It's Really Not That Difficult.

I thought the topic of offensive presentations at professional tech conferences was beat to death before, but apparently there are still some out there who don't get it. Recently, the GoGaRuCo incident stirred up controversy, and now this monstrosity has occurred.

In a nutshell, the keynote speaker at Flashbelt, Hoss Gifford, gave a presentation that included actions and images that would make even Howard Stern do a double-take. The highlights of the talk, according to Courtney Remes, as recounted here, are:

  • He opens his keynote with one of those "Ignite"-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman's lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say "drink me," with Hoss's Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.
  • He later demos a drawing tool he has created (admittedly with someone else's code) and invites a woman to come up to try it. After she sits back down, he points out that in her doodles she's drawn a "cock."
  • Then he decides he wants to give a try at using the tool to draw a "cock" (he loves this word) — and draws a face, then a giant dick (he redraws it three times) that ultimately cums all over the face.
  • A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also "If you are easily offended, fuck you!"
  • And then, to top it off, a self-made flash movie of an animated woman's face, positioned as if she's having sex with you, who gradually orgasms based on the speed of your mouse movement on the page.
Yeah, seriously. WTF, indeed.

Funny, the synopsis of his talk doesn't indicate anything beyond cursing that could be offensive:
Hoss exploits this shared narrative in his work to great effect, and will use his inaugural Flashbelt presentation to analyze a series of projects that build on each other's successes and failures to deliver increasingly rich experiences. And he'll say ` F**k ' a lot.

His idea of "increasingly rich experiences" differs from mine, apparently.

Interestingly enough, it was his response and the response of his supporters that reveals the deeper issues. There are still so many out there who think that they are entitled to act like douchebags because they *can,* and that everybody else should let it go. Get over yourselves, I say. You're nowhere near as cool as you'd like to think you are. And you shrugging it off and alienating a good portion of your audience (men and women alike) is like me building a website that requires IE8 only.

I applaud the collaborative efforts and professionalism of the well thought out response by the conference organizers and the geek girls -- they are truly making progress, I think. In a way, though, it really saddens me. It saddens me that this conversation and effort even has to take place.

I think that idiots like Mr. Gifford do not represent a good portion of male techies in the world, and certainly he represents none of the men I know in the PHP world. So basically, I know I'm preaching to the choir on this one, but for those gentlemen out there that don't get it, IT'S REALLY NOT THAT DIFFICULT.

In case you're not sure where the "appropriate" line for your professional presentation is, here are a few pointers to help you decide.

1- Witty, pertinent content: GOOD. Pictures of naked women, or really anything sexually charged: BAD.
2- If you would feel uncomfortable giving the presentation to your little sister or Aunt Linda, CHANGE IT.
3- The audience and the conference organizers are your CLIENTS. They're paying you good money to educate and share your knowledge. Offending and embarrassing them and yourself is a BAD IDEA.
4- EDGY does not mean PORN.
5- You obviously have intelligence and something interesting to say. DON'T HIDE BEHIND BULLSHIT.
6- It's called EMPATHY. LOOK IT UP.

If you *still* don't get it, and you're not sure if your presentation is questionable, approach some women in tech with your presentation and get their opinion. We are out there, trust me. No, we won't chastise you for being ignorant. We will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to ask.


18 Responses to It's Really Not That Difficult.

  1. 16566 Courtney 2009-06-12 23:19:07

    Bravo! The likely complaint you're going to hear is that you're being overly sensitive, but that's crap. This has to stop, and it will eventually.

    My guess is 99.9% of the other people in the conference were just as disgusted, but thought they were missing the point of the "art." There is no point, and they're the joke. But you can't pull a fast one on Elizabeth.

    Trust me. I've tried. She's joke-proof. ;)

    Brilliant post!

  2. 16568 Vid Luther 2009-06-12 23:28:55

    Very well said, couldn't agree with you more. I got angry just reading the synopsis, I'd demand a refund from the conference organizers, not because I got offended, but I didn't learn anything...

    I'm tired of people being "edgy" and hiding behind the excuse of "not being P.C".. there's PC, and then there's class. And they're not interchangeable.

  3. 16569 Bill 2009-06-13 00:31:18

    Sadly, Courtney, there seems to have been more than 0.1% of attendees who supported Gifford. See the Courtney Remes post for details.

