Yahoo!’s Open Lapdance Day

October 22, 2009

Yahoo! Developer's Network logoIn the early 1990s, I bought my first computer, a ‘previously owned’ Atari 1040STE. As the heart of a modest home studio, it provided hours of both entertainment and education and was the start of a romance with digital technology which continues to this day.

Through subsequent upgrades to various PCs, Linux boxen and Apple Macs; much tinkering with systems (hardware and software) and a little dabbling with Perl, I realised that I had some aptitude for computers so when CAD systems started to appear in my day job, I gravitated towards them without thinking. From there it was a short step being the only person in the office who could get them working again when they went wrong. I eventually ended up spending more time on computers than at a drawing board (I used to be an architectural assistant) and eventually ended up working full-time in I.T. support, a job which I’ve been doing now for over seven years.

That amount of exposure to the industry makes it impossible to ignore not only the rampant ageism, but also the blatant sexism which exists in many of the male-dominated tech enclaves which still exist even today. Programming, in particular, has a reputation for attracting poorly socialised and introverted young men in search of the elusive badge of honour associated with the label computer geek. Although these days there are far more women coders, the entrenched sexism ensures an inexcusably small proportion of tech workers generally are women, and although well-hidden misogyny is often still only just below the surface ready to burst forth, like a weed through a concrete path, at the slightest opportunity.

Last week, the Developer’s Network of one of the big technology companies, Yahoo!, held its annual Open Hack Day in Taiwan; a weekend-long supposed celebration of ingenuity and creativity including tech talks and presentations on global technologies, hardware/software hacking events and, of course, the chance for hanging out and working on those neglected socialising skills. Unfortunately, the social activity is where it all went wrong.

Yahoo! hired what it called Hack Girls to entertain the massed ranks of teched-up geeks and hackers – which they did by dancing for attendees and giving lapdances for male participants at the event. It’s hard to know whose bright idea that was but no thought was given as to how this display might make the women in the audience feel. I don’t really want to get into a discussion here of the cases for and against lapdancing – I’m more concerned that a global tech corporation is so alienated from its female workforce that it should think it acceptable to add to women’s marginalisation and sexualisation; should think it okay to devalue those who, through their work, make such an important contribution to its own reputation (and profits). And although Yahoo! have since issued a very unconvincing apology, the message that comes through loud and clear is that the event was intended for men only.

The parallel with the debate around trans exclusion from cis women’s spaces is glaringly obvious: in each case, it’s all about consent.

Consent is essential to creating safe(r) spaces. By consent I mean when two (or more) people decide together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way with each other. Whether it’s physical, or verbal, or social, or sexual or anything else, is almost beside the point in this context.

Consent is the presence of a “yes”, and not the absence of a “no”. Consent is a clearly asked question followed by a clearly stated “yes”. And the consent of women was clearly as lacking at the YDN Hack Day as it is in a trans related context; for example, the consent of trans women is lacking at a Reclaim The Night march.

lapdancers at Yahoo! Open Hack Day event

(Image via Simon Willison’€™s Weblog)

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