Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost

Let me get this out of the way:  I don’t like Adria Richards. I think I have good reason to not like Adria Richards. So I should be feeling some major Schadenfreude right now. Instead, though, I think what’s unfolded in the developer community in recent days has been a tragedy. Here’s why.

  • Adria Richards was an attendee at PyCon, a tech conference, as part of her job as a developer evangelist at Sendgrid, a tech company that manages emails.
  • She took offense to a conversation two men, also developers for a company called Play Haven, were having behind her during the conference, in which they referenced “dongles” and “forking”. Both of these are tech terms, they were construed to be used sexually on Adria’s part.
  • Without ever mentioning her offense to the men, she took their picture, posted it to twitter and asked PyCon to do something about it.
  • Play Haven fired one of the developers.
  • Then the internet blew up.

An Established Pattern of Action

Why don’t I enjoy Adria? I met her in New York some years ago at a conference and invited her to speak at a conference I was organizing in Boston. She was a very good speaker and I wanted her to help our beginners. She’s not an easy person- she didn’t like the title of her talk, she didn’t like her time slot, etc.  Two weeks before the conference, we got a few emails from attendees that she had just threatened on her podcast to boycott our conference because one of our speakers, Danielle Morrill was giving a lightning talk about how to use screencasting software called “Getting the Money Shot”.


She’d never told us she was offended, she’d never told Danielle- she told her podcasting audience and blog readers that we were promoting porn.  In the end, after great drama, she attended and deep sixed her talk, instead lecturing the attendees about how porn wasn’t acceptable at conferences. The beginners in her class were less than amused and ultimately, deprived of the opportunity to learn from her.

At the time I was really angry and frustrated. We were unpaid volunteers organizing this event, and she never gave us the opportunity to try and solve the problem and was about to leave us in the lurch. By the time it blew up (an explosion created entirely by her) we felt cornered and blackmailed.

The following year, she took offense to a t shirt created for WordCamp SF, pictured below.

XKCD generously allowed their comic to be used. Instead of contacting Jane Wells , who was in charge of the project and is easily reachable, she made the situation immediately public and rallied her troops.

To be clear, I believe the tech industry, of which I am a part, is rampantly sexist. It runs so deep and so organic to the industry that even men who would see it in other places don’t recognize it in our insulated world. So rampant, often females don’t even see it-it usually happens quietly- a lack of female speakers, a male praised for something a female said earlier, unnoticed.  But at the Boston conference, great strides were made to have a strong female presence. Almost 40% of attendees at Boston were female, almost 40% of speakers (at the time these numbers were VERY high), there were multiple women (including myself) on the organizing committee.  Jane Wells has long sought to inject opportunities for women into WordCamps and the tech community at large. Danielle Morrill was a highly regarded female in the startup arena, at the time the first employee at Twilio who spoke frequently at conferences. Unequivocally, each of us would have been very receptive to Adria if she’d just approached us instead of attacked us.

What We Can Learn from Overreaction

There is some small part of me that appreciated the backlash she received this week, something I’m ashamed to admit, because I’ve long viewed her as a bully who uses these instances to her personal gain, driving traffic to her blog. But people were missing the point.

Within 24 hours, Adria was being attacked with the vile words people use only when attacking women. They called her a man hater (this was the nicest thing they said) who robbed a father of three of his livelihood. Then the threats began- on twitter, on her blog, on facebook. She should get raped, she should be fired, she should be killed, she should kill herself.  A petition was started and people threatened SendGrid’s business. The company itself suffered a DDOS attack. All this ridiculousness made Adria look reasonable in comparison.

She didn’t get the developer in question fired… Play Haven did that and there are probably details of that transaction we aren’t privy to. It is a tragedy, but one that isn’t her fault. She committed one single offense: not approaching the men like an adult and saying “hey. guys- cmon, that’s offensive to me.”.  On her own blog, she states “it only takes three words: ‘That’s not cool‘”, which I agree with. She should have said them to the developers in question. If she was that uncomfortable doing so in a full room, she could have contacted PyCon officials privately, there were certainly channels to do so. Its important to note Adria’s entire job was conversing with developers. There were multiple steps she could have taken before she once again dropped a public bomb on twitter and her blog.  In her own take on the situation, Adria claims to have considered many things like the size of the room and the audience. All she had to consider was “what outcome am I looking for?”. If the outcome is “change the way these men are speaking” she’d have taken a different route. If “make as big a deal of this as humanly possible with no thought to consequence” was her outcome, she chose right.

I emailed SendGrid via friends who worked there to inform them of the pattern: when Adria is offended, she doesn’t work within the community to resolve the problem, and how ultimately,it actually harms female developers because it forms the perception that we are to be feared, we are humorless, that we are hard to work with. I suggested that SendGrid had the resources to retrain her and teach her better techniques and that I hoped they would choose that path instead of penalty to her. This morning, they went the other way, SendGrid posted that she was no longer with the company.

How did we lose?

The last 24 hours have been some of the ugliest on the internet. The tech community, especially the Open Source community is built on respect for others. There’s a gentleman’s code for privacy (taking a picture w/o permission is not ok; spamming someone a virtual crime) and procedure dictates even security leaks to be reported privately.  Trolls aside, if you don’t believe there is misogyny in the tech world, this will absolve you of that belief. There was little reasonable chatter, instead she was attacked not as a person or developer but as a female- a bitch.

SendGrid lost – they had an opportunity to build toward a positive resolution and they instead lost business, lost a good employee (Adria is a smart, educated teacher and speaker) and lost respect first for doing nothing and then doing too much. They couldn’t seem to win this one. They didn’t respond fast enough yesterday, when they should have insisted that Adria apologize for not dealing with her offense in a more mature manner. They could have immediately seized control of the situation and turned it into a productive conversation about men and women in this space. SendGrid is a fabulous company turning out a great product, employing many great people, some of whom I know, and its gotta be a very hard day there.

Adria didn’t win. I’m not sure she’s employable as a Dev Evangelist, which has been her role. Those who know her in the way I do believe she’ll use this as a platform, but I hope instead she learns from it. This wasn’t about feminism, and she shouldn’t be allowed to sit her perch on the issue. This was about the way humans relate to each other. Either way, the past 24 hours must have been terrifying for her and for that, I’m sad.

The developer in question didn’t win. He posted a very classy apology very early in this situation, surprisingly supportive of Adria and asking what most reasonable people are: why didn’t she handle it differently?  Based exclusively on the conference code of conduct he was in the wrong and he admits that. Was there a less caustic way for him to reach the same realization?

Most importantly, women didn’t win. The ugliness I’ve seen in the last week shocks me, I didn’t know it could sink to such depths. Adria reinforced the idea of us as threats to men, as unreasonable, as hard to work with… as bitches. Her firing in some way sanctifies the ugly things said to her as effective- the social terrorism won.  It doesn’t heal the divide, it slices it deeper.

By that default, men lost too.

How it Could Have Gone

I am surrounded by great geeky men in my life, and they are smart and sensitive and protective and funny. Many are far, far more sensitive than I am. And as with all communities, a fraction of them are douches. When women in this industry are hurt, we’re all hurt.  We have issues to be worked on, but I see the women and men around me working on them. At every happy hour, conference, event, roundtable, lunch.. we have rational and intelligent discussions about the topic.  Many more are to be had, and they all start with one simple action: talk to eachother. Assume people are reasonable until they are not.

I imagine in an alternate future, Adria just turned around, smiled and whispered, “Hey.  No offense, but I’m not all that interested in hearing about your dongle, you know?’. The men would have become momentarily embarrassed, and then reflexively defensive before letting their rational neurons fire in that crowded room and say, “yeah, dude, no problem”.  Maybe one of them would have approached Adria later in the day and pulled her aside to say “hey, I really didn’t mean to offend you, I’m sorry. Hope there’s no hard feelings.” In this alternate future, at a future conference that developer quietly steers a conversation amongst friends away from this territory, without making a big deal of it.

In that future, we all won.

Thank you all for your (mostly) incredibly lucid, thought out, rational responses. For the internet, this was a particularly kind and supportive group both of myself and each other, and for that, you all win the internet today. Comments, as promised, have been closed. I’d hoped to have a conclusion of some kind to post right now, and I don’t, but I am working on it with the help of many other diverse voices. That post will likely be the last one this blog ever has. Until then, and hopefully after, continue the conversation, and I mean, conversation. Talk to eachother, respecting everyone’s right to an opinion while being open to listening. Good luck and best wishes. 


