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Stonehenge OSCON parties

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At OSCON, between 2001 and 2009 (several reports during this period, not necessarily every year), Stonehenge Consulting has held parties on one evening of the conference. At these parties, there are usually women present who are not otherwise connected to the conference. They have variously been reported as scantily clad, present to "entertain" the guests, etc. It is unclear whether these women are connected to the venues in which the events are held or are friends of OSCON attendees.

Problems with this include:

  • Invisibility -- by offering attractive women to attract presumably-straight-male partygoers, women at the conference are treated as if they are invisible.
  • Sexualized environment -- the presence of women employed to look attractive and entertain men sets up an environment in which people are thinking about sex, which may be uncomfortable to the minority of female techies at the conference

Criticism online Edit

In the blog post OSCON: Standing out in the crowd, O'Reilly Media blogger Robert Kaye reports on Skud's keynote and mentions, in the context of sexism at the conference:

"(Over lunch I even heard of an OSCON party last night where faux strippers were "dancing" for the party attendees. If that is true, it is indeed a sad state of affairs.)"

The party in question was the Linux Fund 10th anniversary party. The promotional page for the party on the OSCON website says, "Event production and presentation by the legendary team of Randal Schwartz & Bill Harp of Stonehenge Training and Consulting."

Skud responded in the blog's comments:

"Regarding the faux-strippers at an OSCON party, this is more or less standard for certain party-holders. I've certainly heard of it at numerous OSCONs in the past. There is a certain business close to my main open source community, for instance, that it is somewhat notorious for hiring attractive women to attend its OSCON parties and "entertain". Not sure if this was the same one or not; wouldn't be surprised to hear it, nor would I be surprised to hear that it was another business entirely. These things are all too common."

Randal then responded:

For the record, there were no "strippers" ("faux" or otherwise :) that were hired for the Stonehenge/Linux Fund party on Wednesday night. I also am not aware of any time in the past for any Stonehenge party that we might have done so either.

However, it is documented on Stonehenge's own site that they have in the past hired Hooters girls for promotions at tech events, bringing Randal's claim into doubt. By commenting on the "stripper" aspect, Randal may be telling the literal truth while ducking the real issue.

Commenter Casey West described his experiences at the Linux Fund/Stonehenge party:

I saw the mentioned women join the dance floor and I just don't understand what their purpose was.
It's true, I think the stripper is a mischaracterization, but these women wore extremely short, tight dresses and tall heels. They weren't dressed like anyone else at the party and did not appear to be attendees of OSCON. The effect of their presence was to make the dance floor suddenly awkward. The floor cleared quickly and there was a noticeable difference, a sexual tension was added because of these two strikingly out of place women.
My group of friends stopped dancing and left the party shortly after the atmosphere changed. I don't understand why they were hired to dance with us, we were fine on our own.

Commenter Dan wrote:

I was just entering the establishment when the two women that people are describing as faux-strippers entered. It was obvious to me that they probably worked for the bar. The bouncer controlling the line let them through immediately (right before me since I was at the head of the line entering the joint). The two women immediately hugged the manager of the establishment. My guess is that the were hostesses. Note that all the male bouncers where dressed in nice suits, looked great and had great bodies too.


Apology Edit

Randal Schwartz wrote the following on O'Reilly Radar, in comments:

I'd like to separate two issues here that for many are co-mingled.
First, more women in open source. I'm all for that. I don't know how to make it happen, and I was unable to attend Skud's talk, but I'm sure Skud had some great ideas and calls to action. I'd be happy to have special shows on FLOSS Weekly about this issue, and consider whatever else I might do to help.
Second, I'm a marketing dinosaur. I've been doing trade shows for thirty years. It's become painfully obvious to me that the times have changed, and I haven't. My actions are out of sync with the current climate, and to those who I have clearly offended, I'm sorry. That wasn't my intention. I'm taking everything here to heart, even if I was initially defensive.
So yes, I *am* listening.

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