Archives For sexism


Maybe it’s just me, but the older I get, the more it seems that high school actually gives teens a fairly accurate sneak peek into adult life, minus the rent/mortgage, bills, and the fear of getting fired for or without cause, of course. High school drama seems like a pretty good description of what currently dominates once immensely popular and influential skeptical blogs after the nerd gender wars in the wake of Elevatorgate as many small skeptical conferences are being quickly reduced into confrontations about sexism, politics, and gender rather than discussions about all those science and skeptical inquiry topics they were meant to facilitate. But while I get plenty of gender and political correctness discussions from big name skeptical bloggers, my tech reading has remained quite clear of them. Well, until now, when the Donglegate incident lit up the feeds of numerous tech blogs and unleashed the fury of the internet on two companies.

Unlike the basic premise of Elevatorgate, where there was something to discuss and some good points to be made before the problem metastasized into what it has, Donglegate fits the definition of a tempest in a teapot to a T. At a conference for programmers working with Python, a popular open source scripting language, tech evangelist (basically a marketer/salesperson whose job is to explain why his or her company’s flagship products are the best thing since both sliced bread and perforated toilet paper) Adria Richards, overheard two guys behind her making an off-color joke about "forking a repository" followed by one about "big dongles." So she did what seasoned pros do in situations like this and asked them if they wouldn’t mind knocking it off because there was a presentation underway. Oh wait, then we wouldn’t have Donglegate, my bad. I meant she took a picture of them and publicly shamed them on Twitter for making dirty nerd puns with links to the conference’s policy asking attendees to keep their humor audience-appropriate.

From there things quickly got ridiculous. One of the guys in question was fired, Richards wrote an amazingly hyperbolic post delcaring that she felt compelled to shame them for every little girl out there who may never learn how to program because "the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so" and concluding with "Yesterday the future of programming was on the line and I made myself heard," which unleashed the fury of the internet. She was also shown the door at her company as commercially painful DDoS attacks kept on coming for two days and her bosses most likely lost their confidence in her PR skills. And as the sour cherry on top, there was the usual assortment of rape and death threats by trolls who are attracted to these dramas much like vultures are attracted by the stench of putrid, rotting flesh, giving Richards a shot at a moral high ground, saying that brogrammers couldn’t stand to see a woman in tech stand up for herself, and, apparently, every woman and girl in the field or considering going into it.

But of course no manufactroversy would be complete without a kicker, and here it is. Richards herself is no stranger to dirty nerd puns, having used one herself on her work Twitter account a short time before the conference. By her logic, someone should’ve spoken up against it for all the boys who dirty minds like her will discourage from the field to peruse the profession. Why, if we let people make off-color jokes, they will be too offended to study, constantly in fear that the women in tech will just make jokes about their penises. </sarcasm> In the real world, people will make sexual jokes all the time and yes, a lot of them will make them at inappropriate times. The way to deal with this fact of life is to accept it and to tell the offending parties to knock it off when they cross the line rather than rush to appoint oneself as the savior of your industry’s future. As a man in the tech world, I’d be lying if I told you I’ve never heard women in IT make all sort of off-color puns about "multitasking" and "mounting drives." And yet I survived to code another day, mostly because like all adults, I’ve heard plenty of stuff like this since middle school.

Women going into IT are going to find that their problems with the industry will be institutional in nature rather than potentially overhearing dongle jokes. Graybeards who subtly imply or not so subtly declare that the programming world is not meant for women, or hiring managers who have free reign to hire whoever they think is most attractive rather than most qualified, are big issues those who want to ensure that little girls can easily become programmers if they so choose have to battle. If someone can’t handle a cheesy penis pun or joke implying coitus you can see in just about every other Superbowl commercial, this person is going to have a tough time in any job or any social circle outside of a fundamentalist religious group. If knowing that dirty jokes about the profession they want to take up exist are enough to make them abandon said profession, to me it’s a sign of a pathologically sheltered childhood rather than a real issue with the industry. It’s a downright inane argument that Richards was standing up for the future of women programmers and its self-serving nature is even more infuriating because it glosses over real problems.

I feel that it does a great disservice to women programmers when we’re told to treat them like a delicate bouquet of flowers instead of simply treating them as equals, paying them equal wages, and promoting them based on their merits as professionals. The women in IT I know want to be successful by doing something big and important, by cranking out highly visible projects. Why should we scramble to protect them from potentially overhearing a childish dirty joke and carry them to the finish line so we can hit the desired metric of female CIOs and CTOs, or architects? Isn’t that downright disrespectful to them? Why not just stay out of their way and let women in IT accomplish what they want to accomplish? It’s really not that hard to make an assumption that a qualified professional sitting across from you or next to you can excel regardless of gender. I’m not ridiculing Richards’ behavior because I don’t think there aren’t any issues for women in IT or any other STEM field. I’m ridiculing it because I have too much respect for women to think that a dongle or forking joke will deter them from following their programming dreams.


One would think that by now talking about Elevatorgate would go way past beating a dead horse and into the territory of savaging the bleached, brittle bones left as its only remains. But you’re severely underestimating the sheer amount of mileage Rebecca Watson is trying to get out of it by writing an article on Slate about her sheer bewilderment as to how sexist and misogynistic the online skeptical community supposedly really is. By the title alone, you’d think that her account about being propositioned in an elevator ending with a “guys, that’s creepy, don’t do that” just threw open the floodgates of rape threats. Really, at this point the cow has been milked until it’s bleeding from its udders and Watson yet again manages to summon the cloak of feminism to do what she does best and deflect the number one criticism of her handling of the affair by enlisting the help of internet trolls who sound as if they were called from the darkest corners of the web to deliver the kind of misogyny you’d expect from a rabid Muslim cleric on Saudi TV.

Rape threats, while horrible, cannot be simply attributed to the skeptical community at large and doing so is either trying to establish guilt by association, or by labeling everyone who can visit a wide open public blog as part of the skeptical movement. I find it very difficult to swallow that with so many skeptics out there submitting their critiques of Watson’s blanket declarations, only the most vitriolic trolling is featured and highlighted, especially since she has a very heavy-handed moderation policy on Skepchick. The trolls aren’t just being fed, they’re given a feast the likes of which would be hard to find outside Valhalla! Every time they strike in response to her claims of widespread misogyny among society in general and skeptics in particular, she raises them on a pedestal and uses their most unhinged threats and sexist smears as supposed examples of the criticism she gets, giving them even more fuel to send her vicious threats. Rinse, repeat, ramp it up, soak up the hits in a disservice to her fellow skeptics, both male and female.

By the end of the day, one would think that the only comments she gets are either from devoted, supportive fans proud of all the fine work she’s doing or threaten her with gang rape on her way from the grocery store with nothing in between. Indeed, the skeptics have been so bad this year that we’re now not allowed to have adult themed calendars as we’re all pigs and don’t know how to be mature about sexuality, we’ll just stare at women and drool because that’s what we were told to do by mass media and a patriarchal society. Seriously, there’s feminism and there’s just going too far and Watson has been doubling down on going to far at every opportunity. Instead of fixing the legitimate problems she complained about and moving on, this has become the year of the Elevatorgate for the skeptical community and the so-called leaders of skeptical groups are now mired in melodramas that happen in bars after skeptic meetups and blog networks. So much for teaching people about science and skeptical inquiry, right? After all, geek drama, angst, and gossip are so much more important and worthy of our time…