will respect you.” But rather, the idea is that we respect people. Period. Not because of anything they’ve achieved or created or because they know how to spell WordPress with the camel case. Sometimes people are new and they are still learning. That applies to behavior, too. People aren’t born knowing how to be respectful at a WordCamp so we need to articulate what that means for us.

How does this translate practically when it comes to harassment?

I propose the following for WordCamps:

  1. Create a clear code of conduct or policy for harassment and make it known at the event. Remind people that they or others will probably be drinking at after-parities but that we can still be professionals.
  2. Educate WordCamp organizers on how to respond to reports of harassment. More in-depth training may be required for this position.
  3. Look out for each other. If someone tells you about something that happened, help them find the appropriate channels for dealing with it.

photo credit: central.wordcamp.orgI think this is a good starting point for helping attendees and speakers feel more comfortable about attending WordPress-related events. If you’re one of those who wants more diversity and wants to see more women speakers at WordCamps, then creating a code of conduct for your event might be a big help. Andrea Middleton said that the first WordCamp she was aware of having a code of conduct was WordCamp SF 2011. The code of conduct for that event was inspired by the OSBridge Conference and provides a good starting place for event organizers to use in setting expectations for community behavior.

It’s important to note that incidents like this are not representative of the WordPress community as a whole. I have rarely encountered finer, more generous people than those I’ve met through WordPress. Our community is full of kind, polite, welcoming and friendly people. In most of these minor incidents, it happens because someone didn’t know our unwritten code of conduct. (Or because somebody got wasted.) We can do a better job of communicating that at events.

In the end, at WordCamps we all just want to laugh and enjoy our time learning from each other. There’s no way for WordCamp organizers to guarantee attendees and speakers that nobody will harass you or make you feel unwelcome. Embracing the risk of interacting with other human beings is part of being an adult. Organizers can, however, better educate themselves about what procedures they can follow if harassment is reported. Ultimately, they may not be able to do too much more than ask the person to leave, but the message will be loud and clear:

In the WordPress community we treat each other with respect.


57 responses to “Cultivating a Culture of Respect in the WordPress Community”

  1. Hi Sarah
    “A few incidents of harassment have popped up in our community and other open source communities…”

    No excuse for that sort of loutish behaviour but not sure that a “code of conduct” is the answer.

    The WordPress community is part of life, no better and no worse so in many respects it reflects what is happening generally.

    “In the WordPress community we treat each other with respect.” may be a good motto but it has to translate into all areas of life.

    • Keith, your comment reflects the complex nature of the problem. A code of conduct won’t solve every problem of bad behavior but it may help prevent the behavior from occurring if those in attendance know about its existence.

      They key here goes far beyond WordCamps and policies. It’s just about treating human beings with respect, male or female. If that happens, all of the other stuff is unnecessary clutter.

  2. I absolutely agree that a Code of Conduct is needed for all WordCamps. If WordCamps are to continue to be known as inclusive, welcoming, and safe spaces, then every event with the name needs to be on-board about positively stating and expecting those values before, during, and after any harassment occurs. A Code of Conduct helps define the expected behaviors and procedures to address any inappropriate actions.That way organizers don’t have to improvise on the fly and everyone knows the expectations of the event before they show up.

    The Geek Feminism wiki has an excellent template that has been used for many conferences.

    For those who don’t think a Code of Conduct is necessary, I strongly encourage reading this recent post in response to criticism of another conference’s Code of Conduct.

    From that article:

    “That is the aim of conference codes of conduct. To clarify the threats — not to eliminate them, because you can’t ever do that, but to state that this is a place where silencing people through graphic threats of sexual violence or open and regular degradation is treated as unacceptable, that if it happens to you there’s a place to go, and to (crucially) say that the bystanders care too. That you’re not in a place where a lot of people are decent but indifferent and someone somewhere might attack you and it’s all on you to cope, but you’re in a place where a lot of people are decent and affirmatively have your back.”

    It’s important to remember that a Code of Conduct is meant to protect those who need it and not repress those who don’t. What is most important is that anyone who experiences or witnesses harassment understands that the majority of the community has their back. That can only be done proactively, and a Code of Conduct is the best and most common way to do it.

    A Code of Conduct is a way to positively state how wonderful the existing WordPress community is and make sure that new members know it won’t put up with harassment of anyone.

