I’ve been watching the whole Adria Richards fiasco with a sense of horror and disgust. I’m finally going to say something, but for the most part, it’s going to be indirect.
See, I’m a white guy, born as a member of an upper middle class white family. That means that I’m awfully lucky. I’m part of the group that is, effectively, treated as the normal, default person in most settings. I’m also a guy who’s married to a chinese woman, and who’s learned a bit about how utterly clueless I am.
Here’s the fundamental issue that underlies all of this, and many similar stories: our society is deeply sexist and racist. We are all raised in an environment in which mens voices are more important than womens. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that we don’t even notice it.
What this means is that we are all to some degree, sexist, and racist. When I point this out, people get angry. We also have learned that sexism is a bad thing. So when I say to someone that you are sexist, it’s really easy to interpret that as me saying that you’re a bad person: sexism is bad, if I’m sexist, them I’m bad.
But we really can’t get away from this reality. We are sexists. For many of us, we’re not deliberately sexist, we’re not consciously sexist. But we are sexist.
Here’s a really interesting experiment to try, if you have the opportunity. Visit an elementary school classroom. First, just watch the teacher interact with the students while they’re teaching. Don’t try to count interactions. Just watch. See if you think that any group of kids is getting more attention than any other. Most of the time, you probably will get a feeling that they’re paying roughly equal attention to the boys and the girls, or to the white students and the black students. Then, come back on a different day, and count the number of times that they call on boys versus calling on girls. I’ve done this, after having the idea suggested by a friend. The result was amazing. I really, honestly believed that the teacher was treating her students (the teacher I did this with was a woman) equally. But when I counted?She was calling on boys twice as often as girls.
This isn’t an unusual outcome. Do some looking online for studies of classroom gender dynamics, and you’ll find lots of structured observations that come to the same conclusion.
My own awakening about these kinds of things came from my time working at IBM. I’ve told this first story before, but it’s really worth repeating.
One year, I managed the summer intership programs for my department. The previous summer, IBM research had wound up with an intership class consisting of 99% men. (That’s not an estimate: that’s a real number. That year, IBM research hired 198 summer interns, of whom 2 were women.) For a company like IBM, numbers like that are scary. Ignoring all of the social issues of excluding potentially great candidates, numbers like that can open the company up to gender discrimination lawsuits!
So my year, they decided to encourage the hiring of more diverse candidates. The way that they did that was by allocating each department a budget for summer interns. They could only hire up to their budgeted number of interns. Only women and minority candidates didn’t count against the budget.
When the summer program hiring opened, my department was allocated a budget of six students. All six slots were gone within the first day. Every single one of them went to a white, american, male student.
The second day, the guy across the hall from me came with a resume for a student he wanted to hire. This was a guy who I really liked, and really respected greatly. He was not, by any reasonable measure, a bad guy – he was a really good person. Anyway, he had this resume, for yet another guy. I told him the budget was gone, but if he could find a good candidate who was either a woman or minority, that we could hire them. He exploded, ranting about how we were being sexist, discriminating against men. He just wanted to hire the best candidate for the job! We were demanding that he couldn’t hire the best candidate, he had to hire someone less qualified, in order to satisfy some politically correct bureaucrat! There was nothing I could do, so eventually he stormed out.
Three days later, he came back to my office with another resume. He was practically bouncing off the walls he was so happy. “I found another student to hire. She’s even better than the guy I originally came to you with! She’s absolutely perfect for the job!”. We hired her.
I asked him why he didn’t find her before. He had no answer – he didn’t know why he didn’t find her resume of his first search.
This was a pattern that I observed multiple times that year. Looking through a stack of resumes, without deliberately excluding women, somehow, all of the candidates with female names wound up back in the slushpile. I don’t think that anyone was deliberately saying “Hmm, Jane, that’s a woman’s name, I don’t want to hire a woman”. But I do think that in the process of looking through a file containing 5000 resumes, trying to select which ones to look at, on an unconscious level, they were more likely to look carefully at a candidate with a male name, because we all learn, from a young age, that men are smarter than women, men are more serious than women, men are better workers than women, men are more likely to be technically skilled than women. Those attitudes may not be part of our conscious thought, but they are part of the cultural background that gets drummed into us by school, by books, by movies, by television, by commercials.
As I said, that was a real awakening for me.
I was talking about this with my next-door office neighbor, who happened to be one of the only two women in my department (about 60 people) at the time. She was shocked that I hadn’t noticed this before. So she pointed out to me that in meetings, she could say things, and everyone would ignore it, but if a guy said the same thing, they’d get listened to. We’d been in many meetings together, and I’d never noticed this!
So I started paying attention, and she was absolutely right.
What happened next is my second big awakening.
I started watching this in meetings, and when people brushed over something she’d said, I’d raise my voice and say “X just suggested blah, which I think is a really good idea. What about it?”. I wanted to help get her voice listened to.
She was furious at me. This just blew my mind. I was really upset at her at first. Dammit, I was trying to help, and this asshole was yelling at me for it! She’d complained about how people didn’t listen to her, and now when I was trying to help get her listened to, she was complaining again!
What I realized after I calmed down and listened to her was that I was wrong. I hadn’t spoken to her about doing it. I didn’t understand what it meant. But the problem was, people didn’t take her seriously because she was a woman. People might listen to me, because I’m also a white guy. But when I spoke for her, I wasn’t helping. When a man speaks on behalf of a woman, we’re reinforcing the idea that a woman’s voice isn’t supposed to be heard. I was substituting my man’s voice for her woman’s, and by doing that, I was not just not helping her, but I was actively hurting, because the social interpretation of my action was that “X can’t speak for herself”. And more, I learned that by taking offense at her, for pointing out that I had screwed up, I was definitely in the wrong – that I had an instinct for reacting wrong.
What I learned, gradually, from watching things like this, from becoming more sensitive and aware, and by listening to what women said, was that this kind of thing is that I was completely clueless.
The fact is, I constantly benefit from a very strong social preference. I don’t notice that. Unless I’m really trying hard to pay attention, I’m not aware of all of the benefits that I get from that. I don’t notice all of the times when I’m getting a benefit. Worse, I don’t notice all of the times when my behavior is asserting that social preference as my right.
It’s very easy for a member of an empowered majority to just take things for granted. We see the way that we are treated as a default, and assume that everyone is treated the same way. We don’t perceive that we are being treated preferentially. We don’t notice that the things that offend us are absolutely off limits to everyone, but that things that we do to offend others are accepted as part of normal behavior. Most importantly, we don’t notice when our behavior is harmful to people who aren’t part of our empowered group. And when we do offend someone who isn’t part of the empowered majority, we take offense at the fact that they’re offended. Because they’re saying that we did something bad, and we know that we aren’t bad people!
The way that this comes back to the whole Adria Richards fiasco is very simple. Many people have looked at what happened at PyCon, and said something like “She shouldn’t have tweeted their picture”, or “She shouldn’t have been offended, they didn’t do anything wrong”, or “She should have just politely spoken to them”.
I don’t know whether what she did was right or not. I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear the joke that the guys in question allegedly told. What I do know is that for a member of the minority out-group, there is frequently no action that will be accepted as “right” if it includes the assertion that the majority did something offensive.
I’ve seen this phenomena very directly myself, not in the context of sexism, but in terms of antisemitism. There’s an expression that I’ve heard multiple times in the northeast US, to talk about bartering a price for a car: “jewing the salesman down”. I absolutely find that extremely offensive. And I’ve called people out on it. There is no response that’s actually acceptable.
If I politely say “You know, that’s relying on a stereotype of me and my ancestors that’s really hurtful”, the response is: “Oh, come on, it’s just harmless. I’m not talking about you, it’s just a word. You’re being oversensitive”. If I get angry, the response is “You Jews are so strident”. If I go to an authority figure in the setting, “You Jews are so passive aggressive, why couldn’t you just talk to me?”. No matter what I do, I’m wrong. Women deal with this every day, only they’re in a situation where the power dynamic is even less in their favor.
That’s the situation that women – particularly women in tech – find themselves in every day. We are sexist. We do mistreat women in tech every day, without even knowing that we’re doing it. And we’re very likely to take offense if they mention that we did something wrong. Because we know that we’re good people, and since we aren’t deliberately doing something bad, they must be wrong.
For someone in Adria Richards’ situation at PyCon, there is no course of action that can’t be taken wrong. As a woman hearing the joke in question, she certainly knew whether or not it was offensive to her. But once she’d heard something offensive, there was nothing she could do that someone couldn’t turn into a controversy.
Was the joke offensive? We don’t know what, specifically, he said. The only fact that we’re certain of is that in her judgement, it was offensive; that the authorities at PyCon agreed, and asked the gentleman in question to apologize.
Did the guy who made the joke deserve to be fired? I don’t know. If this stupid joke were the first time he’d ever done something wrong, then he didn’t deserve to be fired. But we don’t know what his history is like. I know how hard it is to hire skilled engineers, so I’m very skeptical that any company would fire someone over one minor offense. It’s possible that his company has a crazy hair-trigger HR department. But it’s also possible that there’s background that we don’t know about. That he’s done stuff before, and been warned. If that’s the case, then his company could have decided that this was the last straw.
