Why Rails is Still a Ghetto

(With apologies to Zed.)

A few of the talks at GoGaRuCo were crowdsourced – anyone who wanted to talk about anything put their title and description up on Uservoice. Folks who registered got 10 votes each, and the top vote-getting talks were accepted and scheduled.

Out of this came “CouchDB: Perform Like a Pr0n Star” from Matt Aimonetti.

I voted for it, actually, because CouchDB is one of those things that’s the new hotness and I haven’t had a chance to play with it, and besides, he wouldn’t actually put porn in the slides. Right?

The first slide of Matt's slide deck

The first slide of Matt's slide deck (he has removed the full deck from slideshare)


Well, once he figured out that it was a problem, he’d acknowledge the error and we could move on. Right?


Well, surely the fearless leader of Rails wouldn’t actually condone it.

Hey, I’ve got a crazy idea, let’s make sure everyone puts porn in their slides at Railsconf!

Hey. That was a joke. A JOKE!

57 comments to Why Rails is Still a Ghetto

  • With more time to think about it, I think I would change something. I would probably try to make the slides less “male oriented” even tho that might shock other people.
    I’m also honestly sorry that people were offended (the wink in the twitter didn’t represent what I meant).

    The topic of the talk was a joke, I don’t want to encourage anyone to put porn in their slides. (note, that I didn’t use any porn in my slides).

    Anyways, Sarah, I’m looking forward to meeting you in the speakers lounge at RailsConf.

    – Matt

  • nobody

    Why are so many (girls) so offended by this?

    We love girls, we adore girls – and some of us are singles not having more than dreams… ;'(

    We love girls more than every cool new database system! (mostly)

  • Rev. Dan

    Fight fire with fire… put a bunch of dudes in thongs in your RailsConf slides. The more homoerotic, the better. I think it’d make the point loud and clear.

  • So, to be clear,

    a) I do consider what’s on those slides porn – softcore, to be sure, but still porn.

    b) I wasn’t offended. I felt marginalized and a little scared.

    I’m a minority in this community. I know that, and generally I can ignore it and go along thinking it’s a meritocracy of ideas and code. Then I encounter a woman’s thonged rear on the screen at a conference, 20 feet tall, and I remember, oh yeah, people like me don’t belong here. To most of these men around me, I am, at best, an oddity, and at worst, a sexual target. I feel a little less safe.

    Would it have helped to have more equal-opportunity porn? Not really. The audience is still mostly straight men, I’m still one of a handful of women, so if you get them thinking about sex in any capacity, I’m still going to feel more obvious and less safe.

  • OK, so number one, I’m unhappy with the number of women in Ruby, and in programming in general. And just for the record, I’ve personally introduced one of my female friends to the Ruby language, so I’m not just sitting around saying “gosh, what is to be done”?

    Second, having looked at the slides, I can understand why these slides made a number of women uncomfortable, and I can agree that the presentation was out of line. Some of those shots definitely crossed the line into inappropriate in a professional context. And the repetition makes much more of an impression than a one-off pinup shot stuck in to keep the audience awake. I would expect it to make not only women uncomfortable (because of the exclusively male-oriented nature), but anyone who lives by conservative moral standards.

    But third, I really don’t understand how to make the jump from “that’s inappropriate” to “that makes women a sexual target”. And as a man, the statement “if you get them thinking about sex in any capacity… I’m going to feel less safe” is frankly objectifying and a little insulting. I think we can all be adults and agree that certain things don’t belong in certain fora without going on to promulgate stereotypes such as “aroused men are dangerous/insensitive/irrational”, which is what it seems like you’re implying.

    Finally, on a tangent, there is some kind of irony to the fact that Zed Shaw, author of the original “Rails is a Ghetto’ rant, titled his RubyFringe presentation “There Will Be Porn” (and then proceeded to give a talk with absolutely no porn).

  • Thanks for coming by, Avdi. I didn’t say that the presentation made women a sexual target. Let me try to explain better what I was thinking.

    When I saw the first slide, I suddenly realized that I was practically the only woman in a room of hundreds of men, the vast majority of whom I didn’t know. Now of course, it’s a room full of Ruby guys, and 99% of them are friendly and welcoming and treat me like just another programmer.

    But that situation, with that kind of imbalance, is inherently unsafe, because if there is a predator in the room, he doesn’t have many victims to choose from. The Ruby community is great, so most of the time at a meetup or at a conference I can ignore that fact and just focus on the presentations and talking to the folks I meet. I’ve never had an actual problem, though someone did follow me once as I walked home after a java meetup a few years ago (I hailed a cab). And that’s why I hate strong typing.

    Ha ha, another joke! Anyway, if you’re a woman, and I think particularly if you’re a city dweller, you grow up aware that there is a power imbalance between men and women and that wherever you are, you need to be aware of who’s there, who’s noticing you, and how you can leave if you need to. In practice this really only surfaces when walking alone in the Tenderloin after dark. Oh, and at the odd Ruby conference.

  • Thanks for the reply. I’m still unclear – was it that the presentation suddenly reminded you of the possibility of predators? Or did you feel it actually made it more likely for a predator to target you?

    Either way, I hope you can see where I was a little put off – there’s a gulf between “99% of them are great, but there’s always that 1%” and “To most of these men around me, I am, at best, an oddity, and at worst, a sexual target”. The latter didn’t feel nearly as charitable.

    I still agree it was inappropriate, regardless; and as I’ve said elsewhere, it was a slap in the face not only to some if not all women, but also to anyone whose religion or morality asks them to shun erotic imagery.