    I know this is a radical over-simplification but I believe that male IT workers who are prone to such behavior will continue to objectify women because their primary channel for interaction (AKA "The Web") is such a poor medium for communicating emotion, and because their male peers do not call them out for their adolescent behavior.

    Thus, I feel a large portion of the blames falls on the male Flashbelt attendees who attended the "presentation" and knew better but did nothing. Personally, I have only become more sensitive to such issues since the birth of my daughter. In the past, I was likely as much a part of the problem as anyone but I would prefer that no one but me pay for the sins of my past, not my female colleagues and least of all my daughter.

    Great post Elizabeth.

  4. 16573 Les 2009-06-13 02:01:26

    Yer... If you can excuse my language, basically speaking, this man is a d*ck yes?

    Reading your entry on Planet PHP I had a bit of a laugh, not at yourself but because you couldn't take this man and his presentations seriously and the thought that someone would use this style of presentation defies believe, regardless of the audience.

    So yer, just leave them to get on with it and they'll either go away or grow up soon enough and one day they'll realise just what a bunch of twats they are ;)

  5. 16585 kenrick 2009-06-13 08:06:32

    Reminds me of being in college art class, and this guy brought in the most disgusting art I'd had ever seen, he tried to shame everyone else for not understanding it as art and not being offended. It was just gross.

    The dude works at 7-11 now.

  6. 16602 Keith Casey 2009-06-13 11:50:45

    ... I'm not sure what to say to this one. At one level, I'm amazed that they let this knucklehead get through. As an unconference guy, it makes me more than a little nervous. Should there be some sort of slide review/approval beforehand? Ugh.

    Regardless, this one is beyond poor form... it's at minimum sick. I hope he's ended up blacklisting himself in the Flash/Adobe/etc community.

    This guy probably farts in elevators too.

  7. 16603 Gregory Beaver 2009-06-13 12:08:56

    Wtf. This used to be a problem in the classical music world here in the U.S. (and is still a problem in some areas of Europe), but a few well-placed lawsuits changed things around. Perhaps the programming world conference organizers might benefit from the same gentle reminder: sexual harassment is not just uncouth, it's also illegal and can land you in a civil or even a criminal suit.

    It doesn't matter how apologetic these folks are, the blame rests squarely on them. Hoss's presentation and those like it should be shuttered mid-stream, and I encourage all of you (male or female) who witness anything like this in the future to demand it on the spot.

  8. 16609 Jay Pipes 2009-06-13 15:21:32

    Amen sister.

  9. 16611 Bill Karwin 2009-06-13 17:50:42

    Brava, Elizabeth. Tech conferences should be about sharing knowledge -- they are not a venue for "edgy" performance art.

    Besides, there's nothing edgy about cursing, pornography, or adolescent humor. These are age-old practices; there's nothing edgy or innovative about them.

    It's hard to codify what's acceptable and what isn't. Even the Supreme Court couldn't do it! If someone has reached a level in their career where they're speaking at a conference, but they still can't figure out how to be professional, or the importance of doing so, then they just have a social blind spot.

    I support calling out the offenders for what they've done, but if they're doing it simply to get attention, then it might be best to simply vote with our feet.

  10. 16619 Gerard Sychay 2009-06-14 00:26:23

    I find that men like Hoss are generally single, stay that way for long periods of time, and have no lives outside of their small male technology circles or their small male video game circles.

  11. 16622 Shad 2009-06-14 02:57:45

    Hoss was not the Keynote, he was the last performance on day 2.

    The conference organizer Dave stood up at the beginning of Day 3 and apologized to the conference and said that an uncomfortable atmosphere was completely opposite of what he was trying to promote. This has not been mentioned.

    Courtney wrote her letter calling for a commentary but the Geek Girls called for a letter writing campaign to the conference, sponsors, organized twitter group, and comments as petition. They had not talked to Dave about the event to find out that he was torn up about it and did not condone it and took full responsibility.

    Dave issued an immediate apology but the damage was done, Geek Girls had already employed a fiery and effective form of civic engagement. A shoot first ask questions later technique with language like "we've still got a fight ahead of us" that is meant to get the attention of people who are not listening. This conference WAS listening.

