She should have just had a dialogue with them

Well, the Adria Richards blowup sounds very familiar.

Lindy West at Jezebel comments.

Now. A few things. Yes, in the grand scheme of the entire earth, a few offhand jokes about “big dongles” are almost completely innocuous. In fact, I made pretty much exactly the same joke one million times, whenever my nerdy former roommate said he was looking for his “dongle” or he needed to go “dongle shopping.” However, CONTEXT MATTERS. And the issue that a lot of (white) men seem to have trouble grasping is that not everyone gets to move through the world wrapped in the comfy presumption that every space is their space. Many people almost never get to feel like that, outside of their own homes, because most spaces aren’t inclusive of all groups.

And sometimes because a few people go to great lengths, all the time all day every day, to make certain spaces feel the very opposite of their space – to make them feel like tanks of sharks armed with whirling razor blades.

I can only speculate, but based on my experiences in male-dominated fields (film criticism, comedy), I imagine that the relatively small number of women working in tech are on high alert all the time. I imagine that constant dick jokes, with their tacit imagery of a woman’s body on the receiving end of said dick, might start to wear on a woman who already feels subtly unwelcome in a male-dominated space. I imagine that that wearying onslaught might be particularly frustrating when the woman is simply trying to do her job without being reminded, by the hundreds of strange men surrounding her, of her utility as a sexual object. I imagine that attempting to speak quietly with each individual man and instruct them in the particulars of rape culture and the subtle hostilities of gendered interaction might eventually begin to seem like a lost cause (and also, potentially, frightening).

Or worse. Worse is what happened to Adria Richards next, and that kind of thing makes all but the most compliant women feel at the mercy of raging shouting screaming mocking jeering threatening enemies.

Regardless of what you think of the joke itself, it is sexist to contribute (willfully or cluelessly! Ignorance is not an excuse!) to a hostile work environment for women. Full stop. If you didn’t realize you were doing it, that means you haven’t bothered to think critically about women’s comfort and needs. It’s fucking 2013. It is not women’s responsibility alone to correct gender imbalances. We need men to help. Richards shouldn’t have had to reach out to PyCon administrators to get the disruption sorted out—men should learn to police their own goddamn behavior and the behavior of their neighbors. It’s not enough to be neutral. It’s not enough to be nice. Forward-thinking men who work in fields traditionally hostile to women have a responsibility to be actively pro-woman in those spaces.

Protip: that doesn’t include things like trying to force them to engage in a “dialogue” with the very people who have been raging shouting screaming mocking jeering threatening and insulting them.

PZ also has a post on the subject.

I wonder how many women will now think twice before complaining about asshole behavior at their job or at a meeting? If they’re inhibited, congratulations, scumbags: you got what you wanted. On the other hand, maybe we’ll finally reach a critical mass of outrage, and the next time some dudebro starts with the sexist shit at a conference, a dozen people, men and women alike, will rise up and tell him to grow up or get out.

I know I’m even less inclined to let casual smears slide now. I hope you feel the same way.

I do, as a matter of fact. I’m not optimistic that it’s going to get me anywhere, but I do.



  1. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Sorry for cross-posting, but I’m vain enough to think this comment I left at PZ’s is worth repeating:

    The most disgusting thing about this is that we’re watching a system chew up and spit out individuals for trying to exercise some little bit of control over something that the system has more power and responsibility to change. The overarching corporate, employer-employee, broader-society structure is shitting on all parties involved and those of you deriding Adria are doing exactly what it wants you to do: scapegoat the individual with limited power so that you ignore the failure of responsibility of the larger and more powerful structure.

    In short, it’s exactly like ordinary working people shitting on welfare and food stamp recipients for “takin’ mah stuff’ instead of placing the blame on the inhuman corporate/work/healthcare system that fucks everyone.

    Both Richards’ and the guy’s employers treated them outrageously. These companies fucked over individuals instead of stepping up to support both the employees and set an example of how to address this crappy behavior in professional settings. They could have acknowledged what happened and taken both Richards and the guy’s (I’m sorry, I didn’t see his name cited, maybe I missed it) efforts to right the wrong and used it positively.

    Instead, the companies have evaded responsibility altogether by punishing individual people for reacting the only way single, individual people can. What the guy did was wrong, and he acknowledged it. Even though he’s trying to weasel out of some responsibility, think about it—how can we blame him? Any one of us who was instantly put out of work by a big company would feel reactive, scared, and defensive. I’m sure I’d be flailing about, too, and would probably place blame in the wrong place.

    This is just what corporations want. They want Richards and the guy to see each other as enemies and as the real problem. They want onlookers to cast this as two rogue individuals, and for us to pick one as the hero and the other as the villain.

    The outcome is that both people get punished in shamefully unfair ways by an opponent with far more power than they’ll ever have. Instead of using this as an example of how a bad situation can be solved while highlighting the societal problem with tolerating casual sexism, we get handed mallets so we can whack the prairie dogs who stick their heads up too far.

    It’s disgusting.

  2. Anthony K says

    Thanks, Josh. I’d read that at PZ’s place, (I don’t have the stomach for battling today), but I did read that comment and it was worth reposting.

  3. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I’m nearly there myself, Anthony. Got so angry I had to walk away from my computer for a while.

  4. hjhornbeck says

    Hot damn, that was a good comment Josh. Thanks for walking back to your keyboard, too.

