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What Happened to Adria Richards: The Internet Is A Gigantic Bag of Dicks.

Bell
  • On October 25, 2013

(I was going to put a picture here, but I made the mistake of doing a Google image search on “bag of dicks” and now I need to go drink  until I forget what I saw.)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Adria Richards/ PyCon “scandal”. On one hand, it seemed like something I should write about, because sexism in gaming specifically and the tech industry in general is a subject I rant about a lot here.

On the other hand, I think the whole thing was ridiculously blown out of proportion.

For those of you that live productive lives and don’t spend all of your time reading articles on the internet, Adria Richards is a former “Developer Evangelist” at a company called Sendgrid. (“Developer Evangelist” is apparently a fancy way of saying “Head of Developer Relations”.) She recently attended PyCon, a convention for people who program using Python. Yes, there’s a convention for that. There’s a convention for everything.

Adria was attending a panel when, according to her account on her blog, she entered a conversation with the two men behind her. They were discussing the panels they’d attended when one of the men started making jokes about “forking” and “big dongles”. This made Adria really uncomfortable (which, for all you brodudes out there, is something even the most laid back woman might feel when a complete stranger starts making dick jokes at her).

She says that she was going to wait until after the panel to address the situation until the panel displayed a picture of a little girl who had attended the convention’s Young Coder’s Workshop. She thought about the future that little girl faced, the obstacles she’d have to overcome if she wanted a job in the tech industry and the treatment she’d have to endure, and a part of her said, “NOPE. FUCK THIS SHIT.” (That’s my interpretation. I don’t think she’s said “fuck this shit” about this situation at any point. Well, she probably has, but not on the internet, because let’s be honest, the internet isn’t exactly a safe place for her right now. Bag of dicks.)

She turned in her seat, snapped a picture of them on her phone, and tweeted it, along with a description of their behavior. She also tweeted a link to PyCon’s code of conduct.

PyCon staff acted quickly, pulling the men out of the panel and discussing their behavior with them, before allowing them to return to the conference. (Initial reports said the men were booted from the conference, but PyCon organizers say that’s not what happened.)

Playhaven, the company both men worked for, was not at all amused by the incident and terminated the employment of the man who’d made the joke.

Because the situation had already generated significant internet attention, and because the internet is a giant bag of dicks, this ended up being worse for Adria Richards than for either of the men involved. Yes, even worse than it was for the guy who lost his job, and yes, I KNOW he has three kids, the dicks on the internet have pointed that out approximately 11.5 billion times.

Adria Richards became the internet’s favorite punching bag. People were furious with her for costing that poor, poor man his job, because the fact that he was held responsible for something that he did was somehow her fault. She was mocked mercilessly for her race, her gender, her appearance; called a humorless bitch a thousand different ways, and received death and rape threats. The company she worked for was targeted as well; Sendgrid started losing business and their website was taken down by a ddos attack. (Playhaven, the company that actually fired the guy, had no trouble with their website.)

It wasn’t too long before Adria Richards found herself out of a job as well. Sendgrid stated that, because of the incident, she was no longer effective in her position.

So, two people unemployed and a woman facing a barrage of internet abuse, all because of a joke about forking with big dongles.

That’s eye-rollingly ridiculous.

If I was at a convention in a professional capacity, I could very well have made the same mistake this guy did: make an off-color joke in casual conversation without considering that it may cause others discomfort. I’m not trying to excuse his behavior; it would have been just as wrong if I’d done it. I don’t think that this incident proves this guy is a misogynist or a creep. All it proves is that, like many other people, he thinks dick jokes are funny. He’s right. Dick jokes, in the right context, are funny.

I also likely would have made the same mistake Adria Richards did. To clarify, before I lose my Feminist Joykill membership on the grounds of treason, I do not think she was overreacting when she felt offended. I don’t think she was wrong for speaking up; in fact, I think tweeting at the PyCon staff explaining the situation was an excellent solution. However, it was very poor judgment to tweet the picture she did. It was a level of public shaming that was extreme and unnecessary for what he did, especially considering that she didn’t ask him to stop directly before she did it.

Poor judgment or not, I likely would have done the same thing, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I tweet everything.

Here’s the thing about sexual jokes. Everyone I know thinks they’re hilarious in the right context (and when they’re actually funny). In the wrong context they cease to be funny and become uncomfortable. This isn’t just true for women; I talked to a lot of friends of various genders while writing about this and they all told me the same thing: suggestive jokes made by someone you don’t know or in an environment where they are not appropriate don’t feel like jokes. They’re uncomfortable and can even feel predatory. Adria Richards wasn’t being an over-reactive, man-hating feminist that had no sense of humor. She was a woman attending a male-dominated event and faced with a situation that would have made many people uncomfortable.

For the man who was involved in this situation, having his picture plastered all over the internet has not compromised his anonymity.  This probably won’t make it harder for him to find another job (nor should it; I’d imagine he’s learned his lesson). For Adria Richards, the consequences are far more painful. People will remember her for this, and it will likely have a lasting and negative impact on her career.

It’s been a big few months for women in tech. They’ve been speaking out loudly against sexism in tech industries, demanding and affecting change in a lot of ways. The #1reasonwhy movement laid out how prevalent and damaging sexism is in the tech industry while #1reasontobe battled it with both encouragement and mentoring for women. Meagan Marie wrote about the harassment she suffered while working as a reporter for Game Informer and her refusal to be silent about that type of treatment ever again. Her actions both validated and empowered women that had found themselves in similar situations. Brenda Romero, the co-chair of the IGDA’s Women in Games special interest group, resigned her post in protest after she learned of an IGDA sponsered party that had featured scantily clad female dancers.

This is big stuff. This is stuff that takes incredible courage and is incredibly necessary because it effects incredible change.

Adria Richards spoke up and was punished for it to a degree that will likely discourage other women from making a stand.

Good job, internet, you gigantic fucking bag of dicks. You’re why we can’t have nice things.

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