Did Adria Richards deserve to be fired? Almost certainly not. We know more about her case than we do about the guy who told the joke. We know that her company fired her over this specific incident, because in their announcement of her firing, they told us the reason. They didn’t cite any past behavior – they just specifically cited this incident and its aftermath as the reason for firing her. It’s possible that there’s a history here that we don’t know about, that she’d soured relations with customers of her company in incidents other than this, and that this was a last straw. But it doesn’t seem likely, based on the facts that we’re aware of.
Did either of them deserve to be threatened? Absolutely not.
I know exactly what you mean. I’m Bangladeshi. I went to a party with a bunch of other Bangladeshis and a white guy who had a phD in Anthropology from Oxford. Only after conversing with him and having other people listen in to the conversation (they couldn’t partake) could they take me seriously as reasonably bright. Which annoyed me. They ought to be able to judge for themselves. But most people do not. They use the association of an institution. Either you went to this or that university. Or you’ve invented this or that thing. Or you work for this or that highly visible company. Or you belong to the institution of ‘white middle-class society’. Its the measure of all things. You’re lucky!
My wife is an engineer, and I went through the same revelations while getting to know her.
And I thought the same thing, reading the comments about Richards. Each commenter said “Well, she should have just…” but every single path suggested, all lead to her being “wrong” in some way. There was no good response for her. So if we are going to assign blame to anyone, it has to be on whoever put her in that situation.
I fell for the party line of “This should have been handled privately – Richards was bullying the jokester from a position of power by her number of followers.”
But then I finally realized that I never signed up for a kind of “barely-there-feminism” where only unequivocally sympathetic and perfectly inoffensive women get to avoid horrific abuse. Why do women have to walk a tightrope to avoid horrific abuse? Nobody else at PyCon received that kind of horrific abuse… Was Richards discovered, by a scientific process, to be the absolute worst human being attending PyCon? No.
Some in tech are performing the intervention of being more inclusive to women, and we are finding the results superior. Why is the baseline set by those who are explosively abusive when even the suggestion of the intervention is made? Logically, we have the right to perform the intervention of being more inclusive to women, and the right to set as the baseline at the level of those who enjoy the results of the inclusiveness intervention. The others have the whole rest of the world to inhabit when they opt-out.
Meaningful anti-harassment policies will provide protection to those who choose to be confrontational and difficult when reporting such. It is not that big a deal – those that want to make it a big deal can vote with their feet. We can predict what kind of communities they will find themselves in.
Some important points here that keep getting overlooked in all this fiasco.
1.) Adria was not being harassed at all, not even in the slightest. No comments were directed at her, nor were they sexist in nature (making anatomical jokes in not sexist, contrary to popular belief).
2.) None of the remarks were sexist, or racial, or discriminatory. They were simply potty humor that was overheard. Most of the media seems to be putting the sexism and discrimination on this.
3.) The very same paragraph of the Pycon Code of Conduct Adria used to call these guys out to report them also FORBIDS THE TAKING OF ANY PHOTOGRAPHS OF ANY MEMBERS IN THE CONFERENCE AS IT IS CONSIDERED HARASSMENT.
Simply put, putting her sex and race aside, since they were never a part of the incident, she has taken simple potty humor and blew it up into a case. In effect, she is actually the racist and sexist here (since she made follow up comments about white males) as she has exemplified discrimination based on someone’s gender and race. The developers in this photo did neither.
I don’t know how many times I need to repeat this, but:
We don’t know what was really said
You simply cannot make a serious argument that she had no right to be offended if you don’t know what was said, and you don’t.
If you or we don’t know what is said then why are you saying anything on the subject?
Did you not bother to read the original post, or are you just stupid?
Mark, did you read the fired devs response on Reddit? He stated what was said.
He admits that they laughed at the speaker using the words “big dongle”. He also clearly states that the “forking repo” comment was not a joke nor sexual at all (the actual terminology and phrase is technical jargon and can actually be looked up on Wikipedia). In fact, he clarifies that Adria added the sexual reference all on her own.
Yeah, I saw his response on reddit. I don’t think it changes anything.
We’ve got two versions of what went on.
(1) We’ve got Adria Richard’s version, which says that the guy made an offensive joke.
(2) We’ve got the version of the guy who made the joke and got fired, which says that he did nothing wrong, and she misinterpreted.
What you’re doing here is saying: the version of the story told by the white guy must be true, and the version told by Adria Richards must be wrong.
I read his version. And what struck me about it was: he has absolutely no more evidence to support his version of the event than she does.
Further, go back and read my damned post. One of the fundamental things that this whole post is about is that we, as white guys, as members of the majority, very often have no clue that we’re being sexist, or racist, or offensive. Just because we aren’t aware of the sexist nature of our words and actions doesn’t mean that our words and actions aren’t sexist.
I have no doubt that the white guy developer who made the jokes didn’t intend to be sexist or offensive. I don’t believe that he was setting out to offend Adria.
But just like my friend at IBM, who was unconsciously discarding women’s resumes, his intention doesn’t matter, because his action had the same effect, regardless of what he intended.
I understand your points, but want to clarify – anatomical jokes not directed at someone to harass or degrade are NOT sexist. Sexism is discrimination based on one’s gender – male or female.
Secondly, it is amazing how the fact that she herself, less than a week before, made a penis joke on twitter to one of her male friends, yet two men talking among themselves that she overhears is suddenly a big deal. Unfortunately, her hypocrisy is part of why this has blow up beyond all proportion.
You are jumping all over anatomical jokes being sexist in and of themselves when they are not. They are potty humor, yes, but not sexist.
In addition, if they offend people who overhear them, I hate to say it but tough. In America we have this right under the First Amendment. People can’t be expected to walk around wondering if they are saying something to offend someone who overhears. Heck, I could be with a friend having lunch in Chicago and say how I think the Patriots are the best team in football. The person at the next table is a die hard Bears fan at gets offended by my comments.
In your opinion, anatomical jokes not directed at someone…. are not sexist.
Who made you the final arbiter of what is or is not sexist, and what is or is not offensive?
And what does her joking in a different setting with a friend of hers have to do with whether or not something at a professional conference was offensive?
And if she did do something severely offensive in the past, what does that have to do with whether or not a particular action at a professional conference was acceptable or not?
Your definition of barely-there-feminism should be in Urban Dictionary. This is the kind of “feminism” common in US white majority groups, where any woman who objects to sexist language is ridiculed. I experienced my entire social circle laughing at me, calling me a Dudette, because I objected to a man calling a woman “baby”.
I’m assuming you’re not familiar with this: http://amandablumwords.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/3/
Actually, I am. But when you actually look at the incidents that she uses to paint Richards as a bully, they’re not particularly convincing. See http://www.technologywoman.com/2013/03/24/digging-beneath-the-surface-that-amanda-blum-article-on-adria-richards-is-not-what-it-seems/
Also, assume the worst – assume Richards is a bully. Was there a scientific determination of the absolute worst bully at PyCon, and Richards lost? Or, is human decency for female feminists conditional upon them being completely inoffensive?
Then there is the weird disparity between approbation for Richards and approbation for the jokester’s employer, who actually caused harm to the jokester.
I wouldn’t put too much stock in the defenders of saint Richards, I went to her video’s to check out the sweet girl and in 3-5 min I find she’s complaining there are no coloured mentors and feeling uneasy with the white ones which sounds racist to me. I have worked with every branch of European , black, Indian, Chinese and New Zealanders and the concept I would consider race is so alien it just makes no sense. Richards posted a tweet with a nice dick joke a week or so before being horrified that 2 guys were making dumb dick jokes behind her. So in her own words she’s racist and likes dick jokes when she makes them with her 12,000 peers on twitter, (just like the guys behind her only they did it with an expectation of a dgree of privacy), so consistent she isn’t.
Gayle Laakmann never worked with Richards, Blum has, so Gayle is just jumping on the outrage wagon for page hits and has no idea outside of public messaging.
Yes this story should have died at birth, but playhaven decided to maintain an image so it sacked the guy for being outed for bad jokes. But to deny any responsibility to Richards is wrong, there is no cause to assume playhaven would have responded otherwise whoever made the public shaming be the source male or female. Without the outing the event would not have occurred and there would be no story, yes everything has a reason and this one was Richards.
The main harm richards brings is that now you people are going to have to be much more careful in hiring, and that the use of social media for vetting employees becomes the norm. Who wants to employ people that are so outraged by triviality that they put the company at risk. The two companies playhaven and sendgrid are small and really can’t afford this exposure, the jobs on the line are not just Richards. The guy and his playhaven were anonymous and would have stayed so except playhaven sought to make some mileage out of the affair, sendgrid just employed a fool.
You’re racism is not her problem. You clueless white boy privilege is not her problem. Your refusal to be educated is not her problem. These are all your failings.
> Without the outing the event would not have occurred and there would be no story, yes everything has a reason and this one was Richards.
This is a strange truncated chain of causality. If the non-female-inclusive speech had not taken place _first_, there would be no story. Both the two male jokesters and the PyCon staff admit the speech violated the code of conduct. Why are only women held accountable via the punishment of harassment and vile abuse?
I agree with manuelmoeg’s comment, but I want to riff on it for a bit, because this attitude has seriously bugged me about the whole fiasco.
It bugs me that of all of the links in the chain of events which led to the fiasco, this is the one that’s invariably singled out as the one that could have prevented it.
