FEMALE PRIVILEGE – Gynonormativity – Donglegate in the context of sexual harassment politics

The buzz at the moment is the foofarah over Adria Richards and her behavior at a tech conference. What is interesting is not that a woman took offense at something a man said in her hearing and found a way to turn that against him and get some publicity for herself. That kind of thing is bird-in-the-backyard stuff, been going on for centuries.

I’m not going to waste your time repeating the details of this affairs. The whole thing is all over the internet.

The big news is the reaction. I don’t mean that ferocity that has been lobbed at Adria Richards. That kind of thing is also not news. And by the way, when you are the cause of someone, in this case two people, losing their jobs, in a climate where this kind of thing has happened enough that fear of it is general (see also Sexual Harassment policies, guidelines and enforcement actions just about anywhere) you have no reason to be surprised when the reaction across the community is vitriolic.

The reaction I am talking about is from women in the tech industry. SilencingNarrative on Reddit MensRights has a self-reddit up saying that he sees a turning point here, not just for himself I feeling he can trust women in that field more because of their response to the incident. He sees it as a turning point in the gynonorming trend in male-dominated fields and the workplace in general.

Women are losing no time in condemning Richards and often in quite blunt and harsh terms. Amanda Blum had quite a bit to say by way of background on Adria Richards and none of it was in her favor. She cuts to the bone on this, she says that Richards’ behavior has harmed women in the industry materially, undoing years and years of struggle on the part of women in the industry to be accepted as team members.
Amanda says Richards has painted women in the tech industry a irrational bitches no one can work with. SilencingNarrative says that the response of women in the industry has done more than reverse that harm, at least for him. Well done, Amanda Blum.

And look at this post at a blog called “….a whisper of dark wings”. It goes further in explaining the harm Richards caused, and in the process proving how adult and reasonable these women in the tech industry can be.

The misogyny underlying the assumptions that inform Richards’ actions are not lost on these women either.

And here’s a thread on Hacker News, starting with an apology from one of the guys involved, with most commenters telling him he’s not the one who should be apologizing.

Back when women started to enter the corporate world and the workplace in general, back in the 60s, people thought there would be a natural process of accomodation, but they were ignoring a feature of the gender system that constructs femininity so that women are the Moral Guardians of society.

This happens because women have an outsized role in child-rearing and socialization in our society. This gynonormativity s so entrenched in the culture that when women go into male spaces and find it not in effect, they call the situation sexist and misogynist – in other words a setting that is not female dominated, at least in its norms, is unacceptable to them.

And in the context of the tech industry, an industry staffed mainly with men who have issues with women because of the way women treat and have treated them, this gynonormativity and the tech industry culture were a combustible mixture. Adria Richards may have touched off a cleansing fire that may spread beyond the tech industry.

27 thoughts on “FEMALE PRIVILEGE – Gynonormativity – Donglegate in the context of sexual harassment politics

  1. That was definitely one of the first things I noticed: every single woman I saw commenting on the incident was sad that the respect they’d earned in the industry was being undermined by Richards’ actions.

  2. I’ve been keeping up with this as well. One of the features that keeps being brought up by feminists, in addition tot he “sexist” angle, is that the guys weren’t “professional.”

    It’s started to make me think about the use of the word “professional.” Traditionally, when people think of professionalism, it’s often in the form of dressing well, minding manners, etc. It’s often expected of people in lower class positions to dress or act “up,” which essentially hides the fact that they’re lower class by wearing a uniform (such as when waiting tables at a fancy restaurant or working at a hotel) that is more on par with what a higher class person would wear. The more formal an occasion is, the more one has to dress and act “up” to arrive there.

    Now, in context with the Adria Richards thing, it seems like women are treated as one step above men on the “professional” class ladder by many people (especially by most feminists) based solely on their gender. In the male dominated culture of tech, it’s not uncommon to see or hear men making crass comments to each other or making lame puns involving words like “dongle,” and the behavior is tolerated (if not often fully supported) when no women are around. However, when one shows up, the behavior is classed as unprofessional.

    In other words, it seems like women are, in many environments, treated like aristocracy, placed on pedestals, and that their desires can be fought for not just with accusations of sexism, but also lack of professionalism (despite often having no negative impact on their work).

