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Sexism and PHP

Dear Reader,

UPDATE – 03/20/2013
For what it is worth, Anna and I have exchanged emails and I did apologize for some of my actions because I consider them un-professional. She has graciously accepted my apology. While we still stand on opposite sides of the aisle on this matter, at least we are now smiling and waving at each other. :)

Recently at SunshinePHP, my friend Ligaya Turmell and I had a discussion about sexism in the PHP community. My question to her was something like “I’ve been running PHP conferences for 7 years now and have never heard of an incident at any conference of which I was a part.” She had a great response. I am paraphrasing here, Lig, feel free to correct me.

“The PHP community has not had the problem with sexism that other communities seem to have but that is because from the early days, we have had strong women role models. Women like Lara Thomson, Sara Golemon, Liz Smith, and the like have played such a prominent role in the community that no, we’ve not had that big of a problem.”

I do not mean to imply that we can’t do better but if you look at all the recent blog posts about sexism at conferences, you will notice that none of them are PHP conferences…until now.

Today @webandphp rolled out a new T-Shirt at PHPUK. I’ll leave it to you to go find the picture, I’m not going to give them the Google juice of a link. I’ll just say THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!

No it’s not horrifically offensive. I’ve seen worse at conferences like OSCON…but that was from members of other communities that think it’s cute.

Here’s the bottom line. @webandphp thinks this is ok; that’s fine, it’s their opinion. My opinion is that it’s not.

  • As a man, I’m embarrassed
  • As a board member of PHPWomen.org, I’m offended
  • As a member of the PHP Community, I’m sad

So I’m going to take a stand in my little corner of the world and I don’t care if anybody else does.

To all PHP Conference organizers, I will not participate in any conference that @webphp or their parent company S&S is involved in. I will not attend, I will not speak. If I agree to speak or purchase a ticket and then they get involved in any way, I will refuse to participate.

It’s a small step, I know. Largely symbolic because to date, I’ve attended 2 conferences that S&S has been involved in and none that @webandPHP has been a part of. (To the best of my knowledge) But it’s my small step.

And to whomever is operating the @webandphp twitter account”

“@CalEvans Cal you act like I’m not a part of the community, I would gladly speak to you on the phone, if you would talk to me :) ?”

I don’t get to define what the PHP Community is, but I’m not part of ANY community that identifies itself with stuff like this.

UPDATE: Thanks to my friend @JCarouth, I am informed that @webandPHP was a media sponsor of @SunshinPHP, a conference that I attended and at which I spoke. As much as I LOVE @sunshinePHP and it’s founder @AdamCulp, I will stand behind my pledge. Again, it’s a small step, but it’s my small step.

UPDATE: It should be noted for those that do not know, all of this happend just recently. Sunshine PHP took place a few weeks ago and before this incident. I do not mean to disparage SunshinePHP or my friend Adam Culp in any way. :)

Until next time,
I <3 |< =C= For more on this topic, check out the Sexism in Tech I recorded on the topic with 4 respected women in the community.

47 thoughts on “Sexism and PHP

  1. I find the sheer amount of grammatical mistakes in your article offensive and embarrassing to men everywhere.. Please apologise for it, it’s so sexist and is the core of what is wrong with the PHP community.
    Oh wait. I sound a bit pathetic and have no point. Thanks for the lesson on “How to get annoyed at a comment on Twitter and in a heated few moments escalate it into a sensationalist fight against sexism blog post”.
    Just because a pun is about a reproductive organ women don’t have but men do, doesn’t make it sexist.
    I didn’t even notice the penis pun until pointed out by a few people on Twitter about it being a lame pun. Once I did all I could see is a play on PHP and typical web spam penis enlargement emails. So that’s the “web” and “PHP” both ticked off.

    As an aside I saw a comment by a colleague going along the lines of “It’s embarrassing, if he’s fighting for my rights, how do I join the other team”. Sums it up for me.

