A Week In The Life

[Content Warning: Intimate Partner Violence, workplace harassment, verbal abuse, sexism]

Folks who hang out around these parts are probably familiar with our Timeline Of Incidents, which documents sexist behavior in tech and other geek fields. While it’s a great resource, scrolling down through that hall of shame is a poor approximation for what it’s like being a woman having to deal with these incidents in real time.

It can be painful. Stressful. Scary. Difficult. Mostly, for me, it’s exhausting. And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I hang out with a lot of women in tech, and “this week is fired” has been a common refrain, these last few days.

We begin on Monday, with GitHub’s wholly inadequate response to Julie Ann Horvath’s harassment allegations. They claimed, in the face of her detailed, documented reports of ongoing harassment–harassment that she’d brought to the company’s attention more than once–that they had “no evidence…of a hostile work environment.”

When a woman says “X thing happened to me” and you say “I have no evidence that X happened,” you are calling her a liar. You’re saying her report of her own lived experience is not ‘evidence.’ Women hear that constantly–we are perpetually having our reports questioned, our behavior audited, our pain dismissed. So while this story is about what GitHub did to Horvath, Ellen Chisa is right to point out that GitHub’s reaction–and that of the tech community at large–is scary for many of us.

A lot of folks are saying Horvath is brave for speaking out. That’s true. What’s also true is that her bravery is being met with hostility, victim-blaming, verbal abuse, and threats of litigation. Speaking up about harassment in this industry is personally and professionally difficult. And when people harass and abuse those who do it, they’re sending a message to all of us. Watch your back. Shut your mouth. We will come for you.

Wednesday brought the news that RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal pled guilty last week to a couple of misdemeanor domestic violence charges. He was originally facing more than 40 felonies for beating his girlfriend–this after prosecutors say he was caught on tape hitting her more than 117 times in half an hour.

He got three years probation and a few hours of community service. Valleywag reports that his company just started a lucrative partnership, anticipates raising $100mil from its IPO, and Chahal is still being promoted as a public speaker.

Geek Feminists are no strangers to the notion that the professional reputations of men in tech are valued more highly than the physical safety of women. We saw it when Michael Schwern was arrested on domestic violence charges. Geek Feminism co-signed an Ada Initiative statement declining to do any work with Schwern in the future, and dudes came out of the woodwork crowing about ‘witch hunts.’

Because in this industry, telling a dude we’re not going to stamp his ‘ally card’ is totally the same as getting together a mob to murder him.

Schwern has since filed a civil suit against his ex wife, Noirin Plunkett, for speaking out about his arrest. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak made an initial finding in the civil case this Tuesday. Plunkett asked folks for support to offset the considerable legal costs of fighting the suit.

Watch your back. Shut your mouth. We will come for you.

Friday. A day after dismissing and tone-policing Shanley Kane’s “What Can Men Do,” Stack Exchange co-founder Jeff Atwood appropriated her work, publishing a post of his own with the same title that parroted many of her points (with a healthy dose of wrongheaded and harmful misinformation sprinkled in). When called on it, he doubled down, refusing to acknowledge Kane and continuing to tone-police her.

Women in tech practically have to work on diversity issues. It’s a matter of survival, for us. An unpaid, under-appreciated second shift we’re all expected to work. This is far from the first time that a man with very little background in this work has swooped in to ‘correct’ those who know far more about it than he does, taking credit for their labor in the process. And the yahoos in Kane’s twitter mentions, abusing her for daring to call Atwood out, are singing a similar refrain:

Watch your back. Shut your mouth. We will come for you.

If that wasn’t enough for one day, word has also been spreading today of CodeBabes project, a website which offers beautiful women in various states of undress as ‘rewards’ to users taking coding tutorials. The website helpfully informs us that there are more important things to be offended about. To paraphrase Melissa McEwan, this is contempt, not offense.

I don’t know about the codebabes team, but I’m personally capable of holding several things in contempt at once.

As this week’s events should indicate, I’ve had a lot of practice.