Nobody wants to be a buzzkill

A code of conduct? Who needs a code of conduct? This community is too fabulous to need a code of conduct!

A couple of years ago, I was asked to help put together a code of conduct for the IA Summit. I laughed.

We need a code of conduct here? The IA Summit is the nicest, most community-friendly conference ever! Those problems happen at other conferences! And they want me to help? There are sailors jealous of my cussing vocabulary—surely I was not PC enough to be part of such an effort. But the chairs insisted. So, being a good user-centered designer, I started asking around about the idea of a code of conduct.

I found out design conferences are not the safe meetings of minds I thought they were.

One woman told me that she had been molested by another attendee at a favorite conference, and was too scared to report it. “No one will ever see me as anything but a victim,” she said. “I’ve worked too hard for that.”

And there was more, Christina Wodtke writes. The idea of a code of conduct didn’t seem so silly any more.

Unfortunately, it still seems silly to others. Recently I was talking to another conference organizer about setting up codes of conduct, and he said, “That doesn’t happen at our conferences. People know me, and they know they can talk to me. A code of conduct will make people nervous that we have a problem. And we don’t.”

I wonder how he knew that, since most victims don’t come forward. They don’t want to be seen as a “buzzkill,” or be told that what they wore or what they drank meant that they asked for it. This is not unusual; every day we see examples of women whose reputations are trashed for reporting rape and harassment. On Twitter, women who talk about sexism in games or even think a woman should go on a stamp are given death threats. Reporting carries consequences. Reporting is scary.

Availability heuristic. We don’t see it, so we assume that means it’s not there. Ding ding ding – wrong! We don’t see police brutality if it never happens to us, so we assume it isn’t there. We don’t see sexism or harassment if it never happens to us, so we assume it isn’t there.

H/t Harald.


  1. donnie says

    But, ophelia, how can I successfully bite and chew on the leg of a nonwilling person with this abomination of a law. Law, I’ll tell you. Supressing my freedom of harassment. #FtBMeanies…..

  2. says

    @donnie, exactly! Harassers have rights too!!!!11!! And where will they go if driven out of their native habitat? They’ll be roaming the open grasslands, harassing random passersby instead. At least, if you go to a conference, you know what to expect. You can take precautions.

  3. Scr... Archivist says

    Harald Hanche-Olsen @3

    Harassers have rights too!!!!11!!

    Quite right. It is, after all, an expression of their culture. Even the politically correct crowd will defer to that.


  4. tuibguy says

    Once the Minnesota Atheists/Humanists of Minnesota decided to have regular annual conferences, one of the first orders of business was to have a code of conduct. No, there had never been a known problem because their hadn’t been any conferences yet. It was a matter of making sure that if there were problems there was something to use, some guidelines as it were, in case a problem developed.

    Harassers do have rights, that’s why there should be codes, so that the reports can be filed and they can be dealt with and make sure that their rights are followed in the process. Without guidelines, any action taken to resolve harassment issues may be capricious.

  5. says

    Glaring ignorance of sexual harassment of women aside, one would think that the legal liability of not having a code of conduct/harassment policy would be enough motivation to at least having something basic in place. Then again, the mere presence of ideas like “don’t hurt others” and “get consent” in written form makes some men act very irrationally.

  6. says

    “A code of conduct will make people nervous that we have a problem. And we don’t.”

    Great! Then all they need to do preface that with “We do not have a code of conduct” and print that on the tickets. It will reassure people who might have gotten nervous.

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