Let me start off by saying that I have attended the last 3 AWS re:Invent conferences, and each year I leave with my head spinning with new ideas. It is a guarantee that between the sessions, talking to the people, and meeting the vendors that I am going to learn something new and have a great time, not to mention all of the great announcements giving us new things to work with. Amazon puts on a remarkably great conference, and I look forward to it each year. The issue I want to write about today is not something specific to re:Invent, although I will be talking about specific observations from the conference. This issue unfortunately isn’t even specific to the tech industry, but I am very disappointed that it happens to be so prevalent within it.

As we all know, women in tech is currently hot topic. There are many different aspects to the issue, and you will find various discussions about them at nearly any tech conference now days. What you don’t tend to hear about is some of the absolutely terrible ways in which these issues manifest themselves, and the re:Play party creates a unique atmosphere where I think that these issues present themselves in a very obvious and appalling way. Over the past few years I have noticed quite a few examples of what I would consider sexual assault at the re:Play party. At a professional conference! Who does this? Why? Why is is more prevalent at re:Play (or is it?)? I wish I had answers, I wish I had solutions, I don’t. But I think something needs to change to stop this from happening. So I want to take a little bit of time to describe some of what I have seen, some of my ideas on why this might be more prevalent at re:Play, and maybe some ideas to help prevent it.

This issue was so blatantly visible last night at the 2015 re:Play party that I feel the need to skip my Friday morning sessions so that I can get started writing this post so we can discuss this while the topic is still fresh. With this post I hope to spark some discussion on how we can move towards a solution on any level. The tech industry itself is not exactly known for it’s fair treatment of women, and it is up to us to change that.

What is happening?

Last year my wife Zoe was able to join me at the re:Play party for the first time. While we were waiting in line for one of the awesome activities at the party, Skrillex came on the stage. Zoe stepped out of line for a bit to go and see the show a little closer, and not too long after entering the crowd she was getting groped by various men in the crowd. Being alone in a crowd of predominantly males, she was terrified and got out as soon as possible. She was so upset (as was I) that we had to leave. She felt unsafe, I was way to angry to enjoy it any more, we had to leave.

This year, I was at the party without her. The prior years events were definitely in the back of my mind, but I definitely did not expect to see the same thing happening all over the place. First, I witnessed the exact same thing my wife did at Zedd’s show. I was standing behind a group of 3 men who would reach for and grope any woman who walked by. They all did it, they all knew their friends were doing it, and they would all look at each other with a proud smirk on their face every time they did it. The last straw for me was when I witnessed one of these guys make an effort to reach completely up a woman’s dress as she was walking by to try and get out of the crowd. I wish I could say that I believed these 3 people were the only ones doing this in the crowd, but based on my experience the year before and the fact that I witnessed others doing the same thing this year the instant I entered the crowd leads me to believe otherwise.

I had to leave the show. I couldn’t stand there and watch this happen. So I decided to head over to watch some dodgeball, and what I saw there was yet another example of this same mindset! Nearly every team that played while I was there would have a majority of males and one or two females. Any time there was a female playing dodgeball that was wearing a dress/skirt or tight pants I would hear a collective moan from some of the men in the crowd, and every once and awhile someone would yell something like ‘Why would you want to take her out of the game! She was the only reason I’m watching!’

Examples of this type of thing are all over the place at re:Play. From my observations, more often than in other events in or out of the conference. I am obviously not the target of stuff like this, so I can’t say that for sure. This is just my observation, and I have a few ideas on what factors go into making this the case.

Why?

Don’t take this the wrong way, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior. There is no way to justify any of this, but what makes this stuff so much bigger of an issue at the re:Play party than in other places? I think it is a combination of many different things, here are some of my opinions.

  • Near Anonymity: Being in such a dense group of people is the closest you can get to feeling anonymous in the physical world. Imageboards like 4chan show us that people act much different when they are anonymous, this is just another manifestation of that same phenomenon.
  • It’s Vegas!: It’s sin city! Some of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Vegas involve sex. Even though they are in vegas, re:Invent attendees have been at a nearly all male conference for the last few days, and tonight they are out of that setting and at a giant party. Not to mention ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ right?
  • Crowd Mentality: This ties in with the previous point, everyone there is in the same boat and they are there to have ‘fun’. I think then too many people get together with that mindset and the goal to have ‘fun’ they take it to the extreme without realizing that they aren’t thinking through everything they are doing.
  • Away From Home: Of the specific group I saw assaulting women during the Zedd show, at least two of them were wearing wedding bands. But their wife is not even in the same state, and I think they are taking advantage of that fact.

Solutions

I don’t have much to say here unfortunately. I do hope that if this is as big of an issue as I believe it to be that the re:Invent organizers take note and implement some way to minimize this within their conference.

One thing I noticed at the party itself was that there weren’t many event/security staff inside the event. I had only noticed them outside near the gates, and inside there weren’t much more than the bartenders. Having more people to report these type of issues to, as well as a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior, would be a huge help.

If this kind of abuse is happening to you, please stand up. Let people know this isn’t OK. I am not condoning confronting these people directly, please don’t put yourself in danger, but make people aware that this is an issue.