915 thoughts on “Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost

  1. One of rare, sane blogs about all this story. I totally agree with your opinion. And the worst thing is the outcome of all this mess – nobody’s gonna win.

  2. The fact that Adria received a lot of hateful sex-specific comments directed at her has more to do with her putting her own sex at issue in the fight than her underlying status as female. When you choose to make the personal political, you’re inviting the backlash personalization of politics.

    • So, since she was juvenile in the way she handled herself, it justifies other people not only being juvenile right back, but also encouraging rape? That’s the most asinine thing I’ve heard all week. If you want ‘backlash personalization’, then make fun of her hair or something. “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny” *might* be justified in that vein, if we were to accept that the proper response to stupid is… more stupid. But “you deserve to be raped” isn’t remotely proportional, even by that low standard. People who are looking for excuses – bad ones or good ones, should they exist – to use that kind of language have deep and dark problems with their own sexuality and with women. Don’t try to rationalize those problems away.

    • Oh, so it’s Adria’s fault; she made them make those hateful comments and threats to her. Thanks mansplaining guy, now I understand!

      • This ‘mansplaining’ term is completely overused and it’s used to shut down discussion and dissent. It’s abusive. Very Rush Limbaugh like in it’s cutting off of any discussion point. Someone makes an argument, hey why even bother arguing back, just call it ‘mansplaining’ yeah that’ll show them.

      • But when a group of people does this to an individual, it’s apparently the appropriate response.

    • This doesn’t make sense. How are you supposed to talk about gender issues without “making the personal political”? Also, “inviting the backlash” sounds like victim blaming. Adria made a great bunch of mistakes in *how* she spoke out, but you’re saying that speaking out at all was a mistake insofar as she should’ve been aware that would get the internet misogyny brigade after her? BS. The hateful sex-specific comments have everything to do with a bunch of horrible people sitting behind their keyboards to write horrible things, and nothing to do with whatever bizarre thought process lead these people to rationalise doing so.

    • This.

      Also, I think Internet death threats are more a badge of honor than something to be afraid of. I know of not a single case where these keyboard jockeys followed through in the real world, and, while nobody wants to be the first, I think it’s pretty unlikely to ever happen.

      Now, of course, that she got fired, I expect this to be a big issue; the Atlantic has already picked up on the story. Maybe the politically-correct circular firing squad will convince people that this is not the way to go. No one has a right to “not be offended,” and leaping up to white knight for the self-identified victims of punning is stupid and societally destructive.

    • I agree. It is simply wrong to make it seem as if women-hating men made this an issue. They did not – Richards did. How obvious is it when Richards repeatedly linked on Twitter to a racialist screed about the privilege white MEN enjoy in which it is clearly stated the opposite of that is the “Gay Minority Female?” She linked to that specifically as a lesson she felt was educational. And let’s be real: if that had been three black women doing the exact same thing, same response? You’d have to be naive to think Richards would’ve done the same thing. She is an identity freak who defines right and wrong and the likelihood of finding morality according to race and gender. That is clear in the rhetoric of her blog and talks she has participated in.

      • Did you miss the bile at 4chan and the subsequent DDoS of SendGrid? Do you think the world is colorblind except for Richards? Good use of the word racialist, but you’re not doing anything except crying reverse-racism and feigning colorblindness — even if you are using the right terminology.

    • No (hell no). Nothing Richards did justifies the sort of reaction she got.
      So yeah, maybe she should have just said “not cool”. But maybe the community of anonymous hackers with nothing better to do than get mad at a woman who is just a bit of excessive in her feminism shouldn’t be to fill her with death threats and advertize rape.

      Maybe, just maybe, the appropriate response to her actions would have been to say “Not cool” ?

    • Feminism 101: bashing women about their sex is never about the issue at hand.
      Of course it’s inappropriate for her to broadcast her grievances – which otherwise would have been reasonable, adult men should have learned to abandon habits of making sex jokes in a crowded professional environments. But the nature of the response (she should be raped, she should be killed, she’s a bitch) is due to the fact that a male collective – I’d even go so far as to call it a mob, as people clearly felt supported by their fellow misogynists enough to post complementary nastiness that they, I hope, would have abstained from alone – feels threatened by the fact that someone has publicly stated that women are exercising their right to influence public behavior in a male-dominated professional community. Look at the actual language used to put down women and men: Bitch – she’s aggressive when she should be submissive. Asshole – he’s in a dominant role to me, and has an abrasive personality. Even the word “bastard” is more insulting to the mother of the person (usually man) you’re directing it at. Which isn’t to say that most people feel that way, just that the group of people making vitriolic comments in response to her are clearly expressing that sentiment.

      The point is, there is no justification for responding that “she should be raped.” None. Not that the subject is personal, not that she handled the situation poorly, and it perpetuates the idea that women aren’t welcome in that group. It would be like if you said a black man should be lynched for insulting a white man. The prevalence of racism and its violent history is what make it a highly inappropriate expressions of blatant racism, just like the prevalence of sexism and sexual violence (est. 1 in 4 women in this country have experienced it) makes it completely inexcusable to insult a woman as a bitch, slut, or deserving rape.

      I hope at least that it can be used as a teaching tool to help people learn to better handle personal disputes.

    • many geeks are sexually dissatisfied men, if this sexism continues it could lead to unspeakable barbarism by some soft men.

      The paradox of the near-term future is that the most intelligent of men in the West act just like the least intelligent in India or Egypt.

      There is playful biting, scratching, namecalling.. in passionate affairs between two lovers but this is organised violence and abuse to women by men who never have felt such passions and only hate women for denyng sex and for revealing their own pitiful impotance. this is banal but don’t blame me or women for saying this.

    • This may seem off-topic, but please ponder my words. Was Adria Richards justified in her reaction? In my view, no. She over-reacted and based on her history appears to have an obsession with sexuality exceeding anything the two fellows behind her expressed. But my topic is what came after. In 2008, liberals and youth did precisely the same thing to Hillary Clinton in her primary race against Barack Obama, that this internet backlash did to Adria Richards. The misogyny of “the left” was an eye-opener to me, a lifelong liberal. They attacked her for the size of her hips. They photoshopped photos to make her look like a hysterical witch. They launched DOS attacks against web sites supporting her. They launched hate-filled letter campaigns. It was all done by the very generation of people (both men and women) who are involved in this current scenario. My generation (boomer) started with Lucy & Desi, Ozzie & Harriet, and took gender equality a certain distance. Today’s women have benefited from what my generation did. But not enough. There are still people in the world who, if they have trouble mounting an argument on rational grounds, will quickly shift to irrational grounds. Our culture — and especially our language — make it easy to shift to gender when the target is a woman. Not so when the target is a man. Will that ever change? Erm … not sure.

    • If you have any evidence or sound argument that either gaslighting or tone argument apply here in any way you should present it. Otherwise your post is simply a childish attack on someone for having an opinion that differs from yours. This kind of sneering, superior, content free post is actually worse than the silly comments above that at least make some sort of argument even if you wonder at the poster’s cognitive abilities.

    • Gaslighting is a term derived from an old movie called Gaslight. The movie is about a man that takes continued small actions over time to slowly drive a woman insane. How does that apply here?

      • I held comments in mod overnight. Am releasing them as I go through now (unfortunately, too many threats to Adria/myself to leave them without mod). Sorry bout that.

  3. “She committed one single offense: not approaching the men like an adult and saying “hey. guys- cmon, that’s offensive to me.” … ”
    “The men would have become momentarily embarrassed, and then reflexively defensive before letting their rational neurons fire in that crowded room and say, “yeah, dude, no problem”. ”
    I have been in that situation as a guy and I have talked to women in that situation and let me tell you that it doesn’t always go in the friendly optimistic way you think it goes. Maybe they don’t laugh patronizingly in your face (maybe), and they stop for that one incident, but they will tell their friends about the uptight dick/bitch that came down on them (regardless about what you said), and in the next talk they will say the same kind of stuff again.

  4. I’m not a developer, or much of a techie, but I am female. This is my third piece to read on the issue and the excerpt that resonates best with me came from you:

    “I am surrounded by great geeky men in my life, and they are smart and sensitive and protective and funny. Many are far, far more sensitive than I am. And as with all communities, a fraction of them are douches. When women in this industry are hurt, we’re all hurt. We have issues to be worked on, but I see the women and men around me working on them.”

    Same goes for all realms of life, and when reversing genders. Women, as everyone knows, can be equally awful. We all need to watch ourselves.

    This situation is sad. I ache for the job lost and the family in transit tonight. I hope a better and brighter outcome is waiting.

