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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

On community responsibility

The web is a community to which I belong. It is my responsibility to help keep that community welcoming and open, therefore:

If I see an individual exhibiting sexism, racism, or bad behaviour online, at work, at a conference, or wherever: I will call that person on it. I will tell that person that I personally do not find their behaviour to be acceptable.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone did the same? Wouldn’t it be nice if you told everyone you too will do the same? Let’s stop allowing people to piss in our pool, shall we smiley icon: smile


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  1. Nicole Sullivan posted 11hrs, 59min, 23sec after the entry and said:

    The truth of the matter is that most of us are p****** in the pool.

    Like it or not, whether we realize it or not most of us are subtly (or not so subtly) biased in one way or another. The best thing we can do to be responsible for our community is to *understand our own biases*, so we don't act unconsciously.

    I'd recommend taking the tests on this site for racism, sexism, and agism (just to start). I bet you'll be surprised what you find out – I was!



    Matt says: If we do what I say above, we won’t need to take tests and self-berate, because it’ll be pointed out for us. The truth of the matter is people b**** about it in blogs but don’t police their own community.

  2. Nicole Sullivan posted 12hrs, 13min, 26sec after the entry and said:

    You can say p***, but I can't say p******? Is there something about british english that I'm missing?

    Matt says: No, just an ancient blog with a profanity filter that doesn’t get run when I edit comments :/ The whole site needs a major re-write.

  3. George posted 12hrs, 44min, 33sec after the entry and said:

    The truth of the matter is that most of us are p****** in the pool.

    Like it or not, whether we realize it or not most of us are subtly (or not so subtly) biased in one way or another. The best thing we can do to be responsible for our community is to *understand our own biases*, so we don't act unconsciously.

    I'd recommend taking the tests on this site for racism, sexism, and agism (just to start). I bet you'll be surprised what you find out – I was!



    Was your reaction any different when a man wrote it?

    A woman suggested you follow a link. Did you? Would you be more likely to follow it when suggested by a man?

    How would your reaction have been if my name was Tyrone instead of George. Or if my name was Raj. Or Edmond?

    Pointing a truth out to someone in denial is generally useless. It will be useless in our "own community", just as it seems pointless here. When we try to police our own community, we get unfollowed by those most needing to be reached.

    Matt says: No difference. And what has following got to do with anything? This is about making people aware that behaviours of a certain type are not socially acceptable. You do that by addressing a person when and where they mis-behave. Not through some blog somewhere else. The point of this article is to encourage people to act when and where they see it. Not to bottle it up and then tut on a personal blog, quoting statistics and studies. That’s as effective to the transgressor as doing nothing at all.

  4. Oli Studholme posted 1 days, 4hrs, 23mins after the entry and said:

    Hey Matt,

    I agree with the sentiment behind your article, although it’s a somewhat simplistic take on the problem. However, this once I’ll follow your advice. I’m calling you on your article CSS Lint is harmful.

    In it you write:

    This rule comes from the author’s absolute raging hard-on for ‘Object Oriented CSS’ (hard-on is a bad term given Nicole is a woman, and ‘Object Oriented CSS’ is a bad term given the likely confusion with actual OO coding).

    You’ve specifically only mentioned Nicole Sullivan, when CSS Lint was made by both her and Nicholas Zakas. You’ve referred to her as “the author”. And even you describe using “hard-on” as bad. Would you have written this sentence if Nicholas had been the sole author? Your article also set the tone for the comments, which include several that attack Nicole.

    Now, when I see you tweeting to Dot that you condemn sexism, I have a hard time squaring that with the CSS Lint article, or you tweeting to Faruk that he’s harping on about sexism too much. If I was cynical I’d say you’re somewhat sexist but just don’t consciously realise it, and your discomfort with Faruk’s tweets is the mental dissonance of this.

    However I’m assuming Hanlon’s razor — that you’re just unaware of what being someone other than you is really like. You probably think in these enlightened times discrimination isn’t such a big deal. I thought so too, until I moved to Japan and experienced it. I thought it wasn’t a big deal in webdev, until I heard my female webdev friends talking about it between themselves. I was sickened to hear the s*** they deal with, but now my eyes are open.

    Instead of dismissing Nicole’s suggestion above out of hand, how about considering how your “do what I say” reply gels with your “It is my responsibility to help keep that community welcoming and open” in this article.

    peace - oli studholme

  5. Matt Wilcox posted 1 days, 13hrs, 36mins after the entry and said:

    @Oli Studholme

    You're right to call me on that, and it likely wasn't a great idea to take that tack on the article. I do get pulled between two approaches to articles: the flat technical (which often comes off as boring and doesn't get read) and the melodramatic (which is more engaging, but as you point out can come off as irresponsible).

    It's difficult to know how to pitch things, and I do get carried away at times when my passions are ignited. I generally try and keep the melodrama non-personal or at least aimed at myself. I slipped up there.

