Feminism and tech: an overdue and welcome manifesto

Two words: Ross Perot.

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Camille Paglia is not a feminist.


That’s the thing: there is no “easy” solution.

However, I would argue strongly that the state of women in the workplace in the USA is far, far better now than it was in, say, 1950. Or even 1980.

But if you examine the document, they do provide some goals:

  • Encouraging greater diversity in the workplace (e.g. hire more women and “not like us” people)

  • Donate your time and/or money to promote orgs that work to make the above happen

  • Donate your time and/or money to promote orgs that encourage young women and girls to enter STEM (basically, start earlier than the above step which only affects current women of working age)

I think what gets them frustrated is that many pay lip service to the above and laud it as a goal, etc, but don’t actually do it enough. And the traditional “crazy ass puzzles and whiteboard and day-long intensive boot camp, where if even one person decides they don’t like the cut of your jib you are gone because we’d always rather err on the side of safety in hiring” interview style at big tech companies is kind of a male oriented process by its hardass boot camp nature.

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Since it is practically impossible to have a good discussion of feminism (or anything else) on an unmoderated online forum, it’s much easier to just call people out for having terrible opinions.

On a constructive note, in the last fifty years, we’ve managed to progress from the creepily misogynistic (à la Mad Men) all the way to the gloriously absurd (i.e. “Speaking as a man, I would like to point out that this is a poor example of sexism because…”). Maybe in another fifty, my STEM field will have an actual gender gap, instead of a gender chasm.


I read a Techcrunch article on the Github case and just came away confused.

From what I can tell, the issues were the wife of one of the founders bullying her (the wife not even working there), a coworker declaring his unrequited love for her, that coworker allegedly removing her code from projects (the independent investigator didn’t find any sign of this), and male coworkers watching a female coworker and a female friend of that coworker hula hooping.

The final straw for Horvath came when she saw men gawking at women who were hula-hooping at the office. She called the episode “a really ugly and inappropriate scene.” Her words:

Two women, one of whom I work with and adore, and a friend of hers were hula hooping to some music. I didn’t have a problem with this. What I did have a problem with is the line of men sitting on one bench facing the hoopers and gawking at them. It looked like something out of a strip club. When I brought this up to male coworkers, they didn’t see a problem with it. But for me it felt unsafe and to be honest, really embarrassing. That was the moment I decided to finally leave GitHub.

Yeah, I want to second this. I was really put off by the discussion that followed that article, and it wasn’t Coderay that put me off. I pretty much expected something along that line of that sort of sentiment and wasn’t shocked to see. You get that in every single thread that has something to do with feminism on the Internet. What I didn’t like was that he came in with an honest opinion and was never once engaged directly on his points, and was just told he is a bad person for thinking that way. It gives me a big old ick to see an honest attempt to engage get that sort of response. It isn’t healthy for the discussion, and it is a piss poor way to engage. If someone says “x and y doesn’t make sense”, “shut up, your opinion wrong” is probably not going to be a convincing argument.

It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about how a dude felt like he could tell a group of women that they were criticizing sexism in the wrong way. It doesn’t matter if it was cold yesterday, knowledgeable people are telling you the climate is getting warmer. It doesn’t matter if one is particularly persuaded that the Github incident was or was not specifically all and exclusively about sexism, there are knowledgeable people telling you that sexism in the Tech industry is a problem and please could we stop. If you agree with the soul of the argument, what’s the virtue in arguing the semantics of it?

Thinking that you have the authority to tell someone else how to make their argument is the kind of condescending patronization that is PART OF sexism – dudes constantly imagine they know better than women, even on topics of women’s inequality. And arguing that these issues are not “really” sexism feeds into a narrative of reactionary, hysterical women who can’t be trusted with facts and rational, logical men who need to correct their over-reaction.

So far from being side-tracked, I think the convo is AVOIDING getting side-tracked into little avenues of “Is X or Y really sexist?” by focusing on the fact that asking that question is missing the point. The manifesto isn’t ABOUT Github, it’s ABOUT sexism. If you respect these women, and accept what they say as knowledgeable (even if you quibble with some specifics), what are you going to DO about it?

  1. Re Github, Mix:
  • A “flat” organization
  • No HR (until 2014)
  • Weird blurred boundaries with founder’s wife pushing for pro bono work.
  • A sprinkle of failed office romance
  • Possible passive aggressive pull requests.

Shake vigorously:

The investigation found no evidence to support the claims against Tom and his wife of sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation, or of a sexist or hostile work environment. However, while there may have been no legal wrongdoing, the investigator did find evidence of mistakes and errors of judgment. In light of these findings, Tom has submitted his resignation, which the company has accepted.