    It’s a form of female privilege that is somewhat insidious; women can claim that men have privilege in behaving casually, saying off-color things, etc., but in reality, it’s a form of female privilege to be able to expect that other people act “up” – more professionally – around a woman, to meet her expectations since the typical behavior or “non-professional” men is considered base. A woman could very easily (and some, especially in tech, often do) gain what they think to be the male privilege in that environment by acting down, less “professionally.” It’s not something being withheld by men.

    Anyway, I’m glad more women are reacting as they have to the issue. It’s kind of refreshing.

  3. JDC, that’s an important insight, the conflation of prissiness with professionalism and the ascription of it to women. It’s an exercise of gynonormativity, which is, as you say, a form f female privilege. Basically since when does a woman get to go into a man’s space and judge men’s behavior? Since Carrie Nation at least – and come to think of it, the Temperance League was a part of the general women’s movement that the Suffragettes were involved in, so it’s not some stretch to lump them together.

  4. undoing years and years of struggle on the part of women in the industry to be accepted as team members.

    I think it’s more like years and years of slowly becoming disenchanted with computer science and dropping even more heavily in the last few years, even as efforts to accommodate women have reached fever pitch. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/business/16digi.html?_r=0

    This incident could very well be the swan song of women dropping out of the field altogether and everyone just coming to the realization that there are limits to how far you can go to accommodate someone. I mean, if you have to be an attention-starved bully to actually benefit from the hypersensitivity given to women’s feelings, then we’ve probably gone too far. I mean, I’d love to see what Richards would have to say about two Vietnamese people talking about their currency. http://i.imgur.com/vK1wQhs.png So I honestly don’t know which way it will really go, or if it even matters.

  5. y’know, somehow the whole thing about her posting the guys pics on twitter-not allowing them to have a trial or explain themselves-this all feels like The Nice Guys of Okay Cupid all over again.

    I also can’t help but think that somehow she will make a huge fortune in a law suit…

  6. Those links have soothed me somewhat. So far all I’d found was articles painting Adria Richards as someone who’d “stood up” to “sexist harassers”, and comparing the suggestions she actually did something wrong to blaming rape victims. For some people I think it’s just easier to assume a story fits the narrative they expect.
    Not that I’d wish the full weight of the Internet Hate Machine on her for it, but I’m pretty glad she got fired. I hope the guy that got fired gets picked up quickly, ideally by Dongles Incorporated or something.

  7. SWAB,
    “y’know, somehow the whole thing about her posting the guys pics on twitter-not allowing them to have a trial or explain themselves-this all feels like The Nice Guys of Okay Cupid all over again. ”

    Would you write something up on that? I fel some kind of connection but can’t put my finger on it. Let us know if you do post something on it and I’ll go look, and I urge everyone else too.

    ES,
    “Those links have soothed me somewhat. So far all I’d found was articles painting Adria Richards as someone who’d “stood up” to “sexist harassers”, and comparing the suggestions she actually did something wrong to blaming rape victims. For some people I think it’s just easier to assume a story fits the narrative they expect.”

    And here we see the usefulnes of that narrative and why it persists. Adria Richards is clearly the aggresor in this, and that narrative allows her to paint herself as a victim. And we can see how useful that is to her.

  8. I posted this comment elsewhere but feels it’s pertinent here.

    It’s not just this one woman.

    The vitrol directed towards Aria comes from a population frustrated having dealt with women like her and getting ridiculed or ostracized for their opinions, even worse having to walk on egg shells in order to accomodate and not look the Misogynist while holding on tight to their jobs in the process.

    The cork has been popped so to speak and the resulting overflow is unsurprising.

    I’m glad it did, though. Because for too long, this population’s feelings and fears were suppressed as women like Aria are coddled and given security and a soapbox for their feelings of “Injustice” and “Sexism”. Now it’s time for society to LISTEN to this population.