    But I also hope that because of this we’ll all be a little more aware of how strongly our actions can affect others — and not always in a good way.

    Communication is key. We don’t always have to be Joan of Arc or Martin Luther with a cause. We can talk about our issues with the actual people who offend us. Kings and priests are not standing between us.

    At least that’s my takeaway.

  5. I appreciate your insight into this, and agree with the general theme of the article, but (classic opener for a disagreement, yeah?) I think a large part of this is just trolls being trolls. The first principle of trolling is that they do whatever they think will get the biggest reaction. If they think coming across as a woman-hater will get a reaction, then they assume the role of a misogynist and post what they think their intended target expects a misogynist to say. In short, the content of troll-posts is a reflection of the perceived triggers of the target.

    The second principle of trolling is that trolling breeds trolling. The more they see other trolls troll, and the more they see people react to the trolling, the more they troll. Ignore them and they lose interest.

    IMO, while the tech community as a whole “lost” from this, the trolls experienced a flawless victory.

  6. I don’t completely agree with the blog article. While directly confronting the men behind her *may* have been the best choice for Adria, there is no obligation for her to do so. So involving the PyCon staff is completely within her rights and a third party may even be productive in such cases. The PyCon staff at least reacted exemplary.

    The core problem was the choice of the method of communication. Instead of sending the message to the PyCon staff directly, she sent it to the public. Perhaps it was laziness (not to search for the email address), perhaps there were other motives, but this is were the thing went wrong. There was no need to make this incident public (because the staff reacted and the incident is not so outrageous) and there was no way anything positive could have come out of that. The tweet dying in obscurity was the best outcome at that point.

    But then other people caught that pass and added their own screwups on top. There was not longer the chance to control it. Not for PyCon, not for here, not for the developers.

    In the summary i agree, everybody lost.

  7. “[Sexism in the tech industry is] so rampant, often females don’t even see it… There’s a gentleman’s code for privacy…” Delicious irony. We’re all learning. Stay strong.

  8. I see how you believe SendGrid could and should have played the situation and agree that in a perfect world it would work like that, but her role as a Evangelist has been irreparably harmed and brought the company and it’s clients actual financial loss. I see what you’re saying about how they could have built this up and trained her. But you’ve said yourself her actions are in line with a broad pattern of similar behaviour.

    I’m not familiar with the company or their financial situation but this could have been a straight up and down financial decision on their part and they would be justified in taking such a stance in my honest opinion. The DoS attacks while not her fault were directly attributable to her actions. If I was her boss the question going through my mind is “What the hell has just happened? We’ve hired her to be an evangelist for us not to get us attacked and lose us money and business.”

    I’d do the same thing as SendGrid, I’d do it in a heartbeat if I was in their situation.

  9. Actually I approve SendGrid of doing the right thing: Adria as a developer evangelist… that sounds harsh. Not meaning any disrespect, there are many positions more suitable, like in McDonald’s for instance.

  10. This not some great metaphor for the industry as a whole. This is not a looking glass into the sexism inherent to tech culture. This is just a case of another social-media addict who needed a quick +1 fix to feed their “I’m Important” stat for the day. All the picture-taker wanted was to get their twitter feed lit up so they could feel special for a little while. We all do it, that’s why I Instagram everything I eat at the Melting Pot. The one who took the pictures, the photographer if you will, was never truly rattled and is probably the sort of person who is used to finding, creating, and then forgetting drama. They need a new fix every day and very rarely care about anyone but themselves.

    What those photographed said barely even matters. They were just an easy target. They said something that was intentionally overreacted to in favor of the photographer. They got unlucky they were the first to say anything that could be intentionally misused.

    See what I did there? That’s what you should do with this story. This IS NOT about gender. This is about personality types and the inherent dangers of social media addicts. People (men and women) strive to be noticed in the crowd. Some learn early that drama + media = attention. It does not matter that the photographer was of a specific gender, it matters that they NEEDED to get attention, they NEEDED a fix for the day. Any time a personality like this makes a fuss, we should all step back and breathe before reacting.

    Stop bringing gender up. Stop asking who lost more in this. Start talking about the dangers of this kind of society, where publicity is a tweet away and people with no self control have a 1000+ followers ready to feed them the drama they crave. The tech industry is not the problem this time.

    White guy, not in the tech industry, and I make dick jokes pretty offten

  11. I have to echo this:

    “The fact that Adria received a lot of hateful sex-specific comments directed at her has more to do with her putting her own sex at issue in the fight than her underlying status as female. When you choose to make the personal political, you’re inviting the backlash personalization of politics.”

    It became an issue because she made it an issue. Not that this is an attempt to forgive the excesses that people have taken in response to her, but she very clearly has a history of taking small problems and turning them into something huge that seems to cast her as a martyr/bringer of justice while also serving as a self-promotion platform.

    I’d also like to comment on this line:
    “She didn’t get the developer in question fired… Play Haven did that and there are probably details of that transaction we aren’t privy to. It is a tragedy, but one that isn’t her fault.”

    I disagree. The idea that we are all entities that have 100% free agency and volition, unaffected by influence from outside forces, is completely false. While it’s nice to believe that what one person or entity does has no influence on someone or something else unless that person/entity let’s it have influence, the real world fact of the matter is that provocation can and does occur. Human beings influence one another on a regular basis, and to say that said influence has no effect on the actions of others is disingenuous at best and outright stupid at worst.

    While what Adria did may not have directly resulted in someone losing his job, she utilized a system (public pressure combined with societal expectations and the sensitivity of the tech industry to all things politically correct) to start the reaction necessary to get some kind of result. Maybe she didn’t set out with the specific goal of “I’m going to get these men fired” but she did have some kind of goal in mind when she posted that picture publicly and began shaming them (incidentally, woman-to-man shaming in public is something that’s been around, and used, since before feminism). That goal may not have been specific in terms of getting them fired, but I think we can all agree on the fact that she posted it with the intent to cause some kind of harm, even if it was “merely” limited to public shaming. The clear intent of her tone (scolding the men in the picture, with a hint of disgust and something else I can’t quite put my finger on) belies the fact that she thought herself not only superior, but morally superior. She was the teacher reprimanding the unruly students, and respectability and due process be damned!

    Other than that, I very much enjoyed reading this. You’re right in the sense that pretty much everyone has lost in regards to this incident. Sad but true.

  12. The more IQ one has, the less skills to maintain good relationships one gets, and vice versa. Well, not exactly this path, but very close to that. To make it all more difficult, a person with weak communication skills usually hardly ever recognizes and acknowledges that. That’s no offence to anybody, that is the way human minds are divided to different types. Having those limitations understood by anyone would greatly reduce the burden of miscommunication and argument, but we are quite far away of this point.

  13. I agree with what you have said.

    IMO Adria wasn’t objective – she OVER REACTED. And, her concern was never about the comments, but how to use this as a platform to glorify herself. I think a simple apology would have gone a long way in clearing this up. If she is bold enough to defend women on Twitter, she could be bold enough to tender an apology too.

  14. While you may disagree that AR is a man-hater, I don’t. I’ve read through her blog and she repeatedly pushes blame on men while absolving women of any accountability for their own decisions. She uses a lot of feminist phrases, such as ‘white male privilege’ (which ignores ALL female privileges) indicating a level of racism from her too. No, this woman – this feminist – deserve every ounce of scorn poured on her.

  15. Nice post you did there, it summarized well the whole issue, I agree with it globally but there are a few points for which I’d like to add my own view to the discussion.

    Before saying anything else, I’d like to point out that PyCon and PyCon staff handled this incident in a perfectly appropriate, respectful and responsible manner. kudos to them.

    First the arguably offensive joke was a minor offense though I concede these can contribute to build a non-welcoming atmosphere for some women in conferences, it doesn’t seem to me to be a gender related issue but a cultural issue, the north american culture is known for being overly prudish.

    Then the action Adria Richards took was highly inappropriate in any context, and in other countries taking and publicly posting without consent a picture is a serious offense or even crime possibly leading to heavy fines and jail time, not even mentioning the accompanying comment. Then again it is highly disproportionate to the issue at hands, even more as she is supposed to be internet literate hence know about the netiquette and how to be a netizen.

    Next is play haven who built on this and jump on the occasion to do some PR stunt and fired the guy in the picture to look as a defender of gender equality when it just made them look bad, but it seems play haven is sort of a zynga for mobile and as a company engaging in a despicable business and imho doesn’t deserve developers and deserve the backlash they’ll get from this.

