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March 26, 2013

Shocker: Acting Like a Colossal Jackwagon Can Get You Fired

Yes, we know - it is deeply surprising:

A donation campaign supporting the man whose crude joke led to the the firing of a female developer who tweeted about it is stirring controversy across the internet. Adria Richards was fired last week from her job at SendGrid - developers of a cloud-based e-mail system - after she overheard the joke from a couple of developers sitting behind her at the PyCon Conference in Santa Clara, California.

She said the men had made a remark concerning 'big dongles' - a device that plugs into a computer - but Richards maintains the men were using it in a sexual manner. She tweeted a photo of the two men with the message: 'Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles.

The joke teller, known only as 'Mr Hank,' was also dismissed from his job at PlayHaven as a result of Richards' tweet. But now, a group of Reddit users have founded the Feminist Victims Fund, designed to help men like Mr Hank and others they deem to be oppressed under the 'tyranny' of feminism.

Stipulated: Ms. Richards is a pretentious nitwit and SendGrid was completely within its rights to fire her. The Editorial Staff would have fired her, too. No one wants to work in an environment where the slightest verbal faux pas ends up on the Internet, festooned with overwrought women's studies rhetoric.

The Feminist Victims Fund, on the otter heiny, strikes us as almost too good to be true. In a way, we're grateful: if this highly diverting brand of Speaking Truth to Glower didn't occur with such gratifying regularity, we'd have to make it up lest we find ourselves with nothing but nekkid elephant photos with which to amuse the assembled villainry.

What hallowed constitutional right is being protected from the frilly pantied oppression of the bra burning set? If, dear readers, you guessed "The right to make dirty jokes at a professional conference your boss is probably paying you to attend whilst wearing a T-shirt with your employer's name emblazoned upon it", a stuffed marmoset is on its way to you by parcel post. We can't work up too much sympathy for the "victim" here. It's a shame he ran into a Professional Person of Cholor with online Tourette's syndrome, but it should not be news to anyone in the tech community that what happens in public (or - sadly - in private, for that matter) all too often ends up on Twitter. Or, if you're attending a tech conference, on PowerPoint slides:

Richards' decision to tweet a photo of the men struck many people as an overreaction, but her actions make more sense in the context of the widespread hostility to women in her field, both online and offline. That hostility is one of the reasons I co-founded a nonprofit that fights harassment of women, the Ada Initiative, after one of my friends was sexually assaulted at a computer conference three times in a single year. The Ada Initiative's first project was helping hundreds of conferences adopt anti-harassment policies that explicitly banned pornography in presentations, groping, stalking, and other obnoxious behavior that had become common at many technology conferences.

Obviously, the Editorial Staff have been attending the wrong sort of conferences of late. One struggles to imagine an atmosphere where it is actually necessary to ban pornography in presentations, much less groping and stalking.

Nevertheless, the system worked precisely the way it ought to work. Ms. Richards complained to conference officials and she was within her rights to do so. Perhaps we might have simply confronted the gentlemen (one uses the term loosely) directly, but we can also understand why a person might wish to handle the matter in a less confrontational manner. If only the incident had ended there. But no, Ms. Richards made it worse by broadcasting the resolved incident to Twitter and posting about it on her blog, for which lapses her employer promptly fired her.

And rightly so - she wasn't fired for reporting the incident. She was fired for embarrassing her employer by displaying poor impulse control and even worse judgment in a public venue. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what got "Mr. Hank", now a world famous Victim of Feminist Oppression, fired.

Perhaps we're finally moving beyond those outdated gender stereotypes, after all :p

Posted by Cassandra at March 26, 2013 08:30 AM

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Yes, one of the rare and beautiful cases where it is possible for both sides to lose.

Smackdowns for everyone!

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 26, 2013 10:27 AM

Everything about this story illustrates how bizarre things have gotten.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, a frequent theme of TV sitcoms was a character getting fired for some ridiculous reason. The phenomenon was common enough to be a comedic meme. I do feel sorry for the guy who got fired, as I would for anyone in that situation. But I don't believe his fundamental human rights have been violated.

"Sadder, but wiser" is the term that best fits the story.

I feel far less sympathy for Ms. Richards, though obviously rape and death threats and DoS attacks against both her and her employer's site are beyond the pale.