    • If a code of conduct is created and the language is similar to what you describe above, I’d have a hard time being against it. I’d love for all in attendance to know that the WordPress community has the backs of anyone that is threatened or harassed and that it’s behavior that won’t be tolerated.

      If the code of conduct has language dictating how I’m suppose to have a good time, that’s when it crosses the line for me.

  3. Speaking purely as a WordCamp organizer here: Harassment and unwelcome behaviour of any kind is something that we need to do a better job of addressing. It’s difficult, given that we’re all volunteers balancing the duties of running an event with day-to-day jobs and lives, but ignoring the issue isn’t an option. The code of conduct is just one small piece of a much bigger undertaking.

    • I have to imagine that maybe in the future, anyone who purchases a ticket to attend a WordCamp will need to check mark a box that says they have read and understand the Code Of Conduct for the event. Like a terms of service. Then, when the organizers address everyone before the first session at the event, they should remind everyone about the document and encourage everyone to look after one another.

      After reading my comment, seems silly that I’m writing that as an adult to tell other adults how to behave!

  4. Maybe I’m living under a rock but I’ve never felt this way and I’ve attended many WordCamps, conferences, and WP meet ups. However, if I remember correctly from Stephanie’s post she was talking about other developers not taking her skills seriously because she is a woman not sexual harassment. That I can understand and have felt a little ostracized from conversations regarding such things but I don’t take it to heart because I’m a designer.

    I have wanted to be more actively involved in WordCamps but it was the women who put on the WordCamp event who made me feel even more shut out. Maybe because I was younger? I’m not sure.

    As women in such a male dominated community is thought they’d welcome me with open arms but I was immediately looked down upon. I’ve felt this my whole life since being IMF involved in males dominated things such as skateboarding.

    What gives ladies!? Let’s just be friends!

      • This doesn’t actually surprise me, for two reasons. One, women are still people (whoa), and individual people act in all sorts of foolish ways, regardless of how they were born or even raised. Two, when you are successful and in the minority, it is very easy to flip into one or both of the “FYIGM” (search it, didn’t want to get profane in the comments here) or “don’t make me less special” mentalities. I know this because I am conscious of sometimes having those feelings myself.

        I am in a pretty small minority in the WordPress world – an American-Chinese woman, and proudly from the South on top of that. I’ve never been outright harassed in this community (received plenty of dumb-but-mostly-well-intentioned comments, but not harassed) and, let’s just say it, I’m very successful. It would be quite simple to dismiss concerns about women in tech or figure worrying about diversity isn’t worth my time because hey, I’m here, right? But that’s not the right thing to do. Just because something doesn’t affect you directly doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy cause, or that it doesn’t affect you in other ways.

        Sure, we’re talking about women lately, because it’s been a topic of discussion in the tech world at large. This is not specific to WordPress. But if we could just escape our little echo chamber of a bubble here for a moment, we would see that the conversations around us are starting to move into other groups as well – other under-represented groups and even conversations about how open source software participation is in itself a form of privilege. I’m wary of how close we are to the overuse of “privilege” in that sense, but I think that the tech world and, really, the world at large can only benefit from having these conversations.

  5. I certainly believe in EQUALITY & mutual respect for all. However in the context of part of the article; being proposition happens at any conference for all industries. I don’t think no one should have to police conduct of attendees or presenters because 1. Be adults. 2. Take care via local channels/authorities 3. Setting presence could result in liability. (Not legal advice but would discuss with your legal counsel and insurance event agent

  6. OMG. Who thinks up this tripe. What does this have to do with WordPress. Call it what you will, WordCamp is a social gathering and social misconduct is an actionable offense if a police officer is available. Make them available. Dreaming up petty rules that you can’t, and you shouldn’t enforce is today’s “feel good” post. Ok… group hug!

  7. Sarah, I thank you for addressing this experience: I never thinked a lot about harassments!
    In my opinion the solution is not only creating a code of conduct or promoting a culture of respect but absolutely “talking about what happened”. Silence is the worst enemy we have to communicate every experience (bad but also good) it is an important step!
    thanks again

  8. It’s a rather silly idea in many ways. All it’s going to do is give certain sorts of females a venue for making spurious claims of harassment. It’s not actually going ameliorate anything that is actually happening, even assuming that what is happening is actually worth the time, effort, and cost of acting upon.

