I was listening to the weekly Vergecast last Friday. During the broadcast, the panel started to discuss a story and a familar name popped up. Adria Richards. My attention was immediately, and intensely, piqued. (I had breezed by a couple of story headlines toward the end of the week, but I was behind on some tech news.) As the situation was discussed in more detail, my heart sank. After listening to the Vergecast, I started to comb through the stories.
I will leave it to you to read through the stories.
This is Adria’s blog post about the whole thing.
I know Adria, and consider her a friend. This whole thing troubles me deeply. I feel for my friend. Even with that, I know that that she has some culpability in this mess — namely by tweeting the picture of the guys at the conference. The guys making the lewd jokes also bear responsibility for their actions, though. There is blame to go around.
Here is the rub for me. I am bewildered, and even sickened, by the reaction of so many men, and some women, to this dust up. There is absolutely no place for the abusive, vitriolic language, not to mention rape and death threats, directed at Adria. Could she have handled this differently? Probably so, but it is always easy, after-the-fact, to see things more clearly and offer a calm assessment of how you would have handled being in the same place.
What really gets me is the repeated statement by many guys that what Adria overheard at the conference were “just dick jokes.” She should just “get over it (and herself).” This is utter, and complete, nonsense. Who am I, or anyone else, to tell Adria or any other woman, what is, or is not, offensive? It’s analogous to men saying to a woman “you are overreacting!” I’ve learned that each person has a reaction, and he/she is entitled to it. I find, too often, that men are quick to put a woman’s reactions and sensibilities in a box. If find it just as offensive that people are telling, or suggesting, that Adria what should, or should not, be offensive.
Why should have Adria hunkered down and dealt with dick jokes? People seem to be getting hung up on semantics. “The guys weren’t talking to her.” “The jokes weren’t sexual in nature.” “The jokes weren’t directed to her.” If someone was behind me telling nigger, Jew, gay, or (fill in the blank) jokes, I would be hot! I can’t say how I would deal with it. My first thought is that I would address the people directly. However, if I didn’t feel comfortable, because of the environment or disproportionate number of people involved, I may have taken another avenue to voice my outrage. The bottom line is that I am not, nor should I, have to sit somewhere — particularly a conference — and accept offensive words or sentiments. From where I sit, a lot of true feelings seem to be coming out. Adria is being attacked for being a woman, black, Jewish. For all of the people scouring twitter and the blogosphere for statements by Adria — painting her as a hypocrite — one need look no further than the hundreds of comments under just about every article about this mess. Most of the comments attack Adria, calling her a bitch, a cunt, a “diversity hire,” or much…much…worse, and suggesting that she should kill herself. All the while these same people are shedding tears for the guy with three kids who got fired from his job.
Actions have consequences. Irrespective of one’s opinion about who’s right and who’s wrong, it appears that both Adria and the guy at the conference paid the price for their actions. What seems to be getting lost in this whole thing is the real issue of women in tech. It’s unfortunately that this scenario played out the way it did, because I fear that the underlying issue of how women, and people of color, fare in the technology industry won’t be adequately addressed. People love controversy, to most people’s attention will stay on dick jokes and people getting fired. I’ll steer clear of using the word victim because it too much of a powder cake. It muddies the water. Whether you side with Adria, or not, on how this situation at the conference was handled, I would hope that the discourse could get beyond the who lit the match and focus on the fuel that feeds this raging fire.
Something that has befuddled me for years, but I seldom talk about, is how comparisons of celebrities and athletes are made. Now, we all do–make comparisons; but I’m specifically talking about how commentators, journalists, and people in everyday conversations are locked into only comparing someone of a particular race with someone of the same race.
I don’t watch basketball that much anymore, but it just amazes me that so many white players in the NBA are compared to “Piston Pete” Maravich. I mean…really? Can that many white players have the same style as Maravich? I don’t mean to be harsh, but it’s almost a struggle to find white players to compare to these days. If anyone has seen Jason Williams play basketball, I think Magic Johnson or even Jason Kidd, not Bob Cousy or Jerry West. Similarly, if there is a player who is Jewish, why compare him only to Dolph Schayes? That’s just dumb.
Music is another area where people seemed locked into making comparisons of artists based on race. If Diana Krall vocal style is reminiscent of Ethel Ennis, why not just say that instead saying she’s the modern Rose Clooney? I’m sure many of you can rattle off other singers she sounds like, but personally I think Diana Krall sounds like–Diana Krall. Surely, if I put some thought into it, I could come up with some fabled jazz singers to compare her to. I can’t tell you this, what they look like would not be a factor. Will the next black male country music star automatically be compared to Charlie Pride?
I think you get where I’m going.
Don’t get me wrong. If the comparison fits, no problem. If my photography evokes thoughts of Gordon Parks. Sweet. that’s quite a compliment. However, if I’m taking black and white images of landscapes, it would seem Ansel Adams would be more appropriate. (Granted, I’m taking quite a leap to even suggest my work is anywhere near that of Adams.)
In the end, though, I just wish people would break out of these narrow boxes when reaching for a comparison. That is, to the extent comparisons are even necessary.