The language that we use is important

A few days ago some behavior on the IRC #wordpress channel was brought to Siobhan McKeown’s attention. Take a moment and visit her post on that topic. After that visit Lindsey Kuper’s post on her experience in the #rust channel.

Back? OK.

Please do not use language based on someone’s looks or gender. It’s wrong and can’t be tolerated.

I had some difficulty expressing this in IRC but thankfully Siobhan and Mika provided me with support and they explained it well. The reason for my difficulty was simple: this is important, this problem needs to be stamped out early and I wanted to get this right.

When someone joins the #wordpress channel or posts to the support forums it is important to remember that they are either seeking help or attempting to help others. This is a good thing and that participation makes WordPress successful.

It’s not easy for everyone to join or start a public conversation. A forum post or joining an IRC channel is exposing yourself and that’s a risk. For some that can become a painful experience.

When someone replies using language that diminishes, makes people feel uncomfortable or disparages others then that participation is lost.

If the tone of the conversation includes words that focus on people’s looks or gender then that’s it. The person who wanted to join doesn’t feel welcome. That phrase about first impressions is true and an opportunity is gone. People stop participating or they never take the chance and do not even start to contribute.

At that point it’s the WordPress community that loses out.

Unlike the forums IRC is a live medium. There’s no moderation or editing and it’s easy to say something off the cuff. Everyone has bad days and may say things that they regret. And we all have a sense of humor that can be crass sometimes.

But using language based on gender or looks is not tolerable and has to stop. It’s not enough to be aware of this behavior. What will make it stop is when everyone speaks up if they see that.

“That language is not welcome here. Please stop.”

That’s it. That’s all it takes.

That reply alone raises the expectations for the whole community. That’s not a confrontation, that’s an invitation for others to join a community that does welcome everyone.

Let’s all raise those expectations. Speak up. You’ll be encouraging other people to do the same.