While I'm still a little confused at who is right and who is wrong here -- I for one am not much into publicly shaming someone on Twitter but I am just as guilty for making sexual jokes with my friends about Unix commands such as finger, fsck and ping -- I'm a little stunned by how far the deep end this incident went. In a nutshell, at the recent Pycon conference, two nerds made computer-based jokes involving 'forking repos' and 'big dongles,' which were, according to female "developer evangelist" Adria Richards, sexist and "not cool."
I'll quote at this point Forbes' Kashmir Hill, whose opinion in her article I think has far more value than my own:
Richardss tweet was immediately spotted by an organizer for the tech conference who pulled the two men aside to confront them about the comments. According to a post on the conferences website, the men agreed the comments were in poor taste and apologized.
That could have been the end of the story but instead, like a sexist snowball rolling down a hyper-sensitive mountain, the situation has escalated considerably. Richards wrote a blog post about the encounter, in which its not entirely clear that the comments were sexist (in my reading). Meanwhile, one of the male developers revealed that he had been let go from his job as a result of the public shaming, and said while he had been making a joke about the male anatomy by referring to big dongles (a piece of tech hardware), forking is a term he and his colleague used to denote the highest form of flattery.
Adria immediately received a ton of flack for shaming "the men via social media rather than talking to them in person," incidentally proving her point of the hostile environment women face in the technology sector. It's no coincidence that Adria's choice for her domain name, butyoureagirl.com, reflects this; however, as the male developer who lost his job over the comments argued, it also sounds like a loaded gun waiting to go off at any perceived gender-based discrimination:
I don't go ape-shit and publicly humiliate someone for making a potentially sexist joke among friends, because I have spent years rationally and academically evaluating whether or not someone is actually attempting to propagate bigotry and discriminatory behaviors--and this is the baseline for sexism, not whether or not a person approves of a statement that includes anatomical or sexual content. To reiterate, years of studying gender issues from a historical and philosophical perspective have shown rather conclusively that not everything sex-related is sexist.
The "big dongle" statement was not in any way a 'sexist joke'. It was an anatomical joke, albeit a childish one on the level of potty humor. Anatomy != sexism.
As the Internet revved up on both sides, with a denial of service attack hammering at Adria's employer, SendGrid, she was laid off as well, possibly to "satisfy customers and thwart further attacks on its system."
SendGrid's CEO explained the decision as such:
SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs, [...]. What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders and bystanders was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.
As Kashmir concludes, "this public relations nightmare is far from over." As for me, I'll be sure to keep future finger, fsck and ping jokes to myself.
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