Friday, March 22, 2013
Guys Are Asshats, and Other Things You Already Knew
Picture this: teenage me is sitting at lunch with my two best girl friends. We're laughing. Cracking up so loudly that people at other tables are staring at us. We are the table of misfit kids.
What was so funny? We were exploring what it would take for one to become and survive as a nickel whore. How many men would have to be serviced per day? How long could each "job" be? How many hours would you have to work?
It was stupid, vulgar, crass, disgusting, and utterly hilarious at the time. It could have made someone nearby feel uncomfortable, but, if it did, that wasn't our intention. We were just three dumbasses being dumbasses.
Maybe you've heard about what happened at PyCon, maybe you haven't. If you haven't, you can read about it here. Or here. Or here.
Rude, silly, sexually charged humor is a thing. Guys do it, girls do it. Guys, I'll admit, likely do it much more than girls. But if you've ever watched Sex in the City, there is absolutely a culture of sexualizing men in a way that might make them uncomfortable.
So here's my take on the incident.
Two guys were having an inappropriate discussion during a public event, while representing the companies they worked for. The conversation was silly. About forking repos and big dongles. You've heard worse double entendres on Saturday morning cartoons. But I'm not going to argue that the comments weren't inappropriate. They totally were.
Let me make myself clear: the behavior of these two men was inappropriate. But was it harassment? Some people think so. I do not. I think it was like someone overhearing my lunch conversation with my friends and being uncomfortable.
The woman who overheard these two men was Adria Richards. She admitted that it was the end of the conference and she was tired and had had enough. As someone who frequently reacts first and thinks second, I can understand that.
In my opinion, Richards had some options. The first would have been to simply turn around and ask the two men to stop. The second would have been to ask PyCon representatives to address the matter. The third was to use the Internet to publicly expose the two men.
Before I explain why I believe the choice Richards made was not the best one, I want to address the argument that Richards shouldn't have had to deal with this type of behavior in the first place. With that, I agree. While I do think we all need to lighten up and recognize stupid jokes when we hear them, as professionals at a public, work-related event, the two men should have known better. Plain and simple.
However, we all make mistakes. And, in this instance, there was an opportunity here for education.
Sadly, Richards chose to publicly expose the two men by posting the exchange and pictures to Twitter, where she had a fairly large following. She tagged the PyCon staff to get them involved. The men were, rightly, ejected from the conference.
However, it didn't end there. One of the two men lost his job, Richards lost her job, and all the companies involved lost business and took hits to their reputations.
Here's the thing: I was with Richards right to the point where she chose public shaming over handling the situation professionally. These weren't two guys on a plane. They weren't in an Apple store. They were all representing their companies at a professional conference.
What they did was wrong. How she reacted was wrong. And the entire situation has become ridiculous. As a self-proclaimed feminist, she's done more harm to her cause than anything. Instead of teaching those two idiots that what they were doing might make other women uncomfortable, and making them more thoughtful, she made the discussion about how she reacted.
Let me tell you about another situation. I was at my job. I was new. We were having a lunch for the staff. I was standing behind someone. They saw something on another person's shirt and loudly called it a fag tag. This was a middle-aged man. Using the word fag. In front of a fag.
I would have been well within my rights to go to HR or the owners, file a complaint, and have him punished or fired. The comment made me uncomfortable. I was new, I tend to be private and shy. It made me feel unwelcome in the company. It didn't matter that he didn't know I was gay. It was a comment that shouldn't have been made.
But I didn't do report him. Instead, I just looked at him and went, "Really?" in my most disapproving voice. That was it. And I haven't heard a comment from him since.
Do I believe there is a culture of pervasive sexism that must be addressed head on? Hell yes. Do I believe that women are bullied and shamed and harassed? Absolutely. Do I believe that we have a responsibility to fight that kind of sexism? 100%
I also believe in a proportional response. In other words: the punishment must fit the crime.
It's sad that two people lost their jobs, their reputations, and that the biggest thing people will likely take away from this is that Richards reacted inappropriately. This should have been a great opportunity to continue the discussion about making women more welcome in the tech industry. Let me tell you, they're definitely welcome. When I go to my FileMaker conference every other year, dealing with the horde of pasty, socially-awkward men grows tiresome.
Anyway, before I ramble further, I just want to say that I think education is key. Every person I've known who has ever told me that I changed they way they thought about gay people hasn't done so because I publicly shamed them for some homophobic behavior. They've done so because they got to know me. As a real person. A human being. Because they were educated.