What is wrong with people, that they can't accept the consequences of their actions, but instead have to turn everything into a politicized conspiracy? People make mistakes, and when they do Bad Things often happen.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 26, 2013 12:05 PM

In the tech community this is pretty much a "pox upon both their houses" event. She had handled it correctly at first and gotten the issue resolved by contacting conference officials, but then she decided to cross the line and "shame" the offenders. And then blogged about it. NOT, mind you, as it was presented in the article:

"Adria Richards was fired last week from her job at SendGrid - developers of a cloud-based e-mail system - after she overheard the joke from a couple of developers sitting behind her at the PyCon Conference in Santa Clara, California."

Which would lead you to believe she was fired for HEARING the joke (which honestly wasn't much of a joke either). Now, the "Feminist Victims Fund" is MOST likely an example of trolling for Lulz, in an effort to make people's heads explode. Much like the #cuttingforbieber nonsense. I'd not take it terribly seriously.

Posted by: MikeD at March 26, 2013 04:26 PM

Oh, I can't take any of this very seriously :p

I mean, come on - I read her post and she lost me about 2 sentences in... long before she got to the point where she realized that if she didn't Tweet the incident IMMEDIATELY!, young girls everywhere would be deprived of their beautiful and natural right not to hear jokes about Dongles at tech conferences.

And don't even get me started on master/slave replication jokes, because that sort of thing is just sick-making...

Delicate souls, we are. Her post described the incident rather differently. According to her, the guy on the end said something she agreed with, so she turned around to tell him so. At that point the dongle/forking comments ensued (I think from one of the two guys in the 2nd and 3rd seats). I read somewhere else that this was the second time that day something like this had happened. OK, I get it - we all have bad days when things just grate on our last nerve, and things that happened earlier *might* color one's view of an incident. That's understandable... at least as to why she felt she had to report the incident at all. But to me, it doesn't justify whipping out the tactical nukes. Major overreaction, especially if your goal was to help women be comfortable/accepted at tech conferences.

But then there's so much of that going around. I also read that she had Tweeted a "sexual comment" regarding male plumbing shortly before the conference. Which would have been just too delicious. But it turns out she said something about a guy going through airport security with a sock stuffed with socks in his pants. If that's what passes for "sexual comments" then I'm Mr. Ed. I'm thinking the death/rape threats and DoS attacks were perhaps just a *tad bit* overwrought as well :p

Meanwhile, the Feminist Victims Fund SHALL NOT BE SILENCED!!!:

The outrage regarding our fund was impressive. Across the internet we saw anger and surprise, we saw many who dismissed the concept entirely. But one thing is obvious. The amount of vitriol from our critics paints a very clear picture. They do not believe we should be collecting money and helping men. And now we get to the core of it. Men cannot be victims, according to our critics. And yet, we see men as victims every day. The incredibly vocal dissent, the immediately abusive and hate-filled comments that I have received regarding this fund does nothing but prove we need this fund more than ever.

Well there ya have it :p

Posted by: Cass - Confirmation Bigot-in-Training at March 26, 2013 04:56 PM

FWIW, as a man-hating, Bitch-Goddess Alpha feminazi, I feel compelled to go on record as being 100% supportive of the Feminist Victims Fund raising money to help the victimized victims of... umm... victimization.

Someone has to stop them, before they kill us all. And besides, I'm actually rather pleased to see them doing something instead of complaining about how powerless they are against The Womyn :p

Posted by: Cass - Confirmation Bigot-in-Training at March 26, 2013 05:00 PM

Dongles? Dongles?

We don't need no stinkin' dongles!

Posted by: The IT Bandito from High Sierra at March 26, 2013 05:41 PM

Who knew??!! Discussion of BIG FORKING DONGLES is the signal for womyn to lose what sense of humor they may have and overreact to the nth degree!

But wait!! Isn't she now even MORE of a victim because 'sniffle, sob, . . .NO ONE UNDERSTANDS! my feeling got hurt! And my other feeling got hurt when they fired me. WAAAAHHH WAAAHHH"

A. loved your post Cass. Classic takedown of the idiocy of the entire issue

B. Perhaps the incident happened because of a LACK of dongles in her life?? ;-)

Posted by: Nina at March 27, 2013 07:30 AM

She definitely seems to assume the worst of guys, but then I'm also sympathetic to the notion that there's a minimal standard of behavior that should be upheld in a professional setting (and that people who want minimal standards upheld are not prudes or busybodies or any of the other names they are usually called).

