The Knee-Jerk Reaction

Boy, oh boy, were a lot of people wrong on the Internets.

You may have already heard the story, because it’s been all over the place, even in the words of the people involved, so I’ll be brief:

Self-described ‘technology evangelist’ Adria Richards, upon overhearing the words ‘forking’ and ‘dongles’ being used in what she felt was a sexual context, in a conversation she was not involved in and was not directed at her, took it upon herself to snap a picture of the people and publicly shame them via Twitter, (without, I might add, speaking to them directly) the end result of which is that the two jokers were fired from their jobs.

Again, let’s be clear: Adria Richards got 2 guys talking amongst themselves fired for a conversation she simply overheard that wasn’t aimed at her.

Recent and past events, both public and private, have caused me to be hyper-aware of what women face in communities that are often identified as male-centric, and since I self-identify as a feminist, it’s been very difficult for me to read people I respect supporting Adria as a knee-jerk reactionary response, without considering the deeper implications.

I work damn hard to be accepted and respected in my field, and Adria’s actions have set women in tech back further than an asinine dick joke (which she’s not against using herself) ever did. And I’m furious about it, because in her unwarranted thermonuclear strike she hit us where we eat, and she’s made us all collateral damage in a quest for notoriety and blog hits.

Why am I so angry? How have Adria’s actions hurt us? Because important networking happens in casual social situations and conversations, and as a woman in a predominantly male field, it’s hard enough to be included in these activities, and will be even more so when people are worried about whether or not they might offend the wrong vindictive bitch and she’ll have them sacked. Actions like Adria’s only ensure that the rest of us who actually know how to react moderately and with a sense of humor all get tarred with the brush of ‘possible vindictive bitch.’ And we’re excluded, to the detriment of team-building and our careers, because of fear.

Every place I’ve ever worked, I’ve had to make sure the guys I work with know I’m not gonna get deeply offended by them goofing around and being silly, and that I can roll with it like an actual human being and not get all butthurt about my womynfeels.

Adria states on her blog, “Women in technology need consistant messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry.”

Well, Adria, here’s my message to you:

I disagree. I don’t need you to stick up for me. I don’t need it and I don’t want it, and the very idea that you think women need to be stroked verbally and given a gold star is demeaning and frankly, more sexist than all the dick jokes in the world. The idea that women should be catered to and handled with kid gloves HURTS ALL WOMEN, not just in tech but everywhere.

I don’t need to be told I’m valued. The fact that I have a job that pays me money is pretty much the definition of valued. I don’t need to be told that I’m welcome. I can see it by the way my coworkers treat me. And I certainly don’t need to be told I’m competent. I DAMN WELL KNOW IT. And the very idea that you feel you need reassurance in these areas… well, that says a lot about you.

And if posting this means I lose my feminist/post-feminist/post-post-feminist card and decoder ring then… whatever. I don’t support people or ideas based on gender politics. I support them based on their merits.

40 thoughts on “The Knee-Jerk Reaction

  1. Enrique Dans says:


  2. neya says:

    I took the pains to type this comment from my painfully slow android phone. Why? Because this is one of the most rational arguments ever and I 100% agree with you. Well said ma’am. :respect:

    Everyone thinks everyone lost. No. Not everyone lost.

  3. robthebrew says:

    Thank you for being professional first, human second, and… well actually no other classification is relevant.

  4. neya says:

    Not everyone lost. Adria won. How? There is a saying that any publicity is good publicity. Adria knows this. Thats why she doesn’t care about the outrage. Think about it-I never knew who she was until this incedent and Im guessing its the same case for you as well. Tomorrow, people will be familiar of her name and most companies prefer controversial characters because they can get some free publicity out of this. She made sure she is a good fit for such a marketing role and she is indeed now. Tomorrow if she sends a marketing email and if someone asks her ‘ aren’t you the adria who was caught up in that mess? ‘ and if she replies ‘ yeah it was me, but it was a bad move and ive changed now’ people will forgive her and move on. So she didn’t exactly lose. She got tons of free publicity and a million people who never knew who adria was know her now. The real person who lost was the guy who lost his job and of course other women represented by adria. Think about the guy- how his wife must feel right now, how his kids will think of him, etc. Adria won. We all lost.

