Before this week I had never heard of Adria Richards or her blog, But You’re a Girl. Probably many of you haven’t heard of her either; here’s why I want you to learn about her now.
Last week, Richards was a developer evangelist at the tech company SendGrid, and she attended a tech conference called PyCon. Now here’s where it gets complicated. During one of the conference sessions, Richards allegedly heard two men making sexualized jokes, so she turned around, snapped a picture, and tweeted it. PyCon addressed the men on the spot. (Here’s her blog about the incident.) In response, Richards was fired from SendGrid and PlayHaven fired one of their involved employees.
(Trigger warning: Links contain offensive language.)
Some are calling out the companies for overreacting. Others are wondering if Richards could have handled the situation differently. I don’t want to compare these opinions here; what put my stomach in 10 knots were the reports of incessant, ugly, and sexist threats and online bullying targeted at Richards after the incident. What started as thoughtful dialogue degraded into vitriolic tweets and sexist name-calling — even death and rape threats. (Many of these comments have since been flagged and removed from Twitter.)
I’ve been in a situation where a colleague’s leering sexual innuendo made me feel ashamed. I’ve read the articles about incredible women being reprimanded for speaking out against sexism. As a woman who works with technology, I’ve been to the information technology seminars where the overwhelming number of participants are men.
When sexism takes a hold of a situation like this, I don’t feel safe, because I know it could happen to me. A woman blogger can’t police these kinds of comments alone, so the rest of the online community shouldn’t stand by and watch it happen.
We should stick up for each other online and say this is not okay, just as we should if we see harassment in the street. We need to call out the perpetrators of sexual harassment — it is sexual harassment after all — to make them face the real problem at hand: A personal attack that silences one woman, particularly in an industry that already gets flack for being unfriendly to women, is a loss for everyone.