We keep talking about making appropriate responses to sexism — not just those of us who are strongly pro-feminism, but even the regressive thugs on the other side will say that, although we’ll argue about what level of response is appropriate. But this is where I lose patience every goddamned time: apparently no response other than silence and submission is acceptable.
We’ve all seen how “guys, don’t do that” was turned into cause for outrage. Here’s another instance: Adria Richards was at a tech conference when, during a presentation that was about women coders no less, a couple of guys behind her started cracking suggestive jokes.
The guys were clearly in the wrong. They were being rude, distracting, and trying to assert their dudely privilege in one of the few moments granted women during a conference dominated by men. So Richards turned, snapped their picture, and tweeted it to the conference organizers, asking them to handle it.
This was a measured response. It wasn’t a blast of anger, it was a request that the conference enforce its code of conduct. It disrupted the meeting less than a couple of chattering smart-asses did. This is exactly what we should want people to do: polite confrontation through appropriate channels.
The conference organizers also did exactly what they were supposed to do: they called the two men aside and asked them to stop and behave themselves.
I assume the two men also reacted appropriately. There are no tales of angry shouting or rejection of the admonishment. I charitably presume that they were chagrined and a little embarrassed, nothing more.
This should have been the end of it: a happy story of a minor breach of manners handled by grown-ups who moved on to do their jobs professionally. Lessons learned all around; don’t disparage or harass minorities (women were only 20% of the attendees), trust the organizers to manage hiccups smoothly, deal with problems through official channels. Except you know more happened or it wouldn’t be news.
A whole bunch of otherwise uninvolved people completely lost their shit. This is ridiculous.
But instead, the internet decided to throw one epic fucking tantrum. First, one of the men pictured in Richards’s photographs was fired from his job (his company was one of the sponsors of PyCon). Richards did not call for him to be fired, nor did she celebrate the decision, according to this post. Nonetheless, Richards’s company SendGrid—NOT the company that fired the dude—was subject to a DDoS attack courtesy of 4chan (their express purpose was to “ruin her life”). She’s also been subjected to the usual avalanche of violent harassment and rape threats that descends upon any woman who dares to criticize male-dominated tech culture (see: Sarkeesian, Anita; also everything else ever). Sidenote to tech dudes: GET A FUCKING GRIP.
SendGrid subsequently fired Richards.
Firing one of the men over a brief incident of inappropriate behavior: totally inappropriate and excessive. That would only be reasonable if there were far more severe breaches of courtesy.
4chan getting involved: disgraceful. Launching a denial of service attack against Richards’ employer: what the fuck is wrong with these people?
Worse: Richards’ employer, SendGrid, caving in to extortion and firing her. I hope she’s considering legal action. That was incredibly craven.
Worser, appallingly disgusting: the violent reaction by some assholes.
Richards has been called practically every name under the sun. Some Twitter commenters demanded she kill herself. A 4chan user allegedly released Richards’s personal information. But few reactions were more disturbing than this one, sent to her Wednesday evening: a photo (blurred but still NSFW) of a bloody, beheaded woman, bound and stripped, with the caption “when Im done.” Next to it was a home address and phone number, ostensibly Richards’s.
And of course the usual slymepitters are crowing over all this on twitter, taunting via the #ftbullies and #wiscfi hashtags, as they always do. This is the kind of behavior they love to applaud.
This is the heart of the problem. We can build all the protocols for reasonable responses we want; women like Adria Richards can use them; responsible people can implement appropriate reactions.
And then, beneath it all, lies the festering sewer of rape culture that rises in rage at any damned uppity woman who dares to speak out against our very own homegrown Taliban.
And one last bit of insult: the conference organizers retroactively revised their code of conduct to exclude public shaming.
Public shaming can be counter-productive to building a strong community. PyCon does not condone nor participate in such actions out of respect.
Cowards. Just remember, ladies, decorum must be maintained, and the proper young woman will be meek and silent in the face of offense. The men can’t build a strong community if women keep speaking out publicly.
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.