    Face facts – people + alcohol = poorly performed sexual advances. This is true of both genders; you just won’t EVER see anyone complaining about or taking action against a female who does it. You will, on the other, see females equating an attempt w/ harassment. This is especially true in groups like WordPress where many of the females involved have, rightly or wrongly, chips on the shoulders when it comes to men.

    • Thanks for leaving your opinion – and I can definitely see where you’re coming from as far as uncertainty about whether any of these measures would ameliorate the problem. Like I said, I’m not sure if we need a safety officer. However, it would be nice for conference staff to have some training about how to handle these kinds of reports. I don’t think harassment is a widespread issue but there should be some help in place if by chance someone needs it as well as a code of conduct.

      • Training is always good. That’s the Gods’ honest truth. Codes of Conduct, Safety Officers, and such are often less so.

        Assuming you can get to my email since you’re part of WordPress, shoot me an email and I’ll put you in touch with my wives. They both are senior staff at Free Spirit Alliance and at DragonCon. They can probably give you some ideas on how they’ve handled this issue.

  9. What if someone created a “Women in WordPress” track at Wordcamps, and you could then have a few slides on dealing with walking penises’. Empowering women with the tools they need to deal with these types of situations, would be much more beneficial than anything else, IMO.

    • Agree SO MUCH!!! Empowerment, not more rules to follow.

      My daughters came home from school this week ticked off at two boys. One boy made fun of her for wearing a bra. The other one had been literally kicked in the butt by another boy. I asked, “What did you do back?” Both said – and I quote, “Nothing because we didn’t want to cause a scene.” These are elementary school aged girls – 3rd and 5th grade – and a lot of this is just kids trying to figure out each others boundaries. It starts early and, unfortunately, never seems to end… L OL

      My response?

      Make a scene!! Boys MUST be put in their place. Next time he makes fun of you for wearing a bra – yell – at the top of your lungs – LEAVE ME ALONE YOU JERK! And to the boy who kicked you in the butt – you have my permission to turn around and punch him – or any boy who ever does anything like that again – IN THE FACE! Make a scene. Yell at him like I told Claire to. Top of your lungs LEAVE ME ALONE YOU JERK! Make a scene. That boy – and all the other boys – need to know that you two command respect, because you respect yourself and are not afraid of dealing with jerks how jerks should be dealt with.

      Their eyes were big as saucers. Smiles across their faces.

      They had just been given permission to defend themselves.

      No victims in my house.


      Sarah, I’m sorry you had those negative experiences. But instead of feeling (all those big words you used) it was a great opportunity to bolster your own confidence by walking with your head up and your shoulders back ready to command the stage and let the drunk jerk know that he was SO out of his league!

      Safety officers = bad idea. WordCamp Foundation will be held liable (financially) if – God forbid – someone is seriously injured while at a WordCamp via rape or serious harassment. Sexual advances at a bar while drinking does not equate to harassment. Not to diminish your feelings, but a jerk and a perp are 2 different things.

  10. So, this isn’t WordCamp related exactly… but I recently posted an ad on Craigslist for two hours of work weekly for a housecleaner. It was a perfectly legitimate ad and was about 2 sentences. “Looking for someone to clean our kitchen and bathroom 2 x a week, $15 an hour.” Something like that. It got targeted for some unknown reason, and when I went to the community forum to ask what happened, I got ganged up on, and the things these ‘moderators’ said and did was inexcusable – they were like a pack of rabid mongrel dogs.

    I’ve been attacked on line before about ten years ago, in a much more personal and even more horrific way by a ‘friend’ who got mad at me. What that person did was inexcusable too – it’s bullying to an extreme level, as I didn’t have any way to fight back or stand up for myself.

    So, in person, I’ve been in your shoes too – I used to have a co-worker who’d come in and ‘drop’ things for me to pick up (I was young and didn’t catch on right away). In my opinion, although a code of conduct would be nice (and not just for Word Camps) – and in an ideal world there would be one for everyone – I think that what this comes down to is selfish people who were raised poorly won’t change because of it… It’s up to us to create our own personal Code of Conduct and live by it as best as we are able.