  2. I think it’s very risky to comment on posts like these, and normally I would not touch the subject with a 10-feet pole. One of the reasons is that there is (on any subject, not just this) an attitude that “if you’re not for us, you’re against us”. On this matter: Cal, I think you are wrong. On this matter: WebPHP: I think you are wrong too.

    Cal, I think, even with all the dignity you have, you KNOW you are one of the most influential people in the PHP community. I think it’s a safe bet to consider this as a fact, more then an opinion. I think, because of this, making a stand, especially a BIG stand like this is like (obligatory west-wing reference) “handing out a 5000 dollar penalty for a 5 dollar crime”. You are offended, you have every right to, but acting like this will not help anyone. In fact, IF (and i take this as a big if), webphp created a small crack in the community, you’ve just took a wedge, and made a gaping hole out of it.

    Here is the thing: you are not wrong. I think you are truly offended. I think more people are truly offended. I really think you should speak up about it. But also remember: lots of people ARENT offended. And I think even most people have absolutely no opinion about it, until this whole thing escalated, and are pretty much “forced” to take a side. Again, this is the wedge you are creating (and maybe even me, responding to this post).

    I was there during the keynote of David Coalier when we mentioned his “Embrace your PHPness”. Same joke, different format. It was funny, the crowd laughed. It was not being sexists, and everybody – man/woman with/without phpnes got the joke and laughed. Would you have stormed out the room to revolt? Did any of the 250+ other attendees? No. It was no big deal, it was a joke. Not a sexist one, not a political one. Just a joke. A good one! Keep in mind: jokes will always offend people. Opening your mouth will offend people. Even words from you. I strongly disagreed on some subjects you’ve talked about during a keynote a few years back, so much I would wanted to storm over to you and discuss it. Not to punch you in the face, but discuss the differences on the matter (we still can do though!). I think this should be taken into account: if you are offended, don’t make a fuzz about it. Keep calm, breath, and discuss your differences. Everybody will benefit.

    I have gay friends, i have friends from the opposite sex (women, in case you are confused), i even have gay women friends. We on occasion talk about minorities. You know what? all of them agree on the same thing: if you yell out loud and long enough that you are a minority, in the end, you will be treated as a minority – EVEN – if you aren’t one! And it makes sense: having a gay parade every year in Holland is massive fun for all kind of sexual oriented people, but I doubt it will help ANYONE getting along. These things only accentuate the differences (1%), not the similarities between both (99%). Again, the good intentions of the parade, actually drives two parties further away. Some of the best and brightest people I know in the community are women. They are a minority, just as men are a minority when it comes to nurses. Things are that way, but if you want to become a male nurse, nobody will stop you. If you want to become a female programmer, I think you even have the opportunity to have lots of support from the community in becoming one. But thinking about if someone is part of a minority takes about 0.0% of my time: i don’t think about it. I think about other, more useful things: can this person help me out with a problem. Can I help this person out with a problem? I think I speak for most, if not all community members, on this one.

    I’m not sure you understand the following paragraph, but you are a smart person, and I really hope you do: but I get offended by other things. Mainly: conferences that have a non-harassment pledge. I was even close on not speaking at PHPNW12, because this pledge was actually part of the speaker package. It offended me. If offended me bad. It treated me like i’m a bad guy harassing people. It made me feel like a small person that needed to take a look at this pledge in order to be worthy to speak at that conference. In the end I decided not to drive that wedge deeper and just went. But that feeling didn’t went away during the conference. And you know what: the (I must say: many) conferences I’ve attended during the last few years, literary ganging from san francisco all the way to moscow, i’ve never seen such pledges. I always see people threaded with respect – both speakers and attendees. It seems that not having a pledge works too! And you know what: i think most people have a good sense of what is right and what is wrong to know harassment – with our without a piece of paper – should not be allowed.