The fact that this is the link that’s singled out illustrates Mark’s main point almost perfectly. We as a community seem willing to write off the original joke as an innocent mistake, but using twitter as the medium to contact the PyCon organisers is apparently beyond the pale. Why are they allowed to commit an innocent mistake, but she isn’t?
Could it be that we who have privilege empathise with them more, because that could have been any one of us (possibly when we were younger)?
And what about the faceless internet mob hurling racist and sexist abuse at Richards and her employer? If it wasn’t for them, there would also be no story. Don’t they deserve the lion’s share of blame here?
“But twitter is public”, I hear you say. But so is the PyCon audience. Admit it, you’d never heard of Adria Richards before all this. I certainly hadn’t. Imagine a line with “completely private” at one end and “international viral media shitstorm” at the other. The original joke was close to, but not at, the “completely private” end of the spectrum. Adria Richards’ twitter feed was further along, but still far closer to “completely private” than where this ended up.
(Admittedly, her twitter feed is more public now, but that’s not relevant.)
Even if you think that her actions were a mistake, don’t you think that the response was just a little disproportionate to the mistake? Couldn’t that have been you, too?
The more I think about this, the more I think that there’s nothing that Adria Richards could have done to avoid the huge blowup. The most she could have done was delay it and let someone else be the target, and then we’d all be picking nits in that person’s actions while still missing the broader point.
Consider that had Archduke Franz Ferdinand decided to sleep in on the morning of 28 June 1914, World War I would still have happened.
It’s not just white and male, its straight and able-bodied, too. but awareness is always a good start.
I think one of the groups that is still acceptable to make fun of are the physically challenged, disabled, handicapped, whatever you want to call them. Referring to folks as “physically challenged”, often the preferred term, elicits responses along the lines of “oh how PC of you”.
It’s not actually a contest. When we play Oppression Olympics everyone loses. The key is to care about everyone’s experiences and listen to their own reports of their experiences.
>I think one of the groups that is still acceptable to make fun of are the physically challenged, disabled, handicapped, whatever you want to call them.
That’s the problem – it should be acceptable to make fun of *everybody*.
I prefer the open style of communication we had about skin color, nationality, sex, etc., in the 60’s and 70’s – at least we created situations around which we could actually communicate and evolve, rather than being crippled by fear of actual meaningful communication – sometimes that takes direct confrontation, anger and even fists. “Forking” and “dongles” – really?
But the world is not monolithic – it is made up of different communities with different norms. At PyCon, if I was sitting next to me female boss, after working hard to convince her of the value of this tech conference, I would be mortified by sitting next to two bros telling “forking” and “dongle” jokes.
In some communities, we perform the intervention of trying to be more female-inclusive, and that means less “forking” and “dongle” jokes. To a lot of people this is a reasonable trade. That Lenny Bruce and George Carlin are geniuses doesn’t mean I wish to be subjected to juvenile sexual puns at tech conferences.
“Forking a repo” is a programmer term, you dimwit. She was at a Programming convention. Clearly she knew precious little about what makes a “developer evangelist” let alone the knowledge to be at a Programming *convention* if she gets offended when someone says “I’ll fork that guys repo.” A “dongle” is a funny word for USB stick.
You would be mortified by sitting next to two “bros” (piss off) and making “forking (a repo)” and “dongle” jokes next to your female boss? Fine. (Newsflash: Adria Richards wasn’t their boss, wasn’t sitting next to them and the jokes wasn’t directed at her or about her.) So what? Does that mean everyone has to be mortified? No. No, it doesn’t. She overreacted — with prejudice — and a guy got fired for it. Then the internet blew up.
But something that you and Mark have to realise is that just because we criticise Richards *doesn’t* mean we also support trolls passing her rape and death threats. I don’t even support her firing, although a part of me thinks it was well deserved. She got her comeuppance. I don’t support the guy getting fired either. The entire situation was stupid from the get-go and if she had any sense, she would have taken it to the blokes there and then or taken it privately to the PyCon admins. Instead she chose the witch hunt alternative. Well fucking done.
Once again: we don’t know what was said.
Once again: you don’t get to decide what other people have a right to be offended by.
The history of American culture, and of tech culture in particular, is that white guys are used to being able to make the rules. If it doesn’t offend us, then we expect the entire world to agree that it is not offensive.
You don’t know what was said. You don’t know how it was said. And you don’t have the right to decide whether or not she was upset by it.
What she did in response is a trivial reaction. She tweeted a comment, aimed at the conference organizers. Big fucking deal! That’s not a witch hunt. That’s a pretty calm response.
Try considering this: look at the insanity that has followed from what she did. Do you really want to tell me that if I had tweeted of picture of some guy making tasteless jokes that it would have exploded into this monstrous cascade of rape threats, death threats, DOS attacks on my employer, etc?
In fact, how about you consider one other thing. I have yet to receive a single threat of any kind as a result of this post. My women friends who’ve blogged about this whole affair? Every single one has received rape threats. Every goddamn one. But I haven’t. Why do you think that is?
If you or I had spoken up about this kind of behavior to the guy who made the joke, we expect that he would have responded reasonably. But could someone like Adria honestly expect the same response? Plenty of women have come forward to talk about this: and the answer is that based on their real-world experience, they can’t.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, thank you so much for saying that. I am effeminate (not actually gay, but I got bullied for it anyway) and not able-bodied, and the fact that feminists never, ever bother to make any distinction or acknowledge in any way that “not entirely straight and not able to do stuff that other people can do” takes you down a peg or two from the male privilege that the jocks and skateboarders share amongst themselves. You’re not part of that club if you’re not straight and able-bodied, and no one ever bothers to point that out.
And there is also female privilege, which I personally benefit from.
Male privilege is good in certain areas of life, female privilege is good in certain (other) areas of life. They’re not the same areas, they don’t have the same (subjective) worth (and there is no objective worth to them).
Being listened to when you complain (instead of being told to ‘man up’ and ‘stop whining’) is a female privilege. This is why there is VAWA, council of the status of women, breast cancer campaigns etc – without any trouble getting them accepted by virtually everyone.
The downside is that this privilege can be misused when complaining about something trivial, making a mountain out of a molehill, people might actually take you at your word that it’s *really a mountain* and fire people over it.
You can be offended about anything, sure, but disproportionate retribution serves no one.
Sexism against men and against women and against trans people and against intersex people and against bigender/agender/androgyne/genderqueer people is something I oppose, and I don’t think “sexism against men cannot exist because my theory says so”, that’s sexist in itself.
Excellently put. It isn’t about who is more oppressed, it’s about people who keep insisting, despite all evidence, that men and women are equal. They’re not, but it doesn’t mean one is better than the other.
I may be wrong, but I think you are confusing equality with sameness. We are all equal, but we are not the same.
The only guy I know whos not able-bodied is more than capable of taking your head off if you’re so presumptious to knock him.
But there was a “right” way for Adria to respond – PyCon specifically published a Code of Conduct (according to which sexual jokes were not appropriate for the conference) and set up a procedure for handling incidents by engaging a third party, a staff member specifically trained to handle incidents like this:
Adria didn’t follow this procedure, she escalated things by Tweeting the photo. I doubt she expected to get the reaction she got, and I absolutely don’t think she deserved it (rape threats are never justified), but to claim that she is blameless or that no matter what she did it would be “wrong” is disingenuous. If there’s no possible right way to handle things, then there’s no possible way to improve things and everyone is helpless. That’s not the case.
If your goal is to avoid controversy entirely then you’ve already set yourself up for failure. Progress is going to generate some friction, inevitably. But it also requires that people be willing to move in a constructive direction.
If Adria had been a bloke, would there have been the same DOS attacks on the company? The rape and death threats? Job losses? It’s not about whether Adria behaved perfectly, its about a double standard that is so pervasive it’s almost invisible.
Probably not, but it’s beside the point – my post was not about expecting Adria to behave perfectly, nor was it about the double standard. The sexism absolutely exists. My point was that claiming that there was no good way to handle that situation is both false and unhelpful.
“Probably not, but it’s beside the point ” LOL how convenient. The pyschotic response directed her is not the point! Yes the psychotic misogyny is besides the point. It always is.
That’s right, Bruce. Nevermind that pretty much everyone gets rape and death threats nowadays, man and woman alike. *I’ve* gotten rape and death threats. No, I *have* gotten rape and death threats. For you to immediately assume that just women do because they’re women is pretty damn sexist in my opinion, but what do I know?
I guess it’s psychotic misandry when it’s directed towards men, then, yeah? Or isn’t it?
The point is that the trolls are not the problem. They’re trolls. The problem is that the situation escalated because of an innocent “dongle” joke, a person got fired for it, and because the other person got fired, too, after a lot of criticism (and trolls) the benevolent white knight idiots are quick to label the event sexism (when there was no sexism) in the workplace. That’s the problem.
Really? You’re making your conclusions based on what you *think* wouldn’t happen if it was a man?
Well the world might have ended for all we know. Making predictions based on what you *think* would happen is bloody pointless. Although if there is one prediction I would be 99% certain of, if the situation had occured exactly or in similar fashion to Adria’s, it’s the rape and death threats. The internet is filled with trolls and don’t pretend that they wouldn’t stoop for it. Sexism may be prevalent in the tech industry, I really don’t know. But this wasn’t a case of sexism. I mean, it’s a tech conference. How many people do you think make “dongle” jokes at tech conferences?