  11. OK, so quite a few people agree with my point about the alcohol. Setting the other issues to the side for a moment, perhaps WordCamp organisers should consider alternatives to hard core Abba-inspired discos for the party. I am not suggesting a policy or rules because each WordCamp has its own unique circumstances that organisers are best placed to consider.

    But, for example – and not knowing the practicalities of my idea from attending WordCamp EU in Leiden – the venue for the WordCamp would have actually also been a great location for a more subdued party as well. While a lower key party doesn’t guarantee no incidents, this place also served coffee and snacks. Less drinks and more food is more likely to result in less acute inebriation.

  12. Codes of Conduct and Safety/Discrimination Officers are important, but they are primarily after-the-fact tools used to deal with the aftermath of unacceptable behavior. To curb this problem and the problem of the underrepresentation of women in our community in general we need to educate ourselves and the community on the issue at hand: Gender.

    The good news is these issues are not new and many communities have faced and dealt with them before. The bad news is in spite of this they keep popping up. When I hear stories of women who are not treated as equals when submitting speaker proposals I realize we have not come as far as we think we have. When people are surprised to hear that some women intentionally hold other women back as was described in an earlier comment I realize the dynamics of gender are not well publicized nor understood. When I read comments stating that we “are not the first self-organized community to be targeted for annihilation by the feminist agitators” I have to stop myself from unplugging the internet and go live in a cave.

    We are facing a serious problem on the web when it comes to how women are treated and how the entire discussion is being politicized. This is not about politics. It’s about two simple principles: We are all equals, and we all have the right to be treated fairly and with respect. For women neither of these principles are a reality. From the disappointing stats of the number of female speakers at WordCamps to the horrifying stories of women being driven off the web by stalkers and trolls I can only say I admire any woman who chooses to stand up against the storm to make her voice heard. And I will stand behind her and lend support in any way I can.

    Statistics show many things relevant to this discussion:

    – On average women have to perform at 10% to 20% higher capacity to be seen as equal to their male counterparts.
    – Largely due to societal norms women often suffer from what’s known as the “impostor syndrome” which makes them doubt their own skills and devalue their own worth.
    – When women are put in leadership positions in communities or situations dominated by men they often take on the roles and attitudes of men to “blend in”. This often results in devaluing the performance or skills of other women due to a kill-or-be-killed mentality.
    – When women are equally represented in leadership positions, the gender balance in lower ranks within the company or organization is dramatically improved because of the simple fact that people hire and promote the people that remind them most of themselves.

    The conclusion from all this is we need to bring the discussion of gender politics into our community and educate all its members (women and men) about how this all works. There is no “gender war” in the FOX News sense of the term and those decrying feminism as an evil that must be rooted out are confused about the intent of the movement. There is no evil plan to make men into monsters and women into martyrs. There is however a very real need to balance the books and give the second sex (happy belated Simone) their rightful place as peers in our community.

    After all, when 50% of the community is undervalued and underrepresented where it matters the community as a whole is only reaching 50% of it’s potential.

    Thought much can be said about the oversimplification and political intent of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In I still recommend anyone interested in the topic of women in tech to read it as a primer for gender issues. It’s an eye opener even for the seasoned feminist and a great platform to begin a larger discussion.

  13. I weighed in before but let me add this:

    Be very clear what purpose really is of the Code of Conduct and any Safety Officers before going down that road. Be assured that the ONLY thing a CoC can be in such settings is codified reasons for- and semi-legal agreement as to under what terms a guest be ejected from an event and the ONLY thing the SO’s can be is initial enforcement arm of that action and.or any lesser actions leading up to that point.

    Anything more is willful thinking leavened by the occasional bit of serendipity because, aside from the above, it’s shelfware insofar as the bulk of attendees are concerned. And the ones who do read it either don’t need it or are the sort that would take advantage of it later.

  14. Over the last years I’ve been to a lot of WordCamps, WP Camps, Meetups, BarCamps, blogger and Linux conferences — never I heard or watched such things or came to know of them, even afterwards. — I don’t know from whom or from where such actions come to create a Code of Contuct etc.

    Safety Officers and Code of Conduct concept is not only ridiculous and over the top but also the wrong way. I won’t attend such events in WordPress community if this becomes a new “rule”, “guideline” or whatever name you will find for it. I can do without that. And I know a lot of (WordPress) women who can too! Women are NO “victims” and should note made themselves to one!