    The reason I only credit Nicole is because at the time I was only aware of Nicole's involvement - I thought she was the sole author. That I didn't check is a mistake on my part, and one I made because I didn't feel it was relevant to the thrust of the article (that I don't agree with Lint's methods).

    The hard-on comment is not sexist. It may be taken as such, but it is not. It has nothing to do with sex, does not come with a judgement bias, and as you'll rightly notice is at odds with Nicole's gender anyway. It is a crude phrase to indicate a fixation behaviour. A poor one, perhaps. I could have used "like a dog with a bone" or a number of others, they may have been more appropriate given the context of the article.

    You can think what you like about my attitudes to equality, I know where I stand, I know right and wrong, and I am happy to listen as well as to question myself - I do a lot of that. I'm also not afraid to come to conclusions. Or to change them when new information makes sense.

    What has annoyed me about the comments in this thread is that it is a call for people to take personal responsibility for the behaviour of the community. A call to let people know when they believe a line has been crossed instead of remaining a silent voice that let's bad-behaviour happen. To get the community to police itself through targeted and respectful action. Like you have here - I applaud you for it.

    Instead of that message been taken, the comments have ignored it and instead focussed on whether or not I as an author are sexist/racist/heightist/gingerist/handedist/culturalist etc etc, and am simply not aware of it. As though I've not thought about this sort of thing a considerable amount already.

    I have no need to engage in this questioning of my character, that is not what the article is about. The fact it's gone that way tells a lot about the attitude of the people who supposedly care about the topic. It's a "shame and blame" culture they seem to be after. I am not shamed, and I will not be blamed for speaking out and *actually trying to get people to promote their personal view of fairness*. Note that the article doesn't define what sexism is. It lays this responsibility down at the readers feet to judge. I'm very comfortable and secure that I have no biases in these regards and no requirement to prove it to anyone else by jumping through their hoops and tests to see if their suppositions are right.

    I let my actions speak for me, and you will note reading through any number of blog articles or tweets through the years that I have always and will always promote equality. Not pushing one side, or "corrective bias", but actual equality. I will never tell someone what to think. I will argue a viewpoint, I will argue problems with a given approach, and I will argue how I think things might best work - but I will not tell someone explicitly that my way is perfect and all others are wrong. I am not that stupid or short-sighted. You may want to read an older article explaining exactly my attitude to this: http://mattwilcox.net/archive/entry/id/1062/

  6. Estelle posted 2 days, 5hrs, 2mins after the entry and said:

    While it is all of our responsibility to make our community welcoming and open, it is exhausting. For fear of 386'ing (http://xkcd.com/386/), I feel a need to respond.

    As per your suggestion, I will call out sexism when I see it. I see it:

    "The hard-on comment is not sexist." Perhaps that one comment, out of context, was not sexist. But I found the post sexist. You can disagree and say it wasn't. But sexism is a perceived notion. That is how your article made me feel.

    Disagreeing with me on that note may not be sexist. But saying I am wrong would be sexist. The attitude that a man can define what is and isn't sexist is itself sexist. It is the definition of privilege to assume that someone not in the oppressed class is more able to define how someone in that class feels, be it sexism, racism, homophobia, or other ism. Men determining how women should or should not feel about something falls into that category.

    Insisting that one is fully self aware will not make it so. Realizing that one is not fully self aware may open that door to self awareness and will help one grow.

    One way to enlighten oneself is to ask those who they unintentionally offend what was offensive. Listening to the response. Even if they find themselves disagreeing, fully listening to, and absorbing, the response can bring awareness. Without interruption. Without denials. Without argument. Without even thinking of rebuttals. Just listening. It is really, really, really hard to do. By hearing the offended person's rationale, we are able to become more self aware.

    Our community will be more welcoming when all of us work on becoming more enlightened.

  7. Matt Wilcox posted 2 days, 11hrs, 0mins after the entry and said:


    I am sorry you reacted that way to the article. However please may I be clear: sexism is only applicable when the attitude is caused purely by the gender of the person concerned. I assure you that the gender of Nicole or any author of CSS Lint made no impact on my assessment that I hate CSS Lint and think it's harmful. The post is demonstrably not sexist. The language is charged, sexually even given the poor choice of phrase, but that doesn't make it sexist. Nor does your gut feeling of being insulted because you're a woman reader and don't like the language.

    Me saying that you are wrong would expressly NOT be sexist, your statement is false. If I said you were wrong *just because you're a woman* then, and only then, would I be being sexist.

    As Lea Verou puts it: "I'm starting to think that half of the “sexist” incidents in our industry are basically the result of confirmation bias" - http://twitter.com/LeaVerou/status/149762477108895744


    "Also: being nasty to a woman doesn't mean you're sexist, unless you’re nasty *because she’s a woman*. You can’t just assume the latter." - http://twitter.com/LeaVerou/status/149767872846114816

  8. lenovo thinkpad posted 85 days, 18hrs, 43mins after the entry and said:

    the problem is that for every person who'll come out and say this, you'll have a dozen who'll be snickering in the background and reinforcing the person's behavior

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