Richards had no obligation to only report through PyCon staff – the code of conduct only sets formal reporting as an option.
In fact, if the code of conduct asked women to forfeit their right to publicize conduct in violation of the code, some women would feel uncomfortable in attending. They might worry that women would be unprepared for future conferences for the actual prevalence of non-women-inclusive public conduct.
We can talk about finer points of strategy for creating a more woman-inclusive conference environment, but that is a later discussion. Maybe Richards’s behavior is provably counter-productive. But in a hierarchy of concerns, it would be far below women receiving horrific abuse for merely reporting – very difficult to argue that Richards had absolute power of coercion to have the jokester fired.
The procedure was created to provide conference goers with an effective avenue for addressing harrassment or inappropriate behavior and to minimize the chances of escalation. It was not the only option available, but it was available and it was the recommended option.
If the code of conduct asked women to wear hazmat suits, that would also make some women uncomfortable attending. PyCon did not ask for that, nor did they ask women to forfeit their right to publicize conduct in violation of the code, so your hypothetical is irrelevant. Richards did have another option which she chose not to take, an option PyCon specifically established for people in her situation because they were conscious of the fact that programming conventions can be very sexist environments.
Richards’s behavior in this instance was absolutely counter-productive. I doubt she anticipated that, and it doesn’t justify the way she was treated, but pretending that she had no good options and thus was helpless to avoid the firestorm is also counter-productive. It deprives her of agency, the very thing the original post is trying to warn against.
And no, Richards did not have “absolute power of coercion”. It would be difficult to argue that, so it’s fortunate that I never did. Please keep your straw men in your barn.
> “Adria didn’t follow this procedure, she escalated things by Tweeting the photo. […] to claim that she is blameless or that no matter what she did it would be “wrong” is disingenuous.”
> “Richards’s behavior in this instance was absolutely counter-productive.”
You can assert these things, but why are they compelling to others?
Adria was under no obligation to follow procedure as you admit.
Tweeting the photo, reasonably, falls under “reporting conditions as she witnessed them”. Not a crime. And she had no idea the jokester would be fired, so how can she be held guilty for “escalating”. As you admitted, she did not have absolute power of coercion to force the termination. What is the nature of the “escalation” then? Did she have an unspoken duty to leave the jokester unembarrassed?
And why is Richards the only one who lives in the world of consequence? What of the original jokester? It would be difficult to be embarrassed by a tweet if he kept his juvenile joke inside his head.
What you call “counter-productive” she would call “accurately reporting the environment of PyCon”. Personally, I would not have proceeded in that manner, but the blow-back was so vicious and disgusting that arguing the finer points of strategy is trite. The disgusting blow-back becomes the main issue.
> “but pretending that she had no good options and thus was helpless to avoid the firestorm is also counter-productive. It deprives her of agency”
This is a strange: you promote her agency by _limiting_ her options? Her agency is promoted by fearful anticipation of the punishment from the one choice in reporting she made? Tell me, who would appreciate this kind of “promotion of agency” by threat of abuse for not delicately treating the dominate group?
“Adria was under no obligation to follow procedure as you admit.”
Of course she doesn’t have to follow a procedure designed to avoid having things blow up out of proportion. She chose not to, it blew up in her face…
“Tweeting the photo, reasonably, falls under “reporting conditions as she witnessed them”.”
Hahahaaa… reporting it to several thousand internet followers, instead of the organizers who could, and were actually responsible, for doing something about it? Are you trying to be comically disingenuous here?
“The disgusting blow-back becomes the main issue.”
Yeah, a bunch of words typed at someone over Twitter, none of which seem to even have met the legal definition of a true threat, and are still protected speech whether you like it or not. These aren’t hardened criminals plotting actual rapes and murders. They’re 14-year-old idiots on the internet using words they *know will get a rise out of you.* And rise you do.
They only have this power because *you give it to them.*
“This is a strange: you promote her agency by _limiting_ her options?”
It’s generally a good idea to limit your options to those that don’t have an absurdly high probability of blowing up in your face.
(Replying here because I can’t reply directly to Christopher Swing)
So, in your universe a DDoS against someone’s employer because a bunch of anonymous men dislike what that person said is “protected speech whether you like it or not”? How does that fit with your idea that putting your name on a true statement about what someone said in public means that it’s your fault if your company fires you?
How are you so sure that those threats came from 14-year-olds who wouldn’t act on them? Did you trace the IPs on all of them, or even a representative sample? Do you personally know the people who threatened to rape and kill someone because they disagreed with her protected speech? (There is no legal theory under which offensive jokes are protected speech but “he made this offensive statement” is not. No legal theory, just the cultural one under which only some kinds of people are permitted to speak.) Or are you just assuming that the threats were all from 14-year-olds, and that all those 14-year-olds are harmless, because it’s easier than considering that maybe, just maybe, one or more of those threats might come from an adult, a man who could get in a car and act on it? Or from a 14-year-old who lives hear her and has access to a gun?
Just a note here –
This thread seems to be a bit confused/misinformed about dates. If you check the GitHub repo, you’ll see that the “reporting harassment procedure” section was added *after* the incident at PyCon ’13 that Richards tweeted about. The incident report procedure was added as a direct result of the internet’s explosion over her tweet.
The Code of Conduct specifically forbids the taking of photographs of any conference members without their permission and specifically defines such actions as harassment. It is defined in the same paragraph she used to report these guys for the jokes.
Lastly, I will add this and not directed at Adria. People in this country need to grow up a bit more, especially when in public settings. Unless comments are being used to harass, threaten or hurt someone (which they were not in this case) we have this thing called the First Amendment. Overhearing someone saying something you don’t like is too bad in this country since it is a right of every American, regardless of gender, ethnic or religious backgrounds to have this right. Saying something in a private conversation that may offend someone is that person’s problem since in America, you have this right under the Constitution.
As soon as someone calls the police to arrest someone for making a dongle joke, the First Amendment becomes relevant.
Conferences have every right to enforce a safe space for its attendees.
The First Amendment is a limitation on governments, not on the organisers of a private conference.
No minority ever got their due by being polite.
Notice that itsonly ever comfy, coddled, clueless white dudes who need to have this explained to them.
If you don’t want to be outed as acting like a pig in public, do not act like a pig in public.
Simple. Public behavior is PUBLIC and can be recorded, reported, photographed whatever. STOP BEING A PIG and there will be no record…nothing to record.
STOP BEING A PIG.
Taking your cues from Orwell?
> Taking your cues from Orwell?
Given that the really-existing George Orwell, during his journalism career, fearlessly reported the oppression of the marginalized, perhaps.
I think there is an _Animal Farm_ reference here that you are perhaps not getting.
Fantastic post. Thank you. I will be linking to this, more in hope than expectation, but still.
“…men are better workers than women…”
I can’t speak for the office environments I’ve worked in but it’s been my experience that when you have men and women doing physical labor together, overall the men are more interested in LOOKING like they’re working while most of the women are actually getting on with the work. I know. Anecdotes. But I wanted to share.
I agree completely. Regarding whether her tweet photo was proportionate (something I earlier expressed an opinion on), I’ve become persuaded that such “etiquette” or “Miss Manners” questions really don’t matter a fig, because she was well within her rights according to law (and the code of conduct of PyCon (at the time) and Twitter). So, whatever. She performed a reasonable legal action that she felt was right, and the subsequent psychotic threats against her are the lede of this story. I once tweeted the license plate of a car that nearly ran me over; not a photo of the driver, but I get the motivation, and totally support someone else’s right to do this in theory. In fact, I think it would be a healthy thing for EVERYONE to behave/talk in a conference crowd as though they’re about to be phototweeted/quoted AT ANY TIME if they say ANYTHING, including violating the code of conduct by saying something dubious. (That’s subtly different from actively encouraging everyone to police each other, though I completely support Adria’s right to do so in this case, and I agree that the bad publicity was/is essentially a “natural consequence” for the joketellers.) So – basically – yeah, I get it.
The threats she received are a shame but independent and not related to the incident with the developers.
But to clarify something here, in her, with her tweet and subsequent firing results of one of the developers she actually broke the law. It is clear harassment with intent of malice that had a damaging effect on the victim (in this case the developer).
This is why she HAD to be fired. Because of her actions, while employed by SendGrid, they are also potentially liable to a lawsuit because of her actions.
Political Correctness has no laws, but we do have the First Amendment which allows free speech without cause of persecution (not just in courts, but also by fellow Americans.)
Honestly, I don’t think we have seen the worst of the actions from this case yet.
“The threats she received are a shame but independent and not related to the incident with the developers.”
incorrect. They are directly related, as they are in retalliation. They are designed to scare, intimidate, upset, humiliate and silence her. They are also a hell of a lot more than “a shame”. They are indicative of a much bigger, much more serious problem.
The more you attempt to diminish and erase the problem, the more obvious the problem becomes.
Sorry, I disagree with you. The threats are not related to the incident she reported, they are related to her public shaming of the individuals.
The developers she “shamed” did not many any such comments, nor direct any comments at her. Sorry, in a court of law they have done nothing wrong and she is actually potentially guilty of harassment here.
