Thursday 10 September 2015

A safe place

I've got two daughters whom, expecting a football team of them eventually, we named Dau.I and Dau.II. I want them to be safe. Safe at home, safe in the work-place and safe walking or cycling between the two.  I want them to be safe in pubs and clubs and concerts and on buses, too. I was visiting with Dau.I a couple of years ago and as we walked up through the town, a young chap on a building site whistled at her - largely, I suspect, to impress the older blokes with whom he was having a cup of tea. She did a most extraordinary thing: rather than ignoring this unwanted attention, she casually acknowledged the young feller with a half wave and a distracted "Hi". It was just the right amount to show him that a) she wasn't the least bit interested b) that she was giving him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't a misogynistic shit c) that while her response to him was polite, his address of her was not. That evening we sat in a park to fill in a sunny evening hour before the next thing we had to do. She had offered me a choice "Do you want to go to "The druggy park" or "The park near work?"  I opted for the latter.

I remarked on the earlier event and she said that street safety had come up for discussion at work. A young chap, a co-worker, had said with the idiotic bravado of a boy who has led a sheltered existence that he wasn't the least concerned about being mugged in the street: he would turn over his habitually empty wallet to the perp and walk away . . . what's the problem?  Dau.I and another young woman tried to explain s l o w l y  that for women it was about more than the money and eventually he got it.  Actually, he was only able to acknowledge the truth of what they said with his head, he might go through his entire life without ever getting how different a dark street is for men and for women.

I was reminded of this because of a piece last week by Rachel Nabors, a famous cartoonist and graphic novelist, about Codes of Conduct.  Nabors scrabbles a living from her pen but also as to be an invited speaker at events and conferences in the digital world: UX [user experience], Animation, Java. I won't suggest that she is invited because she is a woman as I'm sure she's at least as good at her work and as an inspiring speaker as any three chaps in the field. But computers is a man's world, dominated by young, often absurdly young, males . . . who have the emotional and experiential maturity of my daughter's 'unmuggable' co-worker. Nabors has been to enough conferences to know that, while away from home in Vegas or Seattle, young fellers can get down a feed of pints and start to act like men spotty youths behaving badly. When she was asked to speak at UX Immersion in San Diego this Spring, she insisted that the organiser, a personal friend, have an explicit Code of Conduct over-arching the event.

A CoC is "a set of rules outlining the social norms and rules and responsibilities of, or proper practices for, an individual, party or organization." and it should includes a list of behaviours unacceptable to the organizers and by implication unacceptable to the vast majority of participants. It should also include details of how and where to contact a designated person when something goes wrong . . . and that contact point should be live 24hrs.  A code of conduct becomes more important if there are young women in a minority at the event or in the organisation. I've written about how, regardless of stated policy, men will continue to behave badly and their [male] co-workers will find it hard to prevent it, even in Ireland's premier university. ANNyway, Rachel Nabors now makes it her stated policy that she will not attend or speak at any event which doesn't have a stated and explicit and broadcast Code of Conduct.  Partly this is because she won't have on her conscience the dismal fate of a young woman who came to an event to hear Nabors and got assaulted or groped or demeaned in the process. Her Code of Conduct piece is largely a dialogue between the organiser and herself as his arguments against a CoC are remorselessly demolished. Asserting that shit never happens on your watch is no antidote to shit happening.

In amongst that, which you must read especially if you have daughters, she makes this point "For instance, a room full of strangers may agree that rape is bad, but when asked to define what rape is, they will give wildly varying answers."  I think that's telling, because it shows that these issues are not easy or black&white. As I said yesterday, ethics is hard! Cultural norms are different in different countries and someone from Delhi or Dundee may well be in San Diego and not know how to behave รก l'americain. We all think plagiarism is 'bad' too but I found that defining it was not so easy. Shucks, it's a head-wrecker to even define who the first-born is. But the bottom line on Code of Conduct is a) that we should have them and b) we should make them happen. 
Making it easy for people to do the right thing makes it harder for them not to.

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