This is by no means a breaking story, but I’m now just getting caught up with the Andria Robert saga and what went down recently at the Pycon conference. If you have no idea what I am talking about, I suggest reading this first, and then coming back for my thoughts on the matter.
First, the way in which this story has blown up at all is a clear testament to the power of social media and the Internet. I can’t imagine anything like this happening three years ago. A single tweet ousting two guys making inappropriate comments at a professional tech conference has resulted in one of them being fired, and ultimately Andria herself being let go by her own company. The resulting shit show from these actions has deeply divide the tech community and spewed over into mainstream media.
My First Thought
After reading numerous stories and opinion pieces about the incident I was increasingly shocked by the amount of hateful messages directed at Andria. There are certainly reasonable arguments to be made against the way she handled the situation, but it’s definitely ‘not cool’ to threaten her life, hack her accounts, and campaign to have her fired. These are all overreactions (a common theme throughout this situation) at an entirely different scale. This needs to stop.
My Second Thought
A lot of people seem to be ignoring PlayHaven’s greater responsibility for this situation. They alone made the decision to fire their employee for making a stupid dongle joke, an action I think most people can agree was inappropriate for the offense. PlayHaven’s CEO made this short post that hints that the Pycon incident was only part of the equation, but termination was clearly the wrong course of action. This could have been an opportunity for the community to learn from and grow, but this has unfortunately been lost. Instead we’re left with sensationalized headlines of, “Man fired for making dongle joke.”
My Final Thought
Attacking Andria (reasonable or otherwise) for overreacting is also denying that far worse incidents regularly happen to women at tech conferences and events. Not-so-fun fact; there’s a wiki that keeps a history of these incidents. This actually exists. Reading through those stories and realizing just how much crap women have been forced to put up with is horrifying, so I understand why a silly joke about a dongle might not rank high on the Richter scale of vulgarity.
Nonetheless, I do view Andria’s actions as taking a hard stand against a prevailing sexist culture. She took to a public forum (Twitter) to try and take away the very anonymity that allows similar behavior to remain pervasive. Was this the professional way to respond? No, but neither is making a dongle joke at a professional conference where you’re representing your company. In any other setting (say, a political one) these actions certainly wouldn’t be tolerated.
Frankly, I am disappointed by the whole affair and all parties involved. A lot of people came together to make a bad situation far, far worse. The tech industry showed that it continues to be a haven for sexist attitudes. Andria tried to address these issues, but ultimately went about in a counterproductive way. PlayHaven and SendGrid both let the scum of the Internet dictate their actions, and in my view, are the real culprits behind the fiasco. And finally the web community itself, which has shown itself to be incredibly ugly and vindictive. I’m at a loss as to how to explain your actions.