    Then Adria Richards got her own backlash, she drew it upon herself for her inappropriate actions and got the actions of internet vigilantes, I didn’t know of the threats she received but it was kind of expected as this is a common part of internet backlash. Expected but not ok, by any means this is not acceptable under any circumstances and those who did should be handed to the law enforcement to be dealt with.
    Then she lost her job with sendgrid as well and though it seems to be as inconsiderate of a move as playhaven’s, it’s not. It’s not a PR stunt to look good, she actually acted in a very inappropriate manner while representing sendgrid, by drawing that kind of attention to her she lost much of her ability to do her job of dev evangelist, and lastly this was a damage control move to protect the business clients interest. From a business standpoint it make sense to get rid of her, much more than from playhaven who cannot justify their move but as a PR stunt.

    As a couple last word, here’s a bit of personal opinion: if there was a gender inequality issue in this, it seems to emerge from Adria Richards who I sincerely doubt would have acted the same if those making the seemingly innocent joke were women. I hope that this lesson will be taken as an opportunity to behave more like humans to each other and less as holy knights fighting for their own cause, more of coming together and working together and less of this counter-productive bullying. I hope that we won’t be stripped of our freedom to make jokes with each other and that we won’t delve into a realm of self-censorship because it could be offensive to someone, otherwise it might not be long before other extremists jump on board and derail the ship.

  16. Here’s the official sendgrid explanation of firing Adria Richards:

    hOn Sunday at PyCon, Adria Richards felt comments made behind her during a conference session were inappropriate and of an offensive, sexual nature. We understand that Adria believed the conduct to be inappropriate and support her right to report the incident to PyCon personnel. To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs.

    What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders – and bystanders – was not the appropriate way to handle the situation. Even PyCon has since updated their Code of Conduct due to this situation. Needless to say, a heated public debate ensued. The discourse, productive at times, quickly spiraled into extreme vitriol.

    A SendGrid developer evangelist’s responsibility is to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.

    In the end, the consequences that resulted from how she reported the conduct put our business in danger. Our commitment to our 130 employees, their families, our community members and our more than 130,000 valued customers is our primary concern.

  17. There was a time when people didn’t have the right to NOT be offended. Unfortunately those days are long gone, replaced by every group you can imagine that’s divided from the other in any way possible, all as the result of some perceived offense or slight (male vs female, minority vs white, straight vs gay, poor vs. rich, progressive vs. conservative, etc.). What divides Americans anymore is more important than what unites them. And so we continue to watch the Balkanization of this country, as the merchants of these kinds of smears are not only encouraged and praised, but actually empowered (and in some cases swept to power) under the high ground guise of righting everybody’s perceived wrongs. Yet they do no such thing; in fact they need this kind of victimization to continue in order to justify their continued wielding of this power and advance their own personal agenda. And the circle is made over and over again. It’s quite sad what our society has become as a result of this. Wise and educated people once knew better than that, even simple people with a virtuous moral code could figure it out. Today, there’s absolutely no connection between intelligence and the so called “intelligentsia”.

  18. Pingback: Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost | doltd

  19. There was another element in this whole thing too. The Hypocrisy of her towards that subject. She made dick jokes through her twitter Account with another male Human. This was deemed unacceptable, that while publicly outing and criticizing someone for that, she did it by herself. And what the guys, that did this don’t like is Feminist double standards. Her Hypocrisy helped a lot to get this thing ballistic.

  20. In any group, gathering or community, there are going to be as many different opinions, viewpoints and egos as people. Some of those will align with the person next to them, others will align against or perpendicular to others. The key to maintaining the community is that all members must be able on some level to communicate – discuss their different positions and ultimately realise that just because I feel this way, that person does not; and in the overall scheme of things, my feelings are no more or less important or relevant to the community than those of that other person. Granted, you cannot please all of the people all of the time, but fundamentally as individuals we should all respect those differences and, in my opinion, cherish and encourage the differences – if everyone agreed with me about everything all the time, my life would be as boring as a beige room without furniture or windows.
    Key to that idea is conflict management – not everyone is going to be as open and inclusive as my ideal requires, and in any group of 2 or more, there are going to be occasions when it is fundamentally not possible to reach agreement.
    Having seen a few of Adria’s Twitter posts on this and other issues, and many of the comments around this issue, I do think her approach to conflicts is something that needs work. But I am only seeing a small fraction of her daily interactions, so I am perfectly willing to accept that I am not seeing Adria’s real personality at work here. Indeed, if someone were to take individual comments of mine in the same way, I could come across as either a feminazi (even though I am a guy), a fundamentalist Christian crusader (I am somewhere between atheist and agnostic), or even a purple alien with 4 arms, tentacles and a beak from Alpha Centauri here to invade Earth.
    However, when so much of the commentary centres on a tendency of hers to escalate conflicts without apparently trying to address the issues in a one-to-one way, it raises the question for me of “Why handle it in the way she does?” – the approach is an effective one sometimes, but over time it damages both the individual and also the wider community they are associated with (in Adria’s case, this is primarily women in IT, but also to a certain extent, coloured people in IT). It is an approach that garners attention for that individual, but as Adria knows, and as Amanda has pointed out, that attention is not always positive – leading to a downward spiral of increased aggression in response to aggression. Eventually, everyone becomes an enemy and every interaction becomes a battle.
    Both for Adria’s sake and also for the wider community, I hope we can reverse that cycle. Together. As a community.

  21. Pingback: Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost | Thayer Prime's Blog

  22. Even talking about this situation has felt like walking through a minefield. Reading this made me feel like I now have a metal detector, thank you (oh and portland happy hour time is the best time).

  23. “When women in this industry are hurt, we’re all hurt.”

    Not at all. Women pick fights with men all the time, say things that offend men constantly. This woman was going after a man using pitchforks and a wild, single-issue mob. She got a response from men.

    Funny that, do you not expect us to work together when women are so single-minded about beating us around the head? Feminism has long since overstepped the boundaries and I have no sympathy for any of that talk. I was more than happy to participate in the mob response that caused her to lose her job and let this serve as a lesson to all the other women that think that you can shame men into fear and submission using the internet.

  24. I completely agree here. An important thing to remember though, is that what the guys were saying actually isn’t sexist… It’s not derogatory to women, at least not that I can see. It’s certainly inappropriate and more than a little crass, but sexist?

  25. I agree with this being of the sanest blogs I’ve read on this topic. It’s also disgusting and discouraging as female developer seeing the intense backlash for what wasn’t really her fault. I do wish she had tried talking to the men directly but at the same time, I haven’t seen many intelligent discussions among men and women about misogyny in the industry. In fact most people choose to overlook it because they find it too uncomfortable a topic to talk about or they are happy in their own space and at those times I’m not surprised when a female in the tech industry feels like the only way to speak up might me to work outside the community. How else would you make yourself heard, try and make a change?

  26. “””She didn’t get the developer in question fired… Play Haven did that and there are probably details of that transaction we aren’t privy to. It is a tragedy, but one that isn’t her fault. “””

    No, it’s very much her fault.

    Eavesdropping on a private conversation?
    Taking a totally unnecessary picture and ratting out the “offenders” (whose “offense” was joking between friends)?
    Posting that on the internet?
    Never even saying sorry that she caused one of them to be fired?

    In any country with sane libel laws she would have been sued out of her money. I understand that “free speech” in the US means you can rat people out and make them lose their job with BS with no consequences (while at the same time they cannot exercise the same free speech regarding their joke).

    She acted as a terrible person AND as a terrible PR professional.

    If anything was justified, was her being fired.

  27. free speech MUST include the license to offend. otherwise this principle is threatened since everyone can be offended by everything that is being said by someone.

  28. Pingback: Donglegate, Ctd. | Gucci Little Piggy

  29. This is definitely one of the more thoughtful examinations of what transpired, and some of the comments out in the ether were disappointing and dehumanizing, both those aimed at Ms. Richards and those aimed at the anonymous now-unemployed former Playhaven employee. I don’t think Ms. Richards deserves threats and unwarranted personal attacks, but let’s not confuse the legitimate criticisms of her actions with the juvenile bile. Many…no, I take that back, MOST of us were not attacking Ms. Richards as a person, a woman, or a developer, we were attacking her as a hypocrite, as a melodramatic reactionary, and/or as a further impediment to women in technical fields. You seem to be in agreement with those who felt that the actions Ms. Richards chose in this situation create an atmosphere where men feel they cannot trust women or express themselves around them.

