How the anti-harassment policy helped at Rubyconf AU

At Rubyconf Australia 2014, I attended one of the workshops. For the workshop, the presenter was planning on using Lena.jpg, a picture derived from Playboy. For more information on the image, see the Geek Feminism Wiki article Lena Söderberg’s photograph. Because of the anti-harassment policy, I was able to stop that from happening.

How did the policy help? It meant that the image was clearly not allowed in the workshop. To quote the policy:

Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks.

As the Geek Feminism Wiki notes, even though the image is not explicit, it is sexualised. Since the image was clearly not allowed, I knew that telling the presenter not to use it would be a quick and easy process. No long drawn-out arguments. If he decided not to change the content, then I’d notify the organisers, and he’d be shown the door if need be. This gave me the confidence to tell him not to use it.

Thankfully, dealing with the image was quick and easy. There was a very short discussion, and we agreed not to use the image.

One troubling aspect was that he said during the discussion that he hadn’t read the anti-harassment policy. If true, this is a failing not only on the presenter’s part, but on the conference as well.

I didn’t discuss the incident on the day with the conference organisers, as it had been resolved promptly, and I wasn’t worried about further behaviour later in the conference. However, I mentioned the incident to a conference organiser during the party after the last day, and to all organisers in an email giving feedback on a variety of topics about the conference two days after the conference.

The organisers have announced that they will be more active about the code of conduct in future conferences. I hope this will improve things.

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