I don't think calmly confronting people who violate such standards is (or should be) off limits. Nor is it "political correctness", as is so often alleged. The thing about standards is, if no one defends them, they are ignored. When my husband first got into the Marine Corps, I was surprised at the way Marines will correct each other when someone steps out of line. That's something you just don't see in civilian life, and it explains why the Marines have the reputation they do.

Our modern squeamishness about defending standards strikes me as pretty dysfunctional - people wonder why governments make laws and companies make rules that seem over the top, but these things generally don't happen in a vacuum. It's kind of bizarre to me that a conference would have to make a formal rule that bans porn on PowerPoint presentations, or groping, or stalking.

As a practical matter, the kind of person who would put porn in a PowerPoint presentation and broadcast it to an entire conference isn't the kind of person who's going to respond to gentle civil reminders. That person doesn't think he (though I suppose it could be a she, too) is doing anything objectionable and there are plenty of people who will push against any line until someone pushes back hard enough.

It's a shame the guy got fired, but the fact of the matter is that he placed his employer in an awkward and embarrassing position and employers don't have to associate themselves with employees who drag them into controversies or display poor judgment or impulse control.

Her firing is (IMO) was a no-brainer. His is more ambiguous, but I still think his employer had a perfect right to disassociate themselves from his actions.

Posted by: Cass at March 27, 2013 08:01 AM

What I took away (literally and figuratively) from Shocker : Acting Like a Colossal Jackwagon Can Get You...

Literally: "Speaking Truth to Glower" and "Person of Cholor"

Figuratively: You don't have to have a 'dongle' to be one.

Posted by: George Pal at March 27, 2013 09:57 AM

I absolutely agree she comes off worse, but I do believe - strongly - that what he did was problematic too, though less so than what she did.

The problem with not drawing a line between public and private behavior and speech is that what happens in public is... well... public. Nowadays, public includes the Internet, Twitter, cell phones, you name it. That's weird and disturbing, but it's also a reality that isn't going away.

We have a tendency to approve that sort of thing when we like the outcome (filming police, or Breitbarting Planned Parenthood, for instance) even though we know videos can be edited. We don't like it when it's done to us.

One aspect of this that disturbs me is that we don't know exactly what was said, though the conference organizers say they did investigate and it wasn't all that ambiguous.

People are supposed to be careful about what they say and do in a professional setting because their behavior doesn't only reflect upon them. I don't think acting like a grownup is an unreasonable expectation from someone an employer is paying and providing expensive benefits to.

Companies can be sued for all sorts of acts committed by employees, not all of them involving political correctness (and I don't think avoiding dirty jokes in a professional setting is political correctness gone wild). At home, I've been known to swear a time or twenty. At the office, I don't do it. I try very, very hard not to swear around my parents (though I screw up occasionally). I certainly wouldn't swear at a conference, or in a professional setting.

This isn't political correctness - it's simple situational awareness and basic consideration of the fact that people have differing sensibilities.

That said, I agree unequivocally with this :)

You don't have to have a 'dongle' to be one.

Posted by: Cass at March 27, 2013 10:15 AM

Dongle envy. Should have seen it coming. Sure glad that I'm going to die before these people inherit the earth.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 27, 2013 10:32 AM

On a scale of -10 to 10 with -5 being a firable offense:

Before it became public - men -> -2, woman -> +5

By the woman making it public = men -> -5, woman -> -8.

If only it had stopped after being handled in private. The conference organizers might have needed to call these guy's bosses and inform the bosses to never make them deal with this problem again. And the bosses to chew these guys out again when they got back into the office. But it wasn't, in and of itself, a firing offense. The woman also did the exact right thing by addressing it.

But once the issue became a public crusade FOR THE PROTECTION OF ALL WOMYNKIND, she erased all the good she did and both of them found themselves on the wrong side of the line.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 27, 2013 10:50 AM

Her firing is (IMO) was a no-brainer. His is more ambiguous, but I still think his employer had a perfect right to disassociate themselves from his actions.