The response to her actions are one incident and the Pycon is another. The developers are NOT the ones who have made threats and therefore they are two completely different incidents.
Not just her – they are designed to scare and intimidate every other woman who ever thinks about speaking up when someone is saying something offensive near her.
> Political Correctness has no laws, but we do have the First Amendment which allows free speech without cause of persecution
Richards is not the government. How does the First Amendment enter into it?
Speech has consequences. The male developers had the option of leaving their juvenile jokes silent inside their heads if the consequences to their careers were too horrible to bear.
I didn’t sign up for only polite and unoffensive women to be involved in tech without threat of sickening abuse, and termination for being insufficiently unoffensive and demure. I support the tech community to implement the intervention to be _meaningfully_ inclusive to women. That implies that women can be impolite and shaming in how they report non-female-inclusive behavior, regardless if I personally agree with that strategy or if I think that strategy might be counter-productive in the long run. Why? Because a tech community has no incentive to improve if it is only welcoming to sufficiently polite and unoffensive women.
To change the particulars for complete clarity: I would be horrified by the notion of civil rights only for _polite_ African-Americans.
There is no shortage of forums for juvenile humor. If the desire for juvenile humor trumps willingness to adapt for the intervention for meaningful inclusion for women, the fans of juvenile non-female-inclusive humor should vote with their feet. Considering that this is a tech conference for adults, I would estimate the loss to be small – I admit I don’t have perfect knowledge, but the lack of tech conferences that advertise juvenile non-female-inclusive humor gives me some confidence in my guess.
Wow. Well said.
So far as we can tell, she was the only social media bully at PyCon.
Pretend her oh-so-horrible trolling online was some massive actual threat all you’d like, the reality is a jerk tried to pull an internet mob attack and it backfired on her.
Adria Richards isn’t a woman being punished for speaking out about any kind of sexism. She’s a jerk whose own internet mob turned on her. She got hoisted by her own petard, and people don’t tend to feel much sympathy for that.
Attention straight white Dudes trying to hijack recent conversations on ‘bullying’, held primarily due to gay teens experiencing inordinate amounts of actual, honest to god threats of violence, harrassment, and actual violence:
We are not stupid. “Not cool” is not “Bullying” on any planet. Unless you have evidence Richards wanted them to experience cyber terrorism, endless death and rape threats, and a deluge of jackassery, she was not ‘hoisted by her own petard’. Adria Richards’ case sin’t even particularly novel. It’s pretty abundantly clear that tech nerds are mad that one of their own was maligned by a woman.
Except that any woman, posting ANY sort of criticism of sexist comments online, can reasonably expect to encounter the same appalling behaviour. Her ‘trolling’ was in pointing out behaviour that is unacceptable, yet utterly accepted. As further evidenced by your offense.
I’m a Hispanic and we are raised in the ultra macho mind set so it was not untill high school that’s I realized I was homophobic and sexist for no reason I could ever justify its hard but if you live amongst your “own kind” it’s just seems ok but it’s not and the real problem occurs when you encounter the other and don’t adjust for the new facts
I realized my sister and mother where two women I respected tremendously and I met a few LGBT and discovered they looked and acted just like humans
But those who can’t self analyze there world view are the people who whine a complain about how unfair it is to be called out on there bullshit
That’s a very good observation.we have to step outside the box and take a look at ourselves and see how we treat people as they are nobody wants to be treated bad.so why treat the next person as such.I consider myself a people person with me it’s not about race or color it’s the way you portray yourself as a human…man or woman..
You aren’t looking at this from a business perspective. She took a joke and escalated it to a national incident. She, as an employee, represents, in part, the company she works for. Her statements rub off on the company. If they didn’t fire her, then this would be seen by many as support for Richards actions.
You wouldn’t want others to think you support the public shaming of random people having private conversation that one of your employees disproves of, would you? It’s not as if the person telling the joke was telling it to an audience, he was telling it to an acquaintance, under the assumption that only one other person would hear it. The only reason Richards knew anything had happened was because of her eavesdropping, which is a no-no regardless. Worse still, she was photographing the people she was eavesdropping on with the express goal of publicly shaming them to a global audience. An even bigger no-no.
A company has to take care of their public image, and dissipating a media debacle by firing a one employee is entirely in their benefit, and I think they made the right decision. Whether she deserved it doesn’t matter, a company just can’t determine something like that. It’s not possible.
What I question is how your post is relevant to this whole case. She wasn’t fired because her voice wasn’t being heard as a, woman, she was fired because EVERYONE was listening to and watching her, and her actions were poisonous to her company. I think you are being sexist in the opposite direction, demonizing her company because she is a women who got fired.
It seems to me that this is the same reason the person who she photographed got fired. Dissipating a fiasco by firing an employee tends to be beneficial. Do you want your company to look like it supports sexist comments? It’s not about the joke, it’s about the fact that the joke got brought to a national stage. The company that did the firing stated, point-blank, the only reason the case was investigated in the first place was because it “has generated a passionate online debate”. That seems pretty clear to me.
No. She took a joke that offended her, and responded to it in a way that she thought was reasonable.
Other people lost their shit over that, and it blew up.
I don’t think that any reasonable person in her situation would have believed that complaining about a nasty sexist joke would turn into a “national incident”. Putting all the blame on her is just utter bullshit.
The reality of our society is that a woman complaining about a man’s behavior is at a *huge* disadvantage: anything they say can be blown up into a fiasco like this. The only option that guarantees that nothing like this happens is to stay quiet. Which is exactly what assholes like you really want.
Mark, I am sorry but you are completely off base here.
First, this has nothing to do with her being a women. It wouldn’t matter if it was a white male that did this. I hate to tell you this but it most likely could be argued in a court of law the she actually broke the law. Taking a picture of someone without their permission, posting it online in an attempt to create a public shaming (which is defined as intent with malice legally) and one of those people in the picture having direct hardship (losing his job) over the incident is the exact legal definition of harassment with intent of malice. Unfortunately, those defending her are using the race and sex card here of which neither would stand in a court of law based on the facts of the case.
Second, the joke was in no way, shape or form sexist. Anatomical jokes are not sexist, in and of themselves. If they are directed at someone as a means to harass or degrade, then they become sexist, but not sexist in and of themselves. Women and men both make anatomical jokes to one another.
Let me give an example of true sexism, and it doesn’t even require anatomical part references. If a supervisor needed something done, say TPS reports, and felt that an employee couldn’t do them because of their gender (i.e., thinking a male or female would be better at it than their opposite counterpart), that is true sexism. It is discrimination based on one’s gender.
Finally, I going to add this. If you follow the comments made during and after this incident by the parties involved (Adria and the devs) you will find that she is actually the one who is being both sexist and racist in this whole thing. Making comments after the fact about ignorant white males is both a sexist and racist comment. Contrary to her popular believe that people of color can’t be racist.
Be aware, I am not trying to downplay true racial or sexist behavior, which I personally find appalling. What I am saying, however, is she is being given a pass because of her gender when the facts show the complete opposite is the case here. This is why she HAD to be fired. She has exposed her company to legal recourse and the facts currently show (based on her actual written comments) that she is in fact the guilty party here.
Of course, you are the person who gets to decide exactly what sexism is and isn’t, and exactly what behaviors actually affect everyone else. Women don’t get to decide what offends them. Women’s stories about what has happened to them don’t matter, unless you agree.
Sorry, no I don’t. I am referring only to how “sexism” is defined by law, nothing else.
Sexism is, by law, the discrimination of a person based on their gender. Overhearing anatomical jokes is NOT sexism under definition of law.
But since you bring it up… she made a follow up comment about ignorant white males. The devs made no such comments. So please tell me, who is actually the party that is sounding both sexist and racist here or the two involved in the incident?
So you’re using a variation of the old dictionary ruse? (You know, that old scam where you try to derail an argument by ignoring the content, and quibbling over the specific definition from your dictionary of choice?)
In other words, if some group of government bureaucrats hasn’t written a law defining an act as illegal, that act is completely acceptable in all settings, and no one has any right to be offended by it without your permission?
That’s particularly nice, given that the laws are made by a group consisting almost entirely of wealthy, white men. So once again, the definition of what is and is not acceptable really comes back to what doesn’t offend rich white guys.
He can quote (what he claims to be) harassment law but hasn’t heard of “hostile work environment”. Boy, that’s rich.
You can’t accuse a single person making a rather innocuous joke of making a hostile work environment.
Groping being routine, and “go back in the kitchen” quips are probably more like it.
If you add up all those innocuous jokes and eventually decide to act in a nuclear fashion on the one you actually punish (while you let hundreds pass without a sigh), this isn’t justice, this is making an example of someone who’s pretty much innocent in the end, disproportionate retribution.
Funny enough, Adria is contributing to hostile environment towards women by pushing the “easily offended lady who has vapors for something minor” Victorian-era stereotype, which, when it has large consequences (like firings) results in other men (and probably other women) walking on eggshells, lest they also get fired for something innocuous said in front of a woman with an easy trigger (men rarely report this kind of stuff, even less so making a mountain of it).
This “stop talking, there’s a woman in the room” attitude will make a woman feel like she’s not part of the group.
