tl:dr - thankfully, we've never had a harassment problem, and it's quite possible we never will. I don't think we should turn JSMN into a political group either. But gender (and other forms of) harassment/discrimination do happen with some regularity, in tech communities here and elsewhere. That's why I think it's important to assert that will not be tolerated in the group, and explicitly encourage positive measures.
Okay, now the longer version (apologies in advance). I share Marc's general disdain for process and formality, but I am compelled to make an exception in this case. Here's why I think a Code of Conduct is important, and why I brought it up now.
As a "developer evangelist", I've been to probably hundreds of conferences, meetups, hackathons, and parties over the last four plus years, and the overwhelming majority of them have been informative and fun. Only once do I recall personally observing overtly harassing behavior by an attendee, and it was promptly dealt with by the event organizers. A few times I can remember sexist comments being made in private conversations about attendees and speakers (not unlike what you would hear in society at large). In these instances I wrote it off to a few bad apples, as I would imagine most people do.
Recently, I read Sarah's post, which James linked to earlier (side note - Sarah does good work and presents well, I've seen her a couple times. Very deserving of the frequent speaking slots she gets). That post led me to other posts and comments, from other women in the industry. As I was going through and reading these, I realized I had been at events with a large number of the people who have been harassed in small or large ways. How many times had I been at an event where harassment had happened, and had no idea? Quite a few, it turns out.
I had a sense that harassment in tech circles was a bigger problem than I knew, but now I had evidence. As a father of a daughter with nerdy tendencies herself, I felt compelled to stop and think about how I could help make this situation better. That's why I brought this up now. The way you combat these kinds of social problems is (historically) by raising awareness and taking small, local actions to affect positive change.
Having a Code of Conduct is unlikely to solve the problem of gender and other forms of discrimination and harassment in tech. However, it does help with awareness, and does the following:
- Acknowledge that there is a problem with harassment and discrimination in our wider software development community (!important;)
- Assert a desire to eliminate this problem within our own small subset of the community
- Explicitly communicate a desire to make this problem better
Personally, my gut feeling is that JSMN is already doing a pretty decent job of being respectful and welcoming. And we probably would have putted along just fine without stirring this subject up. But ideally we can move the needle a tiny bit on this wider social problem by asserting that this will always be a respectful and welcoming group.