  • The presentation just made me hyperaware of being a woman in a room full of men. I don’t think it made it any more or less likely that I’d be a target.

  • Sarah, thanks for sharing. I have been thinking about this all day and I’m still horrified. Even more troubling than the presentation itself is all the faux-post-sexism responses I saw about how the upset should “grow up.” In a million years when we’ve finally reached the point where female adults would never be referred to as “girls” (see second comment) and there’s enough gender diversity in the industry that developer events would not clearly be intimidating for women, then maybe, MAYBE it would somehow make sense to ask whether overtly sexual images of women should be used in a tech presentation. Currently, however, the community is so blindingly skewed gender-wise, it’s nearly a crime that not everyone is actively trying to make it a friendlier, safer place for women — considering today’s open source community, even the question of using porn in a presentation should be outrageous.

    DHH’s attitude seems to say that the more we lower ourselves to the most base level of marketing scum in the name of entertainment, the better, even if at the end of the day there are no more women, or anyone worth knowing, in the room. It kind of makes me want to never touch Rails code again.

    Anyway, I’m glad I read your comments on the matter; it helped to clarify my thoughts on similar issues. We have so far to go.

  • Paul W

    I agree that the metaphor was extended way too far but this is an over-reaction. Given that 99.999% of Rails presentations aren’t like this one, let it go and move on. It’s amusing & non-sensical to use it as an excuse for a title like ‘why rails is still a ghetto’.

  • Anonymous

    Matt, don’t bend to their will, there is NOTHING wrong with have a ‘male’ focussed play here, and except from a point of view of a designer, I have no qualms with your graphics.

    People need to man up. You have idiots (real, true idiots) calling this misogynistic.

    You don’t need to change anything, although, looking at it, I would say the presentation was:

    1) poorly paced

    2) slightly disjointed

    But, I’ve only read the slides. Matt, you are in the right, everyone else is stupid.

  • Paul, I’d agree with you if DHH hadn’t actually encouraged people to put more explicit images in their presentations.

    According to Peter Szinek, much of the rest of Rails core feels similarly. That’s just flabbergasting.

    Most of the Rails guys I’ve met in person have been incredibly smart and nice. But looking at the comments here, and on other blogs that brought this up, I’m starting to think that maybe my sample is skewed. There’s so much hate and willful ignorance out there.

    Here’s the best sum of the problem I’ve read, from catamorphism on reddit: “It’s a question of whether you as a speaker want to remind women, explicitly, that you see them as sex objects first and as professional colleagues second.” I don’t care how edgy and hip you are, it’s not appropriate to do that in the context of programming, and if DHH (and, it seems, the larger Rails community) doesn’t get that? Rails is still a ghetto.

  • Rev. Dan


    I don’t seem to understand the whole “predator” aspect… but I feel you on the “I don’t belong here” aspect. I’ve mused aloud on several occasions (meetups/conferences) that the community as a whole feels “lopsided” because while I see racial diversity I don’t see gender diversity. I think that’s bizarre, because I know and have worked with well more than a handful of female developers. Not so long ago I sorta accidentally started a thread about “women in technology” and was smacked down as “being interested in dating at technical conferences/meetups” which was followed by a stream of rather unfunny (due to predictability) jokes about picking up women. /sigh

    I learned the “don’t put scantily-clad women in your preso” lesson the hard way. I’d put a couple (2-3 out of ~ 30) slides of bikini-women with thought bubbles that said stuff like “Damn, I could talk about Dynamic IP addresssing ALL DAY” in my presentation which 99% of the class though was awesome. The instructor rolled his eyes… the one woman in the class was offended and I talked to her afterwards. It hadn’t even *occurred* to me that it would be offensive… but dear gopod, it was. I like to think that maybe I learned something from that. Now, when I do presos I put in pictures of crappy singers like Celine Dion and make fun of them.

    I like the “edginess” of the Ruby and Rails communities. I like the sorta “punk rock/DIY” attitude and demeanor, especially when contrasted with other development communities which feel stodgy or stale. It’s inevitable that somebody’s going to be offended to some degree with an “edgy” presentation. I personally agree with the point that having many slides which continued the theme of the CouchDB presentation was likely overkill.

    To quote Kevin Smith: “I like dick and fart jokes.” I fully understand that others don’t or would be offended by them, but I find it really offensive to have to deal with milquetoastness. I won’t put scantily-clad people in my presos, likely ever again, but you can bet I’m sticking a fuck, shit, and a goddamn in there… not for the sake of being “offensive” but for the sake of self-expression. That’s how I speak, that’s how I write, that’s who I am. I muse aloud that the presenter likely felt the same way.

    Peter Cooper made what I consider to be a good point… that the community as a whole seems to feel more like an artistic community than a professional business community. As a result of that, the style of a lot of presentations is heavy with personal expression vs. being targeted to appealing to the widest possible audience.

    Rails itself is like that… DHH/37 Signals released their work into the wild and said “hey, use it if’n you want to…” which to my mind is an artistic expression. They built it for themselves and let everyone else use it, which is akin to personal expression vs. trying to make something that fits the needs of the world as a whole.

    > DHH doesn’t get that? Rails is still a ghetto.

