Let's put away the forks and dongles and talk this over like civilized people.

Let's put away the forks and dongles and talk this over like civilized people.

bart's picture

An opening note:  This blog entry isn't directly related to art or gaming, but I think someone needs to take a stand for the middle ground, and I have this soapbox here.  Apologies to many of you who didn't come here to read this stuff.  Feel free to ignore it as you see fit.

I'm sure some people reading this are already aware of the unfortunate incident that occurred at PyCon recently, wherein two men sitting in an audience (at the keynote, I believe) were making some crude innuendos involving dongles and forking, and a woman in front of them tweeted their picture publicly to her numerous followers in order to get the attention of the PyCon staff.  The tweet ultimately cost one of the men (edit: and now apparently the woman as well) their jobs, and depending on who you ask, this either proves that men are the true victims of universal oppression in our society and that feminism is completely and entirely wrong in all aspects, or the guy had it coming because in making childish, PG-rated dongle jokes he somehow now bears all of the responsibility for all of the misogyny to ever take place at a developer conference.  Rumors that both men were fired (only one was) or that they were ejected from the conference (they left voluntarily) are false.

This whole thing would probably have blown over, had it not come to light later on in the week that one of the men was fired over this incident.  This strikes me as a clear overreaction on the part of his employer (I'm going to be using this word overreaction a lot in this article because it's the crux of the problem.  Say it with me.  Overreaction.), and it's unlikely that the man's termination was the intent of the woman who tweeted the photograph.

So where does the mob mentality fit into all this?  Well, as I see it, we're actually dealing with two mobs here.  One is the mob of obnoxious jerkwads who pop out of the woodwork to harass women with foul language, DOS attacks, and death threats every time they voice even the slightest objection the way they're treated in the tech world.  The other mob is a bit quieter and more professional, acting behind the scenes to make sure that someone pays in blood for the poor way women in tech are treated, even if the person in question wasn't actually being a misogynist at all (Think about it: would this man's employer really have fired him without prompting?  Or do you suppose that multiple people looked him up and emailed or called demanding that they fire him over the relatively minor offense of making some crude jokes with a friend during a keynote?).

There's something here that a lot of people don't consider.  If you take part in an internet mob, the anonymity and lack of personal consequences don't absolve you of your personal responsibility for your actions.  If you called this woman demeaning names, you know who you are.  If you participated in the DDOS on her website, you know who you are.  If you called the employer of a man with a wife and three kids to get him fired over a silly, minor incident, you know who you are.  If you're exerting social pressure on the people at the forefront of your movement to not back down from what they said when something has clearly gotten out of hand, you know who you are.  What you are doing is acting as the judge, jury, and executioner in an incident where all you have to go on is a tiny bit of hearsay.  The reaction to this incident by the PyCon staff was calm and measured.  They discussed the incident privately with the people involved, and those people apologized.  The story ought to have ended there, but as many people are well aware, it didn't.

When you join a massive, anonymous online overreaction to a perceived slight, not only do will you end up punishing the people involved vastly out of proportion with whatever it is they've done, you'll also end up damaging the credibility of your own cause.  For instance, you aren't exactly going to dispel the notion that there's rampant misogyny in the tech world by bombarding a woman (who, by the way, has the guts to sign her name to what she says, even if you don't agree with it) with filth and death threats.  Similarly, getting a man fired for making dongle jokes is a scare tactic, and people are legitimately worried now that making the tiniest little joke at a conference may result in pressure that gets them fired.

Calm down for a moment, whichever side of this whole thing you happen to be on, and consider the following:  The fact that the tech world has issues with rampant misogyny and the fact that this particular incident was a vast overreaction to a minor annoyance (people making crude but not misogynistic jokes during a keynote) are not mutually exclusive.  Both of these things are completely true.  When you deny either of these things, you make yourself look ridiculous, and the unfortunate human tendency is to react strongly to whatever opinion we happen to read first, which means that ultimately you're just causing the entire environment to become even less reasonable and more polarized, which is an overreaction that solves absolutely nothing.

But wait, there's more.  Let's say you dismiss real instances of misogyny by claiming that the person being made to feel uncomfortable is overreacting.  You've now made it harder for someone reasonable to look at an instance like this and say (publicly) that this is a real case of overreaction.  It's the first thing that comes out whenever a woman expresses that she's tired of being constantly bombarded with sandwich jokes.  Sure, individually "make me a sandwich" is just a joke, but when you're bombarded with it day after day by people who think they're being clever, it creates an environment that's incredibly hostile.  (Incidentally, "make me a sandwich" is sexist, whereas "I'd fork his repo" is sexual, and these are two completely different things.)  Do I believe everyone who has ever said "make me a sandwich" deserves to be fired?  No.  At least, not as long as they're willing to change their behavior once they're aware of how old, tired, and degrading it gets.  Most people are reasonable enough to stop.  Those of you who aren't, well, I have just as much sympathy for you as you have for others -- that is, none at all.

As a final note, while the mobs caused by far the most damage in this situation, the individuals involved (with the exception of the PyCon staff) don't exactly come out of this looking rosy either.

To the guy making crude comments during a keynote:  She took a picture of you and tweeted it all over because you were being annoying.  You were talking during someone's speech, and other people likely wanted to hear.  I don't think the content of what you said is really a major issue here; I've made my share of childish jokes and I'll likely continue to do so.  But what you did is akin to talking at a movie theater, and you should know better.  Also, your claim that "I'd fork his repo" has absolutely no sexual connotation is intellectually dishonest, and you know it.  Regardless, you didn't deserve to be publicly shamed on the internet or terminated from your job.

To the woman who tweeted the picture:  You sent your own mob after this guy.  While I highly doubt that it was your intention to get him fired, you should have anticipated that the possibility was there.  While the people who actually pressed to get him fired (as well as the stupid employer who caved to the pressure) are the ones at fault, you should understand as a journalist and a blogger that you have a responsibility to be careful with the personal information that you disseminate to the public.  Furthermore, in your response to the incident, you know full well that you should have apologized for what you did, but you also know that the worst of your mob would consider that a betrayal of their principals, so you stuck to your guns and defended your own lack of professionalism and foresight with trumped up statements about how those guys were shattering some little girl's dream and how you're apparently Joan of Arc.  You also claimed that you felt too threatened to confront them directly, or even report them to the convention staff like a responsible person.  I find that a bit hard to believe, since you pointed out in the same blog entry that you actively confronted someone earlier for being crude and creepy.  Regardless, you did not deserve to be attacked by an internet mob, or to be terminated from your job.

In conclusion: Nobody needed or deserved to get harassed or fired over this.  Everything that needed to be done was taken care of in a professional manner by the PyCon staff, and if you participated in harassing or otherwise pushing to get either of the involved parties fired, you are part of the problem.

I'll step off my soapbox for now.  Peace out.


P.S.  Note that this article contains no links or names.  This is deliberate on my part; I want people to stop taking part in mobs, not add to them.

P.P.S.   Since this is generally off topic for OGA, please keep the discussion here and out of the IRC channel.