Tag Archives: Tech industry

It has been zero days since the last sexist incident in tech

[Content warning: sexual objectification.]

Obie Fernandez is the author of The Rails Way, the editor of Addison-Wesley’s Professional Ruby Series, and a co-founder and CTO of Javelin, a startup that builds “tools and services to help you change your world”.

Fernandez also, apparently, can’t talk about technology without reminding everybody that he has, on some occasion or another, had sex. Despite being a CTO, he also apparently doesn’t know that the Internet doesn’t have an erase button — which goes to show you that extremely poor judgment doesn’t stop you from getting copious VC funding for your company, if you’re male.


A screenshot of a tweet from Obie Fernandez, which he later deleted

Fernandez’s Twitter bio declares, “Author, Programmer, Dad”. Usually (certainly not always, I’m aware!) being a dad implies that you have had sex at least once. But it’s so important for Fernandez to remind us that he has had sex — with people of multiple ages — that he also has to inject tortured sexual analogies into what could have been a perfectly benign programming language flame war.

At 8:36 PM tonight (in my time zone, anyway, Fernandez tweeted, “still not sure exactly what I’m supposed to apologize for other than being a bit crass about 20-year old people.”

By 9:11 PM, Fernandez had evidently thought about it deeply and carefully enough to issue a retraction. I guess the “lean startup” approach is so powerful that its adherents can go from sneering at their critics (including a risible attempt to backjustify his sexism with an appeal to pansexuality — folks, we’ve been over that already) to heartfelt apology in less than 40 minutes. (I fear that his apology may not be entirely heartfelt, though, as he quickly moved on to declaring that he’s “not a sexist” and attempting to pay for his blunder by citing all the women he hires.)

Readers of this blog are aware that one asshat in tech would have little effect on his own, if he were indeed an isolated case. They are equally aware that Fernandez is no anomaly of asshaberdashery. I think the hapless Fernandez is providing us with a valuable lesson: the message to “not feed the trolls” is a dangerous one. While any given individual absolutely can and should disengage with trolls when necessary to protect their physical and mental health, engaging with them can have value. Judging from his Twitter avatar, Mr. Fernandez is at least 30 years old. That makes 30 years or more in which not a single person in his life has told him that the world generally does not need to know that he has done a sex. Perhaps his demeanor makes them afraid to challenge him. Perhaps they don’t think it’s worth the time. Who knows? But at one point in his life, one presumes that he was impressionable — one knows that he’s impressionable, since nobody acts like he does unless they get rewarded for it. Rewarded with laughs, with buddy-buddy slaps on the back from fellow bros, with congratulations on how delightfully politically incorrect he is, with 1.5 million dollars of venture capital money from the likes of Mark Suster, Eric Ries, and 500 Startups.

Back when I was first dabbling in Usenet in the mid-1990s, it was conventional wisdom that trolls were usually children sitting at a computer in their mothers’ basements. That, in other words, they had no real power other than the ability to rustle a few jimmies for a moment. It’s 2014 now, and some of those children have grown up and become technology executives — people with hiring and firing power, with a lot of control over a big part of the economy. If the adults in the room had spent a bit more time trying to socialize those children (because clearly, they weren’t getting it from their parents) and less time stating their troll-starving prowess, perhaps we would be able to attend a conference without hearing about some guy’s crotch.

Postscript: On Twitter, Matt Adereth pointed out this 2005 blog post from Fernandez:

I didn’t particularly like Ruby the first time I met her. I thought she was interesting, but a few months later (to my surprise) something changed. I started seeing her appealing qualities. My friends really spoke highly of Ruby, so we started spending time together. The love affair began in February 2005 and about a month later, things started getting pretty bad with my wife, Java. Even when I was doing Java, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ruby and how much better she is for me.

So it looks like Mr. Fernandez has been unnecessarily sexualizing technical discussions for fun and profit for quite some time. As Adereth observed, it also looks like Fernandez’s use of the “who said I was talking about women?” derailing tactic is entirely disingenuous.

Linkspam is the mind-killer (1 July 2014)

Facebook’s emotion study and research ethics:

  • Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions For Science | Kashmir Hill at Forbes (June 28): “Facebook’s data scientists manipulated the News Feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts to see how it affected their moods. If there was a week in January 2012 where you were only seeing photos of dead dogs or incredibly cute babies, you may have been part of the study. Now that the experiment is public, people’s mood about the study itself would best be described as ‘disturbed.'”
  • Facebook unethical experiment : It made news feeds happier or sadder to manipulate people’s emotions. | Katy Waldman at Slate (June 28): “Facebook’s methodology raises serious ethical questions… ‘If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation,’ says James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland. ‘This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent.'”
  • Facebook and Engineering the Public | Zeynep Tufecki at Medium (June 29): “I’m struck by how this kind of power can be seen as no big deal. Large corporations exist to sell us things, and to impose their interests, and I don’t understand why we as the research/academic community should just think that’s totally fine, or resign to it as ‘the world we live in’. That is the key strength of independent academia: we can speak up in spite of corporate or government interests.”
  • Did Facebook and PNAS violate human research protections in an unethical experiment? | David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine (June 30): “As tempting of a resource as Facebook’s huge amounts of data might be to social scientists interested in studying online social networks, social scientists need to remember that Facebook’s primary goal is to sell advertising, and therefore any collaboration they strike up with Facebook information scientists will be designed to help Facebook accomplish that goal. That might make it legal for Facebook to dodge human subjects protection guidelines, but it certainly doesn’t make it ethical.”

