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Public shaming of men March 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
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I’ve been reading the stories about Adria Richards…and reading, with abject horror, the comments on those stories.

The primary thing that irritated me were the comments saying that she shouldn’t have posted the pictures to Twitter.  She should, in their opinion, have simply told them to knock it off.

Obviously these commenters have no idea what they’re asking.  One of my first experiences where this occurred was in a college cafeteria.  I was sitting with another woman and two men, both of whom were loudly ogling the women in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (ETA: it was actually the swimsuit issue).  The other woman asked them to stop.  They ignored her and kept on.  She repeated her request, and they glared at her before telling her that if she didn’t like it, she could go somewhere else…and then returned to their activity.  When she got up angrily and left, there was loud muttering about what a bitch she was.

In the twenty years since this happened, I have never seen such requests, either from me or other women, have any positive outcome.  In fact, they’re almost entirely replicas of the above conversation.  Occasionally, there’s the, “Can’t you take a joke?” line thrown in, as well.  And in the twenty years since this happened, I have encountered many such opportunities to try this tactic.

It doesn’t work.

My observation is that men who are stupid enough to think it’s okay to behave this way in public, especially in a professional setting, are also too stupid to realize that it’s sexist and that they should quit, even when told directly.  Somehow it’s okay to make jokes at a tech conference that you’d never make in front of your mother.  (There’s a bit of scientific evidence to back this up.)  If you honestly think just telling them to stop actually worked, all of them would have stopped making comments like that a long time ago.  There’s a website devoted to dealing with the issue, which would be unnecessary if just telling people to stop actually worked.

The only time I’ve seen any different outcome is when I did something similar to Adria: I publicly shamed the offender on the biggest soapbox I could find.  You see, in the twenty years I’ve been dealing with behavior head on, I have learned that men won’t listen to me on the topic of sexist behavior as they ascertain that women aren’t good evaluators in this realm.  Instead, if you want them to stop sexist behavior, you need to get other men to tell them to stop.  In my situation, it actually worked.  While I would like to think that the man making offensive comments suddenly saw the error of his ways, I think the reason he really apologized (albeit with a defensive remark at the end) was because other men and some women piled on and said it was out of line.  I’m incredibly appreciative of all of those people, too.

It’s depressing, however, to find that there so many more out there who feel like Adria just needs to get a thicker skin or are clueless to the fact that making sexist remarks go away isn’t a simple feat.  To me, this is a very clear sign that sexism in tech is still as much a problem as it was two decades ago.

(If, after reading all this you’re still frustrated, then cheer yourself up by reading this wonderful parody about how women should remember their place in science.)

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Comments»

1. Jo Oldenburg - March 29, 2013

Really interesting post. I study media and work as a webdesigner/administrator so I’m not in science, but I have similar experiences. It’s terrible when the person who points out sexism is made out to be the problem. I am very confrontational, but like you say, it sometimes feels hopeless to argue with a person you know isn’t likely to ever acknowledge your point of view. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told to not be so ‘uptight’ or take things ‘so seriously’.

I’ve recently written about this issue on my blog. I would be really interested in hearing your experiences and more about what you think is a good way to respond to it. I recently read advice about how to deal with these ‘power tactics’: highlight the problem, explain how it makes you feel and tell the person how you want them to behave instead. For instance: ‘You keep interrupting me. It makes me feel minimised and ignored. I want you to let me finish talking’. Do you think this would actually work?

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