    • bebe says:

      Do you work in corporate Tech? No company worth a damn will touch her now. She will probably get picked up as a writer or columnist for some online publication. But she is done working for any viable tech company.

  5. neya says:

    Btw i love your theme but it isnt mobile friendly at all :( typing a comment is so much effort because of the animations on the comment box..just a small feedback..

  6. jeff says:

    THANK YOU! sensible commentary is rare on this story

  7. k0nsl says:

    Well written. I must pass this on.


  8. You should be angry! We all should!

    I train people how to code in my spare time. The majority of my students are women, which I think is awesome. They find my one-on-one mentorship really really helpful, and I specifically look for people w/o programming experience (no bad habits).

    This incident of hypersensitivity has made me want to avoid sitting within earshot of unknown women at tech events, not because I make jokes or anything, but because YOU NEVER KNOW what will RUIN your LIFE when you’re near such hypersensitive entitled pre-victims.

    This has probably set back guy’s laissez faire attitude towards women in programming by 5 years or more. Everyone’s going to start treating them like … hypersensitive three year olds, with JOB and REPUTATION KILLER abilities, and that is not good, not good at all.

  9. Su-Shee says:

    Dear fellow feminist,

    my thoughts _exactly_.

    Also, I really don’t like to be told what’s good for women in tech – as a woman who’s actually DOING THE TECH THING – by women who aren’t.

    It’s condescending and pretty paternalistic.

    I could tell though what I’d want if someone cared to ask.

    On the other hand: I can just continue actually doing tech…

  10. Casey says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Who would want to work along side a person like that (regardless of gender)? Walking on egg shells, never knowing when you’re going to get thrown under the bus for saying something that they might possibly not agree with.

    She also has a history of this according to this blog

    And regarding this quote:
    “I don’t need you to stick up for me. I don’t need it and I don’t want it, and the very idea that you think women need to be stroked verbally and given a gold star is demeaning and frankly, more sexist than all the dick jokes in the world.”
    Damn straight!

    I think women are pretty widely accepted in tech, at least in the places I’ve worked. They were also never treated any differently than any other employee and they were respected. Why? Because they were GOOD AT THEIR JOB!

  11. Peter Houlihan says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I actually think it sets a bad precedent to fire her over this but it’s always good to see people coming out against this kind of craziness.

  12. I think the important thing here is that she just wants everyone to feel welcome. Dick jokes are not cool at work unless everyone is cool with being that crude (I enjoy it). I don’t think calling someone out using technology in an industry that’s all about technology is a bad idea. I think she made the right move and the respective companies made the bad moves. She only got one guy fired and he shouldn’t have been. They should have worked together to spin the controversy into a “everybody is welcome” spiel. Adria was fired because men are cowards.

  13. e. says:

    Thank goodness someone out there has some actual sense.

    I was beginning to think all women (and some prominent yes-men) were on board with the utter crap that’s been masquerading as feminism and poisoning pretty much everything I once held dear.

    Sadly, Adria isn’t the only one with this kind of…attitude. Last year’s YAPC::NA was tainted by a very-vocal-hyperfeminist’s first appearance at that conference, and featured some unfounded character assassination with vague allegations of “creepiness” and a call for reform.

    After that ridiculous fiasco (which bled over into every online discussion in my community for the better part of two months after that), I’ve decided never to go to another tech conference. It’s too much of a hassle when people like that are permitted to grandstand, and there’s nothing in any “code of conduct” to protect us from the toxic hypersensitive serial accusers among us.

    Thank you again for writing this.

  14. Chris says:

    Thank you, and the damage you speak of is very real, I am responsible for hiring at a smaller startup. When I interview female prospects one of the things that is always in the back of my mind is, will she be able to handle the crass humor in the workplace. I have this overwhelming fear when it comes to a female hire that she will mess up the dynamic of the office or drop a lawsuit that will collapse the company. Things like this incident only reinforce that feeling.

    agree on the phone posting comments

    • stef says:

      I JUST uploaded a mobile plugin. Let me know if it sucks less. :D

    • f says:

      Thanks for this comment. Having worked in tech, I wish people would be more conscious of fit in general instead of assuming that it has anything to do with gender whatsoever. There’s no such thing as a ‘female geek’ or a ‘female coder’. People don’t go around saying ‘I’m a male geek’ or ‘I’m a male coder’. If you’re good at your job, then you are. If you have a thin skin then it doesn’t matter what you have between your legs. Some of us have a crude sense of humor independent of gender roles.

