A late entry to the fray

I’ve tried to keep my head out of libraryland over the holidays, so although I was dimly aware that Will Manley said something inflammatory about ALA’s new conference Statement of Appropriate Conduct, I hadn’t bothered to read it or much of the social media activity. Here’s why I did just now.

Last night a couple of Twitter friends had a conversation about this, one (a woman) arguing for the policy, one (a man) arguing that it was too vague and subject to personal interpretation.

This morning I wandered into another Twitter thread. Gina Trapani, a developer and startup founder tweeted at Michael Robertson, a serial entrepreneur, “Men are not innately better at being startup founders. Full stop.” Robertson and several other people chimed in to disagree, suggesting among other things that she read some neurobiology. It seems to me that if you can’t cite the scientific article conclusively proving that point (which doesn’t exist), what you’re saying is that women are innately inferior to men. If you can’t prove it, you’re just being nasty.

The substance of the two threads is very different, but the dismissive tone felt similar to me. That’s why I’m writing. Here’s what I think.

Manley is arguing that his right to be provocative trumps other attendees’ right to feel comfortable speaking at all. That’s bullshit.

Given that all of the people I’ve so far seen objecting to the policy are men, and given that social norms are such that men are generally more comfortable speaking their minds in public, and given that every time I look into a comment thread on a feminist topic online I see a bunch of guys acting like asses (seriously, check the comments on Manley’s post or my previous look at Adria Richards and Pycon), and given that my female friends who have spoken at conferences have lots of stories of being harassed, and given that the previous non-policy has resulted in actually favoring some speech over others,

As a middle-aged white male conference speaker and attendee in a predominantly female profession I am happy to err on the side of making everyone comfortable with speaking and conference-going. I’d love it if we could leave it at The Golden Rule, and I wrote the code of conduct for an event I’m helping organize with that in mind. But every time I look more closely at this issue I see why we can’t. That’s OK. A policy which makes women more comfortable speaking doesn’t threaten me unless I’m being a jerk.