    It’s disappointing that the unnamed Playhaven employee and Ms. Richards lost their jobs, but it is infinitely more disappointing in the case of the person who didn’t start an internet firestorm. I feel sympathy for Ms. Richards in this situation, as well, because the job market at the moment isn’t rosy for anyone and she’s effectively destroyed her career in public relations. I can’t imagine any employer–save maybe an extreme political group like N.O.W.–would be eager to hire someone that might burn them with their thin-skinned personal campaigns.

    I think you take a good look at the downsides: a company (or two!) damaged by an unthinking employee, the effect on relations between men and women in a professional setting, and the loss of livelihood for two people. I can understand your disappointment, but there’s the upside, as well. This situation has given an incredible amount of people a lesson in how these sorts of situations need to be handled. That’s a step toward progress that will hopefully prevent melodramas like this from occurring in the future. We’ve had one company fire an employee because they failed to consider how their words and behavior would impact others in an environment where people of different backgrounds have come together to advance their industry. You can say the company was only doing that to bow to the pressures of political correctness, and you’re probably right, but it still sends the message that part of professionalism in the tech industry–and life in general–is having the common courtesy to consider how the things you do and the words you say affect those around you. We’ve seen another company fire an employee for the outrageous way they handled the situation. If you’re concerned about how women are perceived in the industry/community, this is a good thing, because the message has been sent that while the industry/community has your back if anyone is being inappropriate, it’s not going to tolerate making mountains out of molehills and running for internet white knights to champion a crusade against perceived sleights.

    I am especially warmed by your faith in humanity and the forgiveness you show by believing that SendGrid should have retained Ms. Richards and could have mentored her to a brighter future. It shows that while you might not like her very much, you believe that even someone like her who has personally caused you problems in the past can change for the better. You seem like a swell person and I wish you all the best in the future.

  30. I’ve been studying Adria’s tweets, blog, linkedin profile, facebook, and other sources for a few hours. I don’t pretend to know her as well as you do (and don’t think I’m not grateful for that). My diagnosis is bipolar disorder compounded by “angry black woman” syndrome. She’s a danger to herself and others. Professional treatment and medication are in her future; I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re ordered by a court.

    I’ll leave the discussion of tech misogyny to those who live and work with it. The moral I learned is: stay away from Aria Richards!

  31. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    She defined herself as a womyn who made a big deal about nothing, so when it blew up in her face, it is unsurprising that she was given exactly what she had asked for – hate. There is a large contingent of men who feel stigmatized by feminists blaming them for everything from pollution to rape, and so when someone does something like what she did, it is unsurprising that the boiling resentment surged to the surface. Really, the word “feminist” has in recent times become a loaded term, as it has gone from “person who is fighting for gender equality” to “woman who hates men in a very literal sense”.

    People say incredibly nasty things to each other all the time online, and anything that might be perceived as possibly being usable against you will be used against you. Their intent is to hurt the person as much as possible. They don’t use these names even because they believe it (though some, at least, surely do) – they use them because they know that they cut. After all, if you can’t even take a joke about dongles, what happens when someone actually directs real sexism at you?

    The sad thing is she will, of course, see this all as justification for her position, and numerous so-called feminists will talk about how this shows how oppressive the world is against people like her.

    Her job was to talk to developers. Her mistake was not doing exactly that. And for that, I have no sympathy.

  32. Python coders. PyCon. Sigh. Why am I not surprised.

    The PyCon creeps responsible have now “apologised” online in a desperate attempt at damage limitation reminiscent of Google’s most devious corporate propaganda campaigns, yet in the very same comments simultaneously tried to make excuses for and down-play what they said — something which is very disappointing and invalidates their apology.

    • I’ve been a Python coder since 1996. In 1997 I attended one of the early Python Conferences, the International Python Conference. Yes it was 90% white male, but no more so than any of the other dev conferences I’d attended around then. One difference I immediately saw was in how engaged minority attendees were, including blacks like me, women disabled persons, Asians, etc. I’m not one really to worry too overtly about diversity, and even I was struck at what this said about the community. I am still very proud of the Python community. Of its own merits it has grown a great deal since the 90s, which comes with all the usual problem of crowds. But it is silly to suggest that such represents any fundamental problem with Python or the Python community. As for the PyCon organizers, I am very sympathetic to them, considering how they tried to do what they thought was right, and were always damned to be lambasted from all sides, which they have been. This is for no other reason than that this incident, which could have happened at any conference, happened at theirs. Their response was not perfect, but no one’s has ben (I think Amanda maybe comes closest). The worst thing about this tragedy is the zero-sum mentality so many people have taken on it. It’s not unlike US politics where people pick a side, and then replace reason with volume of abuse. Please do not perpetuate this by expressing such undeserved block contempt for any group of people, such as “Python coders.”

  33. I will just say that “The future of programming” (or pretty much any social interaction in public or private) looks much brighter without Adria Richards in it.

  34. No offense to you, Amanda, and I love this blog post because it gives some insight into what kind of person Adria really is.

    But she obviously wasn’t really offended by the ‘dongle’ joke. How could she? A few days before, she made her own dick joke to another man. She said she was blushing when the man responded back to her with another dick joke. Why, then, when a man makes a joke about a ‘dongle’ to another man — an acquiantance, a friend — which wasn’t even directed at her, would she *personally* get offended? It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. She overheard the conversation, so couldn’t you make the claim that if one had wandered into Adria’s twitter feed at the time she made *her* dick joke that it should have gotten the same treatment?

    Anyway. This wasn’t a case of misogyny, this was a hate of extreme frustration, disappointment and, yes, a bit of hate, to a person who did something wrong. It wouldn’t have mattered one whit if she was a woman. If she had been a man and done the same thing, I doubt the backlash would have been less severe.


  35. Argh! Another addendum, “it wouldn’t have mattered one whit if she was a woman” should be “It DOESN’T MATTER one whit that she’s a woman”

  36. This does not constitute an apology: “Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her twitter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility.”

  37. Other males within the tech community and especially the Python community are DEFENDING the creeps at PyCon and CRITICISING the girl for speaking out. In comments on articles about the story, and on social media. I am appalled and disgusted by the Python community.

  38. Hey Amanda,

    Great piece! This really changed my opinion on the whole controversy. I was willing to excuse taking it public as a one-time thing. But, it seems to be a pattern with her. Thanks for the share.

  39. I commend your sanity. The reaction to this incident has shown how awful most of our species are at sharing our own views: the Perpetually Offended Feminists and their White Knight lapdogs on one side defending her aggression and then, on the other side, the DDoS attacks causing extreme financial damage to a company to force its hand.

    On neither side does it appear that people are thinking rationally or objectively. The responses I’ve seen decrying SendGrid for firing her have made me lose a lot of respect for feminists, despite my efforts to be fair: she’s volatile and incapable in her public relations capacity. Being female does not somehow exempt her from being released after doing poor work.

    Anonymous costing SendGrid potentially millions of dollars seems rash in that they employ 130 people and, should this damage their business enough, jobs will be lost.

    What I hope comes from all of this is a better sense, as a society, of what’s appropriate. From both genders, and both perspectives.

  40. I’m probably barking up an already mentioned tree here, but since I’m lazy and can’t be bothered to read 500 comments in a web interface:

    Besides from the actual misogyny, there’s a growing part of the faceless crowd that just gets annoyed at all the things pushed onto them because of ]hate promoting and counterproductive feminists. From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of offended people who aren’t willing or able to confront the person [… I almost wrote “like a man!” here] who did them wrong, but rather just direct their hate and criticism to the public at large, knowing it will respond in their favour. When they’re called out on this, you get the opposite sexists remarks like “you’re just a man”, “you’re part of the patriarchy”, “you’re not allowed to criticize my methods” and other assorted tripe.

    This kind of creates a self-enforcing behaviour – a subgroup of offended mostly women making waves for the right cause in all the wrong ways, and a group of offended mostly men feeling chastised in an unfair way.

    End result: Lots of hate all around, enough for everyone to have a bite.

    What people should take away from this is that “the public” does not exist to solve an actual problem, just to create outrage about it.

  41. Thanks for a thoughtful analysis: I don’t know quite what or who to believe except that everything clearly went too far in all sorts of ways.

    Goodness! I am often the prissy one pursing my lips or making a waspish reply to someone (for example) casually insulting party A by making some derogatory comparison to Minority B which everyone agrees to be sub-human and worthy of contempt *of course*… Which makes one thoughtless insult become two. Or just playing their impersonal stereo at 12 in a public space. And even as a white middle-class male I’ve been intentionally or unintentionally on the wrong end of some of that casual anti-social behaviour and felt or *been* mentally and physically threatened though thankfully never actually physically hurt that I can recall.