Few companies have employees who have a stick up theirs so much that they would unilaterally accept to never make crude or sexual joke at work under any circumstances as a matter of policy. It’s much preferred to be treated on a case-by-case basis, with the offense being handled privately by staff and it ending right there (usually with a warning and nothing more, unless it’s more than the first offense).
Oh and harassment is continued behavior. A first offense is never harassment unless it’s gratuitously bully-like (someone insults you over and over for no reason, or for a petty reason – you don’t have to warn those to stop, they know better and don’t care).
Adria Richards did not escalate this to the level of a national incident. The faceless Internet mob did that.
And no, she could not have forseen it, and neither could you. Anyone with the ability to forsee with high enough accuracy what will and won’t go viral should go into the marketing business and become a multi-squillionaire.
Agree with everything you said here. If I wanted to nitpick, I generally prefer to say “We all harbor sexist attitudes and engage in actions that have a sexist outcome” rather than “We all are sexist” (because I think it potentially reduces the negative reaction you are talking about), but again that’s a nitpick.
I did want to offer another idea about this point:
My guess is that it’s neither: Remember, the guy didn’t get fired until after the shitstorm rolled in. I think it’s likely that the HR department panicked as a result of the massive publicity (that, ironically, was a result of people attacking Richards) and that’s why the guy got canned.
In any case, it’s not entirely relevant. While you’re right it’s possible there are things we don’t know, it sure seems like the guy shouldn’t have been fired — but Richards didn’t fire him, and Richards didn’t even try to get him fired, so that really has nothing to do with her.
I deliberately do *not* go with the “We all harbor sexist attitudes and engage in actions that have a sexist outcome” line, because I think it removes our responsibility.
We absorb these attitudes, and they become part of how we relate to the world. The sexist attitudes aren’t something foreign, something outside of ourselves. They’re part of who we are, and if anything is ever going to change, we need to recognize it. We are sexist.
Being unconsciously sexist doesn’t make you a bad person. Being unconsciously sexist and refusing to admit that and try to change? That is what makes someone a bad person.
I fall directly on the fence here, because both points are valid, but useful in different instances.
For example, to use Jay Smooths’ example: if you’re trying to get through to someone, you should use Mr. Sweet’s version. Because, as the orginal piece points out, people get defensive and angry when called sexist/racist/etc. If you say that we all harbor those attitudes, you might have better luck. (though judging from the tone deaf comments here, I’m skeptical)
But when you’re owning it, you say “we are sexist”.
“…our society is deeply sexist and racist.”
A couple of things here; the main one, “racist”. You are, and you not alone in this, confusing racist with bigotry. Most people are not racist, but almost everyone is bigoted over somethings. The other thing is the heavy handedness of men with being sexist. I understand that what you were speaking of was in regards to a woman being treated in a sexist maner and more often it is women that are being treated this way and not men. However if were to ever be equals in this society women must address their sexist nature toward men. Now before I get the backlash over the last thing I said I understand that the sexism toward men is not on the same footing (i.e $$$ wise) but you never hear any women speak of it.
Caveman73, you’re absolutely right that women are sexist. Studies show clear evidence that women are sexist. It might surprise you to learn in which direction they are sexist. They, just like men, unconsciously favor MEN. So, yes, if we are ever to be equals, then both men and women must address their sexist nature toward men. But not in the way that you thought.
Men favor women in certain ways. As young as 7 years old, boys think girls are more intelligent, more quiet and better at school. Girls think that starting at 4.
Boys never think boys are the better ones at school though, at 4 they’re just evenly divided.
When stereotypes presumed maleness was required for competence in domains outside the home, maybe boys assumed they were hotstuff for their job and physical capacity and intelligence (or w/e they were good at) just for having a penis, but in this era of Girl Power where boys are told they’re stupid, fathers unneeded and men in general worthless/redundant if not corrupted and criminal, it’s no wonder many have less self-esteem and identification around maleness from a young age.
And male-only problems, despite being told from everywhere that they are fixed and listened about (Women’s day is March 8th, Men’s day is 364 other days and all such stuff), few male-only problems get fixed. DV against men still ignored. Council of status of men inexistant. Courts giving longer sentences for the same crimes, more likely to be suspected in the first place (call it male profiling, up to 11 for black males), rape against men still ignored, and a gender role that says to protect women (whereas no one has a gender role to protect men, ever).
Tell me again how sexism against men doesn’t exist.
Schala: sexism is sex privilege + power. The lack of services/ support for male victims of domestic violence and rape is a terrible injustice, but it is not perpetuated by women’s abuse of power. Male privilege and sexism is also damaging to men.
“but it is not perpetuated by women’s abuse of power. ”
It doesn’t have to. I entirely reject the “class A vs class B” notion of feminist’s Marxist slant, as it makes no sense.
The system (as supported by everyone), oppresses both men and women, in different ways and for different reasons. It doesn’t need to be people of one sex doing it.
The system has enough of that “+power” to oppress all men and women, easily, and without a single hitch. It doesn’t need to hire half the population to do its bidding. The system is self-perpetuating anyways, like most cultures.
Most policing about gender roles is intra-gender, about what the other gender might think (but is usually off the mark, like beauty ideals). When it’s off the mark, it’s simply useless intra-gender competition. Wanting to be a size zero and wanting to have Arnold-like muscles, is off the mark with what the other sex tends to want.
The lack of services for male victims is perpetuated by those who advocate for only female victims, as they push an ideology that says men are an extreme minority of victims, and that men do violence in this context as an example of male privilege and a conscious desire to control all women (as such it’s hard to see how their theory could apply to female-female DV or female-male DV). It can be “patriarchy”, but then feminism is being a pawn of it by promoting the Duluth Model, which has a strong smell of conservative notions of female frailty and male brutishness.
I’ve “seen the light”, because, as a trans woman with a high sense of justice, and a good critical thinking skill, I can’t swallow an illogical ideology that says things that make zero sense (a lot of things in feminism do make sense, but many of those illogical things are required to be accepted as feminist). I’ve also seen both sides.
For example. I benefit from female privilege. And given my androgyny and lack of professional ambition, I benefit more from female privilege than I ever did from male privilege. I wasn’t built to benefit much from male privilege (encouraging high ambition, wanting to be strong/tough/intimidating), but female privilege ‘suits’ me more (not intimidating to others, not seen as hypersexual, at least until they know I’m trans, and way more concern of people for my dire circumstances instead of ignoring it).
Privileges have subjective value. The size of my wallet isn’t much of a concern to me. I don’t want to waste my entire life just to make more money to get more material stuff, just to show off to other people. I see no point in that. Also don’t want a family. I’m not physically big and would rather have people attempt to protect me than throw me to the wolves or think I’m an acceptable target. I also don’t want to be presumed predatory, sexually or otherwise. Because I’m not. I rather be considered frail (and worth protecting), because well, I am. Frail men are not protected, they tend to be shamed for it. I should know.
And a deeply privileged caveman speaks. “Oh, no, you can’t address serious harm to until that addresses the far less serious harm they do to MY group. After all, we know who is TRULY matters here.”
I believe the author was simply relating to the experience of being a minority/other and giving some examples from his own life about the possibly unintentional ways people can make casual bigoted statements.
Oops! The HTML ate my angle brackets. Let’s try again:
And a deeply privileged caveman speaks. “Oh, no, you can’t address serious harm to <> until that <> addresses the far less serious harm they do to MY group. After all, we know who is TRULY matters here.”
Well, since my comments are being moderated, might as well delete them. HTML fail across the board. Too bad there’s no preview.
Sorry. In order to reduce spam, I have things set so that a new commenter is moderated until I approve one of their comments. It can be frustrating, but without it, I’d have to manually chase down 100’s of spam comments every day. The moment the spammers learn that they can get through, they just hammer away.
I actually like your approach with your female colleague whose voice was being ignored. You did not repeat what she said and take credit for it; you pointed out that she was being ignored in a way that the other boys could accept (or should accept). Yes, the ideal situation would be for them to listen to her in the first place, but we all know how long we can wait for that to happen. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I would love to have that kind of ally in meetings.
I thought it was a good approach. In some settings, it might be. I think the real lesson there, to me, was that doing that without consulting her was wrong. She has the right to speak for herself, without me interfering. In that setting, if I wanted to help, the appropriate thing would have been to say, to her, in private: “I would like to help. Would it be reasonable for me to …”. Or just to ask “What can I do to help?”.
The problem in these kinds of situations is that there is no universally correct action. People like me need to learn to listen to the people who are actually being affected, and to talk to them about what, if anything, we can do to help. If we don’t do that, we’re as likely to make things worse as we are to help.
I’m also of a inherently privileged class and head a lab, albeit in a field (academic medical research) somewhat less male-dominated, particularly among junior members. The problem in your approach in the illustration of high-lighting a female member’s comment is clear and can have the opposite of the intended effect, as happened to you (and could happen to anyone trying to value team members that they see as shoved aside in conversation). Through (long) experience, I have learned to take a somewhat different approach, even if the intent is the same: 1) I listen carefully to the comment myself; 2) I respond honestly to the comment directly, rather than calling attention to the act of the comment. It is important for people in a privileged position to serve a a mentor by setting a tone and modeling expected behaviors- and the real problem I see is that we often fail to listen, especially when the deafness is supported by inherent racism, classism or sexism.