    I think DHH doesn’t “get” a number of things. (I’m referring primarily to the “not using computers on an airplane post” from a while back.) I like the opinionated nature of the community, but I see that opinionation crossing the line into arrogance periodically. DHH gets treated like he’s Lord God Bufu at conferences and by a big percentage of the community. I remember talking to one of the folks who worked for the convention center last year who was amused by the fact that when DHH came in with the core team entourage that they were treated like rock stars. The person asked me “who is that and why is he being treated that way?” My response was essentially “he’s the creator of the cool web development framework which this conference is centered around, and I guess he’s getting treated that way because people need somebody to worship. I love Rails and the opportunities that it has created for me, but I think it’s kinda silly to ‘deify’ a software developer, y’know?” I’d imagine there’s a lot of pseudo-messianic pressure on DHH and I’d bet that I personally wouldn’t handle it well (ie.- my ego might well swell) were I in his position, so I don’t know that it’s fair to fault him for periodically “overstating” his opinion.

    I have the sense that his comment along the “it’s cool with me” is more of a reaction *against* the cute kitties and whatnot… ala “at least it’s not a goddamn kitty again…” and less of an endorsement of boobs, butts, or weenies. I can’t speak for him, but that’s what I got out of his comment.

    So, I actually have a few questions for you:

    1) Why do you think women are such a minority at technical events?
    2) What can be done about it?
    3) What should be done about it?
    4) What should the outcome of this controversy be? Should there be a ban on certain words or images? If so, how far down that rabbit hole do we need to go? Do “we” need to make things completely bland and milquetoast or is that an absurd extreme?
    5) You’re on several of the same meetup groups I’m on and I have yet to see you at an event. Wassup with that? :)

    Thanks for reading my rambling diatribe. :)

  • Rev. Dan

    > it’s nearly a crime that not everyone is actively trying to make it a friendlier, safer place for women

    What chaps my ass about the whole thing is that it’s doing little more but reinforce the bullshit “developers are immature, overgrown 14-year-olds” stereotype. I’m sick to death of that one, especially because I run into that type of jackass more often than I care to.

    We kinda have a “chicken and egg” scenario going on here… unless there are more women who attend these things then the few women who do will always feel like outsiders… but if the few women who attend now are offended, then why will more attend?

    It’s lame that there’s an underrepresentation of women in technology, period… especially on the “edgier” side of things. I wonder that’s an opportunity for you to make a big, bold mark, though. I’m not kidding when I assert that one of you could be the next Grace Hopper. How do those of us who are sympathetic to encouraging more women to join our ranks help?

    I think that’s my bottom-line question. It’s one thing to complain (I know that I kvetch about shit on the regular), it’s quite another to take things to the next level and change them. How do I help you (Sarah/Victoria) do the latter?

  • Rev. Dan

    After looking at your site a little I realize that you’ve already written a fair bit about women in software development… lesson learned: read first, ask second. :)

    – Dan

  • Here is my statement on the whole thing, hopefully it will recenter the whole discussion: http://merbist.com/2009/04/28/on-engendering-strong-reactions/

    Btw, I regret I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with Sarah while I was in SF. Hopefully we will find some time at RailsConf.

    – Matt

  • Serene Yew

    Rev. Dan,

    Women are a minority at the events because women are a minority in Computer Science. I don’t know if anything should be done about it at all. Maybe we should check first to see if there’s even a problem to solve. Are women not joining because there is a stigma associated with it, or because they are not interested? If they are not interested, why should we force them to be?

    Is CompSci not a friendly place for women? Well, maybe not, but I don’t think I would want to work with a developer who was there because it was comfortable. I prefer to work with people who are there despite the external discomfort. For example, Agile software development frequently renders programmers with no personal office space. I could see that being a hinderance. The programmers who are passionate about the process kinda work around that. Are the men a bit…male? Sure, but I’ve seen worse at hockey rinks.

    I want to work with people passionate about software development. Male or female doesn’t really bother me.

  • Sarah, first of all, this is a funny, pithy post.

    Second, when you used the word “marginalized” that unlocked something for me. Like Dan, I can’t speak to the predator aspect. But when Matt put up a bunch of images designed to appeal to, well, horny straight guys… combined with jokes about how his audience likes those slides, and “I put that one in so you’ll keep paying attention” (can’t remember the exact line)… well, at some level, that said, “You, you guys: You are my audience. You are the community.” Even though it wasn’t designed explicitly to exclude or to threaten, implicitly it defined the center and the margins.

    Which is lame, because the community has a center built in: We were at that conference because we’re excited by Ruby and by what we can build with it. The best talks, I thought, were aimed straight at that center. Matt’s talk could have been right there with them. But instead it let itself get hijacked by a bad metaphor. And now it’s hijacked a lot of the post-conference discussion, too.

  • Sarah,

    I really hope this gets talked about more. I love the ruby community but I miss working with women. I honestly believe people are just people but because of society at the moment. Put a group of guys together by themselves and they act like women are an other. It’s quite sad and frustrating when you want to smack them for something totally misogynistic but you can’t because they don’t even realize what they’re saying.

    They need to man up. What was shown was sexist. It’s not the fact that he used soft core porn but how he was using it. If he had added homoeroticism and sexual images where woman were in power the talk might have been tasteless but would have left a much less bitter taste. And I think that’s the rub. The guys don’t see it because they just see the porn, not the message being presented through the image and the location. The low ratio of women in the tech community makes it all the more easy for sexism to crop up.

    Don’t let this get you down.

  • Linda Eskin

    Sarah, thank you so much for starting this conversation. It’s important stuff, and it took guts to say something about it.

    The comment by Nobody (second one down) demonstrates the whole point of the matter perfectly: “We love girls, we adore girls – and some of us …” It’s not the word “girls” (rolling eyes at that one), but the insidiously harmless-looking “we” that is problem. Who are “we”? And by extension, who are the others, the intruders, the non-we, those who don’t really belong here with “us”?

    It’s a subtle message, but it’s what drives women out of communities.