In sum: something weird just happened, enough to make a founder step down. Maybe not sexual harassment, but don’t work here.

  1. Domestic violence that a CEO almost got away with and was forced to step down by the board. Don’t work here either. Your CEO is crazy enough to hit someone 117 times and deny it.

  2. Also, known as comments on the internet will be terrible.

  3. Codebabes… If you don’t find this sexist, I’m not sure why I’m bothering to comment.

  4. From the supplementary reading:

But, that answer isn’t reassuring for women in technology at all. What happens if (when) something like that happens to you? Will your company throw you under the bus to protect themselves legally? Will they try to discredit you, even while taking actions make it clear something happened?

[…] The entire situation reads: A male executive can do something that’s wrong/sexist. The company will want to cover itself legally, so it will discredit the claims. It’s hard to PROVE something was sexist. There’s always so much individual variation between people – so it’s easy to discredit. The company does realize something was wrong – so it forces the executive to resign. Yet, a prominent VC is still offering support and funding, with no context.

Or if something bad happens to you, don’t expect your company to do anything in your favor, and the internet will rip you apart.

Anyway, I’d much rather be reading about cool tech and projects instead of the latest weird/inappropriate work environments going on in Silicon Valley. I wish this stuff would stop cropping up too, but it doesn’t so there must be a problem.

As a general takeaway, no one should have to tolerate a bad working environment. Correct the working situation situation or leave for greener pastures, and seriously, don’t excuse this shit if you see it because it’s your immature company “culture”.

If a climate scientist used “It sure was hot out at the beach yesterday” as an example of anthropogenic climate change, I don’t think you need any special expertise to point out that that is not a good argument for the point. @coderay isn’t saying it wasn’t hot at the beach or that climate change isn’t happening, just that some of the particular examples given do not support the conclusions.

Dogpiling on anyone who critiques any aspect of a manifesto is not the way to encourage productive communication. If I don’t have the authority to talk about things that I don’t have direct personal experience with, what the fuck are we even having this conversation for? “Sit down, shut up, and listen” is not what peers open an interaction with.

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So little has changed. While graphics is typically considered “tech light” it’s still male-dominated for certain forms of work. One contract I had was working at a small, otherwise all-male office whose sole client was a major recreational motor vehicle group. The first day I worked there, I was placed at desk between two of the three existing designers. A short time later, on the empty desk next to me - and facing me - a laptop running “Anchorman” got set up.

It played at me everyday for the rest of my first week with no complaint by the business owner. I needed the money, and know how to wear headphones, so I just ignored it.

I kept that contract for the full, nine-month season run. While I was there, they ran through four secretaries.

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While I agree with this, there is one area where I think we do know better, and that is how to reach fellow men. When I was reading one list of feminist suggestions of ways for men to help, and it included “start a feminist book club at work”, something inside me snapped. Yeah, uh… I’m sure all the dudes I know are going to rush right out and start a feminist book club at work. While sipping chamomile tea.

Yeah, I can’t see that working very well, either. Masculinity is something that guys need to be constantly showing off in our society, so a feminist book club ain’t gonna get a lot of folks on board.

Sure, but the convo isn’t about yesterday’s temperature, it’s about the broader phenomenon, and in-fighting about the appropriateness of a specific example is just going to distract you from getting the real work done of improving the situation with the people who agree with you. Perfect is often the enemy of good. We can worry about the relevance of specific instances of sexism when there isn’t a need for manifestos like this pointing at a bigger problem.

My wife said, and I quote, “Even I don’t want to start a feminist book club at work.”

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How about on the BBS?

Why don’t we have a book club on here?

A technical brown bag isn’t that far off from a book club. Perhaps some rephrasing would help?

The dirty little secret is that guys are often dicks to everyone:

  • Dudes love to argue for sake of argument, when absolutely nothing is at stake – and will frequently argue to the point of anger / exhaustion about anything, no matter how tiny and irrelevant.
  • Dudes generally suck at empathy in general, for all humans. (Also since we’re privileged, we don’t see much of the bad stuff that happens to people with less privilege than us, leading to… less empathy. Out of sight, out of mind.)
  • Dudes have innate “who is above me, who is below me” alpha male tendencies. (See the excellent book You Just Don’t Understand for more on this)
  • Dudes are not great at listening, because we’re aggressive and want to make our points aka “win”

Improving that (and simply getting more dudes to recognize when theyr’e doing it) is something I’m very interested in. But calling it a “feminist book club” or “feminist technical brown bag” is not the way to get it to happen, at all.

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