    But going straight for the nuke option seems almost always to be wrong especially as things are often not what they appear to be on the surface. Suppose the two blokes were/are closet gay and AR had just publicly outed them too (ie if the forks and dongles were verbal smooching) would she be an inadvertant homophone and hate-speech-monger and breaker-up of marriages? Clearly brains were not being engaged fully.

    And now the rubble will take a while to settle in this case, and wounds to heal. And it’ll all happen again somewhere else, soon.

    In a way I’m amazed that the sort of thing doesn’t happen far more often. Maybe that’s something good to take from this.

    Or maybe it does happen often and cause lingering hurt and fear and just not get talked about so smug gits like me or AR or whoever have NO IDEA what is really going on around us.



  42. I could only laugh when reading the article on TehCrunch (A Dongle Joke That Spiraled Way Out Of Control)….This can only happen in America…

  43. Amanda Blum’s article, while good, missed the point. The tragedy is that we are no longer a nation of adults, who deal with our own issues, who can stomach reality and life, who deal with people as CIVILISED human beings. We don’t care about civilisation any more. We don’t care about rules of combat.

    We might look at this and think that it was just unfortunate, but I think Political Correctness, some extreme forms of Liberalism are more about using morality to exercise political power, than justice. Adria’s Twitter account shows a ‘straight from the textbook’ profile of a far-Liberal moral activist. It’s all there, the changing of the definition of ‘racist’, the hyperbole, the exaggerated sense of importance in fighting every perceived slight against equality, the lack of proportion in fighting an imagined moral crusade, the self-congratulation. Phrases like “Check your privilege” which she used, I believe, serve as proof that some of her political ideology has come from “hate groups” and “hate speech”, such as that by Tim Wise or Noel Ignatiev, which incite hatred towards innocent people by painting all whites and males as oppressors, even if they don’t act as such.

    She is not about equality, tolerance, empathy or justice. She displayed none of these traits. What she appears to be to me, and I’ve met similar personalities before, is someone who perhaps is more about belligerence, someone perhaps driven more by resentment and hate, than a desire to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, when one believes, and is exposed to messages about how men are oppressors, about how whites are oppressors, about how Gentiles (non-Jews) are oppressors, (Adria is female, African-American and Jewish) then it is reasonable to believe that some resentment will be there. I find it difficult to believe that many people who try to crusade for rights, don’t feel animosity towards those they themselves, label as oppressors. Again, one only has to read her tweets.

    So I can’t help but think that this may have motivated, at least in part, her reaction to these two men, and when you do this to a society which is by and large, tired of the PC police, and don’t share your zeal, ugliness is going to result.

    It was inevitable that it would become ugly, and it may become uglier. But its not the “Internet” which is at fault, nor those who sent messages, or who launched a DDoS attack, but the acceptance in mainstream society of divisive and hateful ideas, which mask themselves and disguise their true nature under a cloak of “Tolerance” and “Equality”.

    That being said, I’m not against womens rights at all, I’m merely point out, that many seem to use feminism as a hammer against others to fight thier own battles, rather than to improve society for women. When these people swing their hammer, as Adria did, well, it’s understandable that others will swing back in self defence.

  44. Yes everyone lost but without a doubt most of the blame falls squarely on her lap. That is no way to behave! People have to learn to talk to each other, especially a person in her position.
    For what I have seen and from your description of her past actions now believe that her employer probably used this as an opportunity to let her go. I would not like to work with someone like that. She is just perpetuating a view that women have no sense of humor and are overly sensitive.

    How difficult would it have been for her to turn around and say something to the effect :
    “Hey guys, I am not interested in hearing about our dongle and neither anyone around here so can you please have that talk somewhere else?

    I am sure they would probably be embarrassed and it would end there.

    I do not believe for a minute they were trying to be sexist. Us men sometimes trash-talk about many thing as a way of bonding… yes I know it is a dumb thing to do but that is life and if you cannot handle it then don’t choose to work in a male dominated environment like the Developer communities.

    I do feel sorry for the guy that lost his job… but from his classy apology I do not believe he will have much difficulty landing another position.
    The same cannot be said about her. What a stupid way of destroying one’s career!

  45. Amanda, thank you for taking the time to write this up! I wholeheartedly agree to your conclusions. It’s sad. And I’d like to add, the “public” world we live in (i.e. with many things instantaneously published via Twitter or other online media) seems to show an ugly face more and more often. It seems it’s too easy to post a thought which crosses our minds in the very moment.

  46. Wish all women in tech thought and looked at things more like you. I’m not saying that most ladies are Adria-minded, but I’ve had my share of difficult coworkers of the beautiful kind. Have a nice weekend, Amanda.

  47. 1) You are shifting blame to SendGrid. Adria is an adult human being – it’s her own RESPONSIBILITY for getting fired. It’s not SendGrids responsibility to educate men and women to work together. She made a mistake, she pays the consequence. Like the men have to. You didn’t shift blame from the guys who made the comments and lost the jobs to their employer.

    2) Threatening, rape, DDoS: WRONG WRONG WRONG! Shouldn’t be happening in a civilized society. There must be a lot of people (maybe a lot of men) feeling threatened, to react like this. Why? Maybe that’s the question we should be asking. If men are the aggressors, like feminists say, why do they feel so defenseless – especially when threatened by women?

    3) The guys who made the comments should have answered with a lawyer for defamation and breach of privacy (having their picture taken without permission). Not by making themselves submissive and worth less than her and bowing to her. That’s not a “classy apology”.

    4) She should be held responsible for showing disrespect toward TRUE victims of rape, sexist acts, discrimination (both women and men). Maybe 50 hours social service would do her good?

    5) If the comments were really about hardware, how do you defend yourself from an Adria who sexualizes everything?

  48. Thanks for some reasoned comment in an unreasonable situation – unreasonable from the conferences that tolerate sexist behaviour to the idiocy of Twitter vigilantism. Women have a bad time in software, and very few avenues to address it without exposing themselves to ridicule and further comment.

  49. I wasn’t there, but I read this, and found this to be an incredibly well-balanced and mature posting. Thank you for writing it.

  50. Really nice article. So much work to be done to level the playing field. Women will not want to be part of an ecosystem of sexist men and misogynist women and men don’t want tip-toe around overly sensitive women. On a small scale, it’s about the dynamic of the company you work for but on the wider scale, developers -nay people- need to be nicer to each other.

    I still think Adria reacted wrongly and if it were anyone else sat in her seat, nothing would have come from a little bit of puerile humour. Maybe that’s my oversight and that letting something like that pass is eating away at the male:female relationships.

    Aside: it’s also apparent that Adria has double standards given here recent tweets with not a small amount of toilet/sex humour.

  51. To clarify, I am in no way associated with this woman and do not support her actions. It’s a crap idea to communicate being offended over twitter.

  52. The worst thing about this is that she herself made even worse jokes about “dongles” publicly in her twitter account. Personally I thought the guy did absolutely nothing wrong – it was extremely mild banter, no epithets and the conversation was not directed at her in any case. Not only that the word “dongle” used in a sexual sense is already part of mainstream culture. A Best Buy advertisment used @ the superbowl was voted one of the top 5 favourite ads at the Superbowl 2013 deatils here
    Apparently it is okay for a woman to publicly joke about dongles in a mocking way to a man but not okay for a couple of guys to share a quip about dongles privately!
    Adria is a busybody and a hypocrite and seems to have an enormous chip on her shoulder when it comes to men, the very fact that she got taken seriously over such a trivial event is also a sign of the anti-male oversensitive politcally (in)correct culture we are being subjected to. These kinds of hypersensitive actions and policies don’t help women or men and certainly don’t encourage equality. Instead it encourages division by treating women like little children whose ever so delicate sensibilities must be protected from any possible “perceived” offence and on the other hand it is hostile to masculinity unless you also think privately sharing some good natured banter (sexual or not) is sexual “harrassment” !!!
    As for Adria a campaign is already on it’s way to make her a matyr because of the backlash she got for her actions – no doubt Rebecca Watson can offer some advice on how to put down men and profit from their white knightery & chivalry at the same time. Any is possible for feminists with no sense of shame or their own hypocrisy.

  53. That woman has issues, she needs professional help. Seriously, that attitude is not good for anyone, specially for her.

