Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 08:57 am
I follow the twitter-feed of Ian McKellar, a programmer I met back when we were both studying computer science and hanging out in Unisfa.

Normally I skim past the programming posts, but over the last few days he posted some stuff which paints a picture of the sort of sexist Fail I usually see being railed against in Feminist Blogs. Since I've been involved in feminism and programming I found it all rather... interesting.

For context: Ruby is a programming language. Ruby on Rails is a framework used for open source development in Ruby, often shortened to "Rails"(*).

Here is the story as I can make it out:

gender and sex at gogaruco: At a Ruby conference, Ruby in Rails developer Matt Aimonetti gives a powerpoint presentation called “CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star.” Scroll down to see it. Basically it intersperses straightforward dull information with bad puns and images involving porn and porn stars.

People complained and there was discussion of the way that the Ruby on Rails community is particularly male dominated and prone to macho posturing.

Alpha male programmers aren't keeping women out: David Heinemeier Hansson, a core Ruby on Rails developer, dismisses these concerns, saying that "the average programmer ranks only just above mathematicians in being meek, tame, and introverted" (computational mathematician takes a moment to lol) and talks up edginess.

A Painful Decision: Mike Gunderloy, a Ruby on Rails spokesman, says a significant number of Rails core contributors "apparently feel that being unwelcoming and “edgy” is not just acceptable, but laudable." and resigns.

When your sexism is so bad it makes men resign, you are Doing Something Wrong.

Speaking to Cam, he says he has always seen Ruby on Rails devotees as a disconcertingly evangelical small group convinced of their own awesomeness.

What I find a bit surreal about the whole thing is that the main Ruby on Rails project I'm aware of is An Archive of Our Own, a fanfic archive run and almost entirely staffed by women. Of course I assume that using Rails doesn't mean you have any interaction with the people creating and promoting it.

Personally I have found the programming/computer geek community off-puttingly male and macho at times. Certainly UCC (the uni computer club) was often an unpleasant place with all the "LOL I RAPE U FAG" crap being shouted by gamers.

Various EDITS:

First off (since people who don't know me may read this), I just want to make it clear that while I have experienced sexism and a sometimes uncomfortable-to-women (or at least this woman) atmosphere in maths/CS/IT etc circles, most of the geeky guys I know are lovely. Although of course being overall lovely doesn't stop you being occasionally sexist by accident, even I'm guilty of it from time to time.

Also please note the comment policy.

Some more links:

(*)Real Programmers are welcome to suggest a better summary :)
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
Really interesting and illustrative incident. Thanks for the links.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
The controversy about Rails and its "edginess" (and creator DHH's personality flaws) has been going on for a long time, at least since Zed Shaw (another alpha male) wrote the infamous "Rails is a Ghetto" rant some time in (I think) 2007, which he's since taken off his website ( and replaced with a comment that, among other things:

"Too frequently men (especially younger men) will by default listen to whoever “talks tough” rather than the people who make the most reasoned arguments. They will listen to blow hards and pundits all day and blindly follow their “leadership” on fad after fad, never really questioning whether these people are worth listening to in the first place."

The original can probably still be found online somewhere, suffice it to say it was a massive alpha-male rant that accused most of the core Rails community of being weird, self-aggrandizing lunatics, and major Rails booster, the consultancy group ThoughtWorks, of being a brainwashing cult.

I think -- not being a Rails guy, I don't know -- that it's widely accepted that David Heinemeier Hansson is a bit of a jerk.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)
It's funny how similar the "use of porn images in a seminar" controversy is to that one that happened at UWA maths years ago (you might recall it). That involved Mike Alder as the supervisor, another hard-talkin' cigar-smokin' more-or-less-jerk.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
*blink* Now I'm curious what that one was.
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 08:34 am (UTC)
I only had vague details to begin with, that are now still vaguer in my memory. Dates back to '98 according to my recollection, so think dim mists of time.

One of the Honours students was being supervised on a thesis involving image processing, automatically detecting "certain" images based on particular types of stats analysis (in this case, checking for mysterious flesh-coloured blobs of certain shapes, I think).

There's a commercial application for such things (intranet user surveillance etc.) if they work well, so that theoretically justified the project.

The student himself, who I knew slightly around that time, was a really nice guy, and from what I recall it was supposed to have been a pretty well executed thesis as well.

Unfortunately his supervisor, who was an opinionated, somewhat eccentric, Anglophile academic who basically hammed up the donnishness to eleven all the time and made a point of being politically incorrect and bewailing how his intellectualism was being stifled by a faceless, uncaring totalitarian establishment -- although he was sometimes quite charming and entertaining while doing so, don't get me wrong -- encouraged, suggested or condoned his student's use of actual soft porn imagery in his thesis defence seminar. Unsurprisingly this didn't go down well with the department's female staff, and more scandalously with a respected visiting academic. I wasn't present but heard about it later.

Not too long after the academic took a leave of absence suffering from CFS.

Don't think I've added anything or coloured the facts.
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 08:38 am (UTC)
Yeah, sounds like him. IIRC he used to do the "engineering" units so I never had him as a teacher. I nearly had him supervise me, though of course my eventual choices there (and effort level) didn't work out too well as you'd know :-)

See above response to (wonder if that "dw" tag works, hmm) anyway, but I believe it was all true, though I doubt it would've gotten quite so far if anyone had stopped to think.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 09:52 am (UTC)
Early draft of original here - and it sounds like to some extent he had a point.

(A rails guy, but one surprisingly out of the loop on all the core developer/rails convention gossip)
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks for hunting it down in cache -- enjoyed a reread. Nice, well written rant. Still, you certainly can't see anything in there to attract anyone without a taste for confrontation to the "Rails community".

The response to it at the time was funny (what I saw was mostly on proggit). It certainly made Zed Shaw pretty notorious, he became a popular conference presenter thereafter. I also knew a guy at the time who'd just taken a job as a junior consultant at ThoughtWorks (he's since left the job, but apparently it wasn't too bad).
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC)
The investigation of gender in the Open Source movement article was very interesting - thanks for the link!
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
Thanks for the roundup - I had no idea any of that was going on, and I've built a number of websites on Rails (the Swancon 2009 site and programming tool included).
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
I always wonder how these guys would react if the pr0n pics weren't conventionally attractive women, you know?

May I link this?
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks; I hadn't seen that yet.
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)

James (who hasn't got an openid account yet because his imported one seems somewhat broken and I want to gain control of it).
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)

Saturday, May 9th, 2009 10:07 am (UTC)
IHNTA, IJWTS why wasn't this called RailsFail '09?
Monday, May 11th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Ah, someone did make a post called whine flu, railsmalefail 2009.
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
What I find a bit surreal about the whole thing is that the main Ruby on Rails project I'm aware of is An Archive of Our Own, a fanfic archive run and almost entirely staffed by women. Of course I assume that using Rails doesn't mean you have any interaction with the people creating and promoting it.

From what I remember, OTW chose the language Ruby with a coding deathmatch.