March 28, 2007 |
It's a bit ironic that I started this series about Women in 2.0 right before the recent news about Kathy Sierra. For anyone who may have missed it, Kathy recently pulled out of a conference talk after feeling threatened by comments made on her blog and images and commentary posted on other blogs.
While I in no way condone the behavior of the individuals responsible, I can't join with the rest of the blogosphere in expressing shock. Nor, to be honest, do I agree with the way that Kathy has handled herself.
I started out in tech back in the early 90s, when there WERE no women in tech. I can remember being in training sessions for Windows NT 3.51 Server Administration and being the ONLY female there. You'd be in a class of 50 people and not a single woman would be in attendance. I was passed over for promotion in favor of men who would ask me to fetch their coffee, men who'd make sexual suggestions in the office, and men who knew nothing about web development.
It's a man's world in tech, and anyone who thinks differently obviously hasn't been paying attention. Trolls and rude commentary and nasty Photoshopped images aren't anything new. Any woman blogger has had their share of that type of vitriol. And while it may not be acceptable behavior, it exists. I've often likened it to girls trying to play American football; they know the second they set foot on that field they are going to be harassed until they prove their worth.
What I've seen, however, since Ms. Sierra pulled out of her scheduled conference appearance, is an almost Victorian reaction, with gasps and swoons and shows of support ranging from blogs going dark for a period of time to other bloggers calling out the offenders. All of which, as a woman, I resent. What Ms. Sierra did was let the anonymous posters win. Sure, she's gotten tons of traffic for her blog since all this blew up, but at the same time, it will now NEVER end for her. She had detractors before, and now that the story got that much bigger, there will be that many more. And by giving the childish threats of anonymous posters respect that they really didn't deserve, she lost, and they won.
The high road isn't the easy road. Ignoring over-the-line comments can seem impossible. You can view anonymous postings designed to intimidate as a form of terrorism. The real goal of a terrorist isn't the actual act of terror; it's to inspire fear. And so one win leads to more.
There will always be people who don't agree with you. The ease of posting online and the virtual anonymity provided allow people who'd probably never say something to your face to vent away. But giving credence to the posts give the poster far more power, and I wish that had never happened in this situation. Are the posters afraid that they will be outed or are they more likely sitting behind their screens chuckling.
I realize that my opinion isn't going to be the popular one. But having worked in, or been associated with, the industry for over 15 years, it's more a cycle to me than one isolated incident. And I've developed a much thicker skin than I had when I first started out. And if there's one thing that I've learned, it's that until you are accepted as part of the crowd, you are going to be singled out. Like it or not, women in tech are still having to blaze the trail. And like women in other areas, like professional sports, or medicine, there will always be those who are resistant to having that trail there in the first place. But stopping in the middle and asking for special treatment isn't going to get the job done.