Spammy spam:

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Some Questions For Brian Carderella and Wicked Good Ruby

This is an anonymous guest post.

Today, the organizers of Wicked Good Ruby decided to cancel the conference. One organizer, Brian Cardarella, posted to the BostonRB list to explain his reasoning.

I have some questions.

Why was there no code of conduct?

Increasing numbers of tech conferences, both within Ruby and otherwise, are adopting codes of conduct. Codes of conduct protect attendees, particularly attendees from marginalized groups, and are an important part of making conferences safer. Codes of conduct also protect conferences and their organizers; having defined policies in place for what to do when harassment happens make the on-the-ground decisions easier to make and more legally defensible after the fact.

Ashe Dryden and the Ada Initiative, among others, have written extensively on why codes of conduct are important and on how to effectively write and implement them. There’s no excuse any more for not having one. Because of this, increasing numbers of people have pledged to not attend events without a code of conduct. Some companies have even decided to not sponsor events without formal codes of conduct.

This may partly explain your speaker-recruitment and sponsorship woes.

Why wasn’t your outreach to female speakers sufficient?

I’m glad that you read the advice that direct outreach to female speakers is often necessary to establish gender balance. However, you make it clear in your posts explaining the cancellation that you were primarily seeking female speakers to avoid “drama,” to not “get destroyed publicly,” to avoid “how crazy everybody gets over the gender issue in Ruby.” Nowhere did you say anything about doing it because it’s the right thing.

I have to wonder: did you read the widely available advice for how to do outreach to female speakers properly? I’m wondering this for two reasons: first, the lack of a code of conduct makes it sound like you weren’t interested in meeting female speakers’ likely needs; this may have contributed to their lack of interest. Second, the way you characterize your outreach makes it sound like you emailed people saying “Hey, I need a woman so the internet doesn’t fall on my head, and you’ll do. Wanna speak at my conf?” That’s not nearly as appealing a prospect as, say, “I really admired your work on [gem]; do you want to talk about it at WGR?”

Maybe I’m being too harsh on you with that assumption. But, still, I wonder why you only asked twelve women, given that you were trying to fill 24-36 speaker slots. (Were you assuming they’d all say yes?) I wonder when you started your outreach process, given that popular speakers are often booked months and months in advance. I wonder why you didn’t even let your CFP hit its deadline before snappishly assuming no women would apply in the last week.

Why did you blame women for WGR’s cancellation?

By your own account, the biggest reason you cancelled WGR was a lack of sponsorships. Why did you throw that frankly bizarre paragraph about lacking talk proposals from women? It’s a nasty little pit of nastiness, and frankly seems pitched to incite the “drama” you claimed to want to avoid.

Why did you want to blame women, instead of the people with the money?

I leave the answer to that question as an exercise for the reader.

Everything that linkspams must converge (13 June 2014)

Warning for discussion of sexual assault. Predatory behaviour and sexual assault at International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and in ed-tech:

  • The original post at Medium, entitled “What is this, church camp?”, by Ariel Norling, is now deleted, Norling has since published Setting a Few Things Straight | Medium (June 5): “Both men’s actions were aggressive and symptomatic of larger systemic issues of sexism and rape culture. This topic has been too often avoided (because it is simply too intimidating for women to confess), ignored, and silenced. My sole objective was to bring attention to the fact that educational technology is a sector that still suffers from these issues, despite being comprised primarily of women.”
  • #YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe | Audrey Watters at Hack Education (June 4): “As I’ve explained on this blog before — or actually, in retrospect, maybe I’ve just hinted — I have received an incredible amount of misogynistic and violent feedback to my work in education technology.”

New movies! Reviews of Maleficent and X-Men: Days of Future Past abound! But it seems our spam submissions have a preference…

Spam!

