I’m getting ready to travel to America for YAPC::NA. I took a quick look at the schedule and it’s possible that I am the only female speaker. This morning I have mixed feelings about that. I spoke at last year’s conference. Whilst attending the speaker’s dinner I was asked “whose wife are you?”. It never occurred to the person speaking to me that I was there because I was a speaker. And that’s not the first time that had happened at a technical conference.
I expected to become more comfortable the more of these conferences I attended. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. Last year I had one too many strange things said to me. I ended up feeling isolated and different from the other attendees. I became wary of the hundreds of men who surrounded me wondering when the next one would say something crude. When I complained to some male friends I got asked if I couldn’t take a joke. And you know what? Sometimes I can’t take a joke. Sometimes I don’t want people to draw attention to my sex and sometimes I get defensive and upset.
This is not something I like. I don’t like that one man making an inappropriate comment about me paying him for sex can spoil an entire conference dinner. I know he was only joking but unfortunately that’s the comment that sticks with me, not the hundreds of other perfectly acceptable comments that were made on the same night. I know he meant no harm but suddenly I am aware that it’s only me that he’s speaking to like that; he certainly isn’t suggesting similar things to the men.
It’s hard to be one of ten women in a room with three hundred men. I can do it but I’m not surprised that many others don’t even try.