You might remember that when Sarkeesian started this Kickstarter project, there was a huge surge of harassment directed at her for even starting the research, before she had even expressed her ideas on the subject [Slate article: Online Misogyny: Can’t Ignore It, Can’t Not Ignore It]
Sarkeesian’s story is a doozy, by the way. She started a Kickstarter page to raise money to make a documentary about the tropes used by video game designers to portray female characters. She hadn’t expressed an opinion about video games yet, but simply by stating that she would at some point in the future do so, she had to endure an absolute avalanche of misogynist abuse from men who hoped they could silence her before her too-scary-to-be-heard opinion could be voiced. Every access point they could exploit was used to try to get to her, especially her YouTube page. Her Wikipedia page was repeatedly vandalized with lies, links out to porn sites, and pornographic pictures.* Eventually, Wikipedia shut it down. Unfortunately for the misogynists, this sort of thing generated a lot of sympathy for Sarkeesian, and she was able to fundraise well beyond her original goals. Like, more than $90,000 beyond what she originally wanted to raise.
There’s been an ongoing discussion about the lack of women speakers at Tech conferences in the intervening years, with some of the best and the brightest tech conferences making an engaged and active commitment to gender diversity.
If your wondering why there is such a climate of hostility towards women in the tech field, Milo Yiannopoulos’s incredibly sexist post on Kernel [Put A Sock In It, You Dickless Wonders] will go a long way towards shining a light on it:
For this is the technology industry: there are more men in it because the male mind is, in general, better primed with the sorts of skills the industry values; men are simply better suited to most technology jobs.
Women therefore tend to work in roles that require finesse and communicative skills, where they pop up in this world at all. What is hard to understand about this, or offensive about pointing it out? The sexes are wired differently, and that’s perfectly fine.
There will be exceptions. Women who succeed should be celebrated – though on their merits, not because they have a vagina (hello, Evening Standard). But there will always be more men. It’s a biological inevitability.
It’s certainly nothing to feel crippling guilt about.
But that this attitude is published on a tech blog is very telling about what men in the tech industry think as they listen to women speak. It’s not surprising that women would be reluctant to step up to a podium, given this sort of a climate. The experiences that Kathy Sierra, Sarah Parmenter, Relly Annett-Baker faced were not meant merely to silence them, but also to silence women in general in the tech industry.
It goes beyond just women speaking in tech to working every day in tech fields. There are times I’ve felt at my own tech job that I was in a climate I felt wasn’t welcoming or respectful towards female employees. If this kind of harassment is aimed at women who step up and speak out, what can those of us working every day in the industry expect to do about it? It’s disheartening to say the least.
Fortunately, there are some organizations like the The Ada Initiative working actively to change things for women in technology, by providing guidelines for tech conferences on how to handle harassment of women speakers and attendees, conducting research and surveys about women in the industry, holding their own conferences and a half dozen other great programs design to make things better. Support them if you can, and promote their work.