RubyKaigi 2013 is over and it has been a very positive experience for me, I applaud the organizers and the attendees. But one incident left a bad taste in my mouth.
During a presentation, the speaker mentioned that he wanted us to come visit a conference in Taiwan next year. He gave us many good reasons of why, but one that stuck with me was that he said “Taiwanese girls are ‘kawaii'”. Kawaii is a Japanese word that means “cute”.
This was said in a joking manner. The largest room in the venue, full to the brim, lit up with cheers, applause, and laughter.
At a conference where I estimate at least 95 % of the attendees are men, how will such a thing affect how women feel about coming next year? Would this comment and reaction give the impression that this kind of conference is for men and women are meant to be looked at?
Note that I don’t mention who the presenter was. I don’t think he is a bad person, he seemed very nice. It is not only what he said that is the problem, but how almost the entire audience reacted. This is a problem in our community culture, not the fault of a single person. So I see it as my duty to bring it up, so that we can learn from it and improve. It would be much worse if I saw a problem and kept quiet about it.
Many people at RubyKaigi are also involved with RailsGirls. So there is awareness that female participation at Ruby conferences and, more importantly, in the programming community, is a problem.
I know, I know. This is not a DongleGate, nor is it a “Perform Like a Pr0n Star”. This was a minor hiccup at an otherwise great conference. But since we already have so few women here, we need to be really careful not to scare off the ones that show up.
If I was a woman, I’d feel a bit alienated. Wouldn’t you?