A follow up to THAT sexism post

On Thursday I read an article that I felt very strongly about and I wrote a post listing my problems with it. I thought a few people on Twitter, and possibly Faruk Ates, the author of the original post, would read it. As it turned out it got to no. 1 on Hacker News and an awful lot of people read it and had something to say.

I was curious when I wrote it to see if my opinion would be an isolated one. Happily I got a lot of responses from people who agreed with me and were glad I wrote it. I was even happier to find that a lot of the people that agreed with me were women who had a lot more experience working in the tech industry than I have myself. I had some women who had been actual victims of sexism agree with me that the original article was assumptive and over the top which was a nice assurance that I didn’t only feel that way about the article because tech industry sexism hasn’t happened to me personally.

I also got responses from people who didn’t agree. A couple of these comments were from women who had experienced sexism and were worried that posts like mine made it sound like the problem didn’t really exist. This was certainly not my intention. I did try hard in the post to point out how that isn’t how I feel at all, but I realise that I could have tried harder to make it completely explicit. I absolutely believe that we have problems with sexism in our industry. I also absolutely believe that we are not alone, and that there are problems with sexism in many industries. I did not and would not deny that sexism exists; my problem was simply with the way the article was written like it was speaking for all women.

A few other comments tried to discredit me by saying that ‘she’s only been in the industry 6 months, what does she know?’ One of these commenters obviously looked up my work history and then ignored the majority of it to try and make their point. I made sure to clearly state in the article that I was a relative newcomer as I didn’t want to pretend that I was speaking from a position of much more experience. I actually find the idea that someone isn’t allowed an opinion because they only have a small amount of experience  very insulting. Everyone is allowed an opinion, on anything they like. I would only question the validity of someone’s opinion if they were pretending to be something they are not. My post made clear who I am, what my experience is, and that it was based on my own findings so far.

Ironically, I actually did experience my first industry sexism as a result of the post, through a couple of moronic comments talking about it being ‘my time of the month’ or such. I can only imagine those people didn’t actually read it. They are also shining examples of the idiots that make people view our industry as a sexist one in the first place. It would have been good for the original article to talk about these kinds of industry-specific issues rather than concentrating on more emotive and general topics like rape, which brings me onto my next point. In my reply to one of the HN comments on the post, I wrote a paragraph that I wish I’d put in my original article:

“I think that an article that was truly about the gender gap in tech would actually talk about the gender gap in tech. There were so many issues that the article actually could have talked about – disparity in pay, women being overlooked for promotions, women getting unfairly let go or not hired because of pregnancy, women finding that their opinions are ignored or not even asked for, women feeling left out because the guys go for drinks after work and they’re not asked to go with. The article did briefly touch on speakers at conferences, but for me personally that’s a less important issue. I go to conferences a couple of times a year; I go to the office 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year, and issues like pay and promotions affect my whole life.”

That helps to demonstrate that I was not criticising the intention of writing the article; I was criticising the way it was written and the things that it chose to concentrate on. I would have fully welcomed an article which discussed real problems like these. If a man had written that article I would have been really pleased. The reason I didn’t appreciate the original article was because it felt very much like a man telling me ‘this is how it is, and this is how you should feel’ (which is itself sexist). What I probably should have clarified in my post was not that I don’t think men should discuss sexism (they can and should) but that it cannot come from that patronising standpoint.

This morning Faruk wrote his response to my response. I was glad that he did as overall I felt like it was more considered than the original article. I was pleased to see that he agreed with me that a lot of his writing relied too heavily on broad assumptions, and he apologised if that had caused offence. I’m sure that his initial intention in writing the article came from a very good place, but that the finished article didn’t say what he intended it to, possibly because it’s a subject he feels passionately about and he got carried away (which is something that is easy for all of us to do). However when you’re writing for a popular publication like .net it’s dangerous to do that as it’s easy for people to misinterpret what you might have actually meant.

He criticised the title of my post, saying it was sensationalist which is what my post was arguing against. I can only agree on that point. If I wrote it again, I probably would call it something else. It was provocative for provocative’s sake and actually was pretty much at odds with everything I wrote in the post itself. My only defense was that by choosing an over-the-top title it probably got more people to read it and contribute to the discussion (I’m a journalism major, I know the importance of a headline!).

This is the last I’m going to say on it. It would be easy to keep writing responses back and forth to people but I’m drawing a line under my part of it here. I’m glad that I wrote it, and I’m glad that other people are glad that I wrote it. Yes, there were a few parts that I could have improved upon with an extra edit or two, but that’s almost always the case with writing. I never expected to see the amount of debate that arose from the post, but is was fascinating to read everyone’s opinions, whether they agreed with my stance or not.

Now I’m just going to start thinking about what to write next; whatever it is it will be on a completely different topic! Hope you all have a great weekend.