    I think we should take good look on how we treat different groups in our community? I’m all for a phpwomen group. But identifying yourself as part of such group, automatically has as a consequence that you will be identified as part of that group! This is probably the same reason why I think conferences like codeconnexx are – by default – a bad idea. I love a good tech conference just as much as the next guy, and i truly don’t care less if was organized by men, women, wombats or woolly mammoths. But emphasizing that you are a minority, gets you treated as a minority. If that offends you, don’t emphasize this fact. The simplest solution often is the most effective!

    What I’m asking from you Cal, is let the people decide on how to deal with issues. People will always be offended, but lets get things in perspective: we’re talking about a t-shirt with the same joke as a keynote – A KEY NOTE – speaker made earlier on. We’re not talking about burning flags here (and even that many people would care less about). Nobody forced anyone into slavery, indignite behavior or anything else. If the community (or any community) are strictly forbidden to do things, if we are lectured about how to think, how to act, instead of following our own (good) conscience, we’re not talking about a community anymore. We are on the verge of becoming a sect.

    If we – as a community – are so proud of having such a close and wonderful community, I think it’s safe to say, that if a t-shirt can split this community in two, we are in worse shape everybody is suggesting.

  3. Next time, give us the link with the attribute rel=”nofollow”, and we can figure out what you’re talking about without giving them “Google juice”.

    Otherwise, good article.

  4. I think you are overreacting here. I looked at the T-Shirt and tried to figure out how the heck people could interpret it to be offensive, but didn’t succeed. Then I read some of the HN comments, where someone pointed out that “Enhance your PHPness” sounds like “Enhance your penis”.

    I wouldn’t have figured it out by myself, but I’m not a native speaker. But even assuming that this was indeed what was meant, I still fail to see how this is sexist in any way (unless you think along the lines of “women are more sensitive to sexual topics and thus it is selectively more offensive for women”, which may or may not be true, but does seem rather far fetched)

    I think posts like these take a serious issue and reduce it to absurdity. You aren’t doing anyone a favor with this.

  5. You’re a typical white night, thinking you’re doing women justice by protecting them from the penis joke. You’re doing more damage to the community by posting such articles.

    Do you know any women who was actually offended by this? Probably not …

  6. White Knight detected!

    But seriously, its a fucking t-shirt with a penis joke. Get over yourself and stop whining. This is not sexism, just questionable humor.

    I’d rather have some dirty jokes than live in a world where everyone is a 100% politically correct asexual blob.

  7. I’m probably a bit dumb, but I might not be the only one, I’ve now looked for the aforementioned tee, and I don’t see why it’s sexist. Any penis reference is sexist by default?

    I ask because now I’m afraid that I could be myself sexist on occasions without realising it.

  8. As a formerly somewhat-known female member of the PHP community, I have to agree with the other commenters here: I would never have even noticed the pun if you hadn’t pointed it out, and even having seen it, I still think it’s only sexist because you’re calling it such. If it bothers you as a male member of the community, then that’s your choice and you’re free to boycott as you please, but spreading this kind of strongly-worded FUD doesn’t help anyone.

  9. Hi Cal,

    @to those that see this as an “innocent” play, see further than this in your mind.

    I will re-iterate what I said on @skoop’s blog:
    In the marketing world, nothing is said or portrayed without any intent (innocent) behind. Marketing always uses gimmicks, and at the most intelligent level it conveys that in such a way that it will seem a very gentle/innocent way

    @People who could not apparently see any relationship: says cheese, you’ve just been softly fooled! (so the gimmicks did the trick)

    @Cal:
    I totally agree with your standpoints AND your decision to not attend conferences as you mentioned!
    And thanks for always caring about The PHP Community and safe-guarding it’s essence! You DESERVE RESPECT in all sense and for everything that YOU DO For The PHP Community!

    *Me Salutes The Icon Of The PHP Community aka Cal Evans!*

  10. I respect you for standing for few of us that do care about these things. I have heard of two other similar cases about this and in companies and no action has been taken on this. I hope your hand stays behind your pledge and I encourage you in your direction. It is the lead that the PHP community needs.

