Why I'm considering dropping Perlmonks

A couple days ago, a comic strip was posted to Perlmonks that really got up my nose. For those of you who don’t want to bother linking through, the strip compares Perl with Moose to Perl having a “boob job”, then wanders off into creepy territory because sexualization and creepiness are really, really funny, right?

This bothers me, as it’s not friendly to the women in our community – and I said so. You can read the response I’ve gotten so far. They’re all pretty much ignoring the fact that sexualizing a computer program (with the added implication of large breasts being equivalent to personal value) is exactly the kind of thing that makes women feel unwelcome by focusing on “well, ‘boob job’ is a perfectly fine term” and “I bet you do feel uncomfortable imagining you’re female!”. (By the way, no, I don’t. This is that funny thing called “empathy”.)

I’ve mentioned the atmosphere of disrespect toward women previously in other threads and gotten solidly downvoted for it – and had to repeatedly defend the idea that maybe everyone ought to consider whether the boys’ club atmosphere isn’t something we ought to change.

I linked Schwern’s YAPC keynote – and I get the impression that the audience is mostly made up of the people who “thought it was a downer”. (It’s good to see that there are members of the Perl community who don’t think this.)

This depresses me. Perlmonks can be tremendously valuable, but it seems to me that the loudest voices are not listening to things they really need to hear. It’s not all about the tech; it’s about helping people, whoever they are, get more out of Perl.


I left PerlMonks a long time ago already but for a technical reason: it is just too damn slow.

I was impressed by Schwern's YAPC keynote. The comic strip is just bad and in bad taste. As far as I'm concerned, this just proves Schwern's point all the more.

There are many things in the world that can depress me. I just don't let them. Don't let this depress you.

I'm sorry that you got attacked for pointing this out. This is not about being 'PC' or whatever, is just about human feelings. Strange, this thing isn't even really very funny. Can't understand it...

just watched the keynote and regret I didn't do earlier.
I guess some guys just don't understand that the main point here is: don't sexualize programming. even if some girls like that kind of jokes - there are a lot of funnier things you can talk about in a perl forum, blog or talk!
5 girls sitting in a hall with 200 guys and being constantly reminded being a minority by having to listen to such, uhm, pubertal jokes is really something that makes them feel uncomfortable.

we recently had a similar discussion (or actually a couple of them) in our german perl forum. a few guys reacted kind of aggressive, and in the end one of our female moderators was harrassed by phone and email.
I think the fact that some guys react aggressive to those discussions is actually a reason to keep on discussing. so thanks for your post.
It's not only about women, it's about any minority.

Joe, you're right. That is sexist and creepy and horrible, and a good reason to leave PerlMonks. I don't know if that's what I would do personally (though it just might be), but I'm happy you at least wrote about it.

Please don't be discouraged. I support you and I'm sure the majority of the Perl community does as well.

Remember: you're not standing up "for the women", you're standing up for "us", since women are just part of who "we", the Perl community, are composed of.

I feel that Perlmonks would be healthier place if anonymous posts were not allowed.

That said, I keep away and would use stackoverflow if I had a Perl question.

Putting aside the comic (which is no doubt someone will find offensive, but is really quite tame compared to many of the cartoons on the Comedy Channel)

Lets work like engineers lets try to examine a root cause. Then from there choose a path to a solution.

The first proposed cause is that there is a sinister conspiracy of sexual harassment and purposeful humiliation. Lets put that on the table as a possibility.

I suspect that the root cause is poor social skills. The behaviors im hearing described sound like the uncomfortable social mistakes of a teenager. These people are programmers and computer junkies after all.

If we consider the later more plausible than the former, we must ask ourselves what the solution is?

Do we create rules and punish for behaviors that the person doesn’t understand as being antisocial? or do we take a more humane and caring approach, looking out for these people. Counseling them when we spot troubled behavior and empowering them by pointing them to programmes to improve their social skills.

The responsibility then lies with both genders and everyone who attends to be take the responsibility of being aware of the people in the community who's social skills are underdeveloped. Then to care for them enough (and the people they harass) to help them become a better member of the community, rather than trying to help them by mandate.

Don't let a few bad apples ruin the bunch. PerlMonks is a valuable site nonetheless.

