Peggy Rayzis goes too far on ReactiveConf

This is a reply to Peggy Rayzis about her post on ReactiveConf and why she cancelled her talk.

I was at this conference and I have mixed feelings about Peggy Rayzis’ reaction. On one side, I agree that gender issues are not very well sorted out at the conference. My problem was with the only female talk coming right after someone working on porn. I have nothing against sexual representations and do not believe as some do that pornography has more gender issues then the rest of society but I felt bad that the first and rare woman speaker came right after this subject. Pornography is about how the body looks and men in tech tend to have this exact same attitude towards women: looking at them for their looks and not their skills.

The issues about women in tech are very real. From the struggles of women in tech support, the salaries issues, the pregnancy leave issues in a woman’s career to the way women are named “gorgeous”, “pretty” or “beautiful” instead of their academic degrees to harassement in tech conferences, etc.

Some of these attitudes come from evildoers and some come from ignorance. The first category of misogynists must be punished, the second educated.

In the case of ReactiveConf, I feel that education is a much more powerful tool to increase gender issue awareness then public shaming and other forms of punishment.

On the talk related to porn, we did not see nude images (thanks for that) but still, it was rude to have this talk just before one of the only female speakers.

Superwoman

Peggy Rayzis felt offended because they photoshopped her head on the body of superwoman, just like they did for her fellow male speakers, putting their face on superheroes. There are many woman characters in films that are just nice bodies around the male hero. I haven’t seen superwoman but I don’t think her role in the movie is just to be a nice body. I do not find this particular representation of a woman more offending then iron man is for men. Superheroes are just sexy folks in pyjamas. They may not be super adapted to conference speakers but are not meant to convey insult in general or people would never dress like them:

The whole conference was “themed” with superheroes, a huge Hulk standing on the edge of the scene. So this photoshopping was in line with the conference theme and not some exceptional move for a single speaker.

tI am not in Peggy Rayzis’ shoes and haven’t seen the actual picture (nobody has). The point is that she did not feel OK with this picture and she has the right to feel like this about anything that is meant to represent her, including this particular picture.

But I have issues with her reaction and feel that she does more hagranrm than good for gender issues.

People make mistakes and do silly things. Sometimes these mistakes are harmful without repair but in this particular case, the fix was simple: ask them to not show the superwoman image before the talk. Peggy Rayzis could have explained why she felt offended so that they do not reproduce this same mistake again. She could even have talked about the issue at the start of her talk and this would have been very interesting and educational for a large part of the audience. But instead, she flew to another conference, the GraphQL submit.

I understand that she was upset with ReactiveConf and preferred to fly back to another conference that she had sacrificed to be there. But I think that publicly shaming them like she is doing is not helping and crosses an important line in any conflict: proportional response and respect.

Being in the situation of the victim does not grant us every right to fight back in whatever scale we choose. If someone steps on our foot, we are not exactly entitled to break their teeth by punching them. If someone creates an image of ourself that is offending without showing it everyone, we do not have the right to publicly shame them using all the gender issues fighting power at our disposal.

I wish Peggy Rayzis had shown some restraint here. Leaving without notice and twitter shaming was already a bold move for both the organisers and the attendees. Shaming the conference on medium goes too far.

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