I concur 100%.

But I also think YAG nailed it.

Posted by: MikeD at March 27, 2013 10:55 AM

...I also think YAG nailed it.

I do, too. Also, this:

Sure glad that I'm going to die before these people inherit the earth.

It takes a lot to make me glad I'm getting older, but the way people act these days is so annoying that I'm rather looking forward to being a cranky grandma type :p

Posted by: Cass at March 27, 2013 11:42 AM

Let's see here.....we have a Defense fund which pays for our national defense.
We have a Medicare fund (kinda...sorta) which helps with medical care (again, kinda....sorta).
We have a Social Security fund which provides for retirement (well....).
Does this mean that the Feminist Victims fund will be providing even more victims?

"... looking forward to being a cranky grandma type :p"
And this would differ from now.....how?
*staring down from the mountains knowing the trivet would never make it up here.*

Posted by: DL Sly at March 27, 2013 12:31 PM

And this would differ from now.....how?

Heh :)

The Burrito turned The Big 5 a few months ago, and I am really enjoying kidding around with him now that he's a little boy (as opposed to a baby/toddler).

Every time we visit, I try to have some new dumb phrase for him. This time it was, "THE EYEBALL OF GRANDMA IS UPON YOU! IT KNOWS ALL... IT *SEES* ALL".

He has great fun pretending to be bad, whereupon I give him the Eyeball. We were driving to a local state park, and I told him that the park was infested with elephants.

He promptly informed me that his favorite animal was a Cheetah, and that his Cheetahs would defend him from my elephants. At that point, the cheetahs somehow obtained laser beams and he told me that they were going to set me (and presumably, my Elephant Army) on fire.

But if he gets too full of himself, I can always whip out The Sparkly Ring and laser him right back.

Posted by: The Eyeball of Grandma at March 27, 2013 12:43 PM

Of course, my ace in the hole is that I also control all cows in the state of Georgia.

It is a big and time consuming job, bossing around all those cattle, but someone has to do it.

Posted by: The Eyeball of Grandma at March 27, 2013 12:46 PM

"...the cheetahs somehow obtained laser beams..."

Well, schyyeahh! Everybody knows that total world domination only comes when you've attained cheetahs with laser beams on their heads.
Grandma *knows all*, but doesn't know that?!?

"But if he gets too full of himself, I can always whip out The Sparkly Ring and laser him right back."

What happened to the Nerf gun of Doom?

Posted by: DL Sly at March 27, 2013 05:20 PM

What happened to the Nerf gun of Doom?

Well, we were in the car and *someone* forgot to pack the Nerf guns in her suitcase. I would blame Grandpa, but apparently he can do no wrong.

Unlike Grandma, who gets burned to a cinder by laser-bearing cheetahs :p

Posted by: Oh! The Humanity! at March 27, 2013 05:25 PM

What happened to the Nerf gun of Doom?

Would that be this one? Or the modded up one that fires 500 rounds/minute?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 27, 2013 05:38 PM

Clearly, Grandma needs to go shopping again ;p

He was only 3 when we last bought Nerf guns, so we have this disc blaster and another one that shoots darts.

We figured he was less likely to shoot his little brother's eye out with it.

Posted by: Oh! The Humanity! at March 27, 2013 05:47 PM

1. Guys are stupid.
2. Stupid guys make stupid comments.

These two heroes would have melted if she had turned around and said "STFU".
End of story.

But no.
Went for the glory, and the law of unintended consequences dropped a rock on her.

Posted by: Hotel1 at March 28, 2013 05:32 PM

Went for the glory, and the law of unintended consequences dropped a rock on her.

Pretty much sums it up :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 28, 2013 05:53 PM

What you send around, comes around. That's karma, not Nemesis.

Posted by: htom at April 2, 2013 01:05 AM

Karma - she fully deserved it. And, no, telling a joke with sexual innuendo is not cause to fire someone or sue them for harassment or any other totalitarian nonsense. People have every right to retaliate with violence against people who take their fundamental rights to speech away in this manner. As far as I'm concerned - neither of them should have been fired.

There's more sexual innuendo in 50% of children's cartoons then there was from those two guys.

Posted by: Karma at February 4, 2014 11:31 AM