Today (September 20th, 2019) I attended and presented at an Agile Conference in Portland, Oregon. My experience was overwhelmingly positive and enriching. I thank the organizers, hosts, sponsors, and volunteers for putting together a value-laden day of conversations and presentations.
However, not everything was as it should be. In particular, the morning keynote left me discomfited and disappointed.
The keynote was by two leaders of a gaming company. They are passionate about their work. Their success is ample evidence of their hard work and dedication. I am sure they are nice people, too — in talking to one of them afterward, I got sufficient evidence of his sincerity, empathy, dedication to his craft, and intellectual honesty.
Sadly, none of this condones the tone, content, and style of the keynote the two of them delivered. It was full of images of hypersexualized female video-game characters. (I don’t recall seeing any male characters.) So much so that it got monotonous after about 20 minutes. I want to emphasize this: their slides overused cartoonish feminine sexuality beyond the point of indignation, almost to the point of nausea.
The talk ended with a sly bit of body-shaming: extolling the virtues of an Adonis-like physique over a more average-looking man.
To top if off, one of the two speakers dropped a couple of f-bombs … and a couple of s-bombs to round things off.
I want to publicly affirm that I abide by the Conference Code of Conduct, even when the organizers demonstrably do not. I do not approve of such unprofessional presentations during conferences, whether keynotes or not. At best, they are distracting and unnecessary. At worst, they are offensive, exclusionary, and intimidating.
I am all for a scientific discussion of sexuality if that’s the subject of the conference. If that’s the goal, get some experts on stage and let us all learn. However, I do not think a keynote address by two gaming company execs at an Agile conference qualifies, by anyone’s definition.
Our profession already has a woeful record of alienating women, non-binary people, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color. Let’s not make our conferences — the Latin word literally means “bring together” — off-putting and exclusionary.