Quick but Important: Why Women Don’t Speak Out

You need to read this, and here’s why:

A lot of things have happened in the last month that have had common ties and with them a certain profundity.  (I also have the tendency to see epiphanies and connections between things I wouldn’t otherwise notice after going through a period of intense stress or personal change, as I have in the last week – so that may be contributing to why I see the need to post about this.)

I’ve been following Sady Doyle’s #MooreAndMe campaign from about three or four days in.  You can catch up on it pretty quickly just by Googling that hashtag.  Sady, of Tiger Beatdown fame, is very unconventional in how she writes: she’s long-winded and sassy; you can tell that she doesn’t fret too much over either of these.  I admire her on this because I used to be a lot more like that.  I’m still pretty long-winded, but I reserve most of my attitude for the public sphere, and I do think this is a shame; I cheer for Sady because it’s good to see that there is an audience for people with her long-windedness (for the sake of driving her point home harder; and she does) and fighting spirit.

You can take issue with the way Sady presented her point, no doubt.  As a person who keeps her filter at a very low setting (and I suspect most of her readers are glad she does), she’s destined to have made some mistakes along the way.  You may disagree with her tone or her choice of supporting arguments or which aspects of the argument are her “non-negotiables”, but this does need to be done in proportion to the general soundness of the point she is making: do not use language which feeds rape culture, especially if you are a public figure.  Because this language does have consequences.

(If the term “rape culture” is unfamiliar to you, I recommend Fugitivus; I’d try to link to one article, but Harriet J. is brilliant at capturing this on all fronts and I can’t choose just one.  She’s similarly long-winded but to equally potent effect.  Dig into the “most popular entries” on the right side of the page and continue further at your own benefit!)

A couple days ago Sady posted “Why I Didn’t Delete Tiger Beatdown“, a very personal response to the vitriol (including death threats and other threats of sexual and physical violence) that had been directed towards her during and in the aftermath of #MooreAndMe.  Geek Feminism re-posted parts of it as “Quick Hit: Getting Too Close to Power“, focusing on one of Sady’s key points.  But really, after the reading the whole thing, I see it as nothing less than a Grand Theory on Being a Woman with Opinions.  And I keep going back to it time and time again since reading it; my passion about sharing this entry is unequaled recently; the closest competitor was the vitriol I felt for the source material for “The Social Network” (post coming about that soon).  I’ve shared it on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter; after remembering “Oh yeah, my blog is back up!” today, I figured it was only appropriate to share it here as well.

Because here’s the thing: Sady captures exactly why I took so long to start this blog (and why I don’t post to it with more regular frequency) in the first place, with language stronger than I felt like I could use.  Because, by virtue of setting this up, talking about ONLY tech, and identifying as a woman (i.e. allowing the content to be tied to my identity), I set myself up for harassment and abuse – all it takes is one link to the wrong person or group of people.  I increase the risk by knowing that I can’t really keep my mouth shut about cultural issues within the tech sphere, because, in all honesty, they seem to be the part of the tech picture we aren’t making a lot of progress on lately.  It’s one of our most difficult problems, no matter how anybody wants to talk it down.  But tackling this problem increases the risk for me too.

If you don’t believe it, read Sady’s post.  If you do believe it, read Sady’s post.  If what happened to AZ congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords today upsets you, read Sady’s post (because Sady has been dealing with the same thing from the left: unstable people using the risky rhetoric of public figures to justify their behavior.  And eventually it does lead to this, as countless people will be saying.)  If you have any experience with what I’ve dealt with in the workplace, and you have empathy for it, read Sady’s post.  There’s pretty much nobody who won’t gain from reading it.

A lot of my reason for upping my filter as I’ve become a working adult has been because of the threat Sady discusses.  It’s also because I want to maintain an Internet identity that doesn’t paint me as unprofessional, but I think I’d be a lot more candid if I felt safe doing it.  The truth is that I have experienced far more sexism since starting coding full-time in 2006 than I ever did during my 7 years coding in high school and college, and I have no doubt this is related to the power issues that were far less overt when I was a student.  I want to be able to speak out about these experiences because I know most men in industry want to change things and don’t know how, but I won’t be able to do so unless I feel like I have a safe space.  So I encourage everybody to educate themselves on the contributions they can make.  I’m doing the best I can, in the hopes that I can empower people after me, but every new person committed to the cause makes this easier.

Be mindful of the language you choose and make sure to keep it non-violent.  This isn’t easy; it’s something I’m always working on.  But the consequences of using violent language are too dire to not try.

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