  5. great1american1satan says

    Just read that 4chan was involved.

    What will it take to get those crapbaskets disappeared into Guantanamo Bay? The power their DDOS shit wields is at least equal to that of a government agency. Consider what they did here something of a reverse EEOC, for example. In order for cyberterrorism laws to be used, does it have to be a government target? Because I’m pretty sure they’ve shut down a government target before. I heard they put a 911 call center out of service in, like, Arizona or something.

    If there’s one thing I despise in life, it’s groups being horrible to individuals with sanctimonious justifications. If the RCC has shown us one thing, it’s that no organization is capable of feeling enough institutional guilt to dismantle itself, so someone needs to take 4chan apart from the outside.

    Fuck those assbots.

    And the martyr for the cause of sexual harassment that they were avenging? As an employer I would assume he was directly responsible for calling down the cybergoons, was therefore a liability, and NEVER hire his ass for a tech job. I wouldn’t even hire him to be a “sandwich artist” at Subway.

  6. great1american1satan says

    Perhaps I should walk back my rhetoric a step or two – secret prisons and indefinite detention are bad. But I stand by the idea these boys need prosecutions and prison sentences.

  7. Garx says

    After thinking about this episode a bit, I have a somewhat different view than yours. I think it is downright rude to be discussing anything of a sexual nature in any public area where others can overhear you, whether they be men or women. People should just assume that anyone who overhhears them might be offended.

  8. iknklast says

    Garx – while I might agree with you in principle, I can’t comply in practice. I’m a biology teacher! So, you’ve made much too broad a brush. Some people get offended when I talk about the dung beetle. That doesn’t mean I should quit talking about it. We need to be a bit more sensible about this, and differentiate between talking about sexual matters and making sexual innuendos/sexual jokes (or telling about your personal sex life, something my students who are bothered by dung beetles seem more than happy to do if they miss an assignment – tip: I don’t care! You don’t get an extension because your sex life got in the way).

    Easy answers to complex questions? I try to avoid them. Better to do the thinking. Where am I? Is what I’m saying valuable or interesting, or is it just designed to shock, hurt, or perhaps entertain cretins? Please, never say don’t talk about sexual matters in public, because that’s the sort of prudery that leads us to use the word “wee wee” and “poo poo” in a college biology class (which I will never do).

  9. arthur says

    I can’t comprehend the thread at PZ Myers place about this at all. Very ugly scenes. I’ve just scanned a page of attacks on EllenBeth Wachs for reasons that remain unclear to me.

    Some of the commentators on Pharyngula appear to be plain lunatics.

  10. arthur says

    Josh, Official SpokesGay: The most disgusting thing about this is that we’re watching a system chew up and spit out individuals for trying to exercise some little bit of control over something…

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  11. whysoskeptical says


    And the martyr for the cause of sexual harassment that they were avenging? As an employer I would assume he was directly responsible for calling down the cybergoons, was therefore a liability, and NEVER hire his ass for a tech job. I wouldn’t even hire him to be a “sandwich artist” at Subway.

    IIRC, one of the two guys (that was ultimately fired, so could have an excuse to be grumpy about it) issued an apology to Richards. In other words, as far as we can tell, the guys directly involved seemed to be calm about it unlike the internet vigilantes so I don’t understand your comment. Also, please don’t insult the people working in food service if you could. :))

  12. says

    Arthur: Discussion threads on this topic very quickly become incomprehensible. That is a big part of the problem, Ithink. And yet, there is an ever repeating pattern to be seen, and it ain’t pretty. (While I read most of the posts on pharyngula, I don’t understand how anyone finds the time to read the comments there. Even if every comment were of great quality – and some are – there is just too much.)

  13. says

    Perhaps I should walk back my rhetoric a step or two – secret prisons and indefinite detention are bad. But I stand by the idea these boys need prosecutions and prison sentences.

    While that’s appreciated, the prosecutorial abuse in cases like that of Aaron Swartz makes me leery of ‘cyberterrorism’ prosecutions as well. I hate the harassment, but I don’t want the harassers to be used as cover for prosecuting activists and that’s the exact direction I see such prosecutions going.

  14. says

    arthur @9: EllenBeth Wachs, in a thread which was already highly charged, said that she thought that Richards should have used an “approved” method of complaining, which was seen by other commenters as blaming the victim. Stephanie Zvan tried (and failed) to get her to back away from that.

    Then she characterized an asshat’s comments as coherent and rational, when they were anything but that, and complained that people were calling for his banning when he was “merely dissenting.” It was probably those two words, given the background in that thread and also the last two years of slymepitters trying to claim that that’s all they’ve been doing, that were most responsible for people going batshit on EllenBeth Wachs, saying that she was defending misogyny and calling her a chill girl.

    EllenBeth Wachs also said something about a harassment complaint that she handled which was seen by other commenters as her story of actively suppressing a harassment complaint. That perception was, perhaps, unreasonable, but understandably so given that the other crap going on in that thread had put everyone on hair triggers.

    So, she seems to have stepped in it, a couple times. She also appeared to have had enough of the mess and split before still other commenters did some explaining on her behalf. At least one of the people who’d been on the attack has posted an apology to EllenBeth Wachs, so things have cooled off a bit. But then some other weasel will pop up and rile up the regulars all over again.

  15. maddog1129 says


    Just wanted to say I thought your observation and analysis was the best point made in the thread

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