Voices: On Adria Richards

Former SendGrid “developer evangelist” Adria Richards. Image via butyoureagirl.com

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.

For those of you visiting from Hacker News from the tweet and from this post, thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the context.

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.

Clutch Magazine

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000709864513 Michelle Kirkwood

    @Firene_EL:disqus

    I definitely agree that in a different scenario, the brothers would have been let go with the quickness, and the white woman would’ve keep her job,because she would have been seen as the victim,and all that. And, yes, indecent public behavior should be called out when it needs to be,flat out—especially if it’s rude,stupid,sexist,racist behavior—-I’m not disputing that at all. It’s just that people nowadays (and I’m referring to Ms. Richards specifically) get fired simply for posting things online nowadays that aren’t even inappropriate (such as the Black newscaster that got fired merely because she responded to an online poster’s complaint about her natural hair. It was a very professional and appropriate response,but yet she got let go from her job because of it, which I feel was ridiculous as hell.. That’s the reason why I said she shouldn’t have put the 2 dudes on blast online, because it wound up backfiring on her in the process,unfortunately. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have done it at all—if she had posted it anonymously,she may have still had a job—just my unimportant two cents,that’s all.

  • Eleanor Bennett

    Just for self defence and situations like this we should carry basic spy technology to voice record our abusers. It shouldn’t get to this extent but if it has then with the amount of victim blaming in this horrible world then we need all the evidence we can claw together.

    http://www.safetybasement.com/Spy-Listening-Recording-Devices-s/389.htm

  • celia74

    Thanks for reporting on this story, racialicious. I find it outrageous that Adria was fired for simply speaking out against the broader culture of misogyny that we all know the tech industry perpetuates (or, at the very least, does little to stop, as evidenced by PsyCon’s revised COC). These dudes felt perfectly comfortable spewing such rhetoric in public; why would they then feel entitled to then be privately protected from public censure? Oh, wait. #whitemalenerdprivilege.

  • PatrickInBeijing

    Oh, BTW, no one should have been fired over this. (The guys should have been sent to classes to train in how to be human beings, and Ms. Richards should have been THANKED by their companies for saving them from future embarrassment. Outside of being thanked, nothing should have happened to her. As to blaming her for the stupidity of the “boys”, that is silly. If the “boys” can’t do the time, they should not do the crime.

  • PatrickInBeijing

    I spent over 25 years in the tech field, and it was racist and sexist to the core. Sad to see it hasn’t changed since I left. How stupid is this? The “boys” are complaining about their right to free speech, and they don’t see that Ms. Richards was merely exercising HER right to free speech! Doesn’t she get one too? I guess not, in their eyes. I call them “boys” because they are acting like five year olds. At best. And the uproar? Most of it does not acknowledge Ms. Richards right to act the way she did. How clueless can people be? Really, pathetic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000709864513 Michelle Kirkwood

    After reading up on the incident with Ms. Richards, I feel this way—-I can understand why she did what she did, but she shouldn’t have put those two dudes on blast online—they also shouldn’t have been fired for something they just said—I could see them being fired for something they actually did, not just for jokes they made. I agree they should have been put in check, just not that way. On top of that, I also feel that she herself shouldn’t have been fired simply because her employees couldn’t handle the heat/backlash that came about as a result of her decision to do this. Why couldn’t they have backed her up,instead of just kicking her to the curb?

    Another thing—this trend of people getting fired because of something that they or someone else posted on -line is pretty disturbing. What happened to people actually getting a fair hearing/telling their side of the story in the first place.

    • Temperance

      In the US, we have at-will employment in every state except Montana. There is no such thing as a “fair hearing” as far as your job is concerned.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000709864513 Michelle Kirkwood

        Yeah, I get that—it’s been that way in Michigan for years and years now—-things are going to be even worse now that we’re been a right-to-work state as of Jan.1st of this year (the law was shoved through literally at the last minute on the last day of last year,and had a rider put on it so nobody could vote on it—there was no public hearing at all on it,which was despicable enough in itself,especially since our governor claimed that he wasn’t going to sign any RTW about a week before he suddenly turned around and signed it anyway, that lying two-faced bastard I never voted for—excuse my French.) Plus Detroit has an emergency financial manager now, so we’re going to be even more screwed in the future.

  • Elizabeth MB Downs

    I agree, why is she being punished for defending herself? Those “men” knew they were being rude and sexist. The father of three should have thought about what he was saying before he chimed in. How would his wife have felt about those comments. Are any of his children girls? Does he want them to endure such an environment. if you don’t want to be punished for doing something wrong, Don’t do it!

  • SuperHyugaYoshichan

    Well done as usual, Raciallicious. I’ve been hearing a lot about this through Tumblr, but it feels good so see it all laid out cleanly as you did here. :)