    I am from Germany and we have already laws for all those things mentioned here, e.g. all kinds of discrimination etc. For the European Union there are similar things. Those laws have to just to be executed. Period.

    Also female ratio for speakers at WordCamps is the wrong way! I am member of a political party that has such ratio, sadly! In real life it leads to that, that women who are under qualified come in top positions and get total under pressure there because they have not the skills for it. Such practices help no one!

    Thanks, Dave from Germany.

  15. 1. Never go to an after party that is held at an establishment that serves alcohol, or anywhere that people go to “hookup.” If the party isn’t someplace respectable, like a place where people aren’t trying to “hookup,” or if you know alcohol will be served, then don’t go, because you already know you are putting yourself at risk of becoming uncomfortable. Why ruin a good WordCamp experience like that? I’m male, and guess what? I have never gone to an after party because they have all been held at a tavern or bar, and I don’t want to deal with a bunch of drunk people who will probably say something they’ll regret later. Call it experience, common sense, or just avoiding trouble.

    2. When women forget they are women, and just act like they are part of something, like the WordPress community, or just another developer on a team at work, or whatever, everyone else has to remind themselves the woman on the team is a woman, because they just think of her as an asset and a team member. When women demand special treatment, and constantly shout they are not getting equal treatment it creates a hostile environment for males who are afraid to look like they aren’t being fair. Just let everyone be themselves, and win a seat at the table by being the best you can be. It’s a really simple formula. I say this having worked in businesses where the majority of employees were 97% women, and they didn’t want men working “in their profession.”

    Grace Hopper is a good example of a woman who didn’t try to make an issue out of the fact she was a woman to advance herself. She was simply the best she could be, which is why Dr Hopper EARNED so much respect.

  16. Where exactly is the line between flirting and harassment? Are sexually explicit advances enough to always be “harassment”? I’ve always considered myself to be against harassment but after reading how you were harassed, I realize that I’m guilty of it myself. At a WordCamp after-party, I once heavily pressured a man to go to my hotel room with me (yes, including phrases like “I know you want to f*** me” and including him rejecting me the first few times). The only difference is that he eventually agreed to come to my hotel room.

    But what if he hadn’t? Would I have been guilty of harassment? From my point of view, it was obvious that he wanted to hook up – I only first noticed him because I saw him trying to take a peek at my cleavage. So, even though he rejected my advances the first few times, that’s why I kept pressuring him and didn’t think of it as me harassing him. I was convinced he was simply playing “hard to get” – and I was right. So, does simply making sexually explicit advances count as harassment? I just wish to point out that it’s a complex issue and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge all flirting as automatic harassment.

    • Jessica – Thank you for bringing up this question. I puzzled over this for a long time. But I think this scenario was a bit different in that I wasn’t flirting, had no interest, repeatedly told him no and that I am married. There were other sexually explicit things he said that I didn’t mention in the post but you get the idea. I was silent at the end, didn’t reprimand him or anything. I was just stunned. Given that he apologized and told me that he knew he crossed the line, I think we both agreed that it was offensive and unprofessional and there was no doubt that we were on the same page about it. In the end I believe everyone deserves a second chance and a clean slate. It’s not an issue of men vs women by any means but rather a human issue of treating each other with respect. I’m not an expert, so I’m not qualified to define harassment, but this seemed to fit all the definitions I’d read before.

      I think in events surrounding a professional conference, it’s better to speak to fellow professionals in a way that makes them feel welcome, not pressuring them by saying things like, “You know you want X” or “I know you want X”. That’s just the basics of respect. If someone approached you in a serious, non-humorous way like that about buying their software and repeatedly pressured you after you declined numerous times, you’d be like, “dang, go away!” But when it’s sexually explicit it’s that much worse. Depending on the incident, I wouldn’t be quick to want anyone kicked out for it – everyone makes mistakes and most of the time we can work things out. It’s just not easy to feel confident about speaking in front a bunch of people after someone does that to you. I’m not advocating for special treatment for women. This is a human issue, not a gender issue. I’m just hoping WC organizers can get some training or guidelines to know what to do in case someone reports something. It’s not a widespread issue but it’s good to be prepared for if/when something happens.