  54. This just seems like a chain of over-reactions that was absorbed by each commenter into their own narrative. Each of them have taken the story and chosen facts from it to fit their opinions and are now simply sounding this out in their own echo chambers, convinced of their own righteousness. The two people making comments were wrong (to do so in public), the person who took public action over-reacted, playhaven over-reacted, the internet over-reacted seizing on the female aspect of things, sendgrid overreacted and now the general media will over-react whether by labeling this as a sexual harassment issue or a public shaming issue. And then there will be people like me who are mystified by the whole thing but know enough to understand that people have different values and while I may not mind sexual innuendo directed at me in public other people might and its a simple case of manners to control your behavior and not offend people with the expectation that they give you the same respect.

    But I like this blog post, at least the “How did we lose” part – well said!

  55. There’s an underlying behaviour here that isn’t to do with sex or gender. It’s straightforward bullying / workplace harassment: looking for opportunities to take offence as loudly and publicly as possible, doing so in a way that promotes oneself, without regard to the consequences. It’s a common pattern, and you’ll see it all the time in “cause based” sectors like politics and charity work.

    The effect is that no one benefits except the bully, people can get seriously hurt, and the cause the bully has latched on to loses credibility.

    When a serial bully loses their job for being called out on it like this, I don’t have much sympathy. The amount of friction they cause, their self-centered nature, the negative publicity that surrounds them, it all means that it isn’t worth having them around. Whatever the cause, whatever their gender, whatever the profession – there will be a more honest, more productive person who could replace them.

    However, it’s a great thing you are doing here – criticising the bully but standing up for the cause they were exploiting for self-promotion. There is definitely sexism in tech. The fight against it deserves better champions.

    • I really didn’t want my criticism of Adria to mask the rampant sexism. So I’m glad you got that. But I have to say, this post is making all KINDS of people talk about what we COULD be doing. Its so exciting!

  56. Adria deserves the backlash for her to realize how wrong she was. If she didn’t get all the hate, I’d be surprised. After all, she cost someone his job over a simple, harmless joke. That sort of snitching is unacceptable and whether she was offended or not, she took things way too far.

  57. While Adria clearly didn’t deserve the onslaught that came on after the fact, some blowback should be expected when you intentionally take an action to harm another person.

    I think that this is the type of outcome you can expect when your goal is to make a point rather than solve a problem.

  58. Thanks for writing this! Remarkably sane analysis. One thing that’s always frustrated me about the people most actively trying to ‘solve’ the problem of sexism in the tech industry is that they are rarely trying to actually solve it but are in fact trying to vilify it. It’s hard to be motivated to fix it when you are being painted as a libertine rather than someone who is simply ignorant. Being ignorant* doesn’t make you an asshole, and demonizing doesn’t fix ignorance*, education does.

    When you paint someone as morally reprehensible you calcify their position. The inner dialogue becomes, “This person thinks I am an asshole. I know I’m not an asshole; therefore their argument is invalid.” When you try to educate someone away from an ignorant* position the inner dialogue becomes, “I had incorrect preconceived notion X. I should reevaluate my position with the knowledge that X is not the case.” If they were, in fact, a decent person their adjusted position should be positive.

    *I mean ignorance in the true definition, to be lacking knowledge, not as stupid.

  59. Amanda Blum, you are my new favorite writer. I’ve never heard of you and I landed here from another site talking about this. But in my opinion there is no way to write about this situation that could be any more pitch-perfect than what you wrote.

    • i’m going to have to bake those cookies now, aren’t i? how about you just IMAGINE the cookies, and instead eat a pixie stick and think of me fondly? 🙂

  60. Out of interest, do people think the outcome from all this would have been different had a picture of the developers not been uploaded?

  61. The dev did not deserve to be fire. Adria on the other hand is quite visibly a toxic employee[]. She’s also been seen on twitter, which is a much more public platform than semi-privacy between two mates at a conference, making equal crude jokes []. She’s not a trustworthy or honorable individual, merely someone looking to slander and condem people for any reason without keeping in mind her own behavior.

  62. Great post. I agree on all of it, but would like to add one note of consideration. The path you suggest that Adria should have taken doesn’t work, or rarely if at all. The “quiet/calm/adult” approach often goes ignored, and usually ends up backfiring. Though arguably not as bad is it did in this case. The fix should be on all sides, not just the side of the offender in this case (or all offenders as the case may be.) Unless we as a whole are willing to take small but harmful attacks as a means to more damaging motivations, then we will always end up in this same scenario where an individual gets fed up with the “system” and takes matters into their own hands. I neither condone or berate the actions of either party involved, but do recommend we all take note and find ways to improve.

    • There are channels for a reason. If you want to reach a goal, you must be attempt for the goal to be long term, not short term. Getting the guys tossed was a very short term solution. Having them understand their offense, if any, was a long term one.

  63. “Within 24 hours, Adria was being attacked with the vile words people use only when attacking women. They called her a man hater (this was the nicest thing they said) who robbed a father of three of his livelihood. Then the threats began- on twitter, on her blog, on facebook. She should get raped, she should be fired, she should be killed, she should kill herself.”

    I can’t help it but I don’t see anything out of the ordinary. What I’ve noticed is that whenever someone displeases the general population, in whatever audience, a sufficient number of idiots appear who do exactly this, regardless of sex, skin color, hair color, handedness or any other “significant” quality of the individual. Obviously, the fact that it happens to all people doesn’t make it right, but still – what are those “vile words people use only when attacking women” and what makes you think that this happened because she’s a woman, and simply not because a measurable fraction of people are idiots?

  64. IMHO, there was another party who dropped the ball here: pycon organisers themselves. What the guys did was a violation of the code of conduct, true, and the organisers intervened. But what Adria did was a violation as well (taking a picture and publishing it with a sexual caption designed to embarrass them/pycon… if that does not constitute harassment, I don’t know the meaning of that word anymore). PyCon organisers should have pointed that to her as well, politely, and asked her to take down the picture and apologise for the overreaction. They failed in doing that. Maybe they didn’t notice it, maybe they didn’t realise that it is possible for a woman to harass a man (a sad unintentional side effect of sexism), or maybe they were just afraid of her reaction – in any case, they failed to defuse the situation.

  65. I have one question – to be answered honestly – would she have been offended had the two offenders behind her been female?

  66. The developer who was fired from his job wasn’t engaging in behavior worthy of termination, and couldn’t have reasonably expected that as a consequence when he exchanged his silly jokes with his friend. Adria, on the other hand, did everything in her power to draw as much negative attention to him and his friend as she could, while not only neglecting to approach them directly like an adult but smiling at him as she snapped the pic, which borders on guile. This is important to underscore: their behavior was intended to be between the two of them, hers was as loud and public as she could make it. She also appointed herself a spokesperson for all women at this event, blithely assuming they were every bit as damaged as she is when odds are most of them would have snickered along with the developer’s innuendo and left it at that (my “odds” are based on personal experience with women in my own life, YMMV). Personal threats and the like are inexcusable, but there is such a thing as earning a round bout of Internet criticism.

    I’ve been going to tech conferences for decades, and the behavior at those things can range from button-down professional to a frat house porn party. While I appreciate and welcome attendees of all ages, sexes, and ethnicities, I have very little patience (at conferences as well as in life) for people demanding that a several thousand people alter completely harmless *intrapersonal* behavior to avoid mildly annoying a fraction of people that might inadvertently hear/see it; regardless of how much the published code of conduct may overreach in attempting to control it. I never request this sort of silly accommodation and don’t acquiesce when others do. When I am irritated by something, I walk away, change the channel, close the book, skip the track, or hit the back button, and I suggest others do the same. What I will not do serve a group of people ill by treating them like fragile children, even when it’s what they want.

  67. The government passed more laws to protect women from dirty jokes than to protect men from death by faulty rafters at a construction site. – Warren Farrell

  68. “All this ridiculousness made Adria look reasonable in comparison.”

    No- because nothing would have been done without 4chan’s action ( though the threats from Reddit were overboard). She did something wrong and like an adult she faced consequences PERIOD.

  69. I also agree and appreciate a fresh perspective despite your personal feelings towards her. In the end, there were may losers. Despite her actions they definitely did not warrant these insane threats. Common people is it really that serious jeez. Just an unfortunate situation all around.

  70. Amazing blog post.

    Personally, I think it’s fair to say that she’s a bit of a hypocrite (given that she’s tweeted dick jokes of her own) – but hypocrisy is not the domain of a particular sex. And physical threats? Not cool, pretty much ever – whatever her probity. Instead it just goes to paint IT dudes as contemptible scum, on the whole and undermines (or out-bleats) legitimate arguments of the situation from the male perspective.

    (If this debacle of outrageous responses to stimuli could be mapped to a function, it’d totally be exponential. I wonder if this pattern is repeatable across other topics.)