Personally I don't use PerlMonks because its hard to use, hard to read and slow. Sounds like I'm not missing much. Sadly StackOverflow is loosing its shine for me too. What is a person to do?

You're missing the content :) PM is where a lot of old-timers (read: experienced Perl hackers) hang out. In my experience, PM is a better bet for getting answers than SO for Perl problems.

The site itself could be improved, true.

If you find it hard to read because of the font/colors, try this: login, go to User Settings in your home node, then Display Settings, then choose the Perl-Blue Theme. It helps a lot for me.

I think it would be a shame if you were driven away from Perl Monks over this incident. It would be a shame because it would be one fewer voice of sanity against the frat-boy hordes. Attitudes like this need to be rebutted wherever they surface.

I pretty much abandoned Perl Monks when I discovered that they were storing passwords in plain text, but I've just been back to distribute some votes and leave a reply.

I'm sorry, but I gotta call "cheap copout" on that one. This is not about "poor kids are socially inept, not their fault". It's not about "let's look at it as engineers". Instead, let's look at it as simple as possible.

That comic sexualized software. It used not just "l0lz sex is cool, let's merge it with software" stupidity, but also the horrible "OMGZ0xrz big boobies big boobies big boobies!!!211" infant idiocy.

Then others attacked a person who felt (rightfully) very awkward about this whole situation and noted that it not only hurt his feelings but hurt the feelings of others, instead of being responsible community members. Attacking people as "not getting a joke" is easier than reflecting and figuring "maybe this *was* wrong".

This is common sense, that is all.

It doesn't matter if the comic sexualised software. That's not the point, that's a detail. It could have been a comic saying "Perl + Moose is like Perl on steroids" and then having bodybuilders feeling offended or uncomfortable.

The point is, the community makes a decision, and it's maybe very simple.
You either decide you want as many members as possible: people who feel comfortable in the community and can take part in its topics without reservation;
or you decide you want certain kinds of members, members with whom you can be yourself, be funny, be relaxed, if you fit within that group's ideals. A more restricted group.

Assuming Perl is striving for the former, then this is the guideline: if someone says they're offended by something, or creeped out by it, or simply uncomfortable with it, and you agree to goal #1 (as many members as possible who feel comfortable), then you recognise their feelings, apologise for doing what made them feel that way, and sincerely state you're now aware of the issue/topic and will not do/say something similar in the future. You don't have to say you see why it's creepy or not funny: maybe you honestly don't. Doesn't matter. You simply have to believe the other person when they say it's creepy to them, and keep it away from them. This is at the very least, polite.

For me personally, this is a difficult thing: I want to bristle at people when I think whatever they're on about is mild, or funny, or silly, or unimportant. And it will make me sometimes feel like I'm walking on eggshells and I want to get all indignant and rant, or sigh loudly in a boorish way. And also, I'm often a very oblivious person, so I can easily offend without lifting a finger.

But if I think the community I'm part of is important, and awesome, and I want even more people to join and enjoy it and see how awesome it is and what neat things people in it are doing, then I *WILL* respect the other members publicly, acknowledge their feelings, and agree to hold back things I know will cause them problems, and things which they tell me/others cause problems. Call it self-censorship or whatever, but in a similar vein I don't scratch myself in certain places in public (cause nobody wants to see that), I try to remember to apologise when I belch loudly in polite company, and usually refrain from arguing with Republicans during social occasions, for example. That is, most of us are already doing some self-censoring in some areas of our lives, for (we believe) good reasons, and I think we can do it for the Perl community as well (because we think doing so will make things better, or socially smoother, or whatever).

It's actually not common sense (at least not obvious to everyone), but it is called being polite and inclusive. We want Perl to be inclusive. We want all kinds of different people working with and loving Perl and hanging out with us. It makes Perl better because of the different ideas and perspectives it brings. It makes the community better by growing it and helping it connect to other (and different) communities (something Perl people have been discussing under the topic "marketing" for years now). Some of us (like me) need a dope slap now and then, but we should be able to adjust ourselves appropriately when we get such a dope slap. And be better the next time. Kaizen.

