WordPress Safety Officers? Are You Kidding Me?

WordPress Safety Officers? Are You Kidding Me?

At a work Christmas party a couple of years ago, before I joined WPMU DEV, I was at the bar ordering a drink when a guy sidled up to me and whispered into my ear, “Let’s get out of here.”

After wiping his spit from my ear, I flashed my wedding ring and replied, “Sorry, I’m taken,” before grabbing my beer and turning to walk away. But he cut me off and with a grin said, “Oh, come on. That shouldn’t stop you.” And then he grabbed my arm.

Do we really need safety officers at WordCamp events?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing has happened to me more than once. Not to say I’m hot stuff – go to any bar anywhere in the world and no doubt you’ll find a douche bag – or douchette – who couldn’t care less about the phrase “sexual harassment.” This guy was looking for anything with two legs and a heart beat and immediately moved on to the woman standing at the bar next to me.

So what did I do? I waved to the security guard standing at the door to the crowded bar and he came over and kicked the guy out.

Simple. And that’s how it should be when you’re at any bar where people are drinking alcohol and likely to get drunk.

Now, if I was at a WordCamp after party enjoying a drink and someone sexually harassed me, what would I do in the same situation? I would signal over the security guard or a bar tender and call out the inappropriate behavior.

So it was with much interest that I read WP Tavern’s post Cultivating a Culture of Respect in the WordPress Community today.

Stephanie Leary’s call for safety officers at WordCamp after parties is ridiculously over the top. Come on, are we in high school? We’re not at a school dance where teachers who have begrudgingly volunteered to attend need to ensure boys and girls aren’t dancing too close together.

If you’re at a public social gathering – and most WordCamp after parties are held at bars and restaurants – and someone sexually harasses you, the normal thing to do is report that socially unacceptable behavior to a security guard or the venue’s manager, or if the behavior is particularly severe, call the police.

And – just as importantly and if not more – if you see another person become victim to socially unacceptable behavior, step in and call it out. It’s the right thing to do.

This is the real world. We’re adults. We should deal with, and acknowledge, social misconduct like adults.

WordPress logo
WordPress is an open and accessible tech community. At least, that’s the ideal.

WordPress is one of the most open and accessible IT communities for women. There are some fantastic women working in WordPress – Helen Hou-Sandi is now a permanent core committer, Mel Choyce was instrumental in the new admin design and no one will argue that Mika Epstein is not a support superstar. These women, among many others, are great role models for young girls considering a career in IT.

But it doesn’t matter what industry you work in, sexual harassment is, unfortunately, everywhere. And there’s no reason why we should expect WordPress to be any different.

We don’t need safety officers in high-vis vests wearing hard hats to oversee WordPress gatherings. What next? Will we be handing out survival kits, complete with whistles and stun guns, to women at WordCamps? Over the top and so very far from reality, I know.

Another reason why I found Sarah Gooding’s post so interesting was the fact I interviewed her last year for an article on women in WordPress and she conveniently neglected to mention the incident at her first WordCamp after party or the “many unprofessional comments on my posts that had nothing to do with the content”. Why, I wonder? Why hide it rather than call out the inappropriate behavior?

I also interviewed Siobhan McKeown for the same post. Aside from an incident where a group of men she was with at a tech, non-WordPress after party wanting to go to a strip club, she said she had never had any issues with discrimination in the WordPress community.

So I found it interesting that last October, she wrote Which Siobhan is it Anyway? about an inappropriate IRC chat about her appearace. And in the comments of the post said “I’m sad to say that I’m fairly used to” inappropriate comments. Really? Because when I asked her about discrimination she was pretty adamant there wasn’t any in the WordPress community.

So which is it? Is there sexual harassment and discrimination in the WordPress community or do people only acknowledge it when it is convenient to do so?

There are some in the WordPress community who promote the utopian, warm and fuzzy ideal that WordPress is all hugs and joy balloons; that people should interact in a certain way; that we should only discuss “safe” WordPress topics so as not to upset the so-call cool kids in WordPress.

The problem is the ideal and the reality don’t stack up and until we acknowledge that nothing is going to change.

News flash: people who work with WordPress aren’t in a club. While there are many who volunteer in the WordPress community, the majority of us work with WordPress to make a living. Because we’re adults. In the real world.

And in the real world we handle socially unacceptable behavior like adults.

Image credits: jpalinsad360.

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