It’s been an interesting few days. Not bad; there’s no tale of woe to tell. It’s more that things that have been churning in my mind are starting to bubble to the surface. And there have been some interesting events going on (the Minnesota Twins are fun to watch again, for instance).
Also, yesterday I (electronically) submitted the “paperwork” to officially kick off the retirement process. My last day of work will be June 28, (2π Day and my mom’s birthday!) There’s a hell of a pay cut coming up due to this early retirement, but that won’t be a real issue for a while. It’s not something I’ll need to consider until at least next year.
I warn you now: I have no idea what this post is going to be about!
Ms Richards was at PyCon (a convention for Python users (the wonderful programming language, not the snakes or British comedy troupe (although in fact named after the Monty))). At this convention, during a presentation, she happened to overhear and join in a conversation with two men seated behind her.
After she turned back to the presentation, she heard one of them making crude, frat-boy sexual innuendo jokes based on the technology of “dongles” and “forking”. I’m sure you can figure out approximately what was said. Importantly, apparently nothing was directed at Ms Richards. It was “just” men being childish assholes.
Ms Richards decided that this was a battle worth fighting, and as her weapon she chose to send a Twit to her followers, including a photo she’d snapped. She also sent a text to the convention runners. The immediate result was that the men were removed from the convention.
The long-term result is that… wait for it… one of the men was fired from his job… and so was Ms Richards! One commenter speculated that the reason she was fired was to avoid corporate liability. It’s possible to read the Twit as a form of harassment or assault, and therefore possible the fired guy might sue. (To be clear: I’m not saying that’s reasonable. Our legal system frequently isn’t.)
It may be a case of too much negative publicity, right or wrong.
I don’t know the players or the details, so my opinion is uninformed, and I don’t really want to open this up to a major discussion about the case. The internet is already seriously inflamed about it. The math blog I was reading suffered a DoS attack, apparently because someone was offended by the post or comments.
My uninformed take, for what little it’s worth, is that using a Twit was probably not a proportional response. Taking it public like that seems an awfully large club (the hitting with kind, not the joining kind).
On the other hand, terrorism exists when a seriously disadvantaged group with no power in the conversation feels the need to work for their point of view. I am not equating this in any way with terrorism. What I mean to point out is that a disadvantaged group may need some kind of disproportionate response to have any effect at all. Few listen to the disenfranchised.
And sadly, here in 2013, women are still in many, many ways a disenfranchised group. The sexual bias in society is pervasive and often times subtle. Even those of us who pride ourselves on our egalitarianism can fall prey to it. Studies have shown, for example, that teachers of both genders tend to call on boys more than girls. And most—if not all—professional women can speak to how hard it can be to have their voices heard.
It is well-known that the technology and science fields can be especially male-biased. (Some of that may be due to geek nerds who’ve never been properly socialized with women.)
I can understand the desire to use the biggest and best club available. At the same time, the resulting firestorm (and firings) does seem to suggest that social media may not have been the ideal choice. On the other hand, it did drive a lot of conversation, and perhaps something good, or even just awareness, may come from that.
So I have seriously mixed feelings. In the end, not really knowing what happened, I find I have no real opinion. I suspect that both parties suffered something of an error in judgement. What interests me more is the fallout.
This seems, once again, to highlight the power and peril of social media. And it isn’t just social media itself. It’s the sheer volume of people connected that I think changes the equation.
For example, just about anyone can sell something these days if you work hard enough. In a country with 300+ million, if you can get 0.01% (one-hundredth of one percent) of the population to buy it, that’s 30,000 units sold!
When something catches the attention of the social media denizens, the result can be a tsunami. At least until they get bored and move on to the next outrage. (Trust me: in two or three weeks Ms Richards will fade into the obscurity from which she sprang and this will all be forgotten. It does, in some sense, make a mockery of the actual issue.)
What I found fascinating was the polarization of views and the almost complete inability of just about everyone involved to have a balanced view. We’ve badly lost our ability to see nuance. People who dared to suggest that maybe a Twit wasn’t the ideal response were shoved into the corner of tarring Ms Richards and compared to those who blame the victim in rapes (and I have no little trepidation about including her name in the tags…any foaming at the mouth responses will be deleted with extreme prejudice and without comment (because I’m the only one that gets to foam at the mouth here (my blog, my rules))).
And I gotta be honest. This just all fuels the fire that’s burned in me for 40 years. It once again seems to confirm that people are, generally speaking, stupid beyond comprehension. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and one that I shall return to anon. (And let me be perfectly clear: I’m not talking about education, although that’s a problem, too. I’m talking about the inability to think and reason clearly. A lack of education is fixable; stupidity generally isn’t unless you catch it very early.)
The other thing that this connects to for me has to do with the popular topic of bullying, of saying mean or inappropriate things.
Let me frame this by asking a question that’s been bugging me: When did we become so fucking sensitive about words?
There’s a commercial that bothers me. It features a number of children holding signs. Most of them say something like, “I get mean texts.”
But one of them reads, “I have bruises.”
Are we really to the point of equating mean words with physical abuse of children? Have we completely lost our minds? What happened to the old childhood rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Now that I have that off my chest, let me backpedal just a little. Words do have power. Words can hurt (but they won’t break your bones). Words can even be terribly destructive (consider the power of a false rumor or accusation).
It’s a tricky line to walk. Whether it’s the ignorant frat-boy remarks of some jackass sitting behind you or the childish taunts of a schoolmate, there seems to need to be some proportionate response. We revere the concept of free speech in this country… but apparently only so long as we aren’t too offended.
I wish I lived in a world where, when someone says something stupid, everyone else goes, “Well, that was really stupid!” and then moves on.
Instead, we seem to have become a heavy-handed, overly sensitive, knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) group of nitwits incapable of nuanced thought or reasoned response.
Is it any wonder I think so many of you are too stupid to be allowed to run around unsupervised?