May 7, 2013

A Statement from Adria Richards

Having remained silent since PyCon, Adria Richards has now published a statement reflecting on those events, though sensibly without going into specifics. I think it's important that her retrospective view gets some air, so I am reproducing it here with my own comments.

Those who know me well in the the developer and tech community recognize that I have always tried to conduct myself in a way that builds bridges for everyone. My central aim is to do everything I can to help create new, inclusive inroads for all, no matter who they are, where they come from or what they believe. Development is about innovation, creativity, and in a grand sense, the betterment of human society through technology. So, it stands to reason that everyone should have a seat at the table, and everyone involved in this vital community should feel welcome, safe and respected. In essence, the worldwide community of developers can and should function as a reflection of what our wider society strives to be.
I don't know Adria, so I take her opening statement at face value. Those who disagree may do so elsewhere. Garann Means recently made a fairly good case that the denizens of the technology world don't act in a way that inspires respect from other communities. I think it's fair to say (and some of the comments in forums like Hacker News amply demonstrate) that there is plenty of room for improvement in what's considered acceptable conduct in the technology world.
I cannot comment at this time on the specifics of what occurred at PyCon on March 17, and the subsequent events of the following days, but I can offer some general thoughts. I don’t think anyone who was part of what happened at PyCon that day could possibly have imagined how this issue would have exploded into the public consciousness the way it has. I certainly did not, and now that the severest of consequences have manifested, all I wish to do is find the good in what has been one of the most challenging weeks of my life.
This positive attitude is to be admired. I have been through similarly shitty situations in my own life (as most of us have at one time or another) and while it's good to move on I like to extract lessons that will help me try to avoid making the same mistakes. If I can find those I can feel more positive about the experience.
And I do believe there is good to be found in this situation. Debate and recrimination can and must give way to dialog that explores the root causes of these issues in the tech industry. As developers and members of the startup community, we can welcome newcomers, women and people of color who, as of now, are under-represented in our ranks. And, all of us can learn a great deal from those who are well-established in the field. We can solidify the values of our workplaces (yes, conference spaces are workplaces!), and set new, positive and inclusive examples for other professional disciplines.
This is a good idea. PyCon was started to try and provide an inclusive space where everyone with interests in Python can come together for the betterment of all. I would be suspicious of those who don't support the above as an ideal. We surely have to accept that there's still along way to go to get there. So dialog is a good idea.
What happened at PyCon has cast a spotlight on a range of deep issues and problems in the developer world. As ugly as this situation has become, all of these issues have reasonable, and, I think, easily reached solutions that will help us cast conflict aside and construct a more cohesive and welcoming professional environment based on respect, trust and open communication. I do not, at this time, wish to concentrate on the fallout of the last several days. Instead, I want to be an integral part of a diverse, core group of individuals that comes together in a spirit of healing and openness to devise answers to the many questions that have arisen in the last week. Together, we can work to make the tech world a better place to work for everyone, and in doing so, we make the wider world a better place for all.
It's interesting that this episode happened at PyCon. When we started to talk seriously about Codes of Conduct in the Python world there was a lot of kick-back, and people said things like "but this is the Python community" (implying that we are such nice people that we won't have the same issues) and "but that's just normal behavior" (not even implying, but specifically stating, that anyone who needed a Code of Conduct to condition their behavior shouldn't be going to conferences anyway).

We pressed ahead none the less, refining the code to improve its expression of our ideals of openness and inclusivity. When issues had to be addressed (and you can read the reports in the PyCon blog if you need to refresh your memory) the code of conduct was applied, and to my mind it worked. The fact that two people lost their jobs as a result of the fall-out was nothing to do with the code of conduct, and yet there were many who felt that the blame should be laid at PyCon's door. I shudder to think what the result would have been at an event with no explicit code.

I hope that Adria can come back to PyCon without being subjected to any hostility. She expresses a great ideal, one that we should all be striving for. Now we just have to work out how to achieve it. But that's an implementation detail, right? I wish!


Anonymous said...

There are times I wish I was more involved in the Python community, and whenever I consider it, all it takes is wading into the comments on any post about the Adria Richards incident for me to be relieved I haven't bothered. I can't believe a community I consider myself a part of has so many foul, small-minded, vindictive misogynists in it.

Whatever her failings, the Python community needs more people like Adria Richards in it, and far, far fewer of the mouth-breathers attacking her. Sadly, I think the mouth-breathers are winning.

Matt Williams said...

As far as I can tell, that statement was published a month and a half ago, only 10 days after the incident.

PrometheeFeu said...

I just wish this particular aspect of the code of conduct wasn't there. I wholeheartedly support banning sexual harassment, insults, etc... I also support banning things such as inherently racist, misogynistic or otherwise wrongly-discriminatory speech.

However, I also very much oppose the ban on conference attendees discussing sexual topics. There is nothing inherently offensive, threatening or otherwise damaging about discussing sex and this is very much one of those cases where those who take offense need to learn to live in a world where not everyone will bow to their rules.

Steve said...

@PrometheeFeu: What on earth makes you think there is a ban on discussion of sexual topics? The aim is to avoid a hostile environment for all delegates, not to restrict specific topics of discussion. Perhaps you should read the code of conduct again ...

PrometheeFeu said...


From the pycon code of conduct:

"Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks."

The policy on which the code of conduct was based can be found here:

The Geek Feminism policy on which the CoC was based specifically proposes an addendum to provide an exception for discussing among other things "sex" in a very limited manner. The Geek Feminism wiki page recommends against including the addendum in question. The PyCon CoC does not include the addendum.

I think it's pretty clear that the CoC treats any sexual topic as inherently offensive and bans them.

This particular event actually is a good example of this. The men whom Adria complained about made general sexual comments which were not specifically offensive. The violated the CoC.