Women in tech: the GoGaRuCo incident

// 3 May 2009

The issue of misogyny faced by women in tech has gone up the agenda recently, not least because of Ada Lovelace Day.

Here’s another bit of evidence to add to the pile: at a conference on the programming language Ruby, a man called Matt Aimonetti gave a presentation. In order to liven up said presentation, he thought it’d be fun to use porn to illustrate his points. Here’s one of the tamer slides, to demonstrate, but should you really want to see it, the full presentation is up here.


Virginia DeBolt at BlogHer has a breakdown of the whole sorry affair, including Aimonetti’s non-apology.

DeBolt says:

There weren’t many women in the audience, but there were women in the audience. This was a national conference, not a gathering of teenager boys in a smelly upstairs bedroom. The women in the audience found the slides objectionable. Quite a few of the men in the audience did, too.

The creator of Ruby on Rails (an open source web application framework for Ruby developers) was not one of them, and quickly Tweeted that it’s “absolutely” appropriate to use porn in a business presentation.

But one of the men who did find it objectionable was Mike Gunderloy who has resigned as spokesperson for the Ruby on Rails community subsequently.

I really recommend checking out this post bringing together many of the comments on this fiasco.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:09 pm

Yet another example of how common mainstreaming pornography has become. Now it is supposedly appropriate for porn to be shown as a ‘teaching aid’ when in fact porn promotes and reinforces as ‘natural’ the sexual dehumanisation of women, the belief that non-white women and men are sub-human hypersexualised creatures with of course white heterosexual males entiteld to enact domination and control over lesser beings.

I look forward to reading how a pornifed presentation assisted MP’s to engage with a subject or how pornography assisted business people to garner more business. But wait – corporate business already uses pornography and it is called ‘taking clients (males of course) to lap dancing clubs so they can buy women for the purpose of masturbating into their bodies.

Harmful to women? Certainly not. Reinforcing view women are men’s sexualised creatures – certainly not. Empowering to women – yes because this is what all women are – dehumanised creatures. Not forgetting of course Matt Aimonetti either directly or indirectly deliberately intended to intimidate female attendees because they should not have attended this ‘male’ conference in the first place.

Good that one male had the courage to speak out and condemn this blatant misogyny and attempt at humiliating the women attendees. Imagine if such images were those of black women and men shown as dehumanised beings – there would have been an uproar but when it is about men sexually insulting and demonstrating their misogyny it becomes ‘humorous’ or ‘can’t you take a joke.’

Jess McCabe // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:29 pm

@Jennifer Drew – I agree with you up to this point:

“Imagine if such images were those of black women and men shown as dehumanised beings – there would have been an uproar but when it is about men sexually insulting and demonstrating their misogyny it becomes ‘humorous’ or ‘can’t you take a joke.'”

Sadly, I don’t think this is true. Also, there’s no need to engage in the Oppression Olympics – it’s clear this is offensive, without making any comparisons to racism…

Amy // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:30 pm

Jennifer Drew, as to your last sentence, that’s why female oppression is so dangerous. When an oppression becomes a social norm, that’s when the group is fairly stuck.

Jess McCabe // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:31 pm

Just to add to that, I was looking for a post about racism in tech to include in my comment and found this story from 2006, about the US government refusing to get into defense contracts with Australian companies unless they refuse to hire people from a ‘blacklist’ of companies, including China, India and a list of African countries.

Melissa // Posted 3 May 2009 at 10:36 pm

I’m an engineering student and I’ve come across presentations like this once. It was a presentation about iPod hardware and their final slide (which was up for around 15 minutes) was a topless woman in an ipod bra, which the class (being mostly male) giggled like 5 year olds at. When I objected pointing out it could offend and make people feel uncomfortable and was also unprofessional. I was told a) to have a sense of humour about it, b) most engineers are men anyway so they would never be presenting to a majorly female audience so it doesnt matter. Even if one person in your audience is offended at a technical presentation you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

The lecturers were unhelpful about this. They just remarked that you should keep your audience in min when presenting then he turned round and asked if anyone had any “TECHNICAL questions”

Its incidences like this that have made me depressingly used to images such as the one above.

lucy // Posted 4 May 2009 at 2:05 pm

Thanks for highlighting this. My partner works in Rails, and evidently was trying to avoid the drama by not mentioning this whole business to me.

Despite generally being a profeminist guy, he recently advertised for new staff for the position of “tech guys”. Whilst he claimed to consider this a gender neutral term, it appears that level of sexism in his industry is completely out of control.

A female colleague of his is at the current rails conf in Las Vegas (ugh), which includes a pannel “women in rails”, which i’m going to be super interested in hearing about.

Karen // Posted 4 May 2009 at 2:19 pm

Bunch of tossers. I’d like to think that more men probably thought it was a silly way to try to teach but unfortunately they have the herd mentality where they don’t want their peers to look down on them for having a woman friendly opinion. I’ve seen this in action. Recently at work, we got onto the discussion of nuts and zoo type women vs the rest of us and (all of us engineers, me the only female one) once one male said that actually, he thought that most men would prefer a normal woman “with a bit of lard on her” than the lads mags type, they all, one by one, started to agree! I was amazed! This says to me we need more like the brave man mentioned in this article to stand up, be counted and make the herd head in a sensible direction for once. I almost feel guilty by association as a fellow engineer (albeit a female) to this unfortunate shower but I can only say that my recent experience in mechanical engineering has restored my faith in the male gender, having got past the dipsticks in college.