  15. Maggie says:

    I honestly could not agree more. Upon hearing the story I first laughed, then I got angry, then I got sad. Now I’m back to anger.

    I’m a woman working in the design/advertising industry. While not as male-dominated as tech, my industry can feel like a good ol’ boys club sometimes. And yet I manage. True, I don’t want to be harassed, propositioned or condescended to because I’m a woman. I want to be a team member that’s equally respected, valued and listened to. But I’ve got my big girl panties on, and I don’t want any special treatment based on the contents of said underpants. My delicate womanly sensibilities need not be protected. I don’t want people walking on eggshells around me because my ever-precious womynfeels (genius, by the way) might get hurt. Treat me like a person, and I will treat you the same way. And I promise not to be a whiny, butthurt asshole over things that don’t even concern me.

    Adria Richards set women back at that conference by being a nosy, rude, obnoxious dipshit. There’s no other way of putting it. I’m embarrassed for her. She OVERHEARD a private conversation and blew it completely out of proportion. This is the kind of behavior that makes some men feel justified in their unjustifiable sexist assholery. This is why some men view women as hysterical, oversensitive twats. And in Adria’s case, they actually have a point.

    Also – what if two women were making dick jokes? Would she have thrown a hissy fit over that as well?

    Bottom line, ladies, since we (presumably) want to be treated like regular human beings despite our lack of peens, let’s act like it.

    • Ad Guy says:

      Maggie – I mostly agree with you, but work in advertising and have been told more than once “we’re only open to females for this position” when applying to jobs. I have also worked around extremely bawdy, crude, and sexist women who often can’t stop talking about how they want to ravish some celebrity or other. Just because women don’t have peens, doesn’t mean they can’t be sexist.

  16. Thax says:

    I was ready to totally agree with you right up to the last two paragraphs.
    If you don’t need to be told you’re valued, welcomed, and competent that’s fine for you, but your needs and what motivates you aren’t the same as other people. I don’t appreciate your judgment of me because I might value those things and “what that says about me.” I wonder if you’re overcompensating for needs you’ve been told you can’t have because that would make you weak. This isn’t about gender politics. This is about you belittling others to appear stronger. That’s not bad-ass.
    I know you’re wound up reacting to this situation, but I think this is an overstep.

    • stef says:

      That was also the portion directly addressed to Adria, not to the general reader. Sorry if that wasn’t made more clear.

  17. Jimmy Rustle says:

    We are quite proud of the Jimmies that were rustled with this one. It was a coerced action of /pol/ and /b/. Nothing is better than forking some dongles of Hypocrites.

  18. Ginkgo says:

    “Actions like Adria’s only ensure that the rest of us who actually know how to react moderately and with a sense of humor all get tarred with the brush of ‘possible vindictive bitch.’

    And actions like this one of yours reverse that damage, because you are part of a huge chorus of women in you industry denouncing her.

    This is what a man in your industry says the reaction of women like you has doen to change his perception of you for the better:

    This is not just reversing the damage Richards has done, it is reversing a lot of previous damage too. Believe me, there has been quite a bit.

    Well done.

  19. SteveG says:

    This is a great post, I think a lot of people feel the same way you express in the last 3 paragraphs.

    As far as I know though, only one of the two people making the jokes got fired (they were a group of 4), and Adria herself also got fired. This is the second statement from her employer:

  20. This. Brilliant.

    Thank you.

  21. Kim Guldberg says:

    While I do agree, I cant help feel that we (I my self) could do better. Adria is not the first gal to voice irritation/concern/offense at sexist remarks/behavior experienced at con’s.

    I think we should all show some respect AND also some tolerance towards each other. Women (no one actually) should not need to feel offended just as no one should have to feel uneasy among his/her peers.

    Let’s all do better

    • stef says:

      While I completely agree with you in principle, I just don’t think the remarks in question were particularly sexist. My barometer for that is if I could see myself making them – and the answer is yes. :-D I have been known to snicker at dongles from time to time. I also wonder if Adria would have reacted the way she did if another woman was sitting in the row with the guys ‘forking’ around with them too. That idea certainly changes the dynamic, IMO.

