Male Privilege is Tough, Isn't It?

At the JavaOne 2011 conference, Adam Bien’s presentation attracted one question that he probably wasn’t expecting. Shifra Pride Raffel stood up and asked him to apologise.

Male privilege is rife in the technical and engineering world; I’m sure it is elsewhere, but this is where I see it most often, and it saddens me that the cycle isn’t changing fast enough. Man stands up, opens mouth, says something offensive, tells the offended that it’s just a joke and chill out. Rinse and repeat.

One of Adam’s slides contained the words “Explain to an alien”, which he mentioned during his talk used to read “Explain to a woman”. This commentary attracted laughter from the audience, mostly male, as did his follow up mention that the original text almost resulted in his talk being cancelled.

Now why on earth, if you were advised that something in your talk is inappropriate, would you still use it? Why would you knowingly offend someone? This cannot be put down to an unintentional slip any more.

When Shifra left the presentation room, one woman thanked her, and one man told her to “relax.” In discussions online, mainly Twitter and Google+, men complained that she had made them feel uncomfortable.

Notwithstanding the fact that sexism is unacceptable, I’m baffled that so many so called “men” believe the presenter’s actions reflected on them, and disappointed that they defended the male presenter and thus promoted that sexism is acceptable.

To these “men”, I respectfully ask that you return your “man” status. You may reapply in 12 months time.


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