Wednesday, 27 February 2013

#PHPness - the real issue

So says those that are comfortable in the status quo, and don't need to see their environment, their industry, change. Perhaps I'm being unfair, perhaps it is just that those (and there are plenty more), like Jarrod here, feel that PHP developers are above such pervasive parasitic behaviours that culminate in cultural divide.

It seems that this last couple of days a bit of a hoo-ha has been stirred up by the "75% women" staffed Web & PHP magazine, and their choice at drumming up views for their publication (congratulations on a job well done, I imagine). Sorry if I do "name names" here, by the way, it just makes it a whole lot easier for people to follow what's happened than making them do all the searching for themselves. I'm only aware of this now because perennial sexism-sniffer-outer, Aral Balkan, was making a bit of a fuss of it all this evening (see the earlier link).

Unfortunately the responses since have focused largely on the largely irrelevant and anecdotal .

Some may see the defense by Web & PHP magazine's staffers as its own form of feminism, others as Uncle Tom syndrome. Either way, it was off the mark as it took one criticism ("Your schtick is too male orientated") and decided to argue against it, as others so defensively did on Twitter it would seem, as some form of censorship alone. I don't doubt that some were thinking that, that perhaps it shouldn't have gone ahead, but is that really the only answer? Of course not. It's also highly curious to me to see the response to "we shouldn't pretend women are wallflowers" is to say "women should get used to 21st century male orientated sexual banter". Aren't they essentially the same limiting action, but in different directions?

Similarly the article makes the logical misstep of assuming because people involved are perfectly non-sexist and decent human beings, that this somehow makes it the problem of those that may feel barriers to their involvement if they don't feel comfortable. Yet the authors had the audacity, or perhaps just lack of an irony detector, to go on a diatribe about "slut shaming".

If there is one thing that happens every time this subject comes up it is the belittlement of the views of the minority of people that don't feel that their own industry (or the industry they would professionally like to be a part of) isn't a "safe space" for them. Perhaps it's not intentional, but clumsily these irrelevancies of how nice, decent, female or well meaning people are while they are creating divisive atmosphere, only say one thing... if you're too far from what we consider normal, we don't really care if you want to join the party or not. It's so very cliquey. Given the tone of the humour, it's 6th-form common-room standards of behaviour.

This last month has seen a landmark victory for civil rights in the UK, with same sex couples getting a vital step closer to being legally recognised as spouses if they go through a legal union of marriage. Yet there were many that claimed that they didn't need marriage, that they had something *like* marriage, surely that's enough? The attitude was very "learn to live with it". Internationally the issue has even seen some homosexual people themselves standing up shoulder to shoulder with the type of people that tried to deny them the right to an equal age of consent.

Another example of the kind of issue we're facing is university sports initiations. You may have seen some stuff on the news in the past, there have been incidents where people have died because of them. Yet despite this those who rely on them to weed out the weak of stomach and of resolve, would very passionately demand that no-one take away their right to run initiations as they wish. The result? People who cared about the sport, wanted to take it on from college, but didn't want to drink a pint of urine then be humiliated around town for a night, lost out.

The people who ran the initiations didn't lose out, those who joined in didn't lose out, only those that decided that their own sense of self-worth meant this avenue was closed to them. It was a pleasure to work with those during my time at UWESU who worked tirelessly to engage with the sport clubs to run initiations in a manner befitting of a safe-space organisation, not removing all elements of "risque"-ness or hierarchies and power structures...but to make it so that no-one who was of a "team sport is awesome" mentality would feel reasonably put off by the initiations.

This industry, and I mean our broad industry, not just in PHP, not just front-end developers, nor designers...but web and technology workers all over, needs to get past its own "same sex marriage" moment and embrace what the world needs it to be. Conferences, especially, are our "initiations" for those who want to enter the community as well as the profession, and everyone has the right to feel comfortable entering that arena.