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Speaking Out

Wednesday, February 06, 2013 11:36 PM

The web industry is going through a painful time - not in technological growth, programming language arguments, framework choices, or ugly design patterns, but in a raft of abusive behaviors towards the women in the industry. This cannot continue.

You may not know me. I’m not an internet celebrity, a conference speaker, or a book author. I don’t have a large web presence. Posts on this blog are few and far between (though like most, I wish I wrote more). To use a term I first learned back in the day on bulletin boards, I’m a bit of a lurker. I read and watch, only occasionally commenting. And it’s exactly that, the never speaking out, that needs to change.

So as not to make any assumptions on what you know and read, I’ll start by saying there has been more and more talk lately about diversity and equality in our web industry. This week that has specifically focused on women who have been abused (in a broad sense) in some way. Sometimes the abuse is private, sometimes public. The abuse covers a wide range from the seemingly small offenses to the horribly gross.  Several incredible, brave women have spoken up about their mistreatment in an effort to shine a light on the issue (as well, I would guess, to strengthen and encourage themselves and others in similar situations). Sarah Parmenter, Leslie Jensen-Inman, and Relly Annett-Baker to name a few whose stories impacted me. Some I know of through Twitter and the industry, some I don’t.

But they aren’t the only ones who need to speak up. Others need to speak out too: the men. Relly’s last paragraph rang in my ears as I read it:

“Chaps: All the time women are ‘others’ in this industry, we need you, as a representative of the legion of smart, not-sexist guys, to call out the one or two guys who think you are actually like them. These guys think you too are okay with ‘lighthearted’ rape jokes, misogyny, veiled threats and nudge-nudge references about the women in your midst. Show them *they* are actually the minority.”

It is time (way over due) that we men vocally stand up for the women in our industry. We need to shut down the sexist, threatening comments and the abusive actions. It falls at our feet because it is generally in our little all-male groups at conferences, restaurants, parties, that these misogynistic patterns take root. Forget “nipping it in the bud,” pull it out by the root! When someone says an inappropriate comment, don’t allow it. Call him out, say it isn’t okay, disagree.

It’s definitely not easy, both to recognize and to do. Especially as the guys doing this are usually your friends or coworkers. I recently experienced this at a conference and shamefully did nothing. Someone I know made a handful of remarks about some of the women there. They were not horrible, but off-color enough that I wasn’t sure how to respond… so I didn’t. But those small remarks are what can lead to further and worse remarks. Saying something as simple as “don’t be a creeper” or “that’s a little inappropriate” would have gone a long way, and maybe brought up a deeper conversation about what is okay and what isn’t. I still feel bad about not saying anything, especially in light of these previously mentioned ladies speaking up.

If we good men (I work hard to include myself in that group), don’t stand up and speak out I fear nothing will change. The bad apples in the bunch won’t listen to their victims. They don’t believe in them, don’t like them, and don’t think they are important, so they won’t listen to them. They won’t stop, not unless we, who they seem to have more respect for (as they should for the women), condemn what they are doing. These women, these people, are to believed in, liked and respected. They are important and should be heard.

I hope by writing this I am helping to do just that. I’m also learning from my mistake of lack of action at the recent conference to be sure to speak out vocally in the moment against sleazy comments and actions.

This isn’t just an industry issue, it’s a human one. It needs to be stopped wherever we find it. Yet, as most of us are in this industry because we love it and want to see it flourish, we have a special responsibility to stop the abuse here.

Men, speak out. Support the ladies in our industry. Fight against and condemn the abuse they are receiving.


Carissa said

Hey Phil! As you know I am not in the web industry but I am a woman and I appreciate you speaking out! There are many great and respectful men but they seem to be overshadowed by the degrading ones. It means a lot that you care to make a difference because I know a lot of women, myself included, that constantly feel disrespected and have little hope that things will change. But hearing this gives me hope so thank you! On the flip side, I hope us women act in a way that deserves respect and think we too should be calling out the girls that don’t seem to respect themselves.

On 02/07 at 12:43 PM

Danielle said

Phil, thank you. Been quietly fighting this fight for years now, but I seem to have lost some of my appearance of “objectivity” in the eyes of those who believe their “humor” is just harmless fun. Thank you for working to make being a mature, inclusive individual the *norm*.

On 02/07 at 06:59 PM

Laura said

Phil, this is such an important issue, and I’m glad you’re helping bring it to light. Not only is this true for web, but also for the whole tech industry. I’m sure it’s hard to speak up sometimes. Half of the time I’m left speechless when someone says something disrespectful to where I forget to say something. I’m thankful for the mentors I’ve had in my life—men and women—who encouraged me to explore subjects that either I didn’t consider myself strong in or subjects that women are a minority in. Don’t lose heart.

On 02/09 at 02:49 PM

mike said

Im actually quite shocked to hear ths, maybe ive been naive but I never realised tech guys could be so far behind the rest of us.

On 02/17 at 07:36 AM

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