The Bullies, the Bullied and the Bystanders

adria_richardsI have been hesitant to wade into the storm in the teacup that has hit the tech world over the blogger, consultant and techie speaker Adria Richards. Mainly because she is a personal friend but also not wanting to already stoke an already hot fire.

Yet I am compelled that silence can be complicity to a situation that is a lot bigger than one event. I refuse to be silent. Here is a friend who as a result of a tweet received the most vitriolic responses online and loss of employment and for all intents and purposes has gone into hiding.

For the record I refuse to be drawn into ad hominem attacks which have tended to dominate the debate.

So for those of you who missed it here is the story from her blog.
And here is how media outlets such as HuffPo, VentureBeat and some blogs like this, this reported it. As well as this which truly resonates with me.

So let’s dissect some of these issues.

Inappropriate Language
My default position was why didn’t Adria turn around and confront the gentlemen who were making this comment. Yes I probably would have done the same but then I am speaking from a position of privilege where I know I have just had to turn and face noisy people in a theatre or public arena to keep quiet. For some reason being over six feet tall and having the ability to adopt a most theatrical stare to put the fear of God into people has worked in both my professional and public life.

That said I as an advocate for equality for women I have had untold stories of women being afraid to speak out or react to inappropriate behaviour. I have been guilty of inappropriate language myself and have resolved this with those who were offended. It’s all about context and we have no right to tell people when not to be offended. If you made a joke that I found offending I would tell you as many black colleagues have discovered when they make nigga references in my presence. Other men still don’t get why I get upset about jokes about rape! Each to their own just don’t do them in my presence as I will challenge you.

On reflection from my default I can understand why. I may have done it differently but I totally understand why for some breaking point could mean having to address the situation there and then. She is not the first to have exposed injustice online and won’t be the last but hey she did it in ‘developer land’ and like Kathy Sierra or journalists Anita Sarkesian has learned how mean and nasty both men and women in these forums can be.

On Being Bullied
Having taken the photo the situation was resolved in the conference. The post was made on her twitter explaining why she did it and one of the men even acknowledged why he felt for Adria what was said was inappropriate.

It’s funny it made me think that all along the timeline of women addressing inappropriateness that what happened at the time is challenged usually by rabid men. Emily Pankhurst and her suffragettes were considered fruit loops but women got the vote. Rosa Parks was vilified and even though she is heralded now as a freedom fighter she and her family suffered immensely for years afterwards before it was trendy to be a civil rights activist. Whilst these may seem extreme comparisons the underlying principle of being able to stand up against inappropriate behaviour as a woman yet again has sparked some crazy bullying. Interestingly enough Adria in her own words does not declare herself as a feminist but in all the time I have known her has heralded progress for equality and fair treatment in the tech space.

There are those who state she plays the gender and race card. Scary how easy it is for people to default to those when never once did she react to the bullying, threats of rape and decapitation by mentioning race or gender. To be honest I think she would have every right to conceptualize them in that framework too.

I commented to a friend that for those cowards who exposed her personal details and such online it is so different for men. I know for a fact if someone made such a threat against any the women close to me that I would invite them to my home and lets have the conversation face to face.

Bystanders
As a worker in education the amount of young girls and ladies I know of who don’t want to be part of the tech sector because of the horror stories they hear are incredible. Indeed some writers don’t even think women are wired for tech. Yet still it is amazing to read how quickly women bloggers were quick to take Adria apart. Lamenting that one of the aforementioned men lost their job with no mention that she did too. Talking about how such behaviour sets back opportunities for women being taken seriously in tech. Even admitting they disliked her personally. Seriously? You would remain silent on threats of rape and bodily harm by people who now have your home address and details as nothing more than a threat? What so just to be part of the boys club?

The reality is that for a lot of women this is the reality, one just broke rank and said enough, and for now the same community she has championed and challenged to be more welcoming has ganged up on her to declare she needed to grow some, learn to take a joke and in the worst case scenarios threatened rape and decapitation.

Sometimes it takes situations like this to happen to really show us what lies beneath and what an uphill task it is for women especially to gain a sense of equality. Little boys threatened by the fact that they can’t get away with being inappropriate in the place of work anymore, as the nature of their industries change, with new entrants to the workforce. That so many people in the developer community would want to gang up to destroy one woman, and to attack the company that employees her, based on their perception of injustice aimed at one man is telling. Sad but very telling.

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2 thoughts on “The Bullies, the Bullied and the Bystanders

  1. Thank you. I am not surprised how quickly this has developed to be honest. It’s crazy though that so many people do not even realise what they are saying or advocating through their bullying tactics.

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