  17. Sarah – The man also repeatedly told me no and was initially saying he had no interest. And he also wasn’t flirting – I just thought I saw him glancing at my cleavage (but he might have just been reading my shirt). But what if I was wrong? And what if the man who was flirting with you also thought you were playing “hard to get”? I agree about it being better to just abstain from flirting with anyone. And I agree about WC organizers getting guidelines to know what to do in case someone reports something. But if someone proposed a blanket ban on sexually explicit flirting at WordCamp after-parties, I would definitely be against it. Because I knew I was taking a risk when I was flirting with that man – but when I’m horny, I take risks lol. But I definitely agree with encouraging people to not take that risk – I’m just not a fan of blanket bans on things.

    • Yeah I don’t want it to have to come to a ton of rules and regulations either but we do need guidelines for WC event staff to follow if someone reports an incident. Probably a safer thing at a professional event would be to not to make any assumptions – don’t assume someone is playing a game when they say “No,” over and over again.

    • Why, yes, in fact — what you have described (pressuring someone into sex after they have repeatedly told you ‘no’) is, in fact, sexual harassment. I am a woman, and a feminist. And the behavior you have just confessed to is gross and rapey and awful, no matter the gender of the perpetrator and the target.

      Regardless of whether it “worked” or not, it’s pushy, creepy, coercive behavior. He might very well have just decided to go along with it because it was easier than getting you to stop HARASSING him. (Certainly I know plenty of women who have said ‘yes’ to sex because they gave up on being heard when they said ‘no’.)

      Decent adult human beings respect people’s boundaries; they don’t keep pushing when someone says ‘stop’. Your desire to fuck some guy doesn’t trump his right to have his boundaries respected.

      Men are expected, in this culture, to be “always up for sex”; he would likely have been laughed at if he’d tried to report your behavior. I want to tell that poor guy, across miles and years, that what happened to him was not even slightly okay. If I’d been there watching, I’d’ve offered to help him report you to the conference organizers and/or the cops.

  18. Sarah – I definitely agree (including about it being safer to not make any assumptions). But like I said, I tend to take risks when I’m horny – and I know a lot of people get tired after a long stressful day but I get horny lol. BTW, what are your thoughts on WC after-parties in general? Do you think they’re a good idea? I know they’re not intended for hookups but at every WC after-party I’ve been to, I’ve ended up bringing a random man to my hotel and sleeping with him. Is it wrong to enjoy the single life?

    So, that’s why I would be against a blanket ban on sexually explicit flirting at the after-parties. I mean, I know the intention wasn’t to create a “hookup culture” at the after-parties – but it already exists and lots of people go looking to find someone to spend the night with. So, I agree about not assuming someone is playing a game when they say no – but for the people saying yes, they should be allowed to do all the sexually explicit flirting they want with other smart, horny people. :)

  19. The WordPress community already has a culture of respect, this doesn’t mean that every single person behaves that way 100% of the time. That is an unattainable goal.

    Harassment is the same as offence, it is an action performed by the person who feels offended/harassed. Once you learn to deal with the situations which usually give rise to it, the problem goes away.

    Most people learn to deal with these sorts of issues at school/college, it is part of growing up. If anything needs to change it is that people who are not comfortable dealing with it need to be guided and encouraged to cope with the problem as it happens.

    • I don’t agree that the problem will go away once the people being harassed learn how to deal with the situation. It’s really quite different than being harassed by a stranger or someone you go to school/college with. When it’s a professional in your field of work, there can be other consequences of standing up for yourself. I think it’s important for conference organizers to know what to do in case someone reports an incident. People react to these kinds of situations in so many different ways. Knowing how to assist and encourage someone who is having a hard time with public speaking after receiving repeated unwanted sexual attention might be helpful. At least WC organizers wouldn’t be in the dark about what’s expected of them if someone reports something.

  20. King’s Rook – I’m a feminist, too (a sex-positive one who believes that people can make their own decisions when it comes to sex). So, what are you saying – that I raped him? Even though he admitted while we were having sex that he WAS looking at my cleavage before? Even though he said he’s wanted to “fuck me hard” since he heard me speak? I think you misunderstood the situation – it was just 2 horny people who wanted to have sex (one of them just wouldn’t admit it). BTW, as a rape victim, I find your comparison of my one-night stand to real rape to be ridiculous.

