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Daily Reaction: Fighting Sexism With Blind Panic – A World Gone Mad

March 21, 2013 Written by Dan Oravasaari

While sexism was stronger a few generations ago, there remain a large number of issues that need to addressed, as well as new ones that have arisen. The tech and games industry are still particularly dominated by males, causing a number of women to feel discriminated against.

Now, a man and a woman are out of a job, sites have been attacked and rape threats have been sent out – what happened? Why? And what can be done? Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan discuss.

Dan: There are a lot of hateful acts that occur in almost every industry out there today, and the games industry is far from being immune to this problem, especially given the amount of negativity geared towards women as of late. Female protagonists are seeing problems getting a fair shot at starring in games, women are still struggling to enter the industry on multiple levels, and the internet as a whole is full of dicks. So what are we supposed to do about this recurring issue of close mindedness? And, what happens if we become too sensitive about the topic that we start generating problems where there aren’t any? Sadly, this is something that has unfortunately happened recently in the very similar tech industry.

During a keynote speech at PyCon, a series of events unfolded that had little to do with the conference, but inevitably ended up with two people losing their jobs. Adria Richards, a developer evangelist, was sitting in front of two male attendees, Alex Hank and a man who goes by ‘Mr-Hank’, who had decided to joke amongst themselves. Richards became increasingly disturbed by the content of the joke(s), and decided to tweet an image of them, detailing their actions, and asked for help in a public space.

This simple action brought both parties into question, as the guys had felt wronged after a simple joke about a “big dongle” caused such a huge furor, while Richards felt this type of behavior was what was stopping women from entering the industry. As such, after the events at the conference, Hank – a father of three – was let go from his job for making the comments at a conference. While Richards was later reported to be let go as well because the events had stirred up a bit of trouble for the company she worked for, causing it to be DDOSed by angry internet people, as well as potentially breaching her contract by sharing details on the developers in question.

Richards stated that she felt that she had to take a stance against such actions, as she saw a picture on stage of a young girl taking her first steps to enter the industry, and believed actions like this are the root of the issue that leads to this being a male-dominated sector.

I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.

The problem with her ‘stance’ was that she had taken an overheard statement made by the people behind her and decided that a simple comment between them would ultimately mean the destruction of everything that has been done to help women in the industry. This overstatement of events emphasizes the problem, as someone’s own sensitivities have generated a issue where none existed.

While it is true that people in a professional environment are supposed to conduct themselves with a level of candor and professionalism, in the real world we are not all humorless and overly sensitive. Being a professional in any sense of the term also means that we should treat each other like adults, but Richards decided to circumvent any sense of public decency by just politely asking them to stop. Because of this, she in fact comes out as a worse perpetrator of indecency than those who made the statements – especially given the mundane comments that gave offense in the first place.

Sexism is a very real thing and is something that we as a modern culture need to maintain a stance against, but the realities of the world cannot escape us. People have a sense of humor, it’s what makes life what it is, and, if you have listened to our Bad Gamers podcast you know that we are not above a “big dongle” joke ourselves. But, when Richards decided that it was her right to damn someone else for their own sense of humor, she should have looked at her own first. Her own self righteous attitude did little more than act as a step backwards in the attempts to create a free and happy environment where we can all just be ourselves, regardless of sex.

Seb: I am utterly horrified by what has happened here, it’s an absolute disgrace. We don’t know what exactly was said word for word, so it’s impossible to make a complete judgement on what was said – but the thing is Richards couldn’t make a complete judgement either, considering she wasn’t a part of the conversation. Worst of all, the people that saw her original tweet had even less information about what happened. But they got outraged, complained and, shamefully, game monetization company PlayHaven caved, causing a man to be fired.

There was no real investigation, no check to see what had happened. It was a ‘Trial by Twitter’, and he was judged, sentenced and condemned.

Richards defended herself on her blog, titled “But You’re a Girl”, which already highlights a predisposed agenda. She said:

Accountability was important. These guys sitting right behind me felt safe in the crowd. I got that and realized that being anonymous was fueling their behaviour. This is known as Deindividualization:

Accountability is incredibly important, but so is fair representation. No context was given, and they certainly didn’t mean for their comments to be spread worldwide, stripped of any background and just told as the crude punchlines (for what it’s worth, the dev says that his ‘forking’ joke wasn’t even sexual).

It’s only fair to note that Richards didn’t intend, or want, the guy to get fired, however, she did aim to publicly shame him, posting his image online without permission. The quick-to-judge internet that had first caused Hank to lose his job, now turned its wrath on Richards. And, again, the outcome was despicable.

Richards faced a barrage of death threats and even rape threats online, while the company she works for (SendGrid) and her personal blog were DDOSed. This is utterly wrong, make no mistake about it – no matter what one’s thoughts are on whether she should have tweeted that image, threats and attacks are not the answer. Furthermore, they only go to prove that much of the internet is incredibly sexist, vicious and vile, helping cement the views of those that supported her. It’s a terrible course of action that should be fully condemned.

It doesn’t, however, as some internet pundits say, nullify Richards’ actions. What she did was wrong, what the internet did to Hank was wrong, what PlayHaven did to Hank was wrong, what the internet did to Richards was wrong.

These events, and the fact that the industry and the internet are still divided, only go to show the huge task ahead of us if we want to bring about true sexual equality. We’re in a very sensitive time, where sexism and male dominance exist, but we are also very aware that it exists. That means that people are trying hard to correct the issue, which is good, but, ultimately, it also means that many are going about it all wrong.

A popular misconception is that the ‘dominant’ sex or race are never the victim, because they are in control, so any and all action against them is warranted. Richards herself shockingly tweeted a few years back: “Black people CANNOT be racist against White people. Racism is a position of the oppressor who has the power”. Yet she has huge numbers of supporters.

Full disclosure: as I’ve said in previous sexism-focused DRs, I’m a white male. Therefore, I fit into that ‘dominant’ category, and clearly have an ulterior motive to say that we can be targeted with racist attacks to play down my dominance, but in matters like this everyone has a race and a gender, so everyone is biased, and it’s best to try to get past that (that’s equality, after all).

The fact is, anyone can be attacked racially or sexually, and we should strive to end all of it, to the best of our limited power. However, because there are clear minorities that suffer the most, sometimes steps are made to enact equality that are too severe – such as firing someone over a joke, despite not knowing all the facts, just because there’s a chance that it might have been, or might be taken as, offensive to a sexual minority.

This leads to a society of fear, not a society of equality. Women should be treated equally, you’ll find no argument here, but this is not the right way to go about it. The tech and games industry needs to take a step back, look at what is going on with a clear head and realize that panic is causing things to spiral out of control. Sexual equality is no longer the focus for these companies, or even the internet, it’s all about appearing sexually equal, about quickly appeasing uninformed masses to save face – a dangerous outcome that will only cause more rash actions and make gender divides all the more defined, angering everyone and solving nothing.

Welcome to the age of sexual appeasement.

Where do you stand on the matter? Try to keep comments civil, otherwise you’ll just perpetuate the problem, but let us know what you think below, and by following our Twitters for our favorite eavesdropped GDC jokes at Seb and Dan. Or, if you really want to give us a piece of your mind (or enter this giveaway) email us at DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net.