Prude or Professional? by Courtney Remes

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

Today we received the following email from a respected colleague outlining her experience at a recent Flash developer conference in Minneapolis.  We asked for her permission to post it here in the hopes of sending a very strong message to the conference organizers and sponsors, but also to the Interactive community at large.  It’s hard enough for women to be taken seriously in the technology space.  Certainly, there are plenty of successful, celebrated women here.  But when we hear about situations like this we realize that, in spite of all the progress we’ve made, we still have such a huge fight ahead of us.

Don’t get us wrong, we are not women who can’t handle off-color humor, or provocative messages, or even erotic digital art.  But each of these has its place.  Paying for a professional conference and being subjected to this kind of content is infuriating.

Let’s talk about the content: was it reviewed by the program’s producers?  If so, they failed.  If not, they failed.

As managers of a Minneapolis-based Interactive shop, we know the Flashbelt demographic is largely young, white males (in fact, we saw many of them at the Flashbelt afterparty at Nye’s Polonaise Room last night).  Is this the standard we’re setting for them as professionals?

If, after reading this post, you find this as abhorrent as we do, then do something about it.

  • Contact the event organizers and make them aware of your concern over this kind of content being celebrated at their events.
  • Contact the event sponsors and tell them how this impacts your impression of their products and services.
    • UPDATE (6/11): Dave Schroeder, the Flashbelt organizer, has been very responsive both privately (via emails to us, Courtney and others who have emailed him directly) and publicly (with an open letter on the Flashbelt site).
    • UPDATE (6/12): Dave Schroeder, Courtney Remes, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met this morning and had a great discussion. We’re working together on a united response, which will be posted here as soon as it’s done. This has obviously touched a nerve with a lot of people. Let’s keep the dialogue going, and let’s keep it positive and respectful. We finished our response! Read it here.
  • Comment on this post and let it serve as a petition.
  • Tweet about this and use the hashtag #prosnotprudes.
  • Digg this and let’s make a statement.

“Boys will be boys,” is not an attitude that professional men and women can afford to support anymore. And, Courtney, thanks for sticking your neck out. We’re grateful that you’re willing to share your story.

WARNING: The following contains graphic descriptions and words that some may find objectionable. It’s not safe for work, children, grandparents or small animals.

Ok, so, I want to share this experience with you and get your take on it.

I have been attending only the afternoons of Flashbelt this year because I didn’t want to take the full days off — and because in years past (I think I’ve been to at least three others) the afternoon keynote is totally mindblowingly talented and innovative and has provided me with that out-of-the-ordinary experience that temporarily removes you from your everyday routine and inspires you to be more creative.  In short, I wanted to be inspired.

Yesterday’s afternoon keynote is this guy named Hoss Gifford — I believe his major claim to fame is that viral “spank the monkey” thing that went around a few years back.  Highlights of his talk:

  • He opens his keynote with one of those “Ignite”-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman’s lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say “drink me,” with Hoss’s Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.
  • He later demos a drawing tool he has created (admittedly with someone else’s code) and invites a woman to come up to try it.  After she sits back down, he points out that in her doodles she’s drawn a “cock.”
  • Then he decides he wants to give a try at using the tool to draw a “cock” (he loves this word) — and draws a face, then a giant dick (he redraws it three times) that ultimately cums all over the face.
  • A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also “If you are easily offended, fuck you!”
  • And then, to top it off, a self-made flash movie of an animated woman’s face, positioned as if she’s having sex with you, who gradually orgasms based on the speed of your mouse movement on the page.

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded and easy-going person, but I was shocked that this was considered appropriate material for a conference about innovative developments in the world of flash and the greater creative field.  And that I’d paid to see this.  And that a number of people laughed at his jokes — perhaps because probably 90-95% of the people there were male.  Having been a computer science major in college and a programmer for the last 9 years, I’m using to being the minority in these sort of development environments, but this was the first time I really felt like it was a boys’ club.  A boys’ club where “girls” could hang out, but they are ultimately considered nothing more than objects of sexual gratification.

I checked Twitter (hashtag #flashbelt) to see what the responses were.  Here are some notable remarks:

  • Fonx is reading the #flashbelt rants on Hoss offending the ladies w/ a few swear words & a penis drawing – r u really that prudish & sexist?
  • nthitz lol @hoss69 “If you are easily offended, fuck you” #flashbelt
  • livenootrac Ladies of #flashbelt , I am sorry for the Hoss preso, but in the flash community he gets a pass, kinda like Don Rickles – that’s just Hoss.
  • CujoJpn @livenootrac And there were many ladies at #flashbelt who were offended by Hoss’ Preso some were thick skinned and took it as is.

So, if you didn’t like it then
a) you are a prude – and sexist (?)
b) fuck you
c) suck it because Hoss gets a pass here in the boy’s club known as “the flash community” and
d) you are a wimpy girl who isn’t strong enough / man enough / “thick-skinned” enough  to deal with it.

Uh?  Aren’t we in 2009?  Do we have to “deal with” shit like this still?  I just did a “Mad Men” mini-marathon the other day and one of the common themes is men being total dicks to women and women crying in the bathroom because they can’t speak out about it.  I remember thinking “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t live then.”  And yet you can see the backlash you get if you speak about this sort of thing, NOW.

Since yesterday I’ve been thinking a lot about this, the psychological and social and gender things involved, what it means, what to do about it, etc.  I did immediately write to the director and creator of Flashbelt — and he apologized and said he and I were on the same page and wanted to talk to me about it more.  But I also felt like I wanted to continue a conversation with other women like you, get your take on it, find out if you think I’m just being a baby and too sensitive or what.  To me, this is totally unacceptable.


P.S.  I forgot to mention Hoss’ subsequent tweet on the subject:
Some hated it, more loved it – girls AND boys. Apologies to those offended, but I’ll take raw emotion over indifference any day. #flashbelt

P.P.S.  And finally, this was my favorite tweet (from another woman in attendance):
dlicht Thanks for the Tweets on Hoss’ presentation tonight…they serve as a good filter on who NOT to give my phone number to! #flashbelt

Courtney Remes, Geek

Courtney Remes is creative strategist with more than a decade’s experience in the interactive world.

Before starting Arrowplane, Courtney co-founded Synthetic Kit, where she was Principal and Senior Developer for four years.  Courtney also served for several years as Web & Technology Chair and Co-Vice President of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA), one of the country’s largest and most active IMAs.

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.