Karen // Posted 4 May 2009 at 2:30 pm

A comment which may be of help to Melissa, Hi there, I had to go through the nightmare of giggling 5 year olds studying engineering too. The college that you attend probably has on it’s description “equal opportunities”. In the ligth of the indifference you got from the lecturer when challenging the i-pod bra, you are quite entitled to challenge the college over its “equal opportunities” status as your experience is not equal opportunities in any sense of the words. If you are on an apprenticeship, you are entitled to ask your employers for a review of where you are being placed. I did this after endless amounts of sexist and homophobic bullying (I’m bisexual) and was taken seriously. Whatever the outcome, keep going on your course and keep showing your strength by challenging the idiots. They are probably frightened of you anyway. Women apparently aren’t supposed to be clever.

SM // Posted 4 May 2009 at 5:39 pm

This reminds me of the “Israel Day of Science” I went to on a school trip a few months ago. It was meant to be a showcase of the best universities, research etc going on in the country, and was a series of lectures to sixth formers from different schools. A shame then that the only real woman we saw was making a brief introductory speech on behalf of her husband who couldn’t come. Of the eight or so scientists who spoke to us all were male.

I said “real woman” before because one of the lecturers used as part of his presentation computer-generated images of naked/near naked young women with speech bubbles with the title of each section in. I didn’t know how to respond- there was no reason for the pictures to be used and I was surrounded by grinning lads from my year who obviously found it a great idea.

I found a certain amusement in the fact that his theory was crap(and he’s a rubbish scientist if a 16 year old picks out the flaws in his argument and he doesn’t), but I was still upset he could use a position of authority to be so moronic. Rant over.

Melissa // Posted 5 May 2009 at 12:20 am

Thanks for the advice Karen. I dont remember who the lecturer was so it’ll be difficult to do anything about it, but I’ll keep it i mind for the future. Aside from the incident I mentioned above, my course is actually quite female-friendly if that makes sense. Despite there being only 7 women in a class of 100 people I’ve never felt any discrimination towards me (aside from one job interview but I won’t go into that) guys will generally ask for my help if they need it and I’ve headed quite a few group projects with much success (the ones I didnt head failed misreably, make of that what you will :P). I dont know whether this is a sign of change of attitudes in engineering or guys just don’t pick up misogynistic tendencies till they’re in industry, I’m hoping for the former!

Kez // Posted 5 May 2009 at 11:13 am

Jennifer Drew – you say that if there had been a racism element, “there would have been an uproar”. But surely, there was an uproar. That is why we have heard about it. Women and men were offended, and said so. Yes, this man Aimonetti has had his defenders, but so do racists, as we have often seen.

I wholeheartedly agree with your concerns about the mainstreaming of porn in our culture. But endlessly comparing everything to “how differently racism would be treated” does not help anybody.

ANON // Posted 5 May 2009 at 5:26 pm

Jess – really. Do you people have ANY clue about defence?

Why do I get the feeling the answer is no?

ALL defence departments/ ministries have nationality restrictions on their staff. That includes contractors.

It has to. You cannot have just anyone working in government.

Can you imagine the security implications – do I need to spell that out?

Not racist, because uh, this was about nationality. I believe people who aren’t white can become US citizens.

And you totally misrepresent the reality -the companies can hire anyone they like, those people just can’t work on defense contracts.

Anne Onne // Posted 5 May 2009 at 5:38 pm

Not surprising at all. And next time someone goes all ‘But we TRY to get women into the tech industry, they just don’t want to come!’, this would be a great example why. Why would women want to go into a field most people see as a boys’ club when the field itself insists that plastering everything with naked idealised women is in no way discouraging actual female employees from wanting to be in this environment.

The lecturers were unhelpful about this. They just remarked that you should keep your audience in min when presenting then he turned round and asked if anyone had any “TECHNICAL questions”

So I guess any course with even slightly more female than male students should offer up sexualised pictures of oiled up men for the delectation of the female majority? No?

Bollocks. Consideration for your audience is EXACTLY why you DON’T pull this shit unless you are an asshat who doesn’t give a damn about other people. Because it’s pretty obvious that not everybody is comfortable with sexualised imagery of either gender casually spliced into totally irrelevant stuff, it adds nothing to the actual point, distracts from what you are trying to put across, and risks alienating a section of the audience that doesn’t need to be alienated. Even if that is a tiny minority.

The point is, sexualising what is supposed to be professional is unnecessary, distracting, and counterproductive for a field supposedly wanting to get more women working there. You don’t encourage people to join by acting like their wishes or comfort are irrelevant so long as the others get to giggle.

This comment from the great link posted says it all:

Sara J. Chipps: (Representing .NET.) It is difficult to encourage young girls to get in this field. I get emails all the time. It is scary being “the only girl in your class,” and one of three in a room of fifty people. It’s scary to ask questions when you’re afraid your entire gender will be judged by your grasp of a concept. Asking girls to brave these situations because writing software is fun, and interesting, and exciting is a moot point when faced with these type of stories.

This. The odd bit of softcore porn thrown in for male delectation is only the tip of an iceberg of a culture that treats women as sex objects to their face, and tells them they are intellectually inferior on a daily basis. These women are outnumbered, and made to feel as if they don’t really belong there.

I suspect that were the genders reversed (standard test of sexism), so it was mostly women in the audience, people arguing there is nothing wrong with professional presentations in a work related environment using the sexual objectification of men to appeal to the majority. It would at least be understood why men would feel uncomfortable at lots of pictures of naked men etc being everywhere (for generally different reasons to women, but that’s social narratives for you).

Bearing in mind that male and female objectification in this society at this time is nowhere near equivalent in prevalence or the way they are objectified (men cleaning is porn? What?), I seriously doubt this version could be as wide spread as the female objectification equivalent.

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