  • I don’t think the distinction about whether women are worried about sexual advances, bias or predators is really important. What’s important is that these thoughts shouldn’t have to go through our heads when we’re in a professional setting. Especially not incited by the presentation itself. For women who have been victimized, it can be scary. More so, though, it just points us to us how much we are alone.

    I’m just wondering, would it seem so ok if each slide pictured a guy in a turban weilding a gun? Probably not. It’s funny to some people, maybe. Though not to others. Disturbing to others, especially the group it’s picturing. Like porn.

  • Tim Rand

    I had the pleasure of attending the gogaruco conference. Matt’s talk was spiced up a bit. He deserves some credit for the hours and hours it must have taken him to scour the web for so many pictures of half-clad women, which are notoriously difficult to find, and still stay focused enough to put together some slides with code. I did squinch my eyes and grit my teeth at some of the images. Code, database stats, code, BREASTS, code…was not as welcome a mix as I would have niavely supposed. Sigh, it’s okay. Not all widely believed hypotheses pan out when tested. Hopefully we will collectively remember this great lesson and keep coding conferences focused on code. Given the related discussion about how skewed the male to female ratio is in computer science, I would like to say that there are two main explanations for this in my mind. First, many people are lemmings and they do what they see other people doing. If a woman sees other women all taking jobs as nurses–she might, of course, be slightly more inclined to take this apparently safe, acceptable road. Secondly, men and women are apparently distinct from men–and I am not saying this just because I learned it from Matt’s talk. The differences are not limited to minute chromosomal differences hidden within the nucleus, or in the physical characteristics that ultimately develop from them (some of which were clearly demonstrated in Matt’s talk). But the differences include the wiring of our brains–males vs. females. If we were to make the programming world replete with women, and then let the system reach equalibrium, I would bet that the programmer population would again end up skewed towards males. The feelings one experience while programming are apparently much more rewarding for males than females. I don’t think the obvious skew is because of some underlying sexist behavior harbored by the supposed ruling party of male programmers that is repelant to women. I think it is more likely that there are other career options which many women find more appealing. Some of pull for the minds of women might be related to social norms, but perhaps a significant amount is impossed by ones own neurological wiring. Perhaps understanding what programming lacks as a career choice for women would point the finger of blame away from poor Matt and his brave but ultimately insoluble combination of skin with code.

  • Wyatt


    “It kind of makes me want to never touch Rails code again.”

    I’ll admit I took a peek at Django today…

  • florin

    I am a father of three and one coming. One boy and three girls. In her 20ties my wife was amazingly beautiful by all standards and she remains a very attractive woman today. My little girls are precious gold and I teach my boy to be a man and respect the mother and his sisters – by extension, all women.

    So from this position, as a husband and a father, I find the slide show tasteless, debasing and offensive. This guy insults women and my family. It is not a behavior or a community I would associate with. I urge the rails community to make a stand against this behavior and marginalize this guy and others like him. When people like these become parents, they most likely will understand the value of a clean heart.

    Oh, yeah, I’m a man and cannot claim pictures like these don’t appeal yet I care for more than that.

  • Denise

    This has generated a lot of questions about why women are not equally represented in the tech fields, and I do not buy the argument that it’s because they may not be interested nor do I buy the argument that unless they can handle the “uncomfortable” they should not be there.

    3 years ago, we had 1% women and 5% overall diversity. And that was a normal % in the majority of mid to large size companies in my region but definitely not representative of the population. After 3.5 years, we now have 40% women and 45% diversity. I did not introduce any women’s or diversity programs (I don’t believe in them) and there were absolutely no incentive for anyone either (another thing I don’t believe in)

    All the women in my team are there because they were a fit. What got them to come was the environment which made them feel welcomed, in fact, would make anyone welcomed. After a few hires, the word got out on its own (yes, people talk with each other), and overtime, more resumes would come in and we just grew organically.

    Now, I could have just sit back and pretend that women were not interested, but the fact is, you don’t go from 1% to 40% because they are not interested or ticked skinned, you go there by paying attention of the need of your work community. It’s not rocket science to set a welcoming environment and it is certainly not a “corporate” thing either (i.e. programs), all it needs is understanding of the needs and enabling them:

    1. Work life balance – the 7-24-365 model does not work for women, they need to also have time for their families
    2. Equality of salary with man – believe it or not, this is still a huge issue in all industries, tech/science being some of the worst.
    3. Ability to raise a family without losing career opportunities (i.e. they can go get a baby and come back and pick up exactly where they left off and not miss any opportunities)
    4. A respectful environment of peers
    5. Access to career growth up to the top
    6. Freedom of choice
    7. A highly collaborative and open space

    Now, I find a lot of the rhetoric that was displayed in the past week to be double standards. This idea that porn, soft porn, explicit images or whatever label you want to give it is ok because it’s “edgy” is yet another excuse. And that excuse, I’ve heard it over and over more times than I can remember. The open-space community tries to differentiate itself from the corporate world, yet, some of the behavior we saw is just the same as corporate (if not worst) when it comes to women and diversity. As Martin Fowler explained very well, badgering a minority is in my books “abuse of power” and it’s wrong where ever it comes from.

    Women have been fighting for their rights for centuries, so this is not new, and if anyone thinks that it would never get back to what it was is sadly mistaken, all it needs is enablement, after all, if it was such an easy issue to solve, it would not be centuries old.

    If anything, I am glad that this entire issue took us up in storm, it made us realize that the problem alive and kicking. We should never let a good debacle go to waste so this is not a crisis, it’s an opportunity.