    Thanks a lot Cal, I was at phpsunshine and I also heard from Adam Culp on the first day the warning on harassment. Now I understand it is against these type of people this is for. Excellent.

  11. The reference to phpwomen may confuse some a bit and derail the topic to something like “woman can’t stand anything related to sex (or sex jokes)” while I think the focus should be on something else.

    I’ve not listened to the podcast as I just came back from a 1.5 day of listening to people. I need a break from talking people; I will listen to it soon though.

    I stumbled upon this post by reading tweets on my way home from phpuk13 and I have no problems with “embrace your sexiness”; that is how I read the shirt till the comments here made me realise it actually refers something else. Still, I don’t fully understand the fuss about it. It’s just a play on words!

    After giving it some thought I’d like to share my 2c.

    From a professional point of view I can appreciate the commotion and that even the slightest reference to something sexual within a professional environment is a faux pas. PHP is a language that endured quite some hardship to reach the current state of maturity in the professional industry. It’s not about scriptkiddies and amateur websites anymore; it’s now about enterprises, big companies using PHP professionally and the community bringing PHP to a higher level.

    I’m sure the magazine company didn’t mean any harm and just tried to be funny in an attempt to increase sales. Is Cal’s response exaggerated or overreacted? Perhaps, it all depends on how you look at it. From 1 perspective this may not be as innocent as it may seem. It actually may be a start of a snowball effect which could lead to more sex and eventually sexism. An example: suppose, 1 company starts throwing a sexual remark into their marketing campaigns. Another company will try the same, perhaps with an even more sexual and daring statement. A next company will try to outwit all previous companies, etc etc. I think you get the point. It may not be a fast rolling snowball but a snowball nevertheless.

    I personally don’t mind well intended, light-hearted sexual references at all. If we should allow sexual references from e.g. sponsors during PHP conferences, then the question is, where does one draw the line of what is acceptable and what not, and who decides this? Should we really want to get into debates of what is allowed or not?

    I think it’s a good thing what Cal does to take a stance against it in the professional environment and to discourage companies bringing in more and more sexualims (is that a word?) in the long run, however I think the message could have been delivered slightly different.

    I strongly believe this is an issue about the usage of sex within the professional PHP environment rather than sexism and that the reference to ‘phpwomen’ is a bit misleading which causes confusion. Instead, the emphasis should be on the real issue: taking sex out of the equation and keeping PHP’s level of professionalism high.

    There are a gazillions of other ways to make things funny and interesting to increase sales. Let’s keep it professional during conferences where the goal of the organisers and their sponsors is to educate and sell products/services to PHP developers in a professional way.

  12. If you really think THIS is sexual harassment, then you are simply completely stupid and/or out of the real world. I really hate the first world for making “problems” out of every totally unrelated stuff.

  13. Wow talk about an overreaction!! There are REAL problems in this world and this isn’t one of them. You sir have no right to pass judgement in that manner. It’s insulting to women that you think you are their saviour… Way to go by cutting your nose off to spite your face.

  14. I have been a PHP programmer for several years, laying low and not really getting involved in the “PHP community” in any way. After several years of not finding much information about proper advanced PHP programming, frameworks etc. I decided it was time to try and get involved in some of the communities that I was sure exist out there and hopefully get in contact with some of the better PHP programmers out there in order to learn something from the best.

    So far I’ve been really disappointed, it seems that the PHP community has gotten itself stuck in the trench warfare that is “sexism”. I know from experience that once this can of worms has been opened there’s no turning back and this will poison just about any discussion for the foreseeable future.

    Most of the “sexism” poisoning seems to come from the “White knights”, as some people here call them, the people that get offended on behalf of others. Very rarely it’s women that get the ball rolling. Unfortunately once a white knight for one “cause” has risen, other causes get their knights up in arms effectively killing any meaningful discussions in the infected community.

