This past week has been one is extreme disappointment for me as I survey the landscape of my beloved profession. From Portland’s own Postgres genius Selena Deckelman getting hazed on IRC to the incredibly immature sexism of Sqoot listing women as “a feature” of a hackathon I’ve just been feeling really depressed that there is this scale of stupidity toward our fellow programmers– our fellow people– in a field where, at one time, we’ve all known what it’s like to feel out of place and unaccepted.
Sqoot is just a light on what’s seemingly rampant in a field where I just assume there are awesome women doing awesome things. How much of this stupidity am I unaware of? How much do I add to it. Does it really make us feel better to treat other people like shit?
It strikes me as somewhat odd that I am a man, in an really male dominated field, in a male dominated world, who’d write about this. I mean, what do I know? Just as with white people who don’t see things that every person of color takes for granted, I’m sure there are a great many things than I just blindly ignore in my happy placement of gender-based privilege. In fact, I know there are.
The short story is that there are tiers of service, and for the top “enterprise” tier we were trying to make yet another cultural reference joke that could have gone bad.
For every tier, we have a different image. The free tier shows our Sasquatch, Kerridra, holding a pitchfork, the next tier– the lowest paid tier– shows Kerridra with his robotic companion SI1138. The idea, of course, is that you get more robots, more power, with higher subscription rates.
At the top tier, the enterprise tier, I thought it would be fun to have a reference to the TV show Madmen, where rich advertising executives have martini parties and red-headed secretaries wear mini skirts. My thought here was not “focus on red-headed chics in mini-skirts” but rather on “At the enterprise level, we take care of everything for you so you can sit back and drink a martini.” Here’s the first rough cut of that design.
Again, the idea was to have something immediately identifiable as from the show Madmen, but we looked at it and felt that it came off as sexist, pointless, and sort of missing the point of what it means to be at the upper level of service. In the end we axed my Madmen idea and went with another reference, this one not to a cultural reference, but to service. We put a rack of servers behind Kerridra and decided to say “You are getting people, robots, and servers” instead of “You can get a hot red-head.”
There’s a large part of me that’s embarrassed at the whole idea. I mean, I was just trying to go for a funny pop-culture reference in the same way as we have Star Wars references and WALL-E references. In the end, we recognized it as a misplaced, and overly sexist image, and decided to pull it before it ever went anywhere, but how many things like this don’t get pulled?
I guess the take away is that we did sit down, and make a conscious decision to axe that train of thought because if it’s overtones. We thought about it, we decided. That’s sort of what worries me. How much do we– all of us– throw out there because we don’t think about it. How much is just simply cultural privilege that we swim in like water?
This week kind of got me down, both because of the shitty nature of the way things are, and because of my worry (as my wife and I watch her belly grow and I, at least, hope for two daughters) that I add to it as much as anyone.
I guess one thing to look toward positively is a responses to everything this week. Responses like Selena’s. She chose not to battle, but to, almost quietly, Storify the interaction and then ask for feedback (http://bit.ly/GW1XT7). This was an incredibly mature and awesome way to handle a troll (Cheers to you, Selena, for so much restraint and thoughtfulness). And there was a lot of outrage about Sqoot’s mindless objectification of women, including posts like this by Tom Morris. There’s a lot of outrage and a lot of people, not only women, saying “Why is it this way? It doesn’t have to be, and you need to stop perpetuating it!” That’s positive.
For what it’s worth, Sqoot apologized with a “we can do better” post. This made me feel worse instead of better because it just seemed way too late and seemed to radiate insincerity. The only thing I could think of while reading that was an image of Steve Carrell from The Office, spouting an apology speech which had all of the right words that he knew other people would want him to say.
Overall, it’s been a disappointing week in Tech. I’m trying to see the positive. Good, strong, well-reasoned responses to stupidity and sexism. That should make me feel good. But the fact that there’s such a culture of “brogramming” makes me feel sad. I hope we can change that, but I’d really expected it to have been changed by now, so am not sure how much faith I have in me and my fellow man.