  • Sarah, I really encourage you to drop the guy from the devchicks panel at RailsConf. Because having him there simply gives him another opportunity to sound reasonable. WE ALREADY KNOW THAT THE CONTENT WAS INAPPROPRIATE. Giving the guy a chance to go up there and argue with women’s feelings of being marginalized simply repeats the marginalization.

    Let the hallway chat and blogs and forums and such be this idiot’s pulpit, but don’t give him a chance to stand up there on his hind legs at the damn WOMEN’S PANEL and bark his self-assured majority message of “oh, you are too think-skinned, this is like mainstream culture, you should not be offended”.

    Erik’s comments above about het pr0n marginalizing gays were thought-provoking, and I guarantee that if anyone, male or female, did a preso that featured pics of Jody Bobbitt and frequent references to knives, chainsaws, etc, there’d be some uproar. Why? “Think that someone is going to CUT IT OFF at a conference?! That’s ridiculous! You are SO THIN-SKINNED!”

    OK, very off the cuff commentary over and out. And watch me get flamed for bringing up Bobbitt even as a deliberately extreme example. Gee, why DO guys get so fired up about that? It’s only an allusion to a historical event! It doesn’t happen in real life, at least not anymore, not to anybody you know, etc.

    Oh, I’ll regret this, I know, but some days you just have to get out there.

  • Misogyny has no place in a work environment. The presentation isn’t edgy, it isn’t cool, it is juvenile, stupid, and hurtful to others. Shame on Matt Aimonetti for his presentation and his behavior.

  • Rev. Dan

    It might be useful to stop demonizing Matt and treating him as though he was the anti-christ. He’s gotten a lot of smackdown and I’m willing to bet that the next time he does a presentation it’s going to be pretty visually tame. Folks’ comments are getting to the point where it seems that the only acceptable resolution is to crucify him. I’m suggesting that he’s already taken his licks for this one and instead of looking at one individual’s behavior that we focus instead on the larger issues.

    I still don’t understand the “predator” statements above and have to comment that they seem to be fear-based/cynical. To my mind it’s essentially the same as assuming that only men are rapists. I don’t understand that and probably won’t until someone who does provides me with a different perspective so that I might understand. (I only have four eyes, y’know?) 😉

    @Strata I don’t mean to nitpick, but I know Erik personally and assert that he’s not necessarily representing a “gay male” perspective so much as asserting that not all of us straight males are horndogs or are so controlled by our hormones that we need to rape someone because we’ve seen titillating imagery. One of the things that has consistently impressed me about Erik over the years is that he’s always striven to be a fair, reasonable, and respectful person towards men, women, gender-queer, heterosexuals, homosexuals, asexuals, religious, spiritual, and/or anti-religious. I’m certain of this because Erik and I have acquaintances in common who self-ascribe to these varying labels. I find Erik and his girlfriend to be wonderful human beings, period.

    For what it’s worth, I understand that you’re angry, but y’know, we *all* stand on our hind legs. That’s the point we’ve reached in the evolutionary cycle. :)

    There’s gender bias all around most sides of the overarching “women in technology” issue. I think it’s rather unfortunate that there have been a lot of really ugly comments and personal attacks that have been entirely too easy to focus on.

    Fairly recently, at a conference for a different technology, I said hello to several of the women in attendance and in more than one case was treated as though I was an asshole for approaching them. I didn’t see how I’d said or done anything different in talking with them from any of the men I’d met there. If I’m treated in that manner it makes me resistive to acknowledging women at events for fear of offending them. Again, it’s a catch-22/chicken-and-egg thing. I hate being beaten down because I make efforts to be friendly to everyone at events. I dislike the assumption that because I’m a straight male that any time I talk to a woman that I must be trying to score a date. That’s just ludicrous.

    I’ve seen the word “professional” thrown around a lot, and I think it’s an unfortunate choice of words. To my mind, the word “professional” is roughly equivalent to “milquetoast” or “lowest-common-denominator.” I think the essential issue in regards to the presentation itself is that its focus was on being *expressive* vs. being *communicative.* I think this is where DHH’s comments have gone wayward; he doesn’t seem to be making that distinction either. When I do a presentation my goal is to communicate first, and express myself second. This presentation is perhaps an example of where that might well have been mixed up.

    Also, there’s a much larger question of how gender stratification occurs to begin with. I know many parents choose to not let their boys play with dolls or their daughters play with firetrucks. Society, as a whole, seems to promote this sort of stratification (I muse aloud that it’s heavily influenced by the patriarchal religion which is so popular in the U.S.). There are fields which have historically been female-dominated (maybe consider being a man in the nursing field? Are you automatically “gay” because you’re a male nurse?) as well as the male-heavy lopsidedness we see in technology. The English language itself is rife with gender-bias.

    The issues raised here don’t find their root cause in one person’s presentation at a conference and I’m concerned that focusing on “punishing” that individual is throwing away the real opportunity for discussion which has been presented.

    One of the best comments I’ve read about this set of issues was from Martin Fowler, and to paraphrase “I’ve really learned a lot this past week.”

    I sincerely hope that those who are talking about how to embrace a worthwhile atmosphere for all involved don’t feel like they’re beating a dead horse. Truly, truly, there are a number of us who have been thinking about this for quite a while and who feel that it’s a very productive conversation to have. We’re not *all* immature 14-year-olds and some of us, like myself, appreciate a great deal of what others of us (a number of folks here) have been bringing to the table.