Joe, I agree with other commenters that this is not worth leaving perlmonks about. I don't know about the downvoting (I don't pay attention to that), but apart from the OP trying to defend his original post, there were a few flipant replies that you were being too sensitive, but there were also several replies to the OP taking your point of view.

I applaud your very calm reply to the OP and your linking Schwern's keynote. That was the right way to handle it. There will always be some conflicts/lack of sensitivity/etc in a forum like perlmonks -- if this is as bad as it gets, we're doing pretty good. (Not to say it couldn't be better and we shouldn't try to make it better.)

And when you bring up this topic in other threads, maybe you could let others help with defending that point of view, so you won't feel like a voice in the wilderness. You are not the only one who sees things this way.

First, let me please emphasize the following: I don't think that cartoon should have been posted, I think it was right to point out it was inappropriate, and I fully support any effort towards making on-line and face-to-face interactions among professionals not to resemble boys' locker room antics.

I think you need to understand why the title of my blog post says "Don't Box Me In."

This comment is an attempt to explain to Joe McMahon the point of my blog post, because I sense some hostility in the way he mentions it. Maybe he thinks the title refers to my desire not to be limited by any standards of behavior or something.

Schwern's talk was all about "shape diversity." In this worldview, the only differences between people that matter are those that are externally visible.

Because I am male and white, it is impossible for me to contribute to the "diversity" of the "community." In fact, I must also be responsible for any lack of desirable diversity.

I mean, Schwern made us stand up, pointed a finger in our direction, and told us we were not "diverse" enough. We all looked alike.

When I stood up, I half expected a little bit of a pep talk.

Instead, he put me in a box of his choosing, without really knowing me, based on my external appearance. To quote a famous pop song from my college years, "beni kategorize etme!"

Wait! Don't know what that means?! Never heard of that song? I guess we're not all alike and we don't all have the same backgrounds.

Nothing I said in that blog post should be construed as supporting anyone's juvenile & inappropriate behavior.

My contributions to the Perl community at large are few and they happen in spurts. I have definitely benefited more from Schwern's and others' work more than anyone here has benefited from mine.

But, when I take the time, and spend the money to attend a conference, and expand my horizons, I'd rather not be lectured to indiscriminately by someone who thinks the only way to increase diversity is by focusing on external attributes.

I cannot help but ask: "If you care so much about diversity and open-mindedness, how many of you went to the trouble of flagging for abuse Linus Torvalds' anti-Mormon rant on Google+ today?"

I can speak volumes about this topic (and perhaps next time we'll be at the same conference, we should), but meanwhile I'll simply say: you were right about what Schwern did (most of it, at least) but he was right about it. The fact that you have an open mind (happy to hear you do!) doesn't mean you don't alienate others or necessarily notice it. My mother tongue isn't English either. Does that mean I don't alienate others, such as women? Hmm... no, it doesn't. I'm sorry this hurt your feelings, but that's simply how the world works sometimes. We don't always notice damage we do, and sometimes it's hard to face it.

Regarding Linus: I don't think that a personal comment on a personal page regarding religion constitutes the same outrage as uploading a sexist comic strip in a public forum. There's a major difference.

Also, this whole "if you care about *this* thing, why don't you do what *I* think you should do and work on *that* thing instead?" is not a very good argument.

Other than that, have a great day, and I do hope to meet you at the next conference and have a conversation on this (or another) topic.

@SawyerX I'd like to get a few glasses of your favorite beverage just to thank for Dancer which I seriously love. We can also talk about this topic. But, now that I explained myself one more time, I am going to refrain from further commentary.

As for Linus' comment ... He is a rather public person. I do not specifically follow him, but Google+ keeps putting his stuff in my stream via "What's Hot on Google?", so that's a public forum.

He referred to a particular group's religious beliefs as "bats**t crazy" which would definitely create an unwelcoming environment for members of said religion. Doesn't silence mean approval?

Or, maybe silence just means, I really don't have time for this. Maybe.

I hope we could meet at the next YAPC and I could buy you a drink as well for your contributions to Perl (and to YAPCs!) next time. :)

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About Joe McMahon

user-pic Blogging about Perl, wandering off into compatibility issues with other things, like Python and Django.