  21. Jessica,

    Frankly, I find much of King’s Rook’s opinion refreshing because what you described doing would be called sexual harassment and might be called rape – even in court since there was alcohol – even the genders had been reversed.

    On the other hand, I can see your side of things too since it’s not rape as long as consent is given w/o true coercion being involved and, irrespective of the genders, consent given due being tired of refusing is still consent.

    On the thirds hand, I’ve run into plenty of “sex-positive” feminists who have some truly twisted ideas of what that means and what is acceptable behavior…

  22. jonolan – If you’re gonna claim that it would be rape if the genders were reversed, you’re gonna need something to back up that claim. And what “truly twisted” ideas have you heard from sex-positive feminists?

  23. Would a code of conduct stop the usual handful of perpetrators from ruining it for the rest of us? Unlikely. These are the sorts of idiots for whom protocol has no meaning. How do other organisations police attendee behaviour offsite? Are theirs successful methods?

  24. Sarah,

    I commented a few times when you first posted this article. Mostly rolling my eyes at all of it. Mostly, disregarding your concerns entirely.

    So, I was wrong.

    I didn’t understand. I had a pretty limited – maybe a bit jaded – view on all of it. I apologized to you last night in a blog I wrote, but I wanted to say it here. I was wrong to have been so dismissive about this topic. I am a little hypersensitive to this all, for may reasons not related and honestly that don’t matter.

    In the future, I won’t be so quick to dismiss these sensitive subjects. More listening. Less reacting.

    Thanks for speaking up about this.


  25. Sarah P. – Hey no hard feelings of course and thanks for your note. I read your post and I’m sorry that you had a poor experience at your last WordCamp. I didn’t think the issue was widespread but now I’m starting to wonder just how often these kinds of things are happening. There’s a lot of pressure to not say anything. And there are many out there who would rather dismiss this whole issue as “drama” and ignore it. Thanks for entering the discussion and offering your thoughts. I hope you’ll continue going to WordCamps and not give up. Mostly they are really fun.

  26. Sarah G & Sarah P,
    After starting with Chris’s post yesterday and taking the time to read through both of your posts – and replies…

    Thank you!

    I must come clean that my initial reaction was OK, we’re all adults. Want to share that I’m a forty-something woman who started in the engineering world, for perspective.

    And then I really thought about it.

    I’m relatively new to WordPress & WordCamps. Over the past two years they have become fantastic events that I look forward to. No bad experiences. But have lived long enough to spend time with some very wonderful and respectful people and others who are not-so-much.

    With any organization, and especially (mostly) volunteer organizations which are growing at the rate that WordPress-related anything is today… there are growing pains.
    I love your recommendation for a Code of Conduct and understand that there may be some responsibility/liability issues that need to be worked through on the WordCamp side to get to done. Thankfully(and unfortunately) this is not a new problem and there are other organizations we can look to for benchmarks. Really any that have men & women together…

    Back to my really thinking about it.

    Why is this an issue? And why does it seem to be growing?
    Maybe it’s as simple as a couple bad apples (or maybe good people behaving badly) behaving in a way that is working for them… with no penalties/boundaries/discipline. WordPress & WordCamps have that OpenSource, people be reasonable, life is good attitude. It’s awesome.

    But as groups grow, they need rules because not everyone thinks the same way, has the same boundaries or definitions of what is acceptable.

    I hate rules… but…

    Without defining some basic rules, say a Code of Conduct, how do you define a basic bar above which we can all feel comfortable? If people understand where the bar is, what happens when their behavior falls below the bar (penalties) and how to handle said behavior when you experience it, then it’s clear. It’s handled and we can move on.

    My initial reaction was, OK we’re all adults. But if we’re all adults, why do most companies need sexual harassment policies?

    Because we’re human and sex is what it is. Because it’s not OK for anyone to be uncomfortable. Because not everyone understands that their behavior is being misinterpreted. Because sometimes people drink too much and it’s an issue.

  27. Thanks for the post, Sarah.

    I commented on Lema’s post that I think this type of post is a good example of the community trying to continue growing in a healthy way. I really appreciate your thoughts here, and I’m glad you posted.

    We all need to really think about our actions and impacts, and be more aware of the situations we’re putting ourselves in. I know I will be, and I will be doing my best to make better and healthier decisions in moving forward.

    Thanks for the post!



Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: