Tag Archives: equal rights

It’s Time For A Tech Industry Intervention To Address Misogyny

News junkie that I am, I see a lot of headlines.  And four came in over the last 30 hours or so that paint an astonishing picture of a  tech industry that is in complete denial about the intense misogyny that permeates the industry.  Let’s take them in the order that they were received:

First, programmer, teacher and game developer Kathy Sierra.  In 2007, she became well known enough to attract the attention of some nasty people, who set out to, pretty much, destroy her.  On Tuesday, she chronicled the whole sordid history on her blog, and Wired picked it up as well (I’m linking to both, because Kathy doesn’t promise to keep it posted on Serious Pony).  Here are some highlights:

  • The wrath of these trolls was incurred simply because she is a woman and she was reaching a point of being influential in the sector.
  • They threatened rape, dismemberment, her family;
  • They published her address and contact information all over the internet;
  • They made up offenses to attribute to her and maligned her character online;
  • Kathy suffers from epileptic seizures, so they uploaded animated GIFs to epilepsy support forums of the sort that can trigger seizures (Kathy’s particular form of epilepsy isn’t subject to those triggers but many of the forum members were).

The story gets more bizarre, as the man she identified as the ringleader became a sort of hero to the tech community in spite of this abhorrent behavior. Kathy makes a strong case that the standard advice of “don’t feed the trolls” is bad advice.  Her initial reaction to the harassment was to do just what they seemed to desire — remove herself from the public forums.  And they kept right after her.

Adria Richards, a developer who was criticized, attacked and harassed for calling out sexist behavior at a tech conference, then recounted her experiences on Twitter, and storified them here. Her attackers didn’t stop at the misogyny; they noted that she is black and Jewish as well, and unloaded as much racist sentiment as they did sexist.  And her experience was similar to Kathy Sierra’s.

These aren’t the only cases of this, by far.  Last month Anita Sarkeesian posted a vblog asking game developers to curb their use of the death and dismemberment of female characters as the “goto” method of demonstrating that a bad guy is bad. The reaction to her request was the same onslaught of rape and violence threats, outing of her home address, threats to go to her house and kill her and her children.

So, you get it — these women are doing the same thing that many people do; developing their expertise; building communities on Twitter, and getting some respect and attention for that expertise.  And ferocious animals on the internet are making their lives a living hell for it.  And it’s been going on for years.

Why hasn’t it stopped?  Maybe it’s because the leadership in the tech sector is in pretty complete denial about it.  This was made plain today, as news came out about two events at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference running this week. The first event was a “White Male Allies Plenary Panel” featuring Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer; Google’s SVP of search Alan Eustace; Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy; and Tayloe Stansbury, CTO of Intuit.  These “allies” offered the same assurances that they are trying to welcome women at their companies. A series of recent tech diversity studies show that there is a lot of work to be done there.  But, despite all of the recent news about Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, etc., Eustace still felt comfortable saying:

“I don’t think people are actively protecting the [toxic culture] or holding on to it … or trying to keep [diverse workers] from the power structure that is technology,”

Later in the day, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, stunned the audience by stating:

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”

Because having faith has worked so well for equal pay in the last 50 years? Here’s a chart showing how underpaid women are throughout the U.S. Short story? 83% of men’s wages in the best places (like DC) and 69% in the worst.

Nadella did apologize for his comment. But that’s not enough, by a long shot, for him, or Eric Schmidt, or Mark Zuckerberg, or any of their contemporaries. There is a straight line from the major tech exec who is in denial about the misogyny that is rampant in their industry to the trolls who are viciously attacking women who try and succeed in it. As long as they can sit, smugly, on a stage, in front of a thousand women in tech, and say “there are no barriers, you just have to work hard and hope for the best”, they are undermining the efforts of those women and cheering on the trolls.  This is a crisis that needs to be resolved with leadership and action.  Americans are being abused and denied the opportunity that is due to anyone in this country. Until the leaders of the tech industry stand up and address this blatant discrimination, they are condoning the atrocities detailed above.

Postnote: The nonprofit tech sector is a quite different ballpark when it comes to equity among the sexes.  Which is not to say that it’s perfect, but it’s much better, and certainly less vicious. I’m planning a follow-up post on our situation, and I’ll be looking for some community input on it.

 

The Offensive Bardwell Defense

Is it 2009 or 1954?

You might have read about Keith Bardwell, a man out of his time, who, throughout his 35 year career as a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana, has steadfastly denied marriage licenses to interracial couples. For their own good, of course. And for the good of any children they might bear. Some might consider Bardwell an old coot who means well, when he defends his cruel and discriminatory behavior as being based on his concern that interracial marriages generally don’t last, and that it’s cruel to subject children to a world where they will be pariahs to blacks and whites alike. But I can’t listen to his defense of bigotry with anything but an understanding that he has a choice. He can “protect” children from the hate he perpetuates, or he can stop being hateful.

Clearly, Bardwell doesn’t get out much, if he thinks that life for interracial couples and children is all that bad. Apparently, he can’t — or won’t — imagine a culture like the SF East Bay, where my wife, son and I live happily amongst many other interracial families and suffer no more or less discrimination than most of our single or multi-cultured peers. But I’m not buying his racism dressed up as concern for the children defense. I suspect that all of Bardwell’s good buddies, including a State Attorney General who passively condoned his illegal actions, generally agree that hey, we can deal with multiple races, as long as they don’t cross-pollinate.

It’s striking to me that Bardwell’s defense is based on the usual trifecta of bigoted justifications: He “doesn’t believe in mixing the races in that way”; he doesn’t believe that interracial marriages will last, questioning their validity (in relation to single race unions); and he seeks to protect the children. This sounds a lot like the recent Proposition 8 campaign in California, which amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage, not because there’s anything wrong with gays — “We love them!” the Prop 8 backers exclaimed — but because they don’t approve of that sort of union, and it’s not valid, and, if we condone it, we’ll harm the children.

Unlike Bardwell, who had his rationalizations for racism at the ready, the Prop 8 types look like they’re grasping at straws. Asked by a judge to explain exactly what the threat that homosexual marriages hold for heterosexual unions is, an attorney for the Prop 8 coalition admitted that he didn’t know. But, he protested, there might be a threat! We can’t allow two people who love each other to be treated as equal with two other people who love each other because, um, well, there might be some unforeseen consequence for the other people!

My son’s first exposure to racism came a few years before we were planning to teach him about it, when we attempted to stay at a cliff-side inn on the Oregon coast, only to find that another family had gotten down to the beach before us and had taken the opportunity — after seeing my dread-locked wife — to etch, in large letters, “N I G G E R” in the sand, in plain view from anywhere up the bluff. We had to explain to our four year old why we had to leave the nice hotel and get back in the car. Because of the bad people; the ignorant ones, who will insult and threaten us for irrational reasons.

He’ll run into this again. In fact, we’re certain that he already has run into subtler forms of racism. But he’ll suffer less of it than I did, as a Unitarian boy growing up somewhat ostracized in a school where 75% of my classmates were Jewish (unaware, until I was older, of my Jewish roots). I clearly remember the single lunch table where the black kids sat, bused into our 99% white school from Boston. I comforted my interracial friends who were beaten by other kids for being too light-skinned; or stopped by the police for being too dark-skinned in their own neighborhood. There’s still plenty of this type of racism around, but there’s less of it than there was, and it’s easier for us to shelter our son, appropriately, from it.

And it beats what our parents went through. My Jewish heritage was a secret because, after being chased out of the Netherlands by the Nazi’s, my mother and her parents shed their religion like a blood-soaked frock. My wife’s grandmother and aunt signed the earliest petition in what became Brown vs. the Board of Education, and lived through the firestorm that signing that petition incensed in the white community. We are both still very much products of a history of discrimination, and it tempers who we are and what we want for our child.

But we have hope for the future, because, while I don’t find age and naivete to be justifications for discrimination, I do see the generational trend that seems to be eradicating it. It is a better world for my interracial son to grow up in than it was for his racial parents. But it will be an even better one if we work, actively, to resurrect a media that used to pride itself on not taking sides. And we can’t tolerate the Bardwell’s and the Prop 8 bigots who are so sure of their superiority that they can easily justify denying others the same rights and privileges that they have. This is the world that my son is growing up in, let’s make it one that he’s welcome in.