    There can not be talk of gender dynamics and empathy without considering actual people. People have been hurt by this. It is not the 1960s. Women are not without power and everywhere I've worked takes sexual harassment and sexism very seriously. I am a man and was very wrongly accused of sexual harassment and spent two days crying over the charge. I then felt so embarrassed that I left the company. In a creative field, you ARE mostly dealing with men with empathy. My wife teases me all of the time about it.

    This "conversation" can not have positive results if women insist on using divisive camp-enforcing terms like "boy's club" and throwing a man under a bus without a basic opportunity to defend themselves or explain and try to reconcile their actions. Even when they are wrong like Dave was.

    We can not have a conversation in a culture of fear. Where any slip-up has disastrous judge, jury, executioner consequences. I've seen Women in the interactive community respond in a harsh way to this event. Women who have tweaked my nipples because I am overweight and women who upon meeting me called me "cute" and women who drunkenly sat on my lap.

    A "Conversation" can not and will not continue if men are afraid or mistrustful of women.

    I think we all learned a lot about the Twitter bandwagon during this event. I hope that we're all going to be more careful about considering people's actual feeling before jumping on an issue. This is not abstract, we know these people personally and can reach out to them. We can hold everyone accountable for their actions because every public post has their ID attached...they can own their words.

    I am concerned by the possibility is that this campaign was so effective that it'll be the first course of action in the future. That if you want to get things done, only engage a wrong-doer in the world of Internet public opinion. We can all run our own little Fox News. I am not convinced that the effectiveness of this did not send a message that this is how business is conducted. That to solve a problem we need to make an example. That the ends justify the means.

    I am not trying to try Courtney or the Geek Girls through the mud in retaliation. After Dave's public apology the crossed out two of the four calls to action. I'm a political being and can't say that I wouldn't have called for a letter writing campaign too. I certainly wanted one when Target fired almost every agency in town and brought in Schematic...but few people wanted to risk their careers. The reason that so many people are on board with talking about this is because it's not particularly risky. Dave was wrong, Courtney is right.

    BUT everyone missed out on empathy.

  12. 16674 terry chay 2009-06-15 21:41:43

    As someone who says "fuck" way too often than is healthy (and has an EXPLICIT tag next to many of his talks), I just want to point out one thing that drives me nuts about the word in talks.

    A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also "If you are easily offended, fuck you!"

    I hate when people say "Fuck You." There is a world of difference between saying "Web Development makes me mad as fucking hell" or "Ruby on Rails is a fucking mess" or "PHP function naming has no fucking sense" and saying "Fuck you."

    I won’t comment on the misogyny. I’m sure I was guilty of the same when I was 12… or whatever age the speaker was.

  13. 16854 Robin 2009-06-20 16:57:08

    [quote]PHP function naming has no fucking sense[/quote]

    Now there's a valid use of "Fuck". I agree wholeheartedly that swearing has a time and a place and should never be used just for shock value, or to insult. Admittedly, there's argument that it should be used at all, but I like to think it adds a bit of "spice" to an argument.

    Now, on the other hand, drawing "cocks" on things is just taking the biscuit. You should ask yourself before you draw one - "Am I currently trying to give a professional presentation?"

  14. 18629 Oyun 2009-09-10 20:01:10

    I won’t comment on the misogyny. I’m sure I was guilty of the same when I was 12… or whatever age the speaker was.

  15. 20197 ilahiler 2009-10-17 19:42:56

    I won’t comment on the misogyny. I’m sure I was guilty of the same when I was 12… or whatever age the speaker was.a

  16. 21923 oyunlar 2009-12-23 11:59:21

    support calling out the offenders for what they've done, but if they're doing it simply to get attention, then it might be best to simply vote with our feet.

  17. 21927 oyunlar 2009-12-23 13:48:01

    I won’t comment on the blog becouse I’m sure I was guilty of the same when I was 12… or whatever age the speaker was

  18. 22447 ilahiler dinle 2010-01-07 14:41:13

    Wtf. This used to be a problem in the classical music world here in the U.S. (and is still a problem in some areas of Europe), but a few well-placed lawsuits changed things around. Perhaps the programming world conference organizers might benefit from the same gentle reminder: sexual harassment is not just uncouth, it's also illegal and can land you in a civil or even a criminal suit.

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