  • John


    It is true, however, that the %age of women entering computer science undergraduate programs is diminishing. Why would this be? They haven’t even gotten to a CS department yet to start feeling marginalized. We have plenty of fantastic female faculty in CS (one of them is now an assoc. dean of the college of arts & sciences and she was one of my favorite professors) at my university, so faculty-wise women seem to be flourishing and you’d think that they would be setting a great example for students, but student-wise the number of women is dropping incredibly. If you don’t have women looking at CS as freshmen then it sounds like they just aren’t interested… for whatever reason.

    It may not be completely due to a loss of interest but I don’t think it can be argued that interest isn’t a contributing factor. Most of us pick up an interest in CS in high school and are looking into it by the time we are thinking of what college to apply to. So I think the question has to be, why aren’t high school aged women becoming interested in computer science?

    PS In regard to the original post, Sarah, I think you are right on.

  • Rev. Dan

    I’m reading this interesting post on men and finding that it’s bringing some useful perspective to the gender discussion: http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

  • Thanks to everyone who has commented. Even if I don’t agree with you 100%, I appreciate that you’re taking the time to discuss the issue.

    One clarification – Matt isn’t going to be on the panel with me at Railsconf, but he’ll be attending, which I think is great. Desi and Lori and I had planned it to be more of a discussion with our audience, because we weren’t thinking we’d be a huge draw. Given the sudden interest, we may have to adjust our plans. :) But I am optimistic that it will provoke some good dialog.

    There are some really exciting projects arising from the ashes of this firestorm, for which I am surprised and grateful. More details later. Right now, I’m recovering from my daughter’s 4th birthday party, packing for Las Vegas, and finishing some @#(#$%^&*# AJAX that really, really needs to start working now.

  • Petra Moessner

    Tim, I am a neuroscientist turned computer scientist and there is no evidence that men are hardwired to do better at math and science. There are a lot of societal reasons, many that have been listed here, that women don’t go into computer science but it is not because men are hardwired for computer science and women are not.

  • Denise


    The numbers are down in school regardless of gender, so I don’t think it’s a specific women issue per say. Computer Science is not yet viewed as a profession the same way medecin is, or other sciences. This is a much bigger issue overall. Funny enough, we get a log of our best developers from the feilds of science such as physics.

    This issue goes beyond interest, it’s start from the parents and schools, if Computer Science is not viewed as a solid career feild, it will just get marginalized the same way art is. Educating the population on the importance of Computer Science is one aspect of it, the other, it has to have some decent reputation, which is one the things that really p** me off with these slides, what a great way to show everyone how bad a feild this is.

  • Debbie

    Just because women haven’t yet reached a CS department doesn’t mean they haven’t been exposed for -years- to the general cultural attitude that dissuades women from entering math and CS in the first place. It’s the one that tells us we shouldn’t be happy working alone, that understanding technology is for geeks, and that math and logic are Hard for women (if someone isn’t immediately interested or has trouble, it’s because she’s not meant to be). We all feel these pressures well before even applying to college.

  • Wyatt


    I understand your frustration, but I think everyone involved should have a chance for redemption. A happy ending in a situation like this is when both the offended and the offender understand each other, validate each other’s points of view and feelings, and from there are able to let go and move on in a new, constructive way. That can only come through communication. I think Matt has gone a long way in apologizing and admitting he was wrong and I have faith that he’s willing to listen and change.

    I’m more bothered by DHH, who has publicly stated his support for using porn, defended his R-rated preferences, defended stepping over the line in the name of being edgy, and called the conversation in the community “hysteria”. I normally wouldn’t care so much, but he’s the creator of Rails and therefore represents the Rails community. I’m really embarrassed to be a Rails programmer nowadays. :(

  • sarah –

    thank *you* for putting this up for conversation and for thoughtfully moderating it. i appreciate the thoughtful comments this thread has prompted.

    a similar thing happened with Spock two years ago at the Web 2.0 Expo —

    this also prompted a huge thread on O’Reilly Radar that was for the most part well moderated by Tim O’Reilly. Spock, for their part, was fairly quick to respond sensitively. however, since this imagery continues – apparently condoned – and the numbers of women *specifically* in software engineering keep declining, i wonder have we progressed? i, too, have a daughter and wish for her to grow up thinking she can do whatever she wants. but who would want this?


  • I don’t really get what the uproar is about.

    I am a female in computer science. Yes, there is indisputably a huge gap in the numbers of males and females in CS. But I’ve always found that as long as I was forthcoming with my ideas, my male peers have been respectful and willing to work with me.

    Also, there is a difference between smart women (such as those in CS) and women in the porn industry, and men generally get this. That being said, what Matt did was REALLY stupid. (But that’s all — as said in a previous comment, he’s not the Antichrist. And it’s certainly not Ruby’s fault. Let’s move on now.)

  • Wow, I didn’t actually look at the slides until just now… um. Yeah, that was kind of offensive and really damn stupid.

  • SarahB

    Also, there is a difference between smart women (such as those in CS) and women in the porn industry, and men generally get this.

    Kate, what exactly do you mean by this? There are two implications that I take strong issue with.

    One is that women in the porn industry are not smart. That’s a pretty broad, biased, and stereotyped thing to say. Many women end up in the porn industry after growing up in abusive or poverty-stricken households, after growing up in an environment that did not provide them the opportunities to develop the self-esteem, self-confidence, and education necessary to choose to pursue an intellectual career such as CS. Sure, they “choose” to work in porn, and sure, there are women in CS and other intellectual fields who have overcome hard upbringings, but there are an awful lot of outside factors that affect what “choices” a woman sees as available to her. Just because a woman is working in porn doesn’t mean she’s not “smart”.