  9. Could the diminishing rates of participation in women in computing science have anything to do with the reduction of the perception that learning and utilizing technology is empowering (for men and women)? What bothers me about the narrative surrounding Adria Richards, whether you believe she’s a paragon standing against discrimination in tech. or she’s set back the community, is the fact that discussion of the problem of a lack of women in IT/IS is a mostly West European/North American phenomenon. In places like the Middle East and South America, more women graduate with STEM degrees compared to men, and there are much higher job participation rates of women in industry (http://contexts.org/articles/spring-2011/what-gender-is-science/) Any attempt to get more women to participate in tech by changing the tech subculture to be more accommodating is doomed to fail because tech is exactly that: a subculture, and not the entire culture.

    My Alma mater provides some refreshing perspective on this issue (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~lblum/PAPERS/women_in_computer_science.pdf) Peer culture is identified as only ONE OF FOUR major factors in why women’s participation in technology has diminished or remained low. The biggest predictor of whether a woman decided to continue or stop pursuing a degree in Computer Science? Whether the individual had coding experience in high school (With admissions highly correlated to participation in AP computer science).

    Overseas and abroad, women thrive in the math and sciences because those countries value them more than the United States (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/09/opinion/bennett-stem-education) Thus a woman studying science is encouraged by both her family and the community because it is seen as a way for her to empower herself with knowledge and provide a way to improve herself and her peers economically without diminishing or interfering with the work that males perform in the community.

    Contrast that with what’s happening in the United States. As education has become more feminized, we see less and less emphasis on math and science, and more on discipline and conformity. More young males are either being suspended and expelled from their schools for even the slightest infractions with zero tolerance policies, or becoming medicated for their misbehaviors being exaggerated as a behavioral disorder. When you invoke the conspiracy theory known as “Patriarchy” to then become the basis of an actual toxic power structure that is hamstringing the prosperity of this country, the legitimate issues you present will be dismissed and trigger a backlash.

    In summary, any discussion of Adria is essentially failing to see the forest for the trees. We will never see true gender equality in technology until our sons and daughters grow with it in the classroom. We will never see it in the classroom if we continue to criminalize behavior instead of educating and enlightening, and feminists continue to decry science as a “Tool of the patriarchy” instead of teaching it as a method of educating and enlightening.

  10. I’ve known and worked with about a dozen women in tech who were competent, hardworking, worthy of respect, and all of them were a joy to work with. Unfortunately, for every one of them I’ve also known 3 times as many women who were fragile, whiny, lazy, stupid and damaging pieces of shit.

    I’m genuinely sorry for the hits the good women in tech will take because of this, but flushing away the turds like Adria is too long overdue. Women like Adria were part of the reason I bailed out of tech 8 years ago (after 24 years of service) – working with women like her felt like being the target at a gun range.

    Because of differing skills and interests, the highest percentage of women in tech will never exceed 30%. I’d suspect 20% is the practical maximum, unless, of course, you convert the server room into a shoe store.

    If you a man in tech, make it a point to never speak in the presence of any woman except maybe your boss. If you are required to interact with women, record every conversation. Carrying cards that say “under the terms of the Ada Initiative, it is impermissible for a man to speak in the presence of a women” would be a good way to get your point across. Starving women in tech of all male attention might be the best way to stop this nonsense.

  11. “If you are required to interact with women, record every conversation.”
    My first Technical Communications class was basically some guy teaching us how to survive in industry. He didn’t care much for the curriculum of the course itself. “Record everything even remotely out of the norm” was his #1 rule. Disputes happen, and a signed&dated work journal could give you the edge in a he said/she said situation.

  12. “I’m genuinely sorry for the hits the good women in tech will take because of this, but flushing away the turds like Adria is too long overdue.”

    They seem not to be sorry but furious, and specifically at her. They are blaming no one but her for the increased suspicion they are anticipating.

  13. Gingko: Is it just me, or have the louder feminists been overreaching over the past few years?

  14. Ginko.

    “Would you write something up on that? I fel some kind of connection but can’t put my finger on it. Let us know if you do post something on it and I’ll go look, and I urge everyone else too.”