I just want to say, thanks for this. As a woman in tech, regardless of the whole Adria Richards fiasco, it is heartening for me to see that there are Guys Who Get It (even if they’re not the ones I work with), and gives me a little more.
Thank you such much for this. You will get a lot of shit for this, but that’s how true human decency is rewarded currently.
As another woman in tech, I’d also like to thank you for posting this. Really.
I too was in the “she should have said something privately” camp regarding Adria Richards, but your article made me rethink my own judgement of the situation. It’s ridiculous that it escalated into the fiasco it did, and even more ridiculous that she was fired over it.
I hope this article causes others to rethink their own thoughts and actions. It should be mandatory reading for anyone in the tech industry.
Not going to get into this dispute… just wanted to say this. Reading this article and these comments make my thank god that I didn’t go into a STEM field. Seriously. You guys are some petty fucks. I think I’m just going to enjoy my life and not really give a fuck what people think of me and what they are offended by. You autistic fucks can have fun squabbling over petty bullshit.
This may have an innocent explanation. A “jew’s harp” has nothing to do with the people of the book. It’s a corruption of “jaw”. In the same way, “jewing the saleman down” may be “jawing (ie talking) the salesman down”.
You might be right about the derivation of the phrase. But if I look at the relative frequency of usage of the two phrases in English over time (thanks to Google’s ngram viewer), it becomes clear that there was a big spike up in the usage of “jew down” between 1932-1940, and elevated usage continuing into the mid-60s, when it fell off dramatically. That doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me. Even if the phrase started as an accidental corruption of “jaw down,” it seems likely that anti-semitism had a lot to do with how willing people were to pick up and amplify the usage of that phrase.
It looks like the viewer doesn’t pick up the phrases from the URL – to see what I saw, you need to enter “jaw down, jew down” in the ngram viewer box, and graph them.
“I started watching this in meetings, and when people brushed over something she’d said, I’d raise my voice and say “X just suggested blah, which I think is a really good idea. What about it?”. I wanted to help get her voice listened to.
She was furious at me”
I think getting permission to help this woman is a long-winded approach. You should be able to help other women without having to seek permission. Perhaps using different approaches such as “I second X’s suggestion” or “Can X explain her ideas further as I thought they were interesting” – As a woman I would find these a lot less patronizing and offensive than what you said above(apologies, because I know you meant well). With my phrases you are not speaking for her at all, you are speaking for yourself in support of her. I think this would go down a lot better IMO, and a quicker more direct way of tackling sexism, than speaking for her which many women may take offense at, or having to go the long way round of getting permission.
That’s probably another good way of handling that situation.
But for me, the most important lesson from that experience wasn’t figuring out the best way to deal with that kind of situation. I still don’t know what’s best. The lesson was that I don’t know. I haven’t experienced the kinds of discrimination that women encounter at work. Worse, I was almost completely blind to it: it was happening around me every day, and I didn’t notice it. If I don’t understand the problem, then the first step to a solution is to learn more about what I don’t understand.
As someone who’s trained in science, that seems like an obvious lesson. I would never start doing an experiment without first analyzing the problem. But that’s exactly what I was doing: trying an experimental solution to a problem that I didn’t understand. That was stupid, and frankly, it was arrogant. Faced with a problem that women had been dealing with for decades (in my field, women have only been participating for decades), I thought I could walk in and fix at least one aspect of it, without even bothering to understand what was going on, or what kind of effects my action could have.
Its so refreshing to hear, so many times we are told that we are wrong in how we feel, or how we should tackle these issues – we always seem to be in the wrong. And its nice to hear someone saying that they don’t know. It makes room for real listening and real learning. Thanks for your post and your replies.
Aw, cro-magnon comments getting spiked before I can gleefully fisk them! I understand and support, but I’m a teeny bit disappointed. Oh well, I’ll live.
This post has been very affirming for me. I am not in the tech field but I’ve been contemplating a move into it. As such, I’ve followed Adria on twitter for about a year and I followed this story from the beginning. To say that I have been mortified is still horribly underplaying my emotions. As someone who comes from a political and a corporate background, being PC and accommodating to others while in work space environments is second nature to me. I do not comprehend not being that way so I was very confused by the defense of the dongle joke. And truly frightened as a woman of color at the level of vitriol leveled at Adria for (what appeared to me) a mistake as innocent as the initial joke was. All of this is unsettling. So I thank you for this share because it gives me hope that it isn’t completely as bad as I thought.
I was beginning to think that the chatter about diversity was only surface talk with no real movement or understanding behind it. The responses to this have shown me (an admitted outsider) that the tech community really has a long way to go to begin to understand what inclusiveness means and what it looks like. Accepting abuse (its just internet trolls) or being told that the best course of action is to shrink down (she should not have embarrassed them)… is not conducive to diversity and inclusion.
I only question this: When you speak anywhere in public, even if its only intended to be to the people you’re holding a conversation with, there’s always a chance someone outside your group can overhear you.
In that case, how are you supposed to guess what other people may feel they have the right to be offended to? This isn’t absolute, there are no strict definitions of offensive or not. Terms like ‘forking’ and ‘dongle’ are commonly enough used in the tech world, not to mention the standard of having ‘male’ and ‘female’ connectors. For every single thing you say, you will probably find someone who is offended.
So how exactly are we supposed to know what people will be offended by?
The problem isn’t with words like “forking” or “dongle” per se; it’s with using them as double-entendres. (This usage is signaled by saying them in a particular tone of voice; if the word is said in a conversational tone then it’s probably not a double-entendre.) Double-entendre-based humor is considered acceptable in some social settings and offensive in others. If you’re not sure what kind of setting you’re in, then it’s best to kind of stay in the background and watch what everyone else is doing.
Sometimes people disagree with the rules of etiquette that are have been established for a particular social setting – maybe double-entendres are accepted and people think they should be discouraged, or vice versa. There’s a way to lobby to have the rules changed, but it’s really complicated, and it’s probably not worth trying unless you think that changing the rules will have a real benefit.
Taking a look around you might help: When surrounded by members of group X, jokes that offend group X or can be understood to do so (even if you don’t mean it that way) are not your best bet.
But let’s assume you say something you thought was fine, someone else hears it, feels offended and reacts to it. In such a case, you just work it out, possibly with a neutral mediator present.
If you notice now that what you said was offensive, you simply apologise. If you don’t think what you said was offensive as such, you tell the person that you meant no offense, and (if time/circumstances permit) try to clear up constructively whether it’s a misunderstanding, a case of you unwittingly saying something offensive, or the other person being touchy.
In other words, you talk and listen to each other.
Which btw is exactly what Richards, the dongle-jokers and the PyCon organisers did after Richars’ tweet-complaint, and managed to sort it out amicably. Up to this point, no mess, just a minor conflict that got handled in a reasonably mature way.
Except that then a sizeable bunch of fuckwits on the internet who just couldn’t bear to see a woman speaking up started to fling shit — and THAT’s what got two people fired.
thanks for your post, and to your replies to the adria haters.
i feel that race is missing from this discussion. i believe that white men who trolled and threatened adria were especially vicious because a black woman made a white man lose his job.
Well done, very measured and succinct. Having tried to articulate similar thoughts in the past I know it’s not easy to be persuasive so I wish I had this post to help me along. Both racism and sexism are insidious and need to be defeated.
THANK YOU! This article should be shared with the HR department of every major company. It’s called “white privilege” and it effects every single aspect of how we engage as whites/minorities, men/women, and rich/poor. This country now believes that unless you call a woman a c*nt or a minority a n*gger….it’s not racism. We no longer evaluate institutionalized racism. Until we do, incidents such as these will continue to occur. That you have brought light to the subject gives me great hope!.
I think the guys made a dumb joke, but you know, guys are dumb.
Then Richards got mad, and tweeted it, but you know, people get mad and tweet stuff.
End of story, except that then they got fired! That is where the mistakes were made. Because you cannot put people’s every word under a microscope (ok, a sound analyzer) and expect them not to say dumb things. That is part of conversation, and part of life. Neither of these unfortunate peoples’ loose talk and tweet rose to the level of even a professional misdemeanor, in my always humble opinion. Rather, they were both professional embarrassments — for which no one should get fired from an ordinary job.
I like your article and your point of view! I am from Germany and a person who is trying to get a better person every day (but that doesn´t mean I am!).The most interesting statement from you was this “Being unconsciously sexist and refusing to admit that and try to change? That is what makes someone a bad person.” I wish you a strong life, because I think you will need a lot of strength to live through your Ideals.Thank you again for sharing your wisdom!
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What would be interesting is sharing the ratio of girls to boys that applied to the IBM internship. I have yet to see a guy hired over a girl when he is clearly not as skillful/expert in that particular area as the girl. I would be very surprised if managers were hiring men when there are better suited women for a job. A managers success is dependent on how his people work, execute and deliver. By not choosing a superior worker he/she is only hurting their own career.
The author of this post is about as naive as it gets. Way to hop on the white-knight bandwagon, enjoy your trip.
We’re not afraid of hollow, manipulative insults, “John Smith”. Read the great explanation why in this post: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/04/06/misogyny-sexism-and-why-rps-isnt-shutting-up/
We’re also not afraid of signing our real names. Coward.