    The other implication is that it is ok to treat some woman in a sexually objectified fashion (because they are not “smart” apparently). So as long as men remember who the “porn” women are and keep them separate from the “intellectual” women, than everything is just fine and dandy? Sexual objectification is never acceptable, no matter how “stupid” the woman seems to be, no matter how she dresses, no matter what.

  • Rev. Dan

    Porn superstar Asia Carrera is a Mensan. From hearing her tell her own story she chose to be in porn because she could make a TON of money quickly, retire young, and move on to do other things. In my readings about the porn industry I’ve read similar stories repeated frequently. From what I’ve read, I think the assumption that only abused or coerced people go into porn is a generally false one. There are plenty of people in porn who enjoy it as an industry and way to make a living, regardless of the body parts they possess. There are smart and stupid people in every industry.

    BBC2 presenter Louis Theroux did a show about the porn industry which was pretty fascinating. He looked at the less-commonly discussed angle: what it’s like to be a male porn star. There are challenges and expectations there which I certainly hadn’t considered. A number of the comments I’ve read here seem to be embracing a bias towards the notion that only women are in or are affected by (positively or negatively) porn, which is patently false. As they say, it takes two to tango.

    There are a lot of psychologically damaged and abused people in software development (this is not a comment about individuals here… I’m asserting this based on my work experience). The common denominator between porn and technology seems to be the pursuit of material wealth. It’d be *really interesting* to see scientific data/research which contrasts/compares rates of psychological and emotional abuse in the personal histories of people in all industries. Were I a betting man, I’d personally place my bets on the research showing that there’s a much larger percentage of damage/abuse amongst software developers. Truly, I’ve never been among a group of folks who, on the whole, are so emotionally stunted and underdeveloped and who, on the whole, don’t even *seem to care* about developing interpersonal skills.

    “It’s a meritocracy; it’s all about code… and since you wrote up a bug I disagree with [likely due to vague/ambiguous specifications to begin with] I’m going to throw a temper tantrum and punish QA by sulking all day instead of fixing it” or “your code is shit [because it’s not the way I’d have written it]. You know nothing about programming. Do it my way,” or “I totally did feature x and checked it in [obviously without looking at it in a SINGLE browser] because I’m such an awesome coder.” I’ve seen these behaviors in numerous environments, regardless of gender: I’ve seen equally bad behavior from male and female alike.

    Also, focusing on porn is skirting a larger issue and a much more pervasive stratification agent: religion. A majority of world religions subjugate women. The most popular religion in the United States, for example, is embraced heavily by men and women from diverse cultures and backgrounds yet plainly teaches that women are to subject themselves to the authority of men. Its hierarchical structure/model for society is deemed to be sanctified and unapproachable. Even the non-religious are significantly impacted by the pro-patriarchal and authoritarian choices of the religious.

    I also assert that the demonization of sexual imagery is also fueled by religion, and it’s that demonization which creates an illicit aura around nudity and significantly contributes to targeting of others due to repressed sexuality.

    I see no easy answers to the issues raised here. The few takeaways for me seem to be:

    1) Treat people like they’re people ’cause at the end of the day we all struggle with the same crap; being human is hard.
    2) Forgive people who offend, to the best of one’s ability.
    3) Being angry and vengeful is no way to win others over to one’s side.
    4) We’re all biased to believe that our perspective is correct. If I can’t question or challenge my own perspective then I probably shouldn’t be thinking that anyone else will challenge theirs.
    5) Online communication sucks and it’s really difficult to have a civil conversation about deep-seated issues with people you don’t know personally.
    6) The more I contemplate the general culture of software development the less I want to be involved in it professionally.

    I truly wish we could all be more respectful towards each other, period.

  • Linda Eskin

    I’m a bit late to jump in, but I wanted to comment on something Rev. Dan said: “It might be useful to stop demonizing Matt…”

    I agree (and for the most part I think people have stopped). What he did was just another small expression of a culture needs to change. Matt certainly isn’t the sole cause of a long-standing cultural problem. We probably all are, to some degree. I confess I’ve done Stupid Sexist Things, from assuming that the pleasant-sounding young woman answering a company’s phone was “just the receptionist,” to whistling at a male co-worker in jest once (he later let me know it made him very uncomfortable – a thought that, in my early 20s, had seriously not occurred to me, and I was mortified when I realized what a jerky thing I had done). We are all simmered in the same cultural broth. I suspect most of us have done a Stupid Thing or two. I also suspect some of the lack of perspective in many of the “just get over it, what’s the big deal anyway” comments I’ve read in various blogs is mostly a reflection of youth and inexperience. “Never credit to malice that which you can attribute to stupidity,” you know.

    IMHO, the more harmful things are the sneaky little subtle ones, because they slither unnoticed into our collective subconsciousness and become accepted as normal. Matt did a Stupid Sexist Thing that happened to be really overt and public. I think that’s actually fantastic, and I’ve thanked him for it (really), because it started a whole community into a lively discussion of what has (in recent years, anyway) been a subtle undercurrent only detected by the “overly sensitive” few. This was something that wasn’t being discussed a few weeks ago.

    The discussion hasn’t ended at the boundaries of the development community, either. Because of this issue, I called somebody (a woman) on a Stupid Sexist Joke she made about the horses in the Derby (calling the losers “ladies” as an insult). That started a flurry of discussion on a horsey mailing list of hundreds, mostly 40-60 y/o women, about the current state of sexism. The most recent comments are from women up in arms about *men* being almost exclusively portrayed at dunderheads in sitcoms and ads recently. This was a discussion we weren’t having a few weeks ago.

