27 March 2013

PyCon Brouhaha

Jezebel | Lindy West | Woman in Tech Tweets About Sexist Dudes in Tech. Dude Gets Fired. Internet Meltdown Ensues.

Regardless of what you think of the joke itself, it is sexist to contribute (willfully or cluelessly! Ignorance is not an excuse!) to a hostile work environment for women. Full stop. If you didn’t realize you were doing it, that means you haven’t bothered to think critically about women’s comfort and needs.
Not two weeks ago Amanda Marcotte and others were pitching a fit that girls were being asked to moderate their clothing because they were a detriment to the learning environment for boys at school. They were outraged by the sugestion that people's choices affect those around them, and scorned the idea that "girls were being held responsible for boys."

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and that whole crowd is dashing about telling tech guys that they need to stop what they're doing to consider the affects on others.

And people should! Avoiding giving unnecessary offense is the polite, adult thing to do. But it's also adult to avoid taking unnecessary offense.

It cuts both ways. Don't act like you're the center of the universe when you make decisions. Don't expect other people to act like you're the center of the universe when they make decisions.
JudgyBitch | Delicate flower has her sensibilities offended. Gets her ass handed to her.

Because we all know women get to define what constitutes an appropriate work environment, what behavior and language is considered polite and acceptable and if a lady is offended then the entire world must screech to a halt to address that tragedy. Because equality.
This reminds me of a scene in the History Channel's new Vikings show. Our protagonist has organized the first raid across the North Sea into England. His brother has agreed to go with him, but not to sail under his command. They'll go only if they go as equals. Bro#1 agrees.

So they get to Lindisfarne, and they're looting and killing, and Bro#1 wants to take the only Norse-speaking monk back with them as a slave. Bro#2 wants to kill him. They argue. Then Bro#2 says something utterly baffling but entirely common in contemporary society. Paraphrasing, "You're not in charge. Your word isn't law. We're equals. I want to kill him. Therefore, we kill him."

There's no way to connect "you don't get to make unilateral decisions; we make decisions together" with "we're unilaterally doing it my way." There's simply no valid way to jump from A to B.

That's what I see with this PyCon tempest. "We're all equals in the tech world (with respect to gender)." True! "I get to unilaterally decide what constitutes appropriate utterances and what is so insulting that you should be fired!" No! You don't!

I see this at Universities all the time. So much focus is put on "cooperation" and "community" and "getting input from all the stakeholders" but at the end of the day, we're doing what whoever holds the most cards wants to do. Sometimes that's the traditional elite, sometimes its whoever can wave the biggest victim flag, but it's still a unilateral decision.

You can't define an appropriate environment as whatever the most easily offended person wants. Jezebel thinks you can, ought and must do it that way. But I know they're wrong. You know why? Because Jezebel itself thinks it's absurd. They're totally cool with using that standard when it comes to dick jokes, but when it comes to breast feeding suddenly it's outrageous (eg one, two). Mothers can't be expected to make decisions based on the whims of whoever is most repulsed by strangers' breasts. Well guess what? That means I shouldn't be expected to conform my behavior to whoever leasts wants to overhear terrible puns about dongles.

(PS See also: "Back to the USSR by Way of Twitter")


  1. You're right about the inconsistency of course, which is obvious enough that I think it's not so much as failure to be consistent as a sign that no attempt to apply a consistent principle is even being made. In I Married A Communist Philip Roth refers to the kind of political critique that comes from "the combination of embitterment and not thinking." That's pretty much the default setting for contemporary social commentary.

    With regard to false consensus disguising the real distribution of decision-making power, there was a nice David Mitchell's Soapbox on the theme a little while back.


    1. That was a great video. I need to watch more of Mitchell's stuff.

  2. It's female logic. Just be glad that there are no computers running mission-critical systems that use that system of "logic".

    1. Well they would be really easy to program:

      if random() < 0.5 then do A else do B endif

  3. The difference, of course, is that women are oppressed by the Patriarchy, and therefore members of the Patriarchy need to shut up both when they are offending women, and when they are in turn offended by women.

    To them, it is not a contradiction.

    1. You're right that you can eliminate the contradiction by dividing everyone into "opressor" and "victim." But then you have to get rid of the "because we're all equal" as well. They can only have one or the other, not both.

  4. I've read that Adria whatshername has a history of this kind of thing, as well, by which I mean blowing up public over a perceived slight, instead of handling it through channels.

    She appears to be the kind of person who, when being told they can't return her item without a receipt, attempts to enlist all the other customers in line in some kind of coup.

    1. I'd love to be in line when someone like her tries that BS.