    Looking a little more deeply, I think these reprehensible overreactions also illustrates the (subconscious?) fears of male IT workers. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that, as a male IT worker, I was a bit worried about how this would turn out. As anyone reading this comment can see, I’m not the most socially aware person in the world; it totally could’ve been me making a stupid, intentionally bad pun on dongles. I mean, dongle is just a funny word, even without the penile association. Does that make me a bad, sexist, person? It would never be my intent to insult someone; and, since I’m no longer a surly teenager, if someone said, “Hey, I find that nauseating,” I’d cut the chatter or pull my conversation away from that person. Sure, I might think they’re a bit overly sensitive – but, as the author points out, sensitivity is not ‘equipment’-dependent. Plus, since I’m being overly honest, I can be a bit oversensitive, too.

    Hm. Where was I? I forget.

    Out of curiosity, do we know if SendGrid asked her to apologize prior to firing her?

    • We don’t know SendGrid’s actions, nor do I suppose we ever will. What you’re talking about, a fear on male developer’s parts, is something I also fear.

      • But, but, but… you’ve got friends on the inside! Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond to me, and others. Moderating and reading all of these responses must be something like taking the Limit from x to Sisyphean.

        • you have NO idea. and i want to be fair to absolutely everyone and hear every single reasonable thing people have to say.

  71. she was attacked because she thought it was ok to publicly shame two people for making a kindergarten level joke that was used during THE SUPERBOWL. This was right up there with laughing at Heinz Spotted Dick in a supermarket. Here’s a simple truth: act like an asshole, get treated like an asshole. Or in her case, humorless bitch. And boys club mentality aside; those like Adria seem to think that its ok to punch people in the nose and be expected to take it, sorry but life doesn’t work that way. Men take to being called closet rapists about as well as women take being told they were asking for it.

  72. Excelent article. You just gained a RSS subscriber.
    I agree 100% in the fact that we all lost. And that is a beautifull future, what you imagined.
    Thanks for showing a mature and sensitive position and good luck. We all need it.

  73. Thanks for a very well written and argued piece on a difficult issue. I don’t have much to add just a couple of observations I’d like to put out for consideration.

    You and a number of people have said that the developers in question were by definition not having a private conversation since they were in the middle of a crowd at a conference. I have to disagree with this. There are myriad levels of privacy in our society and I believe that at least one applied to this conversation. The fundamental level of privacy is having a conversation in a private room/enclosed area with no one but the intended recipients present, in this case violating the expectation of privacy is illegal and can result in criminal sanctions. Another level is having a private conversation with a person where there is an implicit or explicit understanding of confidentiality; if one party breaks this expectation of privacy it is not illegal but can have severe civil(breach of contract) or social penalties. At a higher level still is conversations clearly intended to be strictly between.two people but in social situations where there is a reasonable chance that they will be overheard. There may be no expectation of confidentiality but there is an expectation of social privacy. If I am at a conference or a restaurant I can usually overhear one or more conversations but it is socially responsible to pretend that I can’t hear what is being said and certainly not to intrude on the conversation except in very carefully chosen ways. There are more levels than this and each of the levels I have defined have sub-levels with varying levels of privacy expectations. This is the reason that many conferences(i.e. PyCon), clubs, etc. have rules or codes of conduct to enforce some of these types of social contracts. Society is complicated and interacting with others can be complicated as well.

    There seems to be a near universal condemnation of the developer in question for making ‘childish’, ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unprofessional’ jokes. I’m less sure of this. On the childishness charge the older I get and the older my children get the more convinced I am of the importance of being lightheartedly ‘childish’ sometimes. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this type of lighthearted childishness, while often very silly, is both a marker of, and contributor to, good mental health. On the inappropriate and unprofessional charges I also find them wanting, professional conferences of almost any kind are social occasions as much if not more than they are professional occasions and silly jokes in the context of a conference are far from automatically unprofessional or inappropriate. Oddly enough I attended a professional conference fairly recently where as one of the larger sessions was winding down the man sitting beside me brought out a tablet and attached a dongle, the woman sitting on his other side promptly, in a low conversational voice, made some sort of joke about his other dongle being bigger. A few people laughed, a few smiled, a very few ignored it but nobody thought it ‘unprofessional’ or ‘inappropriate’ it was just a silly joke between two people who were obviously friends or lovers.

    One thing few people have commented on is the fact that on some level this type of incident is inherent in our ‘social media’ world. The ability and even need of some people to have instant communication, or instant adulation, via twitter combined with the fast growing meme that “privacy is for old people” leads to incidents like these and will undoubtedly lead to more.

  74. The term “bitch” is in the lexicon because of people like Adria. Common sense and reasonableness is a dying virtue because of constant dramatics like this situation. If you’re hypersensitive to crude humor, then the problem is not with the jokesters, it’s with yourself.

  75. The “explosion” itself could of been mitigated if various political sides and sensationalists didn’t exploit the situation.

    Virtually every feminist on twitter right now is not even acknowledging any wrongdoing by Richards, including Anita Sarkeesian. I just saw recent tweets advertising the blog posts “Adria Richards Gets Gang Raped By The Internet” and “Adria Richards Fired for Calling Out Sexism”, complete with a heavily cherry picked, revised versions of what happened at PyCon. A troll (allegedly) from Jezebel has managed to derail much of ArsTechnica’s reasonable discussion by calling everyone misogynistic and racist “mansplainers”. It would be an understatement to call this adding fuel to the fire, at this point it’s jet fuel.

    And then Anonymous and hackers doing what they always do, make a naive, emotional, uninformed decision and enforce it however they can.

    And then there’s the edgy nobodies and their apparently hilarious sandwich jokes, who should be ignored, but unfortunately aren’t, there’s not much to say about them.

    Though I disagree on the assertion that we all lost, the people who exploited the situation certainly gained. It reminds me of Hungry Beast’s satirical take on the “Outrage Economy” (

  76. Adria received a lot of hateful sex-specific comments BECAUSE shes been using the “IM A WOMAN EVERYTHING I DO IS RIGHT” card, for way too long (according to your blog), of course people are going to get pissed when you use your genitals to rush through life easier, its unfair.

    that is not equality, let me remind you that her facebook is full of dick jokes that SHE made, she just woke up with the wrong foot that day and decided to get a guy with a family to support fired, and in return she lost her job, justice got served.

    Thanks to the people who brought it to the surface, without them she would just go unpunished in the slightest, how long has she been playing the woman victim card? how long was she going to keep doing it? this should be a lesson to her and all these radical modern feminists who fight not for equality but to destroy men.

    in a personal note, it really, REALLY pissed me off that she compared herself to Joan of Arc, she was an actual figure of feminine power, Adria is more of a figure for “using your vagina to think instead of your head”, i’d call her Joan of Arse instead.

  77. Thank You. Also, on Ms. Richards’s blog post, She translates the (questionably) sexual jokes as sexist jokes, failing to recognize the two concepts are distinctly different.

  78. Pingback: Rachel Sklar: The Firing Of Adria Richards Looks Like Kneejerk Appeasement To The Troll Armies | Business Insider Australia

  79. Pingback: From the geeky world of dongles, a sad tale of political correctness | Full Comment | National Post

  80. I haven’t been a part of this up until today, where I stated my opinion.

    Basically this isn’t about feminism, sexism, or male hatred. It’s about one egotistical persons inability to take a joke.

    The tech and start-up community is a very, very, relaxed environment, people joke around a lot. As an evangelist, I’m surprised she reacted this way.

    Did he make a mistake? I honestly don’t think so. Do I like what he said? I don’t really care, not sure anyone should.

    Did she make a mistake?

    Yes, she called someone out, assumed she was important enough for that to be a big deal, caused an internet mess and caused someone to lose their job because his employer was forced to react. Lets face it – tech community, we get to do what we do because we fly below the radar of ‘the press’. People love working in the tech and startup sector because we all get to have a good time. But if it becomes public issue, the company in the limelight has to take action.

    Did she make a second mistake, yes.

    She then brought her employer in to the fray, she said they were obviously behind her. Before it was merely her personal opinion, then she forced her employer to take a stance. Apparently their stance was ‘we don’t want to be associated with this.

    The overall result, she cost one man his job, she cost herself her own job, and all because someone made a crude joke at a conference, in a socially relaxed industry. Honestly, to me it looks like she just proved to the industry that she doesn’t belong in it, and as a brand evangelist, she probably won’t be picked for that job ever again.

    My personal opinion? I don’t hate her, i don’t wish her any ill will, I do think she shot herself in the foot, and it’s going to be a long road for her recovery.

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