There has been a lot written lately about gender as it pertains to professional conferences on web technologies. First off was Jason Kottke presenting the question. Then I caught Eric Meyer, the Patron Saint of CSS, who responded with a resounding “meh” followed by John Gruber’s gender-fireball post, and a comment of clarification by Zeldman in the linked list. Truly Eric received the torment he knew he was setting himself up for. Ouchie. And so totally not deserved. I suggest reading those articles and comments, and then coming back here. I’ll wait.
Back? Good. I love discussing gender, because as a gay man in 2007, it’s certainly a topic that provides countless hours of amusement. And frustration. And a couple of attempts to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. It’s also a subject that, when taken out of context, is beyond frustrating, it’s insulting. And that’s where I think this discussion has gone.
If you look at what Kottke presented, yes, there is a dearth of women speakers at web conferences, and most especially those that focus on HTML and CSS. Kottke is particularly off when he says:
…it seems to me that either the above concerns are not getting through to conference organizers or that gender diversity doesn’t matter as much to conference organizers as they publicly say it does.
Gruber goes off into the realm of Title IX, which has, truthfully, done a world or three of good for women in all things. However, he misses the point of Kottke’s piece, which is that things are inequal in a professional setting. Title IX doesn’t really apply there, so going off into the studies of who got educated where and for what is off-topic. Interesting, and well worth reading, but off-topic none-the-less. And don’t think I’m against Title IX, nothing could be further from the truth. We are all improved when everyone receives an equal chance, which is what Title IX was designed to do. And amazingly, considering it’s legislation, it seems to do relatively well.
Notice that I said “everyone receives an equal chance” and not “everyone receives everything equally.” and for good reason. Title IX doesn’t mean that there will be a women’s football team at your local high school, but it does say that for every men’s sport there shall be an equally funded women’s sport. Don’t care what they play, but they get the game. That’s equality at it’s finest. Which is what Gruber was leading up to.
However, it’s not what Kottke was on about at all. Kottke is about specific equality for professional roles. Can’t, and won’t, happen. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because after giving everyone equal chances, what those people do with those chances will be quite unique to each individual, and therefore, we are unable to predict their results in such a way that we could ever guarantee that there is a 50/50 split along the sex lines.
Meyer doesn’t mind this situation, not because he doesn’t want women around or thinks they are inferior, but because he, quite rightly, sees that while there are fewer women there, overall the web is very well represented by both sexes. And, in this case, gender means less than nothing.
While I, having been discriminated against because of an external trait (e.g. who I have sex with) and have had professional roles given to others because of it, I still agree with Meyer. Kottke thinks that having a vagina attached to some of the speakers would improve the quality of the presentation. That’s thinking that a woman who happens to be a mom can only socialize with other moms if all are either a) not drinking, or b) if they want to drink, they must be chaperoned by someone with a penis.
I don’t see how being male, female, white, black, brown, purple, queer, asexual, cancerous, capricorn or a carrot would matter if you happen to also be a professional in the web-standards-meets-development world. I would, honestly, attend a speech given by a carrot if that carrot was recognized as a leader in the field. That’s what professional speeches are all about.
I have a huge problem with people getting so bent sideways in the effort to be politically correct that they lower the quality of the product. I know it’s rough, and I can’t say that I understand why people are racist, sexist, homophobic or just flat out fucked-up, but I do know that for a conference where people are going to learn about a specific topic, finding the best people, regardless of gender is more important than counting the number of XX’s versus the number of XYs sharing their knowledge.
I want more brilliant people, I don’t care who you are or how you fuck. I don’t even care if you do. I want you for your mind, and guess what, Kottke is wrong to reduce the talent and knowledge of the people involved with these events to their gender. Alas, I’m a bit chubby and have a decent set of tits if he truly thinks that physical traits make a shits difference.
[UPDATE] I see that Zeldman has joined the fray with more on his blog, but I disagree that it’s a fundamental part of the conference planner’s concerns. He thinks it’s important to include women, I think it’s more important to not exclude women, and those, truly, are completely different tasks. Oh, and I still think I’m right.