I should start this by saying that this post is shaped by the way law school has changed the way I assess things, but it is in no way an attempt to examine or comment on the legal issues surrounding the whole incident. There are lots of those, and there's a good chance they'll keep several attorneys employed for quite a few billable hours. I'm not qualified to even begin looking at the real legal issues, so I'm going to confine myself to the bigger picture questions. (And, frankly, after I spend all day in the casebooks, the bigger picture questions are more relaxing.)
I've been in a
cave classroom lately, so I managed to largely miss the whole "Donglegate" thing. I caught it when it initially happened, naively assumed that everything was over within a couple of days, and forgot about it. Someone mentioned it today, and I was stunned by how much happened in the story while I wasn't paying attention.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, here's the nutshell version, shamelessly cribbed from Janet's blog:
Adria Richards attend[ed] PyCon, notif[ied] the conference staff about attendees behind her telling jokes during a conference presentation (about, among other things, making the coding community more welcoming for women and girls). Richards felt the jokes were sexualized enough to harm the environment of the conference. PyCon had a Code of Conduct for the conference that encompassed this kind of issue. In a room with hundreds of attendees, in a context where she hoped this harm to the conference community would be dealt with rather than let go (which gives it tacit approval) but where she also didn't want to disrupt the presentations underway, Richards took a picture of the men telling the sexualized jokes and tweeted it with the conference hashtag to get the conference staff to deal with the situation.
The conference staff addressed the issue with the men telling the jokes. Subsequently, one of them was fired by his employer, although it's in no way clear that he was fired on account of this incident (or even if this incident had anything to do with the firing); Adria Richards started receiving an avalanche of threats (death threats, rape threats, we-know-where-you-live threats, you-should-kill-yourself threats); Adria Richards' employer fired her; and PyCon started tweaking its Code of Conduct (although as far as I can tell, the tweaking may still be ongoing) to explicitly identify "public shaming" as harmful to the PyCon community and thus not allowed.
I wasn't kidding when I said that law school has changed the way that I approach issues. Much of getting through law school (if not much of the practice of law) involves looking at broad sets of facts and finding the narrow issues hidden within them. When you do that enough - and I've done it a lot over the last eight months - that kind of thing starts to bleed through into other areas of life. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, as long as it doesn't make you lose sight of the big picture. (I'm not sure how well I'm doing there, but I'm trying.)
One of the places where I've found the issue spotting approach to be very helpful is in looking at complex situations that seem to involve situations that are in the grey area. In many cases, the big picture really is pretty damn grey. Looking for and at the individual issues can help us find the individual black and white pixels that make up the grey image.
To a certain extent, we tend to naturally find and focus on limited issues without really looking at them. That's why, for some people, "the" Adria Richards issue is the appropriateness of public shaming. For others, it is the appropriateness of sexual innuendo in a private conversation that is taking place in a public, professional setting, and where it is likely to be overheard. For still others, it's about the importance of creating a welcoming environment in a profession that has historically (and currently) left certain groups underrepresented. The Adria Richards issue is collegiality. And it's chilling dissent and creating a hostile environment. And proportionality. And...
In this case, the whole great grey picture becomes especially contentious because different people place different values on different pixels. In some cases, there is tension between the issues, and difficulty in striking a balance between them. And, here, few of the issues I just mentioned are - in isolation - frivolous. They might not be able to stake a good claim as the most important, or even as important enough to risk distracting from some of the others, but that doesn't make them objectively unimportant.
The trick really comes in trying to look at all of the issues, and trying to untangle them from each other as far as possible. I'm a slow learner, and I like sticking my finger in electric sockets, so I'm going to try to do just that. (Or, at least, start the process.)
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