The WordPress community has been abuzz recently about codes of conduct and behavioral standards – particularly at WordCamps. It’s been an interesting conversation, filled with passionate arguments on both sides.
Huge generalizations have been made. Polarizing blog posts have been written. Not much progress has been seen at all, though.
The Root of the Issue
At its root, the conversation has been about misogyny 1 in the software community.
Not just the software community – the WordPress community. My community.
I take umbrage when anyone challenges the integrity of a community of which I’m a part. I defend it with everything I have and, on the rare occasion there’s a partial truth to a particular accusation, work diligently to fix it.
This time it’s not a partial truth. We have a problem.
Unfortunately, it’s not a problem I feel particularly invited to address. 2
As a man, people typically jump to an assumption of where I stand on gender issues. It’s frustrating, but any discussion in which I’m involved where I don’t agree 100% with my female counter-parts quickly devolves from a disagreement to an “oh, well of course, you’re a guy so you don’t understand.”
Over the past few months, arguments have arisen for:
I’m not saying these are particularly bad ideas; there are, however, issues I have with all of them.
Any codified document can be as binding or unbinding as you want it to be. If it’s binding, there’s little to no room for negotiation on potential exceptions – exceptions bore holes through the integrity of any community document and often render it useless.
If it’s not binding, then we’re wasting our time here.
Having a designated individual through whom reports of harassment flow seems, on the one hand, like a good idea. In practice it rarely works out, though.
I know. I’ve held this role before.
And yet, though I was the designated member of the staff to whom anyone was welcome to report issues, several women on staff refused to report to me. They were more comfortable reporting issues to another woman than a man.
I can understand that – but I have a problem with needing to cater a role to the comfort level of everyone who might need to make a report. Do we have a women-only safety officer? A men-only? A youth-only? An English-as-a-second-language-only?
This slippery slope is exactly what we ended up with after falling down the safety officer rabbit hole. It’s unsustainable and only replaces potential harassment with potential discrimination.
WordCamps for Women
The day an “official” WordCamp explicitly or implicitly excludes any specific demographic is the day I leave the community.
It’s obvious that women in the WordPress community feel disenfranchised and even threatened in certain circumstances. Just a couple of quotes I’ve seen:
Being seen as an object compounded my existing lack of self-confidence and made me feel like a total fraud. I wanted to disappear.
Next time I’ll just not introduce myself to the men I don’t know and stick a little closer to the women.
This kind of feedback about any event I care about makes me question the quality and purpose of that event. It makes me question my affiliations with the people involved. It makes me question whether or not I want to continue to attend.
It turns my stomach that someone would look at me and, because I’m a guy, avoid meeting me at such an event.
I understand why the response to this kind of sentiment is to branch off. To protect women in our community from men who would behave in such a way. To set up rules so we can quickly do away with anyone who breaches our sense of “right behavior” in these settings.
But it’s not that simple.
It Happens to Men, Too
I have been offered casual hookups at every single WordCamp I’ve attended. For the past two years, attendees at WordCamp Phoenix have offered me spare hotel keys at the bar with a wink and a smile.
After giving a detailed code talk during the day, I’ve had women (and a few men) explain quite graphically at the after party how turned on they were by my coding skills. I’ve been made uncomfortable by several distinct individuals at all of the conferences I’ve attended – the few times I’ve brought it up it’s been brushed off. “Dude, you can handle it.” “Come on, it’s a compliment.”
The issue here isn’t that WordCamps (or the WordPress community) are hostile towards women. It’s that we have no sense of ethical responsibility towards the community.
Code of Ethics
The difference between of a code of ethics and a code of conduct is simple: A code of ethics deals with principles whereas a code of conduct deals with the behavioral implementation of those principles.
In the WordPress world, we already abide by a code of ethics when it comes to software.
If you’ve ever organized, spoken at, sponsored, or volunteered with a WordCamp, you’ve seen an agreement that outlines some of the principles of the WordPress community:
- no discrimination on the basis of economic or social status, race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, or disability
- no incitement to violence or promotion of hate
- no spammers
- no jerks
- respect the WordPress trademark
- embrace the WordPress license; If distributing WordPress-derivative works (themes, plugins, WP distros), any person or business officially associated with WordCamp should give their users the same freedoms that WordPress itself provides: 100% GPL or compatible, the same guidelines we follow on WordPress.org.
- don’t promote companies or people that distribute WordPress derivative works which aren’t 100% GPL compatible
I would expand this list to include the principle that anyone involved with WordPress should understand how their attitudes and behaviors reflect on the WordPress community as a whole.
The Bottom Line
We – the WordPress community – can do better.
We can hold events, both professional and social, without requiring signed behavior contracts for attendance.
We can hold events without needing to designate a chaperon for social interactions the after party.
We can hold events inclusive of everyone.
If we can’t … are we a community in the first place?
A code of ethics is a non-binding way to start the conversation. Like every piece of open source I produce, the above list of ethical principles is freely available to all. Patches welcome.
- I use this word specifically because the conversation is specifically about women feeling uncomfortable in a male-dominated industry. ↩
- I have been singled out on many occasions, in this community and others, as being “not qualified” to even hold an opinion. On women’s issues, I’m told to be quiet because I can only speak from an oppressive, male viewpoint. I’ve was refused a job working with minority students because, as a Caucasian, the employer felt “little to no confidence that [I] could relate to their experience with a difficult and unfairly competitive workplace.” I have been ignored because of my religion, my middle-class status, and my sexuality. The fact is: I do have an opinion and this conversation does affect me, too. As irresponsible as it would be to ignore my opinion based on any of the above qualifiers, it would be equally irresponsible for me to keep it to myself because I think it will be ignored. ↩