    Right now I’m wondering if I should simply drop any ideas about getting involved in the PHP community and keep on as before – it doesn’t seem worth it to jump into the septic tank that this is likely to become.

  15. I wrote a post, too (link in the website box above).

    I thanked Cal and the few other guys who stood and said, that’s not right. Very important for men to do that and as you can see from your responses =) it comes at a cost.

    There are some who jump on every one of these bandwagons, but Cal isn’t like that. He’s very slow to act which I respect. A lot of people jump when they hear the word sexism – and if you read my post – you’ll see that I discovered I have problems of my own. I made some assumptions that were sexist.

    A lot of what I am reading here, I agree with. There has been too much sensitivity on “women’s issues” when frankly – some of the issues don’t seem like issues to me.

    Another reason I am always glad to see someone like Cal slow to act, is that PHP is a very diverse international community, lots of cultural differences, lots of points of view, lots of moral codes. No one has the answer, so there must be a very liberal view on what is or is not acceptable. I respect that he observes that.

    I agree with Cal, in this case, it was a bit much. I have never made a stand before on a gender issue, until this one.

    It was not just the t-shirt. To be honest, I would have not a said a word about the t-shirt. It’s clever PHPness. Penis. har har. Big deal.

    But when you combined it with the message:

    The #webandphp girls looking to grow PHPness in London today # phpuk13

    and the picture of two lovely girls in this t-shirt it crosses the line from harmless joke about a penis, to objectifying women going to a PHP conference as sex objects. They are going to grow penises (and that is exactly what the statement said.)

    Now, that might still seem funny to you, and if I was at a bar, or at a party, maybe a frat, or the Animal House movie ;-) then sure maybe that’s funny

    But, this is a professional conference. Women attended the conference to learn, to share their knowledge, to be noticed for their work, for their accomplishment. They should not be faced with this message of objectivation of women as sex objects.

    It is intimidating for many women. Every attendee has this t-shirt, there was a lot of talk about these girls and why they were at the conference. All I can say, as a woman, that’s not the climate I would feel was one where my ideas would be considered, or I would be treated like a peer, just like other male attendees.

    For me, it was important to say something this time. Having men willing to say this isn’t right is helpful.

    People are free to continue doing this. It’s well within their rights to do so. But, sometimes, you gotta make a stand and that can be helpful to them and others, in terms of feedback.

    We won’t always see it the same, but we should always show respect to one another, stay open to different ideas. I read all these comments – I thought you were overall a little hard on Cal – but everything that was said was useful, so thanks for sharing.

  16. First Cal, thank you. You’re not getting enough of that reaction, so thank you for being the good southern gentleman that you are.

    To the rest of you: Yes, there are far worse things in this world than a crude joke made on a tee shirt for the sake of a cheap laugh. No, this drop in the ocean will not, by itself, make or break the culture of violence against women which this world is drowning in.

    But for pity’s sake, don’t encourage it. Don’t applaud brogrammer culture. Do yourselves a favor and be better than that.

  17. Cal,
    Thank you for posting this. I don’t fully agree with the weight of your reaction, but I do respect it. I fully agree with Sara G. that as developers we should not encourage the brogrammer culture.

    Thanks for voicing your opinion and allowing others to voice theirs (even when they are cruel/foolish/hateful) on your blog.

  18. The usage of a vulgar double entendre is intellectually repulsive to me. I see this as a form of Intellectual Violence. Sure I get it, but two things I saw jumped out at me, first the phallic reference is obviously vulgar and not necessary, second, the display on a tank top, that is commonly refereed to (at least in the USA) as a “wife beater” speaks to domestic violence and the denigration of woman.

    Seriously, my prowess as an architect or developer has everything to do with my brain, my integrity, and passion for what I love as a career. I for one am sick and tired of stuff always going “Freudian.” We are not little boys discovering our new “friend”, we are grown men and our conduct should mirror that fact. So, I will join with these MEN and say, enough is enough.

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