    I’ve been saying for a long time that the whole Nice Guy ™ meme is just an excuse to bully shy and inexperienced men….

    https://stonerwithaboner.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/more-on-why-im-not-an-mra-and-why-do-sub-par-men-perpetuate-the-nice-guy-tm-meme/

    and on a related tangent…

    https://stonerwithaboner.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/youre-just-bitter-because-you-cant-get-laid/

  15. http://www.motherjones.com/transition/inter.php?dest=http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/03/pycon-2013-sexism-dongle-richards

    don’chya just love how they putt brogrammer in the title…

    no mansplainin’ and “what about teh menz” aren’t sexist and condescending because sexism, just like racism can only go in one direction…

    –borrow flashing sarcasm button from the manboobz bigot–

    and if I must play identity politics I am mixed race–or as the asswipes from GL Piggy and Inmalafide called me, a victim of miscegenation…

  16. ČerniLabut:

    Yes, the paradox that the more equality and economic independence women have the more traditionally they tend to choose when it comes to education and vocations. Hence the gender ratio of engineering students in Africa are much much closer than the ratio among engineering students on Europe or the US.

    Why is interesting. I think you touch on something regarding the status of the occupation. The incompatibility or perceived incompatibility of STEM vocation and child-rearing is another one. As with many things I suspect there is a whole conglomerate of reasons which can be hard to completely untangle.

  17. In University of Belgrade(1),Faculties of Biology.
    You can pick between 3 main courses:
    1.Biology
    2.Ecologi
    3.Molecular Biology and Physiology.Which is the hardest course that you can pick.And it contains many hard sciences that are mandatory if you want the diploma.There women outnumber men 10-1.

    1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Belgrade

  18. Aych, long time no see!

    “Gingko: Is it just me, or have the louder feminists been overreaching over the past few years?”

    It’s not just you. L’affaire Burchill was a huge strategic blunder, feminists positions on various topics – raped boys having to pay their rapists child support, fmeinist incoherence on DV, etc – these are all bringing some very surprised scrutiny.

    Where for decades feminists could assume they had the moral high ground, that they were the force of progress and the daughters of light, that image is crumbling, the same as the Republicans’ image as the sensible, strong party on national security.

    Now the general public is watching them take wilder and wilder and ever more bigoted positions – the bigotry hasn’t changed, but its glamor of equality and progressiveness has – and the broad-based cultural support feminists have enjoyed for so long is crumbliong. and they are experiencing tihis as misogyny or whatever you call it when epople no longer let you badger and boss them around. That’s a lot of the noise you are hearing.

  19. Tamen,
    “As with many things I suspect there is a whole conglomerate of reasons which can be hard to completely untangle.”

    I think there is one thing at the center of that tangle – gender anxiety. Western women have a toxic fromulation of femininity, tot go with Western men’s toxic formulation of masculinity. This toxic feminiity depends on hypoagency and the social benfits that derive from that. Hypoagency reuqries an internal sense of helplessness and resulting victimhood.

    So as Western women win more and more permission to be agentic, and step inot that agency, somehting has to give for them to maintian their sense of helplessness.

  20. ČerniLabut, you raise some interesting points but I’m afraid that the things you’re highlighting, such as CMU’s efforts to recruit women, are exactly the kind of efforts that have resulted in thrusting people like Richards up on their pedestals. I think that is what people are really waking up to right now – that these efforts to accommodate women are not necessarily as “good” for the field as the mantra would have us believe.

    I am in a constant state of disbelief at the sheer scope of the effort to recruit more women into computer science. The whole entire major is actually very volatile, and even as prospective students are becoming disinterested in this as a career, everyone from private companies to universities are spending a disproportionate amount of resources trying to cater to the smallest and least likely of interested students.

    After an increase of 43 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05, the number of degrees conferred in computer and information sciences decreased by 27 percent between 2004–05 and 2009–10. http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37

    I agree with you that early education plays a critical role and that the “feminized” education system is failing here, but this doesn’t explain the gender gap. If anything, I should expect to see the opposite results. How is it that a drugged up, stigmatized population is still continue to produce a far more “masculine” subculture in computer science, while the female students who outperform males in almost every measure are increasingly less likely to adopt one of the most critical roles in our modern civilization? Why does it take such heavy-handed recruiting just to get women in the field back up to the levels that they were already at in the 1970′s?

  21. Pingback: FEMALE PRIVILEGE – Donglegate and the colonization of men’s spaces | GendErratic

  22. Is it possible that the Nerd/Dork/Dweeb/beta factor in computer science department’s across the country has increased since the 1970′s, and that girls in school are therefore keeping clear of those kinds of guys? That might explain the drop in numbers. I ask as someone not involved in that world.

