Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dirty Pitchers and Conference Presentations

Due to the nature of the discussions I've seen on this topic, I am disabling comments for this post.

I like dirty pitchers.

I like looking at sexy images of men and of women (I've made no secret that I'm bi). I enjoy watching pr0n movies on occasion, and consider a bit of whips&chains to be added spice. I've posed for some, ahem, risque photos (in my younger, more adventurous days).

Yep - I appreciate pr0n.

What I *don't* appreciate is the use of pr0n, or sexually suggestive (or so-called "glamour") images of scantilly-dressed women, in tech conference presentations.

Now - I've already said I like pr0n. So what's the big deal?

The problem is the effect the use of such images in presentations is likely to have on the (inevitably) few tech women in the audience - women who've already overcome stereotype threat, low self-efficacy, and other barriers to entry to the field and who still may suffer from imposter syndrome (don't know the terms? look 'em up!), who have made the decision to attend in spite of the low numbers of "people like me" (other tech women) - who are likely to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, who may feel, once again, that they don't really belong here (here == 'the tech field').

And no - this isn't about being a "repressed American". I lived in Italia and have seen and enjoyed the myriad sexy images of women (and men) in magazines and billboards there. But be honest with yourself: those images on the magazines and billboards are there *because* they are sexy and because sex sells (blame a million years of hardwiring for that). That's an appropriate context for those images. But what does being sexy have to do with a professional tech conference? What is showing images of "sexy women" saying about the role of women in tech? To far too many women (and men) it says that women belong at conferences as decoration - welcome as boothbabes, tolerated as marketers and maybe recruiters (after all, sex sells) - but not recognized as colleagues, as professional programmers or sysadmins or hardware techs.

The more images like this in conference presentations are viewed as appropriate by presenters or organizers at tech conferences, the less women will feel they "belong" in tech, or at least, at tech conferences. Is that the message you want to send? Is that a consequence you're willing to accept for the sake of a lame joke, or brief moment of tittilation?