Let’s begin with Adria Richards’ own words.
Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable? Well, that just happened this week but instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it an here’s my story …
Yesterday, I publicly called out a group of guys at the PyCon conference who were not being respectful to the community.
Richards tweeted a picture of two men near her who joked about “dongles” and “forking repos” during the conference. She informed conference staff, she said, after seeing a picture of a girl who took part in a coding workshop during the event made her worry about the environment created by the “forking” jokes.
The situation degenerated when one of the two men–neither of whom she identified–was fired by his company. As TechCrunch reported, the unnamed employee apologized for the original joke on Hacker News, but also noted Richards’ platform:
Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her Twitter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have 3 kids and I really liked that job.
Shortly thereafter, Richards was the target of a string of personal and professional attacks, including the posting of her personal information online, death threats, slurs, accusations of “misandry”, and even attacks against her employer, Sendgrid.
Later, Sendgrid CEO Jim Franklin announced that the company had terminated Richards, saying, “her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite.” The original incident was glossed over, and the attacks against both the company and its own employee were not addressed at all. Franklin closed comments on his post on Monday.
The conference also altered its code of conduct to forbid public shaming, requiring future disputes to be reported to PyCon staff. There is no mention, however, of what happens if there are conflicting accounts of an incident or if convention staff disagrees with a person’s assessment of something as offensive or triggering. Is what happens at PyCon supposed to stay at PyCon from now on?
Over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan also contributed to the conversation on Twitter, starting the #IAskedPolitely tag, where several people shared their stories of being told they were “too sensitive,” to get over it. To deal. Stories of being silenced.
Meanwhile, Colorlines reported that Richards’ firing might not hold up in the legal arena, as the argument can be made that she was basically sacked for acting as a whistleblower. But those accounts and this fact are both seemingly lost on the increasingly outraged wave of tech enthusiasts who have seemingly seized the moment to “defend their territory.” Below we’ll hear from some people on the other side of the debate.
TRIGGER WARNING for some of the entries under the cut.
As a woman who’s worked for years at both large tech companies (mobile, web) and small tech startups (mobile, video games), who currently works by day at a multinational internet company and works by night as a video game developer, this is just another thing that happens. I expect this every year, multiple times a year. Whom it happens to and what the consequences are for the individuals don’t change much year over year — and the conversation around it doesn’t seem to evolve much either. I’ve gotten so sick of it happening in the games industry, I started my own conference for game developers in part so I could attend at least one event a year where I didn’t have to expect this kind of thing.
And make no mistake: I always expect it. As someone who is unapologetically public about her history as a rape survivor, I get pulled aside at literally every large event I attend. I am always someone’s only available confidant, the only person someone can tell about their stalker, harasser, assailant, rapist — most often, someone else working in their industry. That is how lonely it is sometimes for women in tech; finding someone who will say, “I believe you” means waiting months or years and sending veiled messages like, “I really hope we can connect at [event]” and hoping the other person can read between the lines. It means trying to represent your company or your product on an expo floor while your stalker hangs out in your peripheral vision a few paces away. It means watching your rapist give talks about subjects relevant to your skill set. It means coworkers sexually assaulting you once you’re single again, luminaries in your field dismissing and shaming your gender when they think they’re among like-minded folks, friends and associates challenging you when you ask to interview any potential new hires, to be provided company-branded clothing that actually fits you, to change desktop backgrounds to something other than half-dressed anime girls during work events.
–Courtney Stanton, Buzzfeed
Being on the other side of someone’s “ism” is never easy. As a woman of color, especially, combating the “angry black woman” stereotype is a constant internal battle of gut checks that would leave even the strongest constitution queasy. By allowing the conference staffers to deal with the problem that she pointed out, Richards utilized the layer of protection available to her. Instead of dragging herself into a possible shouting match (or worse), the situation was handled by the professionals in charge.
Could she have sent a private message? Gotten up and spoken directly with conference staffers? Absolutely. But she didn’t. And it isn’t Richards’ job to protect the privacy of men at a large public event who say rude things out loud where other people with working ears can hear.
Besides the over-the-top and, frankly, potentially dangerous backlash Richards received from the anonymous commenting “heroes” sent to save grown men from their own inappropriate actions, Richards was summarily fired from her post as a “developer evangelist” at SendGrid, an email-delivery company.
According to Richards’ former boss, “In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her [Richards'] actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.”
So by pointing out some of the pervasive behavior that divides the tech community, namely an overall “boys’ club” environment antithetical to inclusion, Richards allegedly fractured said community even further. Don’t you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet? Wouldn’t it have been a powerful message of unification for SendGrid to stand behind Richards? Has a potentially powerful watershed moment just been swept under the rug?
–Helena Andrews, The Root
The last thing I want to specifically address are the number of white women attempting to be constructive in helping Adria see the err of her ways, pointing out behavior that could have better kept her in line with cultural expectations of her. While almost certainly these commenters have no idea that what their doing is perpetuating a long history of white women, and specifically, white feminists, telling women of color what to do with their sexist experiences, well, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Everyone should always be aware of the privilege that they’re bringing to the table when we’re dealing with issues of identity, whether that’s gender, race, sexuality, ability or anything else. “Privilege is a headache that you don’t know you don’t have.” Remember that before you try to be helpful in the future.
–Deanna Zandt, Forbes
She should have politely asked the guys making sexist jokes to knock it off. Nope. It is a privilege to be able to imagine that politely asking would have stopped their behavior. And it doesn’t matter if in this one specific case it would have, which we cannot know. The context of this situation is that women have been politely (and impolitely) asking men to stop behaving in sexually inappropriate ways for centuries, and asking DOESN’T WORK. In most cases, confronting men who are behaving in sexually inappropriate ways only escalates unsafety, rather than minimizing it. This argument also elides racial power disparities while simultaneously scolding a black woman for her “uppity” behavior.
–Melissa McEwan, Shakesville
In what world is it okay to fire someone for speaking out and reporting sexual harassment? The tragic and deplorable mishandling of this situation by SendGrid sends a message to women that having a voice and defending yourself can cost you your job. It is a way of silencing and disempowering women in an environment where sexually obscene and offensive comments are all too prevalent. The death and rape threats Richards is now receiving are just another example of sexism rearing its ugly head. Media outlets are blaming the victim, asking what she could have done differently rather than addressing why these men thought their lewd comments were appropriate in the first place.