  • Kim Moir of Releng of the Nerds recommends (June 9) Brianna Wu’s talk Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech (video, June 4) [no known transcript or subtitles, you can start subtitling at Amara to help make it accessible]
  • Online Harassment, Defamation, and Hateful Speech: A Primer of the Legal Landscape | Alice E. Marwick and Ross W. Miller at Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy: “This interdisciplinary project focused on online speech directed at women and seeks to provide a primer on (i) what legal remedies, if any, are available for victims of sexist, misogynist, or harassing online speech, and (ii) if such legal remedies and procedures exist, whether practical hurdles stand in the way of victims’ abilities to stop harassing or defamatory behavior… The study concluded that… there are few legal remedies for victims.”
  • How Perks Can Divide Us | Melissa Santos and Rafe Colburn at Model View Culture (June 9): “As managers, our goal should be to build the strongest and most effective teams possible. That starts with being able to draw from the broadest pool of candidates possible. When we exclude people because they don’t drink beer, can’t hang out after work, are remote employees or don’t like video games, we’re driving away people who could make our teams great for irrelevant reasons.”
  • Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines | Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker (May 28): “On the very same day [N. K.] Jemisin made her [WisCon Guest of Honor] speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up… from the same editor who called Jemisin a [racial and gendered insult] and [gendered insult].”
  • Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned | Sumana Harihareswara at WikiConference USA (May 30) [transcript, video and audio are also available]: “When someone is criticized for doing something inhospitable, the first response needs to not be ‘Oh, but remember their edit count. Remember he’s done X or she’s done Y for this community.’ We need to start treating hospitality as a first class virtue, and see that it is the seed of everything else. Alberto Brandolini said ‘The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.’ It has a big cost when someone treats others badly.”
  • Black girls take on tech’s diversity woes | Contessa Gayles at CNN (June 10): “This past weekend, Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit that teaches coding to girls from underserved communities, hosted its first ever hackathon. “
  • The Newest Frontier | Lesli-Ann Lewis at Model View Culture (June 9): “There’s a persistent lie that there is a new industry of equality in the West. There’s a belief that in this industry, there are new playing fields, even ones, where ingenuity, inventiveness and good ole gumption result in success for anyone worthy. That industry is tech.”
  • Some thoughts on handling harassment and toxic behavior privately | Selena Deckelmann (June 9): “I believe in proportionate response. However, when the interactions are online and there is no physical public space, just ‘public media’, there’s a serious problem with the idea that a private response, particularly from the harassed, works at all.”
  • Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate | Maria Konnikova at The New Yorker (June 11): “Hannah Riley Bowles… has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire. “
  • How Not To Review Women’s Writing | Mallory Ortberg at The Toast (June 2): “I have gone back and forth several times over the last few days on whether or not it would be worth addressing Adam Plunkett’s New Yorker.com review of poet Patricia Lockwood’s latest book here… Also, if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t want to seem mean by criticizing a man twice in public. I have since overcome this reluctance… It is such a perfect illustration of Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing that I think it merits mentioning, if only as a cautionary example for all you future New Yorker (dot com) reviewers out there.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Cold the Wind doth Blow (or The Unquiet Linkspam) (6 June 2014)

Announcements etc:

  • Peep Game Comix: “Attention All African American comic book creators and publishers, we are looking for original titles to add to Peep Game Comix. We are looking for current projects and even back catalogs of books.”

Several submissions on the “hurricanes with female names” thing:

  • The study is Jung, Shavitt, Viswanathana & Hilbed. 2014. Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes. PNAS http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1402786111.
  • Hurricanes with women’s names more deadly: study | Joan Cary at Chicago Tribune (June 2): “According to a recent study by University of Illinois researchers, hurricanes with women’s names are likely to cause significantly more deaths than those with masculine names — not because the feminine-named storms are stronger, but because they are perceived as less threatening and so people are less prepared.”
  • Why Have Female Hurricanes Killed More People Than Male Ones? | Ed Yong at National Geographic (June 2): “Jung team thinks that the effect he found is due to unfortunate stereotypes that link men with strength and aggression, and women with warmth and passivity… But Jeff Lazo from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research disagrees. He’s a social scientist and economist who has looked into the public communication of hurricane risk, and he thinks the pattern is most likely a statistical fluke, which arose because of the ways in which the team analysed their data.” (Study authors respond at comment #7.)
  • Do Female-Named Hurricanes Need To Lean In? | Beth Novey at NPR (June 3): “We’re also worried about what this trend means for the career advancement of female storms. We’ve seen this before. We know where this is going. So to get ahead of the curve, we’d like to offer some advice to all the girls out there hoping to become fearsome natural disasters when they grow up.”

Everything else!

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam considered harmful (7 May 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

GitHub alternatives and replacements?

Promoted from comments to a “Ask a Geek Feminist” post for commenters because we suspect many people have this question:

rmd1023 asks:

So, is there a github replacement out there that hasn’t pissed off a whole lot of women in tech (at least not yet)?
Might be a good market niche, among other things. I’ve dabbled in github but only have a couple of small repositories that are basically personal-only. I’d love to move it over to someplace better.

See the background and also the Culture Offset pledge, to donate the equal of any money paid to GitHub to “culture offset” organisations. Wikipedia has a big list of code hosting sites.

Where are you hosting your code and why?

Note: if you are affiliated with any code hosting site, please disclose it in your comment.

The social lot of women might be treated with scientific linkspam (29 April 2014)

This linkspam is sadly a special edition; it’s all “terrible week in tech” links. We know there’s more to geekdom, look out for less-tech-still-geek linkspam tomorrow.

It seems more than justified to conclude with the opening of Model View Culture‘s Abuse issue (coming out over the next few days):

  • Abuse as DDoS | Julie Pagano: “DDoS attacks are abuse of computer systems until they slow down, stop working, and often eventually fail. Abuse of human beings has a similar impact. People dealing with abuse stop being their best, stop working, and eventually fail.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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.

Take arms against a sea of links, and by spamming, end them (18 April 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.