Unfortunately you picked a bad example by citing classroom behaviour of teachers. There may indeed be sexism at work, but as an academic whose work spans both education and computer science I know that there are pedagogical reasons why boys may be chosen by their teachers more often than girls. Boys develop at a different rate in different ways, and require different teaching practices to keep them engaged and to reinforce learning. This hasn’t been helped by the increase in dyslexia in the Western male population over the last few decades.
Even in online learning, where the sex of each participant in an online seminar isn’t necessarily known, you may find a bias towards men. I’m reminded of work a colleague did at Cambridge looking at how women undergrad students are less confident of putting their hand up at seminars and discussion groups. Seminar leaders need to be aware of this, and make allowances for it.
Like I say, sexism may also be a factor, but always assuming anything deviating from a 50/50 split is automatically wrong is just as sexist. Men and woman may be equals, but they are certainly not the same — 50/50 splits are therefore rare.
Moving towards your closing comments…
Interestingly you assume ignorance of the man’s past record, yet you then go on to assume he must have done other things wrong, otherwise why would he get fired? You however have no problem in dismissing the possibility that Adria did anything wrong in the past — you’re actually right that we know more about Adria than the programmer. People have come forward from her past to talk about her, and it is unfortunately not very positive. The most noteworthy is Amanda Blum (who has done far more than Adria to address the gender balance in computer science.)
In both cases we don’t know whether either character should have been fired. All we have is the stuff that has been posted on the internet, and that’s not a good basis on which to make a decision. Assuming that one person _probably_ deserves to be fired, while another _probably_ doesn’t based entirely on the number of Y chromosomes they possess is unfair. And there is a word for that type of unfairness…
I work with female programmers, and I’ve spoken to female friends in the industry. There comments on Adria, for what they are worth (as the sample size is too small to be scientific) are not positive. They acknowledge there is a bloke-ish attitude in the industry, and that to fit in they have to be “one of the lads”, but they are also keen to point out there isn’t widespread sexism. They are assumed to be just as competent as the men, and at no point has any man asked them to make cups of coffee or suggested that they are incapable of doing the job. The main barriers seems to come when they want to get promoted away from programming and into management.
None of the programming women I spoke to (five in total) thought dongle jokes were sexist — childish yes, but not sexist. All but one admitted to making similar double entendre jokes occasionally in the past. All seemed to think Adria (not being a programmer herself) just misunderstood the common term “forking”.
Yes, there *IS* sexism in the world — Western society is set up to value the things men are good at (fighting, exploring…) at the expense of what women excel at (nurturing, empathising…) — that’s why we give medals and erect statues to soldiers and explorers. But it doesn’t help to become so hyper-sensitive to the issue that one loses touch with reality. Sometimes women are sexist; occasionally the woman gets it wrong — yes, usually it’s the other way round, but not always!!! Assuming the woman is ALWAYS right is just… well… downright sexist!
It would be nice if you actually bothered to read my post before responding.
I said that in the case of the guy who made the joke, we don’t actually know the specifics of why he was fired. We know that he was fired after the uproar about the joke, but his company never said anything public about why they fired him, so we don’t know what they were thinking. As I said in the post, if the pycon incident were the entire reason that he was fired, then he didn’t deserve to lose his job over it. I’m just not willing to go all the way and say that there’s no way he deserved to be fired, because there are definitely reasonable scenarios where his behavior at pycon could be a last straw. Note that I am not saying that that is the case; I’m saying that *I don’t know*, and I’m hesitant to make any strong judgement without knowing. *If* this was a first time thing, if the company didn’t have other reasons for getting rid of him, then firing him was wrong.
In the case of Adria Richards, her company issued a public statement specifically telling us why she was fired. We know the reason, and it’s a shitty one.
WRT the Amanda Blum thing: if you actually try to look in greater detail at the facts that she cites, her case againsnt Richards doesn’t look particularly compelling. In fact, in spots, it looks downright dishonest.
(For example, in one incident that Blum cites, she claims that Richards replaced a planned talk with a lecture on sexism; when in fact, she added *one slide* to the end of her talk.)
“I work with female programmers, and I’ve spoken to female friends in the industry. There comments on Adria, for what they are worth (as the sample size is too small to be scientific) are not positive. They acknowledge there is a bloke-ish attitude in the industry, and that to fit in they have to be “one of the lads”, but they are also keen to point out there isn’t widespread sexism. They are assumed to be just as competent as the men, and at no point has any man asked them to make cups of coffee or suggested that they are incapable of doing the job. The main barriers seems to come when they want to get promoted away from programming and into management.”
Think about what you’re really saying there. Or rather, think about what they’re really saying there. And I’m speaking as someone who does often blend in as “one of the lads”.
You have to be careful. And I mean really REALLY careful to never once even bring attention that you are female. Ever. And this could even be in accidental ways like mentioning something from a female perspective or talking about a female oriented topic. Or, even being in the room and someone comments on you being female. The second you do, you have an awkward situation where you’re not “one of the lads”. And I’m sure the ladies you’ve talked to already have their own mental exit plans for what to do if this comes up. It’s probably something along the lines of awkwardly laugh it off and hope it’s not brought up again.
If you complain, then suddenly you’re discounted as a person because you’re acting female. And, depending on where you are that could bring a slew of things from unwanted approaches, to harassment, threats, etc.
I wish I was kidding about this but this is actually a huge part of the dynamic. And a good example at how this kind of mentality can drive one into a corner, go watch the incident on Cross Assault.
The reason why she just laughs it off instead of saying something even though that guy clearly crossed the line is the exact same mentality I’ve mentioned. That’s her exit plan. She was hoping that if she brushed it off, it’d go away and she’d still be “one of the lads”. She could (and arguably should) have complained right then and there, but you have to at least acknowledge that even saying anything would knock her off from being “one of the lads” and she’d be seen differently and not necessarily in a good way.
Some ladies, as I myself once was, are so far down the rabbit hole that they’ve completely lost all perspective, including why they act like “one of the lads” and why it’s important to do so. It’s because they at least subconsciously recognize being female is a negative aspect. Them existing as a human being with two X chromosomes is something they should be ashamed of. They know this and they know other people know this, so they try to hide it and downplay it as much as possible and blame others when they aren’t able to do the same.
But, when you scale back and look at the whole issue, it’s very clear to see why there’s a complaint in the first place. And there’s good reason for there to be. A woman shouldn’t have to be “one of the lads” to be respected in her line of work. Nor should being female automatically be casted with all sorts of negative stereotypes that have absolutely nothing to do with one’s own personality, work ethic, and ability.
To just clarify the more time with boys in classrooms things. That in my mind is due to boys being on average more disruptive than girls in the classroom and with less of an attention span and also at that age less academically able and so more would have there hands up.
Are you sure that boys have less of an attention span? ADHD, not the only indicator of inattention, but a reliable one, affects boys and girls equally. And what in the world is the link you draw between lower academic ability leading to a greater likelihood of hand raising?
It is also telling that when we see a teacher call on the boys twice as often as the girls, our subconscious thinks the communication is balanced. And that it’s only after we count that we are able to see a difference.
This is amazing; well done.
“Here’s a really interesting experiment to try, if you have the opportunity.”
I find that a pretty meaningless “experiment” when you remember that women get the majority of associates, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.
This is brilliant, one of the best blogs I’ve seen on the subject. On the one hand, it is discouraging to hear (from one of your later blogs) that you have received such a virulent negative response; on the other hand, the presence of the post itself and how well you talk about the subject matter is a sign that times, as they say, are a’changing. It took courage for you to make such a post on such a flash-fire topic.
Mark, I assume you’ve seen John Scalzi’s post:
It might provide some open-minded people with some interesting thinking points and perhaps even some insight into the points of view of those in demographics other than their own.
Close-minded bigots will, of course, continue being what they are.
Two fish were swimming one day. An older fish swam by and said, “Good morning, how’s the water today?” One fish turned to the other and asked, “Water? What’s water?”
What it boils down to is that the basic premise of this article, the existence of sexism and racism (i.e. water), is true. We’re immersed in the cultural encoding of centuries of patriarchy. Just because we’ve put a label on it doesn’t mean we’ve figured it out or erased it by naming it. We’re still at the stage where we’re defining what these things mean. Many of us aren’t even at the stage where we can admit to ourselves that we are immersed in the water because it is so pervasive.
Your only call to action is to witness and to respond with compassion. We could pick this PyCon incident apart, but if we’re going to do that, let’s talk about what could be done to correct it or how the next incident can be better handled. Let’s give all parties the benefit of the doubt until we know what has been said.
If we cultivate an awareness of our prejudices, make an effort to walk in another’s shoes before we pass judgment, and treat all people with respect we can not just name the culprit but overcome it. It’s a tall order because it’s like trying to grab water, but it can be done (think a fountain).
And we can’t always assign it as a white, male privilege unless we are very specific about the context. Tech would be white, male, but then there are places where being a white male is less desirable. Also, being immersed in the sexist and racist waters, those who fall victim have to be develop an awareness of how they conform to perpetuate the machine. We are all responsible in how we raise our children, how we view ourselves, and how we treat others for perpetuating ways of thinking and behaving. So it’s a personal responsibility to have respect for yourself and for others. That’s the best offense.
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Wow Mark, you need to get the sand out of your vagina and then maybe rethink your misandry.
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Very good. Nice one!