  23. Is it possible that the Nerd/Dork/Dweeb/beta factor in computer science department’s across the country has increased since the 1970′s, and that girls in school are therefore keeping clear of those kinds of guys? That might explain the drop in numbers. I ask as someone not involved in that world.

    It doesn’t happen in countries with a strong education culture (China, Japan).

    It also seems to not happen in countries that don’t consider the epitome of maleness being a beer drinking football-watching troglodyte who doesn’t read (because that’s for girls) and doesn’t do anything even remotely creative (because it’s girly).

  24. dungone: I didn’t intend my response to be an endorsement of all of CMU’s methods. I should add that in the years after the study was taken, CMU’s CS program has managed to attract and retain a higher percentage of women. CMU does a significant amount of outreach with providing technology and science exposure to young women in the region(Our Robotics Institutes FIRST team recruits high schoolers from all over Pittsburgh and Allegheny county http://www.girlsofsteelrobotics.com/)

    While it seems paradoxical at first, feminization of education wouldn’t necessarily lead to more women studying computer science. The trend has actually been that the overall number of computer scientists graduating year to year has been declining overall (http://www.cio.com/article/192911/Smallest_Number_of_Students_in_a_Decade_Graduate_with_Computer_Science_Degrees_in_2007) since the dot com bubble, and hasn’t started picking up again until now (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/technology/11computing.html?_r=0) Though we are still significantly below the 15k students that were enrolling/graduating in the 90s. While people argue that this is due to the dot com bust in 2001 and then the second recession in 2008, you would expect those numbers to rebound by 2006 given that growth in the tech sector recovered to 2001 levels by that point, and the 2008 recession to have no bearing on job demand in the tech sector, given that the most impacted fields were finance, housing, and their related fields (And in fact, job demand for software engineers and the like has grown).

    Instead, students drop out or don’t bother pursuing computer science in the first place because it’s hard. If women used to make up 25-30% of the people in computer science biased in the lower qualified half of the distribution, and now we’ve lost the lower half of the number of people due to the education foundation crumbling, then of course the proportion will increase in favor of men who were the majority before. These men of course, are the lucky few who managed to make the most of their teenage years. They are succeeding now despite “No Child Left Behind”, not because of it.

  25. The trend has actually been that the overall number of computer scientists graduating year to year has been declining overall

    I think you missed when I pointed it out. This is exactly why outreach such as Girls Of Steel Robotics is such a completely insane waste of resources. More outreach towards boys, or just gender-inclusive outreach, would have addressed a problem that is actually crucial to computer science instead of a problem that is only crucial to political activists.

    I’m familiar with CMU’s program, by the way, having gone there and now working for a company that recruits their graduates. These days especially, you practically can’t look for a programming job without getting an earful of PR spin about all the things they are doing for women in the field. The few women who are actually programmers often seem to have a part time job heading out on special assignments to do PR work for their employers in order to recruit more women and make that one company not look like “that.” But the more I look at what’s happening, the more it looks like nothing more than poaching. One school’s, or company’s gain is another’s loss.

    Instead, students drop out or don’t bother pursuing computer science in the first place because it’s hard.

    That’s the establishment thinking, but I’m skeptical of this explanation. There’s never been a better time to get into computer science.

    I’m still at a loss as to how you reconcile men getting into computer science “despite” the odds while women continue to show little interest in spite of having numerous advantages throughout k-12 education. Why is women’s participation in other STEM fields growing, including in fields such as physics which are arguably more daunting than computer science? And if women tend to be the less promising students who take up computer science, then why would it matter if they dropped out at the same higher rate as less promising men?

  26. Gingko: Aych, long time no see!

    That’s mainly because I’ve come to the conclusion that paying attention to gender-related stuff has turned me into a bitter person and I’d be better-off were I to kick the topic out of my life entirely.

    But, at the same time, I still have questions which nag me. It sometimes seems as if the current gender discourse is off on planet Neptune and it makes my head spin. I need a reality-check once in a while.

    But, yeah, I think I’ll only be coming back sporadically from now on. It simply isn’t good for me to dwell on these kinds of topics.

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