    And what I have watched (from a distance) happen over the past day, with the announcement of RailsBridge, and a workshop for women interested in learning about Ruby and Rails, is just stunning. I mean brings-a-tear-to-your-eye amazing. A community saw a problem and, instead of sitting around complaining, jumped into action to address it. Not someday, after further study, but right now. A friend and I were talking tonight… We have been long separated from development, but feeling some loss about that and looking for a point of entry to get back into it. Now we are plotting how we might be able to attend the workshop in San Francisco. That wasn’t going to happen a few weeks ago.

    So I know Matt’s been kicked from pillar to post about this. And yeah, he deserved a solid dope slap for it, but let’s leave it at that. I suspect he’s basically a decent guy. I’m looking forward to meeting him, as he’s encouraged me to come to the local SDRuby meeting. Looking at the bigger picture I’m glad for what he did, and for everything it started.

  • S

    Looked @ presentation. ..yawn..

    I’m not offended.

    Still not touching Ruby with a barge pole.

  • Anonymous

    Oh my God.

    I’m a 52 year old PhD Computer Scientist. And I’m female. I’m not going to use my real name because I don’t want any harassing emails.

    In grad school, back in the 80’s I and my few female collegues spent lots of time reviewing research about the lack of women in Computer Science because we felt lonely, isolated, and not understood. The scarcity of women in CS is a huge topic that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that the numbers grew to a high of about 1/3 in undergraduate programs around the early 1990’s, but, last I looked, dropped back to about 20%. That’s likely the max point as women consistently drop out of the pipeline after graduation.

    I’m no prude and, believe it or not, I actually enjoy sex. But that anybody would think this is appropriate in a professional context is shocking. If I was that person’s employer I would severely reprimand them. But, it’s still a man’s world, isn’t it?

    My shock and dismay and, yes, anger at these “jokes” and pictures is immense. These make me feel that in the eyes of my professional peers my primary value, perhaps my only value, is as a sex object. Though, at my age, guess that leaves me with not much at all. I’m just an old woman, my thoughts, feelings, and professional contributions really don’t matter. Might as well go jump off a bridge and reduce the surplus population.

    Imagine that for 90% of your interactions with your professional peers you’re thinking things like: Is he listening to me? Can he really hear what I’m saying? Is my clothing too sexy to be taken seriously? Is it too drab to be heard? Is he dismissing my comments because my style is not aggressive? Is he dismissing my comments because he thinks my aggressive style is a turn off? Is he dismissing my comments because he’s more focused on what the men have to say? Hey, I said that before but they’re responding to him when he said the same thing! Help, I can’t make sports metaphors! Gee, that was a jerkish comment he just made, but he’s a code monkey so it doesn’t matter. Interpersonal skills don’t matter here, I better get used to it.

    I have been in a very small minority and exposed to sexist comments and behavior for over 25 years. It’s draining. And now this. If was I going to advise young women about going into CS I would council them to bulk up, wear an asbestos suit, and prepare to be lonely.

    Btw, I was going to check out Ruby, but now I’m going to look for other technologies where group dynamics suit me better. Too bad. But sounds like much of the Ruby community isn’t interested in having me join them anyway. So be it.

  • Linda Eskin

    Hello, Anonymous… If you come back to check the comments here, please get in touch with me. (firstname at firstnamelastname dot com) You’ve missed seeing a critically important part of the bigger picture – the What Happens Next part. I get what you are saying. BTDT myself, with lots of t-shirts to show for it. But this community – and not just the women – are committed to changing things. You could be a part of that change.

  • A. When women constitute 25% of conference attendees porn slides will not be permitted at conferences simply due to business considerations. You can’t poke a quarter of your customers in the eye and expect them to return in a year.

    B. If Ruby and Rails are widely adopted a quarter of developers will be women.

    C. Women often are not early adopters for the same reason most homeless guys are guys. Women are more risk-averse and will join when it looks less like a gamble. Go to Dice.com enter keyword Java to see my point. Simply they like a dependable paycheck, maybe less of a paycheck but more of a certain paycheck.

    D. Matt made a good faith attempt at amends – I believe him.

  • Rev. Dan

    Comments by Robert Martin at RailsConf:

    “c++ is a “man’s languge” You have to have serious cahones to sling that code around… there’s testosterone running through every line of code. Java’s more of an estrogen-like language; weak, insipid, kind of language…”

    What I learned from Robert Martin is that he’s a crap speaker with a major ego… like Kent Beck at RailsConf 2008. I’m glad I didn’t pay to hear horseshit like that.

    Rails *IS* a goddamn ghetto. I think I’m done with that community.

  • ANONYMOUS, thank you!! I’m so fed up with the myth of “women have never been interested in CS”. Ha! Does no one else remember when software was a female ghetto? Hardware was srs business. Software was practically for secretaries.

    I’ve been in the business for 25 years, myself. Left it for a few years when I got Too Fed Up with all the macho bullshit, and came back because I just can’t stop coding.

  • Joe

    Come on? No pictures for the “Load Balancing” slide? He’s not edgy enough… lol

  • reine

    The only non sexist and “cool” slide is the number 53! AceeeeeeeeeeD!.( a seed! ). Cuddles to you all “non chauvinists pigs”. (scuz me real pigs!).

  • I personally find this a bit troubling. I never saw the presentation, but what was described sounds ridiculous. It would be no less offensive to me if it were a naked guy (I’m a guy btw; and in a case like that (a naked guy(, I’d have probably walked out the room; after vomiting :S).

    My point is, keep the nudity out of business type presentations. In fact, keep it out of presentations in general. Leave that for science class, if even necessary!!!

    Let Open Source set a higher standard than Macrocrap’s furious the monkey boy (youtube; steve; monkey).