  22. We received a lot of hateful comments because of our legal analysis of Ms. Richards’s termination by a Colorado employer.

    • sardonic_sob says:

      You got hateful comments because your analysis was ludicrous. Public shaming as protected opposition? I know it’s legal there now, dude, but please, not before doing legal analysis.

  23. JA Osborn says:

    There are no victims here just two people who both demonstrated poor judgement at a moment in time. The developer apologized. On the other hand, Richards has continued her Twitter rant in a misguided attempt to justify her malice (posting the developers picture and details of the incident). Her actions demonstrate she has low social maturity and no insight into what went wrong in the totality of the incident. I suspect this will be tried in a court of law. When posting on Twitter, Richards knew or should have known there would be a certain level of negative outcome when she took a private matter global. That negative outcome can have legal consequences. The developer has a measurable loss, his job and reputation. Posting the event on Twitter is similar to sending a company wide email of a personnel complaint against a colleague – it will get you fired.

  24. Robert says:

    Bravo! But too late. There are no women at our 7 person tech company, and there never will be. Except for the girl who comes in once a week to do the books.

  25. HV says:

    Upon looking into the story I found she made jokes at the same conference about a man stuffing his pants with a sock (and posted on Twitter). So, to be clear, dongle jokes-0/ Sock stuffing-1. I am a woman but I’ve seemed to have lost the feminist handbook on acceptable vs. nonacceptable jokes. I’ll see if Adria will send me a new one.

  26. Per says:

    Thank you for an valuable addition to the debate. Really!
    As someone who grew up with Beavis and Butthead and still find dick jokes shamefully amusing I’ve been spending the week thinking about what sort of signals I send and if my somewhat childish sense of humour makes others feel uncomfortable.
    I think I’ve arrived at the conclusion that if a joke doesn’t demean anyone and it is generally funny it should be OK. Dick jokes for dick jokes sake or for shock value more or less isn’t.

  27. blake says:

    This is excellent. I mean that both in the sense of being well-written and clear, but also in the sense of being heart-warming.

    Entirely apart from the kerfuffle and gender issues and all that, I question Ms. Richards abilities as an evangelist.

  28. Taran Matharu says:

    Thank you, this is the best summation of what happened I have read so far. What is most upsetting is how mainstream journalists are hailing her as a hero and a martyr because of the threats she has received and only on smaller publications and blogs are they discussing the real issues.

    I don’t understand why making an sexual innuendo about anatomy is demeaning to women. Last I checked 50% of the worlds sexually active population were female. Women are just as entitled to make such jokes as men. So why is this sexist? Somebody please explain why the mildest insinuation that a ten year old could make up and giggle about (“haha DONGle”) is an sexist comment. Why on earth is this not an inappropriate language in the work place issue (and a mild one at best). If two women made the same comment behind a man (in a private conversation no less and meant for their ears only) and he claimed sexism, would that be sexist? The levels of hypocrisy begin to increase here when you realise that Adria has made dick jokes on twitter not too long before this whole debacle occurred:
    How on earth could she find this minor comment offensive when she believes her own far more suggestive joke, intended to be heard and in a public forum, is innoffensive?
    Of course the reaction to her behaviour (which I think was ridiculous) is heinous and never justified. The threats and sexist comments are deplorable and I am shocked at the way people have been treating Adria, because despite being misguided and very wrong in what she has done, she in no way deserves to be submitted to such awful abuse.
    I myself am a strong supporter of women’s rights and my girlfriend is a staunch feminist, but if these kind of minor comments are being accepted as a clear case of sexism and people should rightly be fired over them, then I think we are all getting very muddled about what battles need to be fought for women’s rights. I also think that her comment saying that a little girl would not be able to enter the industry because of the two men behind her is sexist in its own way. Why would a little boy be any less at risk because people are making dirty jokes. Why are dirty jokes worse for a little girl than a little boy?
    Adria was fired not for being overly sensitive or for speaking out against perceived sexism, which is still okay whether she is correct or not, but because of the inappropriate way that she aired it, through public shaming.

  29. James May says:

    I linked to this piece in my very long essay about